How difficult would it be not to say something thoughtless and stupid if we were not allowed to murmur, “I was only joking?” During the past 15 months that phrase along with another, “I really didn’t mean that,” have been used far more by politicians and their staff members than the former record breaking term “I don’t recall.” Across the nation, apologies have become so commonplace in frequency that they are rendered meaningless.
Granted, it requires some intelligence and a sense of consideration towards others to think a situation through before verbalizing a denigrating comment about a U.S. Senator. That’s what is expected of civil servants who unfortunately are more inclined to say something out of school for shock value and then backtrack about it being a joke or misinterpreted. Furthermore, the only thing worse than an insincere apology, is no apology at all.
When White House Aid Kelly Sadler dismissed Senator John McCain’s objection to the nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA Director by saying, “It doesn’t matter he’s dying anyway,” Republican Senator LIndsey Graham commented, “It’s a pretty disgusting Thing to say. If it was a joke it was a disgusting joke.”
From the other side of he aisle former Vice President Joe Biden’s response was quite succinct in declaring, “Decency has hit rock bottom.” On Friday, May 11, according to Thompson Reuters, “White House Spokesperson Sarah Sanders refused to confirm or deny what Sadler had said. Instead, she berated White House staff for leaking the information to the news media.”
Thank goodness there remain in the White House individuals who have the societal consciousness to speak out. At issue is the fact that John McCain as a prisoner of was was tortured, thus creating a difference of opinion on the effectiveness of torture between McCain and Haspel.
Last Wednesday during her Senate confirmation hearing, although Haspel pledged she would not approve of torture again if named CIA Director, McCain remarked, “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”
From his new book entitled, “The Restless Wave,” to be released later this month, the Washington Post reports, “McClain recounts and defends his efforts to expose and prevent torture.” At the same time, Richard Cheney told Fox News, “The CIA’s action did not amount to torture and I’d do it again.”
In bringing everything back to national attention, Democrats and Republicans acknowledge that John McCain is very much alive and yearning for bipartisan dialogue with a consciousness for doing what is moral. Shame on you Kelly Sadler for thinking otherwise.
Written May 9, 2018
Forces of Nature
With international attention riveted on the volcanic eruption in Hawaii, there is a certain sense of awe to the forces of Nature when destruction occurs. As human beings, we often forget that planet Earth has its own scheme of things, some of which can be modified by mankind and others that only humble the observer. While we have seen past images of the Kilauea volcano and crater eruptions, those lava tubes extending some 20 miles underground and then surfacing first as steaming gas through fissures, and then as a spatter of flames spouting hundreds of feet into the air, followed by a river of lava oozing through housing subdivisions nestled in verdant jungles, are truly mysterious.
Although scientists have known of the existence of those lava tubes for years in the East Rift Zone, each eruption of Kilauea can be entirely different. The crater can either fill with molten lava and then stop, or overflow, or if the crater is filled and the floor collapses, the lava will be injected into hose-like tubes destined to surface elsewhere. When magma and gas build up pressure underground, an earthquake movement indicates that lava has to be vented somewhere. With scientists purporting this to be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, multiple earthquakes, eruptions and movement of lava through tubes could continue for some time.
Hereabouts, in the North Slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, one can observe cinder cones on the floor of the Mojave Desert, which never fully developed into full scale volcanoes eons ago. Although friction from the movement of the Pacific Plate against the North American tectonic plate created significant land movement of the San Andreas Fault at Mormon Rocks in the Cajon Pass and the Devil’s Punchbowl in Pearblossom, underground magma did not heat enough to erupt as a volcano. Instead, pressurized magma and gas vented on the desert floor in the form of highly perforated black basalt rocks that when cooled formed cone-shaped hills. With the fountain of debris evolving over months or years to form the cone, the shape was determined and maintained by landslides, which created the 30-degree slope or the angle of repose for basalt.
Other places in California have a much more recent history of volcanic activity with the Mono Lake craters, domes and cinder cones last erupting 600 years ago. More recent than that, a shallow intrusion of magma uplifted the bottom sediment of Mono Lake between 100 to 230 years ago. The most likely area for a future volcanic eruption on the North American Plate is situated on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains surrounding Mammoth Lakes.
In the case of Kilauea, the volcano’s high activity dates back some 35 years.
Written May 1, 2018
Yodeling WalMart Kid
There are some things in life that require a keen imagination and careful planning. Although 11-year-old Mason Ramsey has wanted to become a famous Country Music singer since he started playing guitar and yodeling at the age of six, there were not too many opportunities for stardom in his hometown of Golconda Illinois, with a population of 670. For some time, Mason’s only performance gig was singing Hank Williams songs acappella and yodeling at the local Wal-Mart, where the management allowed him to entertain shoppers.
All of that changed on March 24 when someone in the audience of almost a dozen shoppers created a music video of Mason singing Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” in the aisle of Wal-Mart and posted it on YouTube. Faster than anybody could imagine and certainly beyond the most carefully made plans, Mason was catapulted to fame when the music video on YouTube received 17 million views.
During the month of April, the precocious and charming musician was invited to perform at the Coachella Music Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival and appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. It was on the Ellen Show that Mason sparkled in a real casual manner when Ellen asked him about his future dreams. “Well,” Mason replied, “I want to be famous, save my money and go to college and perform at the Grand Ole Opry.” Without appearing to be too condescending Ellen confided that would take a great deal of work, and then Mason performed “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” for the cheering audience.
After a commercial break Ellen approached Mason and commented, “We have a lot of friends and a lot of connections. We talked to the people at the Grand Ole Opry and they want you to perform on Saturday night. After that, Wal-Mart will sponsor a free concert to be broadcast live on Facebook.” As a stunned Mason wiped a tear off his cheek, a stagehand appeared with a large check for $15,000 from Wal-Mart for his college education. Way to go Ellen for a magical surprise!
If all that wasn’t enough, Mason Ramsey was signed to Atlantic Records shortly afterwards and one day later recorded his first single entitled “Famous.” Last Friday on the Times Square video screens Mason was featured singing his lyrics, “If I’m gonna be famous for somethin’, I wanna be famous for lovin’you…”
As a star was born Mason commented on Twitter, “28 days ago I was yodeling inside my local Wal-Mart to 11 people. This past weekend I performed in front of 100,000 people at Stagecoach. It’s amazing what can happen in just a month. Thanks to all my awesome fans.”
Thanks for being such an inspiration Mason, Hank Williams is smiling!
Written April 25, ,2018
With just a few days remaining in the month of April, world situations have been particularly dour. I say that, thinking of the opening lines for T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland, “April is the cruelest month breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” Certainly, lilacs herald in a more pleasant season and this month, circumstances have helped to slow the decline of environmental issues.
I was pleasantly surprised to see American President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron planting a European Sessile Oak tree on the south lawn of the White House. The tree was a gift from the French Nation to strengthen friendships and commemorate a World War I site in the Belleau Wood of Northern France, where 9,000 U.S. Marines were killed in a 1918 battle against German troops. Perhaps, the gift was also a reminder from Macron to Trump that his leaving the Paris Climate Accord needs to be revisited.
Just days before Macron’s visit, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $4.5 million to pay what the United States had pledged to the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, before withdrawing. Last year, the Bloomberg Philanthropies also contributed $15 million to cover a separate climate change shortfall.
In times such as this, the French President will undoubtedly be lobbying Trump to rethink withdrawing from the Paris Accord as well as his threats to cancel the Iran nuclear agreement. The month of April has also seen advancement in the North Korea nuclear disarmament negotiations. These are the real issues that Trump should sign onto and hopefully the first state dinner of the Trump Administration hosting Emmanuel & Brigitte Macron, will cement a centuries-old alignment between France and the United States, when each country was dependent upon the other for survival.
Behind the scene, Melania Trump is in a good position to exert her international allure, as the event coordinator, and perhaps with the added sensibility of Brigitte Macron, the two of them can do some lobbying of their own in a charming manner to steer the Good Ship America in a positive direction.
There is nothing more important than climate control or nuclear disarmament. We all live on the same planet, breath the same air, will be affected by rising ocean levels and unprecedented storms and certainly, will be incinerated to toast if a nuclear war occurs. As much as politicians from both sides of the aisle would like to dismiss these notions as fake news to distract attention away from their despicable agendas, we are all in this conundrum together.
Everything else occurring in Washington DC- all the lies, all the deception and all the war mongering-takes a back seat to saving the planet.
Written April 17,2018
3D Printed House
Within the past month, the technological field of computer operated 3D printers has taken a giant leap forward from the traditional extrusion of small objects in plastic. At the Milan Design Week in Europe and SXSW in Texas, giant 3D printers squirted concrete out of a nozzle following a pre-determined pathway to create the footprint and walls of small structures, which cost 50 percent less than other construction methods. While innovative shapes can be achieved easily, the main thrust at this time is to produce conventional looking low-cost housing for those in poverty or victims of natural disasters.
Beginning above a concrete slab, an overhead trestle, 33 feet wide by 22 feet tall, is assembled around the slab and mounted on a rail system. After that, the nozzle moves on a track and is guided in any direction according to the computer program. Following the exterior footprint of the house, the material whether it be concrete, polymer or glass fiber reinforced gypsum cement, is pumped into place through the nozzle. Applying layer after layer in a continuous stream, a 3D house printer can complete a 1,000 square foot structure in one day.
In Milan, a Cybe mobile 3D concrete printer used CyB mortar, which set up in five minutes and achieved maximum strength in 24 hours instead of 28 days needed to cure Portland cement. In Texas, a Vulcan 3D printer created a four-room house in less than one day for a cost of $10,000.
From other places in the world, equally stunning examples also emerged. In France, the initial shell with openings for doors and windows was made using a liquid polymer and then hollow walls were filled with concrete. In China, WinSun Design Engineering -a pioneer in 3D printing - incorporated an open web triangular patterned design sandwiched between interior and exterior walls. Reminiscent of the pattern common in the fabrication of metal trusses seen everywhere for stage lighting, the walls are exceptionally strong using glass fiber reinforced gypsum cement without rebar. WinSun’s mission is, “Building affordable and dignified housing.”
While the size and shape of structures has so far been limited to survival housing, organic shapes, which can be quite expensive in conventional frame construction, flow easily using 3D printers. Although the cost of a Vulcan printer at $100,000 currently limits the size of structures, larger homes can be created in modular sections and then bolted together as is common with tilt-up concrete structures.
With the overall textural appearance on walls quite attractive, and the ability to create curving walls at a fraction of previous costs, 3D printing ushers in a new era. Search ‘3D printed house’ online to see examples and videos of housing for the future.
Written April 4, 2018
For-Profit Colleges Rebound
Never before in history have the wheels of government, which were spinning forward with reform during the Obama Administration, been derailed so efficiently by the next presidential administration. It was just two years ago that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) lost its authority from the Education Department to evaluate the quality of for-profit schools. However, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could soon reverse that decision.
It wasn’t until the collapse of ITT Technical Institute with 35,000 students receiving financial student aid, and Corinthian Colleges with 16,000 students also receiving student loans that the magnitude of failing for-profit schools became known. According to a New York Times (NYT) article, ITT and Corinthian were the largest institutions out of 240 others that were favorably accredited by ACICS and received $4.7 billion in taxpayer money. During the Obama Administration, the Education Department fined Corinthian $30 million for falsifying job placement rates.
Across the United States, reports www.buzzfeed.com, 11 percent of all for-profit colleges, or 366, have closed or have stopped getting federal financial aid. Many shut down because of the Obama Administration’s “gainful employment” rules, which pulled financial student aid eligibility where students assumed too much debt for curriculum that did not deliver favorable outcomes such as jobs and careers.
Although the pro-profit sector felt it had been targeted and reinstatement of the banished ACICS would correct unfair treatment by the former White House, the numbers indicate otherwise. Once again from NYT, “For years the accrediting body gave its seal of approval to institutions plagued by complaints and oversaw for-profit schools that had some of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the highest rates of student loan defaults.”
However, on March 23, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled the Obama Administration had failed to take into account 36,000 pages of supplemental information as it deliberated on the fate of ACICS. But choosing not to overturn the Obama Education Department’s decision, Judge Walton instead sent the case to Betsy DeVos to be reconsidered.
That could not have happened at a worse time, because here we are two years later and ACICS is now eligible to be reevaluated after demonstrating effective compliance. Oh sure, the Obama attorneys screwed up in regard to those missing 36,000 pages, but then 20 state attorneys general in letters to the Education Department purported that letters of support for the reinstatement of ACICS had largely come from for-profit institutions, which it had accredited.
Now that we have seen banking industry deregulation, with the repeal of Dodd-Frank, faulty mortgage instruments combined with default of student loans will make the Great Recession of 2008 look mild.
Written March 228, 2018
Pinon Hills Chamber
Back in the mid 1960s when Mom inherited the Cabin from her Uncle Ernest, my parents became weekenders in Desert Springs, later to be renamed Pinon Hills. On occasional weekends, holidays and summer vacations Mom & Dad would drive out to the Cabin and leave me at home in Burbank. That was fine because I was a surfer, owned my own car, and had little interest in the desert. The first time I visited the Cabin it was like déjà vu because it was exactly the same floor plan as the small home Uncle Ernest had built in Granada Hills with the exception that, instead of being nestled in an orange grove, it was surrounded by sagebrush.
At that time, the closest neighbors were Kate Biersach to the north-who wrote a gossip column for the Mountaineer Progress- and Doctor Douglas to the west. They both were members of the Chamber of Commerce and it wasn’t long before Mom & Dad likewise became members. Although it was more of a social club then, the Chamber made some astute decisions that would benefit the community enormously. The most important action was purchasing a vacant lot to the north of the Chamber building to be used as a parking lot.
In 1985, when Fire Chief Hedden and SBC Special Districts proposed constructing a new fire station, community center, and park, there was a major glitch. They had no space on their parcel for a parking lot. The solution was to lease the Chamber’s parking lot for one dollar a year and in return the Chamber would be allowed to lease the community center for the same amount per year. After that was accomplished, the Chamber then purchased tables and chairs for the building, and cooking utensils for the kitchen.
That was the beginning of a new era in which many of the aging chamber members spun off into the Pinon Hills Seniors using the community center, while the Chamber attempted to reinvent itself across the parking lot as a business and commerce entity. Leaping forward to 2018, the Chamber is now at a similar juncture. Membership has increased so much that the Chamber was awarded a $20,000 tourism promotion grant from SBC. Funds from the grant will be used for digital “Welcome to Pinon Hills” signs promoting tourism.
For Chamber members who, like myself, are now ageing, it is refreshing to realize that a critical mass, which is essential in urban planning for success, has now been achieved. The Chamber, The Door Ministry Church, the fire station, community center and park have become the epicenter with the Victor Valley Transit Authority bus making frequent daily stops at the complex. There is a new generation, continuing to build on the foundation of some 70 years.
Written March 21, 2018
Although wood has been used as a construction material for centuries, it has generally been replaced by concrete and steel to create tall buildings. In the United States, building codes mostly prohibit traditional wood frame structures more than 85 feet tall. In cities such as Los Angeles where earthquakes factor into construction regulations, wood frame structures are limited to five stories in height attached to a concrete podium.
However, according to a recent article in The Atlantic Magazine, advanced technology in the field of laminated wooden beams has been expanded to produce floor and wall panels as well. Although at this time the process is more expensive than concrete or steel construction, producing cross-laminated timber (CLT) has a significantly lower carbon footprint than using those materials.
As trees grow, carbon in the atmosphere is stored and it remains there forever in milled construction lumber, unless it decomposes or is burned. According to the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, “Substituting wood for other materials used in buildings and bridges could prevent 14 to 31 percent of global carbon emissions,” whereas the manufacturing of concrete and steel has been estimated to produce 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Addressing two major concerns for wood skyscrapers, clear grain wood slabs, up to 24 feet in length, are glued together with fireproof glue into a massive beam. To create CLT panels, layers of kiln-dried wood are stacked in alternating 90-degree angles that are then glued and pressed to form solid panels for walls and floors. In USDA tests-intended to create a rebirth of the timber industry- wood beams and panels were subjected to fire, explosion and earthquake tests and fared better than concrete or steel. Those findings brought back to mind a woodworking textbook image, from Forest Products Laboratory, in which the photo taken after a fire shows a laminated wood beam that had not burned supporting melted and twisted steel I beams.
In Portland Oregon, a completed 4-story wooden building, “Albina,” is a prelude to a 12-story mixed use tower called Framework, which will be completed in 2019. Meanwhile, Canada currently holds the world’s record for wooden buildings, with an 18-story/164-foot tall structure. Across the world, a 24-story building is under construction in Vienna, while a 35-story building has been proposed for Paris. In the future, a 70-story building is planned for Tokyo, and the London skyline will one day be graced with an 80-story, 1,000-foot high tower. Additionally, where deforestation has become a threat, bamboo that grows five times faster than wood, has been found to be stronger than timber for making CLT panels because of the fibers.
Written March 14, 2018
Another Contested Beach
Throughout my entire lifetime, there has never been such a halcyon experience as living on an isolated beach in west Malibu for 18 years. As a teenager when I was learning to surf, the singular bonding effort with my parents came about on Sundays when they would drive me to Surfrider Beach, Leo Carrillo State Park or County Line Beach. At the time, those were the only public beaches for surfboard use along a 21-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway. Not fully understanding the economic disparity between Burbank and Malibu, I used to ask my parents, “Why can’t we live here?”
In 1972, voters approved the California Coastal Act, which established the fact that all beaches in California are open to the public up to the “mean high tide” defined as the portion of the beach where the sand is wet. That meant that 1,100 miles of California coastline were accessible to the public but presented the conundrum of how to get to the wet sand across private property?
Since then there have been numerous legal battles focused on creating access easements with the latest coming from Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla, who purchased 89 acres of beachfront property in 2008 at Martins Beach located near Half Moon Bay. Although the prior owner had allowed public access to the beach, a general store, and restrooms, Khosla determined the beach was underutilized by the public and locked the gate and posted the property against trespassing.
In 2017, the California Coastal Commission sued Khosla for not having a permit to close the beach access road that had been open to the public for nearly 100 years, and he countered with an offer to sell the State an easement for $30 million. Since then, the local San Mateo County Court ruled that Khosla had violated the Coastal Act and that decision was upheld by the First District Court of Appeals in a 3-0 vote. That ruling was then appealed to the California Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, and has now been appealed by Khosla to the U.S. Supreme Court, with his legal team being anchored by Paul Clement-the nation’s preeminent conservative private property rights attorney.
According to The Mercury News, the Surfriders Foundation has commented, “If Khosla is successful at the U.S. Supreme Court level, beach access for millions of Americans could be jeopardized.” If that were to occur, the California Coastal Act would be invalidated and public access to our beaches would be pummeled.
When I lived on that beach, I supported the Coastal Act because I knew one day I would again become “the public” but could always come back to walk that beach. Unfortunately, that may not occur.
Written March7, 2018
Russ Solomon: Tower Records
Back in 1971 when Mike and Danny were restoring that old farmhouse on Flower Street in a desolate industrial neighborhood of Burbank, the work routine usually involved driving to Standard Brands Paint Company for more paint and wallpaper and then cruising over the hill to Tower Records on the Sunset Strip for the latest rock album. With Tower being open until midnight during the week and 1:00 am on weekends, there was always enough time to peruse new selections and then return home to spin the vinyl for the Altec Lansing “Voice of the Theatre” speakers, as the two worked through the night.
That work schedule would have never been possible without being energized by Tower Records, and the Sunset Boulevard neighborhood had never seen such excitement as when the store earned the Guinness Book of World Records listing for being the, “Largest record store in the world.” Built from the ground up by Tower Records founder Russ Solomon, the one story building occupied half of the lot, while the remainder was a parking to accommodate throngs of customers.
Painted bright red and yellow, the iconic store’s exterior was also covered with huge reproductions of the most recent album covers. During Tower’s 35-year lifespan, record companies constructed stages with truss lights in the parking lot for free pop-up concerts to launch new albums. Among those who performed were Rod Stewart, Prince, David Cassidy, Duran Duran, and Randy Newman. Frequently on other occasions, up to 1,000 music fans would line up to have their just-purchased album autographed by equally famous musicians.
After opening more than 200 Tower Record stores worldwide with an annual income of $1billion per year, the music empire of Russ Solomon- that began in Sacramento next door to the Tower Theater- slowly began to collapse with the advent of big box retailers, and eventually went bankrupt. In spite of demolition and development proposals and failed preservation efforts, Gibson Guitars finally purchased the site for $35 million to be used as a guitar showroom.
However, before Gibson moved in, Colin Hanks restored the building to its original quirky state for his documentary film “All Things Must Past: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records.” Following that in the restored glory, Elton John took the stage with Lady Gaga for the final pop-up free concert at Tower Records. Leading off, Elton commented, “I could have probably bought Los Angeles for the money I spent in Tower Records.”
Rolling Stone Magazine has reported, “Russ kept finding himself in the right place at the right time with the right attitude.” And so it was, last Sunday at the age of 92, that Russ Solomon peacefully passed away at his Sacramento home, as he watched the Oscars on T.V.
Written February 28, 2018
Revisiting Student Loans
It can be difficult sometimes analyzing a current situation, which was purposely avoided in former years. I never had a student loan while attending college during the Vietnam War because I was uncertain as to how I could repay it after graduation. In order to maintain my military deferment, I had to be a full-time student, and to pay for that it was necessary to have a mostly full-time job. In order to juggle everything, I slept an average of five hours a night, of real quality sleep, for years because I was on a mission to get an education and avoid a lifetime of debt.
However, for those who succumbed to the societal pressures of being married, raising children, purchasing a home or just having a good time on campus, student loans were the salvation. Since those times of the 1960s, 44 million Americans have amassed $1.3 trillion in student debt. And contrary to the notion that a college degree secures everything, many are discovering that career incomes may be insufficient to pay down their loans.
The reason I’m addressing this issue is because clearly more than 40 percent of those who benefited from student loans are either in default, delinquent in payments or postponing repayment. Since the Trump Administration took office one year ago, traditional safeguards of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) have been invalidated by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).
Formerly, those who chose to become government employees or work for 501(c) (3) nonprofit organizations after graduation could have the remainder of their loans forgiven if they completed 120 monthly payments over ten years. However, the DOE under the leadership of Betsy DeVos has changed the definition of the term “public service” disqualifying million of PSLF participants.
As the pendulum swings back to predatory loan tactics, Bloomberg and NPR report that an internal DOE memo issued under Secretary DeVos argues that, “Student loan servicers and debt collectors should be exempt from state regulations and oversight.” The perfect example of why this should not occur is Trump University, where students were encouraged to draw heavily on student loans to pay for worthless real estate curriculum that neither increased their incomes nor their ability to repay the loans.
In view of all this, Bard College researchers have determined that cancelling student loan debt would stimulate the economy and increase the GDP. With the numbers in student loan debt being equal to Trump’s tax cut, this could be a beautiful concept that would increase the GDP by $86 billion to $108 billion per year for the next ten years. That’s just the same as Trump’s tax cut benefit and would also increase disposable income for those forgiven.
Written February 22, 2018
A View of The Freeway
A friend of mine-historian John Crandell-recently forwarded an article to me from the Los Angeles Times concerning a proposed freeway that would in time extend 63 miles from Palmdale in Los Angeles County to Apple Valley in San Bernardino County. Although the view of the Mojave Desert floor from the North slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains as seen today from Pinon Hills and Phelan, hasn’t changed much since the 1841-42 expedition of John Fremont and Kit Carson passed through, a 500-foot wide right-of-way for the “Fremont-Carson Freeway” as Crandell has coined it, will be clearly visible.
With the environmental impact report already approved for the High Desert Corridor, the California Department of Transportation in conjunction with a joint powers authority, will begin purchasing land in June for the eight-lane freeway, rapid transit rail and bicycle path. In Los Angeles County, funding of $274 million generated from the sales tax increase of Measure M will start the project. Eventually, public-private partnerships, which could include designating the freeway as a toll road, would finance the San Bernardino County portion.
Running parallel to Highways 138 and 18, the High Desert Corridor would provide an additional link between the 14 Freeway on the west to the 15 Freeway on the east, and beyond to Apple Valley. And while development on both ends of the proposed route has increased dramatically in recent years, there is more at stake than a transportation artery.
Palmdale/Lancaster would love to move east with annexation, and Adelanto has already expressed intentions to march 13.6 miles west and annex 62 square miles surrounding El Mirage. Once again, it’s more than a transportation artery at stake, although related development, around three proposed off ramps, of gas stations, motels and convenience stores is enticing. However, Adelanto is a thirsty city and encroaching on El Mirage would include securing water rights.
In the past, the formation of the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District (CSD) prevented Victorville and Hesperia from marching west to the Los Angeles County line and securing additional water rights for their thirsty cities. Keep in mind that intense development cannot occur in the Mojave Desert without water and that is one of the most important reasons why El Mirage has remained an isolated enclave with a population of 1,000 residents.
Over the years, the El Mirage aquifer has supported a number of dairies and the sparse population. After the CSD was formed, one of those dairies was purchased for water rights, and to be developed into a solar farm. For the next 20 years, it will be like a game of chess. Whatever the outcome, we will be observing the game from our 2.5-acre density.
Written February 14, 2018
Although cooler weather has put a chill on most of the winter music options, the Wrightwood Classical Concert Series has been provided with a spacious home, overlooking mountains, desert, and the setting sun for their February 24 event. Combine those elements with the stunning vocals of soprano Christa Stevens and tenor Marco Antonio Lozano along with hors d’oeuvres’ and wine tasting, and it will be a signature evening of entertainment and warmth.
In between musical selections, Chef Christopher Durbin of the Stone Baloney will create four cheeses, both vegan and dairy, to cleanse the palette and be paired with wines selected by Terry Briot of Cabin Fever. Although it appears at this time the concert has sold out, it is not too soon to contact Joyce Wonderly at (760) 249-3487 for the April 22 presentation of The Ace Trio, featuring piano, flute, and clarinet.
Coming up on Friday March 9th at 7:30 PM in The Yodeler, the Wrightwood Blues Society presents Allison Scull & Victor Martin in concert. Growing up in Belgium, the English-speaking singer/songwriter Allison Scull danced around the house with her sisters while their mother played Burt Bacharach tunes on the piano. Later on, when her older sister left guitar sheet music around, she learned the American folk music of Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens, while becoming fluent in French at the same time.
After meeting and playing with Victor Martin on saxophone, Scull realized her voice was most suited to jazz music and she added the Spanish language to her songwriting repertoire. While her command of English, French and Spanish is alluring, Enjoy Magazine comments, “Scull & Martin blend elements of folk, jazz, blues as well as European and Latin music.”
Additionally, Jefferson State Vibes gets more technical in reporting, “She switches octaves constantly elevating and descending syllabic verse like no one else.” If that isn’t enough to peak your interest, the North County Times of San Diego simply states, “Magical would be a good place to start in describing their music.”
They are scheduled to perform selections from three CDs and a new one just released; the previous one entitled Cool Like The Breeze, also features The Midnight Band on keyboards and percussions performing “Sips Of Coffee” or “Le Matin” in French. Scull also sings covers of Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong and Cat Stevens adding an international pizzazz to the mix of her original songs and jazz standards.
Don’t miss the opportunity to experience such a talented duo, widening the scope of music appreciation brought to our Alpine Village by the Wrightwood Blues Society. The Yodeler is located at 6046 Park Drive and show time is 7:30. There is no cover charge and the new CD will be available.
Written February 6, 2018 A Double Standard
It seems as if each day arrives bringing a word or phrase to the forefront that eclipses common sense. We have heard the term “fake news” so many times that it becomes a mantra of sorts for politicians when someone disagrees with them. Yet in reality, for those who peruse a wide spectrum of news media, especially with the ease of the digital age, the truth can easily be verified. Google search anything on the computer and you will find an array of information both pro and con that will lead to an informed opinion. Historically, tabloids have been notorious for printing a sensational front-page headline that is not true, followed shortly afterwards by a retraction buried in the back pages, which gets them legally off the hook. Even if they are sued, they have garnered more attention from the fake news than they will pay out in a settlement. Likewise, for politicians who say something outlandish and then issue a retraction or murmur an apology, but unfortunately nobody is suing them. For those who have not taken the time to investigate a topic, it is easier to believe a grandstanding politician’s claim that dissent is fake news. However, keep in mind that the congressional approval ratings fluctuate between 10 and 13 percent, while Donald Trump has a rousing 40 percent approval rating. How can we teach students to get passing grades when the president, the house and the senate have flunked? Just this week, while speaking to an audience at an Ohio factory, President Trump accused Democrats of, “Treasonous behavior” for not applauding his accomplishments at the State of the Union address. Keep in mind that while Donald Trump was the first President in history to file for reelection on the first day of his presidency, the White House billed his 47-minute speech in Ohio as an official event rather than a political one, according to www.thehill.com . That means, what the President of the United States said was an official statement accusing the opposition party of treason and being un-American. However, is there wiggle room here when Trump seemed to be coached by an audience member? His precise comment was, “Someone said treasonous. Yeah I guess. Can we call that treason, why not?” What Trump was really trolling for was mindless adulation that he did not receive at the State of the Union. He went totally off-script from talking about tax cuts, job creation and the economy, allowing himself to be coached into crossing a red line in American history. Read the definition of “treason,” and think about the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs. In history, there has been State of the Union dissent from both parties, but never such rancor.
Written January 30, 2018
LACMA Set To Expand
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) will be creating a satellite campus at the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park located on Avalon Boulevard near Slauson Avenue. Last Friday, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a 35 year lease to LACMA for an 84,000 square foot former train and bus garage built in 1911. The museum intends to use the building for art programming, a live performance space, art galleries and a storage facility. Rather than paying rent, LACMA will invest up to $30 million renovating the concrete building to serve an area of 24 neighborhoods representing a population of 67 percent Hispanic and 31 percent African-American residents. For LACMA Director Michael Govan, the South Los Angeles project represents a déjà vu of sorts, to when he was director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York and discovered an abandoned Nabisco factory situated on banks of the Hudson River. The renovation of that building led to the creation of the Dia: Beacon, an internationally renowned museum for contemporary art. With the renovation scheduled to be completed in two years, the South Los Angeles campus also provides a solution as to where the permanent collection of the Wilshire Boulevard campus will be stored when three buildings there are demolished to make way for the futuristic architectural design of Peter Zumthor. Estimated to cost $650 million, Govan has already championed $450 million in fundraising and it now appears certain that both projects will move forward greatly increasing the cultural footprint of Los Angeles. As for the nine acre Wetlands Park that opened in 2012, the native vegetation landscaping has matured into an opulent forest surrounding ponds and waterways that can be traversed on gravel walkways and bridges. Urban storm drain runoff supplies the water from which trash and pollutants have been removed. After that, water flowing through the marshlands provides additional purification. During the rainy season, the wetlands can purify up to 680,000 gallons of runoff daily-the equivalent of an Olympic size swimming pool, which is then pumped into the Los Angeles River. In the dry season, existing water is simply recirculated throughout the park. For the neighborhood of older homes and warehouses, creation of Wetlands Park provided a much needed recreational venue to the underserved community. With the addition of LACMA as an anchor, Los Angeles County is scheduled to invest $50 million for a large event center and improved trails. In addition to that, The Ford Foundation has provided LACMA with a $2 million grant to provide community based programming for 9,500 students. For local residents, the view of Wetlands Park is something they never imagined, and soon the new museum will further enrich their lives.
Written January 24, 2018
Looking at a map of the United States, yes indeed the shape of each state is rather straightforward and mostly conforms to a uniform grid. In contrast, the shape of U.S. Congressional Districts within each state looks more like a small child’s coloring book page with odd shaped distorted squiggles of color meandering everywhere except within the grid of counties, parishes or boroughs. The best way to understand gerrymandering is to observe that district lines were not drawn by children but rather by taxpayer paid legislators, with the intention of one political party seizing a partisan advantage in the two party system. Gerrymandering occurs when the political party controlling the House of Representatives changes district maps in secret committees. Mechanisms for gerrymandering include: Cracking - diluting the power of an opposing party’s supporters across several districts, Packing - concentrating opposing party’s voting power to one district to reduce voting power in other districts, Hijacking - redrawing two districts to force two incumbents to run against each other in one district, ensuring that one of them will be eliminated, and Kidnapping - where the incumbent moves it’s physical address into a more favorable district. Unlike Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, where non-partisan organizations are authorized to prevent gerrymandering by setting constituency boundaries according to census population data, the U.S. House of Representatives can change district boundaries in between elections orchestrating yet another mechanism. When voters go to their traditional polling place, they realize they are in the wrong place according to redistricting, and historically will give up and not vote. During the past year, redistricting maps in the states of Maryland, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have been invalidated and declared unconstitutional by lower court decisions, which are now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In North Carolina, Republicans won 77 percent of House seats while only receiving 53 percent of the statewide vote. Just this week, the Supreme Court blocked redrawing of those congressional maps until after the 2018 midterm elections. Also this week, a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters in Pennsylvania, citing the principles of state rights in New Federalism, argues that gerrymandering violated the equal protection and free expression guarantees of the State Constitution, rather than U.S. Constitution-blocking appeal rights to the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, court justices gave GOP lawmakers until February 9 to submit a new map, or else they will develop a new map themselves before February 19, in time to be implemented for the May primary election. That is lightning speed for courts, however New Federalism or not, Republicans will attempt an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although legislators are poor draftsmen,
Written January 17, 2018
With the most significant rainfall in nearly one year, the North Slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Pinon Hills just soaked up the moisture with very little run off. It felt really good to emerge from the fire season unscathed and have gentle rainfall nourish the parched vegetation. Although I have survived occasional wild fires and floods in my lifetime, those memories pale in comparison to what California has experienced recently. It makes me truly thankful to be where I am now. After the rain here, it was the strong winds that reminded me some garden chores needed revisiting. There were broken tree branches everywhere and my Red River Eucalyptus sapling had blown over pulling guy wires out of the ground. To remedy that, I had to prune it way back leaving just a few wispy branches at the top, before I could stand it upright and secure new wires. I’m always concerned that guy wires will make the tree dependant on that support, but then a Eucalyptus spread out on the ground is not very attractive. As for the other trees that lost branches, it was because I had not been vigilant in pruning and shaping them this summer, due to recuperating from hand surgery. As for those winds, I also discovered that the rain gutters were filled, not only with leaves, but with dirt from dust storms. Historically, the strongest storm winds blow downslope from the south and it’s always important to maintain a balance with the Arizona Cypress that my Great Uncle Ernest planted some 58 years ago alongside the road. The trick is thinning them out to reduce fuel in a firestorm while maintaining enough foliage to provide a windbreak for the Cabin. Years ago when I was living in Los Angeles, neighbors called to say the living room window had blown out. Don’t know if it was the wind initially that broke the glass or broken branches that became projectiles, but it certainly alerted me to the necessity of a manicured windbreak. Another thing that occurred last week was that tarps protecting a large wood sculpture, my tractor, and on the roll up door on my workshop functioned well in the rain, but then were shredded by the wind. So I have been busy cleaning rain gutters, pruning branches away from windows and installing new tarps, in the sunny and mild weather before the next storm. One last chore to be completed before predicted snowfall is to cut firewood from dead Juniper bushes, since I discovered my source of avocado firewood-Mark & Nellie’s Nursery in Victorville- has gone out of business. But not to worry, because it’s good exercise, and cleans up the acreage.
Written January 10, 2018 Deporting Refugees
Ever since the Statue of Liberty - formally titled “Liberty Enlightening the World” -was dedicated in 1886, the colossal sculpture in the New York City harbor has become a welcoming symbol to immigrants from around the world. When the inscription written by Emma Lazarus was added to the pedestal in 1903, the message became an unconditional pledge of shelter for those seeking freedom and democracy. Originally, the Statue of Liberty was a gift financed by the citizens of France, while 120,000 Americans, who contributed approximately one dollar each to construct the stone base, paid for the pedestal. For them, it was a way to give something back to America, their new home. The inscription reads, “…Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” That indeed became an all inclusive welcome for those aspiring to a better life. Just this week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it will revoke temporary protected status (TPS) to 200,000 natives of El Salvador, 50,000 Haitians, 2,500 Nicaraguans and 57,000 Hondurans. That action follows Donald Trump’s rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Those 458,200 refugees, from devastating earthquakes and civil wars, who were allowed to live and work in America without fear of removal, must either leave the United States before September 2019 or face deportation. And while their children who were born in the U.S. are citizens and can legally remain, that would lead to fractured families. The truth of the matter is, America welcomed those refugees and now the Trump Administration has decided the time is up for a TPS designation. In the case of 700,000 in the DACA Program, children who entered the U.S. illegally are being held hostage by the Trump border wall request for $18 million over the next 10 years. In reality what this means is that Democrats will be afforded a humanitarian comprise for DACA if Trump gets his border wall. If all does not go well in negotiations for TPS and DACA, a total of 1,158,200 individuals face deportation. In so much as DHS immigration policies date back some 18 years, there are an array of options. From El Salvador alone, 195,000 are working people and parents of 192,700 U.S. born children. The U.S gross domestic product would lose $109.4 billion over 10 years without these workers. For those who crossed the border with something to contribute to the American fabric of life, compassion is needed. For other who came to the United States for a free ride or a life of crime, the time is up.
Written January 2, 2018
Public Art Loss
In Downtown Los Angeles during the holiday season, Scrooge came to town as four Robert Graham bronze sculptures were removed from the Wells Fargo Center atrium, and a granite waterway created by renowned Modernist landscape architect Lawrence Halprin was demolished. As part of a “renovation” of the atrium, two additional artworks, sculpted by Joan Miro and Jean Dubuffet, were also removed. I’m sorry but I don’t quite understand how a renovation of the indoor garden could equal anything more significant than what existed. Back in 1983 long before a public art in public places policy was mandated by the City of Los Angeles, developers Robert F. Maguire and James A. Thomas initiated an arts component in the construction of Crocker Court located at 333 South Grand Avenue, now known as Wells Fargo Center and owned by Brookfield Office Properties (BOP). At that time, Maguire/Thomas commissioned Halprin to design the indoor forest and granite watercourse featuring four cast bronze figures, created by Graham, of female athletes each posed on tall pedestals situated in small square reflection pools. As water sheeted down the pedestals there was a subtle trickling sound and as that water flowed between the sculptural elements in granite runnels, dappled sunlight streaming through the glass ceiling and the reflection of foliage on the rippling current produced a tranquil and magical setting. Initially the arts element provided a place of solace for office workers in the frantic city. Later on, a small wine and sandwich restaurant with tables and chairs was positioned in between the runnels and pools. That was the beginning of the publicly accessible courtyard becoming more private but that didn’t matter to me because the restaurant was only open in the afternoon. Later in the evening, Downtown residents who frequented McDonalds in the atrium would simply order their meal to go and enjoy elegant seating amongst sculptures, runnels and landscape. Although building security guards tried to discourage people from using the tables and chairs, the “public” was always courteous and didn’t leave a mess. During that era I had a special affinity for Robert Graham, having met him in the bronze foundry, used his metal fabricator to design a hanging devise for a bas relief fountain, and later on interviewed Graham in his Venice studio for a writing project. After swimming laps at the nearby YMCA, there was nothing more serene than dinner in the atrium surrounded by world-class art and landscape. The Los Angeles Conservancy called the atrium’s sudden overhaul, “An outrage.” In a telephone interview, BOP Legal Counsel Mark Philips simply stated, “The sculptures were removed for a renovation with no ultimate disposition.” Go to http://archpaper.com/2017/12/lawrence-halprin’s-only-atrium-renovation/ to view before and after photos of this artistic loss.
Wriiten 12/27/2017 Environmental Gift
In December, although the Thomas Fire devastated portions of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties and became the largest wildfire in California history, and unrelated spot fires caused by rocket testing at Vandenberg Air Force Base burned to the south fence line, the headland, coastal bluffs, canyons and forests of Point Conception-situated roughly in between the two fires- were spared. That was fortunate because the California Coastal Commission had just obtained 36 acres to expand Jalama Beach County Park on November 13 and there was a much larger acquisition to be disclosed. Last week, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced it had purchased the former Bixby Ranch Tract of 24,000 acres or approximately 38 square miles on Point Conception, made possible by a $165 million gift from Jack & Laura Dangermond of Redlands California. In addition to acquiring eight miles of pristine bluffs and beaches, the transaction ended the threat of commercial development. According to The Atlantic Magazine, “Over the past decade, the land was owned by a real-estate hedge fund from Boston that has specialized in coastal-development projects. Under the terms of that sale, the land could have been broken into more than 100 parcels.” In recent times, the Coastal Commission cited the hedge fund, for grading and drilling water wells without permits. Thus, in addition to receiving 36 acres to settle the case, the Coastal Commission was awarded $500,000 cash to improve public access to Jalama Beach. Point Conception, which the Chumash Indians considered to be a portal where spirits entered the next world, juts into the Pacific Ocean where cold currents from the north meet warm currents from the south creating a unique coastal zone of weather patterns that supports the most diverse collection of animal and plant life in California. As a surfer, I appreciated Jalama Beach; the most isolated, scenic and halcyon locale of my teenage years. At night, it was definitely spiritual as the campfire flickered and the wind whistled in that vortex. Coincidently some 50 years ago, the Dangermonds spent their honeymoon camping there. To The Atlantic Magazine Jack commented, “We were just kids, and that was our first connection to realizing it was a special place.” In a rare public announcement of their philanthropy for the Dangermond Preserve, the Dangermonds expressed their hope of becoming an example for other wealthy people in much the same tradition as the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks. He also remarked, “We can’t do this by ourselves. We’re telling the story to set an example of what others could do.” In saving one of the last great places in California, it is truly awesome to realize that future generations will experience the same magical environment of Point Conception that I have.
Written December 20, 2017
Winter Solstice And More
The season of winter begins today, December 21, when Winter Solstice 2017 occurs at 8:28 AM in the Pacific Time zone. It will usher in the longest night and the fewest hours of daylight as the Northern Hemisphere is tilted farthest away from the Sun. Aside from folklore and celebration at Stonehenge, where the spacing between giant stone monoliths is perfectly aligned to frame the setting sun on the Solstice, there are astronomical predictions that are not quite sweetness and light. The dailymail.com.uk reports, “Winter Solstice will be the most awful day of 2017 because for the first time since 1664 the Sun and planet Saturn line up.” Translated this means that tasks can feel more difficult and energy levels will be at their lowest ebb of the year. The only remedy is to take care of business in a methodical fashion and do your best. For those who follow astrology, just when we thought the doldrums of December would pass as the planet Mercury turns direct to Earth on Friday December 22 after being retrograde since December 3, the negative influences of the Solstice strengthens the “shadow period” for another two weeks. Mercury, known as the messenger or communication planet, casts a dour spell when retrograde or appearing to move backwards in an opposite direction to Earth. Many believe that retrograde Mercury causes disruptions, verbal misunderstandings, drama, travel delays and computer/technology glitches. It is not a good time to sign contracts but it is a good time for careful review of documents. Likewise, it is not a bad time to reunite with old friends, redecorate a room or rekindle a romance. The best bet is to complete unfinished projects, tie up loose ends and focus on a clear vision of the future with renewed energy when Mercury goes direct. The sun.com.uk reports, “Astrologers believe that when the planet Mercury is retrograde, the areas of life it governs assume a sleeping or resting state when the planet closest to the Sun can create arguments and misunderstandings.” And so, if all of this seems a bit farfetched or superstitious, think about the past three weeks and determine whether activities have been frantic, disconnected or entirely nonproductive. Mercury goes retrograde four times a year and influences identical scenarios. However this year combined with the special Solstice, most religious holidays into early January are particularly affected. The solution in addition to the aforementioned suggestions is to slow the pace, become more procedural and allow extra time for everything. When you really think about it, all of this will make the holiday season more enjoyable and less stressful for everyone. There is light at the end of the tunnel, which will reward patience.
Written December 13, 2017
Christmas Music Selections
Well, the holiday season is here and the gift of music is always appreciated. Whether intended for someone special or as background music for social gatherings, my selections include rock, country, a Christmas album and music from local musicians. Don’t forget that winter weather will eventually arrive and it’s not indulgent to purchase a few albums to enjoy by the fireplace when the snow falls. Leading off, the new U2 album Songs of Experience debuted at #1 for the best sales of a rock album in the first week on the Billboard 200, and also ranked #3 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Best Album of 2017 chart. As the senior rockers strive for relevance, guest musicians include Kendrick Lamar, Heim, and Arcade Fire for the blistering anthem “Get Out Of Your Own Way.” For Rolling Stone’s Best Country & Americana Albums of 2017, three female singer/songwriters shine brightly. In her first solo album in 18 years entitled Windy City, Alison Krauss is accompanied by the best Nashville session players in a sentimental journey back to the songs she grew up listening to, which include those by Brenda Lee, the Osborne Brothers and Roger Miller-for a debut at #25. Coming in at #18, Kelsea Ballerini’s new album Unapologetically, ranked #18, comes two years after she became the most successful new female country solo artist since Taylor Swift. The supple vocalist from Tennessee sings tenderly of heartbreak and lament, rebounding in true form with the song “Miss Me More” as a solid Top 40 hit. Topping the chart at #1, the Margo Price album All American Made shoots from the hip with her “Fierce protest album about the ways that the American dream has failed so many.” From one of the most talented songwriters in Nashville, there is a sweet duet with Willie Nelson that recaps the heyday of country music in the 1970’s. Additionally, Rolling Stone observes, “No other country artist and precious few from any other genre went nearly so deep as Price did this year.” During a recent interview, Gwen Stefani commented, “Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year to listen to old and new music. Perhaps one of my Christmas songs will become a classic for listening enjoyment.” On her new album entitled You Make Me Feel Like Christmas, Stefani wrote seven songs of which three are contenders to be classics and she covers five traditional classics in her unique vampy style. On those, White Christmas pulls ahead with a nod to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and Darlene Love. Support Wrightwood musicians by going to www.mountainmusic.net to purchase Blue Skies & Red Wine by Coyote Keene and Gayle Dowling or Greg Jones Band with all-star musicians.
Written December 6, 2017 The Plaid 138
Although Caltrans and elected officials hosted a community appreciation event on November 16 to celebrate the completion of the $52 million State Route 138 West Widening Project, Tri-Community motorists and those who commute through the area continue to be at risk on an unsafe roadway. Originally scheduled for completion in August, and then extended through November, here we are in December with the grinding of asphalt to smooth uneven surfaces and the spraying of tar on those areas erasing yellow traffic lane lines, and white fog lines on the shoulders. In addition to white glare on freshly ground areas and shinny glare on the freshly oiled surfaces creating a visual distraction and patchwork of plaid, there are skid marks on the pavement where motorists became confused by the lack of lane indicators and slammed on their brakes. It has now been ten years since Yeager Skanska, one of the largest public works contractors, completed the controversial widening of Highway 138 between Highway 2 and Beekley Road with very little grinding necessary. Instead on this new project, it seems as if the contractor has been learning how to pave with asphalt, at the expense of taxpayers. From Phelan Road west for one half mile, workmen have completed their shift and gone home without installing temporary lane indicators or reflectors along the shoulder. Just look at all the skid marks between Phelan Road and the Big Rock Inn as an example of motorists perhaps driving too fast and then becoming totally disoriented. The same situation holds true for the signaled intersection and then traveling east on Phelan Road for one-fifth mile from the intersection of Highway 138, there has been new asphalt for weeks but no lane indicators. Farther east towards Beekley Road on the north side, grinding and oiling has intermittently erased the fog lines and yellow lines as well as damaged recessed reflectors. As for the glare, the worst situation is found traveling up Highway 138 towards Highway 2 where the angle of the roadway and bright sunlight create a blinding effect. Granted, in time the grinding will be completed, the shiny black will fade, all the traffic lane lines will be repainted and center median reflectors will be installed. However, the facts remain that the project has not been completed on time, and because workmen go home each day without installing temporary lane indicators, hundreds of cars are forced to pass through an unsafe construction zone on a daily basis. For decades, Tri-Community residents have yearned for a solution to the carnage occurring on “Blood Alley.” And just when we were in sight of a happy ending to that era, the patchwork plaid with a rainstorm could cause more injuries.
Written November 29, 2017 Holiday Music Shows
There’s frost in the air and the holiday season has arrived with plenty of options to enjoy music and the warmth of fellowship here in the Tri-Community. With something for everyone, holiday venues include a classical guitar recital, and dinner show fundraisers presented by Snowline Players, Serrano High School Choir, and Music in the Pines. Coming up this Sunday in the United Methodist Church at 3:00 PM, the Wrightwood Classical Concert Series presents twin brothers Sean & Ian Bassett in a classical guitar tour de force. After hitting the Southern California music scene as rock guitarists, The Bassett Brothers changed directions and earned Masters of Music degrees in classical guitar from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. They have since become aficionados of all music genre with two guitars sounding more like four instruments; sample the unique sound of The Bassett Bros. guitar duo on YouTube. For ticket information call Joyce Wonderly at (760) 249-3487 or go to www.mountainmusic.net Also scheduled this Sunday, at 6:00 PM in the Wrightwood Community Building located at 1275 State Highway 2, the Snowline Players present the LUX Radio Theater production of Miracle on 34th Street. Audience members will be transported back to 1947 when this Christmas classic first aired. Enjoy the performance and a hearty meal for $17.00. Advance tickets are now on sale at www.snowlineplayers.org with no tickets available at the door. Scheduled for two weekends on December 8 & 9 and December 15 & 16 at 7:00 PM, the Serrano High School Choir presents their annual Christmas formal dinner show entitled “SHS News Night.” The three-course-meal will be served throughout an original show written by students with full choral performances, small group songs and solo numbers by selected choir members. For tickets ranging in price between $20.00 and $30.00 depending on proximity to the stage, go to www.brownpapertickets.com and then type in 2017 Serrano High School Choir Dinner Show for the “Find an Event” box. Additionally, Music in the Pines will present their holiday fundraiser show on Sunday December 17 from 5:00 until 8:00 PM in the Wrightwood Community Building located at 1275 State Highway 2. Entertainment for the first set will be the Greg Jones Band featuring vocals by Brittan Egnozzi and Claudia Campbell, as well as Loren &Michelle Schneider. After intermission, the Jeff Steinmann Band will perform a Rock & Roll Christmas. Tri-tip dinner and wine is priced at $25.00 with advance tickets purchased at the Village Grind. There is no charge for those not eating dinner with the caveat they bring their favorite dessert to share with others. As the holiday season approaches a New Year, give thanks to all the talented people who enrich the Tri-Community.
Threat Of Nuclear Weapons
Growing up in Burbank after 1945, signs of the war lingered on in the form of ant-aircraft gun brackets mounted on the roofs of Lockheed Aircraft buildings. Although Germany and Japan had been defeated it didn’t take long before the Soviet ally to Western Powers in World War II became the Cold War enemy. On the last Friday of every month, air raid sirens being tested would wail across the San Fernando Valley at 10:00 in the morning. At the time, there was no defense against nuclear missiles with a warning of just eight minutes, if fired from Soviet submarines. I remember my brother and I being awakened one night by the air raid sirens, and running through the house we discovered our parents were not there. We ended up on the front porch cradled in each other’s arms crying as the street lights flickered and went dark. The only light came from a flashlight held by the civilian defense warden as he ran past looking for communists. As it turned out, Dad & Mom had been next-door playing cards and although they came home in an instant, an important sense of trust had been lost. Later on in school during the 1950’s there were “Duck and Cover” drills in which we dove under our desks, assumed a fetal position, and waited for what – the communists or the blast? Apparently, Donald Trump’s threat to “Totally destroy North Korea” and Kim Jong Un’s threat to “Turn the United States into ashes and darkness” negate the awful truth we learned from the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For heads of state to rant about such a sensitive outcome, displays absolutely zero respect for civilian populations. We are at the point in history where several countries with nuclear weapon capabilities have reached the threshold of the Cold War Doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. In essence that means that nobody wins. With several military leaders conceding U.S. defense systems might not be able to thwart multiple simultaneous missile launches, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the first nuclear authority hearing this week, since 1976. Additionally, the top U.S. nuclear commander-Air Force General John Hytem- said he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons. Never before has the world been so close to a nuclear weapon ultimatum due to unstable heads of state. For all the world’s leaders of nuclear states and all the warmongers, just listen to Roger Waters’ lyrics from The Wall-Live in Berlin in which Joni Mitchell sings: “I used to look in on the children at night, in the glow of their Donald Duck light, and frighten myself with the thought of my little ones burning.”
Written November 15, 2017 Lifetime Judicial Appointments
Although the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency has passed without significant legislative victories, it’s almost like that was an intended smokescreen to distract attention away from a finely tuned political machine that has been packing federal courts with lifetime appointments at an unprecedented rate. In our transitory world where nothing is permanent and everything is designed to become obsolete, what else other than federal judicial appointments is guaranteed to last forever? Just when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should be lauded as a hero for refusing to schedule confirmation hearings for more than 100 federal court vacancies including that of Supreme Court Justice during the final two years of the Obama Administration, Former White House Advisor Steve Bannon is intent on throwing McConnell under the bus for not successfully advancing the conservative agenda. In reality according to the Los Angeles Times, Trump said last month, “The judge story is an untold story. Nobody wants to talk about it but when you think of it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge-but 40 years out.” Approval of just 22 judges, since the Republicans took control of the Senate, is the lowest total in 66 years. Since becoming president, Trump has nominated 59 people for federal court positions and last week that “judge story” surfaced as a compelling reason for a Constitutional Amendment to discard Article III, Section 1 regarding lifetime judicial appointments. On November 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a lifetime judicial appointment for 36 year-old Brett J. Talley, who has practiced law for only three years, has never argued a motion or tried a case and admitted during his confirmation hearing, “I participated as part of the legal team in one hearing in federal district court in the Middle District of Alabama.” In spite of being unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association judicial rating committee, Talley is expected to be approved on the Senate floor along party lines. On the positive side, Talley graduated from Harvard Law School, served as a law clerk for two federal judges, was a speechwriter for Mitt Romney, and was a deputy to Republican Senator Luther Strange (R-Ala.) Without prejudice, The Atlantic Magazine makes a case for an 18-year, rather than lifetime, appointment based on diminished productivity citing, “Supreme Court Judges have cut their number of full opinions each year in half, over the last two decades.” Somewhat similar, CNN has suggested that a 20-year term would allow judges to complete their best work, with more energy and fresh ideas resulting from the turnover. Either way, the legal destiny of the nation would not be so imperiled.
Written November 8, 2017
Bending The Los Angeles River
For several years now, artist and architect Lauren Bon and hydrologist Mark Hanna have been collaborating on a project entitled, “Bending the River Back into the City.” As envisioned by Lauren Bon when she founded Metabolic Studio on North Spring Street near China Town of Downtown Los Angeles, treated wastewater flowing through the concrete armored L.A. River will be harnessed during the dry season by an eight-foot- high inflatable dam creating a small lake from which water will be drawn. After additional purification, water will be piped to Los Angeles State Historic Park, Albion Riverside Park in Lincoln Heights and nearby Downey Park to irrigate landscape and wetland features. Along the way as Bon navigated through 40 regulatory agency permits and secured $10 million in funding from the Annenberg Foundation, Hanna designed the infrastructure that will include the rubber dam to create a 1.92 acre lake under the North Broadway bridge, boring through the concrete wall of the riverbed for a 42-inch pipeline, which will operate a 70- foot water wheel or “La Noria.” After purification to Title 22 irrigation standards, by ultraviolet lamps to kill bacteria and viruses, water will flow along a streambed and wetlands on the Metabolic Studio property, and then on to the aforementioned 32 acres of parks through pipelines. According to 89.3 KPCC, “Only two entities possess water rights to the L.A. River. One is the City of Los Angeles. The other is Lauren Bon.” That water rights permit acquired from the California State Water Resources Control Board, allowed Bon to divert 106 acre-feet from the L.A. River each year. Additionally, the Los Angeles Times reports, “No other water right has been issued on the river since the city opened the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Los Angeles has not had a water wheel on the L.A. River since the 1860’s.” Although the use of rubber dams to recharge water aquifers or create lakeside recreational districts is not a new concept, Bending the River Back to the City incorporates a historical reference to what the banks of the L.A. River looked like before the L.A. River was channelized-only situated out of harm’s way overlooking the river. The seven-story-high aluminum and steel water wheel adds the artistic touch, looking like a giant Ferris wheel positioned next to the historic North Broadway Bridge, which will be reflected on the body of water. With the containment dam creating the equivalent of 30 cubic feet of water per second pressure, the water wheel and pipelines operate by hydraulic pressure instead of pumps. With a nod to the historic past when the L.A. River produced the water that nourished the City of Los Angeles, Lauren Bon addresses how to irrigate its riverside parklands.
Written November 1, 2017 Cooler Than The Devil Wind
With clouds streaming in from the west, the sunsets of the past two evenings have been a colorful montage of bright orange clouds superimposed on blue skies, reaching a crescendo of magenta, and then softening into the very pale bluish gray and pewter of dusk. Finally heralding in a change of weather, there was moisture in the air and the epic Santa Ana wind condition, also known as the Devil Wind, which has pummeled California, would be remembered for some time. In my life, the most succinct description of the Devil Wind came from Raymond Chandler in the opening of his story Red Wind. Chandler wrote, “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.” Second to that was Joan Didion’s essay “Los Angeles Notebook” from her book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In the Notebook she wrote, “I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf.” There remains nothing more poignant in my mind than that quote because quite by happenstance, I moved to that isolated beach and was a neighbor of Joan, her husband John Gregory Dunne and their daughter Quintana Roo. And yes indeed, the peacocks screamed from their olive trees and sleep patterns were obliterated. You see, it takes quite some time adjusting to the sound of crashing waves before sleep can be restful. And then suddenly, the Devil Wind arrives with such force that the waves are flattened in a disconcerting manner and there is no sound and nobody sleeps. With the recent release of the Netflix documentary “The Center Will Not Hold” starring Joan Didion, there were so many remembrances of John and Joan and Quintana in the trailer and subsequent reviews. The iconic Julian Wasser photograph of Joan leaning against her Daytona yellow Corvette Stingray brought back memories of me driving Joan to Downtown Los Angeles in the Corvette for the test case of the California Coastal Zone Conservation Act of 1972, in which we were Friends of the Court (South Coast Regional Commission vs. Higgins). Additional photographs of the family posing on their bluff-top deck overlooking the ocean and others of them walking on that storied beach, reminded me of looking after Quintana and her classmates swimming, from my house on the sand.
California Bullet Train
A recent exposé in the Los Angeles Times regarding the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) and its Bullet Train, indicates the proposed speedy ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco, might never connect those cities. Instead, the “starter system” or first construction increment moving south from San Jose might exhaust all funds currently available in laying tracks 31.7 miles to just beyond Gilroy, leaving nothing of the $21 billion intended to reach Chowchilla, some 54 miles past Gilroy. In that case, the Bullet Train would become a novelty ride confined to the Central Valley. The first problem is that high-speed trains must travel in a straight direction on a level track. When the infrastructure reaches a mountain range, a tunnel must be bored, and that’s what is required for 1.5 miles of track just east of Gilroy and beyond that for 13.5 miles under the Diablo Mountain Range heading towards Merced. If that much could be accomplished, all available funding would be used up. That leaves the starter system traveling considerably short of the anticipated 240-mile route to Wasco passing through Merced, Chowchilla and Fresno. The second problematic factor is that CaHSRA has projected ridership on the 240-mile starter system to be three million annually beginning in 2025. That would ensure that issuing bonds supported by future greenhouse gas fees in the amount of $10.5 billion would be viable and profitable to bond investors. However according to the Los Angeles Times, “Michael Thom, a public finance expert at USC, said those funds are not a reliable source of revenue…I can’t imagine why a rational investor would take that kind of risk.” Additionally, the risk is apparent when considering the fact that the entire population of all the cities served by the starter system amounts to 1.7 million, meaning that every resident would have to ride the Bullet Train, which is unlikely. Moving south, the track infrastructure would pass though Bakersfield and then under the Tehachapi Mountains to Palmdale and again under the San Gabriel Mountains to Los Angeles, requiring an additional 36 miles of expensive tunneling. Additionally to the north from San Jose, another 1.3 mile tunnel would be required passing under downtown San Francisco. Just the construction of all the tunnels is estimated to extend for ten years once started with no cost estimate from the rail authority other than to say the first section from San Jose to beyond Gilroy is anticipated to experience a 1.7 billion overrun. The fallacy of all this is that CaHSRA did not anticipate that the starter systems in the Central Valley would not realize enough ridership to show profit for investors.
Written October 18, 2017
The fall season is my favorite time of year here on the North Slope of the San Gabriel Mountains, with warm days of golden sunlight and cool nights. It’s the cooler nighttime temperatures, down to 40 degrees, that trigger two magical botanical events. As non-native broadleaf trees began to change colors and prepare to go to sleep for the winter, native sagebrush sometimes referred to as an “evergrey” is waking up from summer dormancy with new growth and colorful blossoms. In the domestic landscape hereabouts, deciduous broadleaf trees lose their green color when chlorophyll production slows and sugars that are trapped in the leaves as veins close, stimulating color change. Granted, because this locale is in the foothills of the high desert, there are not a wide variety of trees that do well in dry summer heat and thus produce a limited range of colors in the fall-mostly yellow, orange and crimsome. Because of those conditions, poplar, elm and mulberry trees are now spattered with clusters of both green and yellow leaves. And therefore once the eye has enjoyed the vertical delight, the real focus is closer to the ground with rust colored buckwheat and grey Artemisia tridentata sage blooming in golden yellow. There is also another variety of Artemisia arbuscula sage with grey to silver foliage and tan flowers, which has an open branch structure growing to five feet in height, for an elegant background feature. Another colorful addition to the drought tolerant garden is salvia Greggii, which belongs to the mint family and has bright red flowers and shiny green leaves that smell like sage. In summer heat, those leaves lose some of their luster while the plant sleeps until cooler weather arrives and then rebounds in full glory. Salvia Greggii also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and is deer resistant. Every year is different for the ancient apricot tree my great uncle Ernest planted some 57 years ago. However, since I built my studio, it is well protected from chilling winds and the leaves remain on the tree longer and turn vibrant crimsome. While I enjoy the yellows, the apricot tree is the color value I most appreciate. I find myself murmuring, “Look at that.” I have found that pruning and shaping the sages increased their growth and flowering, and in the late afternoon, golden light as I sprayed some water on them; it was almost like an optical illusion at first when I saw something rustling on the branches. It turned out to be a wild finch, and then more, and then hundreds of the tiny birds pecking at the flowers and water droplets. It doesn’t get much better than enjoying the colors and the creatures in the fall.
Written October 11, 2017 Tom Petty
After completing 53 concerts celebrating 40 years as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the band took what was to be their final bow at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25, not knowing that Petty would pass away just one week later at the age of 66. As a prolific songwriter, Petty composed and recorded 192 songs for 16 albums, out of an estimated 400 songs written during his career. While some of those tunes simply did not make the cut, there were others written in collaboration with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynn for two albums as the Traveling Wilburys super group. As a high school dropout in Gainesville Florida, the longhaired blonde Petty hung out at the local music store where he took guitar lessons from Don Felder, who would later become lead guitarist for the Eagles. Five years later, Petty started a garage band called Mudcrutch and invited a younger piano player Benmont Tench to join the band. In his first diplomatic coup, Petty convinced Benmont’s father, a circuit judge, to continue financial support when he dropped out of college to join the band. With that accomplished, the results were outstanding as Mudcrutch became a local sensation. The greatest trip of Tom Petty’s life was his cross-country road trip from Gainesville to Los Angeles with his Mudcrutch band mates in 1974. Upon arriving in Hollywood, he called record companies from the phone booth outside Ben Frank’s Diner and piqued the interest of Leon Russell at Shelter Records. In addition to offering Petty a recording contract, Russell introduced him to George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, and Bruce Springsteen, a dream come true. Along the way, Mudcrutch evolved into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for two albums with Shelter, which ironically sold better in Great Britain. And then in 1978 when Shelter sold his contract to Universal Music, Tom Petty became the champion of the underdog in refusing to be, “Bought and sold like a piece of meat.” Instead he spent $500 thousand recording the third album himself and then refused to turn over the tapes to Universal. After that he was sued for breach of contract and filed bankruptcy. When the dust cleared, a solution to form a new record company as a subsidiary of Universal Music met with everyone’s approval and Tom Petty signed with the new label Backstreet Records. At that juncture, the release of the album “Damn the Torpedoes” on Backstreet Records became a turning point in Petty’s fame. In Petty: The Biography, Warren Zanes writes, “When Petty and Harrison met and collaborated, it was the happiest he had ever been.” That fulfilled the magic in music he had pursued.
Written Octobe 4, 2017 Wooden Cars Again?
Back in April of 2016, a BBC report of a wooden roadster created by Toyota Motor Corporation for the Milan Design Week, fascinated me. And then recently, another BBC article about wood pulp making cars lighter, included a photograph of a wooden replica of a Citroen 2CV. Both the Toyota Setsuna and the Citroen replica have peaked interest in a giant leap backwards for automobile production through the use of wood. Although the Setsuna was designed as a concept car to show off Japanese woodworking and was not street legal, the Citroen created by a French woodworker over six years was deemed by French authorities to be street legal and hit the road four days ago. However in both cases, the cars were significantly lighter and more fuel-efficient than those made of metal. When cars were first produced, a great deal of wood was used to make the carriage, but everything else was metal. As time passed however, more sophisticated designs shifted the emphasis to the strength of steel and metal. With little or no concern for weight or fuel efficiency, cars were then modeled into stylish behemoths. However in new technological advances, wood pulp mixed with plastic materials could be as strong as steel but 80 percent lighter. According to BBC, a Kyoto University team, led by Professor Hiroyuki Yano and involving the Japanese Government and carmakers, uses wood pulp, which consists of millions of cellulose nanofibres (CNF) and disperses these CNFs into plastic. Professor Yano claims, “The hybrid material could be used to make door panels, fenders and car bonnets.” Although competition with commercially established lightweight options of carbon fibre and fiberglass materials does exist, CNF could be less expensive to produce. Likewise with lighter parts made from wood pulp, vehicle emissions could be reduced and the range of electric cars could be increased. Currently using old technology, BMW is fabricating reinforced carbon fibre for roofs and Jaguar is using aluminum for body panels. Seeing the images of wooden cars brought back memories of when I was a teenager repairing surfboards in the garage, while an older neighbor Rick and his high school friend Jack restored Rick’s 1944 Ford Woodie, across the street. I used to hang out there but since I was not mechanically inclined, Rick put me to work refinishing the wood side panels and roof struts. In time, the Woodie became a neighborhood project with my dad, an upholsterer, making a new canvas top for the car. And since Rick’s family was religious and his father was an FBI agent, my parents felt it was safe enough for me to accompany Rick and Jack on surfing trips in the Woodie. Indeed, those were the days.
Written September 27, 2017
It seems so very long ago now, since the Burbank home and salon of John & Bunny Millar had become a fountainhead of multiculturalism. Nestled in the Verdugo Mountains above Sunset Canyon Drive with a breathtaking view of the San Fernando Valley, that’s where I first met acclaimed pro football player, artist, poet and actor Bernie Casey, who passed away last week at the age of 78. Off the playing field, Casey was quiet and creative; my fondest memories are dinner parties Bunny prepared for his girl friend of the time - jazz dancer and actress Paula Kelly, and myself-as birthday buddies. A true Renaissance man, Casey attended Bowling Green State University, on a football scholarship, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Art Education. He also excelled in high hurdles for the track team and competed in the 1960 Olympic trials, placing sixth. After retiring from football in 1968 at the age of 30, Casey returned to Bowling Green to receive a Masters of Fine Arts degree and launched a new career as a graphic artist and painter. During his football years, the NFL wide receiver played six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, scoring 40 touchdowns during his career. In 1964 Casey told Life Magazine, “I think of myself as an artist who plays football, not as a ball player who paints.” It was during the heyday of the La Cienega Boulevard gallery row that Casey’s artwork was featured in the first group show for black artists presented by Ankrum Gallery. After that, Joan Ankrum gave Casey a one-man-show, which created a sensation for the Monday Night Art Walk with brick sales. Following the Los Angeles debut, Casey was afforded 40 one-man shows at various galleries during his art career, resulting in Sidney Pointer, Burt Reynolds, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, the Beverly Hills Library, and the Hirshorn Washington D.C. Museum, among others becoming collectors. Additionally, Casey authored three illustrated books of poetry published by Doubleday & Co. and created the graphic design for Nina Simone’s album Here Comes The Sun. And then turning a new page, as an actor Bernie Casey was featured in 35 motion pictures and 22 TV shows with his first film appearance in the 1969 movie “Guns of the Magnificent Seven.” Throughout all those years, Bunny Millar did not drive and John chose me as her escort to many events. We were there in 1966 at Ankrum Gallery, where I was fortunate to purchase one of Casey’s small paintings entitled, “A Tribute To The Forgotten Places.” And we were there at the L.A. Coliseum in 1967 for Bernie’s best-known touchdown. Above everything his motto rings true, “I can do this.”
Written September 20, 2017
I would much rather be writing about Elton John’s song “Rocket Man,” than where this column is going but no, it refers to the latest not-so-funny sneer from President Donald Trump in regards to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The occasion was the successful North Korean launching of an ICBM missile that flew 2,300 miles, which prompted Trump to ask South Korean President Moon, “How is Rocket Man doing?” Not so humorous was the fact the missile flew past Guam and was well on its way towards the continental United States when it splashed down in the ocean. It wasn’t too long ago that North Korean ICBM’s were exploding in air after flying only a few hundred miles and then a quantum leap occurred. According to the Boston Globe, a rare potent rocket fuel known as unsymmetrical dimethydrazine (UDMH) has come into the hands of North Korea that vastly increases long-range capabilities. Just add nitrogen tetroxide and liquid oxygen to get the biggest bang possible in rocket fuel. Formerly used by the United States and Russia until its unstable and extremely volatile nature produced catastrophic explosions, it was replaced by a safer rocket fuel. However as with other petroleum products, China has been exporting UDMH to North Korea for years. It was no secret to the Bush and Obama Administrations this was going on, but they did not disrupt the supply through sanctions, diplomacy or covert actions. It may have been that former North Korean missile capabilities were being controlled by the availability of UDMH from China but then something occurred that nobody expected. Just as it has been supposed that North Korea is close to miniaturizing nuclear warheads, it is now confirmed that North Korea has achieved the technology to manufacture UDMH. Maybe everyone hopes a catastrophic explosion will set Kim Jong Un back for years, but here again that has not happened. Instead, in shades of the Cold War we have been told that North Korea is faltering economically and unable to fulfill its military boasting and threats. In reality, North Korea has maintained a stable economy for years with China providing everything they need. As for their military capabilities, that scares me. For all the billions of dollars spent on missile defense systems, U.S. Commanders accept that their defenses are not fully missile-proof and a country possessing a sizeable arsenal of missiles might overwhelm them. Instead of all the brow beating and threats of fire and furry, it’s time for the United States to abandon notions of regime change and remind China that we buy their products, as leverage for de-escalation.
Written September 12, 2017
Road Kill And Ravens
It’s been years since motorcycles, dirt bikes and quads frequently raced up and down Mountain Road, in Pinon Hills, at unsafe speeds, producing horrendous noise levels. In the interim, those culprits grew up and moved away or moved on to college or military service. However, it seems like a new generation has arrived with the roar of engines punctuating late afternoons and weekends in the otherwise quiet locale. Although Mountain Road is a residential street beyond the Fire Station, Community Center, Park, and Chamber of Commerce, the speed limit as with most San Bernardino County-maintained paved roads, is 55 mph. It is also a dead end street terminating at the foothills, which means all the vehicles, including cars racing up and down, belong to our neighbors who live on the paved road or adjacent dirt roads in the rural community. It is not uncommon to see residents walking their dogs or jogging and children riding their bicycles. Not too long ago as I was driving up Mountain Road, a small boy chased his soccer ball into street. Fortunately, I was driving much slower than the speed limit and was able to avoid hitting the boy or his ball. With those on motorcycles it’s a different story. They pull wheelies up hill and stand on their foot pegs downhill, while traveling at least 70 mph. On the dirt roads leading to Mountain Road, they churn up billowing clouds of dust before they hit the paved road with their pranks. As for the dust and dirt for those in cars, the bigger the dust cloud the more likely a car will make a rolling stop on crossroads of Mountain Road where there are no stop signs. If the driver actually saw oncoming traffic, it would be impossible to stop due to the lack of tire traction on dirt. I’ve been here long enough to know that when I see that dust cloud from an approaching speeding car, I slow down on the pavement and let them slide through the intersection. And so, what this story is about, in addition to the excessive speed of cars and motorcycles on Mountain Road, is the evidence of skid marks and road kill. Normally, several ravens in the neighborhood are content to raising a ruckus in Joshua trees, eating black seeds from the white pods. However being scavengers, they can be spotted on Mountain Road eating fresh meat when speeding vehicles kill your pets, as well as quail, chipmunks, rabbits, and squirrels. As we all know, accidents happen, and drivers should never swerve off the roadway to avoid hitting wildlife, especially those unlucky critters that make a u-turn to oblivion. Slow down and enjoy the outcome.
Written September 6, 2017
This Week’s Hurricane
Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and with the subsequent flooding in Texas and Louisiana, there has been plenty of discussion from both sides of the Climate Change issue as to whether it is appropriate to bring up the subject while so many people are suffering. Without being insensitive to those affected, I always question the cause and effect of damage from natural disasters in an attempt to learn what could be improved with manmade development. At this point, I can accept the reality of a 1,000-year flood plowing through infrastructure that was designed to withstand a 100-year flood.
Throughout history, there have been many severe hurricanes and 1,000-year floods that just occurred without a figure being pointed as to the cause. Today, scientists can prove that Atlantic and Caribbean Ocean water temperatures are abnormally warm and that could result in more frequent and more severe hurricanes. Whatever the reason, it will be scientists, not politicians, who predict natural disasters and establish a timeframe for evacuation
However, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt commented, “It was misplaced to discuss Hurricane Harvey’s link to Climate Change.” At the same time, EPA Public Affairs Officer John Konkus, who was a political appointee of Donald Trump after serving as Leon County Florida campaign chairman, now reviews every EPA grant, with no scientific expertise, and is critical of Climate Change.
Well, as Hurricane Irma becomes this week’s hurricane, scientist Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has called satellite images of Irma, “One of the most incredible things I have ever seen.” And then, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have classified Irma as, “The strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.”
With a monstrous eye and sustained winds of 200 mph, Irma is well above the 157-mph threshold for Category 5 strength hurricanes. These are figures measured by NHC and NOAA without prejudice for or against Climate Change. They are merely the facts presented by scientists, who in a better climate, received grants from the EPA to conduct research.
However, as Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times on behalf of the petroleum industry, and now, as Administrator of the EPA, he is more intent on dismantling the agency than funding research on the cause and effect of warmer oceans.
As taxpayers pay the bills for recovery, Irma may hit the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico directly affecting 3.5 million American citizens. It is there that predatory U.S. hedge funds have become the sole investors willing to lend to the Commonwealth, and now own $4.5 billion in Puerto Rico government guaranteed bonds.
As with Greece, Wall Street wins and citizens loose.
It Makes No Difference
For quite some time I have believed the powers of the President of the United States are not painted in brushstrokes as broad as we might imagine. I have also maintained that early in his administration, representatives of the FBI, CIA, Department of Defense, Pentagon and State Department sit the President down to explain their ongoing agenda while outlining just what he will be allowed to do. It seems as if it makes no difference who the president is, or what political party he represents, there are also the courts and the Congress to balance his powers.
And then Donald Trump, who intended to change everything and drain the swamp in Washington D.C., entered the picture and, along with Steve Bannon, had hopes to orchestrate a revolution of sorts obliterating the status quo. Initially, Trump packed the White House with family members and those considered to be allies with no prior political experience, but amongst all those divergent minds there was a great deal of antagonism.
We have seen the courts and Congress stall Trump’s agenda, and members of the Republican Central Committee fall by the wayside only to be replaced by military generals. For a civilian president as was Barack Obama with no military experience, that places the power of the Military Industrial Complex squarely in the hands of the military. And with so many State Department positions yet to be filled, the emphasis is on aggression rather than traditional diplomacy.
In his address to the nation from Fort Myer in Arlington Virginia, Trump confirmed he would increase troops in Afghanistan, which was approved by the military generals but opposed by Bannon before he was fired. Otherwise he was vague, which conforms to his belief of not disclosing military strategy. That’s acceptable, but keep in mind the increase of perhaps 3,900 is a drop in the bucket compared to Obama’s surge of 30,000 in 2009, which did not overthrow the Taliban.
Since the United States deposed the Taliban in 2001, 16 years have passed and at this point the Taliban has retaken 50 percent of the country. During the 2016 election campaign Trump commented, “We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had brilliant thinkers that didn’t know what the hell they were doing and it is a mess.”
Well, some equally brilliant thinkers guiding Trump to a decision this week, failed to recognize that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been fighting a sectarian religious war for centuries. With corruption rife in the government and security forces, coalition forces will have to remain there forever, in a nation building mode. We’ve had surges and dumped billions of dollars, with no success.
Written August 16, 2017 It Takes Initiative
Let’s face facts. Bigotry and hatred and racial persecution were not eliminated by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and they were certainly not triumphed over in World War II or the American Civil War. When I saw images of protesters carrying Nazi flags and Confederate flags and flaming torches across the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville Virginia, my heart was torn with grief for the millions who defended the rights of people considered to be inferior, with the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. To me, those images simply convey the distorted beliefs of Adolph Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. I was further incensed to learn that as recently as May of this year, there was a similar protest march in Charlottesville. On that occasion, Richard Spencer president of the nationalist group National Policy Institute, who made popular the term “Alt-Right” commented, “I love the torches. It’s spectacular; it’s theatrical and mystical and religious, even.” Let me make one thing clear, Spencer was not talking about the Olympic torch but rather that certain illumination, which has become symbolic of the torture and murder of Black people. Likewise for the Nazi flag, that touches a sensitive nerve in the memory of 18,587,000 allied troops who died deposing Hitler. Here in America, we value the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression and certainly the core issues of the demonstrations and casualties should not be ignored. In Charlottesville, the impending removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee united the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups in a demonstration that at the onset received permits from the city and university. My response to that issue is simply the sculpture should remain with a new plaque that reminds everyone that yes indeed, Robert E. Lee was a Confederate general in the American Civil War that cost the lives of 618,222 soldiers opposing or defending slavery. The truth of the matter is, the Union Army prevailed, the Confederate Army was defeated and the American Flag is the flag of our united states. It’s as simple as that, and life should have moved on a long time ago for those who think differently. The results of the Civil War are not fake news that can be changed by Civil War II. However President Trump, in his initial reluctance to identify and condemn the hate groups, thrilled former KKK leader David Duke in blaming both sides for the violence. Every politician should take the initiative to denounce haters, and publically reject their voting base. This is America Mister President, where all lives matter.
Written August 9, 2017 Glen Campbell’s Magic
Few modern day musicians have ever achieved the success of Glen Campbell, who passed away this week at the age of 81, based solely on their intuitive feelings of how a guitar should sound rather than through formal training. At the age of four Campbell’s uncle gave him a guitar and he became influenced by the innovative European jazz guitarist and composer Django Reinhardt. When he was 14, he dropped out of school in Arkansas and became a roaming troubadour eventually ending up in Los Angeles where he auditioned for the legendary group of studio session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. During the 1960’s and early1970’s, Campbell and another Wrecking Crew musician, Leon Russell, perfected their talents while working for union scale with no recording credits. At that time, both Campbell and Russell devised a subtle hook in their playing that would identify them for future calls. Campbell described that technique as, “I learned it was crucial to play right on the edge of the beat…It makes you drive the song more. You’re ahead of the beat, but you’re not.” The formula worked enormously well for Campbell and in 1963 he played rhythm guitar for 586 recording sessions. Looking back on those times, Tom Petty commented in a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, “He had a crystal-clear guitar sound, playing lines that were so inventive. It moved me.” Included in those sessions, Campbell learned every nuance of country, pop, jazz, and rock music that would serve him well in the future. In the meantime, he played for Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton and virtually every performer of that era who needed The Wrecking Crew to burnish their recordings to perfection, including the Grammy Award winning “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” of Simon & Garfunkel. In down time between recording sessions, Campbell was known to joke around and sing, to which his band mates would shout, “You’re going to be a star,” not realizing that beautiful tenor voice had a direction. However once again it paid off when Brian Wilson suffered a nervous breakdown while on tour with the Beach Boys and relied on Campbell to replace him on bass guitar and falsetto harmonies. In another Rolling Stone interview Wilson confided, “He fit right in. His main forte is he’s a great guitar player, but he’s even a better singer than all the rest. He could sing higher than I could.” From that beginning, “Gentle On My Mind,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Galveston,” and “Wichita Lineman,” would follow, not only cementing Glen Campbell’s allure to the American Heartland, but also crossing over to pop and rock fans and selling 45 million records.
Written August 2, 2017 Rainy Day Tuesday
I never thought 90 degrees and moist would feel much better than 100 and muggy, but it definitely was cooler as rain began to fall. It is darker than usual at 6:00 pm with the sun already obscured behind a cloudbank off to the west. That is good because for the first evening in quite some time I don’t have to be concerned about watering the landscape and instead can enjoy watching hummingbirds and dragonflies dart past my window as I write. It’s not like it hasn’t rained somewhere in Southern California during the past month but I am growing weary of the predictions for 20 percent chance of rainfall. Here in Pinon Hills tucked away into the North Slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, a 20 percent chance really means all the dust on my car will be splattered with a few big rain drops, and 80 percent odds I’m still going to need to water the plants. Hereabouts, the best chance of rainfall is from “monsoonal moisture” streaming in from Baja. For you see, the clouds don’t have to climb over the mountains as they do with storms coming down the coast from Alaska. That also eliminates another situation of living in the shadow of the mountains, which snag moisture from the clouds, because the trajectory from Baja is more direct. There is a caveat to all of this for those who live in Wrightwood. In the past mostly due to those Cajun Voodoo nuances of Dan Campbell, Music in the Pines and other concerts forged ahead with 20 percent chances of rain only to be pummeled by drenching rain. I recall driving home from Wrightwood one time hoping the Cabin had not been flooded because I left the windows open, only to find things perfectly dry. While I have been writing, I noticed the National Weather Service has bumped up the percentage of likely rainfall to 40 percent and that seems to indicate that Wednesday will be a wet day. It’s a clear shot from Baja for monsoonal moisture to drench Southern California and although we have been told the drought has ended, a good August rainstorm would help heat stressed vegetation, and reduce the fire hazard. As for here, it has been years since the two creek beds on my property have flowed, and likewise years since the percolation terraces I created to capture rainfall have filled up. There is nothing like pure rainwater to cleanse the soil of salts, minerals and chemicals. Just days after a cool drenching, shiny new growth appears everywhere on the vegetation; that just can’t be achieved by turning on the hose.
Written July 25, 2017
More Summer Music
Although the month of August is quickly approaching and that means back-to-school issues for many, the Wrightwood summer concert season does not appear to be slowing down. Instead, many new musical events have recently been scheduled that will make August 2017 a month to remember. Coming up on Friday August 4 at 6:00pm, the Village Grind presents an evening with George “Coyote” Keene. The singer/songwriter will perform his special brand of country western music that has established him as a preeminent Wrightwood musician. Following that on Sunday August 6 at 6:00 pm, the Wrightwood Blues Society orchestrates a gala send off for Annie Fleming, who will be traveling to Italy to study abroad for a semester. Both events at the Village Grind include sit down dinner, wine and entertainment. For reservations call Greg Fleming at (760) 249-5501. On Thursday August 10 at 6:00pm, Music in the Pines concludes its season at The Apple Farm with the opening act being Yo Mama’s Voodoo Cajun Blues Jam Revival. Performing Zeidico, Cajun and blues music, scheduled musicians include: Terry “Big T” DeRouen on lead electric guitar, Gary Sizemore on guitar, Walter Foley on bass guitar, Dan Campbell playing squeezebox and singing vocals, Sean Vivirito singing vocals, Mark Rodenborn playing scrub board and tit- fers triangle, Jeff Mitchell on drums, with John Burcher & Friends performing the second line horns. The closing act will be an unusual quartet called Streetlight Cadence, which weaves clever storytelling with cello, violin, accordion, and guitar instruments for busking superb. Just two days later, a Wrightwood tradition of celebrating the birthday of Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia, takes the form of the Fire on the Mountain Music Festival presented by Tommy & Gayle Dowling. The free event at the Village Grind from 11:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Saturday August 12th, features nine different performances from musicians that over the years have formed the cornerstone of the Wrightwood music scene. A special treat for music fans will be the performance by Fred Stuart who was the Senior Master Builder at Fender Guitars for many years. Performing as “Grateful Fred,” his virtuosity on guitar matches his keen ability to construct world-class guitars. One week later on Saturday August 19th from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., The Apple Farm hosts a Summer Dance Party and tribute to Buddy Holly and Ray Charles with special guests The Fontane Sisters. Channeling the spirit of Buddy Holly, Adam Webster will be Buddy Holly and Greg Jones will be Ray Charles, with Gayle Dowling, Brittan Egnozzi and Michele Schneider performing as The Fontane Sisters. Admission is free and all ages are welcome on two dance floors. For additional information go to www.mountainmusic.net
Written July 12, 2017
Hard As A Rock
In the realm of building materials, which have always held a particular interest to me as a sculptor, I learned early on the difference between cement and concrete. In a recent BBC News report, the use of cement as a mortar, for gluing and waterproofing clay blocks, was first attributed to Bedouins in Syria and Jordan around 6,500 BC. Centuries later, ancient Romans discovered the mixing of mineral elements with water created a liquid concrete that produced a chemical heating reaction, which would cure into a mass nearly as hard as rock.
At the onset of building materials, rocks were quarried into blocks, or where there were no rocks, clay was formed into bricks that were hardened in kilns. The invention of concrete provided architects with the freedom of transporting raw materials to what is now regarded as a “batch plant” where elements were mixed, heated and ground up. When binders of crushed rock, sand and water were added, the liquid slurry could then be poured into forms onsite to create solid concrete walls.
According to BBC, scientists have recently discovered a vastly different formula of concrete, used to construct Roman sea walls and harbours, from what was considered to be the invention of modern day concrete patented in 1824 as Portland cement. So named because of similarity in color to Portland limestone quarried from the English Isle of Portland, it consisted of limestone, ash, sandstone, chalk, iron, and clay heated to form a product called “clinker” and then ground up with gypsum.
Unlike Portland cement, which requires steel reinforcing rebar for strength and corrodes over time, researchers found the ancient Roman formula contained lime and volcanic ash combined with aforementioned elements, plus a few surprises. After wooden forms were removed and concrete walls were exposed to seawater, the Roman mixture generated heat and produced a rare mineral called aluminum tobermorite. In turn, the chemical reaction produced crystals that kept growing over time, reinforcing the concrete and preventing cracks from developing.
During an interview with BBC, lead author of the report Marie Jackson from the University of Utah commented, “Contrary to the principles of modern cement based concrete, the Romans created a rock-like concrete that thrives in open chemical exchange with sea water.” Jackson also believes the planned Swansea tidal lagoon power plant in South Wales should be built using the ancient Roman knowledge of concrete, to harness the power of ocean tides.
Additionally Jackson remarked, “The Roman technique was based on building very massive structures that are really quite environmentally sustainable and very long-lasting.” It is truly amazing that modern technology has produced the equipment to analyze Roman concrete poured thousands of years ago.
Written July 3, 2017
Fourth Of July
Growing up in Burbank, observing Independence Day was always second nature to celebrating Dad’s birthday because he was born on the Fourth of July. There would always be a barbeque dinner served to the extended family on the patio under the old elm tree. Afterwards, as everyone gathered around the baby grand piano in the living room, Dad would play the piano and everyone would sing Americana songs, mostly those of Stephen Foster. For Dad, it was fantastic to have all his family members present and as dusk fell the entire sky lit up as the City of Burbank launched fireworks from Starlight Bowl, nestled high in the foothills above. We could not see the actual pyrotechnic display because of the elm tree and for all the kids it was boring to simply see the sky changing colors, when throngs of spectators were enjoying the real view from McCambridge Park just two blocks away. That went on year after year, even after us kids had moved out and were on our own, simply because as Mom always said, “It’s your father’s birthday and your presence is required.” Years later, I had the perfect excuse for not attending because I was in Paris France. While there, much to my surprise friends who were fashion photographers took me to a Fourth of July party near the Pompidou Museum. It was quite an affair with streets closed off for blocks and tables set up for hundreds of ex patriots and tourists, with the cuisine being all-American. Late that night when the peach colored sky finally turned crimson and the fireworks were ignited, I smiled and murmured, “Happy Birthday Dad.” Over the years as memories of those times have been adjusted; I have come to appreciate what was really important and what was merely a flash in the sky. It was the music and singing, not particularly patriotic but instead well-burnished Americana tunes from a time and place that many family members had moved away from. Today, when I listen to the music of Stephen Foster, especially “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Swanee River,” and “Oh! Susanna,” I think of those priceless moments back then in the living room. The neighbors must have thought we were crazy because we were not singing “God Bless America,” but we went to church every Sunday and knew in our hearts this was not the only place God had to look after. And so for this 2017 Fourth of July, I am glad all the old folks at home have moved on now that North Korea has the ability to hit the United States with a missile. Diplomacy is the only way America will have a Happy Birthday!
Written 6/28/2017 Fire Precautions
Well, the month of June has been a real scorcher here in Pinon Hills with the desert influence keeping daytime temperatures over 100 degrees for the better part of two weeks. Triggered by the heat, relative humidity plummeted, as did the moisture content of vegetation. With the potential for brush fires ever present, now is the time to take inventory of fire hazards around the home and landscape. After five years of drought, vegetation is rebounding after this winter’s rainfall. However, most shrubs and trees experienced die back from the dry years, which is a fire hazard that needs to be removed. For example, in the recent Placerita Canyon Fire temperatures reached 110 degrees with relative humidity dropping to five percent. That put the moisture content of vegetation at roughly the equivalent of kiln-dried hardwood. A significant amount of dry branches continues to sap nutrients and can be volatile. Scattered around my property, there are several groves of Antelope Bitterbrush that have shiny green leaves and tiny yellow blossoms. One unique characteristic of the tall shrub is that wherever a branch touched the ground, it will root. So, that requires removing all dead wood so everything is green and somewhat fire retardant. Likewise for native Juniper bushes, that will spread branches on the ground to root and expand the vegetation into a grove over several decades. In both cases, cultivating the duff into the soil and then soaking it infrequently, while keeping the vegetation pruned into wispy filigree, reduces but does not eliminate the fire hazard. I have also noticed that my pine trees, even with fertilizing and deep watering were affected by the drought and may be suffering from bark beetles as well. At any rate, there are dead branches that need to be cut off and the incision sealed with pruning tar. If nothing else, perhaps I can manage to keep the pines vital until we have a drenching El Nino and massive snowstorms, should that ever occur again. Closer to home, dead leaves and debris should be removed from rain gutters and all tree limbs overhanging the roof need to be removed. Over the past 50 years, I always envisioned a canopy of black locust and elm shading the roof of the Cabin in a picturesque manner. However, I compromised and settled on shade for the bedroom and living room walls, and pruned the trees away from a potential flambé canopy. Being practical, dappled sunlight streaming through the windows is by far more comforting than worrying about a tree limb crashing on to the roof. As time goes by, pruning the trees farther away from the Cabin makes sense.
Written June 14, 2017 Litigation Central
Never, in recent history, has the Executive Branch been involved in so many personality changes, career terminations and legal actions when confronted with unfavorable situations. A great deal of Donald Trump’s misfortune of the past five months could have been avoided had he assumed the presidency with a full complement of qualified cabinet members, each one backed by an expansive team of civil servants who were well steeped in the nuances of governance. Instead, promises to his constituency to streamline government and push forward key agenda legislation have been stalled. The latest Gallup Poll indicates 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s job performance while 36 approve of his performance as president. That would seem to infer he should have fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions instead of FBI Director James Comey. The Russian Issue is simply not going to disappear and the fact that Sessions did not disclose his meetings with Russian officials while under oath, during his confirmation hearing to become Attorney General, was a fatal mistake. Although Sessions was confirmed and agreed to rucuse himself from anything related to the Russian Issue in the future as Attorney General, he next colluded with President Trump in the firing of James Comey, who was investigating the Russian Issue. During his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday June 13, Sessions commented, “I do not believe it is a sound position that if you recuse yourself from a single case, you can’t make a decision about the leadership of that agency.” Well, that was a clever way for an intelligent attorney to redefine recuse and perhaps save grace with President Trump, who was opposed to Sessions resigning or recusing himself. And although Trump commented on June 9 that he would be willing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Washington Post headline, “Calling Comey A Liar, Trump Says He Will Testify Under Oath,” speaks for itself. The next challenge for Trump will be to navigate around rumors that he wants to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which was disclosed by Chris Ruddy to Judy Woodruff on PBS NewsHour. That could only be orchestrated by Attorney General Sessions or Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or Trump himself through an executive order that would revoke the Department of Justice regulation dating back to 1999. However, with the only one untarnished at this time being Rod Rosenstein, he seems unlikely to fire Mueller but then he could be fired by Trump, as was Sally Yates. And that could go on ad infinitum until someone in the Department of Justice waffles in favor of Trump. The Russian Issue is not going to disappear and the Republican agenda is a pipe dream.
Written June 6,2017 Landline and Internet issues
Ever since Verizon sold their copper wire infrastructure to Frontier Communication effective April 1, 2016, I have been cautiously optimistic and yet waiting for the next shoe to drop. That’s because I’m basically adverse to change and was satisfied with my simple landline telephone and Internet connection. Here in the Tri-Community where the desert meets the mountains, aging infrastructure can, in many situations, be at the mercy of severe weather conditions. For the most part here in the oldest residential neighborhood of Pinon Hills, I have been fortunate with the Cabin being served by an underground cable connected to a telephone pole on Mountain Road that dates back to when General Telephone was the provider. Overhead lines, coming in from all directions that mostly followed a maze of dirt roads that no longer exist, serve other neighbors. So in wind, sleet and snow conditions, those homes are more apt to experience service interruptions while my cable is safely buried underground and theoretically rodent proof. For that reason, when the telephone or computer ceases to function, I’m fairly certain it is not my infrastructure at fault. During the year and two months of Frontier Communication’s service, my Internet connection failed four or five times ranging in duration from a few hours minimum to 72 hours maximum. In comparison, a neighbor across the road lost Internet for four days. In my situation, the computer indicated the problem was “The DNS Server isn’t responding.” After dialing 611 on the landline and being transferred between customer service agents, I was told my computer was at fault and was then prompted to fidget with the modem. One agent asked for my mailing address and promised she would overnight-mail me a new modem. That never happened and when service resumed I knew it wasn’t the modem. In all cases, because I depend on the Internet to email my journalism articles, I inquired about a credit on my monthly bill for lack of service. Likewise, that never happened. In the most recent incident of June 5, neither my landline nor computer would function. So here’s the scoop. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Frontier Communication experienced one of the bumpiest telecom takeovers ever.” The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported, “DSL Broadband service using traditional copper wire and even Frontier Fiber-Optic service, failed to meet advertised speeds.” Following a BBB link, the State of West Virginia received a $160 million customer-protection settlement for those offenses and was also ordered to pay monetary bill credits for interruption of service based on customers’ daily service rate. And so with the settlement reached by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a precedent has been established for those who demand bill credit.
Written May 31, 2017 Good Times Ahead
I can’t believe the month of June is already here. With summer landscape chores beckoning here in Pinon Hills, the “June gloom” weather with wispy clouds and moist air will be perfect for accomplishing those tasks. However, when things heat up, the real treat of summer will be the 12-mile drive to Wrightwood for the cool outdoor concert season in the pines. Once again, the apricot tree my Great Uncle Ernest planted more than 50 years ago has survived climate whims and is filled with ripening fruit. Over the years, the landscape rewards at the Cabin have been juniper greens and berries for Christmas decorations, lilac blossoms in the spring, and apricots for early summer enjoyment. This year it seemed as if the tree blossomed early and had there been frost or heavy snowfall, as with many times in the past, there would be no fruit. Instead, mild weather prevailed in the North Slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and although the five years drought ended, I have been deep watering the tree to produce golf ball sized juicy fruit that is the true essence of apricot to the taste buds. And while everything else in the landscape benefited from winter rains, the total rainfall this season was much less than in other Southern Californian locales. That’s good because there were no weeds to pull out during the drought. What did suffer however, is the meadow of brilliant colored penstemons that was decimated by last summer’s record breaking heat waves. And while I am thankful for the better than average rainfall, it was not enough to penetrate into the root systems of mature trees and shrubs. That will require rebuilding tree basins and deep watering. In so much as I prefer to work outdoors during the late afternoon and early evening hours, I will soon be rescheduling those activities around Wrightwood concert dates. The outdoor music season kicks off on Thursday June 15 at 6:00 pm when Music in the Pines celebrates its 13th year of free concerts and inaugurates a new dance floor and sound system in The Apple Farm venue. The music continues on June 29, July 13, July 27, and August 10 at the intersection of Highway 2 and Rivera Drive, from 6:00 until 9:30 pm. On Friday June 23 at 5:30 pm, Mike Troeger and the staff of Mountain Hardware host the annual customer appreciation concert. There will be live music, free hotdogs and soft drinks as a way of saying, “Thanks!” The Red Barn Opry returns to Wilkensville Corner on Saturday June 24 at 5:00 pm with free music & food. Step back in time to the country twang of an Old West town.
Written May 22, 2017
President Trump’s 2018 Budget
Most of President Trump’s proposed 2018 fiscal year budget represents a wish list that will not entirely be realized. As a continuation of his “Skinny Budget” prelude released in March, dramatic increases in military spending and the protection of the Southern Border by the Homeland Security Department can indeed be funded through draconian budget cuts to federal agencies, social programs and the complete dismantling of 19 other agencies. However, within the framework of what is intended and what is possible, it will be Congress that ultimately decides who tightens the federal purse strings. In a perfect scenario, the Republican controlled House, Senate and White House could easily steamroll opposition to the military buildup. After all is said and done, we know the Military Industrial Complex will prevail, especially when the terms national security and terrorism are inclusive. However, when military spending for endless undeclared wars places the quality of life at risk for millions of Americans, a chink in the armor can be expected. As an outsider to the Washington Beltway procedure of accomplishing things, Donald Trump failed to recognize that draining the swamp would expose unforeseen quicksand and impediments to his redevelopment plans. I don’t need to say much more about what occurred in the first 100 days of his administration or what will play out in the future. Instead I would like to focus on proposed budget cuts and the elimination of 19 small and independent federal agencies. To begin with, 44 million Americans receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), could experience a 25 percent reduction to the biggest government anti-poverty program. Medicaid and Food Stamps could also be prone to real budget battles and feigned fake battles alike, because at the end of the day politicians of both parties realize voting against Food Stamps and Meals on Wheels, is political suicide. All of the 19 federal agencies facing proposed extinction, currently have bipartisan Congressional oversight of their programs. In total, these agencies have 2,374 full time employees providing job training, community development, legal aid, business investment advice and an array of services that define the American fabric. Being an artistic/literary type, I am particularly incensed with Trump’s intent to abolish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (NPR/PBS), National Endowment for the Arts, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Eliminating our cultural foundation places America on the same level as a banana republic. The no brainer for Beltway Insiders is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which helps American businesses invest in emerging markets. With zero government funding, OPIC has generated funds to the U.S. Treasury for 39 years in the amount of $3.7 billion. Go Figure, Donald.
Written May 17, 2017 June Blues Society
The Wrightwood Blues Society (WBS), a community-based organization supporting appreciation for all genres of Blues music, will meet again on Saturday June 3 at the Jones Chateau. Headlining the dinner party will be Blues vocalist extraordinaire LaNeika Gallon. Critically acclaimed as possessing “The energy of Tina Turner, the attitude of Aretha Franklin, and the vocal range of Whitney Houston,” those are just the parameters to which LaNeika inserts her own sultry dynamics. Nothing compares to Blues music for cushioning the fall of a broken romance, hard times or emotional miscalculations. No sense mincing around when you’re feeling down and out because others have been there as well, and their narrative ballads and soulful guitars will guide you up to a higher level. Along the way on that journey since the early 1900’s, Blues music tore at the heartstrings, while Jazz moved away from lyrics into the freedom of improvisational horns, and Rhythm & Blues (R&B) carved a niche in between with less of the heart and more emphasis on dance music. Nonetheless, the three African American genres contributed immensely to the Great American Songbook. Laneika Gallon began her singing career in a church choir singing religious spiritual music. After that, she gravitated to the more secular Delta, Chicago and West Coast Blues music, which provided a better platform for her vibrant personality and choreography. Introduced to Wrightwood music fans by legendary guitarist Terry “Big T” DeRouen, Laneika performed with him at the Mountain Hardware Customer Appreciation Concert, and with the Seville Street Blues Band at Music in the Pines. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience her up close with songs from her new CD on June 3. Starting with dinner at 6:30 pm, Greg Jones will play keyboards while guests dine. Brittan Egnozzi will sing and play acoustic guitar at 7:15. Following that at 8:00, the “Universal Dudes” Dave Leicht & Mark Barrera will perform with vocals and guitars. And then at 9:00, Laneika gallon hits the stage for more than an hour of Blues music that will astound the audience. If that’s not enough, there will be an Open Mic session at 10:15 for those who wish to contribute their talent to the soirée. The WBS evening of Blues music with ample amounts of Jazz and R&B influences includes dinner and entertainment for a suggested $20.00 donation. The Chateau Jones is more than spacious with Greg’s traditional piano the centerpiece of the entertainment space and plenty of room for musicians and guests alike. Outside on the deck surrounding the great room, commanding views of the San Gabriel Mountains in the setting sunlight add to the allure. To be included on the guest list, call Greg Jones at (760) 574-8231.
Written May 10, 2017 Sally Yates Prevails Big Time!
For an attorney who served as Acting Attorney General of the United States for just ten days before being fired by President Donald Trump for refusing to implement his Executive Order Travel Ban, Sally Yates has since been propelled into a position of national importance. For those who viewed her Senate Confirmation hearing to become Deputy Attorney General in March 2015 during the Obama Administration, her eloquent poise, encyclopedic knowledge of legal precedents and her command of the English language, was astounding. There was a certain feeling of déjà vu on Monday May 8 when the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism topic of the Russian connection to the 2016 election was redirected back to the Immigration Ban, however after three hours of testimony Yates prevailed. Back in 2015, then Senator Jeff Sessions asked Yates, “What would you do if the President asked you to do something improper?” Yates responded, “I would uphold the law and constitution.” Sessions then replied before Yates was confirmed, “I hope you feel free to say no.” As it turned out on Monday when the travel ban subject resurfaced Yates testified, “I made a determination that I believed it was unlawful and that is what I promised you I would do, and that’s what I did.” Yates, born in Atlanta Georgia, and a 27 year career veteran of the Justice Department, speaks with a cadence that is like a metronome’s measured timing, slowly addressing a question and then commenting, “However, let me make one thing clear,” before carefully deconstructing that question with reasoning more precise, while at the same time never losing her composure. It was that way on Monday when according to The Boston Globe, Senator Ted Cruz cited a law that allowed Trump the right to execute his first travel ban. However, Yates then cited a more recent law, which she said specifically did not allow Trump to issue that executive order. As Cruz’s logic was unraveled, there were groans from the audience indicating he may have launched a political career for Sally Yates. And then when the testimony returned to the Russian issue, the nation learned that in her brief position as Acting Attorney General, Yates was the first to identify that deposed National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was lying about his interactions with the Russian Ambassador. After that discovery, Yates went to the top lawyer of the White House Donald McGahn with the findings, “The Justice Department knew Michael Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence, and so most likely did the Russians, who could blackmail him.” And so, Sally Yates will go down in history as a strong woman who told the president “No,” and hopefully others will be inspired.
Written May 2, 2017
Wrightwood Songbook Last Saturday afternoon, Wrightwood musicians Gayle Dowling and Walter Foley held a CD release party for their latest creative endeavor entitled Catalyst. With the exception of two instrumentals written for guitar by Foley, the musical selection included covers of classic standards and arrangements of a few pop songs all sung by Dowling in the “smooth jazz” genre. The event was held at the home of Tommy & Gayle Dowling and the locale of Tommytech Studio where the CD was recorded, mixed and mastered. With musicians performing on the deck and guests seated on the lawn, it was the first outdoor concert of the 2017 Wrightwood music season bathed in golden afternoon sunlight and surrounded by blooming lilacs and towering pine trees. In a departure from Gayle & Company with her son Adam Webster and daughter Brittan Egnozzi, her own original songwriting, and the CD entitled Blue Skies & Red Wine recorded with Coyote Keene in Nashville, Gayle looked radiantially different and sounded different- sometimes wispy and other times sultry. On guitar, Foley never sounded better scatting around in Latin and Flamenco territory where Ella Fitzgerald and Dionne Warwick once roamed. On other arrangements, there were new twists for The Mamas And Papas, Bee Gees, Cat Stevens and most interesting “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome” written by Bob Dylan. Stop by the Village Grind and purchase the new jazz from Dowling and Foley. Later on, Brittan Egnozzi and her band Lipstick Red took the stage to continue the songbook of hit songs from Eric Clapton, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Mama Thornton, with an original song written by Brittan and Ferraro. Musicians included Brittan on lead electric guitar and vocals, Joe Ferraro on electric guitar, Eric Arellano on bass guitar and Tony Egnozzi on drums. After that, there was a feeling of reunion in the air while Gayle, Adam and Brittan hit the stage with acoustic guitars and vocals as Gayle & Company. After knowing each other and performing together for so many years, there was real energy in the guitar playing and impeccable vocal harmonies. The set included songs from Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Concluding the afternoon of music, 14 year old guest performer Lauren Beckman on lead electric guitar, was accompanied by Eric Arellano on bass, Greg Jones and Toby Williams on percussions and featured eight year old Sofia Egnozzi (Gayle’s granddaughter) reciting improvisational stream-of-consciousness lyrics with poise and confidence obviously gained from the Snowline Players theatrical group. Don’t miss every performer mentioned in this column plus many more during the 2017 Music in the Pines season at The Apple Farm in Wrightwood. For additional information, go to www.mountainmusic.net.
Written April 26, 2017 Salton Sea Plan Quite by coincidence recently, the term “brackish salt water” appeared in two separate articles I was reading. As it turns out, Mangrove swamps adjacent to bodies of saltwater may hold the secret to the restoration of the Salton Sea. That’s because Mangrove shrubs, trees and palms thrive in water up to 100 times saltier than most other plants can tolerate. On March 17, the California Natural Resources Agency released the new $383 million Salton Sea Plan, which is intended to construct canals, ponds and wetlands to submerge portions of the lakebed that have become dry, dusty and toxic. When completed in 10 years, restoration along the north and south shores will create habitats for migrating birds. As California’s largest lake measuring 35 miles long by 15 miles wide, the Salton Sea is a terminal lake with no outlet situated 235 feet below sea level. Filled up and evaporated over millions of years, the Salton Sink was last replenished in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through levies and flooded the area for one year. Since then, inflow from the Alamo and New Rivers as well as agricultural runoff, has been outpaced by evaporation and increased salinity. A Pacifica Institute warning in 2014 that 100 tons of fine dust laden with agricultural chemicals could be blown into the air each day also included the prediction of increased respiratory illnesses for population centers downwind. And so, short of remedies involving piping brackish water from Southern California, or saltwater by canal from the Sea of Cortez or Pacific Ocean - costing billions of dollars-the lake will be reduced to two thirds of its current size. Under the Salton Sea Plan, water from the Alamo and New Rivers will be diverted into canals and ponds, with the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians also building shallow wetlands. The key element to success is finding salt tolerant plants that will take root. Later on in reading a BBC article entitled, The Trees Keeping Vietnam Afloat, Mangrove trees were, “Considered the superheroes of the arboreal world, the roots filter salt water while the foliage pulls unparalleled amounts of carbon dioxide from the air.” And while Mangrove vegetation is acting as a living seawall preventing the briny and polluted waters of the Mekong Delta from pushing inland due to rising ocean levels, I thought perhaps identical vegetation could anchor future wetland of the Salton Sea. Granted, Mangrove shrubs, trees, and Nipa Palms are tropical plants, just add water to the desert heat and a microclimate could evolve in time. As for the dust, it would be filtered into briny mud and so much the better for a plant that does so well in a hostel environment.
Written 4/18/2017 Reassessing Oroville Dam … I hate to sound like an armchair structural engineer, but most of the information I wrote about in early February concerning the collapse of the Oroville Dam Main Spillway, has come true. At that time with no prior engineering experience other than one situation, I predicted the spillway would collapse if it wasn’t anchored to solid bedrock. The caveat was the term “anchored to solid bedrock,” which I became quite familiar with during the 1982/1983 El Nino event on the California coastline. Back then, as 25-foot waves pummeled the Malibu ocean front home of Henry Mudd, I discovered as property manager that telephone poles supporting the living room, dining room and kitchen structure, had not been driven to and anchored into solid bedrock. Imagine if you will a circus tent-like room with massive curved laminated beams rising to a cupola, constructed on a podium supported by telephone poles, which according to architectural plans, extended 20 feet below the normal sand level to bedrock. The only problem was that as sand eroded with each high tide, there was actually only four feet of pilings remaining, and when the structure shuddered violently from storm surf, it listed seaward. The miracle of the event was that everything was built so strongly it did not break apart as pilings sunk unsupported by bedrock. The immediate solution was to construct a granite sea wall to prevent further sand erosion with the eventual outcome being to jack up the building and support it with new concrete pilings anchored into bedrock. To make a long story shorter in regards to the seawall, the sand was excavated to bedrock, holes were drilled to accommodate gluing two inch diameter rebar into the rock formation, and then 1,100 tons of granite boulders were stacked in place while concrete was pumped in between the rocks, creating a solid mass reinforced with steel. In the past two months, as photographic images of the damaged Oroville spillway have been seen in the news media and on the Internet, the very hard blue granite is where the spillway should have been anchored, instead of grading fill of decomposed crumbly orange granite as a base for the spillway. And then, the floor and side walls were inadequately thin and reinforced with rebar just one half the diameter used on the Mudd seawall. There is not a Band-Aid large enough to patch the damaged area, nor enough confidence for the upslope portion of the spillway. Someone miscalculated in the 1960s and did not anchor the spillway to solid bedrock. State officials should admit it and construct a new spillway. At risk are the electricity generated by the dam, and the water flowing into the California Aqueduct.
Wrightwood Blues Society
Last Saturday evening, Blues music enthusiasts enjoyed dinner and a concert featuring singer/songwriter and pianist Lynn Davison, presented by the Wrightwood Blues Society (WBS). The event was held in the spacious home of Greg & Sandy Jones, who have championed the appreciation of Blues music in the community for several years. In addition to fine cuisine prepared by Sandy and great music from Greg and Lynn, there was anticipation in the air with the announcement that WBS has filed an application to become a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. Expected to be finalized this summer, the mission statement reads, “In a world where intellectual capital is becoming our most important commodity, WBS strives to encourage, celebrate and disseminate a variety of Blues traditions and creativity. By combining inspiring artists with veteran performers, we sing, dance and extend honor to our community of friends.” During a brief interview prior to the entertainment Greg explained, “Although Sandy and I have enjoyed contributing to this effort, the response and attendance has been overwhelming. A nonprofit will better support the musical goals of six performances this year and be able to cater dinner when Sandy will be absent for two of the concerts. Above everything, the success of WBS will attract more legendary musicians to Wrightwood.” After dinner, Greg sat down at the piano and warmed up the audience singing and playing a medley of Al Jarreau songs. Accompanying him were Irwin Williams on bass guitar, John Burcher on saxophone, Toby Williams on drums and Brittan Egnozzi on vocals. After that, Jones and Egnozzi sang and vocally scatted their way through “It’s Alright” by The Impressions, Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” with Burcher wailing on saxophone, and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” On that finale, the audience was singing and the ladies were dancing. Up next, Jones introduced Lynn Davison, a native of Queens New York who studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. As a Wrightwood resident for the past seven years, Davison has performed with Terry “Big T” DeRouen, Greg Jones and Walter Foley. On June 15, she will headline the opening concert of 2017 Music in the Pines with her band Class X. For her set, Davison played electric keyboards and sang with Vic Padilla on electric guitar joining the house band. Mixing things up between cover songs of The Impressions, Joni Mitchell, The Shirelles and The Ronettes, there were also original selections from her new CD entitled Outside The Box, all performed with a strong voice and dexterous fingering of the ivories. Plan now to attend the next session of the Wrightwood Blues Society on June 3. For additional information, call Greg Jones at (760) 574-8231.
Written 4/3/17 Smoketree Junction
Last Saturday in Pinon Hills, spring was in the air and there was no April foolin’ with haggling for bargain prices at Smoketree Junction Antiques. Being that it was the first Saturday of the month, the flea market featuring 56 arts & crafts vendors spilled into the parking lot and surrounding areas. The weather was perfect and with the addition of food vendors, shoppers could relax and eat lunch while contemplating their next purchase. Permanent businesses of Smoketree Junction, open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, include the Antique Studio, Furniture Box, Plant Nursery & Garden, the Main Building, The Garden House and The Hen House for vintage clothing. Future developments being planned by owner Sandi Hemingway include the Trailer Park and Tin Shed. As warm sunlight streamed through skylights, The Garden House operated by Shreen Flores and featuring indoor plants and succulents, was at its prime. Everything glistened in its greenness as the healthy and happy plants waited to be appreciated in a new home. Additionally home and garden décor, as well as the structure itself, presented so many creative ideas. Nearby, flea market vendor Deadwood Mercantile offered an array of wood birdhouses and welded metal sculptures. Another vendor, Wayne Pitzler of Phelan, presented a fascinating display of sculptures created from repurposed horseshoes welded into creative designs. Wine bottle holders, mirror frames and boot racks are just a few designs of more than 20 items, which can be viewed by going to “Horseshoe Kreations” on Facebook and Pinterest. And then just a few steps away, hand painted rural mailboxes in a variety of themes definitely caught my eye. What’s for Lunch? Well, there were juice drinks and smoothies from Maui Wowi, a turkey sandwich lunch with potato salad, chips and cold bottled water from another vendor, and apple juice, apple crisp and other delights from yet another vendor. For those who had shopped up a real appetite, Up In Smoke BBQ Catering provided an array of substantial meals cooked fresh while you waited under umbrellas. And for those who wished to go no further than this exciting excursion, a nearby display of sumptuous locally grown produce provided everything needed for a light supper at home. For the ideal locale to shop for antiques, collectables, furniture, salvaged items, precious junk, clothing, and plants of all types, Smoketree Junction is located at 815 State Highway 138 near Oasis Road in Pinon Hills 92372. For additional information call (760) 868-8806. Plan now to attend the next flea market on Saturday May 6 from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm, when the selection of arts & craft items increases dramatically. Coming up this summer, sunset dining in the garden resumes on Fridays.
Written 3/29/17 The Traveling Wilburys
One of my all-time favorite bands, so regarded for their rollicking good friendship as band mates, was The Traveling Wilburys. In troubled times such as these, it is refreshing to travel down memory lane to a different time and place with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. While each was a superstar in their own right, they ditched all pretenses and contractual restraints by going anonymous and becoming the Wilbury brothers. According to Chairman Emeritus of Warner Brothers Records Mo Ostin, the name came about when Harrison and Lynne were co-writing a B-side single for the song “This Is Love.” After experiencing equipment malfunctions and recording mistakes for the new song “Handle With Care,” Lynne quipped, “We’ll bury ‘em in the mix,” and that morphed into Traveling Wilburys when Harrison, Lynne, Petty and Orbison traveled to Dylan’s Malibu recording studio to lay down the track. When Ostin heard the recording, he thought it was much more than a B-side single and instead proposed an entire album. Shortly afterwards during an interview on Bob Coburn’s Rockline Radio Program, Harrison let the cat out of the bag when he mentioned a new band called The Traveling Wilburys. The actual recording for Volume One came together at the Wallace Neff designed house in Coldwater Canyon, owned by Eurythmics band member Dave Smith and documented in a YouTube video, The True History Of The Traveling Wilburys. It was there during ten days that the Wilburys took up residence, writing and performing a tune each day in an epic stream-of- consciousness session. In regards to that accomplishment Mo Ostin remarked, “Everybody sang, everybody wrote, everybody produced, and had a great time doing so.” Added to the band were Jim Keltner on drums, Ray Cooper on percussions and Jim Horn playing saxophone. The cast was in their prime, often sharing a single microphone and magically sliding into animated vocal harmonies as they played guitars. In retrospect, the album orchestrated a long overdue recognition for Orbison who passed away just two months after the release of Volume One. It was the surprise hit of the year, initially selling two million copies and winning a Grammy Award. Followed up in 1990 with Volume Three and the sequence intentionally skewed by Harrison as a prank to, “Confuse the buggers,” the absence of Orbison was depicted with a guitar in a rocking chair. And then out of print since 1995, a Rhino Records box set debuted at #1 on the UK Album Chart and #9 on the U.S. Billboard 200 in 2007. In total, all the songs and videos of Volume One and Volume Three are a fresh and engaging testimonial to The Traveling Wilburys.
WRITTEN 3/21/17 The High Desert Keepers
In a relatively short period of time, a new organization based in Pinon Hills, named The High Desert Keepers (THDK), has made an impact at exposing the incredible amount of trash being dumped along isolated roads in our community. While dumped items include the ubiquitous trash bags of household refuse, the overall blight is much more dramatic. There are thousands of tires and mattresses, furniture items, appliances, vehicles, boats, construction debris and landscape greenery, scattered everywhere in the terrain. Founded by photographer/filmmaker Scott Brown, the core purpose of THDK is cleaning up illegal dumping in the High Desert. Back in 2009, Brown was instrumental in cleaning up a massive dumpsite parallel to Highway 2 between Desert Front and Scrub Oak Roads. More recently, the organization has focused on a clean up in the Pionero and Smoke Tree Roads area of Pinon Hills. To date, “Operation Pionero” stats include: 35 tons of trash collected, more than 900 tires removed and one stolen car recovered. In both instances, CR&R donated 40-yard dumpsters, and community volunteers filled them up. During a recent interview Brown commented, “Most of the evidence points to unlicensed contractors who dump construction debris and large residential clean-up items in the desert after being paid to transport those items to the dump, and instead pocket the money.” With the use of drone aircraft to photograph the extensive blight, which can be viewed at www.highdesertkeepers.org, Brown as President of THDK has commanded attention from governmental agencies and community members alike. This Saturday, March 25, THDK joined by the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District, San Bernardino County Code Enforcement, and CR&R are hosting a tire and electronic Amnesty Day from 8:00AM until 12 Noon at the CR&R facility, located at 9828 Buckwheat Road in Pinon Hills. It has been confirmed that nine or fewer tires will be accepted for free from each person wishing to legally discard them. At the same time, THDK volunteers will clean up trash on Buckwheat Road and then move on to Operation Pionero until 3:00PM. And then on Sunday March 26 from 9:00 until 3:00PM, the clean up continues in the Pionero Road and Smoke Tree Road area. With gracious thanks to an individual who donated $1,200 to facilitate formation of a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, THDK is now five weeks away from achieving that goal. That will create eligibility to receive grants and provide a tax deductable donation status for those who wish to support the massive undertaking of restoring beauty to our desert. In the meantime, call Scott Brown at (760) 792-7399 for information on a GoFundMe fundraising platform. Cleaning up the desert one dumpster at a time can be achieved.
Written 3/15/2017 Congressional Budget Office Bomb
So much for Donald Trump’s pre-inauguration promise when he told the Washington Post, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody and that coverage will be much less expensive and much better.” But then who do you believe when Democratic and Republican politicians alike and their staff members and their families all have health insurance subsidized by U.S. taxpayers? When you add law enforcement officers, firemen, members of the military, judges, school board trustees and a plethora of other positions to the mix, the numbers dwarf those the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated, on Monday March 13, would not be covered by the GOP healthcare plan, known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and nicknamed “Trumpcare.” In the long awaited report published by the CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation, it was reported that the AHCA would not cover 24 million Americans while reducing the federal budget by $337 billion in the year 2026. In comparison, the current Affordable Care Act (ACA)-pronounced the same as AHCA with or without a tongue depressor, but known as “Obamacare”- is reputed to have extended health coverage to 20 million previously uninsured Americans with a $130 billion reduction to the federal budget by 2025. Any way you look at it, what is saved on healthcare in the next nine years will be eclipsed by a proposed $486 billion increase in defense spending. As for the CBO report, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price commented on Monday, “We think the CBO simply has it wrong.” That was a repetition of GOP criticism to the 2010 CBO analysis of Obamacare, in which expectations did not match results. In regards to the present and past reports White House press secretary Sean Spicer remarked, “We don’t believe it. Look at the CBO past score of Obamacare.” However, the CBO is the only independent scorekeeper that is considered relevant when lawmakers formulate new policy, and current Director Keith Hall is a former George W. Bush White House official who received his current position with Paul Ryan’s and Tom Price’s support. Let’s be candid here, recent decisions by the Electoral College and the CBO have been unpopular, but neither side of the aisle has any intention of addressing a change. Those who have healthcare insurance provided by their employers, who can negotiate medical and pharmaceutical costs, are fortunate. In the meantime, those who do not have health insurance, those who are unable to leverage reduced medical costs, are left to founder. In countries around the world that have government-subsidized healthcare, wellbeing and productivity exceed the situation here in America. Politicians should be reminded who pays for their health insurance and extend common decency to their constituents.
Written 3/8/2017 Distract Attention And Move On
I’m sorry, but the white-knuckle thrill of this roller coaster ride is gone. After successfully navigating a much-needed change of direction in his address to the joint session of Congress, President Trump enjoyed two days of praise before that pesky Russian topic resurfaced. Unfortunately, the lyrical phrase murmured by White House press secretary Sean Spicer on February 27, “How many people have to say there’s nothing there, before you realize there’s nothing there?” actually defused nothing. That statement, intended to end the discussion on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ alleged contact with the Russian Ambassador, was reinforced by President Trump on Thursday March 2 while he visited the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford at Newport News Shipbuilding. When questioned by journalists, Trump stated he felt there was no reason for Sessions to recuse himself from a potential Justice Department investigation, or resign. However, the only problem was that while he spoke, Sessions was recusing himself in a hastily called press conference-on the advice of his staff, not the president. I give him credit for that, and as an attorney and orator, he handled the situation professionally. That did not bode well with the president, and on Friday there was a meltdown at the White House. According to CNN, “Trump is extremely frustrated with his senior staff and communications team for allowing the firestorm surrounding Attorney General Sessions to steal his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress…Nobody has seen him that upset.” At that point, the strategy should have been to hunker down and ride out the storm. But instead, Trump employed his mechanism of distracting attention away from an issue with tweets early Saturday morning of unfounded accusations that former president Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones at Trump Plaza during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. For many, including Obama, former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), President Trump crossed the line with unsubstantiated accusations. What should have occurred is Trump citing his source, and if it was Breitbart as reported, he would be off the hook by simply stating, “According to Breitbart…” Instead after the fact, Whitehouse Spokesperson Sarah Sanders commented, “He’s made it very clear what he believes, and he’s asking we get down to the bottom of this.” As of March 6, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway stated, “He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not have.” In the mean time, 65 percent of Americans say an independent prosecutor should handle an independent investigation (CNN-ORC Poll). That will happen and certainly impede Trump’s ability to move on.
Written 2/28/17 A Trace Of Spring
Although spring is just three weeks away, it is certainly too early in the season for my apricot tree to start blooming. It’s that magical weather cycle I wrote about not long ago of plentiful rain alternating with sunny warm days. And while that pattern is good for wildflowers-which will begin to bloom in mid March- the apricot tree may have some problems setting blossoms and fruit. Every year is different for fruit trees here in the North Slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. In years like this when tenacious white blossoms sparkle in the winter sunlight, the perils of strong cold winds, frost and snowfall remain a constant threat to my springtime bowl of sliced apricots in vanilla ice cream. As singer/songwriter Nick Drake wrote, “Fruit tree, fruit tree, no-one knows you but the rain and the air.” In traveling to the San Fernando Valley last week, I was amazed with how green and opulent the hillsides in Acton have become. That bodes well for the upcoming wildflower walk sponsored by Transition Habitat Conservancy (THC) and the California Native Plant Society at the THC Portal Ridge Wildlife Preserve in Lancaster, scheduled for March 18. The walk begins at 9:00 am just west of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve where Lancaster Road intersects with 190th Street. Driving north on the I-14 Freeway, take Avenue I west for 15 miles where it becomes Lancaster Road. After that, proceed to 190th Street where you will see ribbons directing you to the meeting location. Celebrate the arrival of spring in the outdoors, and bring a lunch, snacks, and drinking water. It is best to wear layered clothing and a hat, as the weather could be cool in the morning and warmer in the afternoon. Most importantly, don’t forget your camera. For those who wish, THC will be carpooling from the Phelan Rite Aid to Lancaster at 7:15 am. For additional information, call Wendy Walker at the THC office at (760) 868-1400 or on her cell phone at (760) 220-6141. To enhance your day of natural beauty, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is open from sunrise until sunset at 15101 Lancaster Road. For the latest information on the poppy bloom, call the Wildflower Hotline at (661) 724-1180. At this time due to heavier rainfall than normal, the poppy bloom starting in mid-March will be moderate. It has been predicted that spring of 2017 will be an exceptional year to enjoy California wildflowers. To obtain the latest Southern California and Central California wildflower information every Friday beginning in March and continuing through May, go to www.theodorepayne.org/education/wildflower-hotline. After years of drought, it will be refreshing once again to enjoy the wonderful palette of color.
Written 2/21/17 Rare Earth Elements Debacle
In our modern high tech world, rare earth elements (REE) are needed to manufacture an array of products ranging from the ubiquitous cell phone to ballistic missile guiding systems. REE are also essential in the production of electric cars, wind and jet aircraft turbines, LED lights, TV flat screens, computer hard drive magnets, smart bombs, nuclear submarines and electro-magnetic aircraft launchers. Ever since the bankruptcy of Molycorp Inc. in 2015, China has controlled 75 percent of the world’s REE supply and 90 percent of all processed REE sold to U.S. consumers, including the Pentagon (foxness.com). Located in Mountain Pass California, Molycorp was the only REE mine in America and the poster child of the industry with its state-of-the arts facility. However, after spending $1.3 billion to upgrade productions and secure environmental permits, Molycorp could not sell its minerals cheaper than state operated Chinese mines. Even with a $3 million earmark secured by former Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) in the House Defense appropriations bill citing national security concerns and a $540 million loan from a hedge fund- Molycorp defaulted. Lost were 400 jobs and scores of career training students at Barstow Community College, who would have become the next generation of employees at Mountain Pass. During the Obama administration, and in spite of a feature topic on CBS’ 60 Minutes in regards to Molycorp’s importance to national security, it was decided not to approve a $1.4 billion federal bailout. Instead, millions of dollars were appropriated to solar panel company Solyndra, which was importing REE from China and even then went bankrupt. For stockholders of record, who believed the U.S. Government would bail out Molycorp as it had for Chrysler Corporation during the Vietnam War when Chrysler was the sole producer of Army tanks-they were mistaken. The big difference then was the country was involved in a war, and the greater illusion now with all the saber rattling and tension in the South China Sea, is that in spite of everything, China will continue selling REE to the United States and its allies. History repeats itself, and just like in 2010 when China cut off REE sales to Japan during a territorial dispute of the China Sea, it could easily happen to the United States. As a result of that incident, Molycorp sales and stock prices soared, only to plummet when diplomacy resolved the situation. Later this month, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) will introduce legislation that will require the U.S. Military to obtain REE produced in America. The bill would divert funds from military aircraft and missile systems to activate abandoned facilities such as Molycorp Mountain Pass. That’s just in time, as foreign investors bid on Mountain Pass in Bankruptcy Court.
Written 2/15/17 Contemplating Oroville Dam
Along with all the accomplishments of designing exceptional dams, there have also been some miscalculations that threatened the performance of those structures. While observing the continuing saga at the Oroville Dam in the past week, I have been fascinated with the towering 770-foot high dam that seems to be functioning properly, contrasted by poorly constructed water release spillways. In the worst-case scenario, tremendous runoff from rainfall and spring snowmelt could carve a new watercourse west of the dam, resembling a smaller version of Niagara Falls. To begin with, there needs to be some clarification of semantics used by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the news media. The main concrete spillway is a 3,000-foot long by 300-foot wide chute extending from the lake to the Feather River, while the “Emergency Spillway” is a 1,700-foot long concrete wall or weir, extending west from the main spillway to a parking lot. There is no actual spillway structure between the weir and the river. Last week as water releases from the lake roared down the main spillway, a pothole in the concrete floor quickly grew to a cavern measuring 300 feet long by 500 feet wide by 45 feet deep. As the sidewalls collapsed, water spewed out both sides and into the air exposing a giant rock formation. Obviously, the main spillway had been constructed on fill dirt graded over the boulders without being anchored to bedrock. As erosion continued, deterioration of the spillway occurred both upslope and downslope. When the main spillway was shut off, the lake level rose to 901 feet sheeting over the weir and flowing directly down the 30-foot high face to the barren hillside below. As velocity increased due to 20 inches of rainfall, topsoil eroded exposing more rock formations. There was white water everywhere as water flow created a hole that began creeping upslope towards the base of the weir. Fearing the weir could collapse and send a 30-foot wall of water down the canyon, DWR then ramped up outflow on the damaged main spillway to 100,000 cubic feet per second-lowering the lake and eliminating water flow over the weir. At this point, someone needs to produce construction drawings of the weir to determine if it was built on fill or anchored into bedrock-especially the west end at the parking lot. If it was not properly constructed, it could very well collapse and develop into a new watercourse. That’s where the emergency is combined with a factor called hydraulic uplift, which may imperil both the main spillway and weir. If that occurs, Lake Oroville will initially be 30 feet lower until the Feather River scours a new canyon around the dam.
Written 2/6/17 Lady Gaga’s Kinetic Super Bowl
Always captivated by which persona Lady Gaga will embrace next in concert, I was reasonably certain she would channel dignity as headliner of the Super Bowl half time concert. After all, her stunning rendition of the National Anthem at last year’s Super Bowl Game definitely played a part in being chosen to return this year as headliner. And although Lady Gaga rarely confines herself to traditional norms, I knew she wouldn’t waste any of her very precise 13 minute set ranting some political diatribe, which would tarnish one of her lifelong dreams of headlining at Super Bowl. Instead, as Lady Gaga positioned herself atop the roof of Houston’s NRG Stadium dressed in a shimmery body suit with red, white and blue drones flying in the background, her political leap of faith amounted to singing the opening stanzas of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” followed by reciting the final verse of the Pledge of Allegiance... “One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” In doing so, Lady Gaga avoided politically overt statements and instead quite cleverly wove the nationalistic tone of Berlin and the more socialist lyrics of Guthrie into a single fabric of inclusion and diversity. After that, she added aerial acrobat to her talents of singer and dancer by quite literally leaping into the air and gliding down to the stage below suspended on cables, as 111.3 million viewers worldwide watched in amazement. That in itself was certainly a dynamic introduction to what was to follow. Onstage, there were 20 dancers mirroring every dance step of Lady Gaga, basked in white-hot klieg lights and colorful fireworks. On the football field surrounding the stage, thousands of adoring fans waved flashlights creating a sea of golden light as the diva sang her heart out. The medley of her greatest hits, included: “The Edge of Glory,” “Poker Face,” with a nod to Texas, “Born This Way” - her anthem to diversity in which she sings, “I’m beautiful in my way, because God Makes no mistakes,” and “Telephone.” Continuing, Lady Gaga sang “Just Dance” while playing a keytar electronic keyboard on a shoulder strap and strutting around a male dancer holding her microphone. After that, Lady Gaga descended from the stage to a piano and sang a new song entitled “Million Reasons” before wading into the audience to shake hands with and hug fans. On the finalé of “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga pranced up a staircase while singing, caught a football and dove off the stage. Indeed a phantasmagoria of kinetic singing, dancing and acrobatics- Lady Gaga achieved everything she intended without shooting herself in the foot.
Written 1/28/17 Things To Consider
In his pedal-to-the-metal effort to affect rapid change in the Washington DC political scene, President Donald Trump is risking alienation. Forget about what he might accomplish in the first 100 days and simply focus on what has occurred in the first eight days. In that short timeframe, Trump has become the first U.S. President since Ronald Reagan to achieve a majority disapproval rating with 51 percent of voters opposed to his policies. According to the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center, Bill Clinton reached that disapproval threshold on day 573 and likewise with Ronald Reagan on day 722, Barrack Obama on day 936, George Bush on day 1,205, and George H.W. Bush on day 1,336. Excuse the minutiae but it indicates that all those other presidents succumbed to disapproval well into their terms with a full complement of cabinet members and other political appointments in place. To date, with 1,100 positions in the Executive Branch to be filled-700 of which are deemed critical-President Trump has only nominated 33 individuals. With all the far-reaching executive orders that have been signed, it seems inconceivable that adequate research was conducted to determine if legal ramifications were defensible. According to the Associated Press (AP) in regards to the immigration ban, “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation as head of the State Department, were not aware of all details of the executive order until Trump signed it.” In related incidents, Patrick Kennedy, State Department Undersecretary for Management since 2007, resigned along with the entire Senior Management Team. Additionally, dozens of career diplomats who signed on to an internal State Department dissent cable were told by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, “I think they should either get with the program or they can go.” And then in late breaking news on Monday January 30, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates who ruled against and stated she would not defend the executive order on immigration, was fired by President Trump. In doing so, the White House stated, “Yates betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designated to protect the citizens of the United States.” In total, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, construction of a wall on the Mexican Border, the immigration and travel ban against seven Muslim majority nations and an executive order requiring federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new rule introduced-are agenda items currently being addressed without a full complement of expertise. In regards to a flurry of reportage on aforementioned issues, Chief White House Strategist Stephen Bannon stated on Monday, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
Written 1/30/2017 Things To Consider
In his pedal-to-the-metal effort to affect rapid change in the Washington DC political scene, President Donald Trump is risking alienation. Forget about what he might accomplish in the first 100 days and simply focus on what has occurred in the first eight days. In that short timeframe, Trump has become the first U.S. President since Ronald Reagan to achieve a majority disapproval rating with 51 percent of voters opposed to his policies. According to the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center, Bill Clinton reached that disapproval threshold on day 573 and likewise with Ronald Reagan on day 722, Barrack Obama on day 936, George Bush on day 1,205, and George H.W. Bush on day 1,336. Excuse the minutiae but it indicates that all those other presidents succumbed to disapproval well into their terms with a full complement of cabinet members and other political appointments in place. To date, with 1,100 positions in the Executive Branch to be filled-700 of which are deemed critical-President Trump has only nominated 33 individuals. With all the far-reaching executive orders that have been signed, it seems inconceivable that adequate research was conducted to determine if legal ramifications were defensible. According to the Associated Press (AP) in regards to the immigration ban, “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation as head of the State Department, were not aware of all details of the executive order until Trump signed it.” In related incidents, Patrick Kennedy, State Department Undersecretary for Management since 2007, resigned along with the entire Senior Management Team. Additionally, dozens of career diplomats who signed on to an internal State Department dissent cable were told by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, “I think they should either get with the program or they can go.” And then in late breaking news on Monday January 30, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates who ruled against and stated she would not defend the executive order on immigration, was fired by President Trump. In doing so, the White House stated, “Yates betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designated to protect the citizens of the United States.” In total, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, construction of a wall on the Mexican Border, the immigration and travel ban against seven Muslim majority nations and an executive order requiring federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new rule introduced-are agenda items currently being addressed without a full complement of expertise. In regards to a flurry of reportage on aforementioned issues, Chief White House Strategist Stephen Bannon stated on Monday, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
Written 1/25/2017 Replace Your Divots
I would like if I may, to draw a comparison between a golfing term and the Highway 138 reconstruction project. You see, when a player hits the golf ball a bit low with his club and also scoops up a clump of turf commonly referred to as a divot, the sod will take root and regrow if replaced in the divot hole. According to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, “Replacing a divot greatly speeds up the healing process of turf.” Likewise, we all know that the completed reconstruction of Highway 138 will greatly reduce the hazards of “Blood Alley” ranked as the most dangerous two-lane road in California. However with construction ongoing until August, the roadway has become more treacherous. For lack of a better term, I have come to associate those indentations in the asphalt on Highway 138 that once contained reflectors indicating traffic lanes, with divots. As construction progressed and K-Rails were moved around, abandoned divot holes that could be seen in daylight created a confusing and bumpy ride. At night and in rain or snow, the divot holes become impossible to see along with the faded temporary lane paint. While local motorists tend to be aware of the situation and obey a reduced speed limit of 45 mph, others race ahead until they encounter rough pavement and the uncertainty of the lane boundaries. There is however a real contrast between work performed by different contractors in CalTrans District 7 (west of the L.A. County line) and CalTrans District 8 (east of L.A. County Line). In District 7, when the reflectors were removed the pavement was also excavated and replaced with new asphalt. That created a smooth roadway, which allowed motorists to focus on narrow realignment of lanes through K-Rails. Look at the tire skid markets on Highway 138 between the L.A. County Line and the I-15 Freeway and that’s where you will find the divot holes. Signs that read “Construction Next 15 Miles” and “No Shoulder” should also include “Rough Pavement” wherever reflectors were removed and divot holes were ignored by the contractor. Particularly treacherous areas at Phelan Road, near Sheep Creek Wash and between Beekley Road and Highway 2, should be traversed with reduced speed and attentive caution. Different phases of the Highway 138 reconstruction project have been progressing now for several years. Every mile accomplished reduces the carnage, but it will not be eliminated until both Districts 7 and 8 have double lanes in each direction, or passing lanes. Until then, impatient drivers will continue to pass slower traffic on the wrong side of the road or on the shoulder. With winter weather conditions here, divot holes accentuate the hazard.
Theodore Payne Foundation Redo
After years of planning and construction, the Theodore Payne Foundation (TPF) has recently completed a nearly $1 million expansion to its headquarters campus and native plant nursery situated on 22 acres in Sun Valley, California. Initially, a $930,000 grant from the California Department of Parks and Recreation was used to upgrade the Nature Education Center, gardens and trails. A subsequent grant of $10,000 from the Community Foundation of the Verdugos funded trail improvements and signage for Wildflower Hill, while a $50,000 grant from the Ahmanson Foundation was directed to the Nature Center and trails project.
Driving north from Tuxford Street, native plant enthusiasts are now welcomed by a new decomposed granite (DG) parking configuration and circular drive around the existing 1960s era headquarters/bookstore /art gallery/ building, which was extended to incorporate new restrooms. To the west, two separate education classrooms have been constructed facing the DG driveway. Between those structures, a pathway leads to a demonstration garden nestled in a grove of sycamore and oak trees.
Farther up the canyon, the year-round nursery features more than 400 species of native plants, which were introduced into cultivation for public use by Theodore Payne during his lifetime. Beyond the nursery, hikers pass by seed propagation rooms on their way to Wildflower Hill.
This Saturday on January 21, wildflower paintings created by Joan Keesey will be displayed in the art gallery with a reception from 1:00 until 3:00 p.m. and an artist talk at 2:00. Prints and cards by Keesey are available for sale throughout the exhibit, which continues until April 22.
The following weekend on January 26, 27, 28, TPF holds its 2017 Winter Plant Sale with members receiving a 15 percent discount on plants, seeds, bulbs and clothing, with non-members also receiving a 10 percent discount after 11:00 am.
The Theodore Payne Foundation is located at 10459 Tuxford Street in Sun Valley 91352, (818) 768-1802. Regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm. For complete information on nursery stock, classes, demonstrations and garden tours throughout Southern California, go to www.theodorepayne.org.
Celebrating 51 years in Sun Valley, TPF has a new look steeped in the historic tradition of its founder, who opened his first nursery in 1903 at 440 South Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. Some 114 years later, the message of Theodore Payne remains the same, “Be a good Californian; be loyal to your state and keep your landscape Californian.”
Plan now to spend a day of discovery at the Theodore Payne Foundation and although the one thing missing is food, the picnic area under a canopy of shade trees is the perfect setting for your alfresco meal in the open air.
Written January 4, 2017 A Thorny Issue
After completing their studies in college, trade school or graduate school, 44 million Americans who financed their education with student loans are realizing that career incomes may be insufficient to address the debt. And while student loan debt at $1.3 trillion ranks second to real estate mortgage debt, it exceeds auto loans, credit card debt or home equity loans. Clearly, more than 40 percent of those who benefited from student loans are either in default, delinquent in payments, or postponing repayment. For some, the employment marketplace simply did not pay an amount that borrowers thought to be commensurate with a degree. For others enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), a change in the definition of the term “public service” disqualified millions of participants. The PSLF program initiated in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Education provided a partial loan forgiveness track for those who would choose careers as employees of governmental agencies, employees of 501 (c) (3) non-profit organizations, or employees of other groups who provide “qualifying” public service jobs. The guidelines of the program stipulated that after borrowers completed 120 monthly payments over a 10 year period, the balance of the loan would be forgiven. However, as cited in lawsuits by the American Bar Association and several attorneys who were disqualified, “The Department of Education changed the rules in regards to acceptable careers and redefined the scope of public service.” For those who were disqualified, many had chosen governmental or nonprofit jobs with a lower pay scale as a pathway to paying off their loan in 10 years. However once disqualified, they had the option of starting over again under the new rules, but were cautioned that any amount forgiven would be subject to income taxes as a “profit.” In a New York Times editorial, a single payment plan was recommended based on a percentage of the borrower’s income. It was felt the mechanism would provide relief for millions and increase economic stimulus, and that excessive student debt reduces disposable income spending. Additionally, “Repayment rather than default, would guarantee a steady source of income to taxpayers’ coffers.” On another side of the issue, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressional Democrats have proposed forgiveness of student loan debt and income tax for “Severely Disabled Americans,” which the Treasury Department has rejected. As borrowers age, earn less and become more infirm, nearly 500,000 have been pushed into the poverty level, while last year alone 110,000 seniors had their Social Security benefits garnished to repay student loans. It’s a thorny issue because many students like myself, went to school and worked jobs and did not take advantage of student loans. In retrospect, pay as you go was more rewarding.
Written December 27, 2016
New Year Resolute
I really mean it this time, I’m fully determined to rummage through all the clutter and remove boxes of things in the closet that have lingered too long. It’s more than a New Year’s resolution, which turned into a mere suggestion for action over the years…it is now an imperative to reclaim square footage. With the completion of my studio/workshop this year, the cabin is now designated for living, reading and writing, while the studio is a workplace where the cat is not allowed. In past years, I always placed more emphasis on an upcoming birthday as the impetuous for completing unfinished projects. And so upon turning 71 in October, the studio had been completed and the grand reorganization of my life was well under way. Thanks to the reappearance of my woodworking mentor Kirk who I had not seen for 20 years, the contents of a storage container were moved into the workshop and the container was removed. Inside my new workspace, all the things that had been packed away for 20 years since departing from my Downtown Los Angeles studio, were resituated as they once were. Framing the workbench were pegged mortise and tenon shelf brackets made from European timbers supporting a real strong shelf some 15 feet in length. Another component made by Kirk was a four foot by seven foot work table constructed of redwood timbers held together with pegged mortise and tenon joinery. And then, two identical three foot by eight foot shelving units, one in the cabin and one in the storage container were moved into the studio. After that, a secretary’s desk was moved into the cabin for bookkeeping chores and to contain photograph archives. I could go on and on about everything that was shifted around, however the basic objective was simply to recreate a sense of order that existed in the Arts District. With that accomplished in the studio, my focus now in the cabin is to shred boxes of outdated business records that will be recycled in the landscape. For some time, I have been creating a tall berm with my tractor, layering tree trimmings as compost with soil. With all that frozen for the winter, I will busy myself indoors shredding and bagging everything for another layer. It’s called “Lasagna Gardening” or sheet composting and consists of alternating layers of brown leaves, soil, shredded paper and pine needles, with green garden trimmings. In time, it compacts and decomposes, creating a unique profile to be capped eventually with ornamental vegetation. With everything now separate but equal, I am committed to spending a little time each day discarding what is no longer needed, with the mantra being, organize and simplify.
Written December 19, 2016 Conclusion At Last For better or not, the American presidential campaign that extended itself for just short of 20 months, is over. The Electoral College confirmed the presidency of Donald Trump on the day the planet Mercury turned retrograde, something that would have certainly caught the attention of Nancy Reagan as she flipped through the pages of her astrology books. Followed closely by the shortest period of daylight in the year ushering in the beginning of winter, the white middle class has prevailed even if they have to burn the furniture to keep warm before their manufacturing jobs return to America. However in the land of endless campaign promises, Trump has the ability to pull a rabbit out of his hat if he follows successful business models, such as those of Germany and Japan. Although the terms “technical education for the young” and “reeducation for older workers” were not spoken to his rust belt constituency- simply because the mere promise of returning jobs garnered thunderous applause-those words need to be clearly enunciated before workers whose jobs were outsourced to foreign countries, stand on the curb expecting a ride back to shuttered factories. The German model of manufacturing is dependent upon an apprentice program that trains high school students in technical trades beginning from the age of 14. Students who are non-college bound spend one half of their school day working with craftsmen, until they graduate from high school. In the end, students are trained for real jobs that exist, rather than being pandered upon by pie-in-the-sky for profit colleges that provide insufficient training for valid careers. Older workers should have known some 40 years ago that the Japanese concept of “just-in-time manufacturing” would eliminate their jobs as well as the opportunity for their children to work at the same plant. Everybody in those high paying jobs should have been saving their money and going to night school to learn a second trade that would have equipped them with the knowledge to rebound. In Japan, the concept of just-in-time manufacturing efficiently incorporated a tightly woven relationship between manufacturers and suppliers. There was no need for expensive warehouses and costly inventories because the part was delivered to the assembly line by outside suppliers, just in time for production. Here in America where innovation and inventions once made the country strong, we are better off retraining the workforce to repair infrastructure, create new businesses and explore new directions of employment. Shuttered factories are merely tombstones marking the place where our inventions were copied and manufactured cheaper at offshore locales. Where does the funding come from? Well, $5 trillion spent on wars and $125 billion wasted by the Pentagon, comes to mind.
Written December 14, 2016 Music For The Holidays
The holiday season is upon us and I like sharing the music I have enjoyed throughout 2016 with my readers. With the exception of one timeless holiday CD, these suggestions are more about just relaxing with music during the holidays, perhaps selecting stocking stuffer gifts or watching YouTube videos. And then there are the options of downloading selections from the Internet, or purchasing CD’s of local musicians from Wrightwood merchants. My all time holiday favorite is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” sung by Darlene Love. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it #1 of the greatest rock and roll Christmas songs ever, and Love performed the song on the David Letterman Show Christmas episode for 29 years. Originally recorded by Phil Spector, it featured Leon Russell on piano. Since his death, obscure videos of him playing and singing from that era on Shindig! have surfaced. From Music in the Pines summer concerts, I was entranced with Jeff Toto Blues performing selections from his Death Valley Blues album accompanied by the Kelley’s Lot band. It’s magical how a Frenchman channels American roadhouse blues so perfectly. I ordered CD’s for gifts from firstname.lastname@example.org enclosed Euros and received the music in 10 days. In the country/folk music genre, Iris DeMent is rambunctious on her “Infamous Angel CD, soulful on “Sing The Delta” and ever so peaceful on “The Trackless Woods.” She is very accomplished on piano and a champion of twangy vocals. For intricate folk guitar picking and ethereal vocals, “Time Of No Reply” by Nick Drake includes 10 previously unreleased tracks. For the most remarkable electric guitar solo that established Prince as the greatest electric guitarist, second only to Jimi Hendricks, Google search: Prince While My Guitar Gentle Weeps, to view his dynamic performance at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The all time feel good recording of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynn, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty performing under the fictitious name of The Traveling Wilburys, teams close friends and super stars in marathon songwriting and recording sessions with stellar four part vocal harmonies. Volume One included Orbison shortly before his death and Volume Three represented the survivors. As a joke, equally mischievous as the name of the band, George Harrison suggested there should be no Volume Two, “To confuse the buggers.” There are plenty of YouTube videos of those musicians having a wonderful time together creating stream of consciousness lyrics combined with wild guitar playing. The Traveling Wilburys Collection with a DVD is everything you could wish for from those musicians in their prime. Shop locally for the holidays, with CD’s by Walter Foley, Greg Jones Band, Megan and William Fiorella, Gary Sizemore and Adam VanOstenbridge available at the Village Grind.
Written Decembe 7, 2016 Ghost Ship Fire
The tragic warehouse fire in Oakland that killed 36, requires a keen understanding as to why those who lived there, worked there or visited the Ghost Ship Artist’s Collective would risk their lives in such a dangerous labyrinth of clutter. For those artistic Young Turks, it was an escape from societal norms and skyrocketing rents in the fourth most expensive city in the United States for housing. Unfortunately, the magical allure of an environment filled with boundless creativity prior to the fire as viewed at www.oaklandghostship.com, blindsided them to the apparent hazards. Some 30 years ago in Oakland as well as Downtown Los Angeles, artist sought out the large spaces of abandoned warehouses to create large paintings and sculptures. The rent was dirt-cheap, there were no neighbors to complain about nighttime noise and nobody ever discussed the issue of living in the space. However unlike the Ghost Ship, there was little attention focused on dividing the building into micro living quarters. Instead, our spaces on desolate streets bordering the Los Angeles River were filled with woodworking machinery, cement mixers, air compressors and pneumatic chisels. Some buildings that photographers leased had elaborate dark rooms and were large enough to drive cars inside for photo shoots. We ate out, frequented the Downtown YMCA for bathing, and seldom were there more than two or three persons actually living in a warehouse or storefront. What we have now learned from the media coverage of the Ghost Ship Fire is that 23 artists, craftsmen, musicians and writers lived there full time, with an additional 10 to 20 others having daytime studio or gallery space. Additionally, there was a tattoo parlor and a manicure salon in the warehouse. Rents varied from $500 to $1,500 per month. On the first floor, a warren of artist work spaces and apartments had been constructed with five motor homes and travel trailers also serving as living quarters. In cold temperatures, electric space heaters and propane heaters were used to heat individual areas. When electrical circuits shorted out, tenants used gasoline-powered generators for lights and heat. There was only a single bathroom and no kitchen. The second floor contained a 2,500-square foot dance floor, performance space and musicians’ stage area, surrounded by overstuffed furniture. A permanent stairway downstairs had been covered with electrical wires and was blocked off leaving a random stack of shipping palettes as the only access and exit. All of this occurred not in an abandoned neighborhood but on a busy Oakland street across from a Wendy’s Restaurant. The allure of the Ghost Ship was the camaraderie and synergy that inspires artists to a higher level. Cannot this be achieved in safe buildings?
Time To Be Winter Wise
Now that a dusting of snow on the San Gabriel Mountains has signaled the arrival of winter, there are probably some outdoor chores that were postponed during the past few weeks in lieu of delightful beach weather. I’m not predicting the drought is over, but the entire Tri-Community is likely to experience some wind, rain and snow. And so it is time to address tree limbs hanging over roofs and rain gutters, as well as storing firewood and cleaning chimneys and stove pipes. With most trees and plants now slumbering through the winter, branches that provided shade in the summer should now be pruned away from roofs and rain gutters. It’s a relatively easy task to accomplish in fair weather instead of wondering what to do when a branch heavy with snow collapses on the roof, or when rain gutters and downspouts are clogged with leaves and no longer function. Garden hoses for the most part should be rolled up and stored indoors where in the case of a fire they will remain pliable instead of frozen. Hose bibs and exposed water pipes should then be insulated with foam sleeves, which are available at all hardware stores. If left outdoors, garden hoses are susceptible to being nibbled on by critters during the long winter, or frozen brittle under ice. On the subject of firewood, signs of the drought are evident with termites in oak and bark beetles in conifers. For that reason, a large supply of firewood should be covered and stored outdoors where freezing weather will kill any remaining insects. And then to be especially cautious, I store firewood indoors in a covered metal container. Likewise for hot ashes that go into another metal container and remain there for a few days, before I spread them around plants and shrubs as a nutrient. If you burn pine or other conifer firewood, it is essential to have a chimneysweeper periodically remove the resins that accumulate in chimneys and wood burning stovepipes. At the same time have the spark arrestor on the top inspected. The first remedy eliminates chimney fires, while the second prevents sparks from igniting the roof or surrounding vegetation. Each winter before using wall furnaces, accumulation of dust should be removed before lighting the pilot. On heating systems, mechanical parts should be inspected annually when filters are replaced. For other electrical heating devises, they should be placed far enough from furniture and curtains to avoid a fire, and should be closely monitored if there are children or pets in the household. Wintertime has a magic sparkle and I enjoy writing with the woodstove crackling and outdoor tasks completed –prepared for rain or snow.
Written November 20, 2016
Few modern day musicians have achieved the immense stature of Leon Russell, who passed away on November 20. As a piano virtuoso, he mastered the musical genres of blues, jazz, gospel and rock music while playing anonymously for the famed recording session orchestra known as The Wrecking Crew. At the same time Russell recorded several country albums written and performed under the nom de plume of Hank Wilson, became a rock star with Elton John opening his concerts, and wrote songs that were recorded by more than 100 musicians. At the age of 14, Leon Russell was proficient on piano, guitar, baritone horn and trumpet as he performed in Tulsa Oklahoma nightclubs. And while his underage status was accepted because Oklahoma was a dry state with no liquor sales, he would need fake ID for a two-month concert tour with Jerry Lee Lewis and many other gigs until he was legal age. Moving to Los Angeles in 1958, Leon Russell spent the next ten years as a studio musician for Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra-The Wrecking Crew-that recorded 140 top ten hits and forty number one hits. From those recording sessions, Leon Russell and Glen Campbell stood out as musician’s musicians and also became immensely popular solo acts. After that, Russell performed with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends with his first commercial success as a songwriter being “Delta Lady,” sung by Joe Cocker. That was in 1970 the same year Russell released his first self-titled album, which included musicians Mick Jagger, Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. It was a big year for Leon Russell who was then called upon to salvage a fallen apart seven-week Joe Cocker concert tour, which, if not performed, would place Cocker in trouble with the Musician’s Union, immigration authorities and concert promoters. And so Leon threw together a ten-musician band with a rhythm section, horn section and choir of 11 singers. After four twelve- hour rehearsals the band and entourage called Mad Dogs & Englishmen flew off to Detroit for their first concert, and musical history. During his career, Leon Russell wrote 430 songs and recorded 35 albums. Several YouTube must hear cover songs include: Rolling Stones’ “Get A Line On You,” (with Leon Russell) written and recorded by Russell in 1969 with Jagger on lead vocals. It did not make the cut for Leon’s first album and later appeared in Exile On Main Street by the Rolling Stones as, “Shine A Light.” And then from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album, Joe Cocker sings Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire” with intense soul. Most popular of all is Leon’s “A Song For You.”
Leonard Cohen & Leon Russell
After the death of Leonard Cohen, I was immersed in his music when the news came from Nashville that Leon Russell had died in his sleep. They were quite a rare combination, with Cohen providing the somber and introspective signposts of my life, and Russell composing the honky tonk and gospel music soundtrack of a parallel journey through space and time. And so steadying the course this week as Leonard Cohen joins Hank Williams on the 100th floor in the Tower of Song, I will turn up the volume next week with the arrival of Leon Russell and his choir…Hallelujah! When the Canadian born Cohen arrived in the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the 1960’s, his prior success as a poet and novelist still had him yearning for a more lucrative income as a singer/songwriter. His early guitar lessons with flamenco chord progressions and six chords of that guitar pattern would provide him with a foundation for all of his music. He was 32 years old and living at the Chelsea Hotel, when his deep resonant voice and lyrics of pain and hardship earned him the moniker of “The troubadour of sadness.” However that situation changed when Judy Collins recorded “Suzanne,” and Cohen performed “Bird On A Wire,” “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” “So Long Marianne,” and a few other songs in his room at The Chelsea for famed recording producer John Hammond, who had discovered Bob Dylan. Instead, Leonard Cohen garnered a cult following as the high priest of love, passion, betrayal, death and redemption. With generations of music fans, Cohen made it acceptable for a handsome womanizer to confess his insecurities and reveal his chronic state of depression in songs. His most famous song, “Hallelujah,” was initially rejected for release as a single when the head of CBS Records commented, “Look Leonard, we know you are great, but we don’t know if you are any good commercially.” It wasn’t until Bob Dylan covered it and redeemed the song from obscurity, that other musicians discovered it was such a beautiful prayer and also covered it. To date, “Hallelujah” has been covered by 300 performers. However at that time, the damage was done and Cohen secluded himself in a Zen Buddhist monastery for six years. After leaving the monastery he was free from depression and strong enough to deal with the fact his manager had stolen millions of dollars from his retirement fund. And so at the age of 74 Leonard Cohen embarked on a five year concert tour performing 380 shows as the gracious elder statesman of music. The DVD Leonard Cohen Live in London encapsulates his remarkable journey in 25 songs.
The Nation Loses
Never before in the history of our nation have presidential candidates been so tainted. Consider it dirty laundry, excess baggage or serious character flaws; both candidates are drenched in dishonesty. And so here we are on election night 2016 with the polls closed on the East Coast and Midwest and rather than a happy wave embracing voters, it seems more like a sewage spill. It has been an extraordinarily quiet and somber day here on the West Coast. There were many more voters than in past years at my polling place and that might have indicated a serious proposition is at hand. But nonetheless, bumping into old friends of both political persuasions outside, the conversation was hushed and congenial and totally non political. It’s almost like everyone was completely exhausted and weak in the knees from the past 18 months of campaign blather. Returning home, I was once again confronted with my inability to fall asleep for my traditional afternoon nap. A one-hour nap has always been an excellent way to complete one project and awaken refreshed to begin another. However, that has not been the case lately with all the political tension. After giving up on the nap, I searched the Internet for a feel good tidbit and came across a live video camera collaboration between the San Francisco Zoo and Firefox. It was billed as, “Definitely a way to relieve election pandemonium...elect to de-stress today with the aid of animals rather than alcohol” and featured three cuter than you can imagine red panda bears in their tree house enclosure. Looking more like raccoons with that distinctive mask of facial hair, they were supposed to frolic and be happy while they munched on bamboo leaves. But instead, Tenzing, Hillary, and Hunter simply took a nap and ruined the planned choreography. The lesson to be learned here is that Americans have been duped. The Clinton Foundation and the Trump Foundation have both come under scrutiny. And then there will be Hillary’s emails and Donald’s income tax returns and Trump University trial remaining in the background for the next four years on Pennsylvania Avenue, no matter who wins. I freely admit that Hillary Clinton is an intelligent attorney and Donald Trump is a successful businessman. However, they are both condescending, she with her forceful shouting and he with ending every sentence with the word “Right.” He doesn’t say, “Correct,” because what he just said may not be. Instead, he points his finger and forces the listener to accept his assault…Right? For each candidate, the bluster has worked just fine to diffuse the truth, and for the winning candidate the beginning of abandoning campaign promises starts tomorrow on November 9.
LACMA Receives $25 Million Gift
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has received a $25 million gift from Eric Smidt and his wife Susan. The endowment has been directed to the ambitious plan to demolish a hodgepodge of four older buildings at LACMA and replace them with a freeform amoeba-like modernist structure designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Smidt, a self-made billionaire, is ranked among the top 200 fine art collectors worldwide and has been a LACMA board member since 2006.
Despite experiencing a troubled youth, with a severely ill mother and a father who worked constantly, which included being placed in an orphanage for two years, Eric Smidt transcended adversity. His father was a street peddler in the San Fernando Valley who sold jewelry, electronic devises and tools from his van. Eventually, that livelihood transitioned into a telephone mail order business.
At the age of 16 Eric Smidt was on his own with a driver’s license, a car and his own apartment while he attended Grant High School. After school he worked at his father’s business late into the evening. After observing a former peddler’s business of importing tools from Japan, the Smidt’s copied the idea in 1977 and formulated their own business model.
Shortly afterwards, Eric traveled to Japan where he developed contacts and established sources to purchase tools and machinery that he would import to the United States and undercut competitors. The new business that the Smidt’s founded was named Harbor Freight Tools and it has generated $4 billion in sales this year from 700 stores nationwide.
The proposed new exhibition hall is the brainchild of LACMA Director Michael Govan. In a time when top-notch museums such as New York’s Guggenheim, Whitney and Museum of Modern Art have experienced critical blowback for attempting to marginalize iconic structures with glitzy new additions, LACMA is the perfect staging ground for wrecking balls and bulldozers.
The original William Pereira complex was a stately abuse of valuable Miracle Mile real estate. And then when the enormous reflection pool bordering Wilshire Boulevard cracked and black ooze from the tar pits seeped in; my worst fear was that Rodin’s enormous bronze sculpture of Balzac would suffer the same fate as dinosaurs.
With that, the pendulum swung the opposite direction as the Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer addition was plopped in front of three Pereira buildings becoming an ugly fortress like welcome to visitors. The Zumthor design has an organic flowing presence, very similar to the sculptures of Jean Arp, which is elevated above ground level on glass cylinders and crosses over Wilshire Boulevard.
It will complete a trio of new phantasmagoric buildings in the neighborhood extending along Wilshire and up Fairfax Avenue.
Pentagon Rescinds Veterans Bonuses
Rearing up its ugly head once again, the military industrial complex has taken aim at the very soldiers it needed to perpetuate the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Los Angeles Times exposé published last weekend reported that 9,700 California National Guard soldiers who received re-enlistment bonuses and education grants in return for serving additional tours of duty in those military campaigns, are being forced by the Pentagon to repay the monies.
What that story and another published on October 26 in the Sacramento Bee did not indicate is how many soldiers in other states have been affected? The National Guard Bureau of the Pentagon has acknowledged that “Bonus overpayments occurred in every state at the height of the two wars”, without disclosing any figures.
And while California State and federal lawmakers have expressed shock over the situation, they are merely pontificating to appease military veterans. The fact is, “The Sacramento Bee first reported on widespread abuse of incentives in the California National Guard retention office in 2010. Retired Master Sergeant Toni Jaffe in 2012 was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and required to repay $15.2 million after pleading guilty to fraud. Several other officers also later pleaded guilty to misusing the funds.”
The big picture here is that from 2005 until 2010, bonuses of $15,000 to $30,000 and in some cases up to $40,000 were paid out to 14,000 soldiers by California Guard recruiters who were pressured by the Pentagon to fill the ranks for two major wars. Recent audits showed 9,700 out of those 14,000 did not qualify for some or all of the bonuses or their paperwork was missing. California Guard official Colonel S. Piazzoni who oversaw the audit subsequently stated, “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”
What was not said is that everybody was paid up front and then everybody went off to fight the longest wars in American history. Some were killed, some were injured, some returned home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and then the Pentagon decided not to honor the contracts for re-enlistment bonuses and education grants.
Clearly, a ploy to recoup $100 million from war veterans is despicable when an audit conducted by the Defense Department Office of Inspector General, which was reported on by Reuters on August 23, 2016, indicated the Pentagon could not account for $6.5 trillion.
To sign the We the People White House Petition “Reverse the decision that forced thousands of military veterans to repay bonuses for going to war”, go to: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov, and then go to Veterans & Military in the right hand column.
Written October 18, 2016
Just Like Bob Dylan
While there were many who were surprised last week to hear that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, I smiled in joy for his body of work spanning 54 years, with 37 studio albums released, which had achieved the ultimate recognition. And although there were some critics who did not equate song writing to be on the same level as literature, it was just like Bob Dylan to put that issue to rest in 1964 when he sang, “Yippee! I’m a poet and I know it. Hope I don’t blow it.” Back then for those who were listening, Bob was sharing his literary influences in song and action. Initially, he changed his last name from Zimmerman to Dylan in homage to the English poet Dylan Thomas. After that, there were references to Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, John Keats, as well as French symbolists Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. As Dylan absorbed the surrealistic imagery and cadence of those writers, he reprocessed the information into his own song lyrics with folk, country, blues, gospel and rock musical scores. I was first introduced to his music by my best friend Valerie, in 1964. At that time, the prolific Dylan had released four albums since his debut in 1962. Late at night when it was time for the parties to end, there was always a single formula that triggered an exodus of our peers. I would simply play Dylan on the stereo and then Valerie and I would be left alone to dote over every phrase searching for the meaning while jotting down the names of the aforementioned poets for our next visit to the library. That was the year in which Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, and it signaled an exodus for some and a baptism for many more. And then beginning in 1965, Dylan launched a frenetic trilogy of albums with Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde all written, recorded and released within 14 months. Collectively, the lyrics and album notes of Dylan reached a pinnacle of literature that would not be repeated by him or others. Musically, Blond on Blond was burnished to perfection with Mike Bloomfield, Al Cooper, Charlie McCoy and Robbie Robertson performing for the recording sessions. As rock and roll’s first double album and considered one of the greatest albums of all time, the songs Visions Of Johanna, One Of Us Must Know, Absolutely Sweet Marie, and Just Like A Woman were the finest and the remainder are just great. For those of us who learned so much from Bob Dylan about every somber mood and exhilaration, it was always poetry and literature.
Locker Room Talk
Certainly there was vulgar language being spoken in my high school locker room, particularly by a fellow named Dave who had a tarnished girl friend. Back then, maturity moved much slower for my classmates, except for Dave, and me and we were quite frankly shocked by his language of conquest at a school site. At the time, I was infatuated with an athletic cheerleader I met in Latin Club. I always felt like a champion approaching the finish line in track and cross-country races with Pam waving her pompoms and cheering for me. We were a romantic team but in a wholesome way with no disrespect. Later on in college at Cal State Los Angeles, the locker room crowd was much larger and more diverse but there was little profane language. We were all competitive athletes and mostly commuters with part time jobs, and that left little energy to blather a lot of sexual jive. And then nightly at the Downtown Los Angeles YMCA for ten years, the locker room was filled with young attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers law firm, artists from the Art District and married professionals from the Financial District. That is where I encountered zero crude bantering language. Everyone was focused on healthy exercise and developing friendships with those from different backgrounds. It was there I met the chaplain for the Motion Picture & Television County House and Hospital, who drove Downtown frequently from the San Fernando Valley to exercise and converse with new friends in the steam room and Jacuzzi. Most recently in Burbank and Apple Valley at 24 Hour Fitness, there is a family atmosphere without any creepy innuendoes. I was therefore stunned last Friday when the audio recording of Donald Trump talking with Billy Bush that denigrated women was released and included explicit sexual language. I had not heard that phrase with the “P” word in it for 52 years. I was shocked back then when teenager Dave blurted out the same words, but never thought it would surface again in a presidential campaign. And then for Trump to dismiss it simply as common locker room talk, I’m sorry but I’ve only heard it once before and that was from perverted Dave. In the recording Trump can be heard saying, “I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her.” That comment subsequently led to the response, “Tic Tac respects all women. We find the recent statements and behavior completely inappropriate and unacceptable. We can’t help you. We do not want to be involved with the Trump campaign.” To quote the words of Walter Cronkite, “And that’s the way it is” until another Election 2016 surprise emerges.
Lemmings And Glass Houses
Just before exiting Washington D.C. for their fall recess and not to return until after the November 8 Election, Congressmen and Senators voted en masse to override President Barrack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Prior to enacting the bill into law, which would permit 9/11 victims and families to sue Saudi Arabia, nearly one fifth of the Senate released a letter expressing concerns but then they voted for it anyway. In doing so, Congress ignored warnings from the U.S. Intelligence Community and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and instead being caught up in the emotionalism of the 9/11 tragedy, struck down the principles of Sovereign Immunity that protect our armed forces, officials and diplomats from foreign court proceedings. After the bill became law, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell commented, “It appears there may be some unintended ramifications of this bill.” He then blamed Obama for not explaining things. However, the damage was done and the halls of congress went dark after anti-Arab sentiment was increased. Prior to JASTA, U.S. nationals were permitted to sue a foreign state for injuries, death or damages from an act of international terrorism if that state was designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. Department of State. However, the American military ally of Saudi Arabia has not been named as such. What JASTA allows is for 9/11 victims and families, who opted out of the Victims Compensation Fund approved by Congress in late 2001, to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for pain and suffering, based on the fact that 15 of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens. In the Victims Compensation settlement, claimants received up to $8.5 million individually with total payouts reaching $7 billion. In vetoing JASTA, Obama contended the bill takes authority to determine if a state has become a sponsor of terrorism away from the Federal Government and places it in lower courts, which may have incomplete information. For 9/11 victims and families who opted out of the Victims Compensation Fund, the entire process is a gamble to receive more than $8.5 million with attorneys eagerly circling to represent them through years of costly litigation. For politicians, it was absolutely despicable to vote on something they had not researched. Like lemmings stampeding into the abyss, there was zero consideration for the pandemonium that would ensue. The United States had hoped that Arab partners could intercede in the wars of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. However in the theater of glass houses, negation of sovereign immunity can be turned around against the United States if not respected. Drone victims and their families worldwide will be the first to sue.
Written September 26, 2016 First Presidential Debate
Reflecting back on my column of last week, I was greatly relieved during the first Presidential debate that there was a definite emphasis on fact checking forced upon Donald Trump by Hillary Clinton. In the past week, there has also been considerable chatter from the Commission on Presidential Debates and the news media on whether it is their responsibility or the viewers, to discern the truth. At any rate, the topic made a quantum leap and Clinton was adept in focusing on her intended policies if elected, while sources indicate Trump stretched the facts more than Clinton. That may have been because he seemed less prepared and more inclined to fall back on past transgressions, including bullying the debate format. On the positive side, Trump scored on the subject of outsourcing American jobs and calling Clinton “A creature of the political past.” On the other hand, Clinton was in an attack mode as she reminded Trump that he supported the invasion of Iraq and taking that country’s oil, which he denied, yet his exact quote from the 2002 Howard Stern Show was, “Yeah, I guess so.” Although that comment mirrored Karl Rove’s viewpoint, it would have been illegal under international law. When moderator Lester Holt insisted, “Records show you supported the war” Trump shouted, “You are wrong.” He then countered that Barrack Obama and Clinton created a vacuum in removing troops from Iraq that led to the birth of ISIS. That is technically true because the head of ISIS was incarcerated until U.S. troops withdrew. However, there were many more factors of unrest created by the war, which led to the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. When Clinton pressed Trump to release his tax returns that would reveal his six bankruptcies, his income, and his charitable contributions, he retorted, “On several occasions I took advantage of the laws. That makes me smart.” However that flies in the face of a 40-year precedent for presidential candidates to release their tax returns. It also was in conflict with his view that relaxing corporate regulations and reducing their taxes from 30 to 15 percent would encourage corporations to bring their current offshore wealth home. Let’s be candid Donald, they are just as smart as you. And then in a break from GOP and NRA gun policies that could cost him votes, Trump agreed with Clinton that guns should not be sold to those on no-fly and terror watch lists, which Congress is opposed to. Lastly, Trump, who has denied climate change as a hoax commented, “The nuclear threat, not global warming, is the worst evil.” So here we are with Cold War jargon in the ninth month of hottest temperatures ever recorded.
Written September 20, 2016
Beyond The Confusion
With just 50 days remaining until Election Day, a sizeable number of voters are confused if not wallowing in ennui, about the leading Presidential candidates. Two national polls indicate one third of likely voters age 19 to 29 are considering voting for a third party candidate. In addition to that age group, there are probably a sizeable number of voters who at one time participated in protest votes but have since become more pragmatic. As a result we now have the Green Party and the Libertarian Party and Ralph Nader was able to be a Presidential candidate on four occasions. Currently, Bernie Sanders galvanized the third-party notion with his progressive movement “revolution” appealing to a large number of voters, but not enough. I was relieved last week when in a Washington Post interview Sanders commented, “Think hard before casting a protest vote. Elect Hillary Clinton and the day after, begin to mobilize millions of people around the progressive agenda that was passed on the Democratic Platform.” And while that means it will be some time before Sanders and Elizabeth Warren affect a change, it should encourage those on the fence to participate in that goal. On another issue pertaining to Presidential Debates, I have no vote of confidence for the mainstream news celebrities who just cannot steer either candidate towards pertinent issues that Americans are concerned about. And then reading an article by Bill Moyers I found the reason. Beginning in 1976, the League of Women Voters conducted Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates. But then in 1988 the League pulled out stating, “We firmly believe that those who report the news should not make the news.” At the same time, Walter Cronkite agreed and wrote, “The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud of our political campaigns...the candidates participate only with the guarantee of a format that defies meaningful discourse.” The official debates are now conducted by the Commission on Presidential Debates-a private corporation owned and controlled by the Democratic and Republican Parties, which dictates the format to news media moderators and forbids real time fact checking. And so, American voters are not only tethered to two leading candidates that are not presidential material, they are force fed a desirable image that supports the two party system. During the Commander-in-Chief Forum, lies were told with no accountability for the truth. For debate viewers, a first impression remains valid unless accuracy is questioned immediately. Afterwards is too late for fact checking. People move on in their busy daily lives and will continue to believe what Donald or Hillary said on TV as the truth. The position of a moderator is to preside over a debate and to question radical or extreme accusations.
Written September 14, 2016
After brutal summer heat, the recent cooler weather heralds in autumn and my favorite time of the year. Fall is the season to plant California native plants that need to acclimate here in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains before the winter freeze. It is also the proper time to plant bulbs for showy springtime color in the garden.
I recently received a press release from www.ibulb.org pertaining to glorious ornamental onion plants that have been named the flower bulb of the year. The botanical name is Allium and the plant is native to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, where its royal stature as cut flowers dates back for centuries.
Allium Aflatunense is the most famous ornamental onion, which has many star-shaped flowers that form a large blue ball on top of a slender straight stalk that can reach skyward some 48 inches. In the garden they appear to be magical totems rising from green to gray foliage clumps on the ground and provide a striking contrast to shorter bushier plants.
All Allium plants attract bees and butterflies and smaller varieties bloom in colors of purple, white, pink, lavender, sky blue and red. All varieties make attractive cut flowers, and while some have a delightfully fragrant scent, others retain an onion odor that can be eliminated by arranging the flowers in ice-cold water.
Planting season for low maintenance Allium bulbs is from mid-September until mid-December when temperatures fall below 50 degrees. They require rich sandy loam placed in a larger hole with the bulb situated up to six inches below ground level depending on the size and must be planted before freezing temperatures occur.
After that, the bulbs simply become an underground storehouse and flower factory waiting for the warm sunlight of spring to come alive. When that happens, the hardy sun loving plant erupts with color for the garden, and cut or dried flowers for household arrangements.
Upon reaching its flowering prime, the foliage should remain on the ground until completely withered because it continues to provide nutrients to the bulb, which grows larger and also begins to produce new bulbs. The only real maintenance after years of enjoyment is dividing the bulb clumps when they become overcrowded. Go to www.bulb.com for additional information on this wonderful plant.
If you want to add hummingbirds to the mix, I have found that native sage of the Salvia Greggii variety has rosy red flowers the birds love, and it will mature into a colorful three foot shrub with shiny green leaves. Another variety of common sage with silver foliage and yellow flowers that are just about to pop will soon attract wild finches. Autumn is finally here and I’m enjoying it.
Written September7, 2016
Indoor Or Outdoor Cats
In various locales, I have been a cat owner for most of my adult life. And while the primary issue for cat owners is whether their pets should be house cats or allowed to roam outdoors where they will hunt and kill wildlife, I enjoy the creatures of nature. And so over 50 years, some cats were allowed brief excursions outdoors when I was gardening, but not to hunt.
The big trade off here is that house cats require more attention to keep them occupied, and without that ball to swat and chase or climbing post to get above it all, they will find other activities like attacking cushions and curtains. Although America’s favorite pet is reputed to sleep a lot and be lazy, it seems my cats have always been able to keep their eyes open long enough to create plenty of indoor surprises.
It all started in Burbank in that old farmhouse on Flower Street surrounded by an industrial zone. My college roommate and I had purchased a white German shepherd puppy we named Godot from Jack Lalanne, and then added a black kitten named Magic Ernie and a white kitten named Stupid Ralph to the mix. The names, which fit perfectly, came from a short story a fraternity brother of mine was writing.
While Ernie was constantly plotting ambushes with Godot, Ralph simply broke the kitchen window and escaped to a big rig painting company where he was spray painted purple and transitioned to a different life. Shortly afterward, a tiny calico kitten with a huge meow scampered into the foundry where I worked and howled, “Take me home.” When I moved to Malibu, I took Ernie and Catherine while Godot remained with Danny.
Unfortunately in Malibu, Magic Ernie used up his nine lives and became a casualty on Pacific Coast Highway. On the other hand, Catherine thrived but was mostly a house cat after I put a stop to her hunting baby quail and rabbits. When I moved to Downtown Los Angeles, Catherine had a small yard with sunshine that was surrounded by a tall fence, and she lived to be 18.
After that, Scooter appeared one night and was so named because as soon as he got inside to the safety of my studio, all he did was run back and forth and climb the giant ficus tree under the skylight. Scooter also lived to be 18 and was content with indoors.
Here in Pinon Hills, Coco is now six and knows the coyotes want to eat her when they howl. Instead, she has conniptions when she spots birds outside the window, but remains indoors. Her hunting is limited to bugs and insects.
Written August 29, 2016
Military Industrial Complex
I am glad it was a Republican President of the United States and former military general in the form of Dwight D. Eisenhower who coined the term “military-industrial complex.” From his vantage point in American history, the well-respected Eisenhower warned the nation in 1961 of unprecedented arms buildups that would create perpetual wars. In stating, “The rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…” what Eisenhower feared 55 years ago has intensified dramatically.
In the August 25 edition of Common Dreams, two articles epitomize the evils of the military-industrial complex. Nika Knight opines “The Pentagon has no idea where hundreds of thousands of guns went in Iraq and Afghanistan,” while Ann Jones writes, “I Didn’t Serve, I was Used”: How veterans are losing the war at home.
With Knight reporting, “Over half of 1.4 million small arms are unaccounted for,” she quotes C.J. Chivers in The New York Times who stated, “Today the Pentagon has only a partial idea of how many weapons it issued since the September 11 terrorist attack, much less where these weapons are.” In many instances during the futile attempt of nation building in the two countries, weapons went to thugs who are now trying to drive out U.S. troops in different military campaigns. Billions of dollars were spent on weapons that end up sold in black markets and on social media.
For the second article, Jones reports on the Koch Brothers Charles and David who rank the fifth and sixth wealthiest in the world. Initially, the Koch Brothers profited enormously from the sale of fuel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later on after purchasing Georgia Pacific, an array of paper products including toilet paper for the troops increased their wealth.
After that, Big Pharma corporations bought equipment from Koch Membrane Systems used to produce opiod narcotics such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, which were then sold to the Veterans Administration (VA). On the battlefront and upon returning home, soldiers and veterans have been dying at remarkable rates from accidental or intentional overdoses.
The most recent assault from the military-industrial complex has been a partnership between the Koch Brothers and Big Pharma in creating dummy foundations such as “Concerned Veterans For America,” which intends to fix the VA healthcare system by turning it into, “an independent non-profit corporation to be preserved if possible in competition with private providers,” for 168 VA Medical Centers and 1,053 outpatient clinics.
Since the Continental Congress, every administration has regarded the care of veterans as a sacred trust. In attempting to privatize the VA, Republican billionaires see another marketplace where profits can easily be made. As if they have not gained enough since 9/11, only the voters can change this.
Written August 25, 2016
Evacuate or Don’t?
As another wildfire threatened the Tri-Community and surrounding areas, that reoccurring question arose, “Should I go or should I stay?” First of all, mandatory evacuation orders issued by fire officials are a logical tactic that is not a legally binding policy. They are designed to remove civilian residents from impending danger while the going is good on escape routes, and before a possible firestorm hits. Secondly, few residents of fire prone areas have ever experienced a true firestorm or lived to tell of it, as fire personnel have. If you have a spouse, children or animals, your responsibility to them mandates an exodus. Aside from that, any individual resident who chooses to stay has the legal right to remain and defend their property. However with the decision to stay, don’t expect the firemen who ordered you to leave to come back later and park a fire engine in your driveway and protect you. It’s a tough decision, but once made you are on your own because things could change in an instant and prevent escape. What that means quite clearly is you might survive if you have a defensible space around your residence, a water supply, a generator/pump and fire hoses. In the Village of Wrightwood, very few structures have those resources in the tinder dry forest. On the morning of October 28, 1978, I was living in Malibu on an eight-acre ocean front estate and awoke to 60 mph winds gusting down Decker Canyon through the property. At noon, the 25,000-acre Agoura-Malibu Firestorm started at the Ventura Freeway and by 2:30 PM the fire jumped Pacific Coast Highway. I had decided to stay based on the facts that the estate had two-inch fire hydrants on the grounds with plenty of fire hoses, a swimming pool with a generator/pump, and fire sprinklers on the structures. When the firestorm hit it sounded like a train wreck and all the trees alongside the highway exploded in flames. As water pressure dropped, I turned off the city water and began pumping the swimming pool back into the water lines. In the worst-case scenario I would escape to the ocean. However, with the resources I had, I was able to save the main house, my cottage and sculpture studio. Everything else at Roland Kinney’s seaside Sherwood Forest, including the caretakers home, garages, greenhouses and tool sheds, was totally vaporized out of existence, as was the opulent landscaping. Think of a moonscape and that is what everything looked like. And so, the message here is firestorms create their own wind and the intense heat can ignite objects well ahead of the actual fire. The decision to stay is a true risk.
Written August 18, 2016
I’m A Believer
For quite some time, the sun has felt hotter to me than ever before. That’s quite a statement coming from someone who lived on the beach for 18 years and spent a considerable amount of time swimming, surfing and sunbathing. As for now, my bare skin can take about ten minutes before I feel a burning and itching sensation. When I moved to the High Desert 20 years ago, it took some adjustment in spite of the fact I had been a weekend warrior for years before that. However, with caution and plenty of sunscreen I remained in quest of a golden suntan. It’s just in the last couple of years that I would rather sleep late and began my outdoor day late in the afternoon and into the cool evening. Thanks to my baseball cap with LED headlights, I am perfectly happy to begin my gardening and watering as the sun sets. Well, this will be the week that substantiates my belief that it is better to just stay out of the sun. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an ultraviolet (UV) alert for Southern California, which on a scale of zero to 11 ranks ten or a “Very High” likelihood of damaging skin in 15 minutes of exposure to the sun. According to the EPA, “Depletion of the ozone layer by carbon dioxide and methane gas, as well as seasonal and weather variations, causes different amounts of UV radiation reach the earth at any given time.” That information, combined with new findings to be released by NASA on August 17, indicate the sun’s rays through the depleted ozone have caused the Earth to become hotter than ever before. Last month according to NASA, was the warmest July in recorded history dating back to 1880. Additionally, every month of this year so far has experienced a record breaking high. If that’s not bad enough, The New Republic reports, “Carbon dioxide and methane gas have created record setting droughts.” So here I am in my golden years trying to conserve water by giving my plants and shrubs a little less to survive on and what happens? Well, the lilacs that normally lose the shinny luster on their leaves but will instead just turn a dull green, totally fried in the hot sun. And then the penstemons in the glen that looked like a meadow of tiny purple gladiolas also fried and turned brown all the way to the ground. Normally, after cutting off the dead flowers and broadcasting the seeds, compact tufts of green survived with infrequent irrigation and summer rainfall, to bloom again the next spring. It’s hotter than ever before here in the foothills and I will miss the color.
Written 8/9/16 Jean-Francois Thomas
Not since Plastic Bertrand captivated rock and roll fans worldwide with his French-language hit single entitled Ca Plane Pour Moi, have I been so excited about music that I don’t understand. It is somewhat magical and liberating to be free from the lyrics and empowered instead by musical instruments and the rhythmic beat. Don’t get me wrong because the lyrics are still there and can be mesmerizing, but if you don’t understand much French, the song is dependent on those other elements. In the case of Ca Plane Pour Moi, which translates as “This life or level is for me,” or “everything’s going well for me,” it topped the charts at #1 in France and Switzerland, # 8 in the United Kingdom and #47 on the Billboard Hot 100 in America. The classic three-chord punk/new wave recording sold 900,000 copies worldwide and has had 2.5 million YouTube viewers. And so I am hoping the French-language CD Death Valley Blues of Jean-Francois Thomas (aka Jeff Toto Blues), who performed last week at Music in the Pines with Kelly’s Lot, will become a similar musical phenomena. As with Plastic Bertrand’s Greatest Hits album, Jean Francois included a few song titles in English and that was just enough of a hook to get the audience cheering and applauding when he sang the phrases “Death Valley Blues,” “Down in Mississippi,” or “California forever.” Of those three songs, “California” passed muster to be considered an anthem. With a pulsating drum beat, syncopated organ passages, screeching electric guitars and continuous repetitions of the word California, the audience was raising their arms skyward and singing the chorus “California forever” with Jean-Francois. Google search California (Album Death Valley Blues) for a dynamic YouTube video. In concert, Jean-Francois sang with a raspy forceful voice and played a mean electric guitar. The music was American blues and rock channeled through the consciousness of a Frenchman. At one point, he sat down on the stage with the blue guitar on his lap and went into a slide guitar mode, once again amazing the audience. On the Death Valley Blues CD there is a romantic ballad entitled Passer du Temps in which Jean-Francois sings with a gravelly voice that rivals Louis Armstrong singing What A Wonderful World. It is absolutely beautiful and has me reaching for my French dictionary to learn the lyrics. What a blissful diversion from our American election from hell! Jean-Francois Thomas is currently touring California with Kelly’s Lot during August. It is a concert worth experiencing and for those who attended the Wrightwood concert at The Apple Farm, it was a night to remember. Buy Death Valley Blues and get back to your roots.
UCLA Art Studios Gift
For many years Los Angeles art dealer Margo Leavin eked out more than just a living from her gallery. In spite of the constant relocation of galleries throughout Southern California, Leavin maintained a unique presence at 812 Robertson Boulevard for 42 years representing cutting edge artists of New York and Los Angeles. On Tuesday July 19, the U.C. Board of Regents will formally accept her donation of $20 million to rebuild the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture graduate art studios in Culver City. The donation is the largest ever gifted by a single alumna within the U.C. System. From 1970 until she retired in 2012, Leavin represented the rising stars in the art world. Among those were Donald Judd, Martin Puryear, Linda Benglis, John Baldessari, Claes Oldenburg, Alexis Smith, Billy Al Bengston, Ed Moses, Ellsworth Kelly and David Hockney. When the gallery closed, the Getty Research Institute received archives of 400 solo exhibits. For her next project, Margo Leavin became the catalyst for remodeling an aging World War II era bow-and-truss warehouse owned by UCLA and used for graduate art studios. There had been plans, which never materialized, to provide proper ventilation, light, and a roof that didn’t leak. However, when Leavin learned of the fallow effort, she dove in asking many questions and wanted to meet the dean. During an L.A. Times interview Leavin commented, “It’s crucial. Most universities do not have a problem raising funds for medicine, stem cell research, health, etc. But the arts do not have as wide of an audience. And UCLA is a jewel of a school.” Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Report ranked UCLA masters of fine arts program number two in the nation. Situated on an acre and a quarter parcel of land, the original warehouse will remain while subsequent additions constructed over the years will be demolished. And then, the architectural firm Johnston Marklee & Associates has designed classrooms, artist-in-residence studios, gardens, a gallery and a communal kitchen flanking the warehouse with its roofing material removed but trusses remaining. The entire complex will then be wrapped in a translucent polycarbonate box with indoor and outdoor areas protected by a singular roof. When completed in 2019, the Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios will increase existing useable space by 40 percent. Although the project is estimated to cost $31 million, Leavin’s contribution represents two thirds of that amount and certainly will garner the remaining donations from the art world-at-large. In thanking Los Angeles for her success Leavin commented, “Instead of giving just small amounts in different places, I thought it would be better to have an impact on the community. What’s more important than the artists?”
Assault Rifles And Death
There appears to be a serious disconnect in our society when we hear more and more frequently about atrocious violence committed with assault rifles followed by the statement, “The gunman legally purchased the weapon after a background check.” And then as equally absurd we hear, “The gunman had no criminal record or indications of mental illness.” With those comments being said over and over by law enforcement agencies, it seems anyone can purchase an AR-15 assault weapon until they commit a crime or go nuts and massacre a group of people.
At the time of the Orlando shootings President Obama commented, “The FBI often knows about sympathizers of the self described Islamic State but can’t limit access to firearms due to contentious gun laws in America.” Well, it’s time for every rational citizen, politician and even the President of the United States to say, “Enough is enough,” to the National Rifle Association (NRA).
There is absolutely no justification for the NRA to play the 2nd Amendment card in defending the sale or ownership of any firearm other than a non-automatic handgun, a conventional rifle or a shotgun. An expert marksman can fall a deer or drop a bird from the sky with one shot. Any of these weapons is plenty enough firepower for hunting, skeet shooting, target practice or stopping an intruder in a home invasion.
On June 16, 2016 in an exclusive NBC News interview, the family of AR-15 inventor Eugene Stoner spoke out about the weapon. They commented, “Our father Eugene Stoner designed the AR-15 and subsequent M-16 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the Russian AK-47.” During his lifetime, the ex-Marine and sportsman, hunter and skeet shooter never used his invention for sport.
At the same time in a Washington Post article Hillary Clinton remarked, “Orlando reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets.” In reality, all attempts, to regulate possession of AR-15 assault weapons through gun control legislation have been totally ineffective. In our society transfixed and mesmerized by violent motion pictures and video games, there is a certain allure to the rapid fire that eclipses the now boring pastime of shooting at tin cans on a fence.
With no certain way to determine when someone with an AR-15 might snap and fire into a crowd of victims, the only solution is to outlaw all sales and possession of that weapon, except for law enforcement and the military. In time if there were only handguns, shotguns and rifles in America, police would have less of a need for assault weapons. That would leave only the military so armed, for which the AR-15 was invented.
July 7, 2016
Since the 2016 Wrightwood summer concert season began last month, additional musical choices being scheduled have created a buzz of excitement in the Alpine Village. In addition to Music in the Pines, which begins on July 7, indoor performances include Terry “Big T” DeRouen at The Yodeler, Mark Barrera and Dave Leicht at the Village Grind (both on July 8), The Wrightwood Blues Society on July 9, and a Wrightwood Classical Concert fundraiser on August 6.
Music in the Pines begins on July 7 and continues on July 21, August 4 and August 18 at 5:30 PM in the Apple Farm at Highway 2 and Rivera Drive. Go To www.mountainmusic.net for a complete schedule.
The Terry DeRouen Band continued their summer residency at The Yodeler with riveting performances every Friday night at 8:00 PM and just added on Saturday July 30. Last Friday, musicians included Big T on lead guitar and vocals, Walter Foley on second guitar, Joe Ferraro on rhythm guitar, Mike Webster on bass guitar, John Burcher on saxophone, Georges Flores on keyboards, Orlando Reynolds on drums, Dave Leicht on harmonica and guest performance from Jessica Gonzalez on drums and Mark Valdez on bass guitar. Mike Webster performs with Seville Street Blues on July 21 at Music in the Pines.
At the Village Grind, Mark Barrera and Dave Leicht will appear on Fridays July 8 and July 15, from 5:00 until 7:00 PM, to sing covers and original compositions with guitars and harmonica. Don’t miss these very talented Wrightwood musicians.
Greg & Sandy Jones host the Wrightwood Blues Society in their home on a monthly basis with the mission of promoting blues music as a cultural legacy and showcasing blues performers in Wrightwood. Last month, legendary guitarist Dave Pruitt and his band were the guest performers.
Attendance is by invitation only due to parking restrictions at Jones Chateau. For additional information on the Wrightwood Blues Society or to be included on the guest list for an evening of fabulous food, music and an art auction, call Greg Jones at (760) 574-8231.
On Saturday August 6, the Wrightwood Classical Concert Series presents an evening of great jazz music, a chef-prepared four-course dinner with wine parings, and a spectacular view of the sunset from a unique Wrightwood home. Musicians include Program Director Walter Foley on guitar, internationally acclaimed Marshal Hawkins on upright bass, Wynell Montgomery playing saxophone, Lynn Davison on keyboards and Frederick Dotson on drums.
Admission for this fundraiser is $75.00 for dinner and concert, or $25.00 for the concert. For reservations contact Joyce Wonderly at (760) 249-3487 or (cell) (909) 831-0082 or Go to www.KeyboardArt.com
There is music everywhere in Wrightwood this summer. Make it your destination.
June 30, 2016 Brexit For Breakfast
Not since the British Government imposed draconian income tax on rock stars years ago, has there been such a divisive economic repercussion as Brexit. For the 54 percent of Americans who have no knowledge of Brexit, the term is an abbreviation for a British exit from the European Union (EU). Voters in England last week had a choice on a referendum called for by Prime Minister David Cameron -to remain in the EU or leave- and they decided to bail out. According to Bloomberg.com, “In the mid 1960’s the top rate for British taxpayers reached 83 percent with the wealthiest paying a 15 percent ‘Super-tax’ on top of that pushing taxes as high as 98 percent”. And so, the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, Bad Company, Sting and countless other rock stars transferred their assets to other countries and became tax exiles, with the British Government receiving nothing. In many ways, the majority vote to “Leave” was a knee jerk reaction to EU immigration policies and bureaucratic rules and regulations. The British Government pays billions of dollars per year as dues for EU membership and in return receives millions of dollars to finance infrastructure projects and educational programs for EU citizens who have migrated to England with residency work permits. The County of Cornwall receives $82 million per year in EU subsidies and is heavily dependent on those funds. In spite of the fact that “Leave” campaigners assured the county it would not lose any subsidies that will not be the case. And so, as Britons eat their breakfast each day since the vote, there has been some buyer’s remorse and a spike in Google searches to determine what they voted for. Once again, the British Government receives nothing for demanding too much. EU subsidies will cease and with the high level of animosity towards the EU during the election campaign, many guest workers fear they will have to leave. For hundreds of thousands of EU workers, England had become an adopted home and many are attempting to get British passports. The Financial Times reports, “If Britain’s current immigration rules were applied to EU nationals, an overwhelming majority would lose their jobs and be forced to leave the country” That in itself does not bode well for Polish workers who number 850,000 out of an estimated 3 million EU citizens in England. Since the election, there has been a sharp increase in xenophobic incidents and racial hate crimes urging Poles to go home. With Great Britain becoming the first country to leave the EU, it will have to train its own citizens to be the workforce. That will require a stiff upper lip.
June 23, 2016
The summer solstice of June 20 was accompanied by a full moon and in Southern California, an early hottest day of the year. Being the longest day of the year, as the sun was setting in the west the full moon was simultaneously rising in the eastern sky. Accompanying the solar events due to local brush fires and thick smoke on the eastern horizon, the sun and moon were both orange in an eerie combination.
The rare full moon on the first day of summer is called the “strawberry moon” to signify the peak of the harvest season in North America and in Europe is known as the “full rose moon.” It has not occurred since 1948 and will not coincide again until 2062.
As for the heat wave, the National Weather Service reported many temperatures across SoCal had broken records with Palm Springs falling just one degree short at 122 degrees. Normally, there has been approximately a six-week lag between the longest day of the year and the warmest average temperature. Anomaly or new normal, we will know more in six weeks.
Fortunately here in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, high temperatures so far have been 100 degrees, a full ten degrees cooler than the San Fernando Valley. I found it rather strange to leave Van Nuys on Saturday where the air felt like a blast furnace and return to cool Pinon Hills.
However, this current situation does not bode well for the vegetation. Native plants are already beginning to turn yellow and brown, shifting into a survival mode more common in August than June.
On Monday morning, I awoke with the energy of summer solstice and the full moon, but by early afternoon I noticed that sunlight streaming through the window had changed from golden in color to orange. Instead of occupying myself with inside activities, I walked the property positioning garden hoses and looking for fire hazards.
Over the years, I have allowed islands of native vegetation to flourish while clearing the areas in between to bare soil. In spite of conflicting opinions, I do not remove the duff under pine trees and juniper bushes, but rather cultivate in into the soil and then drench the ground with water. It helps to retain moisture while attracting wildlife and birds on hot summer afternoons.
Just recently I noticed die back on one of my pine trees. I treated it in the same manner as the black locust last year with increasing the basin and inserting fertilizer spikes. On pine trees, I remove only dead branches and save major pruning for later to prevent excessive sap loss and disease.
Fire season is early but vigilance is the mode.
June 16, 2014
Shifting Political Sands
I’m sorry to say, but there remains with me very little confidence in the American political system. After 16 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on election ballot tabulation in the Bush vs. Gore case, there remain massive voter registration and ballot counting controversies. On June 10 three days after the California Presidential Primary Election, the Los Angeles Times reported, “More than 2.5 million vote by mail and provisional ballots remain uncounted.” With a total of 8.5 million votes cast by 47% of registered voters, it is not difficult to imagine how much more chaotic the process would have been if perhaps 70 percent had voted.
And so here we are on the threshold of driverless cars and there still isn’t a foolproof way to legally register voters and count their ballots. Prior to every election, we hear of ambitious voter registration drives conducted by both major political parties, and then when the day arrives, we learn about all the voters that were disenfranchised. Well, if voters are not discouraged by uncounted votes, this summer will have some new surprises emerging from the political conventions.
On the Democratic side, the “super delegate” issue is something that hasn’t garnered much press attention in the past. Unlike “pledged” delegates who are selected based on the popular vote in primaries and caucuses of each state and U.S. territory, super delegates are appointed by the Democratic Party for their influential and financial contributions.
In the words of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz, “The 712 unpledged super delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grass-roots activists.” That comment seemed to indicate that Hillary Clinton represented traditional governance while Bernie Sanders was an upstart or spoiler.
On the Republican side, that party does not have super delegates per se, which in the past Mitt Romney labeled as unfair. However, recent moves by Romney and his loyalists at his annual E2 Summit held in Park City Utah on June 11 were focused on neutralizing the popular vote of bombastic presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump at the July convention, rather than encouraging party unity.
In light of recent developments in the shifting of political sands, I wish that both parties had super delegates for entirely different outcomes. For the Democratic Party to remain relevant with the surge of young voters who supported Bernie Sanders, there needs to be a significant number of super delegates who stand up and acknowledge him for his contribution against the status quo. And for Republicans, they are grappling with an unsavory popular vote they hope to overturn at the convention.
June 9, 2016
Wrightwood Summer Music
School’s out for summer and it’s time for outdoor concerts in the Alpine Village of Wrightwood. There will be multiple venues framed by the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains and towering pine trees, with music to please all age groups. The summer concert season begins on June 24 and continues through August, providing free music for cool evenings under the stars.
The action begins on Friday June 24 when Mike Troeger of Mountain Hardware shows appreciation for his loyal customers as he hosts his 16th annual admission-free party, from 6:00 until 8:00 PM. Guitarist extraordinaire Walter Foley & Friends will play jazz, rock and improvisations from his “Work in Progress” series. Bring a chair and enjoy the evening with SBC Fire Explorers serving free hot dogs and drinks.
The following evening on Saturday June 25, Dave Cimino presents Red Barn Opry from 5:00 until 8:00 PM at 1849 Oriole Road and Willow Street. Enjoy down home country music in a rustic Americana setting, created by the mayor of “Wilkensville.”
On Thursday July 7 from 5:30 until 9:00 PM in the new Apple Farm venue, Music in the Pines begins its 12th season. The Apple Farm is located at the intersection of Highway 2 and Rivera Drive. The opening act will be “Soul Shake,” a band of renowned musicians from Redlands who are well tuned to classic soul, rhythm & blues, and traditional roots of rock music. After that, our own hometown band-Chicken Bone- takes the stage, to play their signature music first heard in Wrightwood and then made famous last year in a documentary film and recording in Nashville.
Musicians include front man Coyote Keene, Dan Campbell, Jim Barnes, John Skillman, David Langmade, Eric Steinmann and John Burcher. Please park at Vivian Null Park (between the banks in the Village) and take advantage of the free shuttle bus ride to The Apple Farm. To make the evening a seamless musical and dining experience, participating local restaurants will deliver your pre-ordered dinner to your seat at the concert site.
Music in the Pines continues on July 21, August 4, and August 18 at The Apple Farm. Watch the sun set behind the majestic mountain ridge from amphitheater seating, and as the stage lights are switched on illuminating an array of musical performers, it will be a class act of space and time. For additional information on everything about Wrightwood music go to: www.mountainmusic.net
Under the direction of Dan Campbell for eight years and now Claudia Campbell for three years, Music in the Pines has evolved into a spectacular family summer event. It never could have been such a success without community support and the contribution of Eric Steinmann in creating The Apple Farm.
June 2, 2016
At What Risk
It was painfully difficult to choose a topic for my column this week and so I spent far too much time gardening under blue skies and picturesque clouds, as a diversion. I was truly thankful for being at this place in this time, but nonetheless found myself troubled by the video image I had seen of a wooden fishing boat capsizing off the coast of Libya last Wednesday. As I carefully steered my tractor delivering another load of dirt to a gigantic berm I am creating for landscaping, I realized it was all a matter of balance that was sorely missing on that boat.
The skies were blue and the Mediterranean Sea was calm as a fishing trawler converted to a refugee smuggling boat, rolled over with 600 aboard. In that case, the human cargo far outweighed the normal ballast incorporated in shipbuilding, and when an Italian Navy boat approached, the crowd on deck shifted and was filmed being thrown into the water as the boat capsized and then sank. Although 500 were rescued, it is believed 100 were trapped below deck in the hull and died.
Unlike inflatables carrying migrant oil workers escaping the Islamic State controlled coastline of Libya, those aboard the fishing boat were Syrians who had flown to Egypt with hopes of sailing to Italy. And then over the weekend, a photo released by the rescue group Sea-Watch put a face on the tragedy.
A baby, thought to be one year old was pulled from the sea and cradled in the arms of a German rescue worker he commented, “The sun shown into its bright, friendly and motionless eyes.” In releasing the photo, the vote from Sea-Watch personnel was unanimous with the caveat, “If we do not want to see such pictures we have to stop producing them.”
To fully understand the scope of related incidents with refugees attempting to escape civil wars and set foot on peaceful European shores, 6,000 were saved since last Monday with 700 drowned. Since the beginning of May, 11,000 were saved and because of the clandestine smuggling operations, nobody really knows how many perished.
Being a journalist and analyzing the situations that emerge from these massive exoduses, I have often wondered what I would do if that was my fate. Being single and a fairly good swimmer, I would not hesitate to set out with only a backpack, a passport and some funds to pay the human smugglers.
However, many times the images we see on the Internet are those of families with children. To me, that would be entirely a different equation. At what risk is it conceivably viable to seek freedom? As Americans, we should be thankful.
5/26/2016: As the World Changes
It doesn’t seem that long ago since the United States restored diplomatic relations with Vietnam and certainly ending the sales embargo of military weapons to the former enemy might anger some, but things have changed dramatically since the war ended 41 years ago. During his recent journey to Vietnam, President Obama found the nation to be at odds with China and eager to be a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with America.
If approved, TPP would increase more business sales, university research and cultural exchanges, as well as military cooperation. However overshadowing trade agreements, Obama alluded to “Providing Vietnam with access to equipment it needs to defend itself and removing a lingering vestige of the Cold War.” But then, everyone realizes tensions have increased between the United States and China over massive island building and maritime policies in the South China Sea.
Currently, Vietnam’s primary source of weapons is Russia for providing submarines and fighter jets. However, China closely monitors what is sold to Vietnam and discourages advanced technology for the equipment. As China engages in oil exploration and threatens fishing boats within Vietnam’s territorial waters, the bilateral agreement with the United States will strengthen Vietnam, while ushering in a new Cold War II.
The shopping list begins with 100 Boeing 737 aircraft, some for commercial Vietjet Airlines and some for military maritime surveillance. Also included are Lockheed P-3 Orion and C-130 Hercules aircraft, Boeing P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol aircraft and Northrop Grumman Drones. And while Obama does not need congressional approval for the agreements, individual sales will require that. Since 2013, Congress has appropriated $18 million for Vietnamese Coast Guard patrol boats.
Contrary to the present situation, Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute Doug Bandow recently commented, “Unfortunately, America’s international network of allies has more to do with protecting countries that do not have a significant role in U.S. national security. As time progresses, the practice transforms friends and allies into dependents.”
On the other side of the issue, many analysts worldwide find human rights violations in Vietnam alarming and feel that Obama gave away important leverage in allowing weapons sales. However coming from one who knows, Senator John McCain remarked, “There has been a 2,000 year history of Chinese occupation in Vietnam. I believe that Chinese behavior warrants us assisting them in obtaining the ability to defend their rights as a nation.”
In conclusion, Vietnam Veterans of America Executive Director Rick Weildman opined, “Having returned several times since the war, I will say the Vietnamese love us. They hate the Russians but love America. With 85 percent of the population born after 1975, this represents a new opportunity.”
May 19, 2016:
Media Election Fanfare
The 2016 presidential campaign is beginning to appear like a runaway train with the brakeman sound asleep. The accusations will certainly be NSFW nor resplendent with family values. Back in the days when it was a man’s world, politicians conducted extramarital affairs with full knowledge of their security personnel and the press corps, which were secretly dismissed because “Boys will be boys.”
In recent history, the list of U.S. Presidents who had affairs includes Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton. However in this election year according to the New York Times on May 16, “Donald Trump plans to throw Bill Clinton’s infidelities into Hillary’s face on live TV during presidential debates this fall purporting she enabled his behavior and sought to discredit the women involved.”
If that is not bad enough considering there are far more important national and international issues to address in the presidential campaign, mainstream media reported today, “Hillary has been really ugly in trying to destroy Bill’s mistresses.”
I’m sorry, but in my worldly experiences here in California, this type of situation goes on all the time. Anyone who knows wealthy people knows that the husband and wife have separate bank accounts and when one gets caught in a transgression, punishment amounts to a transfer of funds. While divorce is an option, hitting the offending spouse’s bank account establishes independence and leverage.
In the past, I respected Hillary’s intelligence for having graduated from Wellesley College and Yale Law School. After Bill’s White House affairs when she started inserting her maiden name Rodham in between Hillary and Clinton, I thought she was asserting her independence in advance of a divorce. However that did not happen and then when she forgave Bill, I wondered how much it cost him.
And while Hillary has years of experience as an individual and a long list of accomplishments, there remains a great deal of old baggage. If Hillary can deflect humiliation from Trump, that will amount to a major accomplishment in her lifetime. In the meantime, all this provides fodder for tabloids and social media, and is not what most Americans find acceptable in a presidential campaign.
On the other side, Trump claims he cannot release his income tax returns because he is being audited by IRS, and his trial for a Trump University fraud case, which may begin as early as this fall, would occur in the middle of the presidential campaign.
All of this portends to be an unsavory situation heading into the Republican and Democratic Conventions in July. To me, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear to be tarnished and not Presidential material.
May 12, 2016
Critical Mass Returns To Arts District
In urban planning, the term “critical mass” often refers to the amount of development or activity needed to stimulate residential and commercial growth. In the case of the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, critical mass has been elusive over the past 45 years. During the prior boom years of the 1980’s, perhaps 1,000 artists paid rent as low as 30 cents per square foot, while today’s population of 3,000 are paying up to $ 2.50 per square foot for the trendy destination neighborhood of galleries, restaurants and bars.
However, Arts District real estate is still a bargain compared to mid-town and west side prices, and there has been considerable movement to the locale bordering the Los Angeles River. The Santa Monica Museum of Art will be changing its name and moving to the Arts District after 32 years at Bergamot Art Station. The new name will be the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) at 1717 East Seventh Street, with galleries, café and retail store in 12,700 square feet.
The Architecture + Design Museum (A+D Museum) has moved from the Miracle Mile District to 900 East Fourth Street with a showcase for important regional, national and international designers. On May 14, A+D Museum will feature studio open houses for designers in the current exhibit from 1:00 until 4:00 p.m. Call (213) 346-9734 for information.
Also moving from the west side, Hennesy + Ingalls Art, Architecture and Design bookstore has closed its Santa Monica and Hollywood locations and moved into 5,000 square feet at 300 South Santa Fe Avenue, across the street from Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). Located in the quarter mile long One Santa Fe housing and retail complex constructed between the First and Fourth Street bridges, there is a grocery store and restaurant beside Hennesy + Ingalls.
Just one block away from the A+D Museum and Hennesy Ingalls, the renowned international gallery Hauser, Wirth & Shimmel has opened at 901 East Third Street. It occupies the restored Globe Mills complex and features contemporary and modern masters in 100,000 square feet, just about the size of an average Home Depot. Admission is free; call (213) 943-1620 for information on exhibits and yes, another bookstore.
All of this is very close to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA located at 152 North Central Avenue in the historic Little Tokyo District. The 40,000 square foot museum is a former police car warehouse renovated by Frank Gehry. Call (213) 625-4390 for exhibit information.
Looking back, the best time of my life was spent in the Arts District, where rents were cheap and camaraderie abounded. However, times have changed and it remains a great place for day travelers.
May 5, 2016:
In the music business, the recording process often includes musicians who are brought into the session to enhance the sound. After all, an album is intended to be a commercial product and the better it sounds influences sales, merchandizing and concert tours. And while the Wrecking Crew and the Session Players Club stand out as the magic behind so many headliners, there have been some dazzling performances in rock and roll music that were less structured.
My all time favorite pairing was Eric Clapton inviting Duane Allman to share lead guitar riffs on the single “Layla” from the album of the same title. Allman joined Clapton’s band Derek and the Dominos as a friend and guest on lead guitar and slide guitar. While Clapton and Allman played together on the front end, it was Allman’s scorching high notes on slide guitar with Jim Gordon playing piano at the conclusion that catapulted Layla to #27 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time chart.
Two years prior, George Harrison invited Clapton to play lead guitar on the Beatles single “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Although Clapton quipped, “Nobody ever plays on the Beatles records,” Harrison convinced him to play lead on a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar that had been a gift from Clapton. The music industry secret for the White Album released in 1968 was that Clapton was not credited for his part and it would be years before we as listeners discovered it.
One of the most amazing covers of that song occurred in 2004 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison. Musicians included Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynn, Dhani Harrison and others. The YouTube video of that performance, which was mostly a sleeper for years, has now gone viral since the death of Prince with more than 15 million views.
During rehearsal, Marc Mann (Jeff Lynne’s guitar player from Electric Light Orchestra) played the traditional Beatles (Clapton) lead guitar parts while Prince graciously deferred to playing rhythm guitar and said, “I’ll just play the final solo.” In a New York Times interview last week reflecting back on that performance Tom Petty commented, “You see me nodding at Prince to say ‘Go on, go on.’ I remember I leaned out to him at one point and gave him a ‘This is going great’ kind of look. He just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of, ‘something really big is going down here.’”
At the beginning of the three-minute solo, Prince plays perhaps five notes that identify him and then powers into a blistering tribute to George Harrison that eclipsed anything he had ever played before.
That Purple Rain Inspiration
For many years, song lyrics played an important role as inspiration for bronze sculptures I was creating. Initially, it was the haunting vocal repetitions of Van Morrison for his song Ballerina that stimulated an image for my 11-inch gold plated bronze entitled Joie De Vivre (Joy of Life). Following the death of John Lennon in 1980, his song Imagine provided solace while I sculpted John & Yoko for a 12-inch polished bronze entitled Fusion Of Spirit. And then in 1984, it was Prince’s song Purple Rain that guided me through my most ambitious commission of a bas-relief bronze fountain measuring 48 by 36 by 5 inches entitled, Purple Rain.
Throughout the lengthy process of lost wax bronze casting, I developed a continuum mechanism that erased time and distractions by playing the same song over and over as I worked. When I was away from a project for a while, it was always easy to slide back into the groove with one of the aforementioned songs. Needless to say, the scope of the fountain was remarkably intense but then Prince was always with me in vinyl, eight track, cassette and CD.
Interestingly enough, it was industrialist Henry Mudd who commissioned all three sculptures. The relationship began as neighbors in Malibu and continued as a friend, confidante and patron spanning 20 years. While Henry was renovating a modernist home in Beverly Hills, a situation arose when he was out of town, which became a real problem upon his return. A concrete block wall, constructed outside the sliding glass wall of the dining room, was intended to hide the view of cars in the motor court when seated at the table, yet afford a dynamic vista from Downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. And while the background vista was incredible, Henry found the wall oppressive and asked me, “Mike, can you sculpt something to hang on that damned wall?”
Henry was a womanizer and by that time I had become an insider with full knowledge of his five lady friends, and one for the weekend. There was always a lot of drama on Laurel Way from those who wanted to be the weekend lover and those who didn’t.
Faster than you could believe, I made a plywood template for the wall that was plumbed with a small blue tile pool constructed at the base. The image for the bronze was a tall robed male figure with an arm extended above an art nouveau medallion depicting each of the girls. The patina was purple with water sheeting down the surface of polished rivulets and the hope was… “I only want 2 see U laughing in the Purple Rain.”
April 21, 2016
Wooden Masterpiece On Wheels
As the antithesis to the digital age of high-speed automobile concepts, Toyota Motor Corporation debuted its “Setsuna” at the Milan Design Week on April 12. Intended to create, “An enduring relationship between people and their cars,” the two-seat roadster designed by product planning department manager Kenji Tsuji is sculpted almost entirely of wood. The handcrafted vehicle is more akin to a work of art that can be handed down through generations. With the exception of metal used for steering and wheel assemblies, axels, and undercarriage support, wooden birch timbers create the framework and are attached using blind double-wedged mortise-and-tenon woodworking joinery. On top of that, the exterior skin is made from 86 pieces of Japanese cedar attached using housed-dovetail joinery. If one piece of the paneling is damaged, it can be easily slipped free, without tools, and replaced. The seat frames are constructed of polished castor aralia, which is known for its silky smoothness that will not damage the woven leather sling. Known for its strength and durability, Japanese zelkova wood is used as flooring. Also in the interior, the dashboard is exactly that made from one continuous timber. The name of the car, meaning “moment,” is incorporated in the radial clock/meter that ticks away for 100 years under successive ownerships. Accents of aluminum on the dashboard, steering wheel, wheel covers, and a band around the entire car, are the only traces of the industrial age for the otherwise 19th Century auto making wood components. As the wooden skin ages, the hand lacquered finish surface develops a unique texture and patina. However like a fine piece of furniture, the Setsuna is not particularly suited to intense sunlight, heat or humidity. Furthermore, as a concept car it is not street legal. But then, with a driving range of 16 miles at top speed of 28 miles per hour, the battery powered Setsuna is not something you would want to drive on city streets or leave in a hot parking lot. Instead, this is the ideal car-flash forward several decades-to be safely housed in an opulent garage and occasionally driven around the grounds of Downton Abbey by a new generation of green heirs. And while the Toyota Setsuna is not intended for production, we all know that it will be love at first sight for those who have the money and influence to demand one. For the remainder of us that have no place to garage or drive such an exceptional beauty, there is always the appreciation of various woods and the Japanese technique of wood joinery that does not require nails or screws, called Kusabi and Okuriari.
March 31, 2016
Spring Garden Wonders
The mild weather of last week provided just what was needed to produce an abundance of color from blooming flowers, just in time for Easter. Before that, the only color in the garden was the vibrant blue rosemary blossoms. And then magically the lavender and white lilacs burst into color.
For most of my adult life the quest has been to share those cut flowers from the Cabin with family and friends who live where lilacs do not grow. However, getting lilac blooms to coincide with Easter is totally up to Mother Nature.
With that accomplished this year, I find myself saying “Look at that” as I gaze out any window and spot some of the 19 bushes planted over the years. With that as the foreground, the native greasewood trees beyond also bloomed at the same time with showy clusters of delicate yellow flowers.
While walking around the landscape, I discovered something unusual occurring in a small grove of native bushes. There were two separate clumps of something on the outer branches that contrasted with the tiny green leaves. Getting closer to observe, I saw perhaps 10 somewhat fuzzy orange and carbon blue caterpillars swarming around on each cluster.
In the next week, the caterpillars settled into a side-by-side formation while a few continued to spin a silken tent-like cocoon around the others. In time when everything was complete, each cocoon measured three inches high by two inches wide and two inches deep. After that, all of the caterpillars disappeared behind the opaque covering that had small exit holes for whatever was to be, after a transformation.
After surfing the Internet to determine what those caterpillars would transform into, it seemed they would become moths rather than butterflies. Down in the glen when the penstemons bloom, there are these giant bulbous moths that are perhaps half the size of a hummingbird and dart around at oblique angles sucking nectar from the blossoms.
As much as I wish everything would bloom at the same time for a riot of color, the penstemons are yet ten to 14 days from blooming, and that will be right on time for the emerging moths. I have always been intrigued with those moths, but never realized than caterpillars munching greenery on one side of the property would in time, be swooping into the glen for nectar.
Elsewhere on the acreage, the red and white and black woodpeckers that warned me of wood borers in the black locust tree, came back to visit but there was nothing to munch on since I cut back, sealed and fertilized the tree.
Oh sweet retirement, with time to observe and enjoy the spring garden wonders.
March 24, 2016
How Many Easters?
As the Christian world prepares for Easter, one might think the most populous religious community would have more of a calming influence on events through its clergy and political leaders. It is a good time to step up to the plate, because Islam will equal Christianity by 2050 and then eclipse it 20 years later. In the United States during that timeframe, Islam will replace Judaism as the second most popular religion.
And so 13 years after American peace advocate Rachel Corrie was killed in Gaza, nothing has changed there in the peace process. Quite to the contrary this week, American presidential candidates spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) seeking their endorsement. Most notable in the presentations was Donald Trump reversing his past pledge to remain neutral in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and instead pledged an “Unbreakable U.S. alliance with Israel.”
Both Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz criticized him for waffling and in doing so just perpetuated the incendiary carte blanch support for Israel. In reality, if the citizens of Israel and Palestine were allowed to vote on their destiny and that of their children, they would probably vote for peace, after decades of chaos. We should all be neutral and put an end to the profits of arms dealers and land grabbing settlement contractors.
On a similar incendiary subject this election year, the United States was on the wrong side 57 years ago supporting the Cuban dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. At that time in an assessment of Fidel Castro, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. opined, “The corruption of the government, the brutality of the police, and the government’s indifference to the needs of the people…is an open invitation to revolution.”
However there were stronger forces influencing U.S. support of Batista. American organized crime syndicates controlled alcohol, drug, gambling and prostitution, as well as hotels, casinos and nightclubs. At the time of the revolution, U.S. companies owned 40 percent of sugar plantations, all of the cattle ranches, 90 percent of the mines, 80 percent of the utilities and nearly all of the oil industry.
And so, there were some tense moments between Barack Obama and Raul Castro when Castro alluded to “U.S. double standards” during an American style press conference. You can be certain that both men were uncomfortable but remained committed to repairing diplomatic relations between the two countries. That may play into election year rhetoric to garner votes from Cuban Americans and Catholics, but then in spite of Communist austerity, Cuban doctors have invented medications, which may cure cancer, and in my opinion that is a fair trade for past United States imperialism.
This Easter in every way, tolerance for all should prevail.
March 17, 2016
Election Year Pandering
The nature of the election year beast is that most politicians will tailor their strategies to what voters in the next state on the campaign tour want to hear. Hoping that voters have forgotten about their past position on an issue or are not astute enough to verify the facts on the Internet, these politicians will do whatever is necessary to garner thunderous applause and press coverage. And while the pandering of impossible to keep promises goes on, some legislators not seeking the presidency seem to have a better voting record and common sense than those in the race.
While everyone knows that millions of Americans have lost their manufacturing jobs, it is totally simplistic for presidential candidates to promise they will create new jobs. Factory jobs were lost as a result of advancements in computer technology, robotics, free trade agreements and cheaper labor costs abroad. For those who lost their jobs in the prime of their working career, reeducation is the only pathway to new employment.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has been instrumental in exposing for-profit colleges that deliver worthless diplomas and the incompetence of the U.S. Department of Education for approving student loans for those institutions. According to Forbes, “There is an outstanding student loan debt of $1.2 trillion to 40 million borrowers averaging $26,000 each.” And then the Brooking Papers on Economic Activity reports, “For-profit colleges represent one half of student loans and account for 70 percent of the defaults.”
Politicians should be promising factory workers who lost their jobs, “I will shut down fraudulent for- profit colleges and will reeducate you at accredited trade schools, community colleges and colleges, and that will prepare you for a new job.” Oh, but that sounds a bit socialist and only one presidential candidate has proposed free college to replace the fraudulent billion dollar capitalistic for-profit industry.
On the subject of healthcare, Hillary Clinton has questioned Bernie Sanders’ voting record on healthcare during the 1990’s when she attempted to champion the issue as First Lady. However quite magically, Sanders produced a photograph of himself and Clinton with the inscription, “Thank you for your commitment to real healthcare access for all Americans and best wishes-Hillary Rodham Clinton 1993.”
And with the issue of trade agreements, Clinton approved of NAFTA and then TPP as Secretary of State, but recently while campaigning in Michigan and Ohio, she expressed opposition to TPP. Of the other candidates, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ted Cruz approve of TPP while Sanders claims it will cost another 500,000 jobs. Donald Trump believes NAFTA has, and TPP will, add to the decline of jobs and income.
I challenge politicians to focus on real issues instead of pandering.
March 10, 2016
Just In Time
With this past month becoming the warmest February in recorded weather history, there was a great deal of concern as to whether or not El Nino had fizzled out. While hereabouts in the North Slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains spring-like daytime temperatures gradually exceeded 70 degrees, the Los Angeles Basin and Inland Empire broke records with temperatures feeling more like summer. Down the hill, plants and trees exploded with colorful blossoms and then began to leaf out.
If you are so inclined to believe the fuzzy prediction of Punxsutawney Phil, he did not see his shadow on Groundhog Day and therefore spring weather would be early this year. Elsewhere in Canada, Staten Island and Georgia similar groundhogs concurred. And so we are on track with temperatures but sorely lacking in moisture here in SoCal.
Fortunately, sporadic rainfall since last fall has sustained shallow-rooted vegetation, but the true indicator that the drought has receded is the mountain snowpack. That has been nice to view from the Cabin at 4,600 feet, but it has been virtually a snowless winter here at the lower elevation.
During the last two weeks of February, my apricot tree bloomed and set fruit, the lilacs began to pop with blossoms and the penstemons sprouted shinny new leaves. Additionally, the elm and poplar trees began to leaf out, while the rosemary bushes exploded in cascades of blue flowers.
All of this is a delicate balance of Nature that can go either way. Just in time, El Nino has returned with plentiful rain that has saturated the soil. However, I am hoping since the warm weather pushed all the plants into spring that there will not be a cold snap or lasting snowfall. If that were to occur, the lilacs are the only plants that would enjoy it.
Elsewhere, Death Valley is currently experiencing a super bloom of wildflowers not seen in 11 years. The best locale to enjoy the colorful vista is the southern portion of Death Valley National Park, south of Furnace Creek along Badwater Road. Closer to home, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve opened on March 5 with a scattering of blossoms and much more to come until April. Call (661) 724-1180 for the latest updates.
Beginning on March 4, the Theodore Payne Foundation launched its annual California wildflower hotline, which is updated every Friday. Go to http://theodorepayne.org/education/wildflower-hotline for information on what is blooming in Southern and Central California, along with stunning photographs.
The March Miracle we hoped for has arrived and in addition to nourishing plant life, El Nino also produces uncommonly large ocean waves, which are the ultimate power of Mother Nature to observe.
Live On The Sunset Strip
Last Saturday it was just like the old days on the Sunset Strip. The memorable red and yellow colors and signage of Tower Records, which closed in 2006, had been restored by Gibson Guitars and filmmaker Colin Hanks for the launch of a documentary film about the famous record store entitled “All Things Must Pass.” And not unlike the past when there were in-store and parking lot concerts, a stage with lighting trusses had been constructed at the rear of the parking lot facing Sunset Boulevard.
Back in 1967 when the east Hollywood nightclub called Bido Lido’s debuted Arthur Lee & Love, The Seeds, The Doors, Iron Butterfly, Spirit and Frank Zappa- there came the day when the tiny venue owned by Herb Cohen outgrew the space and the action shifted to the Sunset Strip. It was there at Ciro’s that Bob Dylan and the Byrds played, where Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground played at The Trip, and Moby Grape, Janis Joplin, The Doors and Jimi Hendricks took the stage at The Whiskey.
Shortly afterwards, Tower Records opened and became the vortex of celebrity and common man music aficionados. It was listed by Guinness Book of World Records as the “Largest record store in the world” and was open until midnight and1:00 a.m. on weekends to accommodate the large number of shoppers.
During its 35-year lifespan, every prominent rock star held in-store autograph sessions, and Rod Stewart, Prince, and Duran Duran performed in parking lot concerts. There was always enough time to party and then head over to Tower Records to buy new albums. After that, it was back to Burbank and the old farmhouse on Flower Street, where Altec Lansing ‘Voice of the Theater’ speakers and the lack of neighbors in the industrial zone meant only one thing-“Crank it up.”
And so it was on Saturday, to pay tribute to the iconic locale and thank music fans for their loyalty and the City of West Hollywood for supporting his AIDS Foundation, that Elton John took the stage at Tower Records to perform a free one-hour concert featuring Lady Gaga.
The “pop-up” concert was produced by Elton John and AOL, with three blocks of Sunset Boulevard closed to accommodate thousands of spectators. Google search Elton John live on the Sunset Strip for stunning concert footage and aerial photographs of the spectacle on YouTube.
It was a picture perfect SoCal afternoon and the solemn moment was Elton John & Lady Gaga singing the wish of generations with the song “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” After that it was “Saturday Night’s Alright” and all the memories of those nights on the Sunset Strip.
February 25, 2016: The Big Lebowski House
The modernistic home with a triangular roof jutting skyward that was featured in the Coen Brothers’ film “The Big Lebowski,” has become the first architectural masterpiece donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Sheats-Golstein Residence, so named after the original owners John & Helen Sheats and the current owner James Goldstein, was designed by renowned architect John Lautner and constructed between 1961 and 1963. Purchased by Goldstein in 1972 for $185,000, the home is now valued at $40 million.
In acknowledging the gift, LACMA Director Michael Govan commented, “You can feel like the house was designed in relation to land, sea and sky of the Pacific Ocean and the coast of L.A. It’s the most spectacular home in Los Angeles.” In expressing his intent for the donation Goldstein remarked, “I want people to build houses in a way that hasn’t been done before. I want the house to become an educational tool for young architects.”
While the house was in the design stages, John Sheats said he wanted his children to feel like they were camping out under the stars, and so the coffered concrete roof extending over the living room and pool was pierced with 750 small skylights made of drinking glasses. Likewise, Helen Sheats had Lautner installed glass pool windows in her art studio wall so she could see the children swimming while she worked.
After Goldstein purchased the home, he spent the next 20 years in a partnership with Lautner refining and adding on to the structure. Originally constructed without a wall or windows separating the living room from the pool and SoCal vista beyond, a mechanical system of radiant heat in the floor and a curtain of forced air between indoors and outdoors proved to be expensive to operate and difficult to maintain. Instead, Goldstein installed floor to roof glass panels attached only with metal clips rather than mullions, which preserved the feeling of openness.
When Lautner died in 1994, his protégé Duncan Nicholson continued the association with Goldstein in the construction of an entertainment pavilion and offices for his fashion couture business with a tennis court on top. Also included in the same materials of poured-in-place concrete, steel and wood was an installation by light artist James Turrell with two portals in the roof that open up to the sky and capture passing light of the day.
James Goldstein’s gift to LACMA includes the structures, his art collection, his fashion line, a 1961 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, and a $17 million endowment to maintain everything-upon his death. LACMA will use the residence for special events, exhibitions and fundraisers. Google search The Big Lebowski House for fantastic photographs of Lautner’s masterpiece.
February 18, 2016
Election Year Conundrum
The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend has already added new confusion to this election year. The problem being that partisan politics has reared its ugly head with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaiming, “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” And then during the Republican Debate on Saturday night, Marco Rubio showed his ignorance in commenting; “It has been over 80 years since a lame duck president appointed a Supreme Court Justice.”
For starters, both comments were rude, and ill timed, spoken on the same day that Scalia passed away. The nation had just learned of his death and did not even have a chance to absorb eulogies on his brilliance-before the power play for his replacement started.
Secondly, Marco Rubio was only 16 years old and obliviously doesn’t remember that lame duck President Ronald Regan nominated Anthony Kennedy in 1987 and the Democratic controlled Senate approved the nomination in February 1988 with a 97 to 0 vote. Don’t expect that to be repeated because respect for a judge’s intelligence has been trumped by political posturing.
Whatever happened to the days when there was mutual respect and admiration between the most conservative and the most liberal Supreme Court Justices? The epitome of eulogies came from Ruth Ginsburg and reads, “Justice Scalia always nailed the weak spots in my opinions and gave me what I needed to strengthen them.”
On the rule of law, Article II Section 2 of the Constitution says, “The President of the United States nominates Justices to the Supreme Court, with the advice and consent of the Senate.” Driving the point home more succinctly, Senator Elizabeth Warren commented, “Senator McConnell is right that the American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court Justice. In fact, they did-when President Obama won the 2012 election by five million votes.
On the practical side, the conservative judicial court has lost its five to four majorities. Unresolved cases with a tied four-to-four vote will stack up and revert to lower court decisions. That means liberal U.S. Court of Appeals decisions that Republicans hoped would be overturned by the Supreme Court-will now remain in place.
At this time, the best ploy for Obama will be to nominate a judge who has experienced support and praise from Republican senators. And that will directly influence the outcome for all candidates running for office. If Mitch McConnell and the Republican controlled Senate intend to be obstructionists over party politics, the Supreme Court will grind to a halt.
It is a conundrum that requires common sense-are we up to that as a nation?
February 4, 2016: Single-Payer Healthcare
As the 2016 Presidential Campaign heats up with the Iowa Caucuses, politicians of all persuasions are intent on diminishing the impact of Bernie Sanders by labeling him a “socialist.” In anticipation of that attack, Sanders released the details of his single-payer healthcare plan that could replace the privately financed healthcare system with, “Health care to all citizens as a right, not a privilege.” And before everyone succumbs to the derogatory ploy, keep in mind the Veterans Administration Healthcare System (VA) is socialized medicine owned, operated and financed by the U.S. Government.
A single-payer healthcare program would replace profit oriented multiple insurance payers with a single nonprofit public payer. Insurance premiums would be eliminated and instead employees and employers would each be taxed a matching 50 percent with an overall result that 95 percent of all households would save money. Labeled “Medicare for All,” the proposal is modeled after Medicare, which is a single-payer healthcare system restricted to senior citizens over the age of 65 although; Rand Corporation researchers found, “The quality of care received by VA patients scored significantly higher overall than patients using Medicare.”
The concept of a single-payer healthcare system is not new and already exists in Australia, Canada, Great Brittan, Spain, and Taiwan. Here in the United States, 11 state proposals have been studied since the 1990’s but gained little traction due to partisan politics and an apathetic populace raised with the caution not to question Wall Street or Big Pharma. However things have changed with 26 million Americans left uninsured by the Affordable Care Act and millions more who never see a doctor because they cannot afford co-payments and deductibles. Add to those 77 million baby boomers who require more medical attention than ever in their lives, and there can be little doubt it is time to address sensible healthcare like other civilized nations of the world.
For a starter, Bernie Sanders’ proposal would free up $400 billion currently being spent on private insurance. A single-payer system could utilize bargaining power to lower prices for treatment and pharmaceuticals. All residents of the United States would be entitled to healthcare, mental healthcare, dental, vision, prescription drugs and medical supplies. Patients would regain their choice of doctors and hospitals, and doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.
Supporters for The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (H.R. 676) include the 185,000-member National Nurses United and the non-partisan Physicians for a National Health Program. Opposed to the plan is Hillary Clinton, who between 2013 and 2015 realized $2,847,000 from 13 speeches to the healthcare industry.
And in spite of the attack on Bernie Sanders, he has received a higher senatorial approval rating than any other.
January 28, 2016
This Land Is..
When renowned singer/songwriter Woodie Guthrie wrote the lyrics to his song “This land is your land and this land is my land...from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters…this land was made for you and me,” without being specifically religious he was referring to a higher power than mankind that created natural splendor. And then, not to diminish private ownership of many of those lands, the creation of the National Park Service was intended to preserve a few of those special places for all time.
And then harmony abounded between mankind and Mother Nature until the National Park Service was caught in a trademark dispute with outgoing concessionaire “Delaware North.” It seems that Delaware North was awarded registered trademarks to several places in Yosemite and those places will have to change their names.
Effective on March 1, the Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Curry Village will become Half Dome Village, and the Wawona Hotel will become the Big Tree Lodge. According to The Los Angeles Times, Dan Jensen who was tasked with managing facilities at Yosemite and then became a consultant for Delaware North commented, “We’re not threatening to keep the names, but we are entitled to fair value.”
What that means to those of us who are not attorneys is Yosemite National Park is being held hostage for $51.2 million in merchandizing claims. To make matters worse, Delaware North who lost renewal of their contract to another concessionaire asserts the National Park Service can continue to use the names until litigation is settled.
It’s no big secret that for quite some time, creative minds have registered catchy names and then just waited for a trademark infringement to issue a Cease & Desist to receive a payoff for the name-or don’t use it. However, this is not the case at Yosemite. The venerable names of the aforementioned park sites have been in existence since the late 1800’s, and while Delaware North has been the concessionaire since 1993-their application for and approval of the names by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office occurred just last year.
In my opinion, it was simply an exit strategy should their bid to renew the contract not meet with a favorable outcome. The National Park Service has cowered and the U.S Patent & Trademark Office should be investigated. These are not names that were coined by Delaware North but rather are synonymous with Yosemite National Park being U.S. Government property being administrated for the public.
Be it an act of Congress or a Presidential Declaration, this land was made for you and me. In this election year, vote for the candidate who will restore dignity to Yosemite National Park.
January 21, 2016
Iris DeMent And Russian Poetry
American country and folk music singer/songwriter Iris DeMent has recorded her sixth album, entitled The Trackless Woods, in which she set to music 18 poems written by Russian modernist poet and acclaimed writer Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966). During her early life, the aristocratic, beautiful and alluring Akhmatova enjoyed recognition and fame as a writer. Upon traveling to Paris, she befriended the artist Amedeo Modigliana, who created more than 20 drawings and paintings of Akhmatova.
However when she returned to Russia, Akhmatova’s literature was condemned and censored during the Stalinist era. She was named an enemy of the state, banned from the Writers Union and her pension was revoked-leaving her destitute. At the same time, her first husband who was a staunch monarchist was executed by the Soviet secret police. Later on, her son was incarcerated in the gulag where her second husband died. It was not until 1958 that her status was reconfirmed when 50-year-old poems were published worldwide.
Shortly after Iris DeMent and her husband adopted a five-year-old Russian girl in 2005, she became interested in translations of Russian poetry as a way to connect with the child. When a friend loaned her a book of poems, she discovered the work of Anna Akhmatova and placed the open book on the music stand of her piano to read.
In a video trailer for The Trackless Woods album, DeMent explained, “I was sitting at the piano and felt someone next to me on the piano bench. After reading the poem “Like A White Stone” for the second time, I felt like somebody had started to talk to me. What I heard was, ‘Set that to music.’ So I did.” After that the presence encouraged her to “Keep going” and DeMent played the music for three additional poems as she sang the lyrics.
Following that initial inspiration, Russian to English translators Babette Deutsch and Lyn Coffin translated an additional 14 poems that were set to music by DeMent over a period of four years, while she wrote and recorded songs for her fifth album, entitled Sing The Delta. That album was ranked #124 on the Billboard 200.
Years ago, British essayist John Bayley opined that the verse of Akhmatova was “grim, spare and laconic.” In many ways, Iris DeMent has seized the opportunity with her vocals and piano playing to add grandeur. Her Southern accent remains twangy with traces of girlish charm, but just when the listener thinks that voice will crack-her voice soars majestically. With Leo Kottke playing electric guitar, and an upright bass, B3 organ and pedal steel guitar in the background-the album is a spiritual awakening of American country music to an international level.
Remembering David Bowie In Los Angeles
Late Sunday night as I was sampling the music of Iris DeMent on the Internet for this column, an email news alert came in from The Washington Post stating, “David Bowie dies at 69.”
Situations change rapidly and as my focus shifted, I was stunned. He died just two days after his 25th studio album was released on his birthday and the recording entitled Blackstar along with the music videos, were intended to be his requiem.
After viewing Bing Crosby & David Bowie singing duets on a 1977 PBS Christmas show, I always imagined he would be the Maurice Chevalier of my generation and live well into his eighties. With a voice that ranged from baritone to falsetto, he could easily settle into being a crooner when all the alter egos and costumes faded.
As a singer/songwriter, David Bowie was an innovator in rock, glam rock, soul, funk, disco and jazz music. In an NPR interview Bowie explained, “I wanted to manufacture a new kind of vocabulary. The actual words and subjects I’ve always chose to write are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety-all of the high points of one’s life.” And so, he was space oddity Ziggy Stardust, astronaut Major Tom and an inspiration for the divided city of Berlin with his anthem/hymn entitled “Heroes.”
Today on January 11, the German Foreign Minister commented, “David Bowie is now among heroes and I thank him for helping to bring down the wall.”
Although I liked all of his music, that song in particular resonated with me for the lyrics “I wish I could swim like dolphins can swim.” For as it was, at night in the pool of the Downtown Los Angeles YMCA- the lifeguard would play “Heroes” on repeat as he taught me the butterfly stroke.
And then for me, the ultimate David Bowie performance occurred just three blocks away from my Arts District studio. Early in the morning before the produce trucks lumbered through on their way to City Market, an old warehouse at Mateo and Palmetto Streets became the vortex for music industry glitterati and plenty of Downtown artists.
It was 1987 and in the middle of the night, a steady stream of Mercedes and BMW’s would indicate the illegal pop-up music venue called L.A. Dirt Box was happening. On one such occasion, music impresario Tom Atencio called me from Dirt Box and said, “Michael, get over here for something special.”
As I walked up Mateo Street, the word was out and the gritty industrial neighborhood had come alive to see David Bowie with Siouxsie and the Banshees, onstage at Dirt Box. Thank you David- for a night to remember.
Watching The Water Flow
All of my life, even as a child, I have enjoyed a certain fascination with the movement of water. At first in the summer months when Mom sent me out to water the row of shrubs and flowers between the house and front lawn, it was a totally boring task to just stand there gently sprinkling the plants so the water didn’t gush across the driveway. The only enjoyable solution was to take a trowel and dig small channels between the plants, and then turn the hose on so it barely trickled into my tiny waterways.
In the winter months when it rained, I was always perched on the living room sofa waiting to see the runoff on Cornell Drive crest the curb onto the lawn. It never got much worse than that because my parents were wise to build their home two blocks downstream, if you will, from the junior high school. In doing so, they figured that in an epic flood such as that of 1938 when they saw houses and cars tumbling down Western Avenue in Glendale, the drainage infrastructure of the school would divert floodwaters to the east and west of home sweet home.
And then in high school, I learned to respect floodwaters and observe the event from a distance, when Country Club Drive turned into a raging torrent destroying the homes of two classmates. As Meredith ran out the kitchen door and scrambled up the hillside, the house was swept off its foundation and her mother was killed. Farther down the canyon, although Jeff’s house was filled with mud up to the roofline-everyone in his family escaped uninjured.
In many respects, growing up in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains provided an education on the powers of nature, for later life. Hereabouts in the North Slope foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains we see road signs warning of flash floods, which many new residents since 1997 have never experienced.
Although the 1997-98 El Nino was more severe than the 1982-83 El Nino, the first one was more damaging to areas near Oasis and Mountain Roads. That’s because the abandoned White Project left the hillside scared with no vegetation or drainage infrastructure. Here at the Cabin, the east creek near Mountain Road crossed the dirt road with little damage. However, the west creek closer to Crystal Aire Road required tons of rock to fill the chasm.
When I moved to the Cabin fulltime in 1997, sandbags on the road maintained the natural drainage course, but garnered snickers from neighbors who thought I was installing speed bumps. Well, times have changed and everyone has their sandbags and hopefully- we will just watch the water flow.
Happy For 2016
It’s hard to believe another year has flown by and in just a few days we will be welcoming 2016. I’m not really into New Year’s Day resolutions, having made them instead on my birthday in October. By the time all the revelry occurs on the first day of January, I am already immersed in mindsets and projects that will be a continuum for 2016. At this time, what I am really excited about is that the shortest daylight of winter has passed.
With the exception of the vibrant fall colors in the landscape, I prefer winter for accomplishing what must be done. That’s because with the vegetation being frozen and asleep, the greatest demand of my time in watering all the plants has now ended. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the mindless task and an opportunity to commune with wildlife, but there are more important things to focus on until spring.
I recently turned 70 and in spite of anticipated mixed emotions on crossing that threshold, there was little to fear. I’m in excellent health and swim laps once a week when I travel to Burbank. Last week as I entered the pool, my mind was elsewhere and that was good because there was no trepidation about swimming the entire length underwater and I just did it. I used to do it all the time and was pleased to be back in the swim of 20 years ago.
Aside from the benefits of improving mental clarity in swimming underwater, the overall exercise has likewise improved my stamina for other physical tasks. And now that I have completed most of items on my birthday list, the compelling project of finishing my studio/workshop is beckoning for the New Year.
After I constructed a low bulkhead on the down slope side and leveled a pad with my tractor, Shed World built what amounts to a two car garage with a roll up door. After that, I painted the exterior and hung rain gutters. Moving inside, I hung insulation and then paneled the walls with sheets of oriented strand board (OSB). It’s like particleboard but with larger compressed cross-oriented strands of wood that when sanded and shellacked-has a warm amber color.
Along the way, I was surprised that my dormant woodworking skills and problem solving abilities were awakened. There of course was always the conflict of just doing the work or finding the proper tool that was stored away. And so after finishing one section, I moved my workbench in and hung pegboard for tools and progress increased.
It’s truly a joy to get everything unpacked at last on my own property and be planning so many new creative projects.
December 24, 2015:
A Holiday Gift
The most significant holiday gift citizens of the world might wish for in 2015 is the assurance that this Planet Earth will continue to sustain life for future generations. That in itself represents a significant challenge for mankind and requires a paradigm shift away from adverse conditions, which could otherwise prevail. While natural disasters are mostly the workings of Mother Nature, climate change and wars are clearly within the realm of correction by mankind.
It was just 315 years ago with the invention of the coal-powered steam engine that the world was transformed and progressed into the Industrial Revolution. Since then, additional energy sources of oil and gas have increased advancements and productivity. However, prosperity as we know it has also produced elements that are warming the planet.
And while it was full speed ahead for developed nations, many undeveloped nations that lacked natural resources or the technology to develop energy sources for their own advancement-languished. And just about the time it was their turn to emerge into the world marketplace, they were told the planet could not absorb their pollution.
And so in a startling coincidence, while the Paris Climate Agreement formulated a policy to bring carbon based emissions down to a net zero by 2050, a “red alert” was triggered in Beijing because dramatic air pollution reduced visibility to 30 feet. It’s the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era and time to leave coal, gas and oil in the ground. But then just in time, the great equalizer of solar power enters the world stage with the ability to provide affordable energy for everyone.
That does not mean that world temperatures are going to decline immediately or that ocean levels will not increase from the melting of arctic and Antarctic ice. Nor does it mean that methane gas produced by microbes in ocean floor sediment trapped under the ice for 35 million years, will not escape into the atmosphere, producing greenhouse gases and more planet warming.
Its mind boggling to conceive that 315 years of pollution could wreak such havoc, but then as places on the earth become submerged by the oceans, there will be fewer disbelievers. In the meantime, expect to see Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations dump oil at low prices to garner an increased market share-a truly suicidal venture because if temperatures are not lowered, those countries will be too hot for humans.
As for the wars, innovations in solar power technology can stimulate clean energy, power desalination of oceans for clean water, and reduce the disparity and hatred.
May the much needed peace and tranquility of the holiday season prevail for you and your loved ones.
December 17, 2015:
Music in the Pines will be presenting a spectacular Christmas music show this Sunday December 20 beginning at 4:00 pm in the Wrightwood Community Building. The doors open at 4:00 pm for dinner catered by the Village Grind with the musical performances starting at 5:00. Tickets for dinner and music featuring John Burcher and Jerry Ripley are $15.00, or free tickets for concert seating only are available at the Village Grind.
The entire production will bring Wrightwood’s finest musicians and performers together to raise awareness and support for the 2016 Music in the Pines concert season. Opening the show, Lora Steinmann will lead Snowline Players youth singing Christmas carols. After that, Stephanie Santos-Owens and Mike Owens will perform a medley of songs from Frozen.
Continuing, teachers and students from the Keyboard Art School of Music will join Gayle & Company performing traditional songs and carols. Next up, Greg Jones & Friends will take the stage and perform nine holiday selections. Scheduled musicians include Greg Jones, Walter Foley, John Burcher, Toby Williams and Gene Thorpes with a special medley featuring Brittan Egnozzi, Tony Egnozzi, Claudia Campbell and Lora Steinmann.
Later on during intermission at 6:30, all the guests will be invited to sample an astounding selection of desserts donated by the community-at-large while Jerry Ripley plays the harp. Or, if you have an extravagant confection in mind, bring it along to share with everyone. There will also be a raffle drawing and three Christmas gifts donated by Wrightwood Village businesses.
After intermission, the Keyboard Art Quartet will perform additional holiday songs, followed by solo vocals from Stephanie Santos-Owens and Claudia Campbell. And then, pianist extraordinaire Rodger Whitten will delight the audience with a Christmas medley on the keyboard.
Almost concluding the Wrightwood Christmas music show- Lora Steinmann, Brittan Egnozzi, Claudia Campbell, Sandy Jones, Stephanie Santos-Owens and Kelly Foley will lead an audience sing-a-long for three traditional holiday songs. But then here in Wrightwood, where every conclusion signals there is yet more to give, Santos-Owens will mesmerize the audience with her finalé of “Ave Maria.” Everything then really concludes while the Keyboard Art Quartet leads the audience in “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” as they exit. With a cast of 30, the winter edition of Music in the Pines is guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit.
The Wrightwood Community Building is located at 1275 State Highway 2 with parking between the banks. Please Note: Dinner is served promptly at 4:00 and concert seating is available before 5:00. To avoid disruption of the performance and blasts of freezing air into the building, doors will then be closed until intermission at 6:30-for standing room.
December 10, 2015: A Movable Beast
Now that we have been reminded as a nation that acts of terrorism and carnage are not limited to foreign shores, Americans need to reassess where we have been in the past as a military power and where we are headed in the future. Ever since “regime changes” were orchestrated by the United States and NATO allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, as well as encouraged in Syria, those countries have careened into lawless states with civilian casualties becoming enormous. Although the NATO military presence might have stabilized regions for a while, the Taliban, al Qaeda and now ISIS simply moved out of the way across porous borders.
While it may be disheartening for those who served in Middle East deployments, former U.S. Special Forces Chief Mike Flynn remarked just one week ago, “The invasion of Iraq was a huge error. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was imprisoned in a U.S. military camp but was later deemed to be harmless and released.” Aside from that, there was no Plan B to understand the culture and govern the country after Saddam Hussein’s Sunni government was overthrown.
When the Iraqi military was disbanded and a Shiite government was put in place, sectarian violence suppressed by the dictator Hussein sprang back to life as a civil war. Many of Saddam Hussein’s military personnel have since joined ISIS and some have been monitored in Libya where the NATO overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi created another power vacuum, and no Plan B for the lawless state.
In Syria, where Barack Obama has encouraged another regime change, President Bashar al-Assad is acting like a gangster, if less potent than Islamic extremists. If he were overthrown tomorrow, ISIS and Turkey would swoop in. Just recently, Turkey moved hundreds of troops into Iraq ostensibly to help liberate Mosul from ISIS but then bombing the Kurdish military along the way.
What all this indicates is that it’s impossible for the United States to be on the correct side. We moved into a neighborhood that has been fighting sectarian battles for hundreds of years-where the term Democracy does not translate.
Here at home on December 4, the House of Representatives unveiled a marble bust of Dick Cheney-chief architect of the invasion of Iraq. And then today, Donald Trump commented that all Muslims whether they are refugees or visitors, should not be allowed in the United States. The action of the House and the rhetoric of Trump are just fodder for radicalized terrorists who do not represent the teachings of Islam.
In times like this, we should embrace Muslim citizens and refugees, to be woven into the American fabric of life as other emigrants were in the past.
December 3, 2015: Downtown L.A Scores Again
It has only been two months since The Broad Museum opened on Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles, but apparently Eli Broad has grown a bit restless and is ready for the next challenge. Well known for his keen ability to leverage philanthropic deals, his name is synonymous with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Walt Disney Concert Hall and many other cultural venues. Announced last Friday by Reuters News, “The Los Angeles Times will be split off and purchased by local investors including philanthropist Eli Broad.”
For those who have been associated with Downtown Los Angeles for years, that is really good news because ever since the Chandler’s sold the Los Angeles Times to the Tribune Company of Chicago in 2000, there has been a drop in circulation, severe job cuts and an exodus of Pulitzer Prize winning writers. In short, the locally owned metropolitan newspaper became the news according to Chicago.
Let’s hope that David Geffen is included as an investor, for that would add a sense of balance to the sometimes less than sweetness and light philanthropy of Eli Broad, and prevent the L.A. Times from becoming a power broker’s stepping stone. After all, they are good neighbors on Carbon Beach in Malibu so why not become fellow board members at the L.A. Times.
In the past, Eli Broad played a shrewd game of chess and musical chairs in many boardrooms. According to Tucker Neel in his essay entitled Beyond The Broad: A Better Paradigm Is Possible, Eli Broad was the founding chairman and contributed millions to the city-funded MOCA until he stepped down when the new building was not officially named after him and his wife.
Later on at the UCLA Hammer Museum, Broad helped negotiate the sale of the museum’s DaVinci manuscript to Bill Gates for $30 million, but then departed the board when it was deemed inappropriate to use a portion of the funds for a UCLA art center to be named after him and his wife. And then at LACMA, Broad contributed $50 million to build the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and loan artwork rather than endow it as expected.
On Bunker Hill, Broad paid for the building but received a $52 million subsidy from the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for the parking garage and outdoor plaza. Since the gala opening of The Broad, the subcontractor is moving to foreclosure in order to recoup $6.9 million in unpaid construction costs, while Broad has counter sued for $19.8 million because construction was delayed for 15 months.
Bottom line is Eli Broad has contributed much to Los Angeles, aside from the naming debacles.
November 25, 2015: Wrightwood Classical Music Concert
Last Saturday afternoon, Lora & Heinz Steinmann sponsored a classical music recital in their spacious Wrightwood home with 40 guests attending. Hostess for the event was Director of the Wrightwood Classical Concert Series Joyce Wonderly, who is also the scheduler for the Keyboard Art School of Music. Performing musicians included six teachers from the School of Music, along with guest artists Nakita Sherman and John Burcher. After welcoming everyone, Joyce Wonderly announced, “The next concert will be on April 24, 2016 and today’s concert is being recorded for a CD, available before Christmas.
And then leading off with the music, Tristan Sherman played solo violin for a Vivaldi concerto, Humoresque by Dvorak, and Mountain House from contemporary Catskill Waltzes by Jay Ungar. Stepping back into time once again, he concluded with the lively and yet serene Concerto #5 by Friedrich Seitz.
Up next, School of Music Founder Chet Noll played two Bach Minuets, on a clavichord he built, with the sound being ever so delicate to the attentive ear. After that, Noll switched to piano for a sublimely moody interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise that included evocative and heroic passages.
Following that, Alto/guitarist Gayle Dowling and Soprano Stephanie Santos-Owens shared vocals, accompanied by Tristan Sherman on violin/banjo, Nakita Sherman on upright bass and John Burcher on flute, with the ensemble performing traditional English ballads of A-Soalin, Scarborough Fair, and Barbara Allen. On Scarborough Fair, Owens was featured on restrained lead vocals with Dowling singing counter harmonies. For those in the audience who had heard Owens perform at Music in the Pines, there was keen anticipation of her powerful voice-but that would come later in the performance.
After intermission, Jerry Ripley played selections from Handel and Baron on the harp and then Prelude & Chaconne by Gaspard Le Roux on the harpsichord. Of all the performances, Ripley captured a peaceful moment with the instruments being complimentary to the vista of pine trees and pastel blue sky, seen through the windows of the Steinmann home.
Concluding the concert Rodger Whitten announced, “Some composers assign colors to piano keys and this is a bright one” and indeed it was as he played Chopin’s Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3. The melody was like floating on soft billowy clouds and then a bit of tumultuous wind with calmness restored at the end. After that, it was the jazz waltz of Bill Evans, and then the majestic and powerful Etude in D-Sharp Minor by Scriabin.
And then (drum roll), Whitten accompanied the powerful and well-projected voice of Owens singing Handel’sRejoice Greatly…” and Gounod’s Oh Divine Redeemer. For information on the spring concert, contact Joyce at (760) 249-3487.
With cold winter conditions rapidly approaching, now is the time to prepare your home and landscape while mild temperatures and sunlight make those outdoor chores pleasant. Start out by inspecting roofs, rain gutters and chimney/stovepipe screens and make a list of all items that need attention. If a tradesperson is required, schedule those repairs now before everyone else does.
Having a fireplace or woodstove is a wonderful amenity but it does require maintenance. If you burn softwood pine or conifer wood, your chimney or stovepipe is more likely to accumulate soot and tar that can ignite in a chimney fire. Likewise, the required screen on top that prevents sparks from flying on to the roof or vegetation can become clogged impairing proper airflow for smoke. A stiff whiskbroom will clean that, or a chimneysweep can do both tasks.
Think about purchasing a metal container with lid to empty the ashes. Hot coals will remain that way for several days and should never be thrown in the trash. A better solution for cold ashes is to cultivate them into tree and shrub basins for fertilizer. Always leave a couple inches of ash in the fire box to insulate the bottom bricks or metal from heat damage. Keep in mind that modern zero clearance metal fireplaces were not designed for roaring fires and for that reason, avocado wood is a good choice for a warm safe fire.
With the recent winds, many trees have been stripped bare of leaves that collect in rain gutters and are scattered all over the landscape. Clean out rain gutters and purchase flexible tubing for the bottom of downspouts to move rain water away from the house and into the garden. If you have not yet placed wood bark mulch in plant basins, cultivate some leaves into the soil first and then top off with bark. Instead of raking up all the leaves and exposing bare soil, I prefer to cultivate some and leave some to decompose, as a nutrient.
While outdoors, inspect all trees close to the house and remove any overhanging branches that could break off in rain, snow or windstorms. If you have machinery or firewood stored under tarps, I have discovered they just aren’t as good as they used to be. One day they look fine and then the wind shreds them.
If you are concerned about cold air in the crawlspace under the house or in the attic, keep in mind that that the vents on exterior walls were intended to keep dry air circulating. Covering those vents can lead to moisture accumulation, wood rot and mold.
When the chores are finished, enjoy winter indoors instead of last minute repairs outdoors.
Library Mystery Theater
Not too long ago, a number of San Bernardino detectives were seen snooping around the Phelan Memorial Library while the building was closed for renovations. They were probably hoping a fresh coat of paint and some new carpeting would mask the unsettling feeling that descended on patrons and staff, always in the evening just before they went home.
But everyone knows we all moved to the High Desert to get away from something, and right here in our community are prominent citizens who have escaped the day-to-day tedium and innuendo of down the hill, for a better life. Nevertheless when called upon, these individuals were more than willing to lend their expertise of a former life to solve the mystery of a murder in the library-far better than the gum shoe detectives from SBC.
And so (drum roll), the Friends of Phelan Memorial Library (FOPML) have scheduled a Mystery Theater on Saturday November 7 at 7:00 pm to reenact events that occurred just before the dastardly crime in our library. The cast includes Sam Slayed played by Loren Schneider and Lora Steinmann staring as Agatha Mystry. Also featured will be Hemlock Bones played by Charlie Johnson, Andie Anderson personifying the character of Nancy Prude, and Hercules Perot played by Don Fish. Continuing, Kutesy Millstone will be played by Carolyn McNamara, Ron Frank will become Sir Arthur Conan Hoyle, Alex Brandon assumes the role of Inspector Dogleash, and Manny Books will be played by Tim Johnson
Much more than cameo remembrances, the audience will have an opportunity to interact with clues throughout the library to solve the mystery and win a great prize. There will also be light refreshments and a raffle for the prize of a Kindle with case and ear buds. Tickets are available for $12.00 in advance or $15.00 at the door on the night of the event and can be purchased in the library, located at 9898 Clovis Road in Phelan.
Over the years, FOPML has become the preeminent Friends group in the San Bernardino County Library system. While the new library was under construction, the Friends raised over $50,000 to purchase books and other materials for the 2009 opening. And then later on, the Friends donated an additional $15,000 to purchase 16 computers for the library. As an ongoing effort each year, the Friends have been the financial sponsor of the Summer Reading Program and have received cash grants to expand the program for all age groups.
Join FOPML and the community-at large for an exciting Mystery Theater Fundraiser evening on November 7. With your financial support, the Friends will continue to provide quality reading and educational programs for everyone.
The Nashville Show
Last Wednesday evening at the Wrightwood Community Center, The Nashville Show featured a live performance of the songs George “Coyote” Keene & Gayle Dowling recorded earlier this year in Nashville, for an album entitled Blue Skies & Red Wine. After the concert, the documentary film Music City Makeover created by Dennis Nadalin, followed the journey of Keene & Dowling from Wrightwood to Nashville for the recording process. During a question and answer segment afterwards, the topics of songwriting and filmmaking were discussed.
For the performance of ten songs, Keene & Dowling played acoustic guitars and sang lead vocals. Back up musicians included Walter Foley on electric guitar, Todd Griffin playing bass guitar, Fred Stuart on pedal steel guitar, Tristan Sherman playing violin and banjo, with Toby Williams on the drums.
Leading off, Dowling played harmonica as the introduction to her song about Wrightwood entitled “Back Home” with Sherman featured on banjo. Later on, Keene sang his Wrightwood song “Blue Skies & Red Wine” accompanied by the banjo. In between, there were frolicking songs from Keene with the audience clapping to the beat on “Devil Train” and “The Whiskey.” And then there were songs of ill-fated romance and heartbreak with Dowling singing “Carmen” and Keene swooning through “You Only Call Me When You’re Lonely.” Throughout those songs, as lyrics pulled on the heartstrings, the pedal steel and violin resonated with the country music sound of Nashville.
Next up, the screening of Music City Makeover presented an intriguing view of recording sessions at the Grammy Award winning Sputnik Sound studio. It was there as Nashville’s finest session musicians penciled in changes on music charts that the songs of Keene & Dowling were burnished to perfection. The task at hand for music producer Mitch Dane was to broaden the listener base by adding more instruments synonymous with the Nashville sound, and vocals of singer/songwriter Ryan Horne-who previously had released eight well received albums.
Later on, highlights of the question and answer period moderated by Karen Nadalin included Keene & Dowling admitting there was a great deal of magic involved in songwriting. It wasn’t as simple as writing the music and lyrics in one session and in most situations, could not be forced but required stepping away from the process until inspiration returned.
When asked if there were any surprises, Keene replied, “I learned that really good musicians write intricate charts.” Continuing Dowling commented, “I couldn’t believe how much better my songs sounded,” and Nadalin was amazed that every take was so precise. Nadalin then commented that the documentary would be entered in film festivals. Until then, purchase the music CD online at www.mountainmusic.net or at the Village Grind.
10/15/2015: As The Salton Sea Dries Up
There has been a great deal of concern recently for the ill fated Salton Sea, once the largest lake in California but now much smaller and facing environmental calamity. While lakes across the state also dry up as a result of the four year drought, the big difference with the Salton Sea is a highly toxic pesticide laden lake bed. As the shoreline recedes, dust storms carry pollutants into the Coachella and Imperial valleys and as water temperatures reach 95 degrees, fish die and a rotten egg odor is blown into coastal cities.
In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) was persuaded by the State of California to sell a portion of its allotment from the Colorado River for 45 years to the San Diego County Water Authority. In return, the State promised to take responsibility for the Salton Sea at the end of 2017 if the irrigation district added Colorado River water to the lake until then. However with only three small rivers feeding the lake and the Colorado River allotment reduced, the State has yet to formulate a plan to reduce shrinkage of the Salton Sea.
Last month, Governor Jerry Brown created an assistant secretary position for Salton Sea policy and appointed IID environmental manager Bruce Wilcox to the post. However, there was no indication of funding or a timetable for dust control or maintaining habitat preservation for the most diverse and significant bird population in the United States. And with no assurance the State would assume responsibility in 2017, the IID has threatened to cancel the 2003 water transfer agreement with San Diego.
After that, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote, “Save the Salton Sea agreement or risk toxic dust storms. The Salton Sea will be smaller but, with funding, it could be safe, sustainable and productive, while remaining an integral part of a model water transfer”.
Following that shot across the bow from the L.A. Times, Governor Brown announced this week he had signed legislation for a feasibility study, list of projects, costs and timeframe- to be submitted to the State Legislature by March 31, 2016.
Accidently created in 1905 when the Colorado River overwhelmed irrigation canals to Imperial Valley agriculture fields and flowed unchecked into the Salton Sink for two years, the 8,360 square mile and 50 foot deep lake was once the locale of resort towns and tourist attractions-that are now mostly high and dry and abandoned. With that allure now gone, the importance of saving the lake is paramount. The Pacific Institute has warned, “The region faces an environmental catastrophe if the sea continues to disappear”. For a lake that was never meant to be, keep the toxins underwater.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd & Van Halen
It was a blockbuster concert, last Saturday evening at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring renowned blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd opening for the hometown rock band of Los Angeles-Van Halen. The weather was perfect and an adoring audience was primed with excitement for two bands that had achieved the top of their game. Shepherd has been credited with the longest running album on the Billboard Blues Chart, and Van Halen has had more #1 hit songs on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart than any other band.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd began his professional career at the age of 14 being praised by and playing with Albert King, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Junior Wells, Freddie King, and Bo Diddley. In addition to writing his own songs, Shepherd became a loyal advocate of authentic blues musicians in his 2007 back roads tour featuring surviving members of Howlin’ Wolf’s, Muddy Waters’ and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s bands as the house band for B.B King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Pinetop Perkins and others. On his 2014 album “Goin’ Home” Shepherd covered vintage Blues classics with an all-star cast of musicians.
For the Hollywood Bowl, Kenny Wayne opened with six of his own songs blazing a course on guitar through rock and fuzzy electric blues. His longtime association with Noah Hunt on lead vocals allowed him to focus singularly on his dynamic musical performance. The strong voice of Hunt on “Déjà Voodoo” was a powerful potion counter balanced with shrill guitar licks. On “Shame, Shame, Shame” the mood shifted to heavy blues with Hunt’s voice and Shepherds guitar playing channeling the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
After that, covers of “I’m A King Bee” continued the blues, while the song “Oh Well” was faster and more poignant than the Fleetwood Mac rocker. Concluding with Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child,” Shepherd was all over the stage with his guitar- playing it backwards on his shoulders, raising the neck to the sky, crouching to his knees and then powering into a machine gun staccato finale.
When Van Halen hit the stage, it was a time warp into the past. After playing 40 cities prior to Saturday night, Eddie Van Halen was still energized and lived up to his ranking by Rolling Stone Magazine as the world’s #8 greatest guitarist. Also gone was his bickering with David Lee Roth who pranced, danced and sang like he did 35 years ago. And as the audience of 17,000 cheered and relived the happiest times of their lives for 140 minutes, the band ripped through 23 hit songs, with “Drop Dead Legs” and “Dirty Movies” being played live for the first time ever.
The British graffiti artist known as “Banksy” recently orchestrated a pop up art installation of gigantic proportions at the seaside resort town of Weston-super-Mare near Somerset England. Known for his social commentary subject matter, Banksy used the guise of a Hollywood company filming a movie while he secretly repurposed the abandoned Tropicana Lido into a dark gloomy “bemusement park,” which chronicled current world events.
As per Banksy, “The sinister twist on Disneyland opened on August 21 and closed 36 days later on September 27, 2015.” During that time, more than 150,000 tourists entered the gates posted with a sign that read “Welcome to Dismaland, life isn’t always a fairytale.” And as farfetched as a dysfunctional theme park might be, the temporary art installation generated $30 million of business for the small town.
While Banksy created 10 new artworks and funded construction of the exhibition himself, 58 international artists were invited to participate. The centerpiece of Dismaland was a derelict castle constructed in the former bath pool, with the lake water now murky and littered, and a somewhat disarrayed Little Mermaid wearing a bikini floated in the foreground. Nearby in a smaller pond, remote controlled boats were filled to capacity with sculptures of refugees.
In another locale, the carousel had been “occupied” with a tent encampment, and a life size sculpture of a woman in high heels and short skirt sitting on a park bench, was being attack by seagulls. Continuing with the maritime theme, an enormous orca was seen flying through the air toward a small wading pool.
Of colossal nature, an assemblage of big rig truck cabs created by Mike Ross and first seen at the Burning Man Festival, rose into the sky like a totem. On a sadder note, a giant sculpture of Cinderella’s pumpkin coach had been overturned in a fatal crash. And for those riding the bumper cars, they were simply terrified by the Grim Reaper in his remote controlled vehicle.
High in the air, riders on the Ferris wheel could enjoy seeing the entire phantasmagoria, and if observant enough caught a glimpse of a booth down below advertising, “Student loans for 5,000 percent interest.” While art critics were mostly bemused by the absurdity of Dismaland, Banksy merely quipped, “This is what 90 percent of viewers would like to see in museums.”
At the close of Dismaland, Banksy announced in a press release that everything would be dismantled and shipped to Calais, France where all the timbers and fixtures would be used to build shelters for 5,000 people living in refugee camps. While they await decisions and hope to relocate to England, Art out of left field from Banksy- will prepare them for winter.
Darlene Love Rocks Grammy Museum
Several years ago when Darlene Love was performing at The Roxy nightclub in Hollywood, there was a commotion in the audience as she sang the Bruce Springsteen song “Hungry Heart”. As it turned out, the ruckus was caused by The Boss and his guitarist Steven Van Zandt from the E street Band, who were dancing and cheering for one of the most powerful vocalists in rock and roll music. Later on backstage, Van Zandt told Darlene he would like to produce an album for her, and Springsteen signed on as an advocate for the legendary voice that Rolling Stone Magazine proclaimed to be “One of the greatest singers of all time.”
As life would have it, there were many twists and turns in her career as a prolific recording session backup singer that did not lead to fame as a solo artist. However, everything changed for Darlene last week at the Grammy Museum in Downtown Los Angeles as 200 guests in the Clive Davis Theater celebrated the release of her first solo rock album, produced and arranged by Steven Van Zandt.
Songs on the album were written for Darlene by Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, Jimmy Webb, and Linda Perry, among others. The album title Introducing Darlene Love, was intended by Van Zandt to be a quip for music fans that didn’t know that strong voice behind The Blossoms, The Crystals, Tina Turner, Righteous Brothers, Sam Cooke, Elvis, Cher, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and countless others-was Darlene Love.
During those years when fame as a solo performer was allusive, Darlene was featured in all four Lethal Weapon films, debuted on Broadway in Hairspray, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and starred in the Oscar winning documentary film 20 Feet From Stardom. And through those years, Darlene was featured in many Springsteen concerts, and performed the only song she received royalties from Phil Spector-“Christmas, Baby Please Come Home”-for 29 years on the David Letterman holiday episode.
After his in depth interview with Darlene Love, Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli announced, “Tonight will be the biggest thing ever to hit the stage of the Clive Davis Theater.” And then with Darlene Love on lead vocals, Steven Van Zandt on lead guitar, and three backup vocalists-that was the real volume. Behind them, three additional guitars, a bass guitar, a saxophone, piano, organ, drummer and percussionist created a “Wall of Clarity” sound that never overpowered Darlene.
The audience was on their feet cheering for six songs and fulfilling Darlene’s dream, “I always knew my day would come.” Google search the first single “Forbidden Nights” for a dazzling video.
Frank Gehry At LACMA
If you’re interested in architecture, the Frank Gehry exhibit that just opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) traces his entire career from residential commissions to cityscapes. Be prepared to spend several hours viewing the impressive body of work, which includes more than 200 drawings, 65 scale models, and video presentations. While it was Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles that propelled him to fame hereabouts, the exhibit includes examples of smaller architectural jewels in the Los Angeles area, and eight new projects that will add Gehry’s signature to the skyline of Southern California.
As a native of Los Angeles, I was filled with civic pride last Saturday afternoon upon entering LACMA’s massive Resnick Pavilion, and overwhelmed by the long overdue tribute to Frank Gehry, an “Angelino” for 68 years. There were times between 1989 and 1994, when policy makers of Los Angeles were not so kind to Gehry on the Disney Hall project. During that time when anticipated costs for curved limestone panels skyrocketed and fundraising stalled, L.A. County attempted to fire Gehry and maintain ownership of the plans.
However, a court ruled that in commissioning Frank Gehry and donating $50 million, Lillian Disney was owner of the plans. What L.A. County owned was the $110 million underground parking structure and debt to bondholders if Disney Hall was not constructed to generate income. While the project was halted for two years, Lillian Disney’s contribution and an additional donation of $25 million from Walt Disney Company plus interest accrued to $100 million. After that, private fundraising provided “paid-in-full” status for the project-with Frank Gehry.
In the interim, Gehry Partners developed computer aided three-dimensional interactive applications, enabling them to use less expensive stainless steel panels on Disney Hall. At the same time, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain was well underway with titanium panels, and within budget. The two structures catapulted Gehry into international fame with the complexity of curved forms colliding into and enveloping one another-as two of the most significant buildings in the world.
The LACMA exhibit covers six themes spanning Gehry’s career that began with use of economical materials such as galvanized corrugated metal, exposed plywood panels and chain link fabric used as design elements. Over the years as computer technology advanced, the architect of angles and cubes became a sculptor of curves-applying software formerly used in aeronautic and automobile industries to design unique buildings.
With a huge photographic backdrop of “Gehry Partners in the studio” new project scale models include mid-rise developments on the Sunset Strip and in Santa Monica, a new Jazz Bakery performance space in Culver City, and the Children’s Institute in Watts.
That Nashville Sound
And so as I was driving along listening to the new George “Coyote” Keene & Gayle Dowling album Blue Skies & Red Wine recorded in Nashville, I realized I was totally distracted by the various instruments embellishing their music and not paying attention to shifting gears. That is the magical quality professional session players, sound engineers and producers add to a singer/songwriter’s composition. I mean, these were songs many of which I had heard before, coming alive in a fresh new interpretation.
The night before as the 2015 Music in the Pines summer concert series was concluding, a new chapter in the lives of Coyote Keene & Gayle Dowling was beginning in the form of a documentary film created by Dennis Nadalin and premiered at The Apple Farm venue in Wrightwood. In the documentary entitled Music City Makeover, Sputnik Sound producer and mixer Mitch Dane explained his task was not to radically change the music but rather to improve the sound and feeling of folk music suggested by the title track, and tweak it a bit with nuances of country music to broaden the listening appeal.
Over the years, Dane’s partner at Sputnik- sound engineer Vance Powell- has won three Grammy Awards for the recording studio. In 2003 it was Best Pop/Contemporary Album for the band Jars of Clay, followed in 2009 for Best Engineered Album for The Raconteurs with Jack White. And then in 2011, he won again for the Best Contemporary Blues Album featuring Buddy Guy. With those accomplishments under their belts, Sputnik Sound has basically been around the block of all musical genres.
In Wrightwood, Coyote & Gayle traditionally play acoustic guitars and sing their songs to a cosmopolitan red wine audience. However in Nashville, Gayle wore a warm smile and confided in the documentary, “Mitch didn’t really change our music, he just added a little bit here and there and it was great.”
Those additions included guitars, piano, Hammond B3 organ, mandolin, pedal steel and Dobro. And then in the film, Mitch Dane added the true country nuance as he played a wood saw with a microphone picking up the ethereal sound of the warbling. Another addition from Dane that was very prominent in the film but hardly discernible on the CD, is Ryan Horne singing vocals for Gayle’s song “A Memory.” For the recording, his voice is barely lower that Gayle’s but there is a certain richness, which enhances the song and that is what choosing a session performer is all about.
The CD is great and the documentary provided a candid glimpse into the Nashville recording process. Google Search: Music City Makeover for a YouTube video trailer.
September In Los Angeles
Just as New York City scored a major cultural advantage with the opening of the expansive new Whitney Museum of Art, Los Angeles will be catapulted into the international Art world at three venues in September. In the span of one week beginning on September 13, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) hosts a Frank Gehry retrospective, NYC gallery owner Michele Maccarone opens her second venue in Downtown L.A, and The Broad Museum opens on Bunker Hill. If being an art maven results in hunger pangs, the venerable Clifton’s Cafeteria also reopens that week Downtown.
On September 13, LACMA opens the Frank Gehry exhibition featuring 200 drawings and more than 65 scale models, many of which have never been seen by the general public. Admission is free to those under 17 years of age, and members. Adult tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased at www.lacma.org.
Maccarone Los Angeles opens on September 19 at 300 South Mission Road in Downtown Los Angeles. The 50,000 square foot gallery with a vacant lot for outdoor sculpture, features edgy and funky contemporary art that put the West Village gallery on the radar of international art collectors. Admission is free. Call (917) 371-5023 for information.
Bigger is not necessarily better and the new Broad Museum on Bunker Hill represents a small jewel box of a museum similar in size to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) across the street. As with MOCA, which has 90 percent of the permanent collection in storage, The Broad will rotate art from its five story renovated telephone-switching building in Santa Monica, where the Eli Broad Family Foundation has more than 2,000 artworks displayed privately for museum groups, curators and scholars.
The new museum at 221 South Grand Avenue opens on September 20 and is an architectural wonder where admission is free. Call (213) 232-6200 for information.
After being closed for four years and a $10 million renovation, Clifton’s Cafeteria at 648 South Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles will reopen on September 17. The four story restaurant with interior motifs inspired by the Santa Cruz Mountains has a large stone waterfall, a huge replica of a hollow 40 foot redwood tree, which functions as a fireplace in the center of a three story atrium. The second floor features a neighborhood bar, the third floor has a Gothic bar, and the fourth floor at the tree tops is also a bar.
The 50,000 square foot Clifton’s was renovated by Andrew Meieran, owner of the Edison Night Club- also located Downtown.
For world-class art and the most exotic restaurant of yesteryear, September is the month for Los Angeles.
8/13/15: Nuclear Politics
Although atomic bombs detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were seen by many as the definitive impetus for the surrender of Japan, fears of a continuing World War II were replaced within days by Cold War fears. Looking back on the 70th anniversary of those bombings, a book written by UC Santa Barbara historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa entitled Racing The Enemy and a review of that publication by former Boston Globe columnist Gareth Cook, indicate a far more complex strategy.
Certainly, the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945 cancelled an intended invasion by 700,000 American troops and saved thousands of lives in an operation that would have eclipsed the invasion of Normandy. Aside from that, several theories from the “Revisionist School of Historians” have emerged. According to Hasegawa, “Nuclear weapons may not be a particularly effective weapon of war because destruction of cities does not sway leaders.”
Living in Tokyo during World War II, Hasegawa acknowledged that March 1945 incendiary attacks on Tokyo and 60 Japanese cities were more destructive and deadly than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Additionally, Cook maintained, “The nature of Japanese leaders was to be blindsided by their own fanaticism to force a catastrophic showdown rather than to acknowledge defeat.”
While attending the Potsdam Conference between July 17 and August 2, 1945, President Truman was dismayed with World War II ally Russia’s intent to partition European countries, as the spoils of war. He warned Josef Stalin of a powerful new weapon, and many historians believe the nuclear bombing in Japan was intended to intimidate Russia. On that account, the theory that detonating the bombs in a remote area could have accomplish surrender, would not have provided sufficient proof that Truman warned of in the form of mass destruction and tremendous loss of life.
And so, although Russia had suffered 20 million causalities in the war against Nazi Germany, Stalin was not averse to declaring war against Japan on August 8 and launching a broad surprise attack on Japanese troops in Manchuria with the intent of staking a claim to Asian territories. That action may have prompted surrender to the United States, because Japanese leaders felt Stalin and the Communists might not negotiate favorable terms of holding territory, avoiding war crime trials and preserving the Imperial System. Succinctly, it was better to surrender to Washington than Moscow.
Today in the only country of the world to experience a wartime nuclear attack, Japan is also haunted by the use of nuclear power to generate electricity after the Fukushima triple core reactor meltdown. The citizens of Japan experienced the worst use of nuclear power, and what was purported to be the safest use. It’s all nuclear politics.
8/06/15: Highway 138 Construction Perils
One glimpse of the broad swath cleared for the widening of Highway 138 can only be reassuring for Tri-Community motorists. For years, the two lane road with no center divider has been called “Blood Alley” and is currently ranked the seventh most dangerous roadway in the United States. When completed in December of 2016, the 15 mile stretch of highway between Pinon Hills and the I-15 Freeway will be much safer with four traffic lanes and a 14 foot center median. However in the meantime, construction activities have actually made the roadway more dangerous.
Unsafe speed, careless drivers and even road rage have been no strangers to Highway 138 construction workers in the past. This time around CalTrans has done everything possible to isolate new right-of-way construction from existing traffic lanes by installing K-rail in between. In order to accomplish that, the westbound shoulder was transformed into a traffic lane while the eastbound shoulder accommodated the K-rail.
As a result, the traffic lanes are just wide enough for a motor home or big rig truck, separated from oncoming traffic by only a solid yellow line. In Pinon Hills traveling eastbound, the first danger occurs where the former centerline orange reflectors were removed, leaving depressions in the pavement. As the existing highway transitions narrower into the construction zone, drivers of motorcycles and small cars will definitely feel a bumpy ride. The only remedy is to reduce speed significantly and proceed with a keen eye on the K-Rail and oncoming traffic.
Along the entire length of the Highway 138 Project, gaps in the K-rail were provided for vehicles turning into the construction zone and for ingress/egress of crossroads. When turning into those crossroads from either direction, local residents should be fully aware that inattentive drivers behind have only three choices, rear-end you, swerve into the K-rail, or swerve into oncoming traffic. When construction is completed, turn lanes and regulation shoulders will eliminate that hazard, but that’s a year from now.
While I’m on the subject of crossroads, that has been a concern of mine for years. There are those who love the freedom of roaring down a dirt road, and the carelessness of rolling stops at intersections. And then, there are those who actually stop and slowly proceed into the traffic lane of Highway 138. Either way, the statistics speak for themselves here on Blood Alley.
In addition to the aforementioned situations, there is the weather to deal with. Last week, flood waters covered traffic lanes with muddy water in many places. That slowed a lot of motorists, but then there is always a jerk who likes to splash others. Drive safely on Highway 138 for everyone’s good!