Friday, December 29, 2006

Sunrise or Sunset?

Sunset or Sunrise?
I’m a left-coast person. When I look at the ocean, I see “west.” This internal compass is part of me, but at times can wreck havoc. Huh? Well, consider that I grew up in San Diego, a nice, west-facing ocean-front city. So, this picture to me is sunset. Sunrise is that rarely-glimpsed phenomenon that occurs over deserts or mountain ranges. When I moved to Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara has a south-facing beach), instead of adjusting to the new location of the ocean, I simply embraced the reality that in Santa Barbara the sun sets in the north. As you face the ocean at dusk, the orangey-pinky sunset residue floating in the sky is on your right. If you’re facing the ocean and the ocean is west, then clearly the sun sets in the north.

Traveling to the east coast has its accompanying perils. For example, you’re driving to the coast. You see the freeway sign, with arrows indicating that east is one direction, west is the opposite. You want to go to the coast. The ocean is west. You turn on the freeway going west and discover a few miles down the road that you’re actually going inland.
Next Entry: Montréal In Winter

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Getting Into the Christmas Spirit

Ski Bear
Turn on the Christmas Tree lights and take a moment to reflect. Wacky ornaments are definitely appreciated in our house. This poor ski bear lost half of one ski, but that doesn't get him down; he smirks down the slope regardless.
Raggedy Andy
One of a pair of choral-singing rag dolls.
Teapot for Mom
Eek! This ornament is almost 10 years old! How did that happen?
Soccer Ball
Way back when I coached a girls' soccer team. They kicked some . . . great goals!
Merry Christmas.
Next Entry: Sunrise or Sunset?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shut Up and Sing

Shut Up and SingWhy would anyone want to piss off a group of women famous for a song about killing an abusive husband? In London, 2003, in the eve before the initial Iraq invasion, the Dixie Chicks (Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Robison) performed for a loud, appreciative audience. In between songs, Natalie spoke to the audience and uttered her now infamous statement: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” The audience responded with a loud applause of approval, Natalie grinned and offered a nonchalant shrug, and the next song began. From that inauspicious seed, a whole forest of rancor would grow and challenge the Dixie Chicks, their relationships with each other, and their relationship with their fan base and economic livelihood. That many of her fans took exception to “dissing” the president (especially on foreign soil), is a right that every fan has. And her fans further expressed their displeasure by boycotting concerts, burning CDs, and putting pressure on radio stations to remove Dixie Chicks songs from the play lists. The disapproval was not just limited to the fan base. It bled into the media itself (including radio stations). Even death threats ensued.

Fine. The Dixie Chicks plodded along and stuck to their guns. They have not backed down, and sisters Robison and Maguire have not wavered in their loyalty to Maines. They have lost revenue and CD sales, concerts have been cancelled, and the Dixie Chicks, while losing much of their country base, have cultivated new fans.

Last week I saw the movie Shut Up and Sing, playing only one place in San Diego, at the Ken Theatre, in culturally hip and inclusive Kensington. The documentary details the Chicks’ story of “the incident” (you get to actually see it in all its, well, informality). So, the real question is, do famous people have less civil rights than you or me? You can criticize the Chicks for saying what they said, but you cannot claim that they don’t have the right to express their opinion (even a negative opinion) of our government or our president. To say that they are disloyal to the troops, who are fighting for our freedom (it is questionable that the Iraq invasion has anything to do with my freedom), and then deny a citizen’s right to exercise her freedom doesn’t make sense.

Time to go buy “Taking the Long Way,” their latest CD, as well as figuring out who the hell Earl is (was).

Update: I bought the CD. I love it . . . Dixie Chicks garnered 5 Grammy Nominations! New fan base is a-comin'.
Next Entry: Getting Into the Christmas Spirit

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Moonset at Moonlight Beach

Moonset at Moonlight BeachThis is actually Stone Steps Beach, a few blocks north of the more fabled Moonlight Beach (close enough). This photo was taken about 15 minutes before dawn on December 4th. The air was cool (read: cold) and still. The only sound came from the gentle lap of the waves. Waves breaking sound gentler and less crashing at night than they do during the day. Maybe the usual night time moisture helps deaden the sound, I’m not sure. The reason this picture is more unusual than you might think, is that, One: I am not usually up and out before dawn, and Two: the conditions aren’t always clear (especially right before sunrise), the moon isn’t always full, and the moon doesn’t always set just before dawn. So, while driving home from an early morning airport delivery, I saw the moon low and full over the western sky. I had to grab the digital and try a shot or two.
Next Entry: Shut Up and Sing

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iron Mountain Hike

Looking east towards Cuyamaca Peak
The previously hiked Mt. Woodson (2894 ft.) is a sister hike to San Diego County's Iron Mountain (2696 ft.), known for its "rough terrain, spring wildflower shows, diverse plant communities, rattlesnakes, hot summer days, and large boulders." (Poway Trails Guide.) But in November there are no spring wildflowers, hot days (warm, but not hot), nor rattlesnakes. Iron Mountain is an easier hike, being both shorter (6 miles instead of 8) and less of an elevation gain. Its views, especially looking east towards Cuyamaca Peak (6512 ft.) are spectacular. The following photo shows our destination: Iron Mountain taken from about half-way up the trail.Iron Mountain
This next shot shows our starting point: Highway 67 and Poway Road.Looking back at the starting point
Vegetation along the hike is fairly uniform. It is still in recovery from the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire so new growth is all about the same age and size. Here is a prickly pear cactus with fruit.Prickly Pear Cactus
Finally, we reach the summit, where a picnic bench affords a luxurious lunch spot.
Scott and Paul at the summit
Next Entry: Moonset at Moonlight Beach

Friday, November 24, 2006

Turkey Day

Lake Poway
When Thanksgiving rolls around, we typically start preparing for the Thanksgiving feast about a week ahead. Buy the turkey, decide on the recipes and menu, and plan our day-by-day attack. In this case “we” means my brother Scott, who many years visits us from the Boston area for Thanksgiving, and I. Both of us are eating in accordance with The China Study, but we will chuck vegan for the day on Thanksgiving. Interspersed with the shopping, chopping, shredding, grinding, blending (and other pulverizing-type verbs found on my food processor machine) are time slots for hiking and enjoying the warm San Diego November. Scott at Mt. Woodson PeakA favorite hike this year was the approximately 7 to 8 mile round trip hike to Mt. Woodson Peak from Lake Poway. This trail, located in the Mount Woodson Wilderness Area in northeastern San Diego County, is fairly rugged terrain, steep at parts, and provides beautiful views. The chaparral-type vegetation (manzanita, wild sage, yucca plants, oak trees) gives way to pine trees at the Mt. Woodson peak, the perfect spot for the mid-hike lunch and rest.

This year we provided support for my daughter Sara who ran the Silver Strand Half-Marathon on November 19th. Its ending point at the Imperial Beach Pier is a wonderful place to observe water life: surfers, sea birds, gulls, and occasionally dolphin!Dolphins from Imperial Beach Pier
On Thanksgiving Day we hosted the cousins, grandmothers, sisters-in-law, and brothers of the local Anderson clan. I was so excited to get the Cousins Shot (oft sought-after, but seldom manifested photo of all the cousins together in one place). Happy Thanksgiving!
Next Entry: Iron Mountain Hike

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fall from Grace and Carolina Fall

Hay Field
Returning home to California from North Carolina, I leaned back in my airline seat, closed my eyes, and listened to Neil Young’s Southern Man remind me of where I’d been. Well, sort of. I didn’t see Neil Young’s South, I saw WNC (that is, Western North Carolina) and its gentle land. Throughout the day of November 8th, the day following the midterms, I joined company with my Aunt Laura and Fiki, her friend and helper, as we celebrated as each seat was won, as the count tipped to the Democratic majority. We three women—a woman in her 80’s, a woman in her 20’s, and I—somewhere in between—we all celebrated the promise of change.

The irony is that the party of “Family Values” is being chastised to clean up its act. The people are tired of corruption! The people are tired of lies! The people are tired of hypocrisy. The people are unhappy with Iraq! And now, a new mandate has been issued: Get us out of this mess! Maybe the war in Iraq is finally being viewed as the fiasco it has always been. Lives are being lost, and we don’t really know why. Maybe we realize that you cannot fight an ideology. We cheered the exit stage left of Rumsfeld, we cheered for the House, and we cheered for the Senate. The Audacity of Hope. You will hear this again. Now we can hope that the 110th Congress can move forward and act. Now we can hope that the 109th Lame Duck does not do anything too lame in the last throes of its sad, sad life. Long live Hope!
Fall Leaves Seasons
Next Entry: Turkey Day

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened on Bill Maher . . .

There was consensus! For a show that thrives, feeds upon, encourages, and demands controversy among its panelists, indeed, it invites guests who relish chances for partisan barbs and baiting, I witnessed bi-partisan nodding. The commonality was the acknowledgement that the Iraq War is not working and the Bush Administration is to blame.

HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher is a topical issue show hosted by Bill Maher, a political comedian. His show has a predictable format which sometimes yields humor (no one can be serious when Robin Williams is on the panel), sometimes rancor, and sometimes serious, thoughtful discussion. You may not agree with all of Bill Maher’s views, but, if nothing else, he’s mostly logical and extremely open to let people that he disagrees with present their far-flung fringe views, such as Sandy Rios, who was a Bill Maher guest on the September 22 show and stated that Americans have “earned the right to create military bases in Iraq” or Stephen Moore, a guest on the October 20 show, also here, who desperately tried to defend America’s right to torture.

Maher’s most recent show included
  • Andrew Sullivan a gay conservative blogger who has angrily denounced the Bush Administration for the Iraq War and resents Bush's “Family Values” that excludes gays;
  • Singer, entertainer, and activist Harry Belafonte, who mesmerized the other panelists with his stories of conversations with Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King;
  • Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey;
  • Harold Ford, Jr., a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee. His platform is against the war in Iraq (“We need to be honest about the war.”), he wants to help the middle class with health insurance and education, and he’s against tax cuts for the rich. He is against gay marriage, abortion, and gun control. He labels himself as a Tennessee Democrat;
  • Arianna Huffington, a blogger and liberal advocate. She was hawking her new book and explaining its title “On Becoming Fearless.” She confesses, “I was terrified [throughout her life].” She explains that the book is not about the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear.
And of course Bill Maher, an open critic of Bush’s policy in Iraq.

Consensus. Consensus. Consensus. Dare I hope this portends a change?
Next Entry: Fall from Grace and Carolina Fall

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A New Moon, An Old Tune—Making Tracks with Jack

Low Tide at Stonesteps
Aaah, the cosmic alignment of moon, tides, weather, and day of the week has brought me a Saturday afternoon low tide, new moon (meaning low, low tides), and a mild Santana condition (meaning sparkling sun, low humidity, and summer-like temperatures). The confluence of these conditions means I cannot resist a run on “my” beach. Although the weather says summer, I know that it’s really fall because the life guard tower, present all summer long, is now gone. And, I can easily park near the beach even though it’s Saturday afternoon. The warm weather has brought out more than the normal beach lovers, but nowhere near the numbers that summer Saturdays produce. The wide beach means more sand for all of us: frisbee players, sunbathers, walkers, and runners.
Beach Games
I’ve started taking my Nano along and today it’s In Between Dreams (Jack Johnson). Jack’s good to run to. His percussion is prominent but not overpowering. It gives you your own metronome and lets you ease into your pace with the rhythm feeding your head. Plus, Jack’s music is just damn happy. Even when he’s singing about death (If I Could) “They say that new life makes losing life easier to understand” and being burned out (Breakdown) “I hope this old train breaks down then I could take a walk around,” his guitar and his voice are hopeful and up.

Hey, how do you spot the tourists on the beach? (This is a summer question, no doubt, but it feels like summer today.) My favorite summertime beach game is “Watch the Clueless Beach Loungers Get Inundated by the Incoming Tide.” I know this sounds rather elitist, but hey, it’s not elitist, it’s just local knowledge taking advantage of, well, non-local knowledge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched groups laying on their towels or sitting in their beach chairs totally unaware that, yes, Martha, the waves do seem to becoming closer as time goes by. Oh, but the sand here is dry, and, well, it was dry when we got here, and wha? Martha! My towel! It’s wet! Did you see that wave? It came up to my towel? Quick, Johnny, grab the towel and the camera and the food and the chair, let’s move everything back one whole foot!

Oh, I am bad, so bad. Happy Trails to You.
Next Entry: A Funny Thing Happened on Bill Maher . . .

Friday, October 20, 2006

Load Up Yer Plates: Update on the China Study

It’s been since September 6th since I embraced a plant-based diet, avoiding meat, dairy, eggs, and cheese. In general, I love it. I feel great. Eating vegan definitely gives you more energy. (This isn’t strictly a vegan diet, but it’s close. Vegan allows sugar and flour, whereas The China Study diet restricts grains and flour to whole grains and says to minimize sugar.) I like eating all that fruit and vegetables. I’ve discovered some great new recipes (here’s one for Mexican Squash Stew that’s wonderful) and I’m more apt to buy vegetables that I don’t typically eat (Swiss chard, different kinds of squash—including butternut squash).

Breakfast had the most changes for me, since my usual meal included cereal and milk and coffee with cream. I fix myself oatmeal most mornings. (I still drink coffee, but now I drink it black and only drink one cup, since I don’t like the taste as much as coffee with half and half.)

What do I miss? I don’t miss any one thing terribly. But I love to cook and some of my most favorite dishes are on the avoid list: lasagna, mashed potatoes, oven roasted whole chicken, a dessert or two (homemade pies, breads).

So, I think I’ll still fix these wonderful dishes every once in a while. I figure if I eat vegan most of the time, that a slip into the world of the forbidden is still a significant improvement over how I was eating before.

I’ve been spreading this resource—The China Study—and am getting feedback from friends of friends and relatives of relatives (and friends of relatives and relatives of friends) that this is definitely an embraceable life style. People feel empowered when they can ignore TV ads that make up diseases and symptoms just to sell you a drug that will make you take yet another drug to counteract side effects.

Thanksgiving is coming up and I plan on serving turkey. But hey, cranberries, squash, fresh green beans are all doable within the framework of the China Study guidelines.
Recipe: Mexican Squash Stew

Friday, October 13, 2006

And You Look Back At Me

Dave Mason Cover ShotAlone Together Cover ShotDave Mason doesn’t hold his guitar, he wears it like a comfortable flannel shirt; he controls his guitar like a master controls his servant; he hypnotizes it, like the snake charmer hypnotizing the snake. The notes are round and fluid, there are no sharp edges; they’re huge droplets of water falling into a still pond, their effect radiates to the far reaches of the shores and the audience’s collective ears. Dave’s voice is a bit raspy and distinct, like a familiar friend.

Dave’s guitar playing last night at Humphrey’s was memorable. Here’s Paul’s comments.

Well, there's not much more to say about how great Dave Mason's guitar playing was last night. But he is often overlooked for his lyrics. This morning I remembered a story from long ago.

When my daughter Sara was about twelve, she had a creative writing project to do at school. She could write about anything she wanted. It was the teacher's attempt for them to write poetry or lyrics. Sara didn't know where to start, so she asked me for advice.

Here's what I said.

Lookin all around me,
What do I see
Lots of changing faces
Lots of things to be
Lord I'm happy just to be
A part of all I see
As I turn around to look at you
And you look back at me

Sara said "Dad, that was incredible, did you write that? That was just the best group of words."

Don't worry, I didn't take the credit.

Next Entry: Load Up Yer Plates: Update on the China Study

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Black Hole That Isn't Quite

I’m sure I’m not the only blogger that sees her work as pushing bits into an amorphous black hole. So I was pleasantly surprised to have a phone message waiting for me last Tuesday morning from Ronnie Wise, “the main character” featured in my recent Librarian and Liberator post. His message said:
“Gail, this is Ronnie Wise. I just got through reading your blog on the internet and I wanted to call and thank you for your kind thoughts and I’d like to talk to you for a couple of minutes. My cell phone is [. . . ]. Look forward to talking to you.”
And so I returned his call. He told me a bit more about the article; said that J.R. (Moehringer, the author) had been working on it for five years and had made numerous trips to Cleveland, Mississippi. The original article was 15,000 words, but Moehringer was forced to pare it down to the 5,000 words as published (the organizational changes at the LA Times affected page space allotted to this project).

We spoke about J.R.’s accomplishments as a writer (2000 Pulitzer Prize recipient in feature writing for his multi-part work about Gee’s Bend, Alabama, published in 1999 in the LA Times). Moehringer has also written a well-received memoir (Tender Bar), which I am currently reading. J.R.’s article on Ronnie Wise’s literacy campaign is a current movie project (so I am not the only one that sees the big screen possibilities in this story).

Ronnie also said that, although the article was generally well-received, a few people in the Cleveland area did not take too kindly to Moehringer’s portrayal of their community. Wise is therefore somewhat of a target instead of a hero in these misguided people’s eyes. They’re only a small percentage, he says, but they tend to have the power, the money, and the land.

Thanks, Ronnie, for the phone call. Good luck to you. And I look forward to the movie.
Next Entry: And You Look Back At Me

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Librarian and the Liberator

Still Life with Books, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
What do Simon Bolívar, Cleveland, Mississippi, and Fredericksburg, Virginia have in common? For those of you who are familiar with Fredericksburg, you might offer that Bolívar is known as the George Washington of South America and Fredericksburg was the home of George Washington. In fact, popular tourist attractions in Fredericksburg include Kenmore, the home of Colonel Fielding Lewis and George Washington’s sister, the Mary Washington House (George’s mother), and a George Washington boyhood home close by. That’s the obvious connection, but it leaves out Cleveland, Mississippi. The connection I see has a bit more of a story to it, a story that caught my attention, and subsequent connections that are gratifying to follow.

The story starts with a Column One article in the Los Angeles Times that colorfully chronicles the life of Ronnie Wise, a librarian in the Delta region of Mississippi (For Delta Librarian, The End, Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2006 by J.R. Moehringer, Times Staff Writer). The article caught my eye because my father grew up in rural Mississippi and stories about Mississippi are usually interesting to me. The article reads like a movie plot and here’s the pitch (let’s call the movie The Depot):

The train depot is a metaphor for escaping a life filled with ignorance and poverty. The story creates parallel threads that build a tapestry from the lives of people trying to escape their hovels of despair. The main character, Ronnie Wise, is the director of libraries for Bolivar County, Mississippi. The main library is in Cleveland, Mississippi, and it was moved (and expanded) to the abandoned train depot. For 30 years Ronnie Wise has been on a personal crusade to stamp out illiteracy in this county and bring book-reading to a populace that could not afford the luxury of reading fiction. Ironically, he is as stuck as the people he is trying to help. He’s not particularly personable, he tends to be a loner, and he buries himself in the books that provide the escape route for those he helps. He is a victim of what he does best: get buried in the wonderful, fantastic world of reading.

But, fantastically, while providing assistance to a researcher, whom he meets after corresponding with her for two years through emails and phone calls, he falls in love with said researcher, retires from his librarian post, marries, and moves to Los Angeles. And so his role as liberator ends and a new liberator takes over his work.

George Caleb Bingham: Mississippi Boatman, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.The article is filled with peoples’ stories on how their lives improved through literacy—people who are able to now find a job, start their own businesses, get their high school equivalency, and send their own children to college. And so we see that Ronnie Wise is a liberator, like Simon Bolívar. He is a general, and leads the fight against illiteracy and, by extension, some of the trappings that feed illiteracy: poverty, racism, and the legacy of slavery. Wise is passionate.
“Reading, Wise believes, is life. Illiteracy, therefore, is death.”
Further along in the article, Moehringer quotes Wise:
“The source of illiteracy is slavery, he says, plain and simple: Before the Civil War, Bolivar County had more slaveholding plantations than any county in the South. Slavery begat illiteracy, he argues, illiteracy perpetuates economic slavery, and the cycle simply remains unbroken.”
So, Ronnie Wise is the Liberator of Bolivar County (named for the Simon Bolívar), a county named for a liberator, that ironically, enslaves its people in illiteracy and poverty. Bolivar County, where 41% of its 40,000 residents can’t read.

I was shocked at that number. No child left behind? How does a child learn to read if its parents don’t read? Legacy of slavery? That also was a wakeup call to me. I thought slavery was something in the past. I learned about slavery in school. I read about slavery though history books and literature and Black History Month. But to understand how its effects are still so powerfully felt even today was enlightening and frightening.
Frederic Bazille: Negro Girl with Peonies, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
This brings me to the Fredericksburg connection. Washington D.C. has the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate and remember the Nazi atrocities of World War II. Fredericksburg is building the United States Slavery Museum to open in 2008, which will educate and remember our legacy of slavery. Its mission is “To vitalize and interpret more completely the human drama and toll of slavery in America. The museum will educate some, re-educate others by presenting slavery in a larger and more balanced economic and political context.”

It’s not just the illiterate residents of Bolivar County Mississippi that need educating. It’s all of us.

Statue of Simon Bolivar, Gift from the Republic of Venezuela to United States of America 1958, Washington, D.C.So now you know: the connection that links Simon Bolívar, Cleveland, Mississippi, and Fredericksburg, Virginia is the legacy of slavery. I’ll write more on Fredericksburg and Washington D.C. soon, as I have just returned from traveling to these cities.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Eating Right: Why We Should Care

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Benbella Books, Dallas, Texas, 2005.

It’s difficult to summarize in a blog entry the scientific base, the global implications for health, and the exciting conclusions of this absorbing text. So, I’ll truncate the premise (most Americans are subject to diseases of affluence, including high blood cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, stroke, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s) and the conclusions (avoid these diseases and even reverse them by changing your diet to be plant-based and whole grain) and leave it to any interested reader to take the next step: Check out the reviews on Amazon for this book. You’ll read how other people have read this book and embraced its findings. People are excited that their lives have improved in just a short time.

If that gets you interested at all, then buy the book so you can explain your new dietary decisions to skeptical friends and family, or perhaps gain support from these newly indoctrinated allies. And, if you feel like you have “bad genes”—that you’re doomed to get breast cancer or a heart attack—this book will take weight off your shoulders (and other places) and help you confront your family history by trumping any genetic predisposition to these diseases with diet.

Chapter 12 culminates the pages and pages of study data and analysis and simply tells you how to eat. Good bye cheese, eggs, milk (all dairy) and meat. Hello all fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods. The challenge here is to find new recipes so that your eating is varied and satisfying. For people who have suffered through counting calories or weighing food portions, there’s none of that. Eat all you want of the plant-based foods. There’s no “empty calories” here. You’ll be satisfied and you’ll undoubtedly lose weight. But, this isn’t about losing weight. This is about feeling good, increasing blood flow, lowering cholesterol, and avoiding all the diseases mentioned above.

I’ve taken the plunge myself and embraced this way to eat. I’ll repost in a month (I’ve never made a promise in my blog before) to report on how I’m doing and feeling. I’ll leave you with a delicious recipe for Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup that uses the ingredients shown in the photo above.
Recipe: Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Civic Duty

My daughter Sara hosting a German cousin and visiting Belgians
In high school, I applied to participate in the American Field Service (AFS) student exchange program. The application process included interviews with several teachers and school administrators about everything from how I got along with my siblings and my family life to my general awareness of civics and local government. Since I would essentially be representing my family, my school, my city, and even my country, "they" wanted to make sure that I was up to the task. One of the questions was "How would you answer if someone asked you if you would speak out against the policies of an elected government official if you didn't agree with those policies?" I was pretty apolitical at that time and enthusiastically replied "I would support an elected government official. If we elect someone to office, then we should support that person." That evening as I was sharing the interview process with my parents, my father chastised me, saying that it was my civic duty to speak out against an elected official if I did not agree with that person's policies. This conversation took place in 1968. My father is no longer living. But if ever there was a time to act on his advice to me, that time is now.

I went on to live for two months with a family that summer in Hasselt, Belgium. I studied Flemish (Vlaams) before I left (it turns out that my high school German teacher was Dutch and Flemish is very close to Dutch). While my vocabulary was pretty limited, my Belgian family bragged to all their friends that I could speak Vlaams fluently (ha! they were kind at best). I formed a life-long friendship with my Belgian sister Zus and then later with her own family. All three of her daughters have, at various times over the years, traveled to California to stay with us. Our family has stayed in Belgium several times as well. But that's not the real story here. The real story is the admonishment my father left me. I still remember it. True, it has remained dormant for many years. But I am moved to revisit his take on government by the people, for the people, and follow through with my civic duty. So, I ask you:

  • Are you pleased with the policies of your country?
  • Are you proud of America?
  • What do you think about alleged prisoner tortures in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib as well as secret prisons in unnamed countries?
  • Why do you think that we're in Iraq? When do you think we're leaving Iraq?
  • Why does your government emphasize fear?
  • Why haven't we signed the Kyoto (Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions) Initiative?
Side note: I am proud to be a Californian: "On August 31 2006, the California Legislature reached an agreement with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to reduce the state's greenhouse-gas emissions, which rank at 12th-largest in the world, by 25 percent by the year 2020. This agreement effectively puts California in line with the Kyoto initiative." ( "Kyoto Protocol".)
  • Why don't we have affordable health care for more people?
  • Why is our trade deficit and our national debt so high?

I wish I had more answers. Please vote Responsibly.

Next Entry: Eating Right: Why We Should Care

Monday, September 11, 2006

What If?

The claims by the current administration that "maybe somebody did something right" (Dick Cheney quoted in the Los Angeles Times, September 11, 2006) because we have not been attacked in five years somehow doesn't make me feel safer. It's like screening for cancer with mammography. Yes, it helps with early detection, and, in the moment that negative results come back you feel safe (a bit). Then you read the part about false negatives, and realize that trying to detect cancer visually is way, way after the fact. The relief is temporary.

Fighting terrorism is like that. Because we haven't been attacked yet (again), means that we have been safe up to now, up to this moment. Detecting terrorism is hard work and a little like screening for cancer. You're looking for disease that has already presented itself.

What if, instead of putting all our energies into detecting terrorist activities, we put more into understanding the root of the problem? Did anyone else wonder what we (Western society) did to piss off the perpetrators of 9/11 to make them hate us so much? Here are some questions to ponder:
  • What if we hadn't invaded Iraq? Yes, we know that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, but invading Iraq has everything to do with terrorism. Invading Iraq is like performing cancer surgery without getting it all, allowing the cancer to metastasize and spread. The country of Iraq is all but destroyed, embroiled in a civil war whose side effects create terrorists and grow terrorism.
  • What if we instead had put our war machine money (Iraq invasion) into addressing the needs of developing nations, helping to stamp out hunger, improving other people's lives?
  • What if we had used diplomacy to harvest world sympathy thrown our way after 9/11 instead of alienating other countries?
  • What if we had created a true coalition of terrorist-fighting countries that includes Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, for example?
  • What if we put more energy into educating Americans to be world citizens, to appreciate other cultures, to learn other languages, to learn about and understand other religions? (Nothing was more ridiculous, in my opinion, than the Freedom Fries frenzy of 2003.) (It is commonly known outside the U.S., in both France and Belgium, that French fries originated in Belgium, not France, anyway. My reference is both personal experience and this article. Oh, and here is even more corroborating evidence at this local Belgian Fries restaurant!)
Yes, we haven't been attacked in five years, but is that how you measure success in the war on terrorism?
The number of civilian deaths from terrorism in 2005, as defined by the institute [National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (which maintains an exhaustive database)] swelled to more than 8,000, mostly because of sectarian violence in Iraq. (Los Angeles Times, "Is the U.S. Winning This War?" by Doyle McManus, Times Staff Writer, September 10, 2006.)
Anyone who claims we are winning the war on terrorism is simply ignoring deaths that are not American, an extremely ethnocentric (and bad) viewpoint. We allow this misguided war on terrorism only because we haven't been attacked since 9/11, and because for many of us, our lives are not affected. ("Remarkably, though, the day-to-day lives of most Americans have changed very little. We have found it easy, perhaps startlingly easy, to stick to routines and habits and mind-sets forged before we could have conceived of planes as missiles." - Los Angles Times, "9/11 Has Changed Few Lives" by Stephanie Simon, Times Staff Writer, September 11, 2006.)

I hope that Americans will educate themselves politically. Don't let fear guide you. Don't let someone else tell you what you should fear. Educate yourself. Know your representatives at all levels of the government, especially the national level. Please vote RESPONSIBLY.
Next Entry: Civic Duty

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tsunami Warning Signs

I just learned that our local beaches will have Tsunami warning signs posted (see "my beaches"--our beaches in Encinitas are in a tsunami zone). Okay, but I want to know when I can take a bottle of water on a plane flight again while, incredibly, there can be unscreened cargo sitting beneath my feet on the same flight.
Next Entry: What If?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Happy To Be in North Carolina

Along a country road in rural North Carolina Just a stone's throw east of the eastern continental divide is a small town in western North Carolina. Following a country road, then another, and still a third, with names like Sugar Hill, Bat Cave, and Mack Noblitt (old Mack once owned all the land surrounding this road), you come to a steep driveway that leads through dense woods to the top of a hill. A house with a wooden wrap-around deck affording views of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, the oldest mountain range on earth, sits on that hill. I spent the last week in this rural enclave in the foothills, visiting my aunt Laura, one of the most amazing women I know, and her husband Joop, whose paintings adorn many of their walls. No email, no blog entries, no traffic. Not missed a bit (well, maybe a bit of withdrawal from lack of email and blogging access).

There's plenty of reading material. Laura and Joop's library includes a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with books on art, dance, philosophy, books in Dutch, many classics, music, history, and science. There's months of listening material. They have an impressive classical music CD collection (and some vinyl, too). But most important to me is that Laura gives me connection to my family, meaning to the faces in old family photographs, unknown relatives that had personalities, histories, and connections to me. My brother Scott and I spent hours with Laura going through the family albums and she told me about her life as a girl, and my father's life as a boy. So precious.

Thaïs, Laura's kitty, uses the abundant vegetation to warily watch and sometimes hunt.
Butterfly Bush
The front yard has a wonderful butterfly bush that attracts tons of ... butterflies. Beyond the backyard is a pathway fortified with strategically placed wooden berms. It snakes down the hillside through the dense woods thick with cat claw vines, to the creek, a lazy running waterway that babbles and whispers, but can roar if swollen with rain water.

Days are still warm, but it cools off at night. In the night's coolness is a steady roll of cicadas accompanied by the high-pitch shrill of crickets. From inside it sounds distant, but you go outside and it becomes a night-time symphony. Indeed, night time is louder than days.
Wildflowers by the creek
Many of the wildflowers are passed blooming, but we still saw a few.
Next Entry: Tsunami Warning Signs

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Trolley Dodgers at PetCo Park

Hanging at the Tin FishWhen a friend comes to town and you haven't seen him in 11 years and it's 4:30 in the afternoon and he grew up in San Diego but hasn't yet seen the downtown ballpark and the dastardly Dodgers are in town, whaddaya do? Go to the Ball Game! So we drive downtown and park in our secret parking garage, grab an idle lawyer from his downtown office (just kidding Sam), consume the beverages of our choice and fish tacos at the Tin Fish, procure tickets (the deal was made on the street corner, but it was not illegal), and gawk at the baseball fans streaming in from the trolley.
PetCo Park
Here's Big Mike's take on the evening:
A good time was had by all!
Especially the Padres.
Of course, our hearts go out to the poor poor Angelenos and their Trolley Dodgers, who failed to dodge the San Diego FREIGHT TRAIN.
Trevor Time
After the Padres built their picket fence (one run in four consecutive innings), closure came in the form of Trevor Time, savored by Padre fans lucky enough to be in the park when it happens!
Next Entry: Happy To Be in North Carolina

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mystical Transformation; or, Life Begins at Ninety

Memories of My Melancholy Whores
The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.
And so begins our Book Club selection for this month. I must admit, as a product of a more egalitarian society than that described by Gabriel Garci­a Marquez in his novella Memories of My Melancholy Whores, I was a bit put off by this opening sentence. Is this a tale of child abuse couched within the fantasy of literature? Perhaps. However, we are privileged to witness the lyrically orchestrated self-discovery of the narrator ("the Scholar"), a ninety-year-old newspaper columnist. Whatever you think of old age, this story tells us that people of any age have the ability to find love, even those whose previous intimacies are paid for liaisons. Here is a man with no family and whose only friends seem to be women whose love he has bought. He is certainly loveless. He has squandered his life. Somehow, in spite of himself, in his ninety-first year he finds love. The fact that physical love in this new-found relationship remains unconsummated makes his adoration not unlike a religious veneration. It is with religious zeal of his new love that he transforms his life:

The house rose from its ashes and I sailed on my love of Delgadina with an intensity and happiness I had never known in my former life. Thanks to her I confronted my inner self for the first time as my ninetieth year went by. (p. 64-65)
Besides his own transformation, the Scholar offers up pearls of wisdom on aging, such as

. . . you go on seeing yourself as you always were, from the inside, but others observe you from the outside (p. 7)

On the other hand, it is a triumph of life that old people lose their memories of inessential things, though memory does not often fail with regard to things that are of real interest to us. (p. 10)
Although a translation (by Edith Grossman), the words flow, the prose is rhythmic, and the language is uncomplicated.

We think that this will be about the many women the narrator has known. Yet, really, the story is about the narrator himself: his transformation from loveless to one who loves and is loved, from one who begins life at ninety. He must deal with and overcome adversity. He triumphs. This transformation is his own deflowering. At the end, he leaves us with this forward-looking farewell:
It was, at last, real life, with my heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony of any day after my hundredth birthday. (p. 115)
And Delgadina, the child? We never know what she thinks. Indeed, she is always asleep. She never loses her purity. In the fantasy world of fiction, she loves her Scholar in return. After he and Rosa Carbacas, his loyal procuress, make lasting financial arrangements with each other to secure Delgadina's future, Rosa tells him
"Ah, my sad scholar, . . . That poor creature's head over heels in love with you." (p. 114-115)

Next Entry: Trolley Dodgers at PetCo Park

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ogunquit Offering

Ogunquit River Barnacle Billy's
Ogunquit, Maine is a glorious summertime destination. My brother and I visited this coastal community in June, had a lobster lunch at Barnacle Billy's, and hiked the Marginal Way, a paved walking path from Perkins Cove to Ogunquit Beach. Upon our return, we ran into a couple of ex-presidents who have been hanging out of late, fund raising for causes such as Tsunami Relief and Hurricane Katrina victims. Their lunch spot, Barnacle Billy's, allowed us to take some photos and meet President Clinton. If nothing else, these two obviously get along.
Clinton & Bush Sr.
Next Entry: Mystical Transformation; or, Life Begins at Ninety

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Killer Combo

Summer brings out the most delicious vegetable garden combo: tomato and basil. I'm not an expert gardener by any means, but am blessed with year-round mild climate. I am able to grow many herbs and lettuce all year; summer time, however, brings luscious tomatoes and delicate basil. Sweet and aromatic. Growing edibles makes you more attentive in the kitchen. The best use, by far, for this killer combo is sliced tomatoes (not to be confused with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes), fresh slivered basil, a bit of olive oil, and fresh ground pepper.
Next Entry: Ogunquit Offering

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Meet the Skimboarder

Wave Action
Water temp: 70. Air temp: 70. Surf: choppy and surging. A shore break develops as high tide approaches. Two kids are romping in the shallow soup and I'm watching a lone skimboarder who looks like he's training for the X-Games. I'm thinking of speed-dialing my chiropractor in sympathetic pain.

The skimboarder has a routine, timed with the cyclic wave action. He stands on the beach and times his run as the wave recedes, throwing down the skimboard in front and chasing after it in a short sprint. He jumps on the board as it skims in what seems like a quarter-inch of water, just enough to hydroplane the board.

The real drama unfolds at the end of the ride. The ebbing water and skimboarder collide with the incoming wave as the shore break shoots the board skyward. Board and boarder fly up; arms, legs, and torso contort in an effort to survive. He crashes into a foot of swirling foam, but like a cat with nine lives, somehow lands on his feet. And then he does it again. Sunday at the beach.
Next Entry: Killer Combo

Saturday, August 05, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth
If you haven't seen Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" do yourself and your (future/current/even if you're not even seeing anybody right now) children|grandchildren|the neighbor's kids a favor and see this movie. Be sure to stay for the credits. Learn more at Tell your friends. And go get that hybrid car you've been thinking about. Oh yeah, and recycle. It's a serious topic, but believe it or not, wooden Al has loosened up a bit and even cracks a few jokes. He inspires and finishes with encouragement and hope. I'll leave you with one last[ing] vision, courtesy of NASA . . .
Earth from Space
Next Entry: Meet the Skimboarder

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Summer Beach Days

When the home office heats up, when the portable fan becomes useless, when the ocean breeze isn't quite cool enough to clear my thoughts, I head west where sand and surf and wind are just the cure for the summertime blues.
D Street Beach
This is D Street Beach in Encinitas taken in late afternoon from the beach access stairs. It's low tide in March. I purchase a Tide Calendar every year and use its blue line sine wave to check the daily tide. In short, is there enough beach to run?

The beach changes constantly. Not just the twice daily high tide-low tide, but the daily changes of storm surf, rocks, sea weed, sand movement, currents, red tide, wind direction and strength, and the erosion of the cliffs. The rollers, source of great (and cheap!) fun, are affected by the bottom, the tides, and the wind. This summer has produced uncommonly high water temperatures (mid-70's for all of July).
Swamis at Low Tide
Low tide unveils otherwise hidden treasures. This is Swami's Beach here at low tide exposing algae-covered rocks.
Erosion Cave Art
Cliff erosion is a constant threat to cliff-based homes and naive cliff climbers who tempt fate. Cliff collapses are not infrequent and have closed beach access stairways more than once. This particular stretch of cliff has beautiful erosion-produced caves carved by water in the fragile sandstone. And my favorite beach, Stone Steps, has warning signs advising people to keep back from the bluffs.
Stone Steps
Next Entry: An Inconvenient Truth