Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It ain't over

Masters of malaprop and malfeasance: From left, former Mariners' manager and Yankees®™
star Lou Piniella, former Dodgers©® manager Tommy Lasorda, Hall of Famer Yogi Berra,
Reds superstar and Hall of Fame®™ reject Pete Rose, and Yankees®™ and Mets manager Casey Stengel.
Cover for a book collection of baseball quotes and stories.
My wife says I should write about Yogi Berra, and so I shall, late as usual to the eulogy.

The Associated Press' initial story of Berra's death last week referred to the Hall of Fame®™ Yankees©™catcher as "Yogi Bear."

The error makes perfect sense to me; I will not pass judgment. Having lugged around a Yogi Bear doll through toddlerhood, I was shocked in childhood to discover an actual human named Yogi Berra.

The human had to have been named after the cartoon bear, I reasoned, because cartoons were more real to me at that stage in my life.

In reality, Berra's representatives sued animators Hanna-Barbera unsuccessfully to stop its use of "Yogi Bear" for the porkpie wearing, pick-a-nick-basket-stealing cartoon denizen of Jellystone National Park.

Sued for what, defamation?

Yogi Berra died a cartoon, for all the good and awful that word implies.

For people my age who remember Berra, he was the old baseball manager known mostly for mangling English. He's one of those public figures who became magnets for unfortunate but funny twists of phrases, including those they didn't actually say.

What Berra did actually say:
  • "You can observe a lot by watching."
  • "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
  • "I can't think and hit at the same time."
  • "I want to thank everybody for making this day necessary."
What Berra might have said, though probably not as we know it:
  • "Ninety percent of the game is half mental." (or "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.")
  • "It ain't over 'til it's over." (About his 1974 New York Mets rallying from fifth place to win the division). He might have said instead, "You're not out until you're out." 
What Berra probably didn't say, but seems so darn likely that it's tattooed into his mythos:
  • “It’s déjà vu all over again!” 
  • "Nobody goes there anymore (to a restaurant). It's too crowded."
  • "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."
Berra appeared to have embraced this malapropping persona, which I and everyone else expected of this grandfatherly little guy with the big black beetly eyebrows behind giant glasses and a bulbous nose above a rubbery grin. He even authored a book subtitled, "I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said!"

Even the source of his nickname — Lawrence Peter Berra is his real name — is fuzzy, maybe or maybe not applied by a baseball teammate for the way he sat, like a yogi, waiting for his turn at bat.

But the gentle buffoonery masked the mastery of his baseball career. Wherever Berra was, championships were sure to follow. The New York Times reports he appeared in 21 World Series from 1946 to 1985 as a Yankees player and a Yankees and Mets coach and manager. Nobody has played in more World Series games, gotten more Series hits or whacked more Series doubles.

Newsreel footage made me think he was an unlikely baseball superstar, and his peers apparently thought likewise. His Yankees manager, Casey Stengel — master of accidental witticisms himself — said, “Mr. Berra is a very strange fellow of very remarkable abilities.”

He looks so tiny in the newsreels, so much smaller than the catchers I grew up watching, and still see today. His bat looked too big for him, but obviously appearances deceive: Berra hit .285 over 19 seasons, with 358 home runs, and was a 15-time All Star®™.

My image of him as a baseball player comes in black and white and gray, when he actually leaps like a little kid into the arms of pitcher Don Larsen after Larsen pitches a perfect Game 5 in the 1956 World Series.

God bless Yogi Berra. He's why I love baseball: Funny names, rich lore, humans playing a game.

I don't do numbers. Though I can tell by a batting average where a hitter stands in the pantheon of the day or of history, I still couldn't tell you with confidence what an earned run is. I am vaguely aware that  a low earned-run average tends to portend a good pitcher. All these other new stats? OPS? WHIP? I'm lost.

Give me a good story, any time. Give me Willie Mays turning a double into a single so the pitcher would be forced to give a good pitch or two to Willie McCovey, hitting next in the batting order. Give me Roberto Clemente, tortured soul on the field, gigantic bleeding heart and soul off it. Give me Coco Crisp, Rusty Staub, "Three Fingers" Brown, Shooty Babitt, Preacher Roe, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Joe Garagiola and Buster Posey, just because.

The San Francisco Giants this week are trying hard not to break my heart. Barring a miracle, they will. They're five games out of first with five games left in the regular season, fielding a starting lineup half of whom were in the minor leagues a month ago. The Giants have to win all five, and the first-place Dodgers, whom the Giants are playing right now, have to lose all five for the Giants to get a chance at winning the division.

It would make quite a story, the Giants flopping into the playoffs on kids and fumes. The odds are not in their favor. It ain't over, though.

Win or lose, the Giants always manage to make new rich memories of the people who played the game, not their statistics.

As Yogi said — or didn't — "The future ain't what it used to be."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Suffer the children

Yesterday would have ticked off my mom.

She eventually left the Catholic Church, upset with its history of treatment toward native cultures, especially toward native Americans. Or so I gathered: It was yet one more family matter I learned indirectly.

Wednesday's canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra, founder of the California mission system, would have outraged her. Pope Francis elevated Serra to sainthood on his trip to the United States.

I share her anger, failing in my misplaced righteousness to comprehend this gesture, built on a pyre of reed-thin apologies.

I have heard from Catholic authorities that Serra deserves sainthood for the greater good of bringing the Gospel to the Chumash and Cahuilla and Ohlone and other native California cultures. Never mind supplanting hundreds of years of these cultures own beliefs and rituals. Never mind that the missions who gathered/captured native people under the authority of the Church forbade them to practice their own cultures. Some cultures even today carry the names given by the mission system — identified as mission bands, as Gabrieleños, Luiseños, Diegueños, as Serranos.

Never mind that native people were decimated under mission "care," from mistreatment and displacement and disease.

I have heard from Church authorities that Serra protected the gathered/captured from the brutal might of Spanish soldiers who helped carry out the grand plan of missions up the coast of California. Never mind that the Church was the law of this grand plan, and Serra allowed beatings and abuse of his neophytes (gathered/captured) in demanding obeisance to Church authority. Never mind that they were forced to stay and work at the missions.

I have heard it was a different time, that should be judged within context. I have heard that soldiers were whipped for their transgressions too, no different than for the native people forced to live at the mission.

My knowledge of saints is limited, but I can't think of any whose life comprised allowing others to be beaten and abused into submission. My personal sainthood meter would not include that as criteria.

A new explanation for Serra's sainthood surfaced this week — that it's an acknowledgement to Latinos of their culture's long history in what is the United States, an acknowledgement of Latino growth in the U.S. Catholic Church.

If that's so — if it's a political parlay — I feel sorry for Latinos given this burnt offering, this legacy of conquest as validation; and for native Americans, sloughed aside, not mattering now as they didn't matter then, screwed once more.

I read this week that as a result of Fr. Serra's canonization, Catholic schoolchildren in California will study a more nuanced story of the Mission Indians — that was the term used — and their hardships.

Too small consolation.

I grew up a couple of miles from Mission La Purísima, now a pastoral state park. Fr. Serra had died before this mission was founded, and Purísima was run by Fr. Fermin Lasuén, serving for a few years as the system's mission control. It's a beautiful, peaceful mission, stately sunbaked adobe buildings and cool gardens with stone fountains shaded by olive trees.

To be there is to forget that it was a prison enforced by the Word of God. The Chumash reed and bamboo homes are off to one end of the mission grounds, a token few; they must be rebuilt every once in a while.

In our home are a couple of pieces of furniture that one might describe as Mission Style. That's the legacy of the missions: We have adopted architectural touches as our own, reflecting a romanticized time that never really was.

My mom had an affinity for native cultures that, despite her eloquence, she never really articulated to us. She loved looking at Indian basketry in museums, a love lost on her children until we became her age. She liked having grown up in Washburn, North Dakota, near where Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery wintered at the Mandan village on the Missouri River 210 years ago.

Their traces are almost gone now, pushed aside, put in a museum, compartmentalized, as has befallen native cultures across this country. Everything I do, everywhere I go — almost all that we are as Americans — came about by the pushing aside, the wiping out of people before me, by my father's father's fathers, and mother's mother's mothers, to get their land and impose our own cultures, by whip and pox and foreign authority.

In California, the missions still stand as monuments, some as parks, some as active churches, refurbished and generously placarded. We regard their bucolic grandeur, and think how that lantern would make a great sconce over the garage.

To the victor, as always, has gone the spoils.

Pope Francis made it official and holy.

What would Jesus do, indeed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


All you need to know about presidential politics is that Arnold Schwarzenegger will take over from Donald Trump as host of Celebrity Apprentice.

It's the only way any of this makes sense.

Schwarzenegger became governor of California, I firmly believe, on the novelty vote: "Yeah, sure, what the hell? It's not like state government does anything anyway. Let's put the Terminator in office! I might finally vote this time!"

So we installed Schwarzenegger and watched him chew up yet another role — larger than life, narcissistic, hedonistic, every-man-wants-to-be-him-and-every-woman-wants-to-be-with-him, AhhhNohd!!

Or some such.

He made his political move at the right time, propelled on a movement to recall the sitting governor who epitomized all that is boring and perfunctory and defacto defunct about government, including his name: Gray Davis.

Enter Schwarzenegger from stage left, in such a raucous coronation that his handlers were already talking about tweaking the Constitution so the Austrian Oak could soon become the American president.

Schwarzenegger tilted the ship nearly overboard the other way instead. Jerry Brown came back to clean up the mess, including the cigar ash that got everywhere. Arnold's wife, Maria Shriver, got a divorce after everyone including her learned Arnold had fathered a child from an out-of-wedlock affair. The deposed, disgraced star fell and fell into that deserved pit of shame: A multi-picture deal in which he gets to play a caricature of his caricature, and now the Celebrity Apprentice gig.

That'll teach him.

It's the same for Trump, I gotta believe. I gotta believe that all his so-called supporters are just yanking our chain, seeing how far this frat prank can go, seeing if this buffoon can actually cover all the bases — base, debased, off base, baseless — on his way to the White House. Doesn't matter anyway, what's the worst he can do?! Let's vote!

Teflon®™ Reagan had nothing on this guy. The stupider, more insulting, more juvenile, the more outright outrageous Trump gets — and he tops himself daily — the more his poll numbers seem to rise. The more he trumpets his catch-all platform of "We're gonna look into it, and a lot more other things, believe me!" the more attention he gets.

The more attention the news media give him, rather. The media follow the money and open their troughs to catch it, and spill the slop on us. They don't particularly care whether he's racist or xenophobic, they just point the camera and the money comes pouring in.
It's why I, the casual victim of social media, know that Bristol Palin is upset that President Obama invited to the White House a 14-year-old Texas kid was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. Why does the media care — and why would we? — what Bristol Palin has to say about the matter, except the media give her attention because she's the daughter of Sarah Palin? Cha-ching!

It can't possibly be what the pundits said last week, that the public is so disappointed and disenfranchised by the status quo that they're reacting in anger. (I heard this three times from three pundits last week, with eerie similarity, making me question their independence of thought.)

And Trump is their answer?! Donald Trump?! Who is nothing like the average American? Who's the poster boy for the 1%? Whose empire is a house of cards? The Donald Trump who led the campaign to insist Obama was not born in the United States? That's who we want to change the world with?

Are we on Candid Camera?

The other Republicans envy Trump and gnash their teeth and rend their garments about him, which is appropriate biblical language given the theocracies that a third of them propose for us as president. They should embrace Trump instead, for making them look almost normal.

Even Ben Carson, who said this weekend on Meet the Press, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that." He looks sane alongside Trump.

The conservative media have tried so desperately to describe what Carson could possibly have meant, that he was referring to radical Muslims; Carson himself tried to help by saying he could support a Muslim who pledged loyalty to the Constitution. I'll let you think about the stupidity of these comments, about the ironic fallout of someone saying "I would not advocate that we put a black/woman/Jew in charge of this nation," and say Carson is a brilliant joke.

Maybe I'm too hasty. Maybe I should remember that, as usual with campaigns, most of these candidates will fall away, and quickly. Promising theocrat and union buster Scott Walker dropped out this week, following theocrat and government buster Rick Perry.

We will have expended too much envy on these trivial pursuits, as usual.

I'll know sanity is restored when we resume our war on Christmas and Trump takes back his leather seat on Celebrity Apprentice. So Schwarzenegger can run.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I'm from the future

BCC (Before Current Career), I watched TV at lunch. Sue me.

Now I'm down to one day, Monday, and only when everything falls in place.

My appointment viewing: The Rockford Files, only the best show ever.

(No, I am not entertaining debate on the matter.)

The Rockford Files is a time capsule, as is Adam-12, Emergency! and those contemporary dramas I saw as a kid in the 1970s when Life Couldn't Possibly Get Any Better.

Through them, I get to revisit my California past, when I solved crimes, arrested bad guys and saved the nice old guy and his dog from their burning cantaloupe truck in the steep canyon.

Local cable stations push the drug of nostalgia on susceptible people like me, with a back-to-back diet of these shows on their minor channels.

There were times, I must confess, that lunch extended past Rockford and before I knew it, the final credits were rolling on Pete Malloy and Jim Reed and John Gage and Roy DeSoto, their police car and paramedic truck safely parked until the next episode.

I look past the plots to see the world of the 1970s, the flair collars and plaid sports coats, the explosive sideburns like my dad used to wear, the bell bottoms, and TV's cartoon version of worlds it didn't quite understand, like the counter-culture and organized crime and high school.

I love seeing logos for businesses that no longer exist (Esso gas stations!) and a Southern California that looks laughably uncrowded.

And the phones! Do you realize that humans used to share public phones in order to talk to one another, and operated them by depositing coins in special slots? No, I am not joking! Watch the shows for proof. Sometimes you had to wait in line to use these payphones, and people got testy.

Being from the future, I get frustrated watching these shows, for a reason I hadn't anticipated. I want to hand Jim Rockford my phone.

When the henchman from the New Jersey syndicate decides to move the millionaire's kidnapped daughter to a new hiding place, Rockford has to find a payphone to alert his worried client and convince him finally to call the police. Luckily these tricky plot changes happen within walking distance of a payphone, but vital minutes pass. If only he had a smart phone!

Of course, the overwrought millionaire/bad guy is taking the call from his car phone. That was TV's universal symbol of arrogance and power and evil, a carphone, the boat-anchor receiver attached to a ridiculously long twisty cord. That guy (it was always a guy) might be comfortable amid his rich Corinthian leather seating in his amply appointed limo, but he would always meet his comeuppance before the final credits.

Officers Reed and Malloy had their police radio, of course, and Adam-12 introduced viewers to "authentic" police dispatch chatter — "One Adam Twelve, One Adam Twelve, a Two-Eleven in Progress … One Adam Twelve, meet One Oh Nine on Tack Two." (Maybe it was malarkey, but since Jack Webb produced the show and he loved, loved, loved! cops, I'm going to say it was realish malarkey.)

But away from their cars, out on the mean streets of TV's Los Angeles, the officers were helpless — phoneless!

In one episode of Adam-12, Reed and Malloy checked out suspicious activity inside a store at night. They decided to park their car far down the street — away from their radio! — so they wouldn't tip off the Bad Guy with the Flashlight, wandering around inside.

Reed stayed in the front, Malloy went around to the back, where of course the Bad Guy tried to get away. Malloy wrestled Bad Guy to the ground, but another Bad Guy appeared. Matters had gotten out of hand! Reed ran around to the back but the second Bad Guy had gotten away!

"Get to a phone, Reed!" Malloy shouted. "We need backup!"

Get to a phone?! Are you kidding me? Standard LAPD issue must have included a sidearm, billy club and two dimes for the payphone. So Reed's got to run around in the dark for a payphone, hope it doesn't have a line in front of it already, and call for help.

I wanted so desperately to reach through time and hand him a phone. I'd probably have to show him how to use it. This Bad Guy would remain on the loose, but the next Bad Guy in the next episode wouldn't be so lucky.

I wonder: Did the world travel only so fast as the prevailing communication technology would let it? Did the second Bad Guy amble along in the knowledge that the pay phone was the fastest the police could move to chase him?

Though hardly a fan of new phones, I realize through these shows how much we take for granted. We went hours — days! — without other people knowing where we were. People didn't expect to know where we were. We called when we reached our destination. If our car broke down, well … geez, I forget what we did.

In the lonely outposts of TV world, characters had to ask permission to use a phone from the suspicious farmer, the harried gas station attendant or the corrupt but wily county sheriff.

They often had to call collect. Ask your elders.

Now everyone knows where everyone else is all the time, even in the lonely outposts. On TV, everyone has a phone, which becomes the story transporter. Tired of the scene? Make the phone ring, and the story goes instantly to whoever's calling. Plot line lagging? Pull out the phone and find out the lab results are in, another body has been found by the river, same M.O. Let's go!

The world moves faster, accordingly.

It's all good, I guess.

We can't go back, anyway. Last week, when I wasn't necessarily looking, I found a payphone in its Plexiglas®™ and metal frame, sitting on its pole against a building. As with all payphones, its innards had been ripped out.

Poor Reed and Malloy. Poor Rockford.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Places I disremember

Mom collected spoons and pennants to mark our path around the globe.

I guess because they travel well. I never asked.

The spoons may still be sitting in their little slots atop the antique hutch Mom and Dad bought long, long ago in England. The slots were part of the furniture, high atop the hutch, made expressly for displaying commemorative spoons.

I guess spoons were a thing. Maybe they still are; maybe they're still for sale in every gift shop, tiny sugar spoons with an enamel emblem of the respective city or landmark, embedded at the end of the handle. I've never looked.

Pennants were the ideal souvenir: Inexpensive and durable. No one's going to play with a pennant. It's going on the wall, as soon as we get home.

The pennants cover walls of my office now, tacked haphazardly, mostly filling empty space. That's better than leaving them to moulder in the box where I found them, but not much better.

I am an ungrateful former child.

The pennants offer an incomplete and uneven narrative of my childhood. I don't remember half of what the pennants represent, and retain only odd memories for most of the rest, and remember one, maybe two, with lingering regret.

For some reason I have two Disneyland pennants, one in red and white, one in blue in gold. I'll bet one of them is my sister's; I'll bet they were the reason for quite a fight. She is welcome to one of them, and I'm old enough and magnanimous enough not to care which.

Disneyland holds mixed memories. I was sick there a couple of visits. I lost the group of high school seniors I was hanging around with on our grad night trip, and wandered the park at night among strangers, all my age. Disneyland is ideal for young adults with no particular place to go and no concern for long lines, no passion for this ride or that, and a bit of curiosity about what the park includes that doesn't include rides. I went there once in that scenario, and once again when our children were little and grandparents could go.

I have seen Disneyland in every possible reasonable combination. Time to cross it off my list.

We didn't take our children to the Trees of Mystery Park or the Sea Lion Caves, and I'm not sure that was a bad choice. I think I enjoyed them, but what I remember most is that by coincidence when I was a kid we camped alongside — and went to the same attractions at the same time — as a family from Hawthorne, Calif. (home of Mattel™® and Hot Wheels®™, I'll always remember) for the better part of the week. That family included kids our age. It got funnier each time we met up.

The Sea Lion Caves involves an elevator that takes visitors into a giant cave opening to the ocean, echoing with sea lion barking. I've been suspicious since that the sea lions we saw were pinniped mannequins, and the barking came from hidden public-address speakers, for the days when no actual sea lions appear.

We didn't take our kids to Glacier National Park, either, and I regret that often. Glacier is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen; even though I haven't seen that many places, I'd still put Glacier at the top. It also still has glaciers, for the time being. I'm glad our parents took us. I hope our
kids get to go on their own, soon.

My pennants include the 1974 World's Fair (in the city where I was born, Spokane, and the last big family reunion we had). I spent the entirety of it practicing a sleight-of-hand trick I learned from the TV show "The Magician," starring Bill Bixby. So obsessed was I in mastering the trick, I would run into strangers at the fair, and lose my family. I also remember Up with People! there, and wonder why I can't forget.

Do we even have World's Fairs any more?

I own multiple pennants from Los Berros Elementary School, the only school in the suburban enclave where I grew up. Some of these pennants must be my sister's too. Berros, in Spanish, are watercress. I never saw any watercress growing up, or didn't recognize it if I did. We were the Broncos, I think. I was there until third grade, then went to a school clear out to the other side of town until junior high. As far as I know, I didn't get a pennant from that school.

Most of the pennants are made of starched felt. Bend it, and it's finished: It will never lose that crease. I have a homemade pennant for when I played on the Expos in Senior Little League. Of all the Major League team names available, Expos was chosen for ours. I guess it was cooler then. Apparently we won a championship. Mostly I remember it was my first year on the big diamond, and hard to adjust to the longer throws. My knees acted up during puberty, so I could no longer play catcher, my favorite spot.

I remember we players were called in to testify at a Little League hearing about our coaches. I thought it was because the coaches worked us too hard, and made us run dozens of laps when we lost, but maybe it was about something else, which I didn't fathom then or now.

I remember going to Knott's Berry Farm and the Movieland Wax Museum, and the Lewis and Clark Cavern (strange elevator, like so many church pews stacked vertically, that lifted us to the cavern mouth). I don't remember going to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena; I think an aunt gave me that.

The pennants from Europe are smaller, sturdier, some even made of silk. I have pennants from the Vatican, Paris, Stratford on Avon, Milan (where our son just visited) and Venice and Amsterdam and Heidelberg and Holland and Aberdeen.

I remember nothing of these places, being just so much high-maintenance baby baggage for my folks to lug around while they tramped about Europe, courtesy of the Air Force.

Did our kids get any pennants? I don't think so. It skipped a generation: Our children are giving them to me.

Our son got me a pennant for when he went to spring training in Arizona to watch the San Francisco Giants a few years back.

Our daughter made many pennants for a video shoot at the production company where we interned.

They hold new memories, clear and unambiguous.

Friday, September 11, 2015

On 9/11, again

If NPR can do it, so can I: Herewith, an encore presentation of my post from 9/11/2011, a decade after terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and took thousands of lives. If anything, my sentiments intensified.
We are celebrating that moment today, and I don't use the verb lightly. My city today is honoring three young men, raised here, credited with thwarting an attack last month by an alleged gunman on a French train. Surely you read about it.
The men will have a parade and of course it is a fine thing, and as I hear so often and agree with, they should get a free drink in whatever watering hole they pass for as long as they live. The story given is that today is the only day the three lifelong friends could be in town together. OK.

Maybe we are trying to take back 9/11, to rise from it, to shake it off, to reclaim it. My late dad-in-law's birthday is today. I never asked, but I imagine he relinquished something on this day in 2001, as people on occasion might have said, "Wow, you're birthday is 9/11? That must be tough." "Nine eleven" itself, a phrase never before spoken until 2001.

That's the only way I can fathom the organized barbecues I'm reading about for today. Otherwise, celebrations of this day ring hollow and flat and out of touch.

This day is still harnessed and pulled and prodded for ideological purposes. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush blames Obama, of course, for failures in Iraq and the Middle East, and leaves out what his brother wrought to exacerbate the terrible toll, the loss of trillions into somebodies' pockets and the desert sands, the deaths of tens of thousands, that his father started, on an ornate fabric of pretext and lies. Some of the engineers of that terrible toll serve among Jeb Bush's campaign advisers. And so it goes.

#neverforget means to me never forget the terrible cost wrought from that moment, that continues today in the long and terrible line of refugees from Iraq and Syria into Europe, the rotting bodies in a refrigerated truck trailer, the tiny bodies washed up onto Turkish beaches.

We are nation run more and more by ideology than substance and sense. We are, as critics said of George W. Bush, all hat and no cattle.

The rich get richer and the haves, to quote Eddie Vedder, have not a clue …
No superlatives can ever contain the horror and shock and sadness and disbelief of Sept. 11, 2001 — though we all will try in many and varied ways as the tenth anniversary approaches this weekend.

In the news media, the effort has already begun in earnest. News anchors introduce the myriad angles on the anniversary, their chins pointed slightly lower to their chests, their eyebrows arranged just so, conveying a calculated look of somber observation.

But we never truly grieved that impossible horror, never got a chance, even though the innumerable tributes under way say that we did. The Bush administration, helped by the mainstream media's lack of backbone, co-opted that day as a symbol to make us afraid of one another.

Our leaders used it to incite two protracted, misguided and ruinous wars we still wage against dubious enemies, begun on the basis of outright lies. Instead of having nothing to fear but fear itself, we have accepted the offer of fear by itself, which at first did frighten us but now has dulled and callused us, enabling the puppet masters of big oil, banking and military industry to profit mightily in our torpor.

Mission accomplished.

All the while, we still send women and men into the teeth of these wars — and will still, for years — yet barely receive them when they return damaged or dead, and the nation has fragmented.

The redemption and healing that should have followed those terrible events have been tainted by what followed instead. I can't consume any of the 9/11 remembrances and never-before-heard audiotapes, can't stop for a moment to regard that day for its own sake, without immediately linking it to the bloody horror of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are WTF? funhouse-mirror countermeasures in search of phantom WMDs. It's impossible to mourn because it's impossible not to be angry — at this absurd sequence of events, at myself for succumbing to indifference and impotence.

Those people who fell from the World Trade Center towers to their doom — such nightmarish visions! — might as well have disappeared into the desert sands around Fallujah, for all that we got to consider their horror and loss, to themselves, their families, their employers, their communities. They became fodder for what I still believe is George W. Bush's intent to salvage the legacy of his father.

Since 9/11/2001, we have become Lord of the Flies, reduced to our baser selves. Psychiatrist Justin Frank of Washington, D.C. holds a similar view, that we have become babies, viewing the world in black and white and Us versus Them.

Opposition to our nation's response — to war, to torture, to degradation, to community-endorsed hatred of Muslims, even to this strange semantic casting of ourselves as The Homeland — means being unpatriotic.

And patriots, as we know through the doublespeaky Patriot Act, willingly give up many of our freedoms in exchange for what we want to think is our comfort and safety. Air traveler with a Middle Eastern kinda name? Sure, haul him away without benefit of a doubt, just so long as I can stop feeling the fear you keep waving in front of me.

You can trace all of this to obvious outcomes, such as a divided, uncompromising Congress, and to the accepted notion now that compromise is bad (when in fact compromise is the nature of action in a representative government).

You can trace it to our economic crisis, to jobs lost at a bewildering rate, to the banks that took our money to stay in business despite being criminally bad at it, to us no longer having the money to teach our children well or keep our bridges up and pay people to do all of that.

Hand in glove, you can trace it to the artless propaganda that divides us. I'm not so naive as to believe propaganda hasn't always bedeviled us, but it used to be sophisticated. Now it's an open wound. Even before an idea rises into public view, haters of that idea create words to kill it and replace it with new ideas that make us afraid.

Propagandists repeat that simple anti-idea ad infinitum until the idea wilts in its dense shadow. So we have "Obamacare," "death panels," and the anti-ideas that President Obama is a "socialist" with designs to ruin this country, that he is Muslim (with the presumption that this is a bad thing), that he is not a citizen, that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, and on and on. Just shouted and bellowed over and over again, without regard to merit, until the shouts and bellows become the new normal.

Tell lies often enough, and they become the truth. 

If not for the path down the rabbit hole that we took after 9/11, we wouldn't have the Tea Party, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Fox News. Hey, you say, those are all right-leaning people and entities! Don't you like right-wingers? Love 'em, actually. We should be a people of diverse ideas working toward the pursuit of happiness. I hate that they exist solely because of the artless propaganda that the fallout from 9/11 made fashionable.

It has begotten the abysmal meanness in which our governments still deny and delay needed medical care to those who suffered from environmental toxins as they rescued the people from the World Trade Center collapse.

I trace it farther, to reality TV shows where we get to watch people re-enact Lord of the Flies in all manner of novel ways — on supposedly deserted islands, fashion runways, celebrity kitchens, New Jersey, wherever the Kardashians are.

I trace it even to last week's Fox Sports' idea of a funny bit in which a reporter interviewed only Asian students — preferably students still learning English — from USC (because that's the entire student body, right?) to have them give a "good old-fashioned, all-American" welcome to two universities that had joined the expanded Pac 12 football conference. They talk funny, get it? Some of them don't even know what the Pac 12 is — hilarious, right? Because all of us normal people do, or should. It's football, and that's American, see? Those people are different from Us, so we get to mock them.

Fox canceled that show, saying it resulted from a "breakdown in our internal processes," which I suspect is doublespeak for, "We couldn't possibly have envisioned, in the current cultural climate, this could be offensive." As is the custom in public apologies these days, Fox apologized only to those who found offense, rather than for its base cruelty.

I'm looking for signs — glimmers — that we still may truly heal from 9/11/2001. Maybe this show's cancellation is one glimmer, that time will come when all divisions cease, and our tragedy against ourselves and the world dim in memory.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Six stops more

Going home, Labor Day Saturday, 6:23 p.m., temperature 92 Fahrenheit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Traffic control

Please pass through the ravine in an orderly manner. No need to rush. 
Water enough for all.

Thank you!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Big Blew

Not a bad logo!
• Monterey Bay lover? Check. Since John Steinbeck led me to Cannery Row and Ed Ricketts, who led me one day to the dark heaving water, the sea lions' echoic barking, the sharp fresh cold air, the purple fog I had read about, and I lost my breath.

• Monterey Bay Aquarium lover? Check. I haven't been back in a long, long time, but Nancy and I spent from opening until closing on our first visit, and I wished for means to stow away.

Docents somehow withstood my too many questions, and I love the entire idea of the aquarium, not only as a showcase — so wonderfully designed! — for the wonders of the bay, impossible to see otherwise, but a potent force for conservation.

I daydream sometimes of being a docent there, of being the jolly guy with the answers, walking every day at the virtual bottom of the bay. Living at Monterey Bay! Seeing the ocean, every day! Swimming in it!

• Sea life lover? Check. In the alternate universe, had I the science and math chops, I would have been a marine biologist — Ed Ricketts again! — and get a little wistful when I learn an acquaintance's kid is studying to be one.

Long after I graduated, my high school built an aquarium which has gained a global reputation among Air Force brats whose families transfer in to Vandenberg nearby. Students can fulfill all their University of California entrance requirements within the aquarium's curriculum.

I would so have been there.

Consigned instead to armchair conservationist, I can get giddy and chatty, gesticulating wildly while professing my love for the ocean and Monterey and whales and otters and their protection.

Maybe that was my big problem with Big Blue Live, the PBS and British Broadcasting Corporation's three-episode live broadcast that ended last night. It was hard to stomach giddy chattiness in others.

Hosts Dr. M. Sanjayan, Liz Bonnin and Steve Backshall could not contain their rapture for Monterey Bay and all it holds — but I wish they would have, just a little bit. Especially Backshall. Granted, he broke from a story to cover the surprise appearance of a blue whale, and became practically screechy in the details, with all the breathless rat-a-tat of narrators describing a counter-attack in an English Premier League soccer match. I give him his due there.

Unfortunately, that's how he reported on everything else during the shows, high pitched and over the top.

At the end of the last night, enthralled by the "unprecedented" activity of life in the Monterey Bay this time of year, one of the hosts called Backshall a hero — for … covering the sea life? from a boat? diving at night? Backshall, a professional adventurer, said "Thank you." Fortunate to do what he does, yes. Hero? Bring it down a notch.

Yet — I watched.

Not wall to wall — I had to see if my San Francisco Giants were going to win at least one game from the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers (they didn't) — but I checked between pitches and at commercial breaks, and eventually in big chunks when it became clear the Giants weren't going to manufacture runs.

I learned more than I expected. My new favorite animal of the bay is a bird called the sooty shearwater — great name for a shortstop! — which each year flies 39,000 miles in a great swooping oceanic arc from New Zealand to Monterey Bay, and fishes by swimming deep through the water.

My favorite presentations were by Dr. Joy Reidenberg, who used animal skeletons to explain the features that allow the blue whale to rake in water equal to its body volume through its jaws, or a sea lion to walk on the beach in a way that seals can't.

I'm not sure why it was a live broadcast. It was the dark of evening when the hosts coordinated the dance of taped stories from a landing at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Between stories, they brought in their experts to add information, relayed questions from TV and Internet viewers — it was über multimedia — checked viewer polls and placed stickers on giant wall and floor maps of the bay to underscore their story subjects.

Imagine CNN bringing its overheated attention to a plan crash, except with sea otters.

But the bay disappeared into the inky blackness in the live portions. Except for one evening, when Backshall dove into the giant kelp forest, most of the stories were prerecorded in daylight.

Yet — I watched.

Maybe that was enough of a hook, different enough from the somnolent narration of most nature shows to lure me. Several of the swimmers I know brought the show to my attention.

Plus, it was about Monterey Bay! I mean, come on!

High ocean temperatures and the time of year have brought humpback whales, blue whales, great white sharks, orcas, sea elephants and male sea lions in a great congregation to Monterey Bay, making it must-see TV.

Maybe I'm jealous. Maybe I'm brooding subconsciously from the coincident association with Big Blue and Dodger Blue (damn you, Clayton Kershaw, and your strikeout curveball too!)

Maybe I wish every news host could be like M. Sanjayan, who practically had to be propped up in his fervor on the last night when he wished aloud that if Monterey Bay could be restored to health, then so could every other ecological disaster area.

Maybe I just so want to be there, giddy and gesticulating at the beauty, breathlessly narrating to any with the intestinal fortitude to listen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Made for walking

Always in such an awful hurry, was that Sam Brannan! I'm glad.

He forms the centerpiece of a logo I've helped create for a revamped walking tour through the streets of Old Sacramento.

For that matter, Brannan takes center stage in the tour because he took center stage in the original city, harnessing the greed of thousands of Gold Rush hopefuls to fulfill his own greed and establish Sacramento at the confluence of two rivers.

I depicted him in mid-stride, off to seal another deal; the Trump of his time, Brannan soon arrayed himself in the finery befitting California's first millionaire.

Brannan began his financial empire by amassing a warehouse or two or three of picks and pans and shovels, disgorging their contents at a frightful profit —$5,000 a day at his peak — to the prospectors he drew to this strange and faraway land.

Most prospectors may never have found their dreamed-of seams of gold, but Brannan certainly did, by mining the miners.

Land is how he continued to prosper, first talking his way into free land that became Sacramento City, selling plots at whatever price the feverish rush commanded, then cornering key land in San Francisco, and growing ever more ambitious after that. At one point he tried to seize Hawaii — then the Sandwich Islands — from King Kamehameha III.

Brannan anchors the parade of figures in the logo, each representing a different chapter in the hullabaloo of the early city.

I made silhouettes of all the figures for several purposes: For when they need to be printed small, and to leave some mystery for marketing purposes. Each silhouette retains a different small detail of light. Here are the "core five" in full detail:
From left to right: Lt. Gabriel Moraga of Spain, who named the Sacramento River … Capt. John Sutter, who held this land
under a Mexican grant but ultimately was ruined by the Gold Rush … Brannan … a prospector … and Lola Montez,
an exotic actress infamous in the mining towns and camps for her "spider dance."
I have created more figures, and plan to create still more, to accommodate a logo that can be modified to meet various promotional needs.

This solution came out of a pitched and losing battle to solve the problem another way.

The original concept was make Sacramento itself the gold to be found on the walking tour.

It was to be the treasure at the bottom of a placer miner's pan: Sacramento City, the gateway to the northern gold fields in the Sierra foothills.

The trouble was trying to fit the city into a gold pan. And make the pan look like the pan and not some strange sun or swirling hurricane. And forget that no panning took place in Sacramento.

It was the supply site for the mines, but never the source of gold.

Besides, a pan had become worn through as an image to represent the gold rush. In reality, the pan and the lone miner quickly gave way to small groups building larger devices to process more water and gravel in a shorter time for less cost, in search of gold ore.

Rockers and long-toms lost out in short time to aqueducts and giant canyon-carving water nozzles and quartz-stamping mills to lay waste the countryside and glean the gold. Lone miners joined and incorporated. Gold became big business.

Sacramento benefited as the gold industry grew, then survived the changeover to agriculture and other sustainable industries.

The miner in bent-brimmed hat and beard and suspenders was just as cliché and quickly inaccurate, but I had to try it out:

The background of this image carried the seed of the solution. It represents Sacramento from near the beginnings — when Lt. Gabriel Moraga of Spain gave the Sacramento River its name in 1808 — to its place as a railroad power.

It was just a bit too twee, the art director suggested.

My first effort was to play with the tour's timeline, and twist it into a letterform:

But it landed way wide of the mark: Too difficult to reproduce legibly at a small size, and what does the "S" stand for? Sacramento? Would people get it?

Time to try again.

A shoeprint held a lot of potential. It was a walking tour, after all, and the tread was a novel way to present it.

Fitting the story in the shape of a shoe, and making it cohesive and legible, proved difficult and went nowhere:

But it led to the eventual solution, to show history literally walking in sequence.

The idea appealed to all stakeholders in the project, so I set to work researching and scribbling.

Lt. Gabriel Moraga required the most guesswork, since I found few images purporting to be him, and even then it was in the best light, romantic and in dress uniform.

I gave him my best guess in the uniform he would have worn while exploring and naming the Sacramento Valley.

Lola Montez required the most drawing and redrawing, to put her in an alluring pose that didn't seem awkward in the lineup. She started out sort of like this (actually, she started out as a woman with a Rita Hayworth hair flip and a backward glance toward the approaching prospector), and eventually became this:

The dress follows an outfit I found in research. Her hair – and indeed her whole look – changed wildly in documentation.

Though her real name was Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, an Irish woman, Montez cultivated this mysterious Spanish persona, and I drew her hair to evoke it.

Chalk up another project about which I'm sad to be done.
With the addition of a prosperous businessman (based loosely on railroad magnate Charles Crocker), a woman of the city and a riverboat pilot (with just a tincture of Mark Twain), I noticed that their gait had slowed compared to the first five,
as if indicating the city itself had become civilized.