Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sunday Morning

We are all looking for something of extraordinary importance whose nature we have forgotten.

                                                                                                       Eugene Ionesco

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Shooter’s Gallery

The movie, “American Sniper,” has certainly stirred up a whole lot of voices. That's good.  And, like most of America, the opinions being expressed are both polarized and all over the map.  But two general themes keep turning up:  Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL and an Iraq War sniper portrayed in the film, was a " hero" or a "villain," a brave soldier or a cowardly sciopathic killer.  And the movie was a pro-war Hoo-rah! screed or a powerful anti-war film.

These simple black and white designations always diminish and disguise the complicated reality of soldering and war.  The propensity of calling anyone who did their duty a “hero” seems to be a recent outcome of a culture that gives out gold stars and trophies to kids who just showed up so as to not wound their tender sense of self-esteem. 

And calling a soldier a villain blames the instrument for the policy and neatly sidesteps responsibility.  If you hate the war and blame the soldier, that conveniently avoids the unpleasant truth that in a democracy the creator of the war, the architect of the policy, will be found smack dab in the middle of a mirror.

And calling a sniper or a combat soldier a sociopathic killer gravely misses one of the terrible truths about war.  And that’s actor George C. Scott's "Patton-ish"speech from the movie, "Patton," the bitterly funny  line, "I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.  He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country."

That awful truth is what made Michael Moore’s comment about snipers in general being viewed as  “cowardly” so fatuous.  In combat, while taking care to stay within the rules of engagement, how your enemy dies is immaterial.   Sniper’s bullet, face-to-face firefights,  rocket strikes, bombs, or a knife in the gut is immaterial.  Dead is dead and a soldier’s job is to create sufficient dead enemy so that they stop shooting and quit the field of battle. Do that enough times and if you’re lucky, the war may end and you'll get to go home. Alive.

All of which gets very, very complicated in wars where the enemy is not in uniform all neatly turned out into organized battalions lined up on an open plain, flags flying.  Asymetrical  warfare, guerilla warfare, civilian combatants are ugly, nightmare complications that put extraordinary demands on soldiers.  Misread a situation and in a split second a soldier can be dead, or headed for a court martial. And even if all goes well, bloody combat, by its very nature, is too often soul-wounding and puts hard baggage on the survivors. "After such knowledge," observed T.S. Elliot, "what forgiveness?"  

In addition, our modern wars  conducted by a small cadre of chronically overburdened professional soldiers puts extraordinary demands on those men and women and their families.  Too often, we have carelessly and recklessly given them an impossible mission and when the mission fails, we turn our backs and walk away.  Or call them cowards or heroes so we don’t have to look more deeply at the complexities behind those words.

“American Sniper” has started a “conversation,” which is good.  I can only hope that that “conversation” yields some positive results, a better understanding, more honest evaluations and wiser choices going forward.

Before America slips into its typical default mode:  The Great Forgetting.

Monday, January 26, 2015


"Foxcatcher" is a tragic creepshow, a sorrowful horror movie, a sad, scary suspense thriller that grimly unwinds with increasing fateful urgency towards its unstoppable, heartbreaking end. 

Steve Carell, who usually plays sad-sack comic roles, plays John E. ("Eagle") DuPont, one of the richest men in the world, scion of the DuPont family, a sad, damaged man-child with Mommy issues, too much money, a social awkwardness that is heartbreaking, self esteem that's delusional, and a mind that's unsettled and unraveling.  Carell's performance is astonishing, his face nearly unrecognizable under a new nose and teeth.  But it's his performance that keeps the viewer riveted by the man at the awful center of this sad drama -- a clumsy, cringe-worthy, socially disconnected, decidedly odd man, his body movements slack and  disorganized, his flat, affectless face and inappropriate conversation inept and disconcerting. For the viewer, Carell's behavior becomes increasingly alarming since anyone familiar with the story knows that this is a tale that is fated to end badly.  But because nobody in the theatre knows just exactly when that will be, the suspense builds to an unnerving level.

The other two players in this tragic troika, are Mark and Dave Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively.  As presented, they too are damaged, trouble souls whose ambitions and dreams and emotional needs were ripe for DuPont's picking.  Initially Mark, a needy man resentful being in the shadow of his older brother, is lured to Foxcatcher Farms, the DuPont estate, by DuPont, who fashions himself a coach and "leader of men," and who's built an elaborate wrestling training camp, created "Team Foxcatcher," and wants to become the premier center for all US wrestling teams.

Initially, the relationship between Mark, DuPont and the formation of the "Team Foxcatcher" goes well, with Mark winning at the World events and everyone working towards the 1988 Olympics.  Eventually, Mark's older brother is lured to join the enterprise.  He uproots his family and moves them to Foxcatcher Farms to join his brother and the team as a coach. It is a deadly Fata Morgana for both of them.

"Foxcatcher" is one of those films that's difficult to watch because the viewer is as helplessly trapped in its relentless narrative as are the characters -- no way out, this tragedy must play out to the end.  But Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo's  amazing performances makes the horrifying trip well worth it. It won't be a surprise if there isn't  Oscar gold here for  these remarkable performances and for Director Bennett Miller for creating such a powerful, haunting, well made film.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Tipsy Great Vine Gets Righted

The Roger’s Red Great Grape Vine was getting so big and the fence posts so rotten, that it was threatening to tip the whole fence over.  So, the vine was pruned back rather severely.


My friend and neighbor, Phil, who knows how to fix things properly, arrives.


The fence is braced and the post holes are dug.


The tall metal new posts are inserted and pounded into place. When the lattice or the fence itself needs replacing, the poles will still serve as a quasi arbor to support the vine’s arms.


And braced with metal straps.


The concrete is mixed and dumped.


Below is a shot of the highly skilled expertise and critical technical assistance I brought to this whole project.



VOI LA!  Now I wait for rain and soon The Great Vine will awaken and spread her glorious leaves all over a sturdy , upright  fence. And I will dream of savoring sips of fierce, intense, ruby-red grape juice come summer.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Los Osos Woof-Woof?

LOCAC's Thursday night meeting had an update on the "Dog Park."  If you've driven by the property at Pine and LOVR you'll have seen a large sign, "Future Home of Dog Park," or some such.  Dog park for Los Osos?  Really?

Well, maybe.  The property's representatives (actually a group of investors) wish to develop the property and build 11 homes.  As you know, developing anything in this neck of the woods requires a laundry list of hoops to jump through and, being Los Osos, two of the biggest are: 1) water and 2) "mitigation." (That darned pesky Dune Snail, among other critters.)

In short, the deal for developers is to give up A in order to get B.  You turn 5 acres over to "the public" and we'll let you develop Y acres. Hence the dog park.

However, being Los Osos, there's one more hook in the equation:  Water.  In this case, the developers must find X number of water offsets/credits to equal water use by the 11 new homes they want to build in the PZ. That means retrofitting X number of homes and counting the gallons saved and buying water rights/credits from, say, unbuildable property or doing whatever gets them that guestimated average household water use number. 

Hard to do in regular, normal times, but in a drought, in a town with serious overdraft issues?  And a drought that might be heading towards a ban on all outdoor watering if we don't get enough rains by April? 

Which is why the Dog Park has been in a Sit/Stay for several years now. 

On the bright side, the LOCAC Board was enthusiastic about the project, with new CSD Boardmember Lou Tornatsky declaring that the whole project could be a happy public effort that would bring the community together. 

Having been a part of creating the first dog park in the county (El Chorro Dog Park) some twenty-four years ago, I know enough to temper that presumed "volunteer enthusiasm" with knowledge of just how hard a lift such a project can be.  How it will require a small dedicated band of people willing to take on the huge amount of work involved since "enthusiastic volunteers" have a predictable habit of being "busy" when the time comes to actually show up and do the work.  Plus, the real work begins after the park is built, since dog parks require constant maintenance and that requires hard work by an organized group willing to carry the park, often single-handedly.

Which is why I asked Supervisor Bruce Gibson whether SLO County Parks (now with a new director and now a new "stand-alone" department) could take the "donated" property ASAP, let the dog park building commence via volunteer, private effots, then Parks could develop the rest of the acreage later.  The answer was NO. County Parks is on such a tight budget and stretched so thin that they cannot accept any "free" land since they don't have the money to manage it.  Which is a profound tragedy for this County since I'm sure there have been other opportunities to acquire free gifts of land for parks and they've had to be turned down for lack of the parks budget.  Which begged the (unasked) question of Supervisor Gibson:  So why doesn't the BOS vote to increase the Park's budget? 

For now, there the Dog Park for Los Osos sits.  In limbo.  If the developers' offset plans don't pencil out, that may well be the end of the whole idea.  So, if you're part of a local group interested in helping to create an off-leash dog park, I'd suggest praying for rain, praying the developers can find those water credits/offsets and in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to actually get formally organized and start making plans so if things suddenly pan out, you'll be ready.