February 1, 2018

It's official: 'Red Writer' is the name of, well, the 'Red Writer'

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - The names poured in for the last three weeks since Admiral Sylvia Fox and I asked for some help in naming our new addition to the FitzFox traveling fleet.
     Because the T@B teardrop is red, it seemed like the red should be part of it.
     And so it was that names like Red Rider, Red Ryder, Little Red, Red Caboose, Red Cabbage, and Red Fox popped up among nearly 100 suggested names.

     Rosebud was a favorite, too - as was Well Read, suggested by a my high school music teacher Dalton Berringer.
     Another favorite, due to my admiration of Don Quixote, was Rocinante, the Don's trusty steed (or nag).
     Thank you to everyone who joined in and sent along a name - or five! They are all appreciated.
     In the end, every time Adm. Fox and I would refer to the now-named Red Writer, that name seemed to fit the best.
     And so sometime in the next weeks - when Admiral Fox and I are completely cured of the lingering colds & maladies that have struck us - we will throw some kind of christening party. It might happen out on the road in some campsite somewhere, perhaps the most fitting spot, I suppose.
     With the name decided, next is a cruising plan.
     But that's going to be pretty loose, too. We want to be able to stop when we want, where we want. In places like Monowi, Neb., for example: Pop. 1.
     And while the California trailer-cruising season has already started, it will be months before Red Writer heads to any of the places where folks are now watching snow drifting down.
     But if you live in any of those places, keep an eye out for us anytime after you put away the snow shovel for good for the season.

January 7, 2018

Please help name our T@B teardrop travel trailer

   POINT RICHMOND - After all the years of sailing on SF Bay, the California Delta and the ocean (as far south as Zihuatenejo, Mexico) Admiral Fox and I have purchased a land yacht, a bright red T@B teardrop trailer.
     This will come as no surprise to the 100 or so friends who already commented on Facebook in the last 24 hours in response to a post by the Admiral as we took delivery on the trailer Saturday and pulled it home from Santa Clara.
     Travel plans include a sojourn to Seneca Lake in NY this summer (no kidding, I know). But plenty of other destinations in California, Oregon, Washington State - and other west-of-the Mississippi states - are up for consideration, too.
     There's even some loose talk about driving the Calgary, Canada - if the snow ever melts.
   BUT the trailer really needs a good name, other than just the red trailer.
     Already in the running are two possible sobriquets: 'Red Writer' and 'Rocinante.'
     It would be nice to have more to consider, which is why I am tossing this out to the incredibly creative Fitz-Fox brain trust.
     If you have a red-hot idea (sorry, that's really an awful pun even from me), send it along via email or blast it up on Facebook.
     The reward for the person who comes up with the best name?
     A bottle of wine, of course.
     If the winner is in California, I have a bottle of Atwater Riesling Bubble waiting. If they happen to be in the Finger Lakes, I will bring a bottle of Mondavi's best when I travel east - if bringing California wine into the Finger Lakes is even allowed!

September 3, 2017

'Wind River' - a film you can't take your eyes off

 POINT RICHMOND - The film Wind River is so gripping a tale, it's unlikely most in-theater viewers will even glance at their watches at any juncture in this fast-moving, one hour and 47-minute film.
Jeremy Renner
    And this is a must-see-in-the-theater movie.
    The full-screen winter Wyoming scenery is haunting. Plus, the grittiness of life on the Indian reservation is best viewed on the big screen - large enough for it to hit hard.
    It's not pretty. 
   But that not-prettiness helps highlight the resilience of the residents of the reservation, reeling from the murder of an 18-year-old girl. The Native Americans are the descendants of great warriors. And it shows.
   Jeremy Renner - as a veteran game tracker - does a steady job as the film's hero. Underneath a classically western steely persona, Renner's character is a man tortured by the earlier loss of his own child and a divorce.
Elizabeth Olsen and Graham Green
   After he discovers the body of the murdered girl, he ends up paired with a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based FBI agent (played by a doe-eyed Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the crime. At first they are as unlikely a pair as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. But that resolves itself quickly.
 One of the best supporting roles in the film is played by Graham Greene as the tribal police chief. His ability to convey complex emotions with just his facial expressions is amazing.

   Wind River is fast-paced and directed nearly to perfection.
      It also offers several moral/ethical questions to ponder in post-movie hours.
     And it's a film of details and nuance - which is why taking yours eyes off the screen for even a moment is a bad idea.
      If you only see one movie this fall, watch Wind River.

Running for her life - barefoot 

June 21, 2017

A Kickstarter project that's all about dog wisdom - Really!

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - If you love dogs, you will probably go absolutely barking crazy over this Kickstarter project Divine Dog Wisdom Cards and Guidebook.
   It was developed by Randy Crutcher and Barb Horn - both amigos of mine.

    Out skiing two years ago they came up with the idea of producing a whimsical deck of cards and guide book with some of the things they had learned from - and through - dogs over the years.
    Some are hysterical. 
    Some are almost Buddha-like
   All are very well done.

    The deck has 62 different images of dogs in various settings and poses portraying a theme like Passion, Purpose, Balance, Cooperation, Breakthrough - even Boredom.
You probably didn't think dogs get bored. They do...

Each card has a phrase that is also in the guidebook to share a little deeper dog wisdom.

The Kickstarter Campaign underway right now is to help fund the first printing - and to get these cards into stores. The campaign has 15 days left to run.

If you know a dog lover, are a dog lover, know someone who you think should be a dog lover or simply someone who would find these clever cards amusing, check out the Kickstarter Campaign page HERE and consider making a pre-purchase.

Randy Crutcher 

You can choose from 10 different rewards. Admiral Fox and I are in for cards and t-shirts, so far. And we don't even have a dog. So far.

Barb Horn
Here's what the authors say about their project rewards.
"You can choose from more than 10 different rewards you’ll receive when you contribute. Rewards come with contributions as low as $15 and include purchasing one or more decks signed by theauthors, limited edition T-shirts, stickers or posters with art from the cards.  You can get your name or your pooch’s photo in the guidebook itself or a chance to put your beloved dog in their memorial dog park (website), and have personal readings with the authors using the cards."

May 21, 2017

Napa icon & journalist L. Pierce Carson passes away at 76

NAPA, Calif. - I landed in the Napa Register newsroom in April of 1973. The Watergate political pot was coming to a hard boil. L. Pierce Carson would run home at lunchtime all summer, watch part of the hearings  on television and come back, breathless about what was going on.

L. Pierce Carson
He ran home because he didn't drive, didn't own a car, and was the most skilled guy at bumming rides I have ever met.

He was also one of most skilled journalistic-style writers I have ever met, skilled in a low-key way.

My first encounter with Pierce came weeks after I started a quasi-internship in the newsroom. I had graduated with a degree in English and thought all paragraphs had to be looooooong affairs (300 words was a nice length), strewn liberally with semicolons and other grammatical flourishes.

After being shredded publicly numerous times by the late Harry Martin, then city editor of the Napa Register, Pierce secretly looked over a story I had typed, made some alterations and had me retype it before I turned it in.

It flew past Martin and into the newspaper - my very first byline.

With Margrit Monday
And so I started studying how Pierce would write stories about county government, stories that could have been so dull without his touch, but were as interesting as fiction I was reading. He had a bagful of writing tricks, plus he knew his stuff. I studied his style and learned well.

Several generations of students at CSU Chico and CSU Sacramento learned the LPC writing method in my journalism classes, not always knowing where it came from.

My favorite image of L. Pierce Carson is of him challenging someone in the Register advertising department to a duel right in the middle of the newsroom. They retired to their desks, returning with umbrellas, which they poked playfully at each other to the delight of the newspaper staff.

Pierce won the duel by making the ad salesman laugh so hard he couldn't hold his umbrella.

Rest in peace, L. Pierce Carson. And keeping 'hooking' paragraphs the way you taught me.

May 11, 2017

'Then Came Bronson' star Michael Parks pulls away for last time

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - I have television and film actor Michael Parks to thank for my moving to California in 1970.
     No, he didn't offer me a job, cash, or even talk me into to fleeing the Rust Belt Village of Lakewood, NY.
     What he did do was star in a television program called Then Came Bronson that probably launched thousands of guys like me on wandering trips around the country.
     I just happened to land in California.

     The opening episode actually begins in San Francisco - not that far from where I am writing this today.
     His character was emblematic of a generation of young men who were convinced that something out on the road was calling them. It certainly grabbed my attention from the first episode.
     But at the time the program was getting underway, so was my young family.
     Married with a three-month-old infant son, a motorcycle like the one driven by Michael Park's character was an unlikely vehicle for the three of us.

    So the compromise vehicle was another icon of the era - a beat up VW microbus, complete with a peace symbol painted on the front in place of the metal VW symbol. That peace symbol was painted over just before we left NY for points west.
    Watching the iconic film Easy Rider convinced me a slightly less 'in-your-face' vehicle might get me through some of places that sported signs in those days that said things like "NO HIPPIES ALLOWED" and "YOU WANT EAT HERE? GET A HAIRCUT."
     The details of that sojourn will take an entire book to tell.
     Michael Parks died earlier this week. He was 77 and had a fabulous film and television career acting in many great roles.
     But for me, he will always be Bronson on his motorcycle.
     In the video clip below (at about 1:12), a tired commuter driving a station wagon pulls alongside at a stoplight and asks Bronson where he's going.
     "Oh, I don't know," Bronson says. "Wherever I end up, I guess."
     The commuter responds, "Man, I wish I was you."
     "Really?" Bronson says. "Well, hang in there."
     Well, hang in there, Michael Parks, wherever your celestial motorcycle is taking you.
     I'll hang in here.
     Maybe someday we'll meet up going down that Long Lonesome Highway.

December 22, 2016

David and Goliath: The perfect book to read in these times

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants is a book tailor-made as we enter the Trump Era - whatever that may hold.
     This 2013 book, authored by The New Yorker staff writer Malcom Gladwell challenges readers to look at perceived disadvantages and how they often are - in fact - the opposite.
Malcolm Gladwell
     The first segment of the book (as you guessed) looks at the familiar Biblical tale of David vs. Goliath, a story that has morphed over the last 2,000 years to refer to any situation where smaller, arguably weaker opponent takes on a seemingly much more powerful foe.

     But anyone who has studied David vs. Goliath in detail knows that Goliath never really had a chance when he stepped out into the Valley of Elah and issued his famous challenge, "Choose you a man and let him come down to me," Goliath roared. "If he prevail in battle against me and strike me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us."
     Historians say Goliath was likely at least 6 feet, 9 inches tall was wearing full body armor, a bronze helmet and carried a spear, javelin and a sword. Goliath - and the Philistine army behind him - expected a similarly outfitted warrior to step out. (Think Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator.)
     But David was a slim youth. He declined to take a sword, shield or armor. Instead he picked up five stones, ran at the giant and launched a single stone from his sling. It caught Goliath square in his forehead, knocking the giant to the ground. David then rushed up, seized Goliath's sword and cut off Goliath's head.
     Game over.

     In Biblical times, armies had infantry, men on horseback (and chariots) and a third group that would be in today's terms called artillery: archers and slingers. David was a slinger and a deadly one. A good slinger could seriously hurt - or kill - an opponent up to 200 yards, with the stone traveling at a speed equivalent of 34 meters per second. Per second.

     "Goliath had as much chance against David as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an opponent with a .45 automatic pistol," historian Robert    Dohrenwend is quoted in David and Goliath.
      But Gladwell's book only uses this Biblical tale as way to get into a fascinating book. David and Goliath takes the reader on a wild political, social, cultural ride through more than a dozen situations and examples in which a supposed much-favored opponent loses what should have been an easy victory.

     Some it is the element of surprise. Some of it comes from what we might consider perceived disadvantage - like dyslexia. Many great artists are reported to have some dyslexia for example.
     David and Goliath is also about how the powerful are sometimes proven to be truly weak when they don't understand what they are really up against.  The British Army in Northern Island during The Troubles, is a classic example and featured prominently in the book.
In the final section of David and Goliath, Gladwell sums up with a focus on a French village's stubborn and clever resistance to the Nazis that resulted in saving the lives of many hundreds of Jews from being sent to concentration camps.

"David and Goliath has tried to make plain
 that wiping out a town or a people or a movement is never as simple as it looks. 
The powerful are not as powerful as they seem - nor the weak as weak."

     David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants is highly recommended reading, particularly if you find yourself feeling powerless in the face of the political, social and cultural maelstrom lurking over the horizon.
     Read the book, figure out your psychological (and political) sling. And be ready to use it.

December 15, 2016

If there's a Union in heaven, they're probably co-presidents

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The number of good people who died in 2016 is mind-boggling. Probably a lot of jerks bought the farm, too.

So be it.

But today I found out - months late - that an amigo from Sacramento State named Jim Chopyak had passed away in October. Damn it. He was one of the good guys.
Jim Chopyak (Photo by State Hornet newspaper)

When I got to know Jim, he was president of the Sacramento State Chapter of the California Faculty Association. During his term - and forever after - I always called him "Mr. President" when we met. It cracked him up every time. But he was an excellent president and deserved the approbation for life.

I stood with him during numerous faculty vs. administration battles - including on the picket lines. We won some, we lost some. But Jim never dwelled too much on the losses. He was too eager to support the faculty and the students - and to get onto the next skirmish.

He wasn't particularly political. Few musicians are. He was a musician and music professor/scholar with a strong background in Asian culture. We once crawled around a replica ship of a Christopher Columbus' vessel, La NiƱa, at the Port of Sacramento on a Sunday tour. He had his family with him because it was ostensibly a children's trip to see history. I think he was the biggest kid on the boat.

His death also brought back memories of another CFA union president and faculty member with whom I shared more than a few bruising faculty-administration battles - Jeff Lustig.

Jeff died four years ago and his death was a big blow to everyone who knew him. He had strong union roots and loved politics and political battles. He could be very persuasive with his foes. And if gentle persuasion didn't work, he used rhetoric like a framing hammer.

These two former colleagues of mine were proof that we are stronger together - in union - than separately. I think that's one reason why a month ago I joined the Communication Workers of America, an AFL-CIO affiliate that's big in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the wake of the Trump election, it seemed like exactly the right thing to do.

Rest in peace Jim and Jeff. And organize those angels. We're going to need a lot of divine intervention to get through the next four years. 

November 23, 2016

The Christ depicted in 'Zealot' would be at Standing Rock

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - If the title of this book: Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan seems oddly familiar, it could be because Aslan was roasted by Fox News when this NY Times bestselling-book first came out several years ago.

Well, sort of roasted. In the end, he skillfully demonstrated that Fox News interviewers need to prep more thoroughly - especially if they expect to debate someone like Aslan.

Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan is a theologian - raised as a "lukewarm Muslim," he says.  The trigger word Muslim sent a Fox News interviewer into a such a paroxysm she never asked a serious question about anything in this well-documented (and equally well-written) tome.

Of course, it's also doubtful she read a line of book, outside of the cover and jacket blurb. Here's the link to the interview: FOX NEWS.

It's too bad someone at Fox didn't read the book throughly before the interview. Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is a fascinating review of the era, taking into account the centuries of myth-making that followed Christ's death. It tracks - through examination of documents and a dissection of the Christian Gospels - what transpired up to the Crucifixion and in its wake. It was researched over two decades and has a 60 pages of notes and bibliographic references, at the end of the book.

No, I did not read all of those. But the ones I did were fascinating.

The generally accepted view of Christ as a gentle shepherd of men is replaced in this book by a portrait of a man heavily involved in the politics of the turbulent first century - as were most Jews struggling under the Roman Empire's heavy yoke. The landscape in the time of Christ was alive with rebels, bandits and lawlessness - most directed at the Romans.

Christ - as the book explains in detail - was a zealot for the people. If the Christ portrayed in Zealot were alive today, he would have been on the next bus to Standing Rock to be alongside the Native Americans fighting against oil-company goons.

As others have done in earlier books about Christ, Aslan traces the deliberate transformation of the historical Zealot-Christ from revolutionary to a more ethereal religious figure whose belief system and teachings would not be of any threat to the state.

Evangelicals might hate this book. Historians likely love it.

Zealot is worth a read regardless of your religious orientation. Even the most hardened of atheists will likely find the history fascinating.

The photo/graphic below is not from Aslan's book, but summarizes some of the events...

November 18, 2016

A cure for that election depression: Watch the film 'Casablanca'

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - If you happen to be one of the many millions of Americans suffering from election depression try the Casablanca cure.

Casablanca finale at the airport
No, you don't have to actually go to the Moroccan city, though getting that far from the U.S. for a vacay, while Donald Trump reverses the last 100 years of American civilization, is tempting.

Really tempting.

Instead, watch the 1942 film Casablanca. Maybe watch it a couple of times, at least long enough to learn to sing along with La Marseillaise.

Maybe watch it with a few friends so you can all boo the Nazis and cheer for the Free French.

Ingrid Bergman
Trust me on this. Casablanca tells us that we beat the Nazis before. We can do it again in the 21st century. If you don't feel that way from watching the film the first time, repeat until you  do.

You haven't ever seen Casablanca?

Mon Dieu!

Well, the film is set in Casablanca (Where the $%*&;#+! else?) just before the U.S. jumped into World War II.

The owner of a swanky bar (played by Humphrey Bogart) is nursing a broken heart, broken by Ingrid Bergman who plays the role of an idealistic young political activist, whose activist husband is being hunted by the Nazis. The bar is a hotbed of politics, intrigue, and features great characters.

Oh, and the film features great music, too, including the classic, As Time Goes By.

The Nazis are as despicably evil as you can imagine. And the heroes are, well, damned heroic.

I'll admit to having watched this film probably 20 times. And tonight - if I can get Amazon.com to cooperate - I'll put one more notch in the film canister with another viewing.

And when you get to the end of the movie, I'll bet you'll be ready to sign up to join the Free French garrison at Brazzaville. I always want to.

  Vive La France! Vive La Democracie!

Below is a short video clip of the scene in which Victor Lazlo (Ingrid Bergman's on-screen spouse and hated by the Nazis) uses La Marseillaise to rouse the crowd. It gets me on my feet every time, too.