Let us #climatedream

This past week I saw two films in large rooms with strangers- what used to be known as ‘going to the movies’. Both films “Merchants of Doubt” and “Bought “ ( available free online through May 15) are fact based documentaries about our well being. Both are essentially tragedies, dense with information that is factual, documented and not mainstream, that document how ideology and greed have driven processes that have produced conditions that are threats to well being, individually and socially.

While I appreciate them for the polish and diligence with which they tell their stories,  both exhibit and illustrate the basic challenge of how to address the threats to our well being that are presented in their respective issues.   I faced this same challenge when I set out to produce “Proof or Propaganda” for NOAA a few years back.  I was resolved not to make “another climate Macbeth” and that was before “An Inconvenient Truth” had shifted the notions about the depressive impacts of a documentary. I worked to have the last third of my production be about reinventing the industrialized world to be sustainable. I featured well known successful capitalists excited and acting to do just that. Environmentalists criticized the film for having business people in it. “You talk to the same people who caused the problem” as if all of business throughout history were the people I interviewed.

 Generating political will on these issues is difficult. We tend to put the laws of economics, ours personally and in general, ahead of those of creation- physics and chemistry, because we understand dollars personally.  Chemistry and physics? Not so much. Plus there is a huge amount of dollars rolling along under the “Business as usual” flywheel, and aren’t we all doing pretty ok?

Then you toss in something like the recent measles outbreak and suddenly freedom of choice about what you do with your body, or your child’s body, is about to be taken away from you, even by supposed champions of personal liberty like libertarians and liberals.

These movies are useful, and how they fail to move people than anything else has been their legacy. They are a genre to themselves; the vast amounts of fact, anecdote and jaw dropping manipulation of those who profit by their influence on policy and law for their own gain, to say nothing of those who are happily tools for obfuscation and endarkenment.  It’s a failed strategy that won’t stop.

 I have come to rely on this :The simple fact is, we don’t celebrate Martin Luther King because he said “I have a nightmare”.

We prefer dreams. Dreams with happy endings, with love, light, lots of hugs and healthy happy kids, butterflies, and rainbows, under which everyone can prosper, be respected and live free. These are things we attach to. We need to believe that whatever changes we undertake will result in some grand vision at the end of the road, or we won’t even start, even if the start is just to ask for real food at the market, or question that release of liability form at the doctor’s office.

 After the “Merchants of Doubt” screening, I asked Erik Conway, one of the authors of the source material, what his #climatedream is. He tweeted “that local action makes Federal inaction irrelevant. That well being indexes replace GDP.”  Way cool. Thanks Erik!

Now I am asking you, what is your climate dream? Please share your best vision of a well resolved issue using the #climatedream tag ( or any #issuedream).. Let’s discover a moving inspiring vision of a world that works for everyone.  #worldthatworks

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Snarky !

I can’t help it. The libertarian local weekly free rag, run by a former restaurant guy who hasn’t read the outline of any course on journalism, loves to wax about personal responsibility and the failure of collective solutions in everything. Yet on water, where Montecito has among the most dire situations in the state, the vast majority of column inches have been given over to collective solutions that need (gasp!) bond issues approved to be executed.

So I wrote this and submitted. Sharing with you here. Just want you to see my snarky side. And I don’t know why.

The current water situation demands we all look at the full range of options available, and Bob Hazard’s preference for desalinization begs a number of questions, given the Journal’s usual position on personal responsibility and aversion to collective solutions.

The clear personal action called for is to adapt our landscaping to what looks great and is appropriate to the geography of our community. That would mean no irrigation for other than food or commercial benefit.  Alternatives to lawns that are visually appealing and can be played and enjoyed are many. Implementing them will generate as much employment as lawn care does now.

Yet the Journal has not called upon Montecito residents to take these actions. Nor has it suggested that the community beautification awards value water conservation.  I call on you to consider these options for response, and give them the kind of inches of coverage that you have given to the collectivized publicly funded solution that Bob Hazard has advocated.

To his credit, he has mentioned some desal schemes that have been privately funded.  Yet none have been suggested for local consideration.  Why is collective or socialized cost appropriate with water yet not with virtually every other social issue considered in your pages?

And there has been little if no coverage of the issue and policies of private water systems and wells, which draw upon the water resource of the whole drainage area- a natural collective exploited by some. How many of each of these are there in the bounds of the MWD for instance?

Another interesting aspect of the issues covered in your pages is your failure to note, much less explore the irony that the gas availability from the use of fracking technology has lowered carbon emissions dramatically in this country; a conundrum for  environmentalists as well as the bane of coal producers whose complaints about political attacks against their industry ignore the facts about market pricing of energy. I think your are missing a real opportunity here!

Water and energy are fundamental, yet complex aspects of our way of life. Neither has been the result of individual innovation or technology alone. Our needs now and in the future will not be served by ideologically driven policies. Rather pragmatic technical, economic and social inquiries and transparent processes to arrive at solutions that will serve going forward need to be explored and debated. May your future issues give wider and fuller exposure on these issues.

Thanks for your service! I find it worth every penny I pay for it.

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A most satisfying bad day

Having children shapes our lives in many ways that come to be surprises.

Beyond the immersion into waste management and policing, the shifts in social contacts and priorities changes the criteria for who your adult associations are. You will start to relate to the parents on the sidelines at AYSO, or in the auditorium at the same time, the folks you can car pool with, and trade other related obligations with. Those are routine.

Then there are the families of the people your children become friends with. Adapting to where and how those attachments lead are also outside whatever it was that you used to have serve as criteria or choice. Sometimes those are things are surprising in all sorts of unexpected ways, and enrich you and challenge you, often at the same time.

My eldest, for instance, picked ice hockey as his sport. He didn’t really care that there is no ice rink in our county. Somehow that led to me coaching a team for a season where I knew nothing, and really my only contribution was to stand on the bench and be the adult that referees would talk to. The young men, many of whom had played on regional championship teams, organized themselves, and consistently fed me the right lines and cues. It taught me a lot about coaching.

The same boy also selected the only person of color in his first grade class to bond with. In that school district, it meant that he had bonded with the children of the hired help. It gave him, and us, insight and understanding of the dynamics among people of extraordinary wealth, and those who work for them.

This week that bond drew me into doing something I wouldn’t have ever thought of doing. I drove two counties over and tracked my son’s friend’s father through the criminal justice system. The father was arrested on Sunday, having fallen afoul of the visiting rules at a state prison. His son called me from college- he’s in his first year in a program that will lead him to becoming not only the first college graduate in his family, but also a state license. It’s challenging and the demands include scheduling all his time and resources. His father’s arrest had naturally upset him and concern for both his parent’s had him contemplating suspending or quitting. His call to me was a call for practical help. All I could think was “no way you’re quitting school!”.

The upshot was that I agreed to attend the scheduled arraignment for his father, as his wife is just learning to drive, and she was very upset. I arose earlier than usual to get the miles in before the court opened at 9am. I arrived in the small division courthouse (probably the size of a large MacDonald’s store) to discover that while his online record showed the arraignment, the posted schedule did not have his name. Fortunately the scale of the operation allowed me to find out quickly that the District Attorney did “not have the required information yet” to file charges at the time.

Fortunately I have made friends with people who are up to date on the law and learned that this meant that the court would have to choose to either release him, as in the state of California no one can be held without charges beyond 72 hours. Nothing in the system however indicated this. The DA staff could only say that they weren’t going to file that day. In a distant place, I was left to ask strangers for help. Googling ‘criminal attorney near me’ resulted in a short walk to a brusque but kind attorney who filled me in on the local situation. Like most of California’s jurisdictions, all the relevant departments are understaffed. The missing ‘information’ in all likelihood was the arrest report, without which there could be no evidence presented to support whatever charges might be. Moving documents around the county was also a challenge, and in addition all needed to be coordinated with the single prosecutor assigned to handle all issues that are related to prisons and jails.

So by about noon, it became apparent that the man should be released that day. But the county jail system still showed him being arraigned at 9am that morning. Calls to the county jail involved navigating the usual phone tree to numerous general information recordings.

After cruising the town to survey it, and inventory possible lunch options, I choose to observe the afternoon in the courtroom. The judge processed a steady stream of cases, mostly young people of color and gauging by their court room attire, limited means. The range of crimes in question challenges the education and socialization of the people before the court. The judge was efficient and patient. Compared to others I have observed, he engaged each defendant personally, looking them in the eye, asking them questions to make sure they understood their situation, and taking initiative to pick up the phone and call DMV or another jurisdiction when it appeared that such information could move an issue forward. Everyone in the room, with the exception of the bailiff, was working intently and with full attention as the many details of what we call justice were processed.

Just after the court closed for the day, the online listing for my man in question was changed to show that a release was scheduled for the date, but with a warning that this was subject to change without notice. Calling the jail afterhours, I was able to connect with a human who told me “We really don’t know and even if we did, we wouldn’t want to say, because things change all the time”.
I drove to the facility that locals told me would be where any release would occur. While clearly a jail, none of the faces of the building that were visible from the street were marked. Only once I had parked and walked around, was I able to figure out where the intended parking and entrance were- on the side of the building facing the middle of the block with a parking lot.

Entering the building afterhours, I was able to take notice of the unique architectural details of such a building. Hard surfaces with drains, made easy to clean and difficult to deface, were broken up only by signs with legally mandated warnings and labels. Arrows on the floor led me to a locked door, with directions to press a button and identify myself. No one answered my calls until about the fourth attempt when a man in a uniform, but not an officer, came to the door and asked, somewhat weary and a bit annoyed, how he could help me. I explained that I was from out of the area, and there was a possibility that someone I knew would be released. He directed me up a staircase, told me which way to turn and what to look for ” go till you find a window and ask the girls behind the glass”.

It took a few minutes for one of the two women behind the heavy glass to notice me at the window. She came over, took the name and a few minutes later came back and said “sometime between 9 and midnight”. Confirmation from a human voice was immensely satisfying and made the day waiting ‘just in case’ much more comfortable. I asked her if she could suggest anyplace to wait. She grinned a tight smile. “Your car is probably cleaner than in here”. I nodded agreement, although the place did not smell foul, and was not littered, it did have a dingy atmosphere. Seating was hard and limited. I responded “I was thinking more like a restaurant.” She waved a hand, “Drive any direction a few blocks.”
And I did.

At 9PM I pulled back up to the jail entrance. I had traded messages with the son and wife of my incarcerated friend. In the dark evening the neon lights of the nearby bail bonds businesses reflected off the civic institutional block building with its beige paint. I settled into a book and hope that my use of the car’s interior light would not lead to a battery issue. People came and went and occasionally a small group of people would arrive, go in and come out a few minutes later. Eventually I nodded off.

A few minute before 11pm, my phone awoke me. It was an unknown number. The voice of the father of my son’s friend was asking if I was still there. I looked up and discovered a taxi van had parked between me and the door. Some one knew when people would be needing rides. I got out and went to greet him.

For having spent three days in a jail in what one attorney told me was the worst county in the state to be in jail, he looked like the man I have always known. Good natured, smiling. He was among a small group of men, all who had been in his ‘group’. The jailers had segregated him with the ‘unattached’ prisoners, keeping the various gangs apart as well as those with no affiliation. We shook hands, hugged, and he introduced me to a younger man who was watching us. “Rafael’ I’ll call him, had also been in jail since Sunday, and needed a ride home, which happened to be along our way out of town.

I said sure, and asked if my friend was hungry. “No, let’s just go.”
“Ready to get out of this county?”
He grunted, and Rafael said “great idea”.

On the drive to his house, I learned that Rafael had drunk so much that he couldn’t remember what he had done Sunday morning (late Saturday night?) to get arrested, but knew that it involved domestic violence. His wife had declined to pursue charges. He said he had told her that when he got home he would pour all the alcohol they owned down the drain.

We headed right to the freeway and as is often the case the drive back seems much shorter. The time was full of the things my passenger had seen, heard and thought about in those 72 hours of detention. While he was grateful for the ‘good ‘ group of men he had shared a cell with, the facts of his situation were still grim. Just because one is released, that does not mean freedom. The authorities have whatever the statute of limitations is for a charge to file, and issue an arrest warrant. They have no obligation in making their intentions known, although it is advised to make sure you give them an accurate mailing address so you will get a notice should they file.

Given the fact that the county in question has over ten murderers on the county sheriff’s wanted web page, and the locals told stories about the limited resources, one could hope that they just won’t bother with a smaller non violent charge. But the possibilities are many. One could move outside the jurisdictional reach, say to another country until the time limit passes. One could make sure never to do anything to be looked up in the database of outstanding arrest warrants.

None of these were on the mind of my passenger. He wanted to get home and take a shower, as he hadn’t had a truly hot shower in jail, where he had to hold a button for ten minutes to get warm water. He wanted a good night’s sleep, as they woke everyone up at 3AM since one of them had to take medication then. He wanted to know what his son had told his bosses, as he worked two full time jobs, supporting his family which includes his mother in law and a nephew, as well as is paying restitution for his convicted son. He wanted to be in his bed, with his wife, and count his blessings, especially those common ones that we all take for granted, but are starkly evident whenever we are in the effect of a system.

We called his son at college, who thanked me for picking up his dad. The relief in his voice was palpable.

Some 14 hours after I had left home, we arrived at the home of my special cargo. He jumped from the car and called for me to follow. I walked into an empty living room. He emerged a few moments later with his wife, whose eyes though read, were smiling.

I woke up the next day and went about my schedule, cramming to make up for a full day spent totally elsewhere in every sense. I was tired. More to the point, things were a bit dull. Nothing seemed all that important or urgent. It has taken a few days to come to terms with the experience.

I don’t know that I have ever had more satisfaction in a day spent chasing unknowns, waiting for time to pass, or sitting behind the wheel. I haven’t ever heard someone speak about the reward that is available for someone who heads off on an unknown journey and with no expectation gets to not only see his friend walk out of jail, but then gets to deliver him to his home and family. I have a much deeper appreciation of one of those civics lessons we often sleep through in high school. Another unexpected gift from my children.

My friend faces an uncertain future in regards to this episode. He has a lot of issues to deal with, even if he never hears from the authorities. But he, with his loved ones and gets to exercise a huge number of choices, choices that can be taken from each of us in the blink of an eye.

Tomorrow never knows. You might want to live right now. Act like it’s the only moment you have.

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What an opportunity


There is often in any parent child relationship, when both aren’t listening to the other. Parents often have a challenge in seeing their children as separate people with their own experience, and children routinely tune out their parents who have been droning on forever in their existence.  Somewhere along the way in my parenting of my daughter, I had reason to become hyper-vigilant to her every word.  The need for this has past, but the listening remained. So it was on a day she insisted that I watch the mail for a CD.  Her enthusiasm and excitement moved me to offer to burn her a copy so she would be able to hear it in the car that lacks an aux input.

The CD, “Dark as Night” by Medicine for the People, intrigues and attracts through a multiple genre cross cultural sound. Repeated listening led me to learn all the words, and find myself contemplating much larger concepts and issues than most music references, much less makes its core message.  Just the last week of July, Shailene Woodley, on Jimmy Fallon to promote the movie “The Spectacular Now” in which she stars, started her segment raving about her having just heard the band and got Fallon to feature the CD in a close up, calling the show featuring Medicine for the People and Xavier Rudd “spiritual soup”.

Nahko Bear, front man and leader, describes himself many ways and in lots of stories within the songs and yet he is not the main subject nor character within them. You are. We all are. 

I came to know this because the band, touring with Xavier Rudd, came through California this past week, and I was able to catch them two nights in a row at “The Belly Up” in Solana Beach.  I had planned on taking my daughter, but the shows were 21 and over, and she decided to go swim in the rivers and lakes of California’s Sierras last week.  On the day of the first show, I woke up to discover the shows were labeled “sold out”, so I went about my business. Late on the Tuesday as the sun went down and it was time to wrap up the day’s work, I decided I would swing by the place and see. As luck would have it, I walked up to the window and was able to purchase a ticket. When the band came on at 9PM, there was enough room to walk right up to arm’s distance from the stage, itself a relatively generous space for a room of the size Belly Up has become, but only the front four feet were available for the band, which has in the past had various numbers and arrangements, but is currently four people who create a wonderful set of sounds and a magical vibe.

Before I go on, I want to point out that I don’t use this last phrase lightly. In my concert going experience I have seen some spectacular acts. I saw the Beatles on their second USA tour, when you couldn’t hear the music even in an open stadium for all the screaming young women. I saw Jimi Hendrix, who was mesmerizing. I have had the rare experience of seeing Bob Marley on both ends of the tour that started just before Clapton’s version of “I Shot the Sheriff” came out, and while at the first I was but one in a handful of white people and at the latter there were but a handful of black people, he transported both groups somewhere they didn’t know existed.  I have also seen masters of audience control such as Peter Gabriel, and David Bowie and enjoyed intimate moments with groups of thousands with Jackson Browne, who I saw send people home both rocking and crying from the same show.  I have seen Dylan and Donovan, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin before they hit, and Talking Heads play free on the grass at a college campus to promote “Psycho Killer”.  I got to see the Grateful Dead at Red Rocks and Fillmore West.  I saw Darby Crash wear barbed wire instead of a shirt at a Black Flag show in North Hollywood, and Minor Threat play a street show in East LA. I have also seen the power of Bono in giving an arena full a spiritual high.  I was privileged to be among a crowd of about six thousand at the Polo Grounds in Montego Bay when a very young Ziggy Marley led the crowd in a rendition of “Redemption Song”. I have stood in the middle of thousands of people in a Sydney public park singing “Waltzing Matilda” during the 2000 Olympics. So when I say Medicine for the People generate a magic vibe, I have a body of experience and a frame of reference.

Without being heavy, or stereotypical, nor pious or theatrical, the four members of this band make your toes tap, your feet hop, and your heart soar.  They aren’t just up for a party tonight, they are intentionally out to make every day of your life glow with love and joy.  The blend of happy lightness, joyful deep love, clarity of understanding and embrace of our flawed existence pours out in a steady flow.  It isn’t hard to see their audience lighting up from the inside out.

All of this comes while the compositions acknowledge our difficult and challenging context. The world is in conflicts large and small over beliefs, and resources.  Our history is replete with heroic accomplishments and shameful lies and horrific acts. Our nation has been built on duplicity of ideals and denial of them.  Somehow, Nahko tells a personal story that creates a clearing for the healing of this.  Somehow, through this musical medicine, there resonates the possibility that all of this can be resolved.

Mind you, Medicine for the People presented this as the opening act for Xavier Rudd, who himself is a cross cultural musical mash up of the Australian variation. His surf roots spiritual environmental aura, which comes through a bluesy, ethereal slide guitar mellowness is also crossed with a powerful thing he does with a digerdoroo while pounding drums in an ethno-techno effects layered sound barrage that defies the labels used here.  Xavier Rudd, holds a special space. His commitment to saving Australia from becoming a dump for China and the Asian development machine is huge. He carries and honors the indigenous of his nation by performing before their flag. His pumping bass drum and amplified digerderoo physically moves your insides. 

And without minimizing him in any way, the simple fact is that the space he holds for all of Australia and those who resonate with him, pales in comparison to the territory carved out song after song by Medicine for the People.

Between acts I spoke with lots of strangers, all of whom turn out to be in a tribe together. Time after time, people spoke of having their lives changed by listening to Medicine for the People.  Others spoke of knowing how different our world will be once millions have sung along. It isn’t like a hope. It’s expected, and known.  And all done with smiles of love and joyful dance.

It  is early in the arc for this band. They barely have roadies. Nahko cleans up his own gear, and their website sells the CDs along with two styles of t shirts, and a Mission Statement. Their YouTube channel has over a hundred videos which allow you to see the evolution of the songs, the band and Nahko’s distinctive hair cut and tattoos. While there are less than six thousand subscribers, they come from a wide sample of humanity and geography.  

Now it definitely matters how you think of it. You may have to sit up and roll your shoulders back and open your mind as well as your heart. But you want to listen. You want to have them help tune you to your guide inside, as well as tune up your smile and lighten your feet.  

If someone else knew about this, I would want them to tell me. I’m telling you- you are people and this is medicine you want.

Let me also say this- If we are to have a national reconciliation, a moment when we recognize and address the violations of our values that our ancestors have done in building the society we have today, I am certain that the band will play, if not be, Medicine for the People. 


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Spielberg’s ‘Implosion’- Not what you think

Spielberg predicts ‘implosion’ of the movie business?

You may have seen this headline in the last 24 hours.  It isn’t what you think. You are not a A list filmmaker who has had to justify the stories they are passionate about to studio execs. You are a person who has spent a lot more time on YouTube than either of them put together.

Examine what is said in the listening of an A list director, it’s not what the rest of the world- especially the IT or younger entrepreneur generation thinks he is saying. He’s saying that tent pole movies will die when a string of them fails.  For him, that would ‘implode’ the bubble he has to function within as an ‘industry’.  Note he and George’s complaint is that even they have trouble, at least what seems like trouble to them, getting a go ahead.

In the discussion about how someday first run picture tickets will be priced like Broadway show tickets, you can hear the echoes of lunch and dinner conversations of intelligent folks who live inside the boundaries that success in the film industry creates.  Show business references are what is available to them. Actual information age references, not so much.
It makes a great headline, and oh if only Spielberg or Lucas- who for better or worse has sort of put himself  on a shelf) really got it- like in their gut- and demanded a studio start using real network techniques like crowdsourcing among others, to choose what projects to do and what distribution models to experiment with, since they could actually drive such initiatives.

For decades “Hollywood” the industry- not the geography, has had control of it’s audience. When it had total  vertical integration, it told the audience when and where to show up, how much to pay, and it delivered a new product. Even when challenged by technologies like sound, television and the VCR, the industry maintained control of that audience, even while being totally in opposition to it. In every case, the industry ended up profiting, and in the case of home video, developing the single largest piece of it’s revenue pie.

But today, the internet has not only proven to be different, it has given that audience a means to not just see what they want, when they want, but also pay what they want.  Instead of embracing the opportunity to have true relationships with their customers, Hollywood continues to focus on ‘consumers’ and  ‘thieves’.  It has been so attached to it’s incredibly successful window model that it has failed to distinguish why people go to the theaters correctly, and ignore the chance to know which movie to make before spending a dollar (“ Veronica Mars” has already paid for itself) and who will buy the ticket before it’s released.

It wasn’t that long ago that nobody in the business would talk about day and date, and if Steve Jobs hadn’t traded Pixar for the single most influential seat on a studio board, they might not have ever licensed anything to an internet distribution.

It isn’t hard to understand not being able to get Lincoln sold- I mean you know how it ends. “What new angle is there on Lincoln- oh yeah somebody already did Lincoln as vampire killer. What else have you got Steve? “  This is how six figure development execs think, and for good reason. They haven’t embraced any new way to sell using this customer relationship tool called the internet. And while it doesn’t generate much sympathy, it isn’t easy being George or Steve in today’s internet economy.

What Spielberg suggests not that far into his statement, is that the ‘paradigm will change’ when in fact it already has. Hollywood has ceded control of the audience- the internet’s most trusted name in content distribution is YouTube, not Fox or Disney or Paramount or the company that could have taken this title- Sony.

It’s kind of like the dinosaurs saying something is going to happen after the asteroid struck and the greenery is already half gone.

They don’t think the studios are going away, nor do they think day and date is around the corner. Just mega budget movies won’t be the leading form of studio product.  For many in the public and the internet generation, this isn’t an ‘implosion’, just more of the same.

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We care more about our wallets than our hearts

Just watching the President’s statement giving context on the gun violence issue and charging Joe Biden with coming up with a plan of executable action. Every moment of the follow up has been about the ‘fiscal cliff’. Our attention, in the eyes of the media in the room- who allegedly represent their audiences- apparently have no urgency or inquiry about the many issues that addressing gun violence involves. Even when the subject was visited, it was in the context of politics as usual. The President says they will consider ‘even bad ideas’.

So here is mine a decades old thought on what we need to do to keep guns out of the hands of madmen.

Clearly our history and our culture eliminate the possibility of becoming a gun free society. We have to accept that the nation’s current supply of a gun for nearly every man woman and child is not going to be reduced anytime soon. We have to accept that the issues in play in the many mass killings are not going to be resolved simply by eliminating the legal status of automatic or semi automatic weapons. We need to address mental health, competence of those that have guns and access to them, their responsibility in that ownership, education, and cultural influences.

In reflecting on these issues while my own gunshot wound was still fresh ( and 26 years later, everyday I start my get-out-of-bed routine with stretching the muscles scared by it) it was obvious that it isn’t the guns themselves, but the people holding them. Yet the people most often stating the ‘guns don’t kill people’ argument fail to take the equally obvious step of examining who are the people doing the killing, and what can we do to identify and help them before their madness becomes mortal action. Today’s New York Times includes the opinion of someone who has made a study of what is common to those who both kill and kill themselves. We need more real information on how to identify those individuals whose alienation escalates to thinking that killing others is justified by their pain need our love, manifested throughout our society be it family, neighbors, community and government. Why the gun community hasn’t created filtering of its own to prevent these events which challenge their business far more than any gun control legislation, is something I hope the NRA includes in their “meaningful” contribution this Friday. Our inability to care for the mentally ill, much less educate the rest of the populace as to what it is and how to relate and view it instead of stigmatize it, puts our country in the dark ages when it comes to true compassion.

And as a citizen that has seen governments of every view lie and abuse our trust, I fully embrace the concept of being able to organize and resist that abuse, especially as it is articulated in the Second Amendment. For some people, access to the ballot, petition and courts is inadequate. If forming a militia and having weapons is what is required for some to feel their rights are defendable, so be it. If they are truly parts of communities, I am comfortable with their holding whatever arsenal they determine fits for them. Such groups are far more likely to actually train themselves in the care and use of such weapons. Had Adam Lanza lived in such a household, he wouldn’t have had access. His mother’s reported need for self defense would have included a locked gun cabinet. If she wanted a gun bedside, it would have had a trigger lock or been secured against that most common event- someone else finding it and using it against the owner. Sandy Hook’s trail of sorrow and tragedy would have had to begin somewhere else.

At the end of the day we want people who are isolated and likely to generate a violent action to be brought into some community which can give them care. An appropriate gun access law would require that any individual would need to have the approval of those five or eight people they live closest to. If the people most likely to have regular interaction with you don’t think you should have a gun, I don’t either. If you can’t display self control in the ebb and flow of daily life, why would we give you access to the power to kill at a distance? While this creates an obligation upon friends and neighbors, the costs of our current mode of being are high and wide.

Additionally, gun owners need to demonstrate that they keep their weapons secure. The most common death by gunshot is suicide. The benefit of regular mental and physical screening of gun owners would bring many people to care, whenever we as a society decide to provide it, as well as reduce the number of people who use a family member’s weapon to end their life. Gun owners would be exposed and educated to understand the behaviors of their households in the context of mental health.

We also need to include gun education at every level. While I have a past with gunshot wounds, I did not tell my children they couldn’t have them as toys. Instead I was insistent on training them to never point their toy weapon at anything they wouldn’t shoot. If they pretended to shoot the family dog, I would sit them down and walk them through what shooting their beloved pet really meant. I would show them my scar and tell them about the blood and pain that were part of that mark. I would tell them that the only way even an accidental shooting occurs is when people aren’t thinking about the power in their hands, but of some other need. Often this meant upset and tears. When laser tag toys and games became available, we would play them. Paintball was an exciting and vigorous outlet. And each time at the end of play, I would remind them of how unreal such games are- our walking away, however splattered with paint and sweat we might be, we weren’t bleeding, or worse. My favorite martial arts class included a gun take away move and the teacher shared studies on the mental state of people who use guns as opposed to knives, and included language that has been demonstrated to be successful in deflating the circumstances in which guns are drawn.

And we need to make gun violence depictions honest in our culture. Violent movies and television shows make the consequences of such use trivial. The compression of time, the impossible strength and resilience of the characters engaging in violent behavior makes light of the dangers and present unrealistic human models that are as hyperbolic and exaggerated as Barbie dolls present female physiques.

At the same time, I don’t find video games and movies to have hardened my children to violence as much as bad comedy or adult cartoons have numbed them to sexism and racism. Killing zombies in series or mastering the hand eye coordination to take out multiple targets in a single shot hasn’t made my sons think that they should resolve their conflicts with weapons or martial arts. Listening to bad sketch comedy satirize rape has desensitized them. The idea that we must reexamine the first amendment along with the second is a red herring.

Community is where both the ideals of the Second Amendment and protection of our daily lives are addressed. Building the participation of community into gun ownership seems far preferable, and possible than arming everyone, or implementing personal identification technology in triggers. All of the consequences of such action are positive. Just as we screen for early detection of our common cancers, we can use gun access to detect those who are disconnected and serve them while making our streets, and hunting grounds safer.


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Out of old white man body experience

Just Friday I had one of those disorienting, it can’t be happening, yet I’m present, so it must be, experiences. Maybe it was the fact that we were getting real rain- something that hasn’t happened in mid November around here in years- or that my teenage daughter had run one of those ‘you are so insensitive” rants because I had used twelve words, when one would have been more than enough for her sensibilities. It could also have been that I had just come into the locker room at the Y after doing my peak strength exercise with a new weight, and was breathing heavy.

But in hindsight those are routine aspects of daily life. This was something else. As I peeled off my socks, I could swear I heard a conversation about race. I paused to focus on the voices. Yes. Two men it sounded like. One voice said something like “It’s from an old slave song ‘ massa laying in the cold ground’ and the other replying ” you wish”. I sat up.

My Y is fairly small, modest, especially considering it is located solidly in a semi rural community that by real estate, median income, and the letters to the editor in the local weekly can be defined as the one percent. While I have seen black people at the Y, the diversity quotient is low. So this was social, political and geographic displacement.

The voices continued about the failure of the GOP to engage the population as it is, and the unconscious racism apparent in so many statements like ‘take back America”. I got up to go see who this could be in the shower room, talking race in the heart of rich white people land. Two white men. One of them nodded to me acknowledging my entrance. “I just had to see it to believe my ears” I said. “Two white men talking about race.”

“Two old white men” he answered. To which the other said “Surprised?” As I nodded, he asked “maybe we should Google map it.” They went right back to the topic. In short order they had listed a half dozen examples of how GOP politicians, ranging from the Romney campaign down to a local state district, had said things they found racially offensive and insensitive. Two more men walked into this and joined in.

“No wonder they can’t win with only white people” said the first. “They didn’t even get all of those” replied the other. “Lots of rich white people prefer Obama apparently” said one of the originators.

A debate broke out over just how large of our community’s 5800 or so registered voters would have voted for Obama ( estimates ranged from 15 to 40% ) and what the turnout actually was ( over 74% using the eight precincts in the local Fire district –someone had actually looked it up on the county website). Lots of laughter punctuated the disagreements.

Eventually seven men in various stages of undress engaged in this discussion. An eighth, who I know to be a solid GOP man, passed in, showed and out listening but making no comments.

The range of opinion expressed was both dismissive and disrespectful of the authors of such racism, as well as disappointed and lamenting. “I just wish I knew what party I wanted to be a part of now” said one of the joiners. “I liked Ike, but I don’t know if he would even be part of this crowd today”.

As I dressed seated near my locker, another man who had just arrived, paused in the process of unloading his gym bag. “Is that a bunch of white guys talking about racism?” he asked. I nodded. “What do they know?” he laughed.

By the time I had got in my car, I was pretty sure I had been delirious, in some sort of lactic acid/oxygen debt induced hallucination, if only I had worked out that hard. I did a personal inventory. I had forgotten my sunglasses. Back in the locker room, one of the people from my hallucination was just on his way out.
“Say did I just imagine that a bunch of old white guys was in here talking about racism in the campaign?”. He shook his head ‘no’. “Makes me a lot more comfortable coming here” he said as he passed through the exit.

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Which species are we?

Saturday evening, I took my daughter, a recent graduate of the Sustainable Occupations program at Quail Springs, to the benefit for that program at the Marjorie Luke Theater, featuring Van Jones.

He opened with this simple question, suggesting that in this century, humans will decide or demonstrate whether we are locusts, or honey bees. Will we ravage the earth leaving it barren or will we organize and socialize into a contribution to the systems that have provided the platform upon which we have succeeded to this point?

Jones articulates an optimistic compassionate and pragmatic course that focuses on what he calls the “fourth quadrant”. On the continuum of problems/solutions he adds a vertical rich/poor axis, and there on the lower right are the solutions to both our biochemical issues and our economic ones. Only through addressing the employment and nutritional (among others) aspects of this quadrant can we actually expect to succeed in the broader problems of the other three quadrants. So in bringing fresh produce to the urban poor, whether by shifting farmer’s markets there or urban farming, can we have any probability of addressing the issues that challenge the polar bear or the asthmatic. It’s right there on the quadrant chart, believe me.

Other interesting Jones observations- we have a generation of veterans, traumatized by their experience, who are coming home to no jobs, no homes, and no hope. Each month, according to the Army Times last year. 18 veterans commit suicide. There are 950 attempts each month.

Jones presentation was titled, “The Next American Economy”. As he articulates it, it generates independence and freedom at the personal, community and national levels, leveraging markets. Jones says that despite what might be said about him, or more accurately his past, he loves markets.”I would like to see a free market”, in particular in energy. He points out that the petroleum industry receives three multibillion dollar subsidies ( direct, military and tax credits) while the sustainable alternative energy producers fight to get even millions.

So are you a locust, extracting value, excreting toxins, or a honey bee, building, nourishing and enabling the reproduction of the beauty and sweetness all around you?

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Bad boy made good- I already missed Al before he left.

It was a tough weekend in the Bay Area. After the passing of Steve Jobs brought forth grief and praise sufficient to fatigue even those practiced in sorrow, Saturday began with the notice of the passing of Al Davis. Just as Jobs remade the tech world, creating value and wealth for many others, Al Davis did the same in football, not just on the field, but more significantly in the business.

The accounts out so far are glowing, but none that I have seen yet note the actual deeds that made Davis the genius and adversary of so many who had to deal with him. It is easy enough to call him unique because he is the only person in the NFL Hall of Fame to perform all the various duties and jobs that he did. It is another to note the actual actions, ideas and tactical approach that produced the results.

For instance as scout and assistant coach, he was among the first, in those early days of the AFL, to court a college senior and sign them in the first minutes they were eligible to do so. Most notably, Davis had a contract and pen ready for Lance Alworth on the field of the Sugar Bowl when game ended. While still in his Arkansas uniform, Alworth was a professional football player. Davis, known for his loyalty, also inspired it in others. When Alworth, who only played for Davis a year when Davis was the receivers coach in San Diego, was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a stellar career in San Diego and Dallas, it was Davis he asked to introduce him in Canton. Davis introduced more inductees than anyone else so far.

As a coach, Davis was adaptable to his situation, taking the marginally talented Raiders to a 10-4 season his first year, mainly through strategic use of stretching the field, ball control and risk taking defense. His player selection on both sides of the ball in response to his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses continually drove his peers in coaching crazy. His attention to detail, and cultivation of an elaborate information gathering network convinced his foes that he had spies everywhere. In one famous account a Charger head coach was seen screaming in a drain pipe, as if Davis had microphones there.

As a manager, his deft handling of talent, troubled and often outcast, extended if not saved many players careers, often creating triumphs such as Jim Plunkett’s two Super Bowl rings. His coaching and management hires made trends and established notable firsts in race and gender progress in the league. His personal intervention in multiple situations to aid in the health care of others revealed a charitable nature never visible on the field or in a contact negotiation.

Also somewhat neglected was the signature accomplishment of his career, and the foundation of what is now the most dominant and successful sporting enterprise of the last sixty years, the National Football League. The NFL official history starts decades before, but the 800 lb gorilla that is today’s NFL was Davis’s vision and the result of his personal dedication, convictions, and actions over many years. Starting with his time as AFL commissioner, Davis waged a widespread and often personal battle with Pete Rozelle and the owners of the then NFL. Stealing their stars, snatching college stars from under goal posts, and creating or invading the markets before the NFL had thought of them, Davis forced the discussions that led to the merger, even though he originally opposed it. He was sure he could beat those guys.

The result made all of them much richer than they had any possibility of without him. And his work on the various committees, much secretly and behind the scenes continued to make the league more attractive to television and sponsors, continued to add value to their franchises and the league they compose.

I know all this because as the son of a San Diego sports writer, I met Al Davis when I was 7 years old, along with the rest of the then staff of the Chargers, many of which went on to great things themselves. Later, when I was a student at Berkeley, Davis helped me get a job in the business of one of the minority owners of the team, and I had occasional jobs in the press box on game days while I was there. I never spoke with him, nor did I have any inside knowledge or personal contact. I knew to follow his career because after that first meeting, my father had said “that’s one of the sharpest people you could ever meet”. And my father had met a lot a successful people in a variety of fields beyond sports.

In today’s obits you will see it mentioned that his teams won three Super Bowls, and that he fought the NFL over his moving the Raiders to Los Angeles. The story is far richer and deeper. For the last of those championships occurred after the Raiders had moved. The NFL had sued Davis, and over the course of two years the fight was public and bitter, as well as expensive. Davis prevailed in the end, and when his team won the 83 title, in the ceremony after the Super Bowl, there was Pete Rozelle, a man of polish, education, and fine suits, who had fought with all the resources available to him to prevent the merger, and then stop the Raider’s move, presenting the trophy to Al Davis, the man in sweats who had bedeviled him for nearly twenty years.

I have no idea what Al Davis felt was the most satisfying moment of his life. But my favorite memory of him will always be the smile he had on his face that day, and how both men looked each other in the eye. It was the most dramatic trophy presentation I have ever witnessed.

Davis and his team have not faired so well since, although they have been in the Super Bowl in this century. His travails with contracts and coaches (five in six years at one point) as well as the tendency of young pundits to make fun of him as a doddering old fool owner, have obscured the critical contributions he made to the towering institution the NFL has become and is likely to remain well into the future. Everything that Robert Kraft is credited with in the recent negotiation to avoid labor strife, substantial as it was, is but a stripe on the flag that Al Davis stitched together.

It is much easier to imagine a young Steve Jobs out in the world today, dreaming up the next cool tech gadgets, than to see any of today’s sports figures emerging as the next great visionary of their game and its enterprise. There isn’t going to be a ‘next’ Al Davis. The man made his time, and the times he was in, far more than it could have been without him. Whatever is next for the NFL and the Raiders, it can’t be anything as outrageous and extraordinary as those explosive years when a bold young man from New York changed the game and its business. An era is truly over.

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I might be depressed, but I’m not quitting

Just read this Monkeysphere article. The short explanation here is that society doesn’t work, because we can’t really care for more than 150 people at a time. This comes right on top of reading The Benshi essay on “The Nerd Loop” which is about how really smart people are failing to communicate that the biosphere is slowly burning down. Kind of like when the firemen can’t tell you to leave the building because it is burning. Here’s the most depressing science talk I’ve seen . 19 minutes of buzz kill. Combine this with what is on the news, on any Google news summary page, and what my ‘friends’ are posting on Facebook, and it sure seems like it is time to check the emergency supply, clean the guns and set up a perimeter. That requires deciding that you accept the limits of a 150 person tribe, that you reject the possibility that humans can succeed and you and yours aren’t part of anything beyond that perimeter.

So where are people exceeding those limits? Where is society working? Where and what is the work that works? That builds community, stability and prosperity in a way that includes more than 150 people at a time?

If you have a clue send it to me. It’s reinvention time and all suggestions are welcome.

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