Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adorable-ness Break for NYE

I just want to marry both of them.  And be insufferably adorable all the time.  I'd give up snark for that.  Seriously.  I guess I'd have to learn to play Hendrix-style, however.

Happy end-of-2011, beginning-of-2012, everyone.  Big changes are on the horizon--perhaps a new website.  Maybe the Mayan Apocalypse will come, though, and I won't have to deal with it.  Or I'll live-Tweet it.  Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Music Break

Love this song.  Also love the comment on YouTube* at the top: "I fell asleep with this song on and woke up with a beard."

Bonus track, H/T Kai.  The YouTube comment also applies.

*Disclaimer: reading YouTube comments is the most sure-fire way to become convinced that humanity is not inherently good.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Link Day

First, heartening news from the Obama administration!  Secretary of State Clinton announced yesterday that the US government would do more to protect and promote the rights of LGBT(QI...and so on) people around the world.  In remarks to the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council, not to be confused with the UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for gets me every time) Secretary Clinton said: "Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same."  Despite President Obama's caginess on his personal stance on gay marriage, this administration has done a lot for gay rights in the US and, with hope, now abroad as well.  I love you, Hils & Barry!

The SF-based music blog Positive Destruction put together a list of their 15 fave (local) albums of 2011, which include a bunch of sample tracks.  Take a listen--you might find something you like.  Oh, and if you haven't checked it out already, Turntable Kitchen's November Mixtape is pretty awesome.  Come for the surf-canyon-electronica-pop blends, stay for the Eurythmics cover.  Now that I've moved my turntable up from Ojai and (re)cut my teeth on a kickass show from The National (pictured above), I anticipate that this will be an expensive year, music-wise. 

 Courtesy of Pajiba, here's a beautiful series of photos of paint dropped into water.  Jellyfish-explosion hybrids.

I thought I had a bit more than that to share, but with Mercury in retrograde, I can barely focus on anything.  I don't go in for astrology, but after I read up a bit, these past few weeks make so much more sense.  I was contemplating getting checked out for ADD.  There's one more week of this nonsense, so look out.  FYI, I can't really tell if I'm joking about all of this or not. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Adultery Saturdays

New post at Foreign Policy Association on World AIDS Day (it was Thursday).  Kind of failing at (self-imposed) deadlines this week, but so it goes.  I also can't spell the name of the city in which I live, apparently.  Oh well. 

President Obama's speech on Thursday was pretty good.  Check it out:

Happy weekend!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Little More Thacher

My high school (and home), The Thacher School, put together a video of typical Thacher scenes.  As you can gather from the video and from the one I shared a while ago, this is a truly special place, one that had an immense impact on my life.  My love for the outdoors, my intellectual curiosity, and my morals (laugh away) were all honed and cemented while at Thacher. 

Things have changed a bit from my time, however.  The kids seem to play a lot more guitar.  It's strange to see the buildings that feature so prominently in this piece and now in the make-up of the school, the new Lower School and Hill dorms and the Performing Arts Center/Student Building, did not exist when I was a student there.  Although it looks cute to wear a sundress to get your horse from pasture, put on some closed-toe shoes, girl!  If that pony steps on you, it's game over for your foot.  We would've gotten a Saturday or seven of trail crew for that kind of business.  Football wasn't the idyllic past-time it is now--it caused a bit of controversy when it was introduced as a new sport.  And we still had a clay track that was a nightmare to navigate after the rain.  But the shape of the mountains, that golden slant of light, and the sunsets over the Ojai Valley are just the same.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Adultery Wednesdays

So, the Foreign Policy Association had us all write a summary of 2011 and our predictions for 2012 on our particular blogging topics.  This has been weighing on me, but I finally got it done, just before the deadline.  It's here.  I'm by no means an expert, but having strong opinions (the Robinson family motto: Often wrong, never unsure), I had a piece or two to say.  It's a bit long--we also had to give some book recommendations and talk about our fave person from 2011--so buckle in. 

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, so I'll have more to say on Friday, for a regular Adultery Fridays post.  I'll go ahead and say it now: go get tested, friends!  Please take a moment tomorrow to remember the people we have lost to the virus and those who soldier on.  And if you're feeling in any way solvent, donate some cash to a well-deserving HIV/AIDS organization.  There are many.  They do good work.  And with their help, and yours, we could see an HIV-free generation sooner than you'd think.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Glancing Blows

I know I've been out of commission.  There were friends, fish, camping trips, drives to the Southland, and lots of turkey in the way.  Things'll normalize soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spirit Bears, Tar Sands, and Conservation

SPOIL from EP Films on Vimeo.

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival took place two weekends ago.  The film Spoil took home the prize for Best Film - Mountain Environment.  This documentary is an advocacy piece for the conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, which is currently threatened by plans for a tar sands oil pipeline that would put massive oil tankers off the coast.  The film is under forty-five minutes and well worth a look--in the time it takes to kill your brain with The X Factor or Glee (guilty on both counts, don't you worry), you could learn a little something about tar sands and the Great Bear Rainforest, listen to some nice music, and drool over incredible nature footage. 

The film follows the efforts of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) as they put together an environmental campaign to stop the tar sands plans.  Along the way, you'll see the lengths to which nature and wildlife photographers will go for that perfect shot--including tromping around (respectfully) in bear country, dodging spawning salmon, and braving jellyfish stings to the face.  There are otters, bears (my favorite animal), wolves, whales and plenty of gorgeous forest and ocean shots.  It's worth a watch for the natural eye candy alone--put it in full screen for the best effect.

The film also discusses the importance of the area to the Gitga' First Nation, whose members guide the iLCP photographers and take a few nice photos along the way as well.  The Gitga Nation opposes the oil pipeline, which endangers their livelihood.  The coastal waters through which the supertankers must navigate are treacherous.  In one poignant scene, the director chose to compare maps between the "relatively easy" route of the Exxon Valdez and the proposed channel for the new tar sands pipeline, which requires five angled turns to the Exxon Valdez's one.  We all know how that story turned out--and these new supertankers will carry almost ten times as much oil.  Tar sands extraction is also extremely damaging to the environment.  Of course, big bucks are at stake--this project is meant for foreign export, mostly to China.  The discussion of this BC oil proposal makes the Keystone XL Pipeline, a joint Canadian-American project currently on hold (thanks for something, Obama!) look like an even stupider idea.  An oil spill in this area, or in any area, would be catastrophic, as we have seen only too recently. 

It becomes clear over the course of the film that the real star of Spoil, however, is the Spirit Bear--a black bear with a recessive gene that turns its coat white.  Spirit Bears are important to the Gitga' and a tourist attraction for the adventure travel crowd.  National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen heads out with local guide Marven Robinson, who has been around bears for many years and knows some of them from when they were cubs.  After twelve days of searching, they come across a white bear, who passes within two feet of them.  Nicklen described how close they came: "You could smell his breath, you could look into his eyes."  In the end, it is this moving encounter (yeah, I cried a little bit) that gives the greatest argument for protecting and conserving this unique area. 

If you're interested, you can see National Geographic's coverage from its August issue: Spirit Bears, Paul Nicklen's photos, and more on the BC tar sands project.  If you can't see the film at the top, you can go here.  If you think you'll dig the films from Banff, check out their awards page for more films or the schedule for their world tour.  And if you'd like to get involved, visit

Friday, November 11, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New post at Foreign Policy Blogs, on World Pneumonia Day. 

It's another cold, rainy Friday in SF...Although I belatedly realized that the building has turned on our heaters, which would have saved me a lot of shivery, two-blanket grief, as a Southern Californian, all I can say is that it's icky.  And unnatural.  OK, it's not that bad.  I did spend a good portion of yesterday outside at the Wave Organ.  Which is awesome.  If you can find it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Police Violence: Occupy Berkeley

A new video (warning: it's intense) has surfaced showing police violently confronting a peaceful group of UC Berkeley students at Occupy protests on campus.  I really don't understand why the Cal administration or the city of Berkeley thought that it was a good idea to have the police there at all.  The Huffington Post has a little more.  This video, along with a sound bite of kids chanting "stop beating students" probably isn't a great PR move for UC Berkeley, Berkeley PD, or the city.  The video shows the lengths that a (self-styled "liberal") university will go to to control its students and the messages discussed on its campus and demonstrates that even in a higher learning setting, where all ideas and viewpoints should be given air time and free speech and expression celebrated, there is a real fear of actually letting students have their say.  What are you afraid of, UC Berkeley?

In my experience at a similarly "radical" university (I take pride in having attended "University of Havana, North," with all of the "fascist liberal anarchists," though not the actions that led to Bill O'Reilly calling us those things), security and the administration set up a lot of hoops to jump through before protests were allowed.  In one case, it was easier to get a permit from the City to protest on Broadway than to get permission to have a peaceful assembly on campus (against an appearance by John Ashcroft).  Following racist and homophobic events on campus, students were given permission to occupy one of the central lawns my senior year--poor kids were freezing, but it was all very calm and polite.  At the time, it was a pretty big deal that a tent city was allowed, but it was allowed.  Despite these restrictions, the NYPD was not allowed on campus, unless investigating felonies, after the police brutality during the 1968 anti-war protests put 150 students in the hospital.  So, a chilling of free speech on campus, but at least a pretty strong guarantee that the university wouldn't call in the cops to hit us with truncheons.

I've embedded the video from Berkeley's not Tarantino-levels of bloody (or anything close to Chicago '68, Columbia '68, etc.), but I found myself a bit shaken, mostly out of shock that this was allowed to happen.  Universities must protect their students.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy Oakland: More Context

I wrote about the Occupy protests last week and condemned the violence and vandalism committed by a few protesters.  I also briefly mentioned the brutality committed by the Oakland Police Department against Occupy protesters. There was an interesting op-ed today in The New York Times by Oakland resident and author Ishmael Reed.  It gives a little context to the anger of some Oakland protesters by discussing the long history of excessive force and brutality committed by the OPD.  Reed also unpacks the implications of race and local vs. "outsider" (perceived or actual) in the protests.  It's worth a read, and I think it adds another dimension to Occupy Oakland. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Well, Hello There, Cape Town

The trailer for Safe House, the Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds CIA thriller, is out.  It was filmed on-location in Cape Town while I was living there, and a few friends (not me) spotted the two stars around town, on and off set.  All I experienced were massive traffic jams during day and night shoots around the city.  However, I'm pretty excited to see how the Mother City is portrayed on film, even if it looks like CT and its denizens play a back-seat role to the action.  Oh well.  Baby steps.  I'm sure it brought much-needed revenue to the city, maybe employed a few people as extras and on the crew, and doesn't appear to portray South Africa in a negative light...just the CIA.  Also, maybe I'm biased, but this looks like a better vehicle for Reynolds that some of his recent action outings, and I'm hoping this is a return of the not-quite-good-not-quite-bad Denzel character, as opposed to the hero-of-various-train-situations one (Training Day--OK, he was all bad in that one, but so good--vs. Pelham 123 or Unstoppable).  Add Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga, and Brendan Gleeson to the mix, and I'm feeling pretty good.

H/T Kai.  Thanks, friend!

Glancing Blows

Friday, November 4, 2011

Adultery Fridays

It's freezing, I'm tired, and I've been dealing with computer problems all day as I've tried to transfer files from my 2004 PowerBook G4 (yes, the one that's so old it has the round charger pin) to my brand-new baby...I mean...MacBook Pro.  The G4 is so old that it can't even consistently power a 500GB external hard drive (or that's my current theory), so I'm moving all my files piecemeal.  On top of that, the neighbors continue with their loud and never ending renovations.  Which equals grumpiness.

I managed to pound out a global health post over at Foreign Policy Blogs, however, on crowdsourcing HIV/AIDS (yes, we're both old school and cutting edge around here), how genetically modified mosquitoes are probably going to kill us all (or something), and the total complete crapfest that was the G20 summit.  Sidenote: President Obama: you cracked your gum in a meeting with David Cameron?  Really? Really?  After all of that depressing malarkey, combined with my horror that it is November, a recent reminder that every pound of conventional cotton requires a pound of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and defoliants, and my concern over the general state of the world and of humanity, I am going to go watch "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and not think about anything.

Update, 10:15pm: OK, so now I've got Migration Assistant running.  Which is lovely, and I am a moron for assuming that Apple wouldn't make an intuitive system for transferring files...except it's saying it'll take 105 hours.  Hmm.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupying Hearts and Minds

Screen shot:Two weeks of Occupy Oakland
Photo courtesy of Heart of Oak, CC BY 2.0.
I've struggled to write about the Occupy protests.  Not because I don't support in their message, nor because I believe protesting is wrong.  On the contrary, I think we need to make fundamental changes to our financial, commercial, political, and social systems, and the amendment I most strongly support is the right to free expression.  I've done on-the-street, yelling-with-a-sign activism.  I've marched in Washington and New York against the war in Iraq and the actions of the Bush administration.  I've spoken into a megaphone in front of a crowd of several hundred decrying the policies of the Justice Department under John Ashcroft.  I've lead a 24-hour reading of George Orwell's 1984 to draw attention to warrant-less wiretapping and other violations of privacy through the National Security and PATRIOT Acts (also under the Bush Administration). Activism gave me direction and focus during a dark period in American history. 

I put that behind me during my senior year in college.  I had a difficult time, as I was not-quite-centrist enough for the Democrats on campus and too centrist for the other Leftist groups.  And, honestly, I got screwed over from both sides before I took off for Senegal second semester junior year.  Furthermore, I found that anti-war marches were mixed-bag affairs, with every left-leaning issue represented by a different sign, slogan, or color.  Environmentalists calling for more attention on global warming.  Anarchists with masks (though not in New York City, where masks are illegal).  Communists calling for class warfare and insisting on tedious collective meetings.  Pro-Palestine groups.  PETA.  Feminists.  And so on.  They weren't all there to protest the war: they had their own agendas.  This made for a disparate, muddled message.  And it still does.  The most all-encompassing and typical Occupy protest poster I've seen said: "I am very upset."  Sometimes I feel that protest is only a way to look cool, or to feel supported in an idea, and not to change policy: it certainly didn't stop George W. Bush.

I approached the Occupy protests with apathy, caution, and hope.  It's hard for me to feel that anything can be accomplished these days, that a bunch of left-leaning protesters can actually do something to influence the political debate.  I've tried (perhaps not hard enough) to make a difference, and I left activism feeling burned and bruised by my government, fellow activists, and student politicians.  President Obama's term has crushed me even further than the Bush Administration, when I felt that I could  protest, if that makes sense.  Being out of the country for almost three years also left me disconnected from any political process--the problems in the foreign countries in which I lived were not my fault nor my responsibility, and I couldn't do anything while abroad about the issues at home.  I was afraid of being disappointed again (and still am), so I've avoided taking a position on Occupy.  I just don't have the heart to get out in the streets anymore.

Then the protests gathered steam and spread around the world.  I felt a bit more optimistic about their role, about their potential.  The police action in Oakland last week was wrong and very poorly handled, as are most police actions in Oakland.  It made me angry.  Occupy Oakland in many ways revived the movement and my feelings about it.  Then, the Oakland march and general strike took place yesterday.  That went off well, with little incident in daylight hours.  During the night, however, more radical Occupy supporters set fires, broke windows, scattered trash, and threw bottles at police.  I'm not sure if self-identified anarchists are these "more radical" protesters, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.  They tend to ruin the fun for everyone. The police have claimed that protesters also threw Molotov cocktails and Roman candles, though I can't find any clear video evidence.  You can draw your own conclusions here and here (by the way, I love the Allen Ginsberg "America when will you be angelic?" poster--only in the Bay).  There are also some incredible photos here, including a shot of 92-year-old Pete Seeger, still takin' it to the streets.  I love that man.

Whether or not there were Molotov cocktails involved (which is well beyond the pale for me), actions such as throwing objects at the police, setting fires, and breaking windows are over the line.  I am also sick of seeing acquaintances on Facebook post about the need for violence and armed struggle on "behalf of" the ninety-nine percent or arguing that pacifism is no longer an acceptable form of protest.  Violence is not an acceptable means of protest in this case, or in most cases (if you're the French Resistance, then we can talk).  Violence and destruction of property delegitimize an otherwise peaceful and rational movement and only provide fodder to opponents.  On which do you think Fox News would focus the most attention: a peaceful assembly or a small group of rock-wielding morons? 

I think that the Occupy protesters have every right to do as they please as long as they are peaceful.  I fully agree that we must make drastic shifts to our overarching systems.  But the protests will not succeed if they allow violence and destruction of property to continue.  There is a legitimate place for civil disobedience and passive resistance, for instance, the occupation of government-owned property and symbols of corporate greed, such as banks.  It's breaking the law, but if you're willing to go to jail or face legal action for your cause, more power to you.  That's not a choice I would make anymore (my seventeen-year-old self would hate me).  Often, these actions are not in any way passive, even if their authors are peaceful, and draw attention and support to an issue.  I hate to bring up the Civil Rights movement because it feels so clichĂ©, but the Woolworth's sit-in did exactly that. Putting police, fellow protesters, and passers-by at risk of injury, however, is unacceptable and only plays into the hands of opponents of the Occupy movement.

Update, like 10 mins later: Great little bit here from SF Weekly on protesters who tried to stop vandalism and violence.  Good to see.

To end on a lighter note, and so all you anarchists out there don't think I dislike you or think you don't have a sense of humor, here's one of my favorite songs.  The accompanying photo montage is a little...earnest (and was not assembled by the band) but I love the cleverness of the lyrics.  I also know how to play it on the guitar.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween in Lo-Fi

There are Hipstamatic/iPhoneography haters out there.  That's OK, I get it.  I don't own a lomography camera, I haven't taken an actual film-film photo in a long while (though that will change soon...I'm going to gather up my old Minolta from Ojai on my next trip down the coast), and it's kind of cheating to use a program that does it all for you.  It's also a ton of fun to use apps like Hipstamatic.  And it requires some expertise, as you will see from the washed-out, weirdly lit, and otherwise amateur shots below.  I'm getting better at it.  However, on Halloween, when everyone (/many adults) have had a bit too much to drink, have spent too much time sweating their make-up off, and are fighting a food/sugar coma, it's better to do things old-school.  With an iPhone.  No hi-def, ultra-pixelated for us.  Haven't you seen the 30 Rock with the HD camera (sorry, no link, go watch episode seven, season four)?  So, in closing, I don't care.

In the following images, you will see two Jeff Lebowskis (with Caucasians), a number of characters from Wet Hot American Summer, views from a Russian Hill rooftop, a one-percenter lurking in the background ("But I have yacht payments!"), a jeans-into-jorts incident, a honey dadger (she don't care), and Egon Spengler, Ghostbuster.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New Foreign Policy Association post, on polio.  We've reduced the number of polio cases by 99% and eradicated the disease in all but seven countries (with a few cases here and there elsewhere). Take a look--it's a short read.  And yes, I opportunistically used the "we are the 99%" thing.  I'm not sorry.

In other news, my neighborhood is really into Halloween, and lots of houses have gone all-out with decorating.  It probably helps to have a huge, creepy Victorian mansion.  One of my neighbors has a whole ghost-and-tombstone display out, including a bloody, severed foot coming out from under a planter.  Every time I see that plastic foot, my heart leaps a little bit.  It's pretty darn realistic.  So, good on you, unknown neighbor, for scaring the crap out of me almost every day. 

Have a happy (and safe!) Halloween weekend.  I might take my camera around with me...we'll see how it goes.  If I do, I promise to post a shot or two next week. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

 Being unemployed sometimes has its perks.  Such as mid-week trips to Muir Woods.  Before loggers put cutting implements (saws?  axes?  large machines that are possessed by the spirit of pollution, which sounds alarmingly like Tim Curry?) to trunk in California, there were two million acres of old-growth redwood forest.  Now, little remains.  The area that became Muir Woods National Monument was left alone due to its inaccessible location, and it was purchased by William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent (who must, according to a quick Google search, be an actual Thacher).  Today, Muir Woods is a major tourist attraction, and even on a cold and foggy Thursday lunchtime visit, it was packed. 

 I snapped a quick iPhone photo of the bridge in fog as my friend Sabrina drove us over.  

The tallest tree is over 252 feet, and the widest trunk is 14 feet.  The oldest redwoods in the park are over a thousand years old, with most of the mature trees aged between five and eight hundred years. 

 It's dizzying to be among such tall living things, especially ones that feel so primeval.  Stepping back into the land of dinosaurs, or something.  It can be a very reverential experience--when you manage to escape screaming children and clamorous tourists (note: it's not just Americans who are loud...I won't name names, mais vous connaissez qui vous ĂȘtes).

Fog is an important part of a redwood's viability, since it provides moisture in the summer months, condensing on the tree's needles and falling to the forest floor.  This makes it dark and damp down where we tread.  Moss grows like muppet fur on tree trunks and strange mushrooms sprout in many colors.  Some of them looked delectable.  Others, like these blue-tinged ones, did not. 

We kept thinking about ET.  I wish I'd had some Reese's Pieces.

Yep, the trees are big. (And yep, I'm a huge dork.)

 The foliage of the deciduous trees (as opposed to the Sequoia sempervirens) was starting to turn and fall. 

When informed that the grove would be named for him, John Muir wrote: "This is the best tree-lover's monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.  You have done me great honor, and I am proud of it."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New post up at the Foreign Policy Association.  I tackle malaria, mental illness, and female genital cutting (or mutilation).  Don't worry, it's actually kind of uplifting...relative to the subject matter.

Next week, I'll try to do a post on the Occupy protests, and I'll definitely write about my visit to Muir Woods and Sausalito with the incomparable Sabrina.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Because You're On Television, Dummy

I've been struggling with how to write about the Occupy protests--this was originally meant to be a post about them, but it got out of hand.  So I'll save that for a later date--maybe tomorrow, maybe next week.  I just finished watching one of my favorite films, Network.  It was released in 1976, directed by Sidney Lumet, and won three Oscars for acting (Faye Dunaway, Best Actress; Peter Finch, Best Supporting Actor; Beatrice Straight, Best Supporting Actress; with another win for screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky).  It's a hell of a film--and perhaps one that doesn't get as much appreciation as it is due.  There are aspects of it that are dated, of course (unless you lived through it or are a history dork, the "Ecumenical Liberation Army" storyline might make you feel somewhat lost, for example), but it really struck a chord with me today.   

Network tells the story of the fictional UBS television network during the recession and social upheaval of the mid-1970s.  The news division is in trouble, losing more money than it makes, and anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is fired for low ratings.  He announces on-air that he'll commit suicide during his show the following week.  UBS executives allow him to stay on when his ratings spike, as the "mad prophet of the airwaves" who rails against the media and big business, and Beale loses his grip on reality.  Behind the scenes, UBS executives, members of the board, and executives from the conglomerate that owns UBS conspire to get better ratings for the ailing network, at any cost.

According to IMDB (if such sources can be believed), Chayefsky and Lumet meant for the film, which is dubbed a satire, to be a depiction of what was actually happening.  And what is still happening.  It's a chillingly accurate characterization of today's media and today's mindset.  As Aaron Sorkin said (he also cited Network in his Oscar acceptance speech; skip to 2:00), "If you put it in your DVD player today you'll feel like it was written last week...The commoditization of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write 'The Internet.' "  The link above with the Sorkin quotation comes from a New York Times article about screenwriter Chayefsky and gives a very informative overview of his thinking while writing Network and the film's relevancy today.

This is a seriously great movie.  I can't overstate that.  For the love of Bob, please go see it.  Admittedly, there's a lot of yelling.  But that's part of what makes it great--scene chewing (in a good way) from some of the best actors of all time--William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight, Robert Duvall, and so on.  There are a number of great scenes, such as Finch/Beale's rant about the importance of independent media (and lack thereof) and Ned Beatty (as the chair of the conglomerate that owns UBS) ranting about the one system that runs the world: money.  But below is the piece that most spoke to me.  It's arguably the most famous scene of Network, one that's been borrowed, cribbed, and outright stolen over the past thirty-five years.

It's eerie, isn't it?  Doesn't it feel like the message the Occupy folks are yelling about every day?  This was done thirty-five years ago, and it's just as relevant as it was then.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New post over at The Foreign Policy Association. Good and bad news for HIV/AIDS. It's always the case, isn't it? I'm picking this out in my new favorite cafe in Cow Hollow. Fortunately, Justin Timberlake hour is over and we've moved on to Etta James. A sparkling water, a sister with outlines to write, and gorgeous you-only-get-this-in-California weather. Working my way through The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is horrifying, inspiring, and slightly obnoxious all at the same time. It's always the case, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Can Be My Wingman Anytime: Fleet Week Photos

Every Columbus Day weekend, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard send their ships, planes, and sailors to San Francisco.  Although it gives the men and women in uniform a well-deserved chance to blow off steam in the original city of sin (trust me, you can find weirder stuff here than Las Vegas), it's also a blatant attempt to recruit more bodies for the military.  Apart from the political, social, environmental, etc. implications of Fleet Week (I won't do it today), it's a lot of fun.  And crowded.  The air show and rehearsals over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday culminate in demonstrations from the Blue Angels and besiege the city with earsplitting, window-rattling, car-alarm triggering fly-bys for four hours or so each day.  It's incredibly obnoxious (and slightly unsettling) when you're not watching the planes but awe-inspiring when you are.  I want to share a few of the photos I took while watching the air show on Saturday with friends, who were kind enough to bring a grill and delicious grub.  You have to have a much better camera than mine to really do it justice, but it was pretty darn cool. 

The opening planes, with patriotic jet trails.

Beautiful weather meant that a lot of people came out to watch.

 The support plane for the Blue Angels, making a low pass over the Bay.

 The Blue Angels' finale. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New (short) post up at the Foreign Policy Association.  I am seriously pissed off about the US foreign aid budget.  Not that anything new has happened, mind you.  The New York Times decided to write about it this week, so everyone started talking about it again.  Dark days, my friends. 

It's Fleet Week in SF (I am somewhat afraid to go to the Castro in this post-DADT world...or so very curious), so there are planes all up in our business.  Setting off car alarms as they buzz by, barrel rolling overhead.  It's kind of cool to watch--you can't help but have respect for someone with the balls (ladies too!), skill, and strong stomach to fly a jet.  It's also a bit scary: although I knew the planes were here for Fleet Week, I still got a little knot of worry. Welcome to life during the War on Terror, I guess.  And, on top of cool and scary, it's also infuriating: how much money gets spent on freaking jets when there are starving kids in Africa, et cetera?  You know the drill.  I won't do the whole thing here.  Plus it's a lot of macho BS posturing, a little weenie shaking for a nation that keeps screaming it's the best but feels, well, woefully inadequate.  I'm going to go watch Top Gun, stare at some gentlemen in uniform (they're EVERYWHERE), and see how I feel.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hardly Strictly

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was last weekend.  The festival, which is free, started in 2001 and has expanded over the years to include more than just bluegrass acts (the "Hardly" was added later).  Over 600,000 people thronged to Golden Gate Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  It was one of those special events where, despite the terrible crowds, everyone was relatively calm, relaxed, and happy.  No, it's not pleasant to feel like you live in a tube of toothpaste.  But it was worth that crushing feeling to hear incredible music.  I spent most of the time wandering on my own, though I did manage to meet up with some friends, which was nearly impossible given the circumstances.  You'll be able to suss that out on your own in the following photos.

 People had wonderful outfits, like this gentleman in a rose and pistol shirt.  I saw him at Robert Plant & the Band of Joy's set and the next day, in the exact same outfit, at Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. 

One woman helped a friend with her dreads at Band of Heathens.

 I loved this guy's hat.  And he loved Robert Plant. 

This woman had a great patchwork Earth Mother dress.  She was selling headbands, like the one she's wearing, to festival goers.  And making a tidy profit, I think.  Woodstock for the Consumer Generation.  Not everyone appreciated the hippies, but others marveled at the festival, which felt like a throwback to the Summer of Love.  With more dogs and fewer people tripping on acid (I think).  One guy looked around and smiled, saying "People are drinking PBR and listening to Robert Plant...It could be forty years ago."

The Gaia-Hawker had a stranger hold her parasol as she made a sale.  He looked pretty pleased (seriously).

Of course, no concert in SF is complete without matching tie-dye.

Or massive numbers of bikes.

The weather threatened to be wet and cold, as it was the previous year, but it was beautiful out.  Just enough cloud cover so you didn't roast.

Did I mention that it was crowded?

 Without much of a plan for the earlier shows on Saturday, I checked out Band of Heathens, mostly because I liked their name.  They turned out to be a sick, old-school rock n roll n blues band from Austin.  They ushered in (and greeted) the sunshine, though they had to break for a quick guitar re-tune as the weather warmed.  They ended with a slow, more countrified version of Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace" in homage to that San Francisco sound.  Pretty brave, if you ask me, but they pulled it off.

 Then I fought my way over to see Hugh Laurie, otherwise known as Dr. Gregory House.  Although I'm often dubious of actors who try to be musicians (I'm looking at you, Scarlett Johansson), Mr. Laurie is a serious and legitimately good musician.  He did old blues, gospel, spirituals, and Southern standards, from "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" to "Swanee River" (of the latter, he said he plays it to "exorcise the demons"--I'm not sure what that means, but perhaps he just wanted to acknowledge the racist history of the song...or I could be way off-base).  Apart from being hilarious, he killed it.  It helped that he had a great band, of which he said: "They are the Rolls Royce, and I'm the Spirit of Ecstasy on the hood."  You could tell he was stoked to be doing this--when opening his set, he exclaimed (if Hugh Laurie can exclaim), "This is the most exciting day of my life."  He also continually referred to the audience as "Bob" and ended by saying, "I'm starting to like you, Bob.  I'm going away from here with a firm message: Bob is great."  Mr. Laurie, so are you.

 At this point, I managed to find one of my childhood friends (hey Melissa!) and her crew.  A few of us fought our way back over to see Patty Griffin, one of my all-time favorite singers.  We didn't end up in a great spot--it was too crowded and I needed garlic fries--but her voice sort of floated out over the crowd, like a ghost, ethereal.  She brought out Robert Plant for a number (she sings with him for the Band of Joy).  She's just wonderful.

My final concert was Gillian Welch & David Rawlings.  They mostly did stuff from their new album, The Harrow & the Harvest, and all of it was great.  There's nothing really more to say--they're two of the best bluegrass/folk/Americana/etc. musicians working today.  I thought of a dear friend during "Look at Miss Ohio" (hey Mel-Mel!), one of my favorite songs ("I wanna do right / But not right now").  Ms. Welch promised to "learn a fancy dance step for next time," and attempted a kick-step she hadn't quite mastered.  Before singing "The Way the Whole Thing Ends," she said, "I have this fixation.  I can't seem to get the word 'cornbread' out of my head," hence the lyrics: "That's the way the cornbread crumbles / That's the way the whole thing ends."  To end, in another nod to San Francisco's musical contributions, they covered Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."  Grace Slick was one of the queens (the "Acid Queen," to be precise) of late 60s rock (we will ignore the Jefferson Starship "We Built This City" abomination...ugh), and to cover one of her songs is courageous, especially given her unique voice.  But it was a triumphant gamble, and I left the festival buoyant and smiling.  

To close, I'd like to talk about my first set, Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, who played on Friday night.  I went to HSB on Friday specifically to hear the former lead singer of Led Zeppelin.  I've seen a few (once) great rock acts over the years: Bob Dylan (three times, all wonderful), the Rolling Stones (once, still good but a shadow of former times), the Who (I don't think that energy can be captured anymore...and if they're not smashing guitars, what's the point?), and Simon & Garfunkel (still LOVE them).  So I thought knew what to expect with Mr. Plant: a crowd-pleasing set with little innovation (Stones, Who) and/or an unrecognizable voice who can't capture that former glory (MAYBE Dylan if he weren't still putting out awesome records...but I'll concede he's very froggy).  At the start, it was a combination of both: he opened with "Black Dog," which was risky: it requires pitch-perfect vocals and a face-melting guitar that's just impossible to replicate without Jimmy Page.  He then went into a number of covers and allowed his talented band--including Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin--to take over here and there, which was a smart move.  Mr. Plant was also genius in using Ms. Griffin to hit the notes he no longer can and in shifting to slower, more bluegrassy/Americana Led Zeppelin standards (i.e., less rock guitar heavy songs), like "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Ramble On."  They ended with rollicking versions of "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" and "Gallows Pole" as a waxing crescent moon sunk low in the West.  The perfect way to start a weekend of exceptional music.