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 êtes).

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.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Steve Jobs died today.  The obituaries (carefully written years ago and periodically updated), old features, and unflinching profiles have been circulating around the Internet.  There's no denying that Jobs was a controversial figure, but he was also one of the most influential people of my generation, of my own life.  This may be incorrect, but I think my generation has been the first to grow up and be educated in the Digital Revolution.  We had personal computers in our homes, something that was almost inconceivable in previous decades.  I learned to use computers on what must have been a Mac II, which looked like something out of Star Wars--boxy, futuristic in a dated way, sort of beige-ish.  I'm writing this now on my 2004 PowerBook 15-inch, which has survived two separate water spilling incidents, several cross-country and trans-Atlantic moves, and a strange and unfortunate infestation by tiny ants in Sierra Leone.  The iPod Classic freed me from my cumbersome CD collections.  The iPhone has kept me from getting lost over the past three months or so and has allowed me to explore San Francisco in ways I never thought possible.  And so on.  Without Macintosh, I don't know what my life would be like. That sounds a bit dramatic, but it's true.

I've come across four interesting articles on Steve Jobs today that offer different perspectives on the man.  His 1985 interview in Playboy (don't worry, it's safe for work) studies the young entrepreneur and explores his views on excellence, design, and innovation.  One great moment details his time at a birthday party for a nine-year-old.  He gave the boy a Mac for his birthday and spent the evening teaching him to use it, unfazed by the presence of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.  When asked why he seemed more at ease with a kid (side note: I wish that were MY ninth birthday party!), he responded: "Older people sit down and ask, 'What is it?' but the boy asks 'What can I do with it?'"  In a 2008 profile in Esquire, Tom Junod looks at Jobs' control-freak nature and the pall of mortality that tinged Apple in the wake of his cancer diagnosis in 2004.  Delving more into the inner, perhaps subconscious, motivations of the adopted Jobs, Junod does not flinch away from showing the ugly sides and the contradictions of Jobs' persona.  In The New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin talks about Jobs' lack of (public) philanthropy--I can only hope that he left a sizeable amount of his $8.3 billion to a good cause or causes, or that his family starts a foundation.  Finally, a short piece from Ken Auletta in The New Yorker today discusses his legacy.  The article mentions his commencement speech at Stanford, which I have embedded below. 

Mr. Jobs, you were not an easy man, and you did not choose an easy path.  You lived a contradictory existence--you could mention traveling through India, Bob Dylan, and the Whole Earth Catalog and at the same time be the man who could call some of his own employees "fucking losers" and had little interest in giving back.  Your vision was extraordinary.  Your humanity was flawed.  Thank you for all that you've done.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Taste of Home

There's a new video up on Nowness, a "luxury storytelling" site owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, that shows a sort of everyday experience of the Thacher School, where I grew up and attended high school.  It's by Lisa Eisner.  Although it's a bit earnest (the photo on the home page of the Thacher site, with the kid ring spearing with his tongue out is maybe more typical), it captures the beauty of Ojai, the bond between horse and rider, and the stillness I got to experience everyday exploring trails and practicing Gymkhana with my horse, Shara.  It makes me yearn for home and ache to ride again.  I miss that companionship, both human and equestrian, and the serenity that those afternoons afforded.

Thacher: Frontier Schooling from Lisa Eisner on

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Adultery Sundays

I did write a global health post on Friday; I just didn't get around to sharing it until today.  I discuss the outcome and results of the UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (preview: they were disappointing). 

I'll be posting soon on the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, at which I spent some time this weekend.  I saw Robert Plant, Band of Heathens, Hugh Laurie, Patty Griffin, and Gillian Welch.  So, I'll share some highlights and photos this week.

Grace gave me permission to share her and Dan's wedding video, so if you're interested, take a look.  It was a beautiful ceremony and a kick-ass party.  The prep was a lot of fun too--if busy and hectic.  All around, so full of joy.

Grace & Dan 1 of 2 from Kellen Keene on Vimeo.