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Swami's view through car window

Friday, September 30, 2011

Nobody's fault but mine

More black lung, please.

The GOP is increasingly looking more and more like the anti human, corporate stooge party. From the HuffPo:

In the realm of mine safety, the  (new house) budget would prevent the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from tightening coal dust regulations to curb the number of miners suffering from black lung disease. For over a decade the labor department has been working to lower the amount of respirable coal dust legally allowed in a mine's atmosphere, a move the coal lobby has opposed. The Republican budget would stop any such rule changes in their tracks.


"It's something that's certainly needed," Tony Oppegard, an attorney and mine safety advocate, previously told HuffPost when discussing the MSHA rule. "And the coal industry is crying about it."


In a statement, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, made no apologies for blocking the rules, saying that the budget plan would help to "invest in people by freeing them from stifling government regulatory burdens that replace productivity with paperwork."


"By spending tax dollars strategically," Rehlberg said, "we can balance critical funding for programs that actually help people and families with the real need to rein in government over-spending."

***

House Republicans once again are threatening to cut funding to National Public Radio. I was listening to a great story about the Brooklyn Dodgers on KPBS this morning, thinking how wonderful it was to have a news source without a corporate agenda. Of course it is a threat to the right, who see liberal bias behind every lamp post like Don Quixote. I think that public radio is a great forum for so many non political programs that I enjoy, it will be a shame if they are finally able to kill and defund it.

***

Libertarian godhead Ron Paul was on defense last week after he was confronted with the fact that one of his principal aides had died sick without health insurance, about 400k in the hole, a debt that his mother now is responsible for and is passing the hat around to cover. The aide had a preexisting condition and couldn't get a policy. Paul thinks that mandatory health insurance cuts into America's freedoms.

Campaign Manager Kent Snyder, the "driving force behind his election campaign" was only 49 when he died from viral pneumonia in 2008.

At the debate Paul said,"That's what freedom is all about: taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody ..." before he was cut off by the wild partisan applause. Paul explained later that Snyder was never denied care at the hospital.

What makes it doubly tragic is that Paul is too stupid to see that we all are going to have to pay for the unpaid medical bill, in the form of higher premiums for the rest of us.

***

I got to pull for the Milwaukee Brewers in the playoffs. When was the last time Milwaukee smelled a division title, the 1950's with Aaron, Spahn and Matthews? They are due.

***

Why is my wife making me eat all this cantaloupe?

***

I am actually sick as a dog tonight. Felt lousy for two days and it is getting worse. No picnic in the best of circumstances, I am a real pain when I am ill. Had to see my tax guy this morning and ran over to La Especial Norte for chicken soup but even that couldn't do the trick.  Hope that I can turn it around soon. Started out as a head cold but getting more and more like the flu. Too much stress of late.

***

Of course I have friends who are really sick. My friend S told me today that she has skin cancer of the leg that the insurance is refusing to pick up because it is not on her face. Nasty squamous carcinoma. She is going to lose a chunk. Why the hell won't the bastards cover it? Wishing her the best. M has a gluteal cyst that is no fun either and has turned into a fistula. These are truly the glory years, aren't they?

***

Read practically any 18th and 19th century book and you would realize that any person the north side of fifty is positively ancient so I guess we greybeards should all feel lucky.

***

The Blast would like to send condolences to my good pal Michael Loughlin, in regards to the death of his brother Robert, the New Jersey artist who was run down crossing the street to take care of some kittens in North Bergen. He was a very famous painter and picker, responsible for "the brute" which I show at left. Loughlin is survived by his partner of 31 years, Gary.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bears - Quicksilver Messenger Service

Blind woman tasered

Cops behaving badly

Jurors call bullshit - Los Angeles Times.

FBI calls Bullshit, too. WaPo

 "You see my fists? Now they're getting ready to fuck you up." Fullerton cop charged with murder.

Police brutality, New York Edition.

Don't forget Gardena.

Rocky Mountain Style.

Even the lady cops get in on the fun.

Cornfed Justice.

Tasered in the Showme state. "We wanted to keep him from getting hurt..."

Eve 2012 Barry McGuire


Ida Griffin thought you might like this and sent it over.

Manny G sends over this one.

And Hudgins gives us Mr. Beam.

Drug Test

One of the favorite narratives of the right in this country is that welfare recipients are a bunch of shiftless alcoholics and druggies. If you don't win the game in these parts, you are a degenerate loser with a capital L. Never mind that the majority of relief goes to the elderly and dependent children. By all means blame those degenerate stoners.

Unfortunately the facts don't quite line up that way. A few weeks ago South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was forced to recant a soundbite she had been repeating ad nauseam from her bully pulpit, "at least half of the welfare recipients in her state had tested and were shown to be high on drugs." She was pushing for mandatory testing. She said that she had been told that out of hundreds of job applicants at the Savannah River Site, a nuclear reservation owned by the U.S. Energy Department, half had failed a drug test. Jim Giusti, a spokesman for Energy Department, said that in actuality out of the workers hired over the past few years, less than 1 percent had failed a test. Additionally, only new hires -- not applicants -- have to submit to testing in the first place.


"I've never felt like I had to back up what people tell me. You assume that you're given good information," Haley told Jim Davenport of the Associated Press. "And now I'm learning through you guys that I have to be careful before I say something."

Gee, really Nikki? Rather than take responsibility for her scapegoating and slander, Haley chose to dig in. Haley told AP she'd used the anecdote "a million times" to promote drug-testing for the jobless. "It is the reason you're hearing me look into whether we can do drug testing," she said. And while her claims are now known to be bogus and Haley has promised not to repeat it, the governor said she still wants drug tests tied to jobless benefits and a revamped job training program, according to AP.

Haley dug in: "We were on the site. There were multiple people in there. And that comment that they made had a huge impact on me," Haley said. "It is the reason you're hearing me look into whether we can do drug testing. It's the reason you hear me focus so much on job training," Haley said. "Somebody can't say that and it not stick you in the gut." And "now they're all backing off saying it. And they know they said it.," Haley said. "But now they don't have the backup."

Haley is also bumping into her commerce department after more of her falsehoods were uncovered.

***

Drug testing for welfare applicants has been mandatory in Florida since July and the results have been quite surprising.

From Carl Hiaasen: After Republican Governor Rick Scott and his GOP majority legislature pushed for the program, angering civil libertarians who see it as contrary to the fourth amendment, The Department of Children and Families reported that since July, when the drug-testing program started, only 2.5 percent of welfare applicants have failed.

By contrast, about 8.9 percent of the general population illegally uses some kind of drug, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.This substantial disparity in favor of the unemployed is not an anomaly. Thirteen years ago, the Florida Legislature funded a pilot drug-testing project targeting poor residents who were receiving temporary cash assistance from the state. Of the nearly 8,800 applicants who got screened for drugs, fewer than 4 percent tested positive.

This little exercise has cost the taxpayers in Florida about 2.7 million dollars. Where is the big investigation? The only people happy are the testing companies. Certainly not the patrician set, who will have to look for some new scapegoats in the sunshine state. Carl Hiaasen has offered to pay to administer the same piss in the cup test to the 170 congressmen in the Florida Legislature. One or two guys have accepted but the wise majority are keeping their mouths shut. Don't hold your breath.

Hiaasen qualified his offer by saying he'd pay for the legislative drug tests only if all lawmakers took them together at the start of the legislative session in January. "That way when the crazy stuff starts to happen a month or two later people won't just automatically assume that they're all stoned," he said. "The reality will set in that these people ... actually don't have any drugs in their system and they're still acting this way."


If you want drug tests, lets take it to the statehouses, the corporate boards, across the board, hell all the way to the Supreme Court. Chief Rehnquist had a prescription pill habit for years and nobody uttered a peep. Serious Jones, you think all those rulings of his are actually legal? He was whacked out of his gourd. Rich or poor, time to belly up to the urinal and see what you've got.




Judy Henske



This is the definitive and earliest recording of a song written by West Virginian Billy Edd Wheeler. It is a coal miner's lament. The song was covered by a lot of people, The Jefferson Airplane, Richie Havens, We Five, Gram Parsons amongst many others. I first heard it recorded by the Airplane, sang by Signe Anderson, who based her stylistic interpretation on the amazing Henske's. Grace sang it with Marty when she joined the band.

Out of all the female singers of the sixties that never got the acclaim they deserved, Judy goes to the top of the list, notwithstanding the fact that she mentions Fallbrook in one of her songs.

June Tabor

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My little runaway.



Jim called me yesterday to ask if I was getting religion all of a sudden? Guy can't even post a little Mormon Tabernacle Choir without people thinking he is going off the deep end. It is okay to like gospel and spirituals without feasting on the whole religious enchilada, isn't it? I guess I did invite it, asking those so inclined to invoke a prayer for my friend.

I apologize for the dark and depressing tone that the blog has taken of late but it has been that kind of month. Two friends' father's dying, friends with diagnosis of lymphoma, valley fever and multiple sclerosis, lots of good friends going through the shit right now. Many back surgeries in my world, too. People, we are falling apart.

Yesterday I decided that it was time to visit my father, who lives in a geographic location that can best be described as extremely inconvenient. About six or seven hours each way, depending on how beat up I want to feel at the end of the journey.

I got up at 4:30 and left at 6 in the morning. Thought I had it nailed when I made Glendora in an hour ten Then I hit a solid wall of traffic and didn't get to Pasadena for another hour. Did my normal pitstop at Whole Foods and listened to a mixture of oldies music and sports radio on my way up through the Grapevine.

Once you get to the bottom of the Grapevine and into Kern County everything changes and you truly enter another land. Radio turns into god and country and lots of it. Maybe an occasional rap or hip hop station. The rock stations out in the great beyond are pretty unlistenable as well. Never gets out of the macho, alpha, Aerosmith, Maiden groove. I hadn't brought much music and only had Dylan cd's in the car and they started to make me feel ill after a while.

Kern and Tulare counties and the whole central valley for that matter is extremely polluted. The air is horrible, there are pesticides everywhere, the breadbasket of our nation a fetid corporate swamp. I looked at rows and rows of grape vines covered with dust and dirt and wondered what kind of vintages could ever come out of such a shithole.

***

As I believe I have mentioned, my father is suffering from dementia and it appears to be accelerating somewhat. His wonderful wife, my stepmother, is dealing with it as best as she can but it is not easy. He is in a home, using up the limited (two year) long term care that they had allotted for the possibility. The reality is that he could live a lot longer than that, he has the constitution of a horse. That would not be necessarily a good thing.

My stepmother is shouldering my father's burden largely by herself, the rest of the children scattered to all points of the compass and maybe not having an excessive amount of interest. Barbara and Buzz have their hands full with my mother. My stepmother threatens to drop my dad off at my doorstep one day.

***

He brightened up when he saw me yesterday afternoon. Shela had brought him home from the facility to see me. He was laying down in bed and I helped him put his shoes on. Couldn't quite put his finger on it, didn't know my name, but he was sure that he recognized me from somewhere. His mnemonic incantation of "old man, old man, old man, schnaim" is now repeated as an ever present but quiet mantra. I hugged him and smiled and talked to him about the details of our life together, in hopes of piercing the cognitive chasm of unfamiliarity. I spoke in english and hebrew, hoping to break through some long distant mental chamber. Nothing worked. It was still nice to be in his presence. He is sweet in his dotage, maybe a bit nicer than when he had full control of his faculties. I love him and feel incredible sadness at what he has become.

It is difficult emotionally to see a father or a mother reduced to this, especially a man as brilliant as my father. The visit drained me. Everything that has come down the last couple weeks has been wearing on me and I got a wild hair and decided that I had to cut and run. My soul needed air. Like right now. I began to drive the few hours to Yosemite and commenced my journey to get lost in the wild. It is what I  do to recharge, works in the Sierras, works in slick rock country and the navajo reservation. Kauai as well when I can afford it.

I drove up the south entrance to Yosemite, past the Mariposa Grove, the old resort Wawona and through the tunnel and into Yosemite Valley. The tunnel is pretty awesome because the rocks are sweating and it's very wet and moist in certain spots going through the tunnel.


I had not been to Yosemite for ages and it was stunning. Last time I entered from Lee Vining. I had been told not to expect water in either falls at this late time but they were both running nicely. Gazed at El Cap and Bridle Veil and hiked around a bit. My legs were sore from hammering an accelerator all day and the muscle behind my right knee was bulging and taught like a sprung cable. Coupled with the thin mountain air and my current cardiac conditioning, I sort of limped and lumbered up the trails to the falls in a bit of pain like an old man.


I was walking in the meadow when I saw the bear. He was limping along himself, hunting insects or grubs. I don't think that I have ever seen a bear in the wild. He seemed like a good sort, happy to solipsistically amble along in his own company. A few rangers came by, one with a microphone that amplified the bear's utterances, somehow being connected to a transmitter. He told me that it was rare to see the bear at this particular location. This bear is named orange -36. He is a black bear and about eight years old and has a leg injury of some kind. Bears are solitary creatures after the age of one or two and this guy weighed about 300 lbs. We moved back so that he could cross the boardwalk and to give him space. The ranger estimated that he was about 20 yards away.


I walked over to the stately old Ahwannee Hotel to look at the large Gunnar Widforss watercolors and see if there might be a room cancellation. There were not and I was advised there was no other vacancy in the park. This was problematic, as I wanted to take some twilight photos in the park. But these were not the least of my problems. A notoriously poor planner and packer I had no gas, underwear, food, water, toothbrush, hairbrush, clothes, cash. Heart medicine for one night. No overnight bag. Nothing. And to make matters worse, I hadn't checked the camera battery and it too was on e.


I had the light bulb realization that I didn't really care. I would sleep in my car if I had too, I have certainly slept in worse places. I had a coat. I was content. The untouched beauty of the iconic national park had given me a little respite from my funk and all of my friend's medical travails. It was all good and I had even seen a bear.


I coasted the thirty or so miles out of the park, passing a very confident coyote striding the other way at one point. I made my way back to a filling station in Oakhurst and found a cheap hotel. Managed to find a restaurant and bought a steak with plastic. I got up early this morning and drove back to my stepmothers, saw my stepsister's kid Bennett, and then went to see my father in the home. He seemed out of touch with his surroundings but no worse for wear and we had a nice visit. He mentioned that he didn't believe that we had ever met.

It took all day to drive back. I can't believe that I ended up in Yosemite but I almost drove to San Francisco and that is even farther. BigD had his first chemo today. Took four attempts before they could remove a sufficient amount of bone marrow from him. I don't envy my friend. I have been there and many get cut down just by the constant invasion and attrition. Of course my bud is tough as nails. If anyone can beat this it is him. 

I stopped in Bakersfield and bought a painting on the way home. Took forever to get back.
Next time I bring my wife with me and we get a nice room and stay a couple of days. Bring provisions and a toothbrush. The proper photographic equipment. Want to drive out to Glacier Point and hike a bit more and explore the area. I had forgotten how wonderful Yosemite truly is. Next stop Yellowstone.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Black Peter

A friend or two I love at hand...

Life is a bittersweet affair. If you live long enough you get to see the people you love get sick and sometimes die. Unless you are lucky enough to go first.

I had been dreading the call. My great buddy BigD told me that he needed to talk to me about something. I was nervous and decided to wait a while and not call him back. Didn't want to deal with it.  BigD had undergone a kidney transplant, a need necessitated by a polycystic kidney condition that had vanquished a few of his family members already. He had been having problems with the anti-rejection drugs. I was hoping that it was not medical, hoping it was a squabble with his wife or an unfortunate financial plummet.

But it was not to be. One of my best and oldest friends called yesterday and let me know that he has a B cell lymphoma. I am not sure if it is the diffused large cell type, not knowing a lot about the particular disease. I just did a check and see that half the people with the disease get cured. I hope that my friend is one of the lucky ones, he has three children and a nephew that he needs to see grow up. Hell, Tony lived with CLL for twenty years.

It is going to be trickier for BigD, because of the compromised immune system that he has been dealt but I think that he can pull through. He is one of the toughest people I have ever known, along with being one of the most talented, smartest and most tech savvy. Loves cars and gadgets. Has had and driven the best. Pioneered experimental polaroid camera techniques. Brilliant and always ahead of the curve. Chemo starts for my friend this week.

***

BigD was a college roommate who I first met while following the Grateful Dead. He had a sony D-5 and was enough of a tech geek to make friends with Healy, Chubbs and Pearson and plug straight into the board. We made little pilgrimages around the country together, seeking maximum fun and contact. D followed the band to Europe, Alaska and points even farther than I did.

We both had BMWs and tended to operate with a certain degree of style. He is a tough guy from Chicago and we hit it off really well. I wrote a few term papers for him at UCSD and he detailed my beamer. D was a film major and rode his fancy italian road bikes for the school bike team. He worked at the bike shop and loved north San Diego county. What was not to love in those days. Girls, frisbee, waves, it was close to heaven on earth.

We had a third member of the triad, Jeff. Somewhere along the line Jeff left the gang, finding honest work and maybe religion and his own unfortunate brush with mortality.

Rick Griffin loved to hang out at our Cardiff pad and called us the three musketeers or the fabulous furry freak brothers. We lived on the high point at San Elijo overlooking the prized Cardiff Reef surf spot. Lots of party, an occasional nitrous tank, we certainly took elevation to its own new height.

***

My boss Lou used to tell me that you were lucky to have five real friends that you can count on in your whole life. He might have been right. D is certainly one of those five. After thirty five years of friendship, tempered in the holy fire of the Swing Auditorium in February of 1977, I know that he is one of the handful of people that I can always count on. Patient tech support, confidante, sometimes marital or life counselor, faithful friend. In spite of all of our inherent weaknesses and limitations and the vagaries of life, we always found time for each other, in person or on the phone. He had been telling me recently that we need to have more fun together. Vegas or another crazy trip to Amsterdam.

***

I have faced my own mortality far many more times than most. I wasn't supposed to live past fifteen, once was pronounced with three days left on the planet and rode past a few other supposed death sentences. Fools. Didn't you know only the good die young?

If I was to take my leave of this planet tomorrow I could go without regrets. A painful separation from the woman I love and who has given me so much, but the confidence to know that she could find her way on her own if she had to. That would be my only regret. Because I was one of those lucky people who made hundreds and thousands of friends and loved the people in my life deeply. In the final analysis, it is people that make this human experience, at least for me. And dogs and cats, of course.

I could take leave of this earth because I don't have children that I need to see grow up. I can't imagine the pain of missing that. That is the pain that BigD is facing in his battle with this wicked beast. The loss of my sister tore my heart apart, the loss of contact with your progeny would certainly be at least as terrible.

***

If you are a religious sort or have some little in somewhere that you don't like to talk about, utter a prayer or a blessing for my friend and wish him a speedy recovery.

Mine eyes have seen the glory.

Eye, Eye.

In the wild, with my eyesight, I'd probably be lucky to last a fortnight. Without correction I live in a blurry, fuzzy world of amorphous shapes and colors. I would be sure to end up in some large predator's stomach in a less civilized time.

When I was about seven years old I was first diagnosed with extreme nearsightedness and I remember the doctor fitting me with my first pair of clunky, black horn rimmed glasses. In my bermuda shorts, high black socks and florsheims, I cut quite the large fashion picture in my youth. Throw a little astigmatism in with my nearsightedness and I am nearly blind without my specs.

When I was about a year older at the tender age of eight, living in Las Cruces, New Mexico I got shot in the left eye with a b-b gun by a shot fired by a poor mexican schoolmate, a pellet that just missed a vital area and the doctors said I was very lucky to not get blinded.

I don't remember my four eyes coming into play again until I was about eleven or twelve. I was living in Syosset, New York. My friends and I would sometimes ride our bikes on the weekends on the long trip out to Oyster Bay, past beautiful lakes and tall trees. I made a very stupid mistake going down a particular hill on my english racer, applying pressure to my front brake. The bike pitched me ass over teakettle and I landed on my face. Both lenses on my glasses broke like bullet holes and a sheet of blood covered my head. A passerby took me to a hospital and I remember the doctors digging the shards of glass out of my eye, something that has to unfortunately be done while you are completely awake.

The upshot is that I have always been very cautious and phobic about my eyes. I can't touch them and resist having anyone else touch them. I fight with my ophthalmologist over something as simple as an eye drop. I realized early on that contacts were not even a possibility. My percentage of cornea to retina or iris (or whatever the correct optical physiological element is) is such that the Lasix people said that that procedure was also not in the cards for me although there is a chance PRK might work.

Having glasses your whole life is a bit of the drag. Swimming and surfing are more difficult, bar fights are out of the question. When I fought martial arts, I had to use cumbersome goggles when I was sparring.

I read something once about a study, I believe that it was from UCLA, that surmised that the reason jewish men typically are so near sighted and have such a large percentage of males that wear glasses is that jewish mothers  release an extra shot of the testosterone hormone to their male offspring that results in excessive eyeball growth in the last trimester, hence lots of glasses as well as a few other particular attributes that I don't need to go into now.

Anyway I have always been a very visual person and I rely on my eyes in a major way, first as a young artist and painter and now as a person who sells art and antiques. I relate to the world in a visually dominant way.

I remember also reading once about a study  regarding racial distinctions and sensory perception. Blacks are said to be aurally dominant, depending more on their hearing than caucasians. Black linemen were getting called for offsides violations at a higher rate than their white team mates. It turns out that they were actually hearing the whistles before their pasty colleagues or the mostly white referees. Which may point to a need for some sort of racial equalization device in the future to counter perceptual differences. But I digress.

Several years ago I had heart surgery for a murmur and a bad mitral valve. They cracked my sternum like a chicken breast and fixed my ticker. But at the end of the procedure I had an unfortunate occurrence  Amaurosis Fugax. My heart was sending tiny blood clots to my eyes and I was experiencing temporary blindness in my eyes, with a gray curtain obscuring parts of my visual field like a gray steel door slamming shut. Fugax scared the hell out of me and they kept me hospitalized for about five more days. I got to visit a top neuro ophthalmologist, Frishburg and doctors were very worried, the event being an early indicator of the possibility of a giant stroke. Had the carotid checked and finally the symptoms went away but not before scaring the shit out of me.

I read an article last week about a guitar player Jeff Golub, who just lost his sight, very quickly and unexpectedly, and the difficulty he is now experiencing in his life.

I had been thinking that I was overdue to see my eye doctor. Last time I saw him he said that he noticed a particular lattice that leads him to think that I am a candidate for a detached retina. He said that if I saw flashing lights to get to a hospital immediately as time would be of the essence. He was also amazed to see that my prescription was 20/15 corrected, very high for a visually impaired person. I had been told by the Lasix people that my corrected vision was so good that I would never see as well after an operation as I did with glasses.

Last sunday I was at a friend's home when a large circular shape appeared in my left eye's field of vision, an occluded blurry ring. I called the doctor at home that afternoon and he ascertained that it was not a retinal or Fugax problem but what he called a visual migraine. It lasted for about 45 minutes.

I went in to see him a few days later so that he could make sure all was copacetic and he gave me a clean bill. But when he tested my sight I blew him away again. I now read 20/10, which I think is sort of unheard of. The next step is x-ray vision. He held up the microscopic print and I read from about five feet away, I think a first for the office. Must be my intense nearsightedness or maybe some new superpower that I'm not supposed to talk about.

See you around and take care of your eyes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I'm One - Pete Townshend

Mille Fleurs


We had company come down from the bay area yesterday and decided to all go out for a nice meal. Our guests were Melissa, our favorite chef, who cooks privately for a lot of very interesting clients up north and her boyfriend, my buddy Gary.

This is the first week of San Diego's Restaurant Week. Restaurant week is the biannual event when a couple hundred of the finest eateries in the area serve meals at extra reasonable prices, with prix fixe dinners at $20 to $40 bucks a head. This gives us folks from the provinces the opportunity to break bread with the tony elite.

Of course, this can sometimes lead to problems. Long time blog readers might remember two years ago when the haughty restauranteur told me that he was dropping the whole deal, because he wasn't going to cater to a bunch of "Joe Sixpacks" twice a year. This of course was after our table ponied up over seven hundred dollars for the privilege of having the more favored guests blow cigar smoke at our table all night. Earlier in the year we had a fabulous meal at Pampelmousse, free from issues and full of gustatory pleasure.

We were lucky enough to get reservations at Mille Fleurs, thought by many of the food loving people I know to be the best restaurant in the whole county. I hadn't been for about fifteen years, and that was a lunch, so I wanted to see if the place indeed lived up to billing.

We met our friends in the beautifully Lillian Rice designed village of Rancho Santa Fe. A covenant laden with eucalyptus planted in the 19th century for railroad ties until somebody figured out that they had a habit of splitting and were unusable. Twenties era spanish revival architecture at its most perfect apogee. It is no wonder so many of the wealthy elite choose to live there. We entered the courtyard and I made my way to the maitre d's station where we were met by the lovely Melissa, the woman I had talked to on the telephone who kept assuring me that there would be no problem with any of my requests. I wanted to make sure that the restaurant week clientele wouldn't be eating from some dressed down menu in the basement with the rest of the serfs. She assured me that that was never the case at Mille Fleurs.

Mille Fleurs is a really lovely and ambient establishment. Very nicely appointed but relaxed. The first thing I was aware of was the large amount of wait staff, like French Laundry but not pompous or pretentious. Handsome french men, at least according to our significant others, I saw one female server. Melissa spends a lot of time in France and wondered how they found so many fun and friendly frenchmen, seemingly with no attitude whatsoever.

We started off with water and then drinks. Vodka all around and throw in an Amstel Light for Gary. The menus were a bit big and cumbersome and one of my companions accidentally jettisoned her drink after knocking into it. They came over and told her not to worry. They brought back half a cocktail which was kind of strange. I think that we would have paid for a full one but I guess that we were dealing with gallic sensibilities here and so she paid a small penalty for her clumsiness.



We had a basket of good bread, then ordered a fois gras appetizer for the table, accompanied by delicious figs. Gary ordered the yellowfin tartare with caviar and creme fraiche. Mini twinkie mounds of tuna, very nice effort. Melissa and I had absolutely superb corn soup with a red bell pepper decoration. It was so rich and the Chino Farms corn was flavorful, intense and powerful. Leslie had the lobster, shrimp and sea scallop boudin, which she adored. I looked around for my buddy Jim's favorite dish at Mille Fleurs, the shadroe cases but didn't see them. The fois gras was good but in my opinion not up to the gold standard for fois gras in the area that is served at Vincents.

Somewhere along the line we ordered a glass of pouilly fuissé and then the bottle. The girls liked it, I wasn't crazy about it. Outvoted on the sancerre.

We received our entrees after a minor wait. Melissa had the freshwater whitefish meuniére which she thought tasted more like sole. Gary had the weinerschnitzel, which was topped with sliced caper berries and a quail egg. Leslie had the three style mixed grill with a slider(?) and I tried the duck breast with huckleberries, with purple potatoes and broccoli.


We all shared each other's dishes of course, as is our habit and my feeling is that the dinner was very good but certainly never approached sublime or great. The schnitzel tasted a bit dry and unadorned to me, mixed grill good but not inspiring, whitefish lacking something. To be fair my dinner companions all loved their entrees, so I am only speaking for myself. My dish was tasty but was a touch under sauced and just didn't meld completely. The huckleberries are a great compliment to the duck. The potatoes were alpo shaped cubes that were both tasteless and unappealing and the two small limp pieces of broccoli accompanying the dish were also quite lacking. But as I said, my companions were happy and said that they were all pleased with the meal. Guess you can't please everybody.

Dessert was crepe suzette and chocolate mousse cake that tried but maybe not hard enough. We got our bill and with all the extras ended up paying about $400.00 including tip. Which now that I look at the website might have been too much, since the website says that a 20% gratuity was already figured in. I swear I never saw a tip added in. Oh well.

I queried my wife about the meal on the drive home. She said 7 or 8 out of 10. I concur. It missed that magic hidden something that elevates the great to the extraordinary. I want to go back and try it on a normal night. They were awfully busy. The staff was charming and professional. Restaurant week is tough. Hard to maintain consistency and your food standards with the great influx of the unwashed like me at your door. While the food was maybe not sublime, the atmosphere was wonderful and it is still a great eating experience. Looking forward to giving it another try.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Martin Simpson - "She Slips Away"

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

Three of my favorite blogophiles stopped by today, the women from Guacamole Gulch and sisters Barbara and Nancy graced my doorstep this afternoon. With my existence now normally confined to cyberspace, meetings on the physical plain seems so neat and well, retro.

They are all very nice, intelligent and creative people and it always a pleasure to both see and read  them.

Helen told me about a dream she had the other night. She was in my home, only it was a very large house. She entered our bedroom and my wife Leslie was in some sort of resplendent outfit propped up on the bed. I was at my desk, banging away feverishly on an old Smith - Corona, hunting and pecking my way through some tale or other. Not exactly kissing my ring, but I did apparently grant her an audience, at least on this somnambulant visit. She said that she looked around and there were hundreds of people waiting for their own audience with yours truly.

All I can say is that I am flattered by my participation in her somnolent exercise and I hope that everyone in line was happy with my keen reasoning and dashing wit. Over here in the world which we operate I'm just another schmo but in dreamland I'll have you know I am just blowing up.

***

Grumpy has, unfortunately, got a bit ticked off with me and is taking his leave again. I love his enthusiasm but I have tried to tell him that maybe the only thing worse than my monologue is a continual online dialogue. I was putting his multiple comments up anonymously and I think that he felt slighted, understandably. I just felt that certain comments were unduly reactive and unnecessary. If I hit a serve down the court, I like an ace now and then without a return. I think that he will be back. We do this now and then.

***

I read somewhere that the greatest rock band in the world, REM, was breaking up. In what universe? Give me a break. Are they still together? Where in the hell have they been for the last 15 or 20 years. Stipe kind of lost me when he opined that they were a better band then the Beatles. Bye Bye REM, take U-2 with you on the way out the door.

***

You probably won't hear about it on Al Jazeera or any of your left wing networks but the first female political prisoner was found murdered in Syria today, mutilated and decapitated. The 18 year old girl was said to have "died in detention."

***

A friend and client from Chile was in the other day and we had a very interesting conversation about the country of his birth. I wanted to know how he had reacted to my article about the alleged Chilean torture ship Esmeralda. He was forthright and gave me his views about the whole Allende (pronounce a-jen-day) coup and CIA complicity.

My friend said that Latin America has traditionally had a pretty rigid class hierarchy of both the very wealthy and the very poor. He mentioned that during the reign of Allende, inflation went up and that in his traditionally resource rich country one could not even find a loaf of bread to eat.

Allende started to nationalize businesses, much like Hugo Chavez has done and similar to what has happened in Zimbabwe under Mugabe. Workers would enter businesses, some owned and run by the same family for two hundred years and simply announce that they were taking over. And of course, they all went to shit.

We discussed the between 3500 and 20,000 political prisoners said to be murdered by our proxy, the bad general. Teachers, union leaders, people with concern for the poor, clergy. He thought it unfortunate but said that in the Chile he remembers at the time, all of these strange communists in battle fatigues from places like Russia and Cuba started showing up. The country pre Pinochet was getting run into the ground. A weak and fairly moderate Allende was caught in a crucible between left and right and Kissinger finished the job.

My Chilean friend regrets the way the coup took place and the misery that occurred. Perhaps if we had let the people of Chile decide that things were so bad that they maybe start their own real revolution and not give in to a junta that threw people out of airplanes.

The reality is that with populism, and I will confine my comments to Latin America for now, the have nots and those living at the marginal status quo will accept about any political system that shits on their rich neighbor and puts food in their own mouths.

***

Rick Santorum thinks that there is no call for a person to announce their sexual orientation in the military and we should go back to DADT. My question is why then should it be permissible to exhibit blatantly heterosexual conduct and let people know that you are straight?

***

Manny sent this interesting tidbit over.

***

I keep thinking of Casablanca. Pakistan is shocked, shocked that the ISI is collaborating with the Haqqani network to attack western targets. (Your winnings, sir.) The double game of all double games, they speak out of the side of their mouths, still smarting over the arrest of Bin Laden right next to their wheelhouse. 3.5 billion american dollars a year, for the biggest criminal backstabbers in the whole region.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Buckets of Rain

It tolls for thee...

© Robert Sommers
Leslie and I visited the Fallbrook School of the Arts Friday night on the occasion of the Artwalk. They were having another bronze pour. The Fallbrook foundry program started so many years ago by Wendell Perry is now enjoying a nifty rebirth and renaissance  under the new and able direction of Brandon Roy.

Roy, 29, studied bronze and casting techniques in Italy at the Florence Academy of Arts for three years under the tutelage of Robert Bodem. He has a quiet competence and skill set that belies his relatively young age.

Friday, he was casting a bell, which we decided to buy. Watching bronze get cast is both mesmerizing and electric.

The bell we purchased is the fifth bell he has made in bronze and is currently a work in progress.

Today I decided to pay my bell in waiting a visit and talk to Brandon a bit about his artistic creations. A very nice, soft spoken guy, he was happy to talk about his work.


First the technical stuff. Brandon showed me how he makes his sand molds and weighs the bronze pieces that he has calculated are necessary to fill his molds. It takes about seven pounds of bronze to make the smaller bell.

He heats his fire up to 2100º fahrenheit and then lets it settle down and pours at a cool 1950º.


The pour is a pretty critical zone, some years ago I watched a pour go afoul and spill all over the place. It is dangerous and you have to be on guard at all times.

The flame coming out of the crucible was glowing with the most beautiful green flame shooting out of the sides of the cylinder. A pyromaniac's wet dream! Nothing went afoul friday, I am happy to report. We watched the artisans don their special suits and then try to coax the molten metal into doing what it was told.

Our friend's the Fish's bought the other bell that was poured. The bells are built  in two sizes and they are really quite affordable. The bells are decorated with lovely historic japanese iconography.

Brandon tells me that he was originally influenced by the Arcosanti bells of Paolo Soleri but delved back even farther and found even more inspiration in the bell casting techniques of the early japanese craftsmen, whose bells tended to have much better tone than Soleri's which seemed more involved with the aesthetic and form than the ultimate function and sonic signature.

He showed me the exterior cylindrical knobs adorning the surface that are integral to his design and which he found that he can modify to alter the ultimate tone of the individual bell.

He fashions the strikers from the spill that is left at the top of the mold and fashions a simple collar that will allow the bell to ultimately hang from a chain.


Today Brandon was grinding excess material off the top of the bell where it had been attached to the trivets in the mold. We talked about the patina I would like to see on my bell and I checked out the sweet gong striker he has devised. He has quite a few hours in each bell, they are an act of artistry and love. I would highly suggest that you get your name on a list while you still can. Will post a picture of my finished bell next week.

Ring my Bell

Mixed Bag

The planet has been a bit dark of late. We had the second familial murder/suicide story in as many weeks hit the local papers yesterday. And a marine corps chopper, the kind that continually flies over my valley, went down the next valley over the other day, on the heels of the Reno disaster and the crash in Russia that iced the beloved Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team.

A good friend confided in me that he has M.S. and is going through a lot of marital drama and processing at home. Several friends have lost their parents in the last week and my father's own state of dementia is weighing heavily on my psyche. Another friend has valley fever and I have a sister who just had major surgery and won't slow down. The House is threatening to shut down government again on September 30th, this time dems who object to their opponents carving out all the disaster funding out of a popular energy program.

I am told that I have been an edgy, irritable grump of late, but what else is new. And no, it wasn't my wife telling me this time. Have been a bit of a pill. Can't find the time to read or write. I hope that we all get a little positive boost and wish all within and beyond blogshot health and happiness.

*

I read something yesterday about the recent grizzly attacks in Yellowstone. It is germane to me because I will be there in a few weeks and do not want either my spouse or myself to end up as some ursine supper. The article said that the late couple provoked the bear by screaming and making noise. You know, a bear starts mauling my extremities, I think I might yell a bit myself, no point coming off as some cool Gary Cooper wannabe with a grizzly's incisors sunk deeply into my gluteus.

*

I had a cheap dime store epiphany on the way to work this morning. I passed a banner at St. Stephen's church that read "Mornings for Mommies." And I had the thought that I would sooner take the grizzly's place and chew my own arm off than hang around a bible study or the like with a bunch of born again mommies.. Everyone is free to believe, and if you want to do it conspicuously it is your choice, it's just not my bag. To each his own.

But if you look at the matter in macro or on a national scale, I think I start see the roots of our problem. We have two fairly fat and equal paradigms trying to inhabit the same limited space and things are getting a little too cozy and squishy. We live in two distinct little worlds, and they manage to function fairly independently, the problems arise when the edges start to overlap. A certain group needs homogeneity and control and the other faction wants to be left alone.

Those with faith want to trumpet that faith and evangelize, and then there are the faithless apostates like me who reject authority in most every guise. And it seems to me that if the believers had a little less faith, it just might be better for all of us in the long run. At least for the environment anyway. (Remember the video I put up last year from the congressman who chairs the environmental committee who said that the good book was infallible and assures us that man can never harm god's creation?) Do a little clean up on old terra firma before you waltz on over to the pearly gates. But then again, as my Stanford ethics professor friend once told me, if we had more people believing in a punitive place called hell, maybe people would be cowed into a more moral behavior. Even if we did have to invent it.

Each side is so sure that they have the moral or intellectual high ground that they have written the other side off as witless or faithless degenerates. And so we have this paralyzing tug of war with no sign of compromise from either quarter. We need a big time out until both sides agree to come back and play nice with each other.

*

Obama is said to be on the hot seat right now because of those old bastards, the jews. Dems lost a safe seat in New York, the Weiner seat if you will, to a conservative Republican. Might resonate on a national level. Some jews evidently got sore when the Prez suggested that the Israeli's move back to pre 1967 borders, a geographical boundary that seems suicidal to many, including by the way, myself.

Now the Obama spin machine is going full tilt to illustrate what a great friend Obama has been to Israel, a country he has never visited and that he tends to treat like the embarrassing drunk uncle at the easter dinner. He did have the PLO over yesterday. Anyway there is a new "Obama jewish outreach" afoot and Debbie Wasserman Schultz even tried the old triangulation move, yesterday intimating that American jews have a lot of common with Obama and care about a lot more things than Israel. She said that "Obama was far better than Republicans on every issue that matters to this community." Which may be true, who knows? But sets american jews at interesting cross purposes with their Israeli brethren.

I think that the whole concept of massive jewish financial and political power will hardly stand up to scrutiny. And it is certainly not a monolithic block.  Jews comprise about 1.7 percent of the country's population or 5.2 million people, hardly a game changer. They tend to be highly educated, cause oriented and they do vote at a higher rate than their fellow americans. But certain other groups possess far more power in our society.

If an American jew says anything positive about Israel, he or she is quickly accused of dual loyalty and sedition. I was looking at a CNN article re: Obama and Israel and took some screen shots of some of the more interesting comments. I will spare you the ones that suggest "Burning the kikes in the ovens", if they have not already been deleted.

I am the son of a jewish man born in Palestine, before the establishment of Israel. I have lived there twice, once for a year and again throughout much of Desert Storm. I am not in lockstep with the present Israeli government, I disagree strongly with the way that they have handled the settler issue, but I can understand the logistics and motives of much of their thinking and the reality on the ground. I hope that people will look at the issues in a more meaningful and understanding way than some americans apparently do.

The reality is that I do think that Obama would screw Israel in a heartbeat. He has backtracked on so many other principles. They are a small country and it would be expedient and easier for him to cut them off, to the glee of many of my fellow citizens. I think that they will find a way to survive with or without his help. Or the whole middle east turns into a parking lot.











Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Somewhere a band is playing.


I found this poem today in a Ray Bradbury book called Now and Forever. I sort of had to piece it together. Sorry, Ray.

Somewhere a band is playing.
Playing the strangest tunes.
Of sunflower seeds and sailors
Who tide with the strangest moons.
Somewhere a drummer simmers
And trembles with times forlorn,
Remembering days of summer
In futures yet unborn.


Futures so far they are ancient
And filled with Egyptian dust,
That smell of the tomb and the lilac,
and seed that is spent from lust,
And peach that is hung from a tree branch
Far out in the sky from one's reach.
There mummies as lovely as lobsters
Remember old futures and teach.


And children sit by on the stone floor
And draw out their lives in the sands.
Remembering deaths that won't happen
In futures unseen in far lands.
Somewhere a band is playing
Where the moon never sets in the sky
And nobody sleeps in the summer
And nobody puts down to die;
And Time then just goes on forever
And hearts then continue to beat
To the sound of the old moon drum-drumming
And the glide of Eternity's feet.


Somewhere the old people wander
And linger themselves into noon
And sleep in the wheat fields yonder
To rise as fresh children with moon.
Somewhere the children, old, maunder
And know what is to be dead
And turn in their weeping to ponder
Oblivious filed 'neath their bed
And sit at the long dining table
Where life makes a banquet of flesh
Where dis-able makes itself able
And spoiled puts on new masks of fresh.
Somewhere a band is playing
Oh listen, oh listen, that tune!
If you learn it you'll dance on forever
In June...
And yet June...
And more...June...
And death will be dumb and not clever
And death will be silent forever
In June and June and more June.
© Ray Bradbury

Hold on it's coming

Repeal our unfunded health mandate? GOP says no way.

When dems don't fund their mandates they are evil socialists, of course the inverse is never true.
From the politics as usual department - Ricardo Alfonso Zaldivar for A.P.:

It's a massive health care entitlement with unfunded future costs over $7 trillion. Many conservatives are still upset at the way it was rammed through Congress. But when the Republican presidential candidates were asked last week asked if they would repeal the Medicare drug benefit, they said no way. After all, Republicans created it. Republicans want to pull the plug on the health care overhaul they call "Obamacare," but the Affordable Care Act is arguably less a deficit driver than the Medicare drug plan they are defending.


Debt and deficit are the focus of the Republican Party as the 2012 presidential campaign moves through the nominating process and looks ahead to the general election. Yet the reluctance of GOP candidates to renounce a costly entitlement program that voters like shows how politics can come into play when critiquing the federal ledger. Passed by a GOP-led Congress in 2003 under President George W. Bush, the prescription program is immensely popular with older people, faithful voters who lately have been trending Republican.


Medicare recipients pay only one-fourth of the cost of the drug benefit. Because there's no dedicated tax to support the program, the other three-fourths comes from the government's general fund. That's the same leaky pot used for defense, law enforcement, education and other priorities. It's regularly refilled with borrowed dollars that balloon the deficit.


Although the health care law costs far more than the drug benefit, it's paid for, at least on paper. It includes unpopular Medicare cuts as well as tax increases on insurers, drug and medical device companies, upper-income people, and even indoor tanning devotees. Asked last week at the Tea Party debate if they would repeal the prescription program, GOP candidates would hear nothing of it. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would not, even though he said he's concerned about its cost. Cracking down on waste and fraud might be the answer, he suggested.


"I wouldn't repeal it," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He said he would restructure Medicare, but not for those now in the program or nearing retirement. The re-engineering supported by House Republicans this year and praised by Romney at the time would give future retirees a voucher-like payment to buy insurance from a range of private plans. Texas Rep. Ron Paul noted that he'd voted against the prescription benefit, but said repeal "sure wouldn't be on my high list. I would find a lot of cuts (in) a lot of other places."
Budget hawks scoff. 


"I'm an equal opportunity critic here," said David Walker, a former head of the congressional watchdog agency. "I think the Republicans were irresponsible for passing the Medicare prescription program in 2003 and I think the Democrats were irresponsible for passing" Obama's health overhaul. As comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office for most of the past decade, Walker used his position to call attention to the nation's long-term budget problems at a time when the debt wasn't front-page news. He now leads the Comeback America Initiative, a nonpartisan group promoting fiscal responsibility.


"There was no attempt to offset the cost of the Medicare prescription bill," Walker said. "It's fair to say that at least there was an attempt to pay" for the health law through a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. How big is the hole left by the prescription program? Over the next 75 years, its $7.5 trillion "unfunded obligation" exceeds the $6.7 trillion gap attributable to Social Security.


"When they were designing the new health care law, the experience of the Medicare prescription bill was very much in their minds," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group advocating fiscal discipline. "They didn't want to have another unfunded expansion."


Experts can debate whether future Congresses will suspend Obama's Medicare cuts and whether the long-range cost of extending coverage to more than 30 million uninsured will outpace the revenue to pay for it. As the reactions of the GOP candidates at the debate demonstrated, no one is seriously considering repeal of the prescription program. Thanks to taxpayers, about 90 percent of older people now have affordable access to medications that help keep them out of the hospital. Roughly two-thirds of those are enrolled in Medicare's benefit; many others are in former employers' prescription plans.


Ironically, repealing Obama's overhaul would take away the most important improvement to the program since it was created. Obama's law gradually eliminates the dreaded coverage gap known as the doughnut hole. Millions of people will each save thousands of dollars as a result. Republicans like to point out that the cost of the prescription program is well below original estimates. They attribute that to competition among the private insurers providing the benefit.


While competition is part of the story, experts say it's not the only reason. The shift to cheaper generic drugs among people of all ages has been a powerful contributor. That may not last forever. The trustees who oversee Medicare's finances warn in their latest report that spending on drugs will rise more rapidly in the future. Said Walker: "Basically what's happening is we're mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren, and borrowing the money from China."

Hickory Wind

If I don't get some shelter.

I have to go pay a bill and I don't want to get up. It is so much more fun to while away my time on the internet.

*
Brett loaned me the Keith Richards book. Leslie read it first, I was reading Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdaine's book which was better and a touch less self absorbed than his first book, Kitchen Confidential. As a deadhead I was quite turned off by the gauche Bourdaine when he said that listening to the dead in his kitchen was immediate grounds for dismissal.

In this book he talks about being tripped out at Hot Tuna concerts and redeems himself, at least somewhat partially.

Anyway back to Keef, I have to confess that I could not finish the thing, or even start it properly, for that matter. Everything was about the bitches, or that prick Mick, or sticking a needle in your arm. It nauseated me frankly, the dopey stupidity, the misogyny, the petty smallness of this rock god.

I did like a few things. He unveils the secret of his playing - open G and leave off the top string, a secret he says he was forced to reveal, at near gunpoint, by Ike Turner. An interesting breakdown of Charlie Watts snare to hi-hat relationship, the added half beat creating the signature Stones texture. Neat stories about Graham Parsons, a very condescending tone regarding Brian Jones. He speaks fondly of a New Barbarians tour that was the worst music I have ever heard.

I also learned that if you are in a knife fight, it is always best to cut your opponent across the forehead initially, the sheet of blood causing little harm but will temporarily blind him and put an end to the swordplay.

Keef 
***

I found out last month that my father was down to three words, which he repeats endlessly in the home. Old man, old man, old man, old man, repeated mnemonically over and over like the rain man. And one other word. His wife asked me,"What does schnaim mean? This was easy, hebrew was his first language. It means time. It's time. I need to go see him and be with him. Even if it turns out to be a one way interchange.

***

Many of my friends and family are going through major changes right now, physically, emotionally, medically, financially. A few of you are under enormous burdens. (You hypochondriacs and drama queens forget it, I'm not talking about you. The people I am talking to, know I am talking to them.) I wish you the strength to endure and hope that you will share your burdens with us and those family members that love you, on a scale that everyone can handle and that things get righted soon. Things rarely stay crappy forever.

***

Something to ponder. I was recalling a passage yesterday from the book Tortoise mind that I wrote about a few months ago. They gave you a number sequence - 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17___ ... and ask you to fill in the next number. I guessed 19, which is completely in the box, and wrong in this particular instance, I might add, the actual number set in question only having the attribute and parameters of being an ever ascending number. The number I believe he was looking for was 18 or 22 or seventeen to the eleventh power. Coincidences do happen and you can't always assume.