Monday, November 20, 2017

Family Activities

I feel fortunate for many things, and one of those things is the wonderful family I married into. This weekend some of that family came from far and wide—Seattle and Oslo, as well as, more locally, the Santa Cruz Mountains—for a stimulating visit. We were also joined by friends from Copenhagen on one day. An international gathering!

One thing I love about David's family is how easy they are: they rummage in the fridge when they're hungry; they sit around and read (it used to be books; nowadays it's tablets); they chat; they knit; they nap. Or maybe what I appreciate is how at home they seem to feel. It truly is one big happy family. (For a few days at least.)

Several times a bunch of us (the cast was ever changing) went out into nature. Such an activity invariably involves binoculars. Here are a few photos I shot (plus a couple I didn't):

Whale watching at Moss Landing
Something like this is what we were seeing, only a bunch
of them, on the horizon. It took me until the next day
and a whale-watch boat-captain friend's FB post to realize
that it was big blues we were seeing: thrilling!
(Not that humpbacks aren't special, but still.)
Bird watching at Elkhorn Slough
The birds in question (a lotta lotta egrets, plus maybe
one great blue heron and a few brown pelicans)
Condor watching at Pinnacles National Park

We had the extreme pleasure and privilege of being able to watch three California condors soaring through the air and resting in what we assume is their nest (the rockface below was whitewashed with their poopage). Thanks to the handy website Condor Spotter (and concentrated peering through the binocs to discern the numbers on the birds' patagial tags), I was able to ID our friends: Kun-Wak-Shun (meaning "Thunder and Lightning") (blue-40), laid at the Oregon Zoo and hatched May 9, 2004; his mate Tiny (yellow-36), laid at San Diego Wild Animal Park and hatched March 22, 2001; and Tiny's offspring Junipero (violet-63), laid in the wilds of Big Sur and hatched March 30, 2012.

Kun-Wak-Shun: you can read more about him here.
The whole condor recovery story is a fascinating one.
Here he is showing off his wingspan, which in condors generally
can be up to 10 feet, and his approximately 20-pound weight

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I have written lists of podcasts that sound interesting to me before, like here, here, and here. But happily, podcasts keep on coming! Recently I spotted a list of the "19 Best Podcasts of 2017" from Esquire. Here are a few that I might try to check out (not that I have enough hours left in my life for all these amazing productions, but better feast than famine).
  • Pod Save America: A political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane.
  • Nancy: Join BFFs Kathy Tu and Tobin Low for provocative stories and frank conversations about the LGBTQ experience today. Because everyone’s a little bit gay.
  • Terrible, Thanks for Asking: You know how every day someone asks “how are you?” And even if you’re totally dying inside, you just say “fine,” so everyone can go about their day? This show is the opposite of that.
  • The Daily: This is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, hosted by Michael Barbaro.
  • Crimetown: The culture of crime in different American cities. 
  • Missing Richard Simmons: Per Esquire, "Fitness guru Richard Simmons disappeared in February of 2014—he stopped teaching his regular classes, cut off all communication with his friends, and seemingly became a recluse—and nobody knew why. Filmmaker Dan Taberski, a friend of Simmons', sets out to find out what happened." 
  • Up and Vanished: A reexamination of a cold case à la Serial.  
  • Homecoming: "A psychological thriller so gripping, tightly scripted, and star-studded" (Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer) "that it feels like a movie in your memory. Told largely through a nonlinear series of phone calls and taped therapy sessions."
  • Las Culturistas: Per the website itself: "Ding dong! Join your culture consultants Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang on an unforgettable journey into the beating heart of CULTURE. Alongside sizzling special guests, they GET INTO the hottest pop-culture moments of the day and the formative cultural experiences that turned them into Culturistas. Honey, come and get your life."
  • Presidential: An in-order exploration of the 44 presidents of the United States. (Yes, there is 45*. No, he is not included—or, arguably, a president.
The article lists more, so go check it out if you want more.

And here are a few more "best podcasts of 2017" (or just generally) sites, as of today:

NME (a British music magazine)
Complex (also British, I'm guessing)

Okay. Now I'm going to choose one of these podcasts and go make some turkey chili!

Monday, November 13, 2017

eL Seed, French Tunisian street artist

Yesterday I heard secondhand about eL Seed, a French Tunisian artist (and TED Fellow) whose project, writ large, is to shift perception and, in so doing, foster hope and peace. He does so by fusing "Arabic calligraphy with graffiti to paint colorful, swirling messages . . . on buildings from Tunisia to Paris," as TED describes him.

eL Seed was born in 1981 in Paris. He chose his pseudonym at the age of sixteen while studying Pierre Corneille's 1638 play El Cid in a literature class. "Like Corneille's The Cid, eL Seed 'lives in service of art and hopes to foster peace, without prejudice for anyone he meets, driven only by art and by a message.'" His calligraphy quotes wise, uplifting messages from Arabic literature, but it can be appreciated fully simply for its form and flow, the way it occupies and beautifies space.

Here are some photos of his work (and you can find many more simply by googling).

Ajman, United Arab Emirates
Algiers, Algeria
Cape Town, South Africa
Miami, Florida: the mural quotes the third-century philosopher
Anathasius: "Anyone who wants to look at the sunlight
must wipe his eyes first."
"Lost Walls," Chott el-Jerid, Tunisia

At work on the Miami mural

Here is a TED talk that he gave in 2016, about a project covering fifty buildings in a poor Coptic Christian section of Cairo, where the main occupation is garbage collecting:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Birding in Vietnam

Earlier this year the crackpot idea of going to Vietnam seized my imagination. Don't ask me why—I guess because I've heard it's beautiful. Sometimes something that slight is enough to plant a bee in my bonnet. But also, perhaps, the fact that I was there, briefly, for literally an hour, in 1965 (refueling stop), when both the place and I were very different. I already have a history with Vietnam. I'd like to fill it out.

I found a Sierra Club trip that looked interesting, and was keeping it in my sights—but when I sought it out online the other day, thinking of maybe finally signing up, it was full! Drats!

So I googled. In particular, I googled Vietnam + birds + tours—since I've got this vague idea of seeing kingfishers the world over, and surely there are kingfishers in Vietnam. And I got a hit: WINGS Birding Tours, based out of Tucson. And waddaya know, they had one spot open on their Vietnam tour this coming March.


I bit.

In my application, I mentioned that I'm not really a birder. Which is true: birders have tons more focus and patience than I do, not to mention knowledge. (And better binoculars: my Zeiss 10 x 40s are fine, but they're no Swarovskis.) I would maybe call myself a desultory birder: I like birds; I like to look at them, watch their behaviors; I have a few special interests—shorebirds, raptors, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, kingfishers, geese, waders. Mostly larger birds that don't flit around in dark forests demanding not to be seen.

Siamese Fireback (Lophura diardi)
My statement elicited a quick email from Matt at WINGS. "Basically," he pointed out, "the sole focus of the tour will be the birds (with some exceptions, of course, such as butterflies, mammals, that sort of thing, as we encounter them)." Ha ha, I loved that "that sort of thing"—like, birds are all that really matter, but we acknowledge that there are other life forms on the planet, and if they're big and/or bright enough, maybe we'll put the binoculars down and glance at them. Matt also commented that "we’ll certainly see some great, colorful birds like Siamese Fireback, but we’ll spend a lot of time looking for cryptic, well-hidden brown birds in the dark forest as well." (I think he was just trying to scare me off: we will potentially see several hundred species, maybe just one exemplar per, but still: there's a lot more than LBJs—little brown jobs—in the forests of Vietnam. See below.) "In general birders are a very focused group." (You can say that again!) "We won’t be visiting a lot of cultural sites on tour unless the location happens to coincide with excellent birding (though on the Vietnam tour we stay in a couple nice colonial cities). You’ll be up pre-dawn every day and bird full on all morning, with a short break during the mid-afternoon hours (sometimes), then a few more hours before dinner. Some nights the group will go back out after dinner to look for night birds such as owls and nightjars." I love owls and nightjars, so bring 'em on! As for pre-dawn every day, that will be a challenge, and it will have to become part of my Zen practice: get up and get with it and don't complain, because life is good. Dammit.

(No, seriously: I'm almost looking forward to the 5:30 a.m. starts. I can use a little shaking up of my "routine," such as it is.)

Matt—who also mentioned that the one spot had just opened up due to a cancellation a couple of days ago (see, Providence!)—pointed me to a "tour narrative" from last year, written by the leader the ten of us will be traveling with, Susan Myers. She lists many of the birds they found. I thought here I'd post photos of some of those. Just to prime my spotting skills. And to share the beauty of this world. Birds rock! (Hey, just their names rock!) (And they're not all LBJs by a long shot!)

Bar-bellied Pitta (Pitta elliotii)
White-tailed Blue Flycatcher (Elminia albicauda)
Ratched-tailed Treepie (Temnurus temnurus)
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus ruficollis musicus)
Fujian Niltava (Niltava davidi)
Limestone Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus calciatilis)
(This one is as close as we get to an LBJ in this gallery,
and I was choosing these species at random.)
Sultan Tit (Melanochlora sultanea)
Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush (Garulax monileger)
With the laughingthrush I'm only halfway through the 21-day tour—but that's a nice sample, don't you think?

And here's a mammal, for balance: the endangered Delacour Langur (Trachypithecus delacouri), which we may see in Cuc Phuong National Park. I hope we do. And I hope it's not too sad, knowing that they aren't much longer for this poor benighted Earth.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Glasgow Murals

I happened to check Flickr to see if there were any interesting photos, and the first to pop up were some shots of murals by a Dutch "friend" of mine. I love murals! But where were these? A little digging got me the answer: Glasgow.

I've been to Glasgow, once, many years ago, and I don't recall murals then. But we didn't stay long—it was a quick visit as we started our walking tour of the West Highland Way. According to an official brochure, the City Centre Mural Trail was launched in 2014 "to promote the growing portfolio of works adorning buildings within Glasgow city centre." How delightful! It makes me want to pay a return visit to that city, which I recall enjoying. It has a very different feel from Edinburgh, more solid and rugged, more brick than granite, no castle atop the hill.

Here are some of the murals (the first is the one that caught my eye, photo by Chantal van der Ende-Appel). As always, click on the images to view them large on black.

The Barras Pirate, by Rogue-One (aka Bobby McNamara)
Hip-Hop Marionettes, by Rogue-One
Four Seasons (Summer), by Smug
Wilson Street Badminton mural, by Guido Van Helten
Four Seasons (Autumn), by Smug
High Street mural (Mungo), by Smug
Argyle Street Cafe mural, by Smug
Firhill (Glasgow football stadium) mural, by Rogue-One
Dunlop Street cat (fragment), by Rogue-One
Tiger, by James Klinge
The World's Most Economical Taxi, by Rogue-One
The Gallery, by Sam Bates
Hand Shadow Puppets, by Rogue-One

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

John Le Carré

We've been watching John Le Carré's The Night Manager on Amazon Prime. What a good show! Dense, convoluted, full of good and evil, with deeply nuanced and/or flawed characters—and some gorgeous geography (Mallorca, Madrid, Istanbul, even London/MI6) as well. We just finished episode 4 of 6. I'm expecting some serious danger and bad dudeliness in the next episode.

I believe that much of the dialogue and characterization are taken from the original book itself. He's a master.

Which makes me think: maybe to revisit John Le Carré's oeuvre next year? I can think of worse ways to spend my time.

Here's the full list of all his books. I've read a few of them—mostly the Smiley Cold War novels—and wouldn't mind reading them again. And then the rest as well. It seems he's managed to get over the fact that the Cold War ended: there's still plenty of spycraft to write about.

First, the George Smiley novels. (The rankings are from a Slate article, from 1—his flat-out best—to 23.)

Call for the Dead (1961)  7
A Murder of Quality (1962)  18
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)  4
The Looking Glass War (1965)  21
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)  3
The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)  2
Smiley's People (1979)  9
The Secret Pilgrim (1990)  14
A Legacy of Spies (2017)

And stand-alone novels:

A Small Town in Germany (1968)  23
The Naive and Sentimental Lover (1971)  22
The Little Drummer Girl (1983)  8
A Perfect Spy (1986)  1
The Russia House (1989)  11
The Night Manager (1993)  16
Our Game (1995)  17
The Tailor of Panama (1996)  12
Single & Single (1999)  13
The Constant Gardener (2001)  5
Absolute Friends (2003)  6
The Mission Song (2006)  10
A Most Wanted Man (2008)  20
Our Kind of Traitor (2010)  19
A Delicate Truth (2013)  15

And finally, there's The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (2016), which I happen to own—so perhaps I should start there. Though a big part of me wants to get reacquainted with George Smiley—whom I will always think of as having the face and voice of Alec Guinness, and not of Gary Oldman. But that's a different matter entirely.

Or finally finally, maybe I should indulge in the recent "definitive" biography of John Le Carré, by Alan Sisman. No shortage of reading material, that's for sure.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Cinematic Journalism

I just watched Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) again. Directed by George Clooney, with David Straithearn in the lead role of Edward R. Murrow. Such a good movie. And all the more pertinent today, what with the right wing going on (and on) about "fake news." Murrow must be spinning in his grave.

How junior senator Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin (Wisconsin again!* now we've got Paul Ryan) became so powerful I don't understand. There's this account in Wikipedia, but it doesn't make his ascent really clear. It surely was the times: post–World War II, Korean War, Iron Curtain. Fear. He died at age 48, probably of alcoholism. No hero he.

But Murrow: he was a man of intelligence and integrity. Here is his conclusion from an episode of the documentary news program See It Now, in which he took on McCarthy:
No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
   This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
   The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
And here is an excerpt from the beginning of Clooney's film, Murrow's 1958 speech accepting the RTDNA (Radio-Television News Directors Assocation) annual award (the full transcript of the actual speech can be found here):

But what I thought I'd do here is not necessarily extol Clooney's film, but provide a list of other good journalism-based films. So without further ado, here are ten that actual journalists love—and not necessarily because they're good movies (which is probably why you haven't heard of a couple of them—or at least, I hadn't):

Shattered Glass (2003)
Almost Famous (2000)
-30- (1959)
Never Been Kissed (1999)
Teacher's Pet (1958)
Absence of Malice (1981)
Broadcast News (1987)
All the President's Men (1976)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
His Girl Friday (1940)

Also (randomly, and more seriously, culled from another list):

Parallax View (1974)
The Front Page (1928)
Network (of course!) (1976)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Frost/Nixon (2008)
Wag the Dog (1997)
The Paper (1994)

And of course there's the recent Academy Award winner Spotlight (2015), an excellent film. It's rich territory indeed. And journalism—the Fourth Estate—remains increasingly important and increasingly at peril.

*When I say "Wisconsin again!" I am pained. I love Wisconsin. My dad was from there, I went to graduate school there, I have dear friends and family there (who surely do not accept Paul Ryan as their "representative"). I think of it as a decent, human, loving place. The McCarthys and Ryans notwithstanding.