Saturday, January 03, 2015


“The list of species extinguished in the past hundred years is a long one; the list of species threatened with extinction today is still longer. No new species arise to replace those exterminated. It is a swift, distressful impoverishment of life that is now going on. And this time the biologist notes a swifter and stranger agent of change than any phase of the fossil past can show—man, who will leave nothing undisturbed from the ocean bottom to the stratosphere, and who bids fair to extinguish himself in the process.”

H G Wells The Fate of Man 1939

2015: Monarch butterfly considered for Endangered Species List

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Re-Dedication 2015

The first day of the new year might be a good time to renew one's vows, and certainly any day is a good day to clarify them.  Happy New Year.

"...[G]enuine society preserves the continuity of the dead, the living and the unborn, the memory of the past, the reality of the present, and the anticipation of the future which is the one unbreakable social contract.  Continuity and consistency are the only sources of human dignity, and they cannot be attained in the dissolving phantasmagoria of the newspaper world, where we have constantly to focus on an immediate crisis, where a long-term memory is almost a handicap."

Northrop Frye

Monday, December 29, 2014

Remembering A Few

In late Decembers, for some years now, I've been remembering and honoring some of those who died during the year.  As usual this year, I've done so on my blogs in specific areas: of books, the stage, Star Trek and science fiction, popular culture in the baby boom era, and Pittsburgh figures at American Dash.  This is probably the last year for all of that, but here I want to just add my favorite photos of some of these memorable people, with a few words.

I'll start with someone few have heard of: Stephen Gaskin.  I happened to be in Berkeley when his Monday Night Class at the Family Dog ballroom in San Francisco was packing in 1500 or so seekers in 1969.  It culminated in those months in the First Annual Holy Man Jam, at which I was ordained a minister in the Universal Life Church by means of a scroll conferred upon me with the holy word Zap! and a toke on the world's longest bong.

Great days.  As Gaskin, always wise, wisely said more recently, "You’ve got to be a rich country to have hippies. They’re a free, privileged scholar class that can study what they want. They’re like young princelings. That’s why the only other places to have produced hippies are countries like Germany, because they’re rich enough. It’s really been an upscale movement, in a way, except for when it broke through. And when it broke through was when it was the most revolutionary and really scared the Establishment, because hippies bond across cultural, religious, and class lines."

Above is what Gaskin looked like at the time of the Monday Night Class.  I have a couple of books that preserve some of what he said, and one of the last surviving magazines to keep faith with that era's best instincts, The Sun Magazine, printed an excerpt with Gaskin's pretty recent commentary, as part of a project to annotate and republish these old volumes.

Shortly after the Holy Man Jam he left the Bay area and started a particular kind of commune called The Farm which he talks about in The Sun  interview from the mid 1980s. He remained an activist, speaker and widely admired man. This photo is from 2009.

The Maestro.  No writer in my lifetime made as many people happy reading his work, particularly A Hundred Years of Solitude.  I saw the same joyful look on the faces of literary editor Ted Solataroff and the casual readers who read it on my recommendation.  He remains an heroic example.  In this click-happy age, his words are even more powerful: "Some say the novel is dead.  But it is not the novel.  It is they who are dead."  His work and his spirit are immortal.

This photo from the New Yorker says everything I want to say about Mike Nichols.  He was the most approachable yet incisive interpreter of our age, from the 1950s of Nichols and May to the 1960s of The Graduate to the  1970s of Carnal Knowledge to 1980s of Working Girl to the 90s of Regarding Henry and beyond. He brought both Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Angels in America to the screen. He was the medium cool of New York. Though I never met him,  I'll remember him for one week in 1984 when I saw two new plays he directed on Broadway: Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing and David Rabe's Hurlyburly. There haven't been too many years on Broadway like that since. He had discernment and taste, and his gift was witty and accessible presentation.  He was the perfect host.

 The closest I got to Ruby Dee was at the Pittsburgh airport, when she and Ossie Davis were paged, but unfortunately they didn't come to the white courtesy telephone nearest me.  She was a familiar figure in the performing arts and in the public sphere from the 60s on, and by the 80s and 90s she was revered.

 But long before that she began breaking barriers for black women especially, beginning when she was a young woman in the 1940s.  

Robin Williams broke through the sitcom's mannered sterility in Mork & Mindy, and his frenzied humor remained to surprise and challenge the established forms. His hilarious genius in mating very different things is best expressed for me in his Elmer Fudd singing "Fire."  But then in the movies he played Garp with a natural humanity that was equally surprising.  Most of his film roles were like that.  Thinking about him is to think hard about the vagaries and vicissitudes of life, of what we're given from birth, and how we use and handle them.  There was a nobility about him, and a vulnerability too.

I once met a woman who had worked in Hollywood in the 40s who said that the romance between Bogart and Lauren Bacall was so smoldering that people from all over the lot came to watch the filming of To Have and Have Not.  Bacall was magic on the screen in the 40s, and a strong presence in her films and plays thereafter.  She lived beyond Hollywood, in circles that included writers and political figures.   She made her mark on her times in positive ways.  She was almost 90.
Peter Mathiessen wrote about his hard and extensive travels to places where few people were or go, and his face became the definition of weathered.  He wrote books on Leonard Peltier and Indian Country that didn't help his career, and got deeply into Buddhism.  His travel writings emphasized the ecological.  All of which I relate to.  He also wrote novels about a violent southern outlaw I couldn't relate to at all.  His life and his writing were part of the same persistent quest and journey.  Like the snow leopard he wrote about, he may have been among the last of his kind.

This is Mona Freeman in That Brennan Girl, released in 1946, the year I was born.  She was never a movie star, and worked most of her career through the 50s and 60s in television series dramas, in supporting roles.  She was a working actor, with another 40 years of life after her TV career.  But in this 1946 role, she was the face of a generation, of hope and yearning, of the future.  She stands in here for all the actors and others who did something that got their deaths mentioned in wikipedia or elsewhere, but who have been long forgotten.  I want to honor them too. Maybe another stranger will see this photo, and remember her--or discover her.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

What If You Ended A War and Nobody Came?

On Sunday, a military ceremony officially ended U.S. and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan.

On Christmas, President Obama visited a military base in Hawaii to thank troops for their efforts, and to announce that combat operations had ceased.

Neither story got much play.  Perhaps they were anti-climactic, or because thousands of troops remain in Afghanistan on training missions. Or because US military personnel are involved in operations against ISIL forces in the region.  Or because somehow it is old news, and a forgotten war.  Or whatever.

But it does seem a little weird that the end of a trillion dollar war passes without notice--can you even imagine what a trillion dollars could have done for this country? Or that the US being not at war anywhere for the first time since the first year of this century seems to mean nothing.  Especially since ending these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than any other single issue, got Barack Obama elected President in the first place.