The Rodeo Drive 2016 Concours d'Elegance Classic Car Show
In the 1960s, my father shared his love of classic cars with me. Each Father’s Day, we would attend the Beverly Hills Concours d’Elegance at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. There we would see well-restored automobiles from the first half of the twentieth century. In those days, just prior to the revolution in automotive horsepower, large saloons and tiny sports cars dominated the show.
As we walked the parking lot, we would see an old Packard here and a Duesenberg there. Later, my father told me stories about Los Angeles in the 1930s. As a teenager, he and his friends would walk to Wilshire Blvd. There, they would wait at a traffic light for a suitably large automobile to stop. Then, without the driver being aware, they would dash out and sit on the wide rear bumper platform. Cars did not accelerate or travel very quickly in the Los Angeles traffic of the day, so there was little danger of ejection from their perch. When they reached their destination, they would hop down and walk away.
The Classic 1965 Shelby Cobra 289 on Video
Several years ago, I restarted the Father’s Day car show tradition. For twenty-three years now, Beverly Hills has sponsored its Concours d’Elegance on the famous shopping street, Rodeo Drive (pronounced “Row-day-o”). It is free to the public and often includes classic cars and super cars seen nowhere else except a museum. Last year, I saw the same 1915 Cadillac that my father and I had seen in the 1960s. In 2015, it was one hundred years old and arrived under its own power.
This year, I hit Rodeo Drive at eight o’clock. Many of the cars were still arriving and taking their places along the curb. Although the 1915 Cadillac did not show this year, there was a 1933 vintage V-16 Cadillac and a 1930s Packard to ogle. In addition, there were at least a dozen red Ferrari to spice up the show.
Having grown up in Southern California, I was hoping to see the quintessential American sports car – The Shelby Cobra. As a tingle went up my spine, I heard a 289 cubic inch V-8 engine rumbling up the street. I ran to a spot where I was able to capture a classic 1965 Cobra preparing to park in its appointed spot.
With only 150 of the 289-Cobras produced that year, I was looking at a rare automobile. After the driver parked, I stood with him and admired his classic Cobra. He told me that he had purchased it from a private party about twenty years ago. Without my asking, he told me that he had paid $175,000 for the car.
He had repainted it in a dazzling red and done some engine work, but otherwise had kept it in “stock” condition. According to a classic car valuation website, his Cobra may now be worth $1.2 million. If you are in the market for a concours-condition Shelby Cobra, he does not plan to sell.
Although the field of classic cars was a bit smaller this year, the 23rd Annual Father’s Day Concours d’Elegance was as exciting as ever. If you want to see the cars arriving next year, I suggest that you get to the show prior to the 10 AM start time. Perhaps I will see you there.
Hollywood and Big Media Discover that "Violence is the New Sex"
As we begin the year 2015, it is appropriate to reflect upon what has changed in our lives. In addition to our self-centered musings, we might stop and remember our roots. Although there may be loners in our midst, from ancient times most humans lived in tribes. Because of real or perceived threats from the “Other”, defenses were created, battles fought and foes vanquished. In the past year, many tribes in this world have reverted to the ancient vortextual cycle of affront and subsequent revenge.
Is there a unifying theory that explains our current sad state of international affairs? As a contrarian, the “theory of negative creation” comes to my mind. As your mother once said, “If you do not have anything nice to say about someone, do not say it”. In 2015, many tribes again believe that confrontation and “fighting against” is the best way forward.
As of 2013, worldwide population was about seven billion. Of that, 31.5% are Christian and 23.2% are Muslim. Hindu (13.8%) and Buddhist (6.77%) are the only other religions scoring more than one percent of the total population. Surprising to me was the Jewish religion at only 0.22%. Fighting against the “Other” is a prominent theme in the Old Testament canon of the Christian Bible. The roots of the Old Testament are in the Tanakh, which is the ancient Hebrew canon. Early in the seventh century CE, yet another Abrahamic religion, Islam, codified its various stances against the “Other” in the Quran.
Together, the two largest religions, both of which had their roots in nomadic or herding cultures, encompass almost 55% of the current population. During their pre-industrial rise as mega-religions, Christianity and Islam often prescribed severe, even barbaric punishments on criminals and non-believers. Today, most self-identified Christians, Muslims and Jews disavow honor killings, revenge killings, stoning and mutilation. However, some radical Christians and Jews abide by ancient concepts of “religious war”, just as some radical Muslims countenance Jihad. Energy bridges connecting to the ancient days of each religion seem stronger now than ever before.
Like a stick of dynamite near a flame, it takes little or nothing to set off violence toward the “Other”. In recent weeks, a series of irreverent humor magazine covers were enough to incite terrorist acts in France. Soon after the smoke in Paris had cleared, a series of cyber-attacks followed. The cyber-attacks mimicked the recent North Korean hack of Sony Pictures, which was in revenge for release of the lowbrow satirical movie, “The Interview”.
What is “negative creation” and why does it matter? Because of our cognitive abilities, most humans believe that we are superior to any other species. Many people extend such negative thinking to other human “tribes”, religions, political and ethnic groups. Our lizard brain, which is at the core of our cognition, has great power to both project and react to fear. If we allow the rich or powerful to do the “creating” for us, their stake in power over others will skew toward negative creation.
Other than nation states and Islamist insurgencies, whom do I identify as the rich and powerful? Often, they are the top managers of our largest media conglomerates. After several decades of mergers and acquisitions, there are fewer Media Giants than ever. However, the remaining few now dominate theatrical movies, TV, internet products and old-fashioned print media.
Charlie Hebdo, the profane humor magazine that recently lit the spark of radical Islam was a small publication. Since the attacks in Paris, CNN (owned by Media Giant Time Warner) has focused the bulk of its news reporting on terror, terrorists and the risk of terror attacks in the U.S. What used to pass for regular news on CNN now appears only on the “news crawler”, at the bottom of the TV screen.
As public corporations, the main focus of Media Giants is profits, as derived from box office receipts, internet streaming revenue or TV ad sales. In the worldview of Media Giants, we, the audience should observe, absorb and consume a steady diet of visual and auditory fear mongering. Although they may still show some public service messages from time to time, fear and terror are still the best sellers at CNN and Fox News and many other Big Media outlets. Look no further than Fox News publicizing Muslim neighborhoods as supposed “No-Go-Zones" in Paris, France. In their zeal to promote Rupert Murdoch’s version of an anti-Muslim “religious war”, Fox News has discredited itself as a legitimate news organization. Even after Fox News apologized for their error, Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal doubled down on promoting the concept of "No-Go-Zones" in both France and Great Britain. When a supposedly rational elected official goes off the deep end of an argument, as Jindal has done, he discredits himself and by association, the people he was elected to serve.
Before any readers get bored, I will skip to my punch line. It is this: “The Media Giant’s covert and overt promotion of gratuitous violence, internecine war and cyber war risks destroying civil society as we know it.” Warner Bros. Entertainment’s released “American Sniper” on the Friday before Martin Luther King weekend 2015. In director Clint Eastwood’s sly way, the movie avoids gratuitous violence in favor of patriotic, “justifiable violence”. In a direct affront to the non-violent ways of Dr. Martin Luther King, the movie posted a record January weekend opening of $105.3 million in box office receipts.
How, you might ask, did we get to the sad point where profit-making corporations drive and often determine what the public sees and comes to believe is true? in 1887, the original Media Giant, Randolph Hearst and his ubiquitous Hearst Corporation started its rise with his taking control of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper. Not ironically, the first motion picture cameras were under development at that time. By 1910s, Hearst was producing newsreels for theatrical release. In the 1930s, with the advent of “talking pictures”, the rise of the Media Giants accelerated. By the 1960s, the mad dash for Media Giant supremacy was well underway.
Before the U.S. Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) took full effect in 1934, nudity and sex were acceptable subjects within Hollywood movies. Not ironically, federal laws stopped the legal sale of marijuana by the mid-1930s, as well. By 1934, with the Great Depression in full swing, moralists of every stripe tried to stop drugs, alcohol and “dirty movies” from reaching consumers. Since 1970, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, equal in detriment to heroin.
When I reached adulthood, in the 1960s, “Hollywood” dumped the old MPPC, reintroducing nudity, sex, and light drug use into their movies. In 1967, Hollywood distributed the Swedish movie “Elvira Madigan” to U.S. audiences. Although considered quaint by today’s standards, the nudity and sexuality portrayed in the film were previously unheard of in mass-market movies. The same year, “I am curious (Yellow)” hit U.S. audiences with even more overt sexuality. My curious mother-in-law attended a screening, wearing a disguise that featured a scarf and dark glasses. Later, she reported, “They had sex in a lot of places; even in a tree.” Reviewer Roger Ebert wrote, "Forget it. It's a dog. A real dog".
In 1970, the movie "M*A*S*H” featured on-camera marijuana smoking. Mash did set a gentler tone with drug use than the "stoner movie" genre, which soon followed. Unlike cocaine, which Hollywood continued to treat as the road to ruin, marijuana soon made its way into mainstream consciousness as naughty, but acceptable entertainment. With the Baby Boomers coming of age in the 60s and 70s, Hollywood soon discovered that depiction of soft drug usage helped to sell movie tickets.
In 1969, Sam Peckinpah's movie, "The Wild Bunch" advanced screen violence to blood-spurting new levels. Slow-motion gunshots jerking bodies, fraying clothing and splaying the flesh of both villains and heroes guaranteed the movie’s artistic acceptance. Soon, Hollywood would realize that violence sold more movie tickets than sex and drugs combined.
In 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) débuted its new movie rating scheme. An "X" rating was reserved for films deemed unsuitable for minors. Overt sex, drug use or gratuitous violence were enough to earn an "X" rating. As the years went by, "X", in the form of sex sold less well at the box office. If the public wanted to see graphic sex, they could view “XXX” movies. With the advent of home video and later internet pornography, “X” for sex and “XXX” moved to third tier producers and distributors.
By 1990, with the old “X=sex” formula fading, the MPAA eliminated that moniker and created a new "NC-17" designation. That new rating meant “No children, seventeen or under admitted.” Since MPAA ratings were voluntary, a distributor of a questionable film could either accept the dreaded "NC-17" rating or distribute the film as “unrated”. Either way the vast majority of theater operators would screen such a film. Art houses and secondary outlets make far less money for the Media Giants. If you need proof, just look at the abysmal $5.7 million in box office receipts for the first three weeks of the “biggest buzz film of 2014”, “The Interview”.
If you group the MPAA’s three children’s movie ratings, “G”, PG” and “PG-13”, there is sizable potential profit for the Media Giants. A “PG-13” rating admonished parents that “some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers”. Even so, millions of tweens flock to the edgier films. To them, “PG-13” is almost as good as an “R” rated movie. In theatrical release, an "R" for “restricted” means “Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian”. Few parents will accompany a pre-teen to an “R” rated movie, but the same parents might ignore the rating if viewing an “R” rated video in their own home. After all, children do not pay attention to TV, do they?
Over time, an “R” rating became the kiss of death for all but the most adult-oriented movies. In order to reach a broader audience, Hollywood modified many “R” rated films to earn a “PG-13” rating. “The Dark Knight,” “Terminator Salvation”, “Inception”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, “The Avengers”, “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Taken 2” were all released as PG-13 movies. The meta-theme of all these movies is violence, not sex. For the Media Giants, orange is the new black and violence is the new sex.
When I reached adulthood, the average eighteen-year-old had seen 16,000 humans shot to death on either a movie or a television screen. Soon, Hollywood downplayed simple gunplay, exploiting instead the visceral feel of large-scale explosions. The concept is that as long as you are killing “bad guys”; it is acceptable to graphically eviscerate any such lowlife, “sub humans” as might appear. Now, we the people can stream “The Interview” at home for the whole family to see. Note that it is an "R" rated film (for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence). When its producers explode a puppet-head representing Kim Jong Un onscreen, the whole family is supposed to laugh and cheer. In late December 2014, at least two congressional representatives suggested that that the U.S. government should invite Sony to screen that violent stoner movie at the U.S. Capital. Was it a freedom of speech issue or because poor Sony Pictures was losing tens of millions of dollars on its ill-timed release of "The Interview"?
Young Adam Lanza, the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murderer, stayed home for years playing "first-person shooter" video games. His gun-toting mother taught him how to shoot at the local gun range. Steeped for years in violent video games, admitted Aurora, Colorado mass murderer James Holmes went to the local multiplex to carry out his heinous acts. Violent video games often became the subject of popular Hollywood movie franchises and vice versa. Psychological studies have long shown that young males are susceptible to internalizing (and later externalizing) what they see repeated on movie or television screens. Whether it is violence toward women or the explosive violence of action movies, weak or disaffected habitues are ever more likely to act out their dystopian fantasies in the real world.
Only when parents wake up and stop allowing a violent aural assault on their children by Hollywood and the Media Giants will our culture return to the spirit of the recent holiday season, which once was, "Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men". Only when parents and children vote with their dollars for non-violent entertainment will the Media Giants forsake their addiction to violent box office hits and the obscene profits that they produce.
Brush Fire in Simi Valley, California - First Responders Deserve Local, State and Federal Support
On June 6, 2013, I was working at Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California. From nine in the morning until noon that day, the Ventura County Fire Department was conducting live helicopter fire drills at nearby Hummingbird Nest Ranch. Several Ventura County Fire Department helicopters were loading water at a helipad in the nearby hills. Over Casa Carrie, they flew to their destination about a mile away. At the time, they did not know how timely their practice was.
Watch the fire-fighting "Air Force" take on a brush fire at Simi Valley, California
By 4:00 PM, I realized that the sky in Simi Valley had turned orange, indicating that there was a brush fire nearby. As I looked west across Simi Valley from the backyard, I could see a huge plume of dirty brown smoke drifting eastward. Not wanting to miss a brush fire so close to my location, I grabbed my camera, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler and headed across the valley.
Upon arrival at Los Angeles Avenue and Stearns Street, I found a police roadblock. A quick turn into the Albertson’s Supermarket parking lot allowed me a front-row view of the hillsides to the south. Although the fire was still active, firefighters had established a perimeter around most of it. By then, Los Angeles County fire helicopters had joined the Ventura County choppers that I had seen earlier in the day.
While at least four helicopters shuttled water from the helipad near Casa Carrie to the fire, crews on the ground were clearly gaining the upper hand on the fire. In its earlier stages, visibility had been minimal. The huge smoke cloud indicated that the fire was consuming both chaparral and grasses. If the winds had shifted, beginning to blow to the south, the fire could have taken off over the ridges and on to the grounds of the Santa Susana Field laboratory.
Other than older local residents and nuclear regulators, few people know that under the Atomics International division of the old North American Aviation (later Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division) built the first commercial nuclear reactor on that site in the 1950’s. In 1959, it was also the first commercial nuclear reactor in the United States to experience a core meltdown. Kept secret from the public for many years, the Santa Susan meltdown released more radioactive material than the later Three Mile Island nuclear incident in Pennsylvania. To this day, no one knows what happened to thousands of pounds of sodium coolant present at the time of the meltdown. It dispersed either into the air or on to the ground.
When a brush fire looks to be out of control and heading for a nuclear contamination site, it is time to call in the Air Force, or at least the USDA Forest Service "Air Force". Rather than risking a wildfire within a nuclear contamination site, the fire bosses in Simi Valley called for massive air support. Soon, three large air tankers arrived to augment the helicopter fleet and hand crews already on scene.
First on scene was Neptune Aviation Services’ new “Tanker 41”, a BAe-146, four engine, "next generation" commercial jet retrofitted as an air tanker or "fire bomber” as the Canadians like to say. Looking like a lost commercial aircraft, Tanker 41 made wide circles around the scene as it waited for a smaller, twin-engine spotter plane to arrive.
Next up was the Minden Air Corp "legacy" “Tanker 48”, a Lockheed P2V-7 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare plane retrofitted for aerial firefighting. With the first P2V-7 flight having taken place in 1945, it is safe to say that this bumblebee-painted beauty was older than her flight crew was. Featuring two 3700 hp. turbojet engines and two 3000 lb. thrust jet engines, the elegant aircraft both rumbled and screamed as it maneuvered overhead.
Although a third air tanker joined the other two, I was not able to identify it, since the big aerial fire battle was about to begin. While the four helicopters headed off for a refill, what looked like a Beech King Air twin-engine spotter plane buzzed the fire ridge at low altitude. Its speed and grace reminded me of Sky King, who flew a similar looking Cessna in the old TV program by the same name. By then, the aerial ballet was getting exciting.
Perhaps since it had been on scene the longest, the four-engine BAe-146 got first shot at the dying fire. With “Sky King” in the lead, the two planes flew a straight and level route along the highest ridge of the fire. At the drop point, the smaller plane puffed out two spurts of white smoke. At that spot, only a few seconds later, the big jet cut loose a torrent of bright pink fire retardant, mixed with water. It was a spectacular sight.
Only a few minutes later, Tanker 48 took its run along the westerly portion of the same ridge. Judging by the fifty-foot tall hulk of a burned out oak tree, the P2V-7 appeared to clear the ridge by little more than 100 feet. Distances can be deceiving and the pilot dropped his load just behind the ridgeline, so he may have dropped at two hundred feet above ground, but little more.
When I realized that the mysterious “Tanker #3” was going to make a drop, head-on towards my camera, I switched from still shots to video. Dropping his fire retardant in a saddle along the ridge just west of the previous drop, the mystery tanker put an end to any threat that the fire would escape its lines and head toward the Santa Susan Field Laboratory.
I have lived in Southern California for most of my life. I grew up in Burbank, one block from the chaparral-covered Verdugo Mountains. As James Taylor sang, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…” Never, in my life have I seen such a well-coordinated firefight. Congratulations to Ventura County Fire Department, their mutual-aid affiliates from other jurisdictions and the fire-fighting air force of the USDA Forest Service.
In congressional and state budget battles, firefighting is just one more line item to cut when possible. That the so-called “sequestration” has cut the federal fire suppression budget by twenty percent in 2013 is unconscionable. Before any more of the Western United States goes up in smoke, federal first responders to fires, floods and weather disasters should have their funding restored.
An Evening in Moab with Author, Adventurer, Naturalist and Poet, Craig Childs
Each year since 2005, I have visited Moab Utah in the fall. For my taste, the summers in Moab are too hot and the winters too cold. In the spring, the wind blows and the dust kicks up. In October 2006, I experienced almost fifteen inches of rain, but this fall the weather was as dry as a bone.
In October 2007, I was in Moab for a week and wanted to learn more about the town and its culture. Checking the events calendar, I saw that Craig Childs was in town, introducing his then new book, “House of Rain”. Until then, my only connection to Craig Childs was hearing him speak on the NPR program, Morning Edition. Not having read any of his books, I decided to go and hear him speak.
That evening, I arrived early at the Moab Information Center. With an auditorium that holds no more than seventy-five people, I was happy to sit in the front row. In the left-front corner of the room stood a stocky man dressed in clothing from the trail. As the attendees filed in and took their places on chairs or the floor, the man softly played a wooden flute. Only when he moved to the podium did I discover Craig Childs was the flautist we had just heard. Craig’s lyrical flute had created a mood for the slideshow and discussion to follow.
Demonstrating how important the book, “House of Rain” was to the career of Craig Childs, his personal website still goes by that name. Never using the phrase, “Great Disappearance” in that seminal book, his subject was the displacement Native American cultures from the Colorado Plateau around 1200 CE.
With painstaking academic research and fieldwork, alone or with paleo-scientists, Craig charted a course of migration that defined the culmination of the pre-Puebloan era. With Craig’s written guidance, I later visited and wrote about many of the places mentioned in that book. From Homolovi to Hovenweep and Mesa Verde beyond, Craig painted word-pictures of each sacred place.
In October 2008, I had the privilege of attending Confluence: A Celebration of Reading and Writing in Moab. Among the many guest authors, Amy Irvine, Jack Loeffler and Craig Childs each taught classroom and field seminars. The class was limited to forty budding authors, each paying $450 for the honor of close work with three authors. For his part, Craig Childs took our group a few miles north of Moab to a place called Seven Mile Canyon. There, among petroglyphs and sacred sandstone grottos, Craig encouraged each of us to feel the canyon sands barefoot before writing that day.
In October 2012, Craig Child’s latest book, Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth arrived at Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab. With a crowd of about 250 at Moab’s Starr Hall that opening night, Craig Childs proceeded to electrify the audience with stories of catastrophe and redemption. From a campsite on the rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet to the still warm lava flows of Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, Craig elucidated the constancy of violent change occurring all over the Earth.
Not wanting to use an electronic flash that night, I tried to photograph Craig Childs in a still moment. Gesturing to his own image on the screen behind him, I watched as Craig’s animated motions transported him into his own photography. Craig on the stage merged into Craig, sitting on the front porch of the doomed Greenland camp. Later, as he swept his arm toward a small patch of island greenery surrounded by an active lava flow, Craig Childs could have been Moses, pinpointing the place where he had found the stone tablets.
Although I had videotaped parts of the presentation, I later erased all of my video from that evening. Electronic media cannot do justice to the poetry of Craig's words and voice. Standing barefoot on stage that night, reading excerpts from his new book, I saw and heard the essence of author and naturalist Craig Childs.