Saturday, July 30, 2005

Welcome to the roadway

Peter has never owned a car, but he is a heavy renter as he travels the world. And all motorists have to pay their dues.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Bush Legacy

Most military/political tyrants wage war on nations; they usually want to possess that territory. George W. Bush has used the feeble cloak of anti-terrorism to wage war on a regime and the people of Iraq. He didn't go it alone, of course. He got some good backing in his bullying adventure from U.S. girlie-man Congress and a boot-licking lackey in Britain.

He hasn't tried to conquer the nation and attempt to acquire the territory. He merely wants to control a portion of their mineral wealth and convert the population to his beliefs in christianity and democracy. He is the current day combination of Junipero Serra and the conquistadores of the Americas, And those Spaniards were a combination that converted the local population to chrianity while enslaving them, killing them and stealing their mineral wealth.

So where do we go from here? Well Jane Fonda's not going to Disneyland. And more power to her, I say. Her behavior and commitments, muddled though their history may be, will yet afford her a prouder legacy than will survive our smarmy, smirky current president.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Exit the Dragon

Bruce Lee died on July 20th, 1973. It is now 32 years after he died at the age of 32. I met Bruce about 40 years ago. In the next eight years he spanned an arc from insignificance to stardom to sudden death. That’s not really an arc, I guess. It was a fiery rocket to stardom that exploded at its apex, and turned to early ashes.

My one meeting with Bruce was something of an encounter. He was a man very open to his drives, and even willing to share some of his demons with a stranger. But I had seen Bruce Lee in action before I met him, and it was that circumstance that led to our evening’s encounter.

In 1964 I drove from L.A. to Long Beach to observe a martial arts competition. I had been taking a karate class for a few months at that time, but no way, no how did I ever expect to do anything with karate except tug on an opponent’s jacket a bit and flop around on the mat. On the program, but out of competition, a young man named Bruce Lee gave a brief demonstration of his unique training method. A TV documentary which I recently saw graphically depicts my own recollection.

In this old B&W footage, you see the slightly built performer direct a husky young volunteer to stand directly in front of him. Several feet behind the young volunteer, another man holds firmly to a braced chair. When the volunteer is ready, Bruce extends his arm straight and places it against the young man's chest. He pulls it back about one inch, then snaps it back into the chest, sending the volunteer flying back into the chair. It is an awesome explosion of power from an almost miniscule movement.

About a year later, I was invited to a press screening of a new Chinese film musical at a theater in L.A.'s Chinatown. And there was Bruce Lee -- a chorus dancer in the film.

After the screening there was a sit-down dinner at a Chinatown restaurant. As people circulated after dinner, I took an empty chair beside Bruce, who was eager to talk to press people. I advised Bruce that I would not be reviewing his film, but that I had seen his demonstration at Long Beach and was very interested in his brand of Kung Fu. I also asked him why he had not participated in the Karate competition.

He told me that he called his personal martial technique Jeet Kune Do and he could not use it in a sporting competition because it was a true martial art, not a sport. The only objective of his technique is to kill or maim the opponent. It is so lethal, he claimed, that it was against the law to teach it. Nonetheless, he was teaching it, under concealed circumstances at a location in the San Fernando Valley, and invited me to join his class.

He was such a sweet-faced and low-key guy, I asked him why he developed and taught such a violent technique.

"Because I like to hurt people," he lisped. He was Asiatically slight of height and build, almost feminine (not effeminate) in his gentle-seeming persona; but with an unattractive edge of arrogance.

In explaining how his martial arts technique was not a sport but rather a lethal showdown, he described some of the body parts he targeted. They included crunching the opponent's foot in such a way as to break down the arch, and exploding the kneecap with a kick that would immediately and permanently disable the opponent from normal walking. Eyes were also a target -- with permanent blindness being the objective.

Certain blows could also be directed toward inducing temporary or permanent paralysis. With the knowing touch of a skilled masseur or chiropractor, he held a muscle in my upper arm with a firm grip and told me he could yank the muscle from its bone, causing it to wither and atrophy, rendering my arm useless forever after.

Before our conversation ended, he offered to give me a personal demonstration of the power behind his one-inch stroke in Long Beach. He promised me no permanent damage. After what I had learned about him, I wasn't too trusting, but was too macho to decline.

He told me to brace myself in my chair, which was backed up against a wall. Sitting in his chair, he extended his arm full length to my chest. Then he doubled down the first two fingers of that hand so that only those two knuckles were pressing against my chest. He said he would not pull back his arm at all. The only movement would be a slight forward movement of his shoulder. The only contact I would feel would be the two finger knuckles, not the fist knuckles. Since he was sitting, his full body power could not be invoked, even if he wanted to use it. However, he warned me, the explosive power contained in his upper body was still enormous, but he would contain it for my benefit.

Maybe only half believing I could be hurt, I nodded when I was ready. His knuckles exploded into my chest, rocking me back in the chair and against the wall behind me. At the moment of the explosion I saw the intense concentration on his face.

As I struggled to catch my breath, he smiled sweetly. It was, all-in-all, a friendly demonstation. I don't remember the time frame now, but I know my chest and ribs hurt for days after. I wondered why he used two fingers when one would obviously have done the trick. And I never looked up his school.

As we talked that night, it came out that he hated the movie that we had screened, and hated being a dancer. He also resented his shortness of height, nationality and culture. His classes were mostly composed of white men and included some film and sports celebrities. He expressed delight at being able to teach them his art while hurting them in the process.

Sometime later, before he became an international martial arts star, Bruce appeared on TV as the Green Hornet's masked karate sidekick. I watched a couple of segments but it wasn't my kind of TV. In 1969, however, I saw Bruce in the Hollywood movie, MARLOWE, with James Garner. This is the one where he uses karate kicks and chops to destroy Marlowe's office, furniture, walls and all, as Marlowe helplessly looks on. The scene works beautifully because of the outrageous joy and glee that Bruce expresses during this vicarious and anticipatory destruction of Marlowe, himself. For me, this is Bruce Lee’s signature performance. His character’s delight in destruction is both over the top and virtually suicidal.

Two years later, Bruce went to Hong Kong and in the next two years made the small handful of films that made him an international star and unique icon of action movies. And then he died.

His sudden death generated many rumors, including even murder. The medical certificate, however, cited a brain aneurysm as the cause of death. I still wonder if his lifelong anger had contributed to that condition. Or was it some glitch already in the brain cells that caused that persistent anger? Or neither.

Friday, July 15, 2005

If it ain't on film, it didn't happen.

When was it I first said, "If it ain't on film, it didn't happen?" So long ago it could have been a fairly fresh insight or a wryly ironic joke at the time, but I can't remember which. Of course, now it is neither. For long years it has been the guiding rule of TV news and now it is what personal digital cameras, GPS and mobile phone cameras are all about. It has gotten to the point that people seem more interested in recording an experience than having one.

Yet, this new Flickr era can be quite satisfying. I don't take a lot of pictures, and when I do, it is often an afterthought of the situation. This is not to capture the moment, per se, but more an interest in creating one out of the human and other materials available at that moment. Found art of a sort.

And art has to resonate. Peter posted such a piece of art on his Flickr page: a view of Mt. Shasta from the air. Now how this picture resonates for him when he looks at it, I can't know, but I'm sure it does. But for me it resonates on at least two levels. One is a sense of the majesty of the great peak shining above the blue haze that surrounds it, and the civilization below. It is a powerful view of our elements: earth, air, water and the dim fires of life sprinkled dimly beneath it all.

And it also resonates in my memory. Of travel in that region. Of the family with me. Of the quiet morning jogs. The breakfasts at the Weed Cafe and of dinners nearby. Of haze in the morning and deep darkness at night. And feeling cozy with it all.

Those memories are the only photos I have of Mt. Shasta and environs. I guess I was too much in the moment to even think about lugging my Canon Single Lens Reflex with me. But thanks to this new Flickr era, and all its accoutrements, I can gaze at Peter's Mt. Shasta, and find another level of pleasure in its reminders.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Sound of Silence

Scott McClellan joins Terri and John Paul.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

His Prayers Answered

The fear I described in a recent blog seems to have been suddenly realized.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Who doesn't like Western Movies?

I just came across a list of westerns I once jotted down for Peter to look into. No way can it be complete, but there are several must-sees included.

My Darling Clementine
The Westerner (Willie Wyler)
Gunga Din (Don’t let the Punjabi location fool you. It was really shot in Lone Pine, CA
Ride the High Country
Red River
Rawhide (Henry Hathaway)
High Noon
Warlock (Edward Dmytryk)
Viva Zapata (Don’t let the Mexican uniforms fool you)
Ambush (Sam Wood)
Destry Rides Again (George Marshall)
The Gunfighter
The Big Country
Little Big Man
Angel and the Badman
The Oklahoma Kid
Jesse James
The Naked Spur
Texas (George Marshall)

Monday, July 04, 2005

My Record stays intact

June 30th has passed, and a new rainy season begun.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Virtual fireworks

Have fun!

GG, Joe & Harry

And Perdomo

Saturday, July 02, 2005

California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown by Ethan Rarick

Ethan Rarick has written a lean, clean and nowise mean personal and political biography of the one politician who has done more to enhance the golden glow of California than other before or since. Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown was a builder, not only of schools, highways, waterways and the cities that sprang from them, but also of bridges between the races. He sponsored legislation and promoted education, welfare, social justice and many other services that raised the incomes and quality of life for all Californians.

Though his productive eight hears in Sacramento was terminated in 1968 by Ronald Reagan, much of the Brown legacy is still operative today. Reagan and subsequent Republican governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and now, the biggest Terminator of them all, have all worked hard to dismantle the opportunities and social services fostered and developed by Brown. They have been reduced from Brown's levels, but not eliminated. And the universities, highways, waterways still stand to provide the infrastructure that enables California to grow, prosper and allow so many to enjoy another day in paradise.

But this book is not merely a litany of his accomplishments. It also describes the sad vacillations of a good and decent man who got caught in the middle of some issues he could not overcome. Because, for instance, of his conflicting personal and political concerns and ambitions, he was not able to present a clear stand on the oft scheduled and eventual execution Caryl Chessman. Because he had done so much toward building UC Berkeley into the top school it had become, he could not understand the Free Speech Movement that rocked the campus in 1964. And because he had accomplished so much to advance minority housing rights and protections, he was baffled by the violence and horror of the Watts Riots in 1965.

Nor could he understand how Lyndon Johnson and other major Democratic personages could turn their backs on him as his political standing came under pressure. And this, after he had strenghtened the Democratic party by his defeats popular Republicans Bill Knowland and Richard Nixon, and expanded the presence of Democrats throughout all levels of California office holders and judgeships.

California Rising is a very good book about a very good man, and both the book and the man deserve serious attention.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Big Whine

Don't you just feel so sorry for the media. The Supreme Court just doesn't get it that they should be able to commit the crime but not do the time.

The reporters in this case colluded in criminal disclosure affecting someone's personal safety and career. Another term for their actions can be called conspiracy to commit bodily harm on a person. I think they should all go to jail whether they reveal their sources or not.

GG's back in town

Jet lag

it's private
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