There has been a lot of talk lately about the minimum wage, mostly by politicians who gravitate toward their red and blue corners, with the exception of a few enlightened conservatives who believe that raising it would help keep low wage earners off welfare and illegal aliens on the other side of that big electronic fence they want to build. Closer to home, Gary Gutting, a Notre Dame philosophy professor opining in the NY Times, talked about the tough road facing us secular humanists – writers, artists, photographers, fly fishermen – who are woefully underpaid considering our obvious worth to society. (He didn’t mention screenwriters, who do have a minimum wage, if we can get ourselves hired). (He didn’t mention fly fisherman, either, but I thought their inclusion was implied.)
There were a couple of noteworthy thought bubbles in Gutting’s column, the main one being that our schools ought to serve as a well-funded estuary for us humanists. Writes Gutting: “We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools. Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding.”
This assumes that we humanists really want nothing more than to be teachers, to grace eager young minds who would otherwise be occupied with X-Boxes and skateboards with our humanistic virtues, at a healthy guaranteed stipend. I’m not sure what the non-humanistic teachers think of this, or how they will feel when we ask them to take over our classes for a month or two while we finish our novels, symphonies or cathedral-sized frescoes.
At the same time, Professor Gutting compares our plight with that of schools’ athletic programs, and somehow uses as a point of comparison the Minnesota state legislature’s decision to pony up $500 million dollars for the NFL Vikings’ new stadium, while the Minnesota orchestra teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. As if a Notre Dame professor had to go to Minnesota to find instances of wretched excess in sports. Perhaps the orchestra could perform at halftime on Notre Dame’s exclusive NBC football broadcasts.
Now, I’d like to segue to some equally relevant White Sox news. The Sox yesterday re-signed weak-hitting catcher Tyler Flowers to a one-year, $950,000 contract. Flowers hit .195 with 10 HRs and 24 RBIs and missed the last month with a rotator cuff injury. Sports Illustrated’s baseball expert Tom Verducci, in a recent article on the “Worst Positions in Baseball” had the Sox catchers leading the AL in worstness. The minimum salary for major league baseball players, by the way, is $480,000, which could pay for a lot of humanists. The White Sox lost 99 games last year, so you could argue that they could have paid the entire team the minimum salary, with the exception of All-Star pitcher Chris Sale and the beloved Paul Konerko, and not done any worse. Moreover, Flowers’ contract is hardly the most egregious example of this supposed mid-market team misdirecting potentially humanistic resources to crummy players. John Danks, a pitcher, made $15 million and went 4-14. Adam Dunn made $15 million and hit .219.
Now, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that a lot of us humanists would rather be part of an “elite, professional faculty” of a major league baseball team than of some junior high school in Toledo. There are plenty of ways that a humanist could contribute to a baseball team. Here are a few:
- Dugout Hygiene
- Body Art
- Music Appreciation
- English as a Second Language
- English as a First Language
I think you could make the argument that every major league team would benefit from having at least seven or eight humanists on staff. Every team could produce novels like The Natural or The Art of Fielding. And that doesn’t even include the Poet Laureate. We haven’t had a great baseball poem since Tinkers To Evers To Chance. All we need is a little funding.
So, as a White Sox fan, I urge my team to set an example. I propose a Katz of the Day Humanistic Formula, where the Sox take the difference between the MLB minimum and the amount they are overpaying our worst players (this would be somewhere around $45 million) and use it to fund the White Sox Elite Professional Humanist Faculty.
I hereby nominate myself Department Chairman.
We are approaching the once-in-a-gigamillenium confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukah, or the single moment in recorded history when Christians can rightly ask, “How come the Jews are getting presents on a national holiday and we’re not?” As we all gather around the Menorah and celebrate the moment when Moses descended from Mt. Sinai and discovered the Jews worshipping a giant chocolate turkey, it is a time to reflect on our bounty and wonder, “Could this happen if the Jews finally got with it and adopted the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar?”
I don’t think so. For one thing, the Swimsuit Calendar Thanksgiving is the 2nd week in February, which is really late for Hanukah. (Although we can always post a picture of Kate Upton in November and not feel the least bit guilty.) The last time this happened, from what I can gather, was either 1861 or 1888 (the latter according to the Swimsuit Calendar). Since Lincoln did not declare Thanksgiving as a holiday until 1863, you could call this the first natural occurrence, although a closer reading of the Middle C Scrolls, a document that was discovered in some old piano wires from an abandoned Baby Grand in Tin Pan Alley, tells a different story.
According to the Middle C Scrolls, Judah Maccabee had led the Jews in a revolt against the repressive Greek army, retook Jerusalem and celebrated the Miracle of Hanukah when the sacred temple oil burned for eight days. What many people don’t know is that Maccabee scheduled a sumptuous celebratory feast on the following Thursday, complete with the recently imported turkey, candied sweet potatoes, cranberries and several kinds of pies, baked by Judah’s mom. To top off the evening, Maccabee planned to surprise the children with a sack of dreydls. He arrived via a herd of camels that were tethered to a nearby barn. In order to carry out his plan in complete secrecy, Judah hauled himself up to the roof of the temple, from whence he slithered down through the chimney with his sack of gifts. He arrived bedraggled and somewhat worse for wear – the Jews, to protect themselves from marauding Greek soldiers, had lined the inside of the chimney with barbed spikes. Furthermore, Judah was greeted with disgruntled parents who thought their kids already got enough presents on birthdays and bar mitzvahs, and the general consensus was, “Let the Goyim turn their holy religious days into a commercial Toy Fest.”
“But,” protested Judah, “I designed the dreydls myself. I can get the Philistines to mass produce them for 1 shekel a dozen. It would be a great holiday custom. Here, I even wrote a jingle for it: Dreydl, dreydl, dreydl…”
“Put a sock in it, Maccabee.”
“No, no! We’ll put the dreydls in a sock and hang them from the mantelpiece.”
But it was all for naught. The Jewish parents did not want any more gifts for their children until Tu Bishvat, which itself was only one month from the Swimsuit Calendar Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Hanukah and the Jewish Thanksgiving never fell on the same day again, and it wasn’t until many thousands of years later that it occurred to Jews to give presents on Hanukah, so they wouldn’t feel left out during the Christmas season.
Now, I know you are asking, How Can I Celebrate This Special Thanksgiving/Hanukah confluence? What would be the perfect gift for anyone from 7 to 70? Okay, how about 17 to 70?
I’m happy to report that my new novel, Dearly Befuddled, which features no camels but an equally exotic moose, and tells the story of a Jewish wedding in Yellowstone National Park, is available via Amazon for the equivalent of a small bag of chocolate gelt.
What a lovely way to enjoy the festivities! And remember, another opportunity like this will not come until the year 79,811. Seriously. I’m planning a special sale for the return of Haley’s Comet or the Messiah, whichever comes first.
Really, you don’t want to wait.
After three days of wandering through the meadows in Yosemite Valley in search of the Perfect Oak, I had it in the back of my mind to take one last fling at fly fishing before the season was out. I’d purchased a full season’s license for my trip to Tuolumne Meadows in July and used it exactly once; I intended to get my money’s worth out of it. The night before, while photographing Halfdome at sunset, along with several dozen other photographers who were under the aegis of a workshop, I’d heard the instructor mention that he’d spotted a healthy looking trout finning around, close to the river’s edge. With my flyrod stowed in my car nearby, I thought this might be an opportunity to treat the workshop students to a unique picture: Fly Fisherman Wading In The Reflection Of Halfdome.
I sensed impending ingratitude.
Wisely, I postponed the fishing until the next day. Warm weather had reopened Tioga Road, which connects Yosemite Valley with the Eastern Sierra and Hwy 395, so that became the preferred route back to LA. We passed through some blackened remnants of the Rim Fire around noon, and reached Tuolumne Meadows about an hour later immersed in sunshine, diffused by lenticular clouds and a perfect autumn breeze. There was scattered snow across the meadow and ice on the river.
Those lenticular clouds were a sight I’d first seen in Galen Rowell photographs, but had rarely witnessed myself. I made a valiant attempt to photograph the Cathedral Range with my wide angle, putting the meadow in the foreground, but even with a polarizer, I knew I was way too early in the day. It was not in our game plan to hang around Tuolumne Meadows until sunset.
The actual game plan was this: head down to Hot Creek, the catch and release trout water just below Mammoth. Treat myself to an hour or two of fishing, then head south and catch a lovely sunset along the Alabama Hills, the foothill range of the Eastern Sierra. It was my fading hope that I could capture a trout on a dry fly at Hot Creek. It seemed whenever I was there in the spring or summer it was too hot or too cold or too windy or, most likely, the fish were just too smart and had seen too many dry flies. The fly patterns tended to be tiny and complicated, the most successful method seemed to be nymph fishing, which is one grade above my competency level (sans guide).
For those of you deficient in entomology, nymphs are a lot less interesting than they sound. They are bug larvae. The artificial ones are about the size of an ant, with some type of identifying mark on them. You could more accurately call them nymphettes, but if you did, no fly fisherman’s wife would ever let him go fishing. The nymphs sink to the bottom of the river, and the trout kind of nub at them. Since the trout’s interest is hard for all but the most sensitive angler to detect, a small flotation device is attached to the leader. This is called a “strike indicator.” The uninitiated might know it as a bobber. If you really want to piss off a fly fisherman, sneak up behind him and say, “Hey! Your bobber’s down!”
The road to Hot Creek spills off of Hwy 395 near the Mammoth Airport and winds along the bluffs for a mile or so, turning into gravel and leading to a series of parking areas from whence you can climb down to the creek, a narrow, twisting stream that flows toward thermally active waters, the terminus of which used to be a popular hot springs but is now closed to the public. When I reached the river, it was perfectly empty. The breeze was slight. The lenticular clouds gave me some cover. There really was no excuse for not attracting a trout on a dry fly.
Except that nothing was rising, and I couldn’t tempt anything to rise. Around 3:30, a small covey of fisherman began to infiltrate my personal preserve. They looked tanned and healthy. They had, in fact, been at Mammoth Mountain, where the ski season had opened that very day. They were capping off their festivities at Hot Creek. I was happy to share my misery with them, except for one small detail: they were catching trout. They were catching trout on nymphs.
It was getting about time for me to pack it in and head for the Alabama Hills, but I just couldn’t leave. One more cast. And another. And another. I like kvetching with the other fishermen, comparing notes, finding out which nymphs I should be using, should I ever decide to really learn how to nymph fish (sans guide). Sometime after four o’clock, I noticed that the lenticular clouds were starting to gain form and dimension. They were turning a kind of sunflower yellow.
I thought, Time to Go.
I scrambled down the stream, to the path leading up to the parking area. My friend was already focusing his point-and-shoot at swatches of pink and yellow along the volcanic plains. I took a few forays with my Powershot, intended for the documenting of trout, then got the Canon DSLR and tripod up and ready.
I forgot about the trout pretty quickly. I can’t tell you what Tuolumne Meadows would have looked like, or the Alabama Hills, but the bluffs surrounding Hot Creek yielded some dramatic images.
By the way, you can see the whole portfolio by clicking the Find My Photography button on the right, or www.michaelkatzphotography.com And yes, our Commerce Department will be happy to accommodate you should you want to purchase a fine art print.
And speaking of Commerce:
My new novel, Dearly Befuddled, is now available in Yosemite at the Ansel Adams Gallery. Or, take Advantage of Amazon’s new Kindle Matchbook feature. Buy the paperback of Dearly Befuddled and get the E-book for $2.99.
Catching the fall colors in Yosemite Valley is always a dicey proposition. Peak time usually occurs from the last weekend of October through the first week in November; if you want to stay in the Valley, you need to make plans weeks in advance. Despite the preponderance of conifers, there are a wide variety of deciduous trees: dogwoods, cottonwoods, maples, oaks and one (1) notable elm. My stay in the Valley this week caught the oaks at near peak, the cottonwoods about 50%, the dogwood and maples off playing golf somewhere. Oh yes, the beautiful spreading elm in Cook’s Meadow was naked as a jaybird (the Sierra Stellar Jay, of course.)
I’ve photographed in quite a few areas of Yosemite, but it’s undeniable that the Valley offers so many striking views, you can just wander around, aided by a basic understanding of where the light hits and when, and find images everywhere. Cook’s Meadow is a prime morning spot during the brief window after dawn, when the low lying tussocks are covered with frost and the sun is peeking over Halfdome’s shoulder.
A few years ago (wink, wink) I took a fall photography workshop in the park. We were led to Stoneman Bridge near Curry village. With the river low, we were able to frame some beautiful perspectives of the bridge. My Stoneman image was one of my first to gain entry into art shows. The river was not quite as low this year (though Yosemite Falls existed only as the merest trickle) but the changing cottonwoods made for a lovely view.
Before leaving you with an iconic Halfdome sunset, just a few words about the wonderful community that keeps Yosemite going. This has been a difficult year at the park. The hangover effect from last year’s Hantavirus outbreak was still being felt when 2013 began. But the double whammy of the Rim Fire and the government shutdown played havoc with those whose lives revolve around the park. I suppose fires are an inherent risk. But the government shutdown cost individuals and businesses tens of thousands of dollars, irreplaceable income for those who do not have much of a margin for error. I have yet to see a single one of those great Tea Party patriots (you know, the ones who were hectoring Kathleen Sebelius about forfeiting her government healthcare program) offering to compensate the motel owner who lost $15,000 when the park was closed, or the thousands of dollars in lost income to employees in and around Yosemite. I guess Congressmen (and women) are not as accountable as the person whose careless campfire started the Rim Fire. But make no mistake; this was political arson of the first degree.
OK, feeling better now, Mike?
As I was about to say, no matter how many times we visit Yosemite, we’re still all looking for that perfect Halfdome picture. The turning cottonwoods gave some nice perspectives this year. It would have been perfect if the fading daylight lit the trees at exactly the same moments as it bathed the face of Halfdome in a pinkish haze. And yes, with the miracle of exposure blending, we could accomplish just that. But, as another politician once said, “We could do it…but it would be wrong.”
You know something is horribly wrong when today’s politicians leave you nostalgic for Nixon.
Speaking of great Photography Fiction, my new novel, Dearly Befuddled, is now available in Yosemite at the Ansel Adams Gallery. Or, take Advantage of Amazon’s new Kindle Matchbook feature. Buy the paperback of Dearly Befuddled and get the E-book for $2.99.
The Bears are heading up to Green Bay Monday night to play the Packers, and instead of moaning about our poor, beat-up Bears and their inability to beat the Pack lately, I thought it would be fun to share a little bit of family history. My late Dad, Stanley Katz, spent his early years in Green Bay. His father, Meyer Katz, was a principal in the Acme Packing Company. Yes, THAT Acme Packing Company, the ones that donated uniforms to the original Packer football team, and in fact had the original charter.
Getting the full story from my Dad was admittedly a bit murky. He was, after all, only 4 years old when this happened. He was, as it turned out, three years older than the National Football League. You can see where it might not have made a big impression. The story, as we got it, was that the original Green Bay football relationship was with the local Indian Packing Company, which in 1921 was bought out by Acme. My grandfather had, as best we can tell, worked his way up at Acme from salesman. According to the American Food Journal of January 1921, which I’ve excerpted here, Meyer was named Vice President of Acme Packing at the time of the merger. So we’re going to say that my grandfather had a big part in Acme’s sponsorship of the Packers.
You’re Welcome, Cheeseheads!
Alas, the Packer heritage did not last long in our family. By 1923, the Katzes had moved back to Chicago, where Meyer Katz founded Rival Dogfood. Many times I asked my Dad whether he might by some chance have a few shares of Green Bay Packer stock sitting in a drawer somewhere, or maybe in the safe next to the secret recipe for Rival’s dogfood. No such luck. Actually, the Acme/Green Bay Packers version of the team went belly up in 1934 and was rescued by a group of local businessmen. It eventually resumed life as a community owned corporation, which was so successful in keeping the team profitable and in Green Bay that no one in professional sports was allowed to do it ever again.
My father’s family became Bears fans. My Dad used to say that whenever the Packers would come up to Chicago to play the Bears, “All the Jews from Green Bay would come stay at our house.”
My Dad and his brother Harry, along with their brother-in-law Bernie Pollack, eventually took control of Stock Yards Packing Company in Chicago, and turned it into the premier provider of beef for restaurants, hotels and home freezers in the country. Although pro football had come a long ways from its infancy in Green Bay, the players, well into the ’60′s, still had to find careers outside of football, and it wasn’t unusual for many of them to end up doing business with companies like my Dad’s. Joe Stydahar, a Hall of Fame lineman with the Bears from 1936-1942 and later a coach, ended up in the container industry, and I remember him coming by, selling corrugated cardboard boxes to Dad. Marshall Goldberg, the Pitt All American and star of the Chicago Cardinals, owned a tool and die factory in Chicago, and I remember visiting him there with my Dad.
Those days are long gone. Pro football is certainly a dangerous way to make a living, but the players are not working in factories in the off-season to supplement their salaries.
In honor of our family history, I’ve always had a grudging respect for the Packers and sometimes adopted them as a second favorite team (horrors!)
But I’ve got to say, getting crunched by the Packers has gotten a little old. And I’m afraid with Jay Cutler and half our defense on the DL, things won’t get any easier this week.
I guess it is too late to take the uniforms back.
With only one (or two) more baseball games left in the season, I’m reminded of the late Harry Caray’s annual season-ending lament, “What are we going to do without baseball?” That was usually uttered during the last series of a typically feckless season in Chicago, North Side or South (some people forget that Harry was at his best during his years on the South Side), and underlining the fact that Harry was having a great time, regardless of the results. Sadly, 2013 was a season that would have challenged even Harry’s relentless enthusiasm (though not his sobriety, which would have been gone by Mother’s Day.) Both the Cubs and White Sox were truly horrible – hopelessly boring and never in contention. As crummy as the Cubs were, they managed to beat the Sox 4 straight, which might have been noteworthy had the Cleveland Indians not beaten the Sox 14 straight. This reminds us that Harry was also prone to saying, “You can’t ballyhoo a funeral.”
Things were so bad that some of us transplanted Chicagoans were forced to become Dodger fans, though the Dodgers had to go something like 50 and 2 to get us on the bandwagon. The main benefit of that was to remind us how wonderful it is to listen to Vin Scully. When I first moved here, I was bothered by all the Dodger fans that would come to games with their transistor radios and blare his broadcasts into my ear. Couldn’t they watch a *&!*!ing game without listening to Scully? Hadn’t they heard of earphones? (Note to younger readers: Google Transistor Radio). OK, Vin grew on me. Perhaps it was his description of a player fighting off a nagging injury: “He’s listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” Probably it was just the day-to-day brilliance, the ability to use a lifetime of knowledge in arts and literature as well as sports to put the game in perspective. Not to mention the cadence of his instrument, the human voice, to add drama, as well as the ability to step back and let the game speak for itself.
I don’t think there has ever been such a disparity in talent between local and national announcers as the recent Division and League Championship Series, when Dodger fans could listen to Vinnie while the rest of the country was subjected to a pedestrian (at best) group from TBS. It was a challenge watching the video on TBS and the audio on radio, because the radio feed was almost 30 seconds ahead of the television. (This, apparently, is a technical glitch way beyond the capability of the Dodgers’ radio network. If the Dodgers were running a GPS system, they would be telling you to turn left about fifty yards before you got off the bridge.) Still, Vin Scully is so much better than the other guys, you could listen to him describing a play and then watch it happen merely to confirm his description. Scully is 85 and already signed for 2014, and yet I couldn’t help but treasure the last few innings of the NLCS, knowing that there’s no guarantee we’ll hear him in the deciding game of a championship series again.
So…it is the late innings of Game Six, in St. Louis, the Dodgers losing 9-0, the season all but over. On the screen, a long shot of the Dodgers in the field, the manicured silhouette of the Gateway Arch mowed into the outfield grass. On the radio, Vin says, “The Dodgers must feel like the Arch fell on top of them.” Perfect.
And on we go to the World Series, and the usual annoying Fox coverage. For years we baseball “purists” have complained about Fox’s abysmal productions, in which the game becomes almost unwatchable among rotating close-ups of players spitting and picking their noses or just staring into space, alternated with cameos of plaintive fans sitting in worshipful repose, doing what we cannot do, which is watch the game. Behind those images is Joe Buck, who is okay for a guy who would just as soon be doing a football game, and Tim McCarver, who is retiring at the end of the week, so we won’t be too hard on him. Ha ha, just kidding. Because the end of Game 4 provided the Ultimate Fox Moment.
It was the bottom of the 9th, the Cards trailing the Red Sox 4-2. Slugger Carlos Beltran was at bat with two outs and the tying run on first in the person of a rookie pinch runner named Kolten Wong. The Red Sox first baseman, Mike Napoli, was holding Wong on, i.e. playing close to the base so Wong couldn’t get a long lead. McCarver went on an extended harangue about this, excoriating the Red Sox, pointing out that Wong’s run was meaningless in a two-run game. By holding Wong on, McCarver blathered, they were opening up a wide hole for Beltran between the first and second baseman. What terrible strategy! It would have been even worse had not the Red Sox pitcher, Koji Uehara, picked Wong off first, ending the game.
Fortunately for McCarver, most people did not see the pickoff, as Fox was busy showing a plaintive Cardinal fan in worshipful repose. A flurry of replays followed, giving the viewer the impression that perhaps it was their fault that they had missed the game’s most dramatic moment. The Red Sox horrible positioning was never mentioned again.
Oh, well. Fox does what they do.
See ya, Tim.
See ya next year, Vinnie
Now that we have concluded the latest round of GOP-induced Fiscal Chicken, we’re once again confronted with some electoral realities. Namely, the Republicans control a bunch of gerrymandered Congressional districts which assure them uncontested re-elections in conservative (read Tea party) areas. In case you’ve missed the meaning of gerrymandered, these districts look a little bit like the edge of a slice of Swiss cheese sticking out of a ham sandwich after you’ve taken a couple of bites — but under current law, there’s not much we can do about them until the next census. So you might ask, if we can’t change these voters’ minds, can’t we at least change the voters? Couldn’t we get a few of “us” to move into these districts and then a few more, and a few more, and thus change the political balance?
Democrats used to be really good at this sort of thing. Remember the wonderful days of busing, integrating school districts, fighting red-lined neighborhoods? Wasn’t that fun? Could it be that in the new millennium, we liberals have lost our stomach for that sort of thing?
Alas, I believe we have. And who can blame us? It’s one thing to ask schoolchildren to brave taunting and blatant racism to move into a better, safer school. Or to ask a young couple to stand up to rock-throwers and cross-burners in order to gain a nicer, more elegant neighborhood. It’s quite another to ask folks to move to east Texas or western Kentucky, just so liberals can break a filibuster or pay off our Treasury bonds to the Chinese. We are less like Melville’s Captain Ahab and more like his Bartleby the Scrivener. We prefer not to.
So then, you might ask, who can we turn to? Who has the persuasiveness to convince large groups of stout hearted folks to move into an area where they are disliked, nay despised, where they must build walls to ward off the bitter residents and might never be accepted in a thousand years? Where they might need protection from militias and zealous religious leaders?
Who else, I would suggest, but those determined leaders in charge of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank. We liberals, after all, have been their kind-of-staunch allies all this time. Okay, we may have protested their encroachment onto the West Bank, but really, we haven’t done anything to stop them. So maybe it is time for those intrepid organizers to repay the favor. I say, let’s build some settlements in Tea Party Congressional districts!
It wouldn’t be easy.
For one thing, I don’t think we could raise the argument that little bits of South Carolina and southern Illinois were promised to liberals in the Bible (though when it comes to annexing territory, the biblical imperative is always worth a try). Personally, I would go for a clever accumulation of real estate. An acre here, a subdivision there. This once worked pretty well here in Los Angeles. (See Chinatown) The next thing you know, we’ll have Gated Communities, full of blue-state voters, deep in the heart of Georgia.
We might even find acceptance surprisingly easy. After all, those Tea Party/GOP folks really like the Israeli settlements. At least, they say they do. Hey, Eric Cantor, we expect you down there with the first shovel. OK, so our settlers won’t be orthodox Jews with great ideas for smartphone apps. Some of them might be black or Latino or Asian or just plain bleeding heart white liberals. But we promise they’ll all be citizens, or at least have green cards.
Not like that Obama guy.
So listen up, Head of the Democratic Party, whoever you are. Pick up your iPhone. Get Prime Minister Netanyahu on your speed dial. I’m sure he’ll know who to call.
Let’s get the settlements started.
Mid-term elections are just around the corner.
Given our current state of political dysfunction, you might think that Texas would be the last place in the world to host an Eco Conference. Then again, Austin has always been to Texas what West Berlin once was to East Germany, so as the river rafting guides like to say, No Shit, There I Was!
Let me say first that the South By Southwest Eco Conference (brought to you by the same fine folks that run the film and music festival in the spring) is not your parents’ eco conference – by that I mean, it’s not your kids’ parents’ eco conference. Green was equally symbolic of the environment and not-so-filthy lucre. The prevailing attitude seemed to be, “Science has spoken. Some people may not accept it, but we are going to do something about it, do it first, and profit from it.” I’m not suggesting an absence of idealism. There were plenty of bright and committed people who have chosen a road that is not the easiest or most profitable in the short run. But profitable they will be – some of them, anyway, else the Austin Conference Center would not have been teeming with Venture Capitalists, Angels, Accelerators, Crowdfunding experts and a few itinerant investors looking for a quick rocket ride to IPO-ville.
The key word seemed to be sustainable. Sustainable is the new organic. Not that there wasn’t plenty of the old organic. There was sustainable agriculture. Sustainable architecture. Sustainable energy. Sustainable fashion. Sustainable travel. There were dozens of start-up companies looking for various levels of sustainable financing, and the aforementioned financiers looking for sustainable businesses.
There were firms that would monitor (and reduce) your energy use at home and away. There were advanced water toxin detectors. There were hydroponics gardens that would fit in your kitchen. There were firms that would finance solar energy in third world countries. There was a company that would digitally analyze lettuce plants and weed out the bad ones as they covered the fields. There was a company that would reduce underwater noise pollution. There were designers of eco-educational computer games. And more, lots more. There were educational panels and community action panels, too. Bringing gardens to urban areas was a popular subject – Monday keynote speaker Ron Finley noted that he had run into 40 year olds in south central LA who didn’t know how to use a shovel. And, to round things out, there was one notable Hollywood star, Adrian Grenier, the co-star of Entourage, who along with producer Peter Glatzer, was making short docs on sustainable enviro-topics – the line for that presentation went halfway down the hall (nothing like Hollywood do-gooders to pack the house.)
I couldn’t resist a few of the panels on rivers, oceans, and fish, even though they were not going to reap me any profits or, as it turned out, any angling tips. I was happy to discover that the Colorado River is going to be sufficiently replenished so that it will reach the Sea of Cortez next spring (though the agreement is temporary). I was surprised, though, to find that the representative from Trout Unlimited had been a key negotiator with agriculture concerns, once a sworn enemy, having come to the conclusion that the river would be better protected by responsible agri-interests than by whatever might replace them (such as commercial development.)
I have no real complaints about the commercial bent of the conference – it was the principal reason I attended. Still my own eco-interest was born in the North Woods of Wisconsin and nurtured in the Sierra by the words of John Muir, Ed Abbey and Wallace Stegner and the photography of Ansel Adams. I couldn’t help but note the absence of a Wilderness Ethic, a concern for Wild Places, or even much conversational chatter about wilderness experience. Perhaps the epitome of this was the Wednesday keynote speech of Adam Werbach, the erstwhile wunderkind president of the Sierra Club. That, it turns out, was so 20 years ago. Werbach, who in an earlier keynote speech by artist Shepard Fairey was effusively praised for, among other things, distancing Sierra Magazine from people who joined the club because they “like to go camping” (Off with their heads!) has now denounced environmentalism and is pushing something called Yerdle, a company that is based on the premise that everyone has Way Too Much Stuff. About 25% of Our Stuff is lying in a pile somewhere, and Yerdle will help facilitate the bartering of your Unused Stuff for someone else’s Unused Stuff. If you think this concept was lifted from a George Carlin routine, you are not alone.
Werbach appears to be the polar opposite of the late David Brower, who was drummed out of office at the Sierra Club for being too radical, and went on to found Friends of the Earth, where he could be radical to his heart’s content. I don’t expect, nor want, Werbach to be Brower. But I would have liked to have heard that he came upon his inspiration for Yerdle while standing atop a Sierra peak, perhaps Mt. Ansel Adams, instead of watching George Carlin’s SNL monologues on YouTube. And I wouldn’t have minded hearing from Michae Brune, the current Executive Director of the Sierra Club, that their magazine will someday become readable again and not merely a podium for disclosing the latest eco-outrages.
Well, you can’t have everything. I’ve got some balance sheets to look over. But I’ll do so surrounded by photographs from Alaska and Yellowstone and Yosemite. All three of which are still being held hostage at this writing, in no small part by the barbarians that surround the Austin City Limits.
So long, Texas, and thanks for all the Barbecue.
Some of you who read my Monterey Jazz Festival reports (1,2 and 3) last week may have noticed that I included several of my own photographs (as opposed to the usual artist or event-supplied ones). No, I didn’t bring in the heavy artillery that I use for my landscape photography. Instead, I added the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS to my arsenal, and I was quite pleased with the results. I’m going to refrain from the long technical discussion you might get elsewhere, and try and provide a quick discussion about why I bought it, how I used it and how it worked.
It’s no news to anyone that the predominance of iPhones (et al) has made a photographer out of most everyone. Not owning a smart phone I was missing out on some opportunities that came up when I wasn’t out with my Canon 5D. There are a myriad of high end “point and shoots” from Canon, Nikon, Sony and others. Could I get something reasonably priced? How would I balance the different pixel counts, sensors and lenses? Now, I know some of you believe “brick and mortar” is an invitation to be overcharged, oversold, etc. And yes, I could have spent countless hours doing online research. Instead, I went over to Samy’s Camera in LA, where I’ve been a customer for years. I explained to them what I wanted: a camera that could grab some images at music events, usable for my webposts and jazz reviews. For that I needed a quality telephoto lens, but didn’t need the extremely high pixel counts. I also wanted to do some “street photography” as well as document trips, family events, etc. We looked at five or six cameras, but the Canon 280 with the 20x telephoto hit the spot. The 12.1 megapixels were fine, the CMOS sensor with Digic 6 processor was a bonus. The price, at $279, was reasonable. And when Samy’s no-tax sale was announced a few days later, they honored the discount.
Like all these cameras, there are a myriad of functions crammed into a small body and a couple of dials. And with most of the instructions provided online, it can be challenging for someone not prone to reading manuals anyway. The best advice I can give is, read the brief paper summary they include, go out and shoot, then download the manual and try and figure out how to make it all work. I went to Palisades Park above the Santa Monica beach, got an idea of what the camera could do, then worked it out again at Monterey Bay before putting it to real use.
So here’s what I found. Music-wise, if you can manage to get reasonably close to your subject, say at a club in an informal setting, you can get some really superior shots. The night before MJF started we went to the Hyatt Regency, where most of the musicians stay, and caught the house band with guest guitarist Calvin Keys. It takes a little practice working with the focus, and some experimentation with both auto and manual controls (shutter speed can be more important than aperture when working with musicians), but I got some excellent shots. I did not use flash, and kept all the sound doo-dads mute. The camera can reach ISO 6400 with variable white balance, so there’s plenty of latitude indoors. The camera also has a “fish-eye” option, which provides some interesting looks, and I used them for some crowd shots later at the festival.
Shooting from a distance, as I was at the main Arena or the smaller outdoor Garden Stage, isn’t easy, but was still fun. When the telephoto is extended to its full length, the camera is very jumpy. It can be sometimes hard to even find your subject, much less keep it in view. The trick is to half-depress the shutter in order to “freeze” the focus and exposure, then concentrate on framing your subject. There are, of course, the problems of people obstructing your view. Being easily irritated by dopes who stand in front of me or hold their cameras/iPhones over their heads, I try to be considerate. My main gig at these events is writing. If I can’t sit on the aisle or find a spot nearby to stand, I try to limit things to a well thought-out image or two. The results really were quite good. From the Garden Stage I was able to get some impressive shots of bassist Charnett Moffet, among others, and from much farther away at the main Arena, some nice glimpses of Joe Lovano, David Sanborn, Diana Krall, and others.
I have not tried the 1080 p video. I know others have complained about the battery when using video, so I can’t comment. If video is that important to you, probably you need a more expensive camera.
I took the camera out to the Monterey shore as well, but let’s be honest. You can get some nice snapshots and it’s great for an “I was there” shot, but it’s no substitute for the 5D. Here, for example, are a few images I included earlier, of seals and the shoreline in Pacific Grove, with my Canon 5D and Tamron 70-300 telephoto.
And here’s a glimpse of some work I did at Point Lobos. All this with the Canon 5D, tripods, etc.
So, little by little, I make my way into the 21st Century.
Here’s Day 3 of the 56th Monterey Jazz Festival, from International Review of Music.
September 26, 2013
Impressions from MJF 56, Sunday
By Michael Katz
Sunday brought its share of legendary virtuosos to the Monterey Fairgrounds, but before we go there, a word about the kids.
Jazz education is the mission of the MJF, and Sunday afternoon demonstrated how successful they have gotten at it. The Night Club had healthy audiences to see the winning high school jazz combos and vocal ensembles. The previous night, the Coffee House had turn-away crowds for the terrific Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors. But the signature group is the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and they put on a terrific show in the Arena Sunday afternoon. Paul Contos led the band through some fresh arrangements of standards like “Sunny Side of the Street” and Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” Soloists included a fine pair of tenor sax men, Julian Lee and Jyron Walls. Vocalist Brianna Rancour-Ibarra sang “Out of Nowhere,” with polish and verve.
It was great seeing Joe Lovano working in the context of a big band again, and his soloing on his own “Streets of Naples,” “The Peacocks” (with more lovely singing by Brianna) and “Birds Eye View” were worthy additions to his work as Artist-In-Resident. Elena Pinderhughes added some swinging flute work on “Got A Match.”
A special shout out to guitarist Peter Gabrielides, representing New Trier High School (Winnetka, IL) where this writer once stumbled through many a first period on the tenor sax. Gabrielides, who had several blazing solos, made all of us alums proud.
Bob James and David Sanborn were a perfect antidote for the typical Sunday afternoon heat. Teamed with drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus, they led an acoustic quartet through a combination of previous hits and new compositions from their Quartet Humaine CD.
Sanborn has one of the more recognizable sounds; it crosses over from smooth to funky jazz and blues. During most of the show the group was pleasant, if not earthshaking, but there were surely some memorable moments. James’ composition, “You’d Better Not Go To College” was a delightful romp. Sanborn’s ballad “Sophia” gave James the opportunity for a sweet piano turn, Sanborn answering with a soulfully plaintive run on his alto. Marcus Miller’s “Maputo” was the source of one of Sanborn’s signature riffs, and “Follow Me” was James’ venture into complicated time signatures, a la the late Mr. Brubeck.
The “hammock” period between arena shows was an opportunity for sampling more from the cornucopia of talent on the grounds. I caughtsinger Judy Roberts and tenor man Greg Fishman in one of their eight sets from the Yamaha Courtyard stage. This one featured Judy in two of her favorite modes – Brazilian, with an inspired version of “Agua de Beber” (Fishman providing the Stan Getz-inspired accompaniment), and, a few minutes later, a take on Charlie Parker music, testing Roberts’ scatting ability with “Scrapple From The Apple” and a closing Parker vocal riff.
Meanwhile, back at the Garden Stage, the Minnesota group Davina and the Vagabonds, led by Davina Sowers, was tearing things up. Like the California Honeydrops the day before, they had a definite New Orleans sound. Davina is singer, pianist and provocateur, with a little bit of the Divine Miss M in her. Whether belting out a blues like “I’d Rather Go Blind,” or a good-time tune like “I Gotta New Baby,” she was full of life, and the Garden Stage crowd was on its feet for much of the 90 minute show.
MJF 56 was down to its last group of acts, now, and one could be forgiven for making one last trip to the food court and loading up on shrimp-ka-bobs and peach cobblers before they ran out. There were B-3 organs everywhere in the Grounds area, in various concoctions, and even though I was headed for the Arena, I had a vague feeling that I’d be back.
Wayne Shorter was leading an 80thBirthday celebration on the main stage, with an all-star group that featured Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blades on drums. Shorter was playing soprano sax, and no one quite gets the lyrical sound out of that difficult instrument like him. With Perez dipping and dancing around him, it was like watching a pair of eagles soaring through the thermals.
Still, I was beginning to feel restless, and with the minutes ticking away from the festival clock, I decided to go back to the grounds and check out Jazz Master Lou Donaldson on his alto. I suppose I shouldn’t have considered that an unexpected treat. Donaldson, at 87, may not get around so easily, but the chops are still there, as is a delightfully raspy blues voice and a deft sense of humor. And what a group he had behind him – guitarist Randy Johnston is a leader in his own right, and Akiko Tsuruga added a lush layer on the B3 organ. When I walked in, Fukushi Tainaka was in the middle of a rousing drum solo; Donaldson then stepped up with a blues vocal, Johnston casually laying off one riff after another. Donaldson’s classic “Alligator Blues” followed, with Lou ripping off the main line and leaving plenty of room for the others. Then, a crack-up blues number, LD singing “It Was Just A Dream.” And finally, a delicious romp through “Cherokee.”
It was back to the Jimmy Lyons Stage for the curtain closer, an extended set with Diana Krall. Diana has had a magical relationship with Monterey, dating back to her debut there at MJF 40. Sunday night she had a new look. Gone was the standard trio, and gone also the full orchestra that had gotten a little stodgy. Her new group provided a fresh perspective, especially with fiddler Stuart Duncan, most recently heard with Yo Yo Ma on the Goat Rodeo sessions. He was a perfect fit for the material from Krall’s new CD, Glad Rag Doll and sparkled throughout.
Diana established the tone early with “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye.” She retains the ability to take nearly forgotten material from decades past and bring it to life, as she did a few minutes later with “Just Like A Butterfly Caught In The Rain.” But her diversity is startling, or would be if she didn’t pull it off so effortlessly. She did an extended version of Tom Waits’ “Tempation,” complete with reverb mic, and before the evening was out, would touch base with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Band, Jimmie Rodgers and more.
There was a time when Krall was reticent to talk to the audience, but she has developed an easy rapport now, inviting the crowd in for some family patter and a little musical background. Best of all, she had a sizeable amount of solo time, just her voice and piano playing, which remains first rate. “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” had a freshly dramatic quality, separated from the symphonic background. Then there was the Dave Frishberg classic, “Peel Me A Grape.” When she first performed it here at MJF 40, Krall presented it with a delicious sex kitten mystique. But 16 years later, Diana smartly stepped back and sang it with the brisk irony that Frishberg (and Blossom Dearie) intended. “Frim Fram Sauce,” is still wonderfully saucy, and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” didn’t need much adjustment. It is still the same heartbreaker, full of longing.
The quintet behind provided plenty of support. Aram Bajakian shone on guitar (and ukelele, on “Everything Made For Love”), Patrick Warren filled in the sound on keyboards, and the rhythm section was held down by Dennis Crouch on bass and the estimable Karriem Riggins on the drum set.
Meanwhile, Krall continued on with a remarkable tour through her own particular North American Songbook. There was Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” delivered with touching simplicity, and “Sunny Side of the Street,” with Duncan performing a lively jaunt on his fiddle. Another nod to Nat King Cole with “Just You, Just Me” (not to mention a nod to Bill Evans). And from there, a bluesy blast of The Band’s “Ophelia.”
It is hard to imagine another vocalist who has that kind of range today, and can do it all so movingly.
Finally, Krall shared with us the only song, or so she claims, that her 7 year old twin boys actually like. It was Jimmie Rogers’ “Prairie Lullaby,” delivered again with simplicity and grace. A perfect way to close the curtain. And that was it for MJF 56.
A few closing thoughts on the festival…It’s been noted by some that overall attendance was down a little, thanks mainly to a storm that rattled through the Bay Area Saturday, cutting down on some of the traditional walk-up gate. That’s too bad, because the Grounds line-up was diverse and outstanding from start to finish. There was plenty to like at the Arena, too, but it’s worth noting that practically every act had appeared in LA within the last six months, most of them this summer. Of course it is difficult to book 5 shows of headliners without dipping into the summer tours, but it would nice to have a few more “Made For Monterey” acts that traditionally make the Festival a can’t-miss event for us SoCal types.
The Monterey Shore
So now I type these last words on a Tuesday morning from my B and B in Pacific Grove, where I hung on for an extra day. It seems empty – my friends that came up for the festival are gone. All those wonderful music fans and musicians who reunite the third weekend in September have dispersed, returning to far flung homes, or back on the road. The last chords of music echo from venues now reverted to fairgrounds out-buildings. The Hyatt Lounge is just another bar.
One last walk along the sea shore, listening to seals playfully barking, pelicans on the wing overhead.
See you next year, Monterey.
All photos, except Wayne Shorter, by Michael Katz.
Wayne Shorter photo by Tony Gieske.