Tuesday, December 11, 2012

California in November

A word from our sponsors.

Like countless other San Francisco transplants, I came west for the vibrant culture, a personal re-boot, and mild weather year-round. 

Before I moved to California, my imagination centered on stimulating elements of city life:  art, music, food, diversity, a new, sprawling canvas of neighborhoods and people and activities I was hungry to explore. I didn't appreciate California's rich natural world until I'd been here for a while.  

Over a recent weekend, I re-acquainted myself with a small slice of this physical beauty, which tends to be out of sight, out of mind when you're in the middle of a dense urban area

A Sunday trip started at Sutro Baths (below), once "the world's largest indoor swimming pool establishment," according to Wikipedia. The structure was removed some decades back. Here's a view of what's left from up the hill:    

(Click on photo to enlarge)

The next stop was the Marin Headlands, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

A trowel-like cloud formation appeared over the road which climbs to the highest vantage point:

Here's a view of the Headlands around back, with Mount Tamalpais edging the horizon,

and while I took in that grandeur, I found two little birds, kissing in a tree:

Winding east are stairs, 

and back at the front of the Marin Headlands, we find San Francisco,

the Golden Gate Bridge, with Alcatraz poking out from the left side of the frame,

San Francisco behind the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge, 

(Click on photo to enlarge)

and the long view:  San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Headlands all in one.


Over the years, I've heard ex-pats from the East Coast and upper Midwest whine about the lack of clearly-defined seasons in the Bay Area. 

I can understand missing spring. After you've been cooped up indoors for several months, it's really uplifting to see the snow melt, to be able to go outside whenever you want in just one or two layers of clothes, to feel life re-emerge writ large. There's no such catharsis in San Francisco, because of its narrow temperature range

Not to mention, Christmas isn't the same when it's sixty degrees and sunny outside, with palm fronds rustling in the breeze.  

But we do have a wonderful Indian summer, and fall colors, including yellow, 



and amalgams thereof.

And we have a pure blue sky 
whose frequent, friendly presence  
draws legions to the Golden State, 
and keeps many of us out here.
Other "Truth and Beauty" photo essays:

"On a clear day you can see forever" is a guided tour through San Francisco on a beautiful Indian Summer day

"Gone but not Forgotten" is a tribute to a friend who left this world all too soon 

"Random San Francisco" has 46 photos which range from 
ornate architecture to street scenes to vistas to murals

"A Sunny* Monday in San Francisco" is a day tour of the city, 
from Mission Street to the Pacific Ocean

"The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the Marin Headlands

                 "Vintage Cars" is an evening tour of old automobiles in the Mission District

Monday, December 3, 2012

Honest Abe makes sausage

“If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

-Otto von Bismarck

I had mixed feelings when I  found out that Steven Spielberg was making a movie about Abraham Lincoln. The history junkie in me was excited, but I feared that Spielberg's penchants for extraneous special effects and telegraphed melodrama (cue:  John Williams' soaring strings) could muddle one of the most important chapters in our national narrative. 

Fortunately, curiosity and strong reviews propelled me to a multiplex to see "Lincoln," where I found that my misgivings had been unwarranted.

Despite its grand historical scope and long running time, "Lincoln" has a tight storyline. The entire movie takes place in January of 1865, and most of the scenes are closed-door discussions between powerful men with a lot of facial hair. "Lincoln" would be a natural fit for the stage, which is not surprising, since the screenplay was written by Tony Kushner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Angels in America."

Daniel Day-Lewis is a subdued, subtle Abraham Lincoln. Other than a handful of instances where he's pushed to assert himself, he remains calm, almost retiring, and frequently leavens tense moments with humorous anecdotes. Yet behind his relaxed exterior is a stubborn willfulness to do the right thing, political expedience be damned. 

Though the developments of January 1865 were clearly more momentous than the changes of the past four years, a number of historical parallels with the present are embedded in "Lincoln." 

The movie is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," which told how Lincoln - like Barack Obama after him - surrounded himself with independent-minded advisers, as he placed a higher premium on problem-solving than ego-stroking and blind loyalty. And Lincoln's combination of a first-class temperament and a focus on the long game bears an unmistakable similarity to our current president, another Illinois politician of limited experience and big visions who arrived in the White House at a perilous moment. The two men were even sworn in for their first terms on the same Bible (above).

The plot revolves around Lincoln's full-court press to move the 13th Amendment (to end slavery) through the House of Representatives before the close of the Civil War.  Early on, William Seward (Lincoln's Secretary of State, played by David Strathairn), tries to convince Lincoln that he should give up on the amendment in exchange for the South's imminent surrender. Key political ally Preston Blair (leader of the conservative Republicans/Hal Holbrook) has the same advice. Lincoln patiently hears them out and proceeds to ignore their half-a-loaf thinking, as Obama did after the 2010 election cycle, when some of his cabinet officials suggested that he abandon comprehensive healthcare reform in favor of incremental measures.  

While trying to placate allies on his right, Lincoln also works on Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) to secure liberal Republican votes on his left. Stevens, head of the House Ways and Means Committee, is an ardent, outspoken abolitionist who thinks Lincoln is timid, and not moving fast enough (a criticism Obama has repeatedly gotten from the left, though he has done more for social progress than any president we've had in four decades).

Throughout the movie, Lincoln engages in the kind of tactics that lead faux populists to see all politicians as a morally inferior, self-serving breed:  he obscures important life-and-death information (about his stalling the Civil War peace process) from friend and foe alike while paid surrogates alternately issue threats and offer plum appointments to representatives to secure their votes

Undoubtedly, some politicians have little or no concern for the human condition, but all politicians are not created equal. "Lincoln" shows an exceptional leader performing a very delicate dance (under tremendous pressure) among competing interests for the greater good of humanity.    

And though ending slavery - like creating a national healthcare system - was an urgent moral imperative, Lincoln (and Obama) had to overcome hardcore obstructionism from congressional reactionaries backed by powerful and parasitic economic interests. In both cases, Americans a century-and-a half removed from these battles will scratch their heads and wonder "What the hell took us so long?"