shakespeare

Did you know that Shakespeare did some of his best work during a Pandemic? And he even referenced it in his work. “A plague on both your houses” are Mercutio’s dying words in Romeo and Juliet.

Now that I am a totally ADHD person dealing with the challenges on self-imposed, government mandated (common sense) isolation, I’m finally sitting down and finishing my play, MAX TO THE MAX. I’ve had staged readings with theatre companies in Vancouver, BC, and Santa Rosa, CA, notes from friends I trust, and I’m finally sitting my ass down and finishing the thing.

Okay, maybe I’m not Shakespeare but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Still, there is much more time in the day and I am spending a lot of that time driving around the beautiful back roads of the Pacific Northwest, along Bay View Road or up and down the Mount Baker Highway looking at lush farmlands surrounded by beautiful foothills and even a mountain or two.

I’m driving with Fred, my older brother, who sadly died just before his 59th birthday. Fred was my hero from boyhood to manhood (a journey that’s still ongoing), and a tremendous inspiration to my siblings and me. He was president of his high school class, played Curley in Oklahoma, served in the Army, went to law school and prosecuted the bad guys in Florida.

He contracted some kind of onerous virus while in the tank corps in Texas, and fought it his whole life but managed to raise two wonderful sons. His picture is scotch taped to my dashboard and as I drive around, he is a constant reminder to me that we have to appreciate every minute and every hour and every day we have on this planet.

Yes, it’s not all a bed of roses, sometimes it’s guns and roses, sometimes it’s a pandemic that came out of nowhere and is killing innocent people who did nothing more than inhale at the wrong time and place or touch an infected surface before touching their face.

As of now, there is no vaccination for this disease. Inspired by the Plague, the Bard wrote: “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.”

Yes, hope and prayer are important but I think we can be more proactive than that. Our challenge is to make the best out of a terrible situation, definitely the worst in my lifetime. Yes, I lost friends and classmates in the Vietnam War but that did not have the worldwide reverberations of Covid-19.

My advice to all of you is to keep your distance while you’re in your house, but also get out of the house as much as possible, weather and location permitting. We are blessed to live in a very beautiful place with good air and so many beautiful hiking trails. That is a very healthy version of isolationism.

Explore new places. Meditate. Talk to God if you’re religious. Or write a play!

justbe

My new motto is Just Be.

Sounds simple and it’s meant to be. After a long and wonderful career as first a newspaper reporter and then a television and movie director, I’ve decided to slow down and smell the roses.

That’s a real challenge for me because I’m the kind of person who gets very nervous when he looks at his calendar and there is nothing scheduled for tomorrow. I’ve written before that I’m a hunter warrior and I can’t sit still so it scares me when I have nothing on my day planner.

After 11 Hallmark Channel movies in the last three years, I’m taking some time off for self-reflection. What do I want to do when I grow up—if I ever grow up! For one thing, I’m writing my first play. For another, I’m doing an Orca Whale Recovery project for KCTS in Seattle. Oh, and I’m shooting a documentary in Uganda in March about an amazing musical instrument –a giant xylophone made of wood called the Embaire that comes from a small village at the base of the Nile River.

These are passion projects. I’m also starting to play tennis again after knee replacements shut me down many years ago. And I’m going dancing and singing karaoke and just taking time to appreciate what a beautiful place we live in—taking back roads instead of the freeway. Instead of listening to depressing news, I play 60’s on 6 on Sirius radio and sing along with all of the songs I grew up with.

I get in an airplane and visit my wife and kids in Los Angeles and my sister and brother in Palm Springs, and recently reacquainted with my college newspaper editor, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, now a leading Zen Buddhist based in Marin County, California. Norman wrote the most recent Have Faith column for our paper and will be a very positive influence on me as is Father William Treacy, my 100-year-old close pal.

When I start to get anxious about money or health issues or family matters, I look outside my window in my living room at the beautiful San Juan Islands and thank the Good Lord that I’m living the life I should be living in exactly the right place.

Yes, sometimes when I look out that window, it’s pouring rain and the wind is howling. I put on music from my new collection of wonderful old Vinyl records. And then the sun peeks out and there are the beautiful islands no longer obscured by the clouds.

Ain’t that how life is. Sometimes, it’s rainy, sometimes it’s cloudy, then the sun pops out and we get to reflect on how lucky we are to Just Be alive.

Rachel’s heART, through it’s parent organization Voices of the Children, is offering Capoeira inKampala, Uganda!Partnering with Einstein Rising , a business accelerator for Africa’s social entrepreneurs, Voices of the Children Volunteers Munair Simpson and Nick Damski will join Alexis Chavez of Einstein Rising to lead a Capoeira workshop for youth.  Capoeira is a martial art that combines elements of fight, acrobatics, music, dance and rituals in a very elegant and magnetic way, giving the body physical strength, power and flexibility and

giving the mind self-confidence, courage and creativity.

The workshops will provide safe spaces and community development as well as a platform to talk about vital issues such as HIV awareness, abuse and poverty as well as other challenges they face on a daily basis.

For this first trip in October 2019, our goal is to develop a sustainable program that will continue for years to come, just as our programs with Syrian refugee youth in Amman, Jordan continue with great success.

This workshop is named after Rachel Damski, mother of Hollywood filmmaker and Voices of the Children board member Mel Damski.  Rachel escaped the holocaust as a teenager. At the age of 80, she began to paint for the first time.  It benefited her life in indescribable ways and helped release trauma she had been carrying in her psyche for many decades.  Rachel lived until 94 and left behind a legacy and a sense of optimism that everyone, especially youth, would benefit from, no matter the challenges they face.

DSC_0523

Yes, that’s me on page one, covering the 100th birthday celebration of Father William Treacy with the objectivity and discipline of a former Newsday reporter.  Here I am on page three, unburdened by journalistic standards, kvelling about how grateful I feel to have this extraordinary man in my life. Read the article in the LaConner Weekly News HERE.

I am Jewish, the son of two courageous people who grew up in Hitler’s Germany, my wife is Catholic and we have been privileged to have Father Treacy and his caretaker, Sister Emma, join us for Christmas dinner and Passover seders the last two years. I am also honored to be working with Jeff Renner on a documentary about this extraordinary Priest who has touched so many lives.  Jeff is a former Seattle meteorologist and a terrific journalist who also has a wonderful screen presence that makes him the perfect interviewer.

IMG_8580

Father Bill has also joined me at Yom Kippur services as a guest of Rabbi Danny Wiener at Temple DeHirsch Sinai in Bellevue the last few years. Rabbi always introduces his esteemed guest and the congregants always give this special man a standing ovation, which is very unusual for this somber holiday but speaks to the fact that Father Treacy and Rabbi Wiener deeply believe in interfaith communication and understanding.

IMG_8583

Yes, I’m throwing a lot of superlatives around, but there is no exaggeration here. Interviewing several guests at the party about their experiences with Father Treacy, I heard remarkable stories about how he has inspired other religious leaders such as Sister Lucy Kurian, who I think will be the next Mother Teresa in India, to Rabbi Ted Falcon, who is blown away by Father Bill’s huge heart and extraordinary memory.

DSC_0610

One woman we interviewed told about how she was about to quit nursing school because she couldn’t pay her rent and Father showed up with an envelope with a generous amount of money in it. Years later, in the midst of a successful nursing career, she tried to repay Father but he wouldn’t accept the money and asked her to pay it forward to someone else in need, which she happily did. Her stories were told with great passion and brought tears to my eyes. So much for objective journalism. This man just continues to blow my mind!!!

Sometimes the Yiddish language delivers the perfect word and right now that word is “naches”.

Naches (pronounced nachiss) is defined as the joy a child gives a parent and Susan and I are feeling particularly joyous these days about the accomplishments of our youngest son Charley.

Charley is touring with the Sharon Van Etten band, playing keyboards as well as guitar. They appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, were interviewed on NPR, and then hit the road for a 7-month worldwide tour with many venues already sold out.

Susan flew to see him in New York City and I’ll be seeing him this coming weekend in Vancouver, BC or Seattle. One brother and his sister will see him in Portland and his other two brothers will see him in Los Angeles. His French cousins will see him in Paris. I might try to see him in San Francisco at the hallowed Fillmore and if time and work allow, I might even fly to Madrid to see him play.

One of reasons we are so proud of Charley, who turned 30 last week, is that he toured recently with Milo Greene playing the bass guitar and now he’s playing keyboards as well. He didn’t study piano as a kid, and only in the last couple of years started taking piano lessons.

Obviously, the kid has a gift and he’s written and recorded some wonderful songs of his own, but this is also a testament to very hard work and perseverance. He had an excellent role model in his oldest brother Luke, whose band Box Violet, including his wife Margot, played in Europe and at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas back in the day.

We were on a family ski trip many years ago and we told the kids that the most important consideration in a career choice is not money or prestige, it’s finding something that makes you excited to go to work. All of our kids have managed to do that, Luke has a very successful audio-visual business, Sarah and Nick work with very challenged kids in Portland, and Michael works for a major talent agency while honing his skills as a sculptor and animator.

So much naches, we are just bursting with parental pride as Charley is following in their footsteps, making his dreams come true.

Sharon Van Etten band and Charley

ImmigrationAbout 15 thousand migrant children spent Christmas yesterday locked up in tight spaces at the border, with no contact allowed with family or reporters. Two young Guatemalans died in custody in the last month.

One of the few things that I agree with this President on is that we need a more responsible immigration policy. However, the simplistic bombastic way he has handled it has wreaked havoc on people’s lives.

I suspect that politicians like George Bush the younger and Rand Paul have turned a blind eye to our porous Southern border because their rancher and farmer friends and constituents relied on cheap illegal labor.

My first documentary, made in 1971, was entitled The Illegal and my crew and I filmed Mexican farmworkers as they easily waded across the Rio Grande River into Texas. We interviewed many Mexican-American members of the farmworkers union who were passionately asking our State and National governments to stop the flow.

That never happened. It just got worse and worse. And it was exacerbated by new groups of migrants trying to escape poverty and unstable governments in Central America.

So if we agree that we need to control our border and we have to be selective about whom we let in, what is the best solution to the problem?

For one, there is a diplomatic approach. I have never heard one TV report that explained how all of these asylum seekers get into Mexico. Instead of the absurdity of expecting Mexico to pay for the wall, why aren’t we challenging Mexico to control it’s own southern borders.

How did that enormous Caravan that got so much attention get into Mexico from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to begin with?

And when you elevate the conversation above a solid wall, the most intelligent analysts say that there are so many modern technological devices that would allow 24-7 surveillance of wide stretches of the border, whereas you could never hire enough people to make sure nobody climbs over or digs under such a huge expanse.

As the son of immigrants, I am very proud of the message on the Statue of Liberty. Yes, give us not just your Einsteins, but also your tired and poor if they are fleeing persecution and they are willing to work hard in an ever-expanding economy.

Hitler deprived my parents of a high school education but they were able to jump through many hoops and finally get passage across the Atlantic and a welcome at Ellis Island. My mother’s brother, Harry Rosenfeld, was still young enough to get a high school and college education and became the editor in charge of the Watergate investigation for the Washington Post. Their four children were able to attend wonderful public schools and end up with college degrees. My older brother served the US military and then went to law school and became a prosecutor. That is immigration at its best.

It wasn’t easy. The State Department and President Franklin Roosevelt claimed that Jewish immigrants could threaten national security. In 1939, the ocean liner St. Louis and it’s 937 passengers, mostly Jewish, were turned away in Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe and more than a quarter of those people died in the Holocaust.

It’s time to stop making desperate people pawns in a very cynical political chess game and find a responsible passage to a country that hopefully will indeed behave like a great nation should.

 

American-Empire

The fall of the Great American Empire is upon us and frankly I don’t give a damn.

The Chinese have developed missiles capable of reaching North America and they are starting to catch up with us militarily as they steam ahead economically. A perfect example is the way they keep scooping up islands in the Pacific Ocean and planting their flags with nothing more than a peep from the USA and its allies.

This was inevitable. No dynasties last forever. The Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the British—they all had their moment of dominance. I’m pretty sure nobody is sitting in a cafe in Athens, Rome, Cairo or London bemoaning the good old days gone by.

And there is a very good reason for that. There is a huge price to pay for dominance and I for one do not want to see the USA continue to pay that price.

It’s very expensive to maintain the most powerful military in the world. Let’s defer to the Chinese and focus on the real direct threats to our country. As far as policing the rest of the planet, let’s do it as just another United Nations and NATO member.

That will save the lives of lots of American members of the military and cut way back on the number of veterans suffering from PTSD for fighting a war that nobody at home seems to understand or really care about.

I am extremely supportive of our soldiers but I don’t want them dying in vain. If you look at the death toll in Afghanistan and measure it against our accomplishments there, it is very difficult to justify. This was also true in Vietnam, where I lost both high school and college friends for a war that all of my military friends now say was useless.

Financially, we are spending way too much of our budget on maintaining the largest force on the planet and that is money that is sorely needed for education and health care. Compare that to the ratios of all of our allies and you will see that there are huge discrepancies.

If we all take a breath and leave our collective testosterone at the door, this makes a lot of sense. For the first time in years, the US Military has fallen way short of its recruiting goals and that will mean lowering our standards to try to pump up the numbers.

Instead, let’s create a smaller, more elite force of fighters and defenders who can serve out their terms and eventually come home feeling very good about their service to their country.

We will focus on securing our borders and spend money and manpower proportionately. The Trump administration is absolutely correct in calling our fellow NATO members out on the carpet for sitting back and letting the big badass Americans lead the charge without paying their fair share.

Of course, it will help if we tamp down the volume and cool it on the braggadocio and no longer feel we have to be first up San Juan Hill. Let’s do it right. Let’s do it together with our allies and become one of many great countries in the world standing up for peace and prosperity and social justice for all.

OvermountainIt was a crowded noisy dance floor but I heard the phone ring and it was my good friend Heather who couldn’t wait to tell me that Senator Kevin Ranker had just announced that the State of Washington put aside a cool ten million bucks to protect Blanchard Mountain from further destruction.

Whoopee! I couldn’t help myself. This is such good news for us tree huggers.

And the timing could not have been better. The following evening was the Skagit Land Trust Annual Membership meeting and, honest admission, it’s so nice to be in a room full of fellow travelers at a time when our country is so divided.

We met at the Fidalgo Bay Resort owned by the Samish Indian Nation in Anacortes and the meeting started with a haunting melody sung by a young Samish woman in her native language. This made me happy to hear that a new generation is preserving an ancient culture. Another example of preserving something that is precious to so many!

For me, the highlight of the meeting was the special commendation to Rusty Kuntze and Libby Mills for donating 23 acres of their land in Bayview to the Land Trust as a conservation easement. Rusty is the retired Judge for the Swinomish Tribe. Libby is an educator and naturalist whose passion is introducing people to special places and the flora and fauna found there. She has taught me and many others more about birds then I thought was possible.

Rusty and LibbyRusty calls Wren Ridge his Walden Pond and has come for the first time to understand what a special relationship Henry David Thoreau had with a place that wasn’t necessarily considered a primo spot. It wasn’t the Grand Canyon or the Redwood Forest but became a place he went to for redemption and realization.

Rusty points out that Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed each had a special place in the wilderness where they were able to find enlightenment. As a little kid, Rusty always wanted a treehouse but it never happened in his New Jersey suburban home. Now he has a whole forest that is his treehouse.

They stated that because they don’t have children, their legacy will be the opportunity to ensure the diverse wetlands and forests of Wren Ridge will protected for future generations. Forever!

The prestigious Blue Heron Award went to Molly Doran, who is the executive director of the Land Trust. The award usually only goes to a staff member who is retired so Molly was wonderfully stunned to realize she was this year’s recipient. Through clever subterfuge, the staff led her to believe that award was being to a former board member.

Blanchard Overlook, Molly DoranThe Blue Heron Award is given to someone who has shown extraordinary dedication to the lands of Skagit County. During Molly’s watch, there has been big growth of supporters and community participation in protecting special places. She made it clear that she loves her job and has no plans of retiring.

Near and dear to me are the wetlands that are being preserved on the Southern end of Big Lake. I’m hoping we can add a learning center so visitors can see for themselves what makes wetlands so fascinating and worthy of preservation. The best scenario is to preserve a spot and still allow it to be accessible to a new generation of caretakers.

This is what’s happened with Blanchard Mountain. With this generous grant from the State, the beautiful trails through 1400 acres of forest land will be protected. Birdwatchers, hang gliders, hikers will forever be able to enjoy a peaceful place with fantastic views.

I was driving down from my day job in Canada a few days ago and I decided to take the mellow route. It was a perfect winter day, with peekaboo blue skies and beautiful cloud formations. I craved something sweet and decided to detour to my friend’s delightful bakery in Edison. When I made a turn on Colony Road, there was Blanchard Mountain, tall, majestic, wearing a cumulus top hat.

Tears of joy started running down my cheeks, so much so that I had to laugh. Talk about SWEET!!!

dogbark1

If you are a dog owner, (and I know many of you are), please pay close attention.

Are you letting your dog or dogs bark a lot, to the extent that your neighbors can hear them? Are you letting your dogs run wild onto a neighbor’s property or onto the street?

Hopefully not. Unfortunately I’ve found out recently that these are common occurrences—just based on my own first-hand experiences. At my last Bellingham house, my neighbors had hearts of gold and rescued a bunch of dogs.

Unfortunately, they barked incessantly with just the slightest provocation—even a squirrel would set off one of the dogs, and then the others would chime in.

I noticed this while I was in escrow before moving in so I called the County and asked what the rules were and sure enough there were ordinances prohibiting this kind of distraction.

But with encouragement from a member of my synagogue who knew my neighbors-to-be, he said I should be a man and just go knock on their door and let them know how I felt.

Which I did. One woman was a doctor and I could see that she totally agreed with me. Her wife was obviously the dog rescue person and it was a harder pill to swallow but she agreed to do something about it.

They put a barking collar on the instigator dog and the problem was easily solved.

Next place I lived, every time I drove down the street that led to my street, two of the neighborhood dogs would chase my car. I was very nervous about running one over so it made a quiet country street into a tricky nerve racking venture.

The dogs belonged to a retired policeman and according to other neighbors, he was unsympathetic and wouldn’t restrain the dogs. Uninterested in enforcement, he allowed his dogs to run wild all day over a wide range of properties.

Recently I prepared to move again—remember, I’m a Hunter-Gatherer— and while I was in escrow, I went to play with the seller’s two dogs, who were usually home alone while he was at work. I’m a dog lover and if I weren’t working on films in God knows where, I’d have a retriever.

Ringer, one of the two dogs, is an amazing ballplayer and he would tirelessly chase a ball or a stick and always be ready to go again. But I noticed that the neighbor behind my new house-to-be had a small chihuahua tied up to a tree right over the property line, practically in what would be my new backyard.

He would bark incessantly, not only when I was playing with the other dogs but whenever anything moved in his periphery. I spoke to the seller who said he would talk to the neighbors but it didn’t do any good. I made videos of the dog barking just in case it ended up at the county.

But once again, I decided to be a grown up and I spoke to my new neighbors-to-be. The husband was sympathetic but the wife was quite upset. She agreed to put the dog in a caged area closer to the house but that actually made things worse.

I explained that I moved to this quiet neighborhood on a lake for peace and quiet and a respite from my hectic work life. She reluctantly agreed to keep the dog inside when they were away from home and the problem is solved.

The same neighbors have also have a rambunctious Golden Retriever puppy who loves to visit me, eat the cat food, and jump all over me. Again, I’m a dog-lover, so this doesn’t bother me, but I can’t help that other neighbors don’t feel the same way.

In fact, that rambunctious retriever is the leading suspect in the killing of my of my other neighbor’s chickens, which also run wild and love the bird seed that falls from my feeders

Now only the two dogs that belong to a neighbor across the street bark wildly whenever someone passes. I wish they didn’t but at least they bark only in short spurts.

I am very perplexed by this phenomenon. It just seems so blatantly rude and insensitive but I’ve been reading up on it and apparently some people feel that dogs bark and they shouldn’t be constrained. I’d love to hear from any readers who feel that way.

With a little bit of internet searching, I found out that you can order a device that sends high frequency sounds to your neighbors house that only the dogs will hear and it will discourage them from barking.

If that doesn’t work, I will install big speakers in the front of my house and blast my favorite operas loud enough to drown them out.

Figaro, Figaro, here we go, here we go.

opera

cop

We wrapped a challenging first week of my latest movie just before midnight last Friday. As if it’s not enough to work with a new crew and new actors all settling into their roles, we had to contend with horrible air quality caused by the fires nearby in British Columbia by providing oxygen and air-conditioning tents on set.

I headed for the Sumas border crossing, wanting to wake up in my house in Skagit County. Siri routed me through the little town of Everson. The smoke was eye-burning bad and there were no other cars until I saw headlights parked at an angle facing me on the other side of the street.

The car pulled out and the lights started to flash. It was a cop laying in wait at a speed trap. I pulled over and was told that I was driving 47 mph in a 35 mph zone. I was really surprised because I thought I was driving below the 50 mph rural speed limit because of the poor visibility.

He said “Couldn’t you tell you were in a town?” “No”, I said, “There were no lights on and it was smoky and I couldn’t see a 35 mph speed limit sign.” He asked if I had ever been to Everson before and I told him I hadn’t.

On hearing this, he seemed to soften his position but he disappeared for more than 5 minutes and came back with a ticket. He said he lowered my speed to 45 which would save me over $60 so he was somewhat sympathetic to my explanation.

I asked him if I could express my opinion about what was taking place and he nodded in the affirmative. Needless to say, it was a slow night for law enforcement and only two cars passed us during the whole 15 minute ordeal.

I told him I admired that he had dedicated his life to law enforcement and public safety but I didn’t think laying in wait in a dark smoky spot for a very sober person driving responsibly was the best way to accomplish that mission.

I told him I was guessing he chose that spot because others would be confused as I was by the change in speed limit and I could tell he had heard enough at that point and I took my ticket and headed back into the dark smoky night.

It was a very sad drive home after a very uplifting day. It seems very cynical to me that this is how someone who has dedicated his or her life to public safety ends up as a shill for the local economy.

I get why it makes sense to have the guy sitting in his car looking out for speeders as opposed to hanging out in a squad room with nobody to talk to. But I’m guessing he’s very bored and jumps at the opportunity to leave rubber, flash his lights, and pull someone over even if that person is absolutely no danger to anyone.

When I got to my house, I looked at the printed out ticket and discovered that one option was to pay $150. That means it would have been over $200 if the officer hadn’t lowered my speed.

Everson is a small town. I would love to know how much income it gets from issuing speeding tickets. I’d also like to hear how the police officer laying in wait could get an accurate reading from his speed gun in such a short span on such a dark, smoky night.

After this weekend’s welcome rainfall, I drove back to Canada on Sunday night through Everson. The air had cleared and the visibility was better but it still was very difficult to read the signs on the outskirts of town where I was clocked and pulled over.

It reinforced my feeling that this was an injustice so I’m going to court. Hopefully the hearing officer will see things my way, although I know that’s a long shot. Meanwhile I’m preparing a closing argument that would make Perry Mason and Mr. Smith in Washington proud!

traffic-ticket-court