Leaping Into the Abyss

Co-pilot Dick Cole stared down at the 2 x 2 foot hole in the deck of his twin-engine aircraft. While tightening his parachute straps, the throbbing sound of radial engines and the pungent smell of aviation fuel provided small level of comfort and security. His Army Air Corps crew had just flown their B-25 bomber thirteen hours on a mission that oscillated wildly between brief moments of high intensity and hours of complete boredom. It was now a very dark and stormy night outside. The aircraft was 10,000 feet over a strange and hostile land, with fuel running out and no airfield in sight. The boss motioned that it was now his turn to bail out. A feeling of stoic mindfulness engulfed the 26-year old aviator for a moment. Then, he stepped forward – turning control of his body over to gravity and of his soul to God.

While he couldn’t possibly have known it at that moment, Dick and 79 fellow airmen jumped into American legendary status and would forever more be known as Doolittle Raiders.

Crew No. 1 (Plane #40-2344, target Tokyo): 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Crew No. 1 (Plane #40-2344, target Tokyo): 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy wreaked havoc on Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II. American citizens were outraged and demanded the U.S. government do something. Emotions were heightened by the fear that Japan would invade Hawaii or the west coast. President Roosevelt was keenly aware he needed to harness this emotion to build a war effort that would help our allies in Europe as well as Asia. He challenged the top military leaders to devise a counter-attack against Tokyo. But he could not afford to order a full scale military strike since our nation was woefully unprepared for major combat operations.

In this case, navy aircraft had a limited flight range, which would jeopardize the aircraft carriers that launched them. The Army, however, had lost its main airfields in the Philippines and had no air base within range of Japan.

Several weeks later, Navy Captains Francis Low and Donald Duncan came up with a creative solution. They crafted a 30-page handwritten plan and briefed Lt. Gen Hap Arnold, the head of the Army Air Forces. He assigned Lt. Col Jimmy Doolittle to improve it and carry out the necessary arrangements. Jimmy Doolittle, a highly respected aviation pioneer, was the perfect man to orchestrate this complex and harrowing mission. He was the boss, a master of calculated risk.

Within weeks, the Navy assigned their newest aircraft carrier, USS Hornet CV-8, to the Top Secret “special aviation project”. The Army requisitioned 24 B-25 Mitchell bombers and their volunteer air crews and sent them to Florida for special training. Naval flight instructor Lt Henry Miller showed the astonished pilots how to launch the aircraft with just 500 feet of runway, instead of the normal 2,500 feet.

On March 31, 1942, the units converged on the Naval Air Station in Alameda. The next day, 16 of the Army bombers were loaded aboard the Hornet, as well as 134 Army air crew and support personnel. On April 2, the Hornet and seven escorts ships steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge on heading 270 degrees – due west. When the commanding officer of the Hornet, Captain Marc Mitscher, announced over the ship’s loud speaker their destination was Tokyo, a huge cheer went up from the navy men. A large sign was painted on the superstructure that simply said “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

Ten days later, the Hornet task force merged with another out of Pearl Harbor headed by the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and overall command of the combined flotilla fell to the fighting admiral, VADM Bull Halsey.

Several days after that, on April 18, 1942, the force was discovered by Japanese picket boats several hundred miles farther from shore than expected. In the midst of a northern Pacific storm, with gale force winds, driving rain and waves cresting over the bow of the Hornet, the Army bombers were launched. The extra distance presented a serious issue for the air crews. It meant they would have to fly over Tokyo in broad daylight and would not be able to reach their intended destinations in China. Even though the mission was now just short of being suicidal, none of the young Army Air Corps volunteers backed out.ALIVE - Hornet B-25 launch USAF92987  (crop)

Four hours later, 64 American bombs rained down on military and industrial targets in several Japanese cities. The actual physical damage was light. But the shock to the Japanese psychological mindset was heavy, as they never expected to be attacked during the entire war, much less at the very beginning. American citizens, and her allies, received a huge morale boost. This carried into building a massive war effort that would defeat all the Axis countries. Pearl Harbor was well avenged!

None of the bombers were shot down. Fifteen struggled to reach China (one detoured to Russia where it landed safely). A couple crash landed, although most crews chose to bail out while the engines still had fuel. 69 of the 80 crewmen returned to active duty status with the Army (and its post-war successor, the US Air Force). Three were killed in the crash landings, and eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of those were executed and one died of starvation in prison but four returned home following Japan’s surrender.

After World War II, the Raiders continued on with their lives, focused on the same things as everyone else – building a career, getting married, having a family, and saving money for retirement. They held reunions almost every year, enjoying the strong bond forged by their amazing shared experience. As time passed, the Raider ranks began to thin.

In 2013, with only a handful of men left, many citizens wanted to publicly recognize them for their courageous service. Based on significant veteran support, the U.S. Congress passed a bill awarding the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal to the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. On May 23, 2014, President Obama signed the bill – with 98-year old Dick Cole standing right behind him!ALIVE - DR-CGM Obama Cole WH signing May 2014

On April 15 of this year, the actual gold medal was presented to the Raiders in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. A few days later, that same medal was presented to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for permanent display. Of course, it was Dick Cole who handed the precious medal and certificate to the museum director. Somewhere nearby in spirit, “the boss” was smiling – his boys had successfully completed one last mission.

To paraphrase another American hero, Dick’s one small step was a giant leap for the preservation of world democracy. He and the other 79 Raiders are highly deserving of this national recognition before they all pass into the realm of history.


ALIVE - DR-CGM obverse 2 (hi res)




ALIVE - DR-CGM reverse (hi res)





SIDEBAR: One of Life’s Moments

During the April 15 Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a particularly poignant presentation, noting the raid’s origins were the SF Bay Area. Afterward, I approached her to offer congratulations – and present her with a Hornet Museum challenge coin. Well, in the military culture, when a person hands over a challenge coin, the recipient must either reciprocate with their coin or buy a drink for the offeror. So I said “well, I guess thNancy Pelosi and Bob DR CGM ceremony (crop) copyis means you owe me a drink next time we meet.” Ms. Pelosi didn’t miss a beat – with a sly grin, she said “Not so fast Bob,” and handed me her challenge coin! It was at that moment her aide chose to take this picture – we had a mutual chuckle, although my grin was fading fast as I wondered if she would bring her 434 fellow House Representatives to the bar for a free drink on me. Stay tuned!

Bob Fish is a Trustee of the USS Hornet Museum, which held its own Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on April 25, honoring the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders in the SF Bay Area.

Beware of Hotel Hell

Poor accommodations can ruin a vacation!

With the school year just about over, a lot of us are making summer vacation plans. Regardless if your travel plan is a visit with family and friends, or the itinerary includes an on-the-go sightseeing adventure or a relaxing destination vacation, you’ll undoubtedly need overnight accommodations. It makes no difference if you travel by plane, train or automobile and end up at the beach, desert, big city or the mountains, where you stay is almost as important as where you go.

I have had more than my share of bad hotel, motel, lodge, inn and resort experiences while traveling. I’ve stayed in places where serial killers wouldn’t leave their victims. I’ve slept in rooms where CSI crime scene technicians refused to go. I swam in a pool that was once a septic tank. I’ve eaten my free continental breakfast when the choices were broken waffle cones, decorated Easter eggs (in October) and expired powder milk. I’ve seen a maid using a leaf blower to clean a room, a desk clerk who was outfitted in a Haz-Mat suit, and ironically, I once had a one-legged bellhop. I’ve seen banquet rooms hosting everything from a Scientology recruitment drive to a support group meeting for cross dressing necrophiliac hoarders. Finally, I’ve wondered if those were actually loose Raisinettes left on my pillow and bedspread by the “turn-down” service. Come to think of it, they were a little saltier than most Goober chocolates.

Old Motel SignWhen I once worked for a company that was a little the cheap side, they insisted all of their sales reps stay at national discount motel chain. When I first arrived, the valet parking lot attendant moved my car off-site and rented it out by the hour. The hotel restaurant doubled as a soup kitchen and the bare chested chef made the daily special in the Jacuzzi. The altar in the wedding chapel was equipped with a metal detector. Happy Hour in the hotel bar consisted of passing around a bottle of homemade bathtub wine wrapped in a brown paper bag. The workout room was fully equipped with a bent hula-hoop, chalk drawn Hop Scotch court and a set of Buns of Steele VHS tapes. I did appreciate that I got a complimentary penicillin shot at every third stay, but I hated that check out was done at gunpoint. I heard that the Cave Dwellers Association (“CWA”) rejected the hotel because the accommodations weren’t up to CWA standards. The Chamber of Commerce proudly listed the venue as the only hazardous waste drop-off site in a 230 mile radius with overnight accommodations.

Once a year, my buddies and I do an annual boys road trip to enjoy a weekend of golf and “Hall Pass” merriment. Over the years, we’ve stayed in some pretty sketchy boardinghouses. It’s a guy’s getaway so we’re not looking for couples massages and sunset terraces, but I’m pretty sure a few of the places we’ve stayed were on the verge of being condemned.

As we pulled into the parking lot last year, which resembled a bombed-out Syrian airport runway, the crime scene tape was still up blocking our way into the syringe-littered lobby. We did appreciate that the concierge, who also handled room service, mani/pedi spa treatments and landscape maintenance, asked if we wanted to purchase a MMP card. The phone in our room had the Suicide Prevention Center on speed dial. The pool was a popular pet-washing destination until someone’s lizard died from a bacterial infection. I understand that the check cashing bodega/adult bookstore/coin laundry down the street frequently complained that the motel guests brought down the image of the neighborhood and I’ll admit many of the other patrons could easily have passed for squatters. At least they had Wi-Fi. The password was… SaveMe.

The worst of my hotel stays may have been on my honeymoon. My worries began when I noticed that the sundry shop was stocked with bug bombs and rattraps. It wasn’t so bad that our room had bunk beds, but we were disappointed that another couple had already claimed the bottom bed. Boy, were they noisy. We were hoping we might be upgraded to a room with carpeting or at the very least drapes, but no such luck.

We found the gardener’s severed finger in the ice machine, the vending machines sold ammunition and our wake-up call was the manager’s wife leaning on her car horn. It resembled a youth hostel without all the warmth and amenities. The black-light AP on my phone made it abundantly clear that the room had at one time been used as a porn set. Our first clue should have been the brochure that suggested visitors bring their own soap, shampoo and fly swatter.

Abandoned Motel Sign in USAOften times, bed & breakfast establishments aren’t any better. For our anniversary, we stayed at a B&B near the Delta and the sign at the entrance proudly stated, #1 Destination for Conjugal Visits. The maid was attempting to change the sheets in our room when we arrived, but she had trouble prying them apart. The mini-bar consisted of a glass of tap water and a few opened bags of airline peanuts. The complimentary happy hour offered a choice of either hillbilly moonshine or a nice Bartles & James wine cooler from 1982-84, however the plastic glasses all had lipstick stains. The adult movie selection turned out to be hidden cameras set up in the adjoining rooms. While it was pet-friendly, most of the dogs chose to sleep in the car after seeing the raccoon gang hanging out next to the kitchen dumpsters. The good news was there were plenty of those salty Raisinettes virtually everywhere.

I’m quite certain there are those of you reading this article who are non-believers. Those who think I’m making this all up for the sake of another hilariously funny, laugh out loud/can’t put down humor lifestyle magazine article. To that I say, “What?” Much like the Extended Limited Express security guard said, aka homeless guy who offered to watch ourshi…..stuff while we waited for our handi-capable van ride back to the airport, “I may not have much, but I have my integrity (and a 24 oz. can of Schlitz Malt Liquor in his case).” If you can’t afford to stay at the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons or Fairmont, a word to the wise would be to do your due diligence when it comes to where you’ll be staying. Otherwise, you might just be setting your self up for a visit to Hotel Hell.

Jazz: An American Art Form

Jazz means many things to different people depending on who is talking or writing about this popular form of music. There is no one definition of the word jazz that is universally accepted.

The word jazz first appeared in print in 1917. The origin of the word is obscure at best, however Webster defines jazz as: American music characterized by improvisation, syncopated rhythms and contrapuntal ensemble playing.

The United States Congress passed a bill in 1987 stating: “Jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable National American Treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.” This is a powerful statement coming from a government body about an art form. It speaks volumes to the importance of jazz in American culture.


trumpet playerJazz morphed out of early American music from minstrel shows. The early brass bands were made up of fiddle, guitar, banjo or mandolin and string bass.

Ragtime was notated (written down). Early jazz was rarely written. Instrumental parts were composed spontaneously by the performer who, more often than not, could not read music.

Scott Joplin, (1868-1917) pianist and composer from Sedalia, Missouri, was one of the leading composers of ragtime music. One of his most famous pieces is The Maple Leaf Rag, composed in 1899.
Ragtime is characterized by persistent syncopation compared to the incidental syncopation found in classical music. For over two decades ragtime was the main music of Broadway musicals and Vaudeville.

In the early 20th Century a precursor and rich element in jazz was the unwritten folk blues. The first published blues music were written by Jelly Roll Morton, Jelly Roll Blues in 1905 and then, W.C. Handy’s, Memphis Blues in 1912 and the famous St. Louis Blues in 1919.

man playing the clarinetThe blues was characterized by the lowering or flatting the third and the seventh degree of the major scale. The pentatonic or five tone scale contributed to the development of the blue notes. When the ragtime bands began to use this style they learned from playing blues, jazz was born.

Jazz is generally identified as having been born around 1900, some say it originated in New Orleans. However, many music historians and musicologists say it happened simultaneously in Kanas City, Chicago, Memphis and New York.

Early jazz was highly improvisational and it depended on the skill, intuition and experience of the performer rather than the written notes. After World War I the development of radio, recorded music and the popularity of dancing ushered in the “Jazz Age” of the 1920s. Trained conservatory musicians who were already equipped with instrumental techniques eagerly joined the jazz movement.

In 1918 Joe “King” Oliver, started his famous Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. The band consisted of a cornet, trombone, clarinet, drums, bass and piano. Eventually this morphed into a big jazz band with other instruments. Around 1930 additional instruments including, another cornet or trumpet, a trombone and saxophones were added. These instruments gave the big band its traditional sound.

In the early forms of jazz the whole band played a refrain based on the melody. In turn each soloists played a refrain. In the concluding “out chorus” the whole band played on the harmonic framework of the composition. By contrast, the big dance band presented the more ridged composition. Many times solo passages were written out and were always played the same way. This was the era when the important position of the band arranger came into being.

The traditional jazz band gave way to the big band era. During this transitional time some of the greatest jazz musicians emerged, among them was Paul Whiteman (1890-1967). Known as the “King of Jazz” he had a large orchestra with expert musicians and great arrangements of jazz music. Whiteman called his music symphonic jazz. He taught his audience to listen rather than dance to the music.

In 1924 Whiteman introduced Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. This was a monumental concert! It put symphonic jazz on the musical map.

Styles of Jazz
New Orleans jazz, often referred to as Traditional or Dixieland Jazz, had some of its roots in African-American communities, where a mixture of both European and Afro chants and songs were mixed with slave or work songs.

The precursor of later styles of jazz dates back to the late 19th and early 20th Century. It was characterized by improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and swing notes.

Chicago style jazz utilized a small group of four to seven musicians. Louis Armstrong (1900-1971), a trumpet player and scat singer, was one of the leaders of this style of jazz. Armstrong was from New Orleans and moved to Chicago in 1922.

In the late 20’s and early 30’s Duke Ellington (1899-1974), created a new style of jazz music. Ellington had a unique ability to blend instruments into a beautiful sound. He was a great stylist and his music was very danceable unlike some bands that came later. A new dance music “swing” had made its appearance.

Some of the great names of swing are: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Harry James, among others. Swing dance music was broadcast live, nightly, across America from Chicago, by Earl Hines and his orchestra.

By this time ‘Crooners’ began their careers singing with jazz bands. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Rudy Vallee were some well-known singers that got their start with jazz bands.

Kansas City Jazz was known for hard swinging, bluesy and improvisational style. One of its biggest exponents was Count Basie (1904-1984). This also saw a transition from big bands to the bee-bop influence of the 1940’s.

In 1938 there was a revival of New Orleans style jazz. This was eclipsed by another revolution in the 1940s with Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Art Tatum as leading proponents. Small groups began to replace big bands. Melodies became more complex with strong dissonant harmonies. The tempos were very fast. This was the era of Bop.

Bop eventually developed into progressive jazz. The musical and expressive elements of this form are quite demanding of the players and have made membership in this “club” very exclusive. Some of the principals in this group are: Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck, Jerry Mulligan, John Lewis and Gil Evans. Progressive jazz turned completely away from dancing and developed its own character.

The ongoing revolution of jazz saw some additional permutations in contemporary styles of jazz. Among the most notable was cool jazz in the late 1940s. This style was a calmer, smoother sound with long linear melodic lines.

The 1950s saw the advent of free jazz that sometimes used different scales for the basis of its structure and improvisation. This movement saw the addition of new instruments to the percussion battery. These included gongs, bells, rattles and instruments from African origins.

Fusion, a product of the late 60s, used electronic keyboards and the electric bass. Elements from jazz and rock were used as the basis of fusion music. The jazz oriented rock groups in the 1970s were exemplified by the groups, Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears.

Jazz, through the decades, has had an ever-changing and developing style and form. It is continuing today and probably will continue as long as there are inventive musicians to champion their cause,

Don’t miss the Danville Community Band’s Annual Spring Concert, Sunday, June 14, 2015, 3 p.m. at Community Presbyterian Church, 222 West El Pintado Rd, Danville. Free concert and parking

The Normandy Coast and D-Day

May – the in-between month. Holidays are long gone and more time will lapse before summer vacation begins; weather struggling between still cold and too-early hot. So what’s to write about that might be current. Anything in my passport that might fit in here? I’ve got it – June 6, 1944, the day called D-Day. Let me share my trip down the Normandy coast. Talk about what has changed and what has not in the past 70-plus years. Maybe remind you of a few movies you have seen and of a few older vets who remember being there.

Bunker on the coastline, Gold Beach..We started our trip at the city of Arromanches-les-Bains. This seaport isn’t often mentioned because it was not one of the original landing sites. In fact, it sits between them. The British and Canadian landing sites named Juno, Gold, and Sword sit to the east, while those of the United States, Omaha and Utah, are to its west. But this little known spot was perhaps the most important of them all. Why? Well, an old army proverb says “An Army marches on its stomach.” Without food, medical supplies, and ammunition the entire project collapses. There on the beach, at an artificial temporary harbour, all of those goodies came ashore. This pier also served as the location for loading wounded or stranded warriors who were heading back to England. The plan was actually quite imaginative. In Britain they built huge floating concrete caissons which, after being towed from England, then had to be assembled to form walls and piers which defined an artificial spot named the Mulberry harbour. When they got there they were scuttled and sunk, forming a concrete pier going from dry land well out into the English Channel. Ships could tie up alongside the pier to unload and reload, and supplies and troops streamed in and out.

These “concrete hunks” were very difficult to remove so many of them remain visible from the shore, sitting about where they were sunk some seventy years ago. A few of them, I’m told, went on to greater things. They were purchased by the Dutch and are now doing their thing as part of dikes to hold water back on the coast of the Netherlands.

Our next stop, just to the west, was to visit the remnants of the German gun positions. These elaborate bunkers housed huge 105 mm rifles, cannons if you prefer, that could hurl a shell twelve miles. An observer on the cliff’s edge would call out range and distance, and from the bunkers these huge weapons would launch shells at either the fleet of ships or the shore’s landing sites. In contrast these days an unmanned drone, remotely controlled, using GPS for the location of its target, could easily accomplish the same task with far more accuracy. The bunkers are now old and the remaining guns rusted, but they still give off a sense of foreboding.

Our third stop was the American Cemetery just above Omaha beach. I could write a separate story on the beauty and serenity of this place. Statistics and history abound, but I am not going there. Instead I will share with you one of my quests while visiting the site.

Over the years I’ve talked to many who were there on D-Day and who participated in the mighty endeavor. I’ve also watched a lot of films out of Hollywood which told stories, often sugar-coated, of what happened there. To a man, all participants said the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was by far the most realistic.

You may recall that three of Private Ryan’s brothers were victims in this war. Two had died on or just after D-Day, the third was a POW of the Japanese. This film was based on a true family story of the brothers whose real name was Nyland. One of my quests was to find their resting places. This took me into the vast cemetery with a goal and a purpose.

At the Information Center I looked up their location and found it to be A-19. Admittedly I wandered around looking out to sea over the beaches and did read the history of ten or twelve others buried there. In the end, I found the Lieutenant Nyland’s grave and his Staff Sergeant brother’s also – with white marble crosses standing on each.

This was enough for me. The oft-stated truism became reality here, namely the United States of America has conquered a great deal of land over its history. But we have always returned it to the inhabitants who were there before we came. The only ground we have asked for and kept has been the plots of our soldiers who died liberating the land.

Rest in peace.

Mad Maxine! Fury Road puts the Goddess in the Driver’s Seat

In the world of Mad Max, History just became Herstory. George Miller’s brilliant Mad Max Fury Road again posits the future of our survival, but this time, unlike the first three films, our best shot at redemption comes in the form of a fierce female warrior, who grabs the wheel from Max and drives off with his hero narrative in tow. scene-from-mad-max-fury-road_100474074_h

True to the series, we’re in a dystopian future, a wasteland, where water (now more than fuel) has become frighteningly scarce, and what is left of it is horded by a maniacal dictator named Imortan Joe. Furiosa, a high-ranking officer in Joe’s militia, defects while on a gasoline hunt in her armed-to-the-grill “War Rig,” and Joe quickly determines that she is not simply running away—she has indeed stolen his most prized possessions: the “Five Wives,” a group of stunning young women chosen by Joe to be his “breeders,” each the victim of his rape and enslavement. Furiosa’s goal: To evade Joe’s army and deliver the girls to the “green place of many mothers,” a desert-oasis she recalls from her childhood.

The character of Imperator Furiosa, not Max, is the protagonist, until finally Max comes to realize her importance and joins her cause. Fearlessly portrayed by Charlize Theron, Furiosa is a woman with purpose, and it doesn’t have anything to do with men, unless they are unfortunate enough to get in her way. Mad-Max-Fury-Road

While Furiosa has taken charge of her destiny, Max is literally being driven (this is a Mad Max movie, after all) by forces he cannot control. For a third of the film he is shackled and chained to the front of a truck that is racing through one harrowing, life-threatening situation after the next, his face muzzled by an iron mask that would make Hannibal Lecter envious. Max is a prisoner without hope, a victim like everyone else until he makes a partner of Furiosa instead of an enemy. Her story shapes his story. Their partnership leads to his freedom. In the end, his bravery and sacrifice in her honor is what makes him a true hero.

Tom Hardy, in what will be the breakout role of his already impressive career, is pitch-perfect as Mad Max Rockatansky. He is both believably bad-ass and lost little boy (think Ringo with muscles and tats), rugged as a red-rock landscape and yet (according to my gal pals) just dreamy, like Mel used to be. Max on truck

And then there’s Charlize…good golly, Miss Molly…I have always loved her work, but her performance as Furiosa knocked the wind out of me. She is ferocious yet kind, vulnerable but strong. She is made to look androgynous, with her cropped cut and desert leathers, yet she has the face of an angel (it’s true and you know it!); even dripping with grease and caked with dirt, her beauty is inescapable. Who but Theron—with her classic face, serious acting chops, and natural athleticism—could bring all of these elements together? With this role, she not only joins the ranks of Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton as one of the great female action heroes on the screen, she crafts the most fully realized mythic heroine I’ve seen on celluloid.

To my mind, Fury Road makes the first three Max movies look rather quaint in comparison, but quite prescient for their time. They were primarily concerned with fuel/energy scarcity, our major fear at the time of their release. We had just experienced the gas crisis of the late-70s, and were waking up to the fact that we might run out of this stuff. We weren’t worried about water yet…but now we are. With Fury Road, director George Miller is starting to look more like George Orwell than George Lucas.

Images by Warner Bros. Pictures

Peas, Please

California leads the nation in many respects. Including produce. While residents of most other states rejoice at finally finding something other than broccoli in the supermarket this month, Californians enjoy their fill of spring crops while also getting a sneak-preview of summer. Along with early stone fruits like apricots and cherries, there is now a proliferation of berries and juicy melons. In the vegetable arena, look for early vine-ripened tomatoes and just-picked corn, shiny eggplant, tender summer squash, and crisp bell peppers.

But before we get ahead of ourselves here, let’s make the most of what is left of spring. Cool-weather crops like all manner of peas, from sweet-as-candy sugar snaps; crisp snow peas; and “English” or common garden-variety peas-in-the-pod are still available. You can bet I’ll be buying an armload of them to make a pot of light and lovely fresh pea soup.

Some green peasIf the thought of pea soup leaves you shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Meh”, hear me out. There are a few things to consider:

–This recipe gets its creaminess from canned coconut milk, an inexpensive product easily found in the Asian foods section of most supermarkets.(Do not confuse canned coconut milk with those tooth-achingly-sweet canned “cream of coconut” products used to make tropical cocktails.) If unfamiliar with it, you may be surprised that it is neither sweet nor overtly “coconutty.” Once exposed to its versatility, you’ll probably want to keep a couple of cans in the pantry at all times.

–Rest assured this soup bears absolutely no resemblance to the drab, pasty split pea soup from your grammar school cafeteria. Or that scary movie involving an exorcist.

–And finally: Unlike many green soups served at fancy-schmancy restaurants, this one is not silky- smooth, so you actually know what you’re eating. If you want to go to the trouble of straining the soup through a fine sieve, be my guest…but I prefer to savor all that pea-goodness.

Serve this warm or chilled, depending on your mood. It makes a memorable first course, or a delightfully light lunch or dinner–especially when paired with a few slices of toasted artisan bread slathered with soft California goat cheese. For variation, I sometimes pour 3-ounce portions of soup into espresso cups to serve as an appetizer. It’s always a hit. No one anticipates that pleasantly mild undercurrent of Thai flavor; and that gorgeous spring-green color is difficult for anyone to resist. Have I convinced you yet?

The most time-consuming part of this recipe is in the preparation, but all of it can be done in advance. Shelling peas is one of those mindless tasks best undertaken while singing along with the radio, or while solving the problems of the world (in your own mind). If time is short, bribe children to do it for you. But always buy more than you think you need. Kids will inevitably learn that popping a few cool, crunchy peas into their mouths as they work is the most rewarding part of the ritual.

Fresh Pea Soup with Thai Flavors

1 tablespoon California olive oil

2 large shallots, chopped

1 Thai chile pepper, seeded if desired and finely chopped, or 2 teaspoons finely- chopped jalapeño

Fine sea salt

1 (2- to 3-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 large lime, plus additional lime wedges for serving

4 pounds fresh peas-in-the-pod (about 4 cups shelled)

2 cups (16 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce (Thai namplaor Vietnamese nuoc mam)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Half of a well-shaken can (13- to 14-ounces) coconut milk*

Optional garnishes:

Fresh Thai basil or mint leaves, cut into thin strips or chopped, and/or coarsely-chopped fresh cilantro

Thinly sliced green onion (scallion)

Chopped fresh chives

Additional lime zest

A few drops of Sriracha sauce or Asian hot chili oil

1. In a soup pot or large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, chile, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the shallots have softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Finely grate the zest of the 1 lime and add it to the pot. (Reserve the rest of the lime for later.) Add the ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Stir in the peas, chicken broth, fish sauce, and sugar and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil; then reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, until the peas are tender but still bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the well-mixed coconut milk.

3. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until almost smooth. (Alternatively, let the soup cool and, working in batches, puree in a blender.) Squeeze the juice from the previously-zested lime and stir into the soup. Taste, adding more salt as needed. Serve warm or chilled, topped with any of the garnishes listed above. (To serve chilled, taste first to adjust the seasonings. If it is too thick, you may also need to add more broth to thin the mixture.) Pass lime wedges at the table to squeeze over each serving. Makes about 4 cups.

*Coconut milk naturally separates in the can, causing its cream to rise to the top. Before opening the can, shake it vigorously to emulsify the liquid inside. Measure out a scant 1-cup to use in this soup. The remaining coconut milk can be refrigerated and reserved for another use.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

Bullied to Blessed: How God Transforms Something Bad into Good

“The Blessing of the LORD be Upon You.” – Psalm 129:18

My years attending Christian School were difficult. While I was a young, generous, little girl, sadly, many of my classmates were bullies. Some of these bullies were cruel beyond belief, antagonizing me in the classroom, on the playground, and even in school restrooms. Perhaps the best description I can render is to say that the words used by these bullies were evil. The tall, popular girls from “well to do” families were the worst; standing on toilets in the restroom stalls, peering over, uttering foul comments and laughing.

PeoplePhysical education periods were some of the most hurtful times. Because the other girls were so tall, they would taunt and tease me by hitting the volleyball high over the net, well out of my reach, and in co-ed baseball I was regularly humiliated, always being the last to be chosen for a team. And since all of the other girls had long, straight hair, naturally, some of the more vile comments hurled at me were in reference to my naturally curly, wavy hair.

Many years later, while in college, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. From that point forward I began to see my experience of being bullied differently, as the Holy Spirit revealed to me that these girls acted the way they did because they were jealous.

Today, as an adult, I now enjoy my long, thick, wavy hair as a “gift from the Lord.”
Most days I even receive compliments, like: “You’re hair is beautiful. It is so thick, curly and wavy.” People often ask, “Is that really your hair?” Once, I even had an eighty year old woman pull on my hair to see if it was real!”

Today I can see that God took what the enemy intended for evil and turned it into something good. And because of that transformation, Christ has also given me a boldness to share Christ, wherever I may be. I share tracts with anyone who will receive them, and I have prayed with people to accept Christ into their lives, as their own, personal Lord and savior.

I bless people with tracts and bibles in cafés, retail stores, restaurants—even gas stations—wherever God directs me. My saddest encounter was with a young man in a café. I shared the Lord with him, gave him a tract, to which he returned with these words with a Southern accent: “I thank you ma’am. When I return to the car I will call my mother and tell her about you.” I know this mother is praying for him.

It was a dear friend—one with beautiful white hair of her own—who suggested I write and share my story to bless others, as my journey now moves forward, from one-on-one encounters, to a larger audience through this article. I am so humbled to be a vessel for what I believe is the most important work I could ever do—to boldly share the Gospel of Christ. And so today, after a year of praying, I step out in faith and obey. I am humbled and amazed how the Lord would use a tiny woman like me to bless other young girls, boys, men and women, who have been, or are, victims of bullying.

If you are a person being bullied, please know that beyond the pain, God has something wonderful in store for you in a time to come. Please know that He is preparing you for a good work, where you, too, will find joy in the Lord, as you will be recognized for what you truly are—a blessing in the lives of others.

Publishing for Fun and Profit

All right, boys and girls, here is the question for today: “What is the only constant in this world?” Some with a scientific bent might answer, “Planck’s Constant.” As a cynical, romantic humanist, I would then ask, “What happened to ‘Plinck’ and ‘Plunck,’” which no scientist would find even remotely humorous. The real answer, of course, is “change.”

Nowhere in our world has change been more obvious than in the realm of book publishing, especially in education. Forty years ago when I was active as a university professor, a man or woman, and there were few of the latter, would submit a prospectus and two or three sample chapters to an acquistions editor. The editorial staff would then review the work for content, style, and, except for some university presses, its ability to make a buck.499693957

Today, of course, the large publishing houses have become specialty shops and home to books from the already famous. The omnipresent computer has become the be-all of self-publishing. Like most other human endeavors, self-publishing has its positive and its negative sides. Authors now do not have to depend on the whims and moods of prospective publishers to project their ideas to the public. Unfortunately, it also means that some people who cannot put five words together to make a coherent sentence can write and publish “My Mommy Did Not Like Me” books, while others become pseudo-experts by reading articles in popular magazines with limited content. We can only hope that the cream will rise to the top.

When I first published, I was fortunate enough to have Science Research Associates, the publishing arm of IBM, accept my first book which dealt with the interpretation of literature. I received a nice advance against royalties, but I am fairly sure the company never recovered even the advance. It looked damned good, however, on my resume.

After being assured of not “perishing” in the academic world, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston agreed to publish my public speaking textbook. At the time I was teaching at Purdue University in Hammond, Indiana. Holt also gave a nice, but modest, cash advance along with other goodies: a trip to New York for my wife and me, excellent tickets to “A Chorus Line,” which was then the hottest ticket on Broadway, and lunch at a restaurant of our choice. Because we were not that familiar with New York, we told the editor we would like an Italian restaurant of his choice. He took us to a small restaurant in Little Italy. As we walked the last few steps to the restaurant, he quietly told us that there had been a Mafia murder there just two weeks before. He continued saying, “If anything happens, just keep looking at your food.” Fortunately nothing untoward happened. Just to play it safe, I simply stared at Shirley, the editor, spaghetti marinara, and two meat balls—ONLY!

Happily that book sold quite well. Most of the content of the book had been written by Aristotle some two and half millennia before, although I can take credit for the modern American English style and content. Following the ancient Greek’s advice to analyze one’s audience, I targeted the book, not for Harvard or Stanford where the emphasis was on research, but rather for state and community colleges. I must also admit to enjoying the flattery when colleagues would introduce me to some of their graduate students who invariably asked, “Are you the Cohen of Speaking the Speech? Shyly, all right, not so shyly, I confessed that indeed I was.

After registering some success with the book, I was offered $500.00 for the rights to have it translated into Spanish for use in Central and South America. I have no idea if the Spanish version sold five copies or five million. It did serve to keep my hat size in control, however, as they misspelled my name on the cover. After almost fifty years as “Edwin,” I became “Edwing.”

A second edition of the speech book was published after about five years. (Incidentally, both books are available on Amazon for one penny each–I no longer get royalties.)

One of the most enjoyable aspects of publishing happened to me after I had left academia. After a successful career of ten years through mid-Western interminable winters and unbearable summers, I left the ivy halls to return to California, home. When we moved back, I took some questionable deductions from my income tax, knowing that some might not make the cut, but then I am more gambler than accountant. Sure enough, we got a letter from the IRS saying that we owed a fair size amount for the transitional year. I called the telephone number as directed and the person who answered sounded exactly as unfriendly and nasty as an IRS agent should. He soon asked, “What do you want to do about the money you owe?”

I suggested, knowing full well it would not fly, that we split it, which would have pleased me. He chuckled and said, “No way.” He then started listing some of the alleged unacceptable deductions. One of the first was a deduction for a room in my home used as an office because I was an author. The agent immediately kiboshed that plan.

I respectfully replied, “If you will look at form XXX, you will see that I have also declared income.” His reply: “Just a minute,” which was followed by a long pause, the silence broken by the sound of papers being shuffled in the background. After the long pause he came back on the line. “Mr. Cohen, I have been with the IRS fifteen years, and you are the first author I have seen that claimed income. I’ll split it with you.”

I had met the IRS head on and WON. What could be more fun?

He Said/She Said with Robin and Shawn

Dear SSHS,
How quickly after a child leaves for college can you turn her bedroom into another purpose room? My stepdaughter is flying the coop in August and I could really use the space for my home business.
                                                                                                      –Kitchen Table Kathy

Interior of playroom.She Said: There’s a little word in your question that changes everything: stepdaughter. You have to be way more careful than if this was your birth daughter, otherwise it will look like you’re trying to get rid of her, and step- relationships are tricky enough. Discuss this with her dad, and once you’ve come to an agreement, let him do the telling. My rule of thumb has always been, at least let them come home at Christmas to the way things were, then come January, make her old room a shared space between office/guestroom.

He Said: Your stepdaughter has probably spent a lot of time in that room over the course of her childhood and probably considers it her sanctuary or safe place. Be VERY CAREFUL when you decide to invade her safe space and take it away from her. I would suggest you wait at least until she’s finished her first year of college and you get the feel that she is definitely not coming back home anytime soon. After that, be sure you’re not making the decision to change her room unilaterally and that her father is very much involved in the process.

Dear HSSS,
Last month you responded to a question regarding grown men wearing Speedo’s and you both agreed it was a no-no. But what about grown women in skimpy bikinis? Seems there’s a double standard here.                                                                                           –Playing fair in Pleasant Hill

She Said: Oh, we got a lot of blowback from that one. Most agreed with the Speedo rule, but then wondered if we’d be so adamant about the ladies and their swimwear. Is somebody complaining about scantily dressed women at pool parties? When I was a teen, the only complaints I heard were from the ample bodied middle-aged women who were jealous that we young things were getting too much attention! That said, there is a double standard. Victoria Secret, Sports Illustrated, Beyonce at the SuperBowl…you’re right, we’d never allow guys to wear so little and show so much on primetime.

He Said: Here’s my rule when it comes to “grown women” in skimpy bikinis – if they look good, then be my guest! Seriously, who wants to see anyone young or old wearing something skimpy if they don’t look good? There shouldn’t be an age restriction on feeling and looking ones best, but there are some simple rules. 1) Wear age appropriate attire around family and children. 2) If your body fat drapes over and covers up any part of the clothing, then don’t reveal it . 3) If in doubt, get a second opinion because there’s nothing worse than thinking you look better in something than you really do.HeSaidSheSaidgraphic

Robin Fahr is a public relations specialist and co-host with Shawn Shizzo on Conversations and He Said/She Said seen daily on Tri-Valley TV, Channel 30 and online attrivalleytv.org. You can also catch He Said/She Said on TheTalkPod.com. Send your questions to AskHeSaidSheSaid.com.

Egos Do Not Belong in Medicine

Around 1900 a famous author, Maurice Maeterlinck, made a profound statement which, I am sorry to say, continues to prevail. “Each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand mediocre minds appointed to guard the past.”

Mediocre minds constantly challenged Einstein early in his career doing everything possible to discredit his theories and ideas. It seems that whenever a progressive spirit comes up with an idea that challenges existing ideas, out of nowhere come the critics, not only challenging their theories but wanting them chastised and penalized for daring to present them.

Someone once declared that you should not judge a person by his friends but by his enemies. If you are making a difference you will be challenged and probably disliked.

In medicine I am beginning to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. The pioneers in alternative medicine, little by little, are gaining respect. Such medical schools as UCSF, Stanford and Harvard are beginning to respect ideas that were laughed at just a few years ago, but there is still a long way to go.

One example is the rejection of acupuncture because it is not “evidence based.” Isn’t 6,000 years of successful use more evidence than the pseudo scientists should need? Complex surgeries are done in China without general anesthesia. The patient can talk during the procedure and can get up and walk to their bed. How many patients die from anesthesia each year in our country?

Hans Selye, an MD that pioneered the idea that stress caused disease was laughed at in the 1950s. Now all physicians agree with him.

When I see a patient for TMJ I look at the whole person, not just their teeth and jaw. I thoroughly review their dental AND medical history for certain medications, health issues or other things may be contributing to their symptoms. I then refer the patient to the appropriate professional if needed. Every once in a while I get opposition from another health care professional who questions why, as a dentist, I am asking for a medication review; making a sleep study referral; referring to a hormone specialist; discussing foods and dietary habits, etc.

The holistic approach requires stepping outside the box and patient participation, which can be one drawback, but the results are well worth it. I have many patients that, after going to several other “specialists” for their TMJ/TMD, have found relief from their symptoms in a relatively short amount of time.

The dental appliance to treat obstructive sleep apnea was not accepted by medicine until just recently when a federal study of over 3,000 patients showed that fewer than 200 were not helped by dental appliance. Some doctors still insist these appliances can only be used on mild to moderate OSA. If a patient isn’t using their CPAP, something else must be done. There is proof in the pudding. One example is our patient who went from 78 apneas per hour (AHI), severe OSA, to AHI=3 per hour, using a dental appliance. Taking into account the lack of acceptance of the CPAP, many are going untreated because of this misinformation.

Unfortunately, too many dentists are labeling themselves as “sleep apnea specialists,” having the patient hold their jaw forward and then making an appliance to that position. It is this guesswork and lack of follow up care that gives oral appliances a bad reputation. ALL of my patients have the optimal position of the appliance determined by an acoustic pharyngometer, not by guesswork. Once they are comfortable with the appliance, each patient is referred for an efficacy sleep study to prove their OSA is effectively treated.

Let’s drop the Egos and concentrate on caring for the patient.

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