Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Australia--The Movie

If you have a chance to go to a Variety screening event, skip it unless you are on a VIP list. We got to the theatre about an hour and 45 minutes before the film was scheduled to run. There were already 200 or so people in line in front of us. Our friends joined us about 10 minutes later when the line started disappearing around the corner out onto Sunset Boulevard. One of our group found out that the theatre seated 400 people, so we should have no trouble getting in, right? Wrong!

When they started moving people inside, things were going along. Then they started slowing way down. When it got to the point where there were about 10 people in front of us, it simply stopped. Eventually, Len went in to check to see what was happening. That's how we got in. People had been jumping the line, so Len was told that there were scattered seats and VIP reserves left. We had been told that all such reserves would be released at 20 minutes ahead of the screening, and it was almost show time. Then Len got asked if he was a VIP. "Well, I created Wolverine, so I suppose I'm a VIP." "Are you on the list?" "Well, I did R.S.V.P."

The next thing he hears is "I've got one of Mr. Jackman's guests here." So Len and I got in, but our friends, unfortunately didn't. They were quite cool about it, because Len is The Famous Len Wein and they think he's entitled to the perks which sometimes accompany that.

We really enjoyed the movie, but we like big, sweeping, romantic adventures with comic moments a lot. The critics have not been kind, but I intend to see it again in a theatre. It's a BIG picture. Like the other Baz Luhrmann films I've seen, there's an interesting framing device and point of view. This story is mostly told from the POV of a young half-breed Aboriginal child and he's wonderful. I had not read that the "lost generations" was part of the story, since most of the press concentrated on the director and two main stars and the bombing of Darwin (the event of which I was not previously aware, either.) As I've said before, any film where Hugh Jackman takes off his shirt (more than once) and rides horses (for a good part of the show) is a must-see in my book. It is Nicole Kidmann's film, though.

Russell Crowe was originally cast in the part played by Hugh Jackman and Hugh was supposed to play the part that David Wenham has. I will note that I can't recall seeing David Wenham on horseback at all during the film (I might have missed it), but I got the definite feeling from the Lord of the Rings extras documentary on the horses and riders that David Wenham was not much of a rider when he played Faramir. (For all of my horse-friends: if you haven't seen it, the documentary is part of the extended release of The Return of the King, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. Even if you have no interest in the film, you'll enjoy the documentary.) Hugh told a funny story on Jay Leno's show last Thursday night about training to ride in this film. He had a memorable turn on horseback in Central Park in Kate & Leopold, and, while he's not Viggo Mortensen in a saddle, he rides fearlessly.

After the three hour film, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin (Luhrmann's wife and the production designer), and Hugh Jackman came out for a Q&A with a Variety editor. At the time they would have opened the questions up to the audience, they had to shut things down because a midnight showing of Twilight was scheduled for the theatre. Boo, hiss. We managed to get ourselves down to the door where Hugh was being hussled out so Len could say hello in the crush. Hugh looked very tired, but he'd been through a non-stop day.

We tried to find our friends in the restaurant, but it turned out they had eaten early and not used the comp tickets they were given for their troubles. We got home in time to back up the TiVo and watch Hugh's appearance with Leno. Charming, as always.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

People Magazine Finally Gets It Right

It has taken 7 years, but People Magazine has finally named Hugh Jackman the Sexiest Man Alive. As far as I'm concerned, all it took was a shot of Wolverine's bare back in the fight cage of the first X-men film and I understood the "drool buckets" the women who camped out in line had brought along. He is, I can say from giddy experience, even better looking in person. That he is incredibly gracious and kind makes him even more attractive.

While Hugh has been an also-ran for the title for a number of years (starting just after X-men), losing out to boys like Brad Pitt, it's nice to see a real man get the award. Why is it there are so few American actors under the age of 40 who come across as men, rather than boys?

We'll be at a screening of Australia tomorrow night. Could Hugh be looking at an Oscar(R) to add to his Tony(R) and Emmy(R) Awards? I will let you know what I think later this week.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fires Return

Thanks to Victoria for her concern about us in the latest firestorm. It's been a little hectic, so I haven't had time to write. But we are in no danger.

Our house is fine, being about 10-12 miles from the latest Sylmar blaze. The smoke has been pretty bad. The winds blew everything into the southwest San Fernando Valley, so we're back to wearing masks again. It was terrible on Saturday, a little less so Sunday, and improving again today.

This time, the direction of the wind made Chatsworth air much better than air in Woodland Hills. The winds were terrible, but the air was clear. I had to spend much of Saturday at the barn waiting for my vet to show because of Ace's new lameness. He had a difficult time getting from the Equestrian Center, in Burbank, to the barn because of rolling blackouts and traffic snarls and freeway closures due to flames. The intersection of the 118 and the 405 was closed, so traffic was being stopped or diverted at the 405 and 101. I had to take my son to Westwood for work on Saturday morning and I took surface streets up over Mulholland Drive, which gave us quite a view of the smoke pouring out of Sylmar. It did keep me out of traffic.

I feel so bad for all of the people who lost homes this time around: over 400 in a Sylmar mobile home park and dozens more in Montecito and down in Orange County. The winds have died out, making it easier for the fire fighters to contain things. There's no sign of rain, however.

As for Ace, his always problematic left fore foot is traumatized again. He had seedy toe which was "interfering with the integrity of the hoof," so the vet pulled his shoe and pad ("I like what your farrier is doing") and trimmed away the parts of the hoof that were separated at the sides of the foot. He's supposed to get his foot soaked for 3 days in epsom salted water (yeah, right), betadine on the trim spots, and bute twice a day for two weeks, before he gets checked again. I've got to get an easy boot for him so we can go for a walk, but it will be at least a month before he gets a new shoe. The bars on the inside of that foot just don't grow they way they should, giving the farrier a problem and Ace a sore foot.

It will get better. I'm trying to figure out how I get up to the barn twice to medicate Ace on Thanksgiving when I've got 20 people sitting down to dinner.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Great Earthquate Shake Out

Our campus is participating in a Southern-California earthquake response simulation. In about 55 minutes, I'll be calling in damage reports to our response center. People on subways will find that the vehicles have slowed to a crawl.

This is supposed to represent a 7.8 earthquake. The 1994 Northridge quake was 6.8, so this would be 1000 times worse. 1994 was bad enough, thank you. But I'd rather have an earthquake than a tornado or hurricane any day. The worst is over pretty quickly.

Like most people, I'm sure my house is no longer ready for another big quake. The mess that broken alcohol bottles and jelly beans can make on your floor is something I will never forget. Then there was the dancing refrigerator which moved about 3 feet into the center of the kitchen. The fallen book shelves were not much fun to put back (and they had been nailed into the wall!) It was 10 days before we stopped sleeping in the living room because being trapped in the bedrooms during aftershocks was a scary thought.

And, of course, we still laugh about my mother calling before the first shaking had stopped. She was watching the morning news when the special report came through during Eastern Standard Time. I had better things to do than work my way through broken glass in the dark to the only phone working in the house--which I told her before I hung up. The phone didn't work again until a day later. Electricity was out for at least a day. It took a week to get the gas back on. But people were outside barbequing while back east, the snow and ice was so bad there was no school for a week. A friend said "I'd rather have your disaster." I agreed.

It was the first time I remember relying on on-line communication to find out how people were doing. List serves kept reporting when someone had been heard from. Friends who were able to reach us by phone (when they worked again) would then post to let others know we were all right.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Proud of the USA and Los Angeles, Disappointed in California

I'm home again and mostly rested from the New Mexico adventure. If you are taking an overnight train ride, a roomette is the way to go. On the way home, I didn't have one. The young woman in the next seat kept hitting my legs as she climbed over me during the night and kicked me in the side two or three other times in her sleep. Then there were the people with headphones which did nothing to block the sound (they'll be deaf a lot earlier in life than I will) and the people who had to check e-mail every 15 minutes--the light is blinding when you are otherwise in the dark. Next time, it's either a sleeper or I'll have to fly.

The USA elected Barack Obama and Los Angeles soundly defeated Proposition 8. Unfortunately, the rest of the state (except for San Francisco, I'm pretty sure) didn't see this assault on equal protection for what it is. I just read the papers which have been filed to overturn the effects of 8 on the basis that it is a revision of the California State Constitution, not an amendment, and therefore illegal. It seems like a sound argument to me. Keith Olbermann did a special comment about this strange result last night. I'm surprised that he had such a hard time identifying anyone in his extended family who is gay. I came up with several without any effort. In terms of friends, I couldn't even begin to do a count. When you live and work among artists, you are in the most accepting of communities. I hope that Proposition 8 comes to a quick and deserving end.

Ace, for all who may be wondering, was glad to see me, although a bit stand-offish when I first showed up, as if to say "where the hell have you been?" He may have a "hot" nail from his visit from the farrier on Saturday. I noticed a bob during lessons yesterday and Gayle called to say it doesn't show at the walk or slow trot, but he's dead lame when he moves out. Left front hoof, of course. I've called Tim and I hope he can get out to see Ace before leaving for a trip home later this week. Poor Ace.

I haven't done more than load into Lightroom the 1000+ images I took in New Mexico. Most of them were of my friend Melinda riding Vento, the wonder stallion from Brazil, so there'll be heavy editing of the blurry images. Pixels are so much cheaper than film, so I don't skimp on the making images end of things. Melinda rode in an enclosed, indoor arena, so it was slow shutter speed, little depth of field, and high ISO. Not the best combination for great pictures, but I've probably got a few nice images in there. The pictures of her house are quite nice, though. Eventually, I'll put some up here.

We're having a brief bit of autumn out here. It was chilly last night and this morning, but 90 degree temperatures are promised for the end of the week.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did

Training for the Out of State Attorneys was scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday in Albuquerque. Melinda drove me into Santa Fe to pick up my car and then I followed her back to the house and over to her barn to see Vento, her handsome Lusitano stallion. I watched her lesson and took off for the 60 or 70 mile drive to the IBEW building for election protection training.

Despite the fact that I told the folks when I volunteered that I would be staying with a friend near Santa Fe and getting assurances that they would put me somewhere in that county, the envelope I received put me at a school in eastern Albuquerque. In order to get there by 6 a.m. on election day, I would either have to get a hotel room in Albuquerque or leave Melinda's by 4 a.m. I was not happy, but I eventually got someone to say there might be a chance to change assignments after the training was over.

There were 200-300 lawyers in the room. The largest contingencies were from Texas (where there was no chance of Barack Obama winning, so the lawyers went where they might do some good) and California (which was pretty much guaranteed to go for Barack), but there were also lawyers from Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Arizona, Oregon, and Canada. We were told that we should think of ourselves as firemen, and a good day would be one without a fire. We were given our instructions on what to look for and what to do and told to take masking tape and plain paper along with us to cover any t-shirts that couldn't be removed which might have material considered to be "electioneering" and could result in a voter being denied the right to vote.

As I was waiting to see if there was some lawyer who didn't show so I could switch assignments to one closer to my friends, another lawyer was explaining that she was sharing a vehicle with someone who was going to be at a location in Santa Fe and she couldn't get to her spot 35 miles north of Albuquerque. My assignment was five or six miles away from her colleagues, so we were able to switch. I still had to be up early, but not quite as early, and the distance was half of that for my original assignment.

I headed across the street to the Office Depot, where I ran into one of the other lawyers and we decided to share the supplies we were supposed to buy and split them. I suspect he might have needed them more than I did, but I doubt I'll ever find out for sure.

I called Melinda, who told me she had gone into Santa Fe to work at the Obama headquarters and we picked a rondezvous location so we could have dinner in town before going back to her place. We met up with our friend Parris at Tomasito's for good Mexican food which would have been even better if I could have had a margarita, but that wouldn't be a good idea when I had to drive and then get up early Tuesday morning. We got back to the house around 10 and I went to bed as soon as I could prepare things for the next morning.

The alarm went off much too soon and I managed to fall in the dark on my way down to the car. I've got a nice bruise on my shin. The drive to the San Filipe pueblo took about an hour, and as I said in my last post, I had a little trouble finding the exact location, but eventually it all worked out.

Everyone was incredibly friendly and in that I was fortunate. Late in the morning, I got a call from the war room to make sure I was all right because one of the lawyers in another location was threated with arrest for doing what she was legally there to do.

The only real problem of the day was that the vote scanner broke 5 minutes into the election day. I called the war room and about 90 minutes later someone came to fix it. People who voted in the interrim had their ballots sealed and they were scanned at the end of the day after the doors were locked.

My companion for the day was a resident of the pueblo named Deryl. I met a number of members of Deryl's family through the day: his mother, brother, niece and nephew, and aunt. Deryl's got a brother who's served two or three tours of duty in Iraq with the national guard. Deryl's a student at the University of New Mexico where he is majoring in political science and minoring in Indian studies. He used to work in management and burned out, so he's getting his degree and thinking about going to law school. This was his first time working for a campaign. He said that one of his instructors had gotten tickets for students to see Michelle Obama speak and he went and filled out one of the cards which asked for donations of time and money. He decided to volunteer as part of a class he was taking which appeared to be challenging Native American students to overcome the traditional apathy or indiference toward political involvement. Deryl was a non-lawyer volunteer for Voter Protection and he took his work quite seriously. He also took the time to call and text friends and family to make sure they were going to get to the polls to vote before the day was done.

I wound up calling the war room several times during the day. I had to check about the rules for convicted felons who had served their time and parole being able to vote and I called again when we found out that there was someone from the Department of Justice dropping by the polling place. It turned out there were several other Federal observers present inside as well, but I'm still not sure why. HQ was glad to get the information.

Voters came and went fairly steadily throughout the day. There were times of high traffic, but it never took anyone more than 10-15 minutes to get through the process. Food was provided to anyone who dropped by and the workers were kind enough to bring coffee and offer hot dogs to me. As a non-resident of the county, I was not eligible to be in the polling place itself. Unlike people doing electioneering who can't be any closer than 100' of the building, non-partisan voter protection people could be as close as 50'. It was a little difficult to get that close because of parking, but we were within 100' at all times.

Deryl and I spent a lot of time talking about law school. He had a lot of questions about the LSAT, the bar exam, and what it was like in law school. I recommended he read The Paper Chase and One-L. I learned about life on the reservation, which is about 17,500 acres and has a new school and a casino on the other side of I-25 from the main part of the village. It is a "conservative" tribe, meaning they are serious about following tradition and it seemed that almost everyone spoke the native language as well as English. It really helped to pass the day.

One of the other people I met was a young woman, who, like Deryl, was working on her first campaign. Barack Obama had impressed her, so she worked to get her people to register to vote, going door to door in the pueblo to talk to them. She told me that it was hard work, because so many people in the pueblo did not believe that voting didn't really have any effect on their lives or that it would do any good. It was not their way. It was especially not the way of the women who believed that it was the men's place to make these decisions. She believes that things are changing and it is important to make an effort to become involved to have a say in the direction the community will take. She told us that she had been talking to the "grandmas and grandpas" and pointed out that they needed to be concerned about the kind of lives their grand children would have. Then she said that she had gone to the grocery store where she got into a discussion with a clerk about voting and the clerk said that her grandmother had gotten a visit from someone who had so impressed the grandmother with their arguements for voting that the grandmother had announced that she was going to vote for the first time. The girl realized that she was the person who had convinced the grandmother to vote. I said to her "doesn't it make you feel really good to know you've made a difference like that?" and she positively glowed with pride.

Talking to these two young people and seeing the difference they were trying to make in their communities made the entire trip worthwhile. Barack Obama is having the same effect on them that Jack and Bobby Kennedy had on me.

The pueblo has about 1000 registered voters and by the end of the day almost 600 of them had come into vote. The people there were ecstatic. It was by far the largest voter turnout they had ever had for anything. It was clear to me from the beginning of the day that Barack Obama was the candidate of choice for most of the voters and the only electioneering I saw was for Obama. The Republican challengers were in the poll for only a small part of the day--they really didn't have much to do and, apparently, were no where near as prepared as the Democratic challenger was.

My friend Melinda, meanwhile, spent the entire day canvassing voters in Santa Fe. Parris joined her for the afternoon. Just as they were getting ready to head to Parris' place to watch the returns, panic errupted in Obama headquarters in Santa Fe because they thought they had under-performed in voting and there was this frantic thought that they needed to get more voters out to meet the 75% turnout they thought they needed to win the state. As it happened, many, many people had voted early and the results for New Mexico were called for Obama very soon after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

By the time I got to Parris' and George R.R. Martin's house around 8, virtually all of New England had been called for Obama. Then Pennsylvania was called. And then Ohio. As soon as Iowa was called, I called my sister and thanked her for keeping her Iowa registration and going to Iowa to vote. I watched my former home state of Virginia called for Obama, courtesy of that communistic Northern Virginia, not the real Virginia. At 9 p.m. our time, when the polls had closed everywhere, MSNBC called the election for Obama and we drank champaign to celebrate the coming of age of our country and the election of an articulate and smart President. My friend Karen, who spent the past week working on the election in Las Vegas (something like 1500 lawyers went to Nevada to be part of election protection there), called me to share the moment. It was just great, after the disappointments of 2000 and 2004.

We've spent the past 24 hours giggling and weeping. Melinda alternates between saying "we did it" and "I can't believe we did it." When we went shopping in Santa Fe today, people couldn't stop talking about what a great day yesterday was. Melinda kept pointing out that I had come out from L.A. to work on the election and people thanked me for what I consider to be a very small role in a very big effort. There is so much work to be done, so much damage to repair, but Barack Obama is an inspirational leader who has the potential to be this crisis' FDR. I have great hope and I am so glad that I took the time to be a part of one incredible day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Day Three in New Mexico

I can't stop weeping, I'm so proud of what happened today in my country.

I'm also exhausted. I left Melinda's at about 4:50 a.m. to go to San Filipe Pueblo, located about 50 miles from where I am staying. It was pitch black when I left, and so dark when I got to the reservation that I wasn't sure I was going in the right direction. I found the building I was told to go to, but there was no indication that was the polling place. A car stopped and the driver rolled down the window. She let me know the location had been moved to another building and asked me to follow her.

The gate to the building wasn't opened until well after 6, so my first call into the voter protection war room was at 6:15 a.m. The second call was when the place finally did open. The third was when the voting scanner machine stopped working after only a few votes. It took about an hour and a half, but the scanner did get repaired and the 75 or so votes which were cast in the interim were scanned at the end of the day. The turn-out was far in excess of any prior election at the pueblo and it was quite clear that Barack Obama was the candidate of choice for most of the voters.

I'm too tired now to write about my fellow voter protection volunteer for the thirteen hours we stood outside the polling place and about the warm and friendly people I met. And now I'm going to wrap myself in the thought that intelligence and competence is no longer a crime in this country and that elections can be won on the issues and I am going to sleep.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Day 2 in New Mexico

I'm tired, having driven to and from Albuquerque today for my training as an out of state attorney heading for the New Mexico polls.

Much to my chagrin, I was assigned a location in the eastern part of Albuquerque, about 90 miles from where I am staying. I told the folks in advance that I'd be staying near Santa Fe and I was told I'd be assigned there. No such luck. Fortunately, I was able to trade my assignment with another lawyer who was here with still another lawyer and the two of them were sharing a car. His assignment was about 8-10 miles away from the one I originally had whereas hers was half way to Santa Fe. That's easier for me to get to by 6 a.m., but I'll be up at 4 a.m. to pull that off. Hence, I am on my way to bed.

But not before reminding you all that every vote does count and the stakes are just to high to stand idly by. The country is in a big mess and it will take a lot of work by a lot of people to change things for the better. Go vote, and get someone else to the polls as well.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Arrival in the Land of Enchantment

I just noticed my computer is on California time.

I got to my destination in New Mexico right on time this afternoon. I'm stunned that the train was actually early getting into Albuquerque, so there was a long lay over for folks who wanted to go out and shop. I figured I'd be back down tomorrow for my training, so I gave it a pass and enjoyed a little more quiet time in my roomette. We got to Lamy where I discovered I had no cell service to call my friend to pick me up. Fortunately, the pay phone did work and Melinda came and got me a little while later.

The weather was gorgeous today. When we drove to Union Station last night, it was raining. In fact, it rained most of yesterday in L.A. There was a storm early Saturday morning, but the rain managed to stop and hold back so I could have my lesson on Ace. I was told that water came down in sheets in Chatsworth around 5:30 a.m. There was less rain in Woodland Hills until the afternoon, when poor Muffin was asleep outside and stayed laying out in the rain until Len went out and literally had to drag her inside. It was so sad. We bundled her up in a towel and an old bath robe to dry her off.

My train left L.A. at 6:45. I had dinner at 7:30 and was back in my roomette by about 8:45 and decided to go to sleep. It's very relaxing to sleep on the train, listening to the sound of the rails. At one point I woke up and looked out the window--the stars were so bright, I could see them without my glasses. I think we were near Flagstaff or Winslow. Lots of empty space with no streetlights to obscure the heavens.

We crossed over into New Mexico at breakfast time and I watched Gallup go by the window. I've stopped there to fill up my tank going west a couple of times. It's a lot more relaxing to let someone else do the driving.

Melinda and I went into Santa Fe for dinner. The restaurant was pretty empty. It's between summer tourist season and ski season, so things are quite quiet. I'm hoping to get to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum on Wednesday, which I've never had a chance to visit. And I'm planning to get to the Nambe outlet--I love Nambe serving pieces.

But tomorrow, I got to Albuquerque to get trained for my duties on Tuesday. Melinda's going to be at Obama HQs in Santa Fe on Tuesday and we are planning to gather to watch the returns after the polls close with some other friends. We're hoping for a celebration, not a wake.

Vote. It does count.