Public Access Transition

Since the late 1970’s the principle electronic public media has been channels on cable TV. But they were an option that most cable franchisers did not ask for, according to a survey by the Alliance for Community Media. From the beginning the goal has been to allow local content from the public without social or political considerations. Other alternate media included underground newspapers, low power community radio, public broadcasting tv and Pacifica Radio.

By the late 1980’s political and economic changes shifted the relevance of various alternative and public media. The financing of public broadcasting, as opposed to public access, became dominated by corporate sponsors. In the 90’s the internet gradually replaced much alternative print media. Even though video options on the internet increasingly replaced cable video the internet itself never provided much community centered media. The internet was better at dispersing media than connecting people, especially in community. Those communities that used the cable public access option still had a better source of local and public media. Cable use was declining but so was print media, which kept cable public access relevant.

From the beginning, political entities in and out of government occasionally tried to censor legal content on public access channels, which enjoy the legal status of a “designated public forum.” Over time a number of political and economic innovations sucked money away from the public sectors and transferred it to commercial entities. Local government budgets became tight and the perceived essential services were going to be fulfilled first even if other functions could survive on a pittance. At the extreme, there are several problems with this reasoning as well as a couple of solutions.

Not all public access channels were well funded. Many did not receive any general fund money or an entitled part of the cable franchise fee. Public support often consisted of free rent in an unused part of a public facility. This was the case in Lake County. TV8 was a single channel access station created by a provision in the city of Clearlake’s cable franchise. There was never any intention to turn over day to day operations to a qualified non profit. It was bounced around from one public space to another. It was financed solely by a $5400 per year Distance Learning Program fee charged to Yuba College. Even though it was never a budget burden this did not prevent the most egregious violations of civil liberties by government authorities who locked out volunteers under flimsy pretenses.

The bottom line is that there is a critical need for an independent, public, and local media if communities are going to be vibrant and inclusive. But the technology and funding are going to have to change. If public media advocates step forward to make the transition then politicians need to help the transition to the next step forward in community media. Especially since it won’t cost much.

The Alliance for Community Media has been working to make the the technical transformation of public access from a cable dependent media to internet based platforms where existing cable access channels will become “nodes” of local content. The internet is now more accessible to more people than cable tv. Many subscribers have switched to satellite tv where public access is not an option. A media platform or portal could be an upgraded blog site. The Premium version of WordPress costs $8.25 per month.

Linked videos on the public platform could be stored on YouTube, Vimeo, or Archive.org.  Each “division” of this new local media platform will have its own page on the platform. Probably these separate pages would be edited by non profits with the homepage edited by the sites overall administrator. The three public access stations in Mendocino and the one in Trinity are owned by non profits. My own non profit which is currently parked is Cache Creek Performance. I naively intended it to operateTV8. There are several low cost live streaming services that charge by the month or data use to make local media more of a real time experience.

With many production programs being usable on a good laptop, the only resource missing is space for a studio. This is where thinking outside the box is critical. Why pay rent on space that is not used most of the time? If lighting and sound equipment can be put in portable packages, a studio can be anywhere – meeting rooms, restaurant stages, coffee shops, churches, government chambers. I’ve used them all. And let’s not forget the great big outdoors. There are schools with small performance areas open to the public (Lower Lake High School) as well as non profits who might like to trade temporary shooting space for publicity.

How do you make the public aware that this is the new goto public media? First, everyone on the site needs to plug the site and everyone else on it while they still can. Second, sponsor or cosponsor events and contests. Obviously the first contest should be “The Best Name for This Platform” contest. I would be interested in sponsoring a new type of Slam Poetry competition, especially if I could get Mendocino’s Poet Laureate Michael Riedell on board. There are clubs who are always looking for speakers. We need to speak to them. When something new happens on the platform, such as its initial formation, we need to send out press releases.

What can local government do to help transition to the new public media? They can make a commitment to the future. Rather than simply let declining public access channels crash and burn a positive response would go something like: “The days of paying for centralized facilities along with technical staff are coming to an end. We will work with a broad base of media advocates by providing an insurance umbrella, offering more use of public buildings for media functions, especially for storage of valuable equipment, and establishing a jack location for existing public access channels to link to the new platform.” The future is only scary if you do not prepare for it.

Slam Poetry 2.0

The reason for judging slam poetry is to add drama to poetry events. Impromptu audience judges have done this job so far. But this poetry form was introduced 30 years ago. That’s before the internet. It is time to kick up the drama several notches and focus on the next level. The explosion of visual, on demand media requires a more compelling spectacle to keep interest from sagging in old venues and to jump start future venues.

The judging aspect of slam poetry has not developed over time. If judging is primarily for drama building then there should be no objection to more and better dramatic devices. I’ve been annoyed for years by meaningless one to a hundred scores (1 to 10 by tenths of a point) based on spot impressions in a context free setting.

Fake judging does not substitute for real drama for long. Real drama is found in the real world where there is a clear distinction between winners, losers, and big losers. The existing “sacrificial poet” concept for attempted calibrating purposes admits to the problems of point creep and fake precision. It is clear from watching slams that the patch isn’t holding.

I am offering an alternative that is more than a patch or a gimmick. I call it “racehorse slam” because it is based on 3 and only 3 judgements: “win, place, or show” in heats (races) of 5 or 6 poets in each heat. Rather than baseless “points”, poets are judged by their relative “place” within a small group. It is not necessary to have an overall winner between the heat winners in the same night. That can be a separate event.

How do we make this process visual? I believe multi track marble runs, one track for each poet, is the way to go. These runs can be simple structures or elaborate kinetic sculptures. I recommend that the runs have lights and sound effects. I’m experimenting with several designs.

You can’t talk about judging without talking about judges. Currently, the audience judges are not clearly seen by the rest of the audience. They are not part of the visuals. Being selected on the spot out of the audience is real randomness but fake democracy. Everyone has biases and the elimination of the top and bottom scores is another failed patch to moderate that bias.

Why not celebrate that bias in the service of drama? Select 3, not 5, judges in advance. Because we’re not doing the patch thing we don’t need 2 superfluous scores to eliminate. Judges should be costumed in plain view. For example: Riot gear, clown face, and reaper outfits. So people will be judged by “the Man”, “some joker”, and “Death” – just like in real life. How much more dramatic can you get?

Here is how it all works. After each poet has taken their best shot, each judge will drop either a blue (3 points), red (2 points), white (1 point), or green (0 points) marble into each poet’s track. All marbles will be released at once to much fanfare. They drop out of the run into clear bottles with the poets’ names on them. The results are immediately obvious. Ties are possible.

A separate, straight track is used to enforce the 3 minute rule. At 3 minutes into a poet’s slam a judge releases an old bowling ball down the track. The poet’s grace time is the amount of time it takes the ball to run down the track and into a garbage can which triggers an annoying alarm. This is another added source of drama.

Obviously Slam Poetry 2.0 has a lot of changes to get used to. That is why I’m waiting to see if these catch on before implementing some others. At some point a venue will be ready to move to Slam Poetry 3.0. This will move the poetry spectacle into audience participatory theater. It will involve the marble runs but also add a dramatic opportunity to over ride the judges’ verdicts. It is time that slam audiences get a chance to do something creative about the judging other than heckle.

Fringe Festival Ideas

by Dante DeAmicis

Fringe Festival (San Francisco) play pitches  –  best of my ideas that I will write a one hour play from if commissioned by an interested producer and director

1 – “FIJA”   This is another jury room drama.  This theme persists because of the natural limited set and scene changes.  In this case the struggle is not over whether a criminal charge was correct.  Here the struggle is over whether juries have the right to rule on the law as well as the facts.  Most judges deny that juries have this power to decide when a law should be applied or whether a law was legitimate in the first place. This play focuses on a locality’s deceptive practice of using planning ordinances to functionally overturn California’s Medical Marijuana law.  A county has given the ordinance teeth by making violation a misdemeanor instead of the normal infraction.  However, this escalation also  guarantees defendants a jury trial where one informed and determined juror can bring proceeding to a screeching halt.

Characters: Judge, Prosecutor, defendant, four jurors

2 – “Unreserved”   Christians almost have a lock on the “passion play” genre. Not many subjects can produce a series of events and conversations where each one contributes to an outcome of sweeping significance over succeeding generations.  In fact, the events must stand alone as vignettes within the play.  The implementation of the Federal Reserve System has this kind of scope for people with an economic history bent.  During a period of distrust of big money interests a group has a series of secret meetings to plan a grand deception in plain view, binding politicians to their agenda and turning a population into subservient peasants for a hundred years and counting.

Characters: three conspirators, Congressman, a typical American family (father, mother, child), William Jennings Brian

3 – “Scabs”     A shadowy management group convinces a local government to let them run their bus to lower costs.  The out-of-towners turn out to be a front for union busters on steroids.   Their operating manual is a comprehensive list of unfair labor practices.  Short term goals include bust the Union and fire the remaining old drivers who remember what a fair contract was.  But rumors persist of a transit based final solution to the elderly and disabled base of the ridership.   Actors should be prepared to play multiple fast paced roles.

Characters: two scab drivers, two union drivers, evil transit manager, reporter, county supervisor, three passengers, anti union heckler, security guard

4 – “Tasting Room”    Two fashionable demons sit at a tall cabaret table with a built in wine rack (Yes, I have one).  They are preparing to sample the various vintages of pain and suffering created with practice and expertise by their fellow fermenters of misfortune.  Categories include, “personal”, “institutional”, and  “grand atrocities.”  Each cork they pop becomes a new vignette by the actors with following commentary by the sophisticated demons.

Characters: two tasters, two teams of three actors each

5 – “Dicey Spicy Madness”     An Italian Restaurant, famous for its pasta sauce, decides to market the sauce to the public.  The secret ingredient is a potent variety of sage that some think is the source of their lucid dreams.  Restaurant chains committed to sugary chemical sauces are not happy with the competition.  Political and religious opportunists see a chance to whip the lethargic population into a frenzy while garnering a ton of free publicity for their personal agendas.  Soon, all the problems of society can be traced to this pasta sauce ingredient calling for prohibition by pundits, politicians, racists, imbedded news journalists, and police spokesmen.

Characters: Italian restaurant owner, family of three customers, crusader, news reporter, politician, various institutional spokespeople in rapid succession.

Homeland Security Book Review Club

By Dante DeAmicis

 The Homeland Security Book Review Club (henceforth “Homeland Security BRC”) is an effort to conduct public and staged discussions on books of ideas.  These will mostly be non fiction books.  Usually ideas are thin in fiction as that genre is focused mostly on entertainment.  Sometimes the “review” will be a composite of an essay, collections of fragmentary thoughts, and a video production, released on the internet and sent to public access channels.

 Why name the club after the Department of Homeland Security?  We think (actually just me) all serious ideas are dangerous.  I noticed that everything that is cool is either dangerous or expensive.  Therefore, if reading is to be cool it will need a dangerous outlet.  Literacy groups need to understand this or long attention span reading will fall farther and farther behind internet browsing.

 Since Homeland Security and the whole Patriot Act clique spent so much time snooping around library records to see what we were reading we’ll make it easy for them, by putting written and video book reviews and discussions on the internet.  That’s the angle anyway.  As the city of Clearlake already thinks my library is a meth lab it’s not too big of a stretch to portray anyone encouraging the study of serious books as a terrorist.

 I’ll see if I can get a link from Homy’s public relations flack so they don’t miss a single dangerous thought. I’ll also see if they have a sense of humor.  See you at Gitmo.

 Before I end this post I’m going to awkwardly inject some thoughts about the mother ground of modern conspiracy books  –  the JFK assassination.  We just had its 50th anniversary, prompting a spurt of new hack jobs and new editions of old classics on the subject. JFK conspiracy books have been called an industry but that term better fits the deep pockets corporate media and official government commission debunkers who can bill taxpayers to run their smoke and noise machine.  All the combined spending of the conspiracy writers would barely cover a week at a good bed and breakfast by comparison.

 The landscape of research is continually changing.  Witnesses continue to be discovered and interviewed, often at the end of their life.  Although many witnesses have died, many in power who demanded silence and made threats in the decades after the killing are also dying off.

 New technology is revealing new facts from old evidence.  This is filling in some of the gaps created by missing or destroyed evidence.  Because of the internet more public info is easier and cheaper to access.  More research can be done on a shoestring when you don’t have to physically travel all over the country and beyond.

 A library of JFK conspiracy books would have three sections.  The first section would deal with pure researchers.  Their only preconception is that the official story doesn’t wash.  They compile rooms full of file drawers that are being continuously opened and shut.  Essentially after their first book, subsequent books are revisions of that book.  If they make significant additions in some area they’ll give the book a new title.  Authors in this group include Harold Weisberg, Harrison Edward Livingstone, and Robert J. Groden.

 By far the largest group of people who have dipped their pens in JFK’s blood are those who had a passing professional involvement in the assassination.  This includes the medical, police, security, politicians, bystanders, media, technicians, and close acquaintances of the principals that were on the scene or in the mop up for a few minutes to a few months.  I would include professionals who felt they had to speak out on that part of the set up, knock down, and cover up process when it systematically differed from their training and experience even though they had no association with the November 22nd event.  Glancing over my shelf, I see books by Fletcher Prouty, Cyril Wecht, Barr McClellan, and James Fetzer would fit here.

 The third group are the conspiracy debunkers, notably the authors of the Warren Report, Vicent Bugliosi, and a couple of CIA shills. So called “objective” books belong here also since their objectivity usually doesn’t amount to more than omissions and snide remarks when it comes to disputed issues.

 Of course now that we have photos and documents galore you can jump into the conspiracy spectacle yourself.  Analyze the raw data and feel all the anguished testimony until you are foaming at the mouth and sputtering with rage.

 The tireless researchers say the truth will come out, implying their lifelong work will bear fruit. But the media corportocracy is tighter than ever because of journalistic emasculation and the continuing erosion of civil liberties.  So even if the truth finally comes out it will not be invited in, remaining on the outside with its nose pressed against the window of polite insider company.

 

Holiday in Healdsburg

By Dante DeAmicis

I’ve seen Healdsburg on maps, hanging off the side of Alexander Valley like a grape.  It’s smack on Highway 101, two towns up from Santa Rosa but I’m coming up by bike from Calistoga on Highway 128.  Before 128 angles into 101 at Geyserville riders need to take a cut off to get to Healdsburg, possibly with a side trip to Lytton Station.

This is a bus-bike trip.  I took the 7:55 Route 3 from Clearlake but I could have taken an earlier run.  Riding from Callistoga, 128 goes over a small clump of hills.  This is the boundary between Napa County and the Northern towns and vineyard valleys of Sonoma.  The hills are bigger and the canyons deeper between Knights and Alexander Valleys so the vineyards are less as-far-as-the-eye-can-see like Napa Valley.  This is Lake County’s competition in this department.

I pass Ida Clayton Road which turns into the highly lethal Western Mines Road on the Lake County side.  These are serious mountain bike roads for serious road warriors with millions of calories to burn.  After I pull off 128 for the Healdsburg cut-off I cross over the mighty Russian River and follow the railroad South to Healdsburg.  Running low on fluids?  Stop at the conveniently spaced roach coaches for your diabetic refreshment.

The hinterlands of Healdsburg start out with a couple of boring strip malls but I’m expecting something like Calistoga in the old town area.  When I get there I find a newer and bigger city than I was expecting.  It’s a little like Calistoga in places but there’s something else.  There’s an upscale trendiness that smells like San Francisco with a Santa Rosa ambiance.  Even the Goodwill looks more like a Ross than a yard sale graveyard.

I’m short on time because of all my inbound goat head flat tires but I hit enough bike and book shops to notice that the clerks all had either English accents or good hair cuts.  Oh yes, and not one green swastika neck tattoo on the sidewalks.  What a freaky place.  So weird for such an enclave to be so close to Lake County – A $5 bus fare and a leisurely 3 hour bike ride away.

But enough Chamber of Commerce hype.  It’s time for my return loop.  Bike excursions try to plan loops as much as possible to keep the views new.  The plan is South on Redwood Highway to Chalk Hill Road, going over the rolling hills I went around to get to Alexander Valley.  I wish I had time to snap a picture of the rickety single lane bridge but I was flying.  Before I earlier veered off the Redwood Highway I crossed the Russian River again and stopped to check out the excursion company selling their old double kayaks. The owner looked like she just rode off the range.  Proof that herding yuppies on the river is similar to moving burgers on the hoof cross country.

I connect back up to 128 off Chalk Hill 14 miles North of Calistoga where I arrive 15 minutes to spare to catch the 5:50 pm bus 3 back over Highway 29 to Lake County.  Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until you look around what’s near you.

Not the Napa Valley Film Festival

By Dante DeAmicis

The third Napa Valley Film Festival wrapped up November 17th.  It was huge.  I crashed the one last year and it was huge.  The Festival’s fast start was obviously the product of big money, big talent, and big organization.  Oh yes, and big film connections such as Francis Coppola who hangs out in the area.  Understandably, many of the non film events at the Napa Festival revolved around wine.  Even though Lake County has placed all their hopes and dreams on wine tasting rooms the prospects and necessity of making similar cultural tie-ins has completely eluded our visionary leaders.

The most interesting part of the festival is not sitting in rooms, four-walling movies with a bunch of sophistos.  The only reason I would consider shelling out the big bucks for festival passes would be to take in the panels, power lunches, and speeches by real live directors and industry insiders.  I also find it interesting to see how new types of events are created by employing new technology and breaking down the fourth wall.

Back this year was the “Pitch Your Movie Idea” contest – the event I crashed last year with the help of three co-conspirators.  Another meat-and-potatoes panel tackled the intrusion of digital media into film turf and the many new ways of distribution made possible after production.  Social media expects and bloggers sneered at two years ago were given center stage on this panel.  Other panels are assembled groups of directors around a theme such as the “Environmental Program” and “Animation Panel.”

Big money attracts more big money.  Sony sponsored a short film contest then hauled a monster HDTV around the Valley behind a Cadillac to selected “front porch” locations to fete the winners.  Although a Napa gala can’t help being a spectacle of high priced wine and food, they can still showcase uplifting gems such as the “Make a Film Foundation.”  A group of noted writers, directors, and actors help children with life threatening conditions to create a film legacy of their life.

Weren’t there any movies worth going over the hill for?  If I had the cash I would have traveled to see “Bidder 70”, the story of economics graduate student Tim Christopher’s monkey-wrenching of the 2008 Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leasing auction.  A documentary of a true hero.  Once again, the main attraction is the living and breathing mucky muck interaction.  I can get video on the internet.  The film selections are geared toward tastes that will spend $250 to $500 for a festival pass.  There’s a little “see and be seen” game going on at this level.

So could Lake County be another Napa Valley Film Festival?  No.  We are Lake County – no money, little support for the arts, leaders with no imagination, and a small, damaged population.  There are no alternatives offered by government, schools, established non profits, and other entities who only use their official capacity to be in the way of anything except selling real estate to people working over the hill or skimming wine tasters from Napa Valley who got lost.  But there are options here for people with grit and imagination.  We just need to push the “leaders” out of the way.

Let’s look at what we have going for us.  We have a unique, isolated geography of water and mountains that is relatively close to big cities.  We have residents with more time than money to physically get involved.  This is an asset for producers who need cheap help.  We have numerous existing sets and natural sites just waiting to be cataloged by GPS.  There is a substantial network of musicians of various styles.  In spite of official neglect, an unappreciated core of other creative talent exists.  Just as the Napa Valley Film Festival formed their own non profit 501c3 for the purpose of creating something new and different, any Lake County effort will have to go through that same process.

Realistically, we will still have to reach beyond our County borders to surrounding counties and the internet.  Lucky us, we have some internet networkers.  Unlike places with big names and bigger backers we will have to create our own buzz.  The only way to pull this off is by doing things and producing things that will grab attention.  Quirky contests, bizarre creations, intriguing events, and anything that can be videotaped for export, highlighting a unique culture among people of modest means.  Our small and mean goobers will have to step aside for the weird and wonderful denizens.  Once we have proven through our publicized accomplishments we are worth a tank of gas then people will come here for other reasons than mistakes and desperation.

The key is videotaping everything creative and get it out on the internet, preferably with a Lake County tag.  Things will be done by people who “do” not by people who tell others “don’t.”

As an example here’s what I can do.  I can form a non profit where such a structure is necessary to function.  Already done – “Cache Creek Performance.”  I can write and videotape plays.  I can write, perform, and video slam poetry performances and contests.  I can write and sing music parodies.  I can improvise sets.  I suspect a few other locals will jump on board once things get rolling. Remember, everything is videoed.  Everything is hyped.  Everything is launched on the internet.

I can also produce video examples and do some training for two simple video contests.  The first is “The Mega Cheese Video Contest”, using cheap equipment to make science fiction and special effects videos.  Remember those goofy stop animation honkers?  The cheesiest video wins.  Even lower budget is the “Stripped Audio Massacre” where public meetings have their audio tracks stripped off before satirical dialog is added to chunks of rearranged video.  Both of these schlocky outrages are designed to appeal primarily to youth who have few opportunities in Lake County and fewer constructive outlets.

The pay off will be when residents and outsiders start seeing this cluster of communities as an incubator for edgy new ideas from edgier people instead of a dead zone to escape from.  By publicly contrasting our bootstrap localism with Napa’s polished imports we could get extra publicity from a mock rivalry.  Lake County would once again be a place to escape to by creating experiences people cannot get elsewhere.

Stealing a Cougar’s Bed

By Dante DeAmicis

 This year I lost two jobs.  My taxi job was squeezed out by a ruinous regulatory scheme.  Then after six weeks of frantic hunting I got a job driving the transit bus.  Shortly after, the drivers went out on strike and I lost that job even though I wasn’t one of the strikers.   Since I was getting hungry I was willing to take anything.  I spent a couple hundred bucks to get my guard card back and took a graveyard post at the top of Socrates Mine Road working at Calpine.   I do not have a registered vehicle.

 After several experiments I settled on the following strategy to get to work.  First, take the last bus out of Clearlake at 4:45 pm to Middletown.  Hang around town for awhile.  Then I ride my bike which I loaded on the bus to a point two miles up Socrates Mine Road.  I have to push it up the 16% grades.  Now I try to make up some of my sleep deficit before work.  Where am I?  I am at Lincoln Rock, 1.4 miles below my post.  The rock is 60 feet high jutting out of a flat space used as an emergency parking lot for Calpine employees.

 The rock is a landmark on some maps.  It is ancient and cracked, allowing small shrubs of oak and bay to scratch out a meager existence in its crevices.  On the backside there is a narrow path etched in the volcanic sculpture.  Although the prominence is mostly straight up there are suggestions of small ledges with no obvious access.  After weeks of part time exploring before work, I found a difficult passage up and over one side of the spire.  There I found a small ledge shielded by an old stump that had given up the struggle to survive on what water and minerals were doled out by the miserly stone.

 It looked like someone else had regularly used this alfresco room with a view.  There are no wild goats in the area.  Garden variety homeless usually don’t wander into the high country.  This leaves (gulp) cougars.  Cougars love ledges to watch future meals promenade by and settle in for hours after they are finished hunting.  The big cats are regularly sited in this area but the general consensus among them is humans don’t taste good.  If the two leggers are on the run they attain the guilty pleasure of junk food.  I figure I am safe in my sleeping bag unless the deer get all hunted out for three miles.

 The stars are diamond bright.  Hopefully, pissing on the rocks is a no vacancy sign for late arrivals.  Only the yipping of foxes, night birds, falling pine cones, and the distant hum of Calpine’s power plants can be heard.  I set my alarm for two and a half hours.  I wake on my cougar ledge an hour or so before work.  I roll up my bag and slide down Lincoln’s face.  After strapping every thing on my bike I start the 45 minute push up the mountain to Post 3.  Whether a displaced lion “hot sheets” back into his bed I’ll never know.

 Soon the winter snows will come and turn Socrates to ice.  Workers without four wheel drives will park their vehicles in the dirt lot around my sky nest and car pool the rest of the way up.  As if I weren’t a curiosity already, I will be shaking off my new fallen blanket and emerge through the rubble at the base like some clean shaven Yeti to beg a lift.  The Lincoln Rock and its occupants will watch the show from their front row.

Big Read – Chapter Two

By Dante DeAmicis

October was Big Read project month for Lake County. They chose Joy Luck Club to beat to death. What for? For the $4,000 of course. That’s what funneled down to us from the NEA. Actually, I have no idea if they beat it to death. For all I know the books are still in the shipping crate as mother-daughter relationships and Chinese culture are being explored in other ways this month.

The requirements are loose to qualify for this $4,000 but I assume there is some accounting requirement. Predictably, there are several teacher and councilor led discussion groups. How many readers are showing up? How many show up because they have to? How many who show up had a voice in choosing the project book? It would be nice to get some numbers after October.

The Big Read schedule of events is posted around the County. Most activities are organized by existing groups who have tweaked what they do anyway to tie in with themes and action in the book. Other than a hiking club that is stopping every so often to allow Joy Luck Club toting fans to read their “favorite” passages from the book, the groups’ spin offs can stand alone from the novel.

There is a Chinese food cooking class, a dinner theater producer who wrote a play with a Chinese theme, a Chinese film festival, mahjong lessons, a chess tournament, and book inspired art exhibits. I wonder how much the activities support the book and how much the book is boosting ongoing functions. I know you can’t be too original for a program that disappears in a month. Perhaps if there were a shell program that regularly launched coordinated projects. But I guess no one is handing out money for that brainstorm.

There are already designated months for this or that. Occasionally bookstores select an anointed month or holiday, for a window display. Streets are closed off for festivals. But again, this is a lot of hoopla for one book, and novels at that. An ongoing book club could be the source of broader themed reading projects that follow each other. It sends a bad message to shut down a community based reading project as soon as a check is blown.

When October comes to a close the reading community could ask themselves, “What’s happening in November?” It just so happens that the 50th anniversary of America’s coup d’etat, commonly remembered as the JFK Assassination, rolls up on the 22nd. Conveniently, a ton of conspiracy research and theories has been published on the subject. But no one is giving the Homeland Security Book Review Club a $4,000 check to pull it off. Still, if enough of a splash is made on the 50th with some events on my list we can develop more ideas for future Novembers. Keep it fresh. Check out the list.

Get any books on the subject by Harrison Livingstone or Harold Weisberg. Study up for the Grassy Knoll Trivia Game. Take turns reading selections one night a week, as “Bedtime Stories”, in the wee hours on KPFZ. The Photo Shop Art Show will show your skills in matching up body parts on different bodies. Run the Dealey Plaza obstacle course mock-up and dodge paint balls. Write and perform your own assassination slams. For the kiddies we’ll have the Toss-the-Bean-Bag-Brains-Back-into-the-Paper-Mache-JFK-Head game and the Conspirator Coloring Book contest.

Test your memory and reflexes at the Magic Bullet Shooting Match where non target friends become target enemies depending on what event flashes on screen. Read official testimony with friends on video and edit for most hilarious effect. We’ll cap off the month with the assassinated witness zombie costume party. Dance to the Warren Commission Trio (actually a full band but they swear there’s only three of them.)

The official Big Read for 2013 managed to tie two chess events to The Joy Luck Club so I feel obligated to create one of my own. The coup d’etat chess tournament will have customized pieces on a board embossed with the Dealey Plaza. Here are my pieces. There were no shortage of villains and Quislings to choose from but I had to scrape for heroes.

The white king and queen would be JFK and Jackie while the black counterparts would be LBJ and Ladybird. These pieces are chosen because of power positions before and after the assassination, not because LBJ was at the head of the conspiracy.

Going to the opposite end of the power spectrum we have the pawn positions, occupied by 8 identical white cigar chomping Castros and 8 black pinhead-on-bodybuilder Oswalds.

In the corners, I’m designating the non personality rooks as two white hands holding a movie camera. Without the Zapruder film the conspiracy opponents would never have gotten any traction. In opposition to the magic of celluloid we have the real alternate reality of the anti-hero black caped magic bullet rook characters, holding a wand over a top hat.

Out on the front lines we have the black knights Allen Dulles, the defrocked CIA head, and mafioso Carlos Marcello. commanders of their respective columns. Leading the counterattack is Cyril Wecht, Allegheny County, PA Coroner and District Attorney Jim Garrison.

The official gospel is defended by black bishops Supreme Court Justice Warren and future Senator Arlen Specter. In the best position to promote a reformation are white bishops Attorney General Robert Kennedy and House Select Committee on Assassinations founder Congressman Henry Gonzalez.

Let the “big think” games begin.

Gooberstan and Triple Bypass

By Dante DeAmicis

Lake County is a unique gem in a setting between Napa and Mendocino Counties. It has large expanses of mountainous and aquatic natural wonders. It has orchards and vineyards but is not overwhelmed by agribusiness….yet. Developed tourist attractions and events are weak but they do exist.

The biggest problem in promoting organized activities in Lake County is that local governments are run by firmly entrenched Goobers. They’ve created a Goobertocracy which refuses to accept any input, advice, or data from outside their small, mean spirited mindset. The only acceptable course of action for them is to return to the 50’s, minus the alcohol. Class war is their religion.

On the plus side, this narrow myopic attitude has caused most excluded functional residents to form cohesive networks in pursuing mutual interests. Usually visitors do not have the time to locate these pockets of resistance to the Goobertocracy. Still, even though Lake County is one big Gooberstan it is worth soaking up as much of its natural beauty as you can as a sortie between Napa and Mendocino.

The best way to have a good, short experience in Lake County is as a bypass between functional counties. What are you bypassing? Most Chamber of Commerce type businesses see tourists as marks to rip off. You want to avoid them. As a cyclist and back roads enthusiast this is my suggested compromise in driving or riding through Lake County.

Coming up from Napa on Highway 29 you pass Twin Pines Casino on the way to Middletown, a small unobjectionable community that likes to pretend they are part of Napa County. From here, turn onto Highway 175 and away from Clear Lake, ground zero of Gooberstan.

Four miles out of town the road begins climbing the majestic Cobb Mountain, passing former resorts nestled on its slopes. Your first stop should be in the mountain valley of Cobb. This is probably the closest thing to an artist community in Lake County.

At this junction the bypass begins in earnest as you turn on to Bottle Rock Road. This is also where the optional bike ride run begins which I call the “Triple Bypass” because in addition to bypassing the worst of Gooberstan you are bypassing all highways, Clear Lake, and the city of Clearlake – a war zone and hellhole. If you’re just doing the drive-by then it’s still the Gooberstan Bypass.

Out of the Cobb Valley, Bottle Rock is a steep grade to the Moore Winery then a gradual grade to the summit. From Harrington Flats Road its one long gonzo decent through obsidian road cuts to the foot of Mount Konocti. As Mount Konocti has been contaminated by Goobers, we will turn off Bottle Rock just before Highway 29 and on to Cole Creek Road which turns into Live Oak Drive.

Both the bike and auto bypasses will be hugging the rim of the valley, bouncing from Kelsey Creek and Adobe Roads on the way to Highland Springs Road and Reservoir. This is my second recommended stop. Then its a shot down Highland Springs Road across Highway 29 into farmland, turning left on Soda Bay Road and Main Street toward Lakeport.

Approaching the Goober stronghold of Lakeport, turn away on Todd Road toward “Hamburger Hill.”  Swing under the freeway to the industrial area of Bevins Street, then left on Martin to escape back under to Scotts Valley, a charming ride and farming district. Just before Scotts Valley Road links up with Highway 20 you will take Laurel Dell Road around the back side of Blue Lakes – the last recommended stop and end of the bicycle Triple Bypass. These are two narrow lakes with a resort and community adjacent to one of them.

For those driving, you will have a one mile grade to go and you’re out of Gooberstan, into the safety of Mendocino County. For the bike-to-bus trippers there’s a stop for Lake Transit Route 7 to take you to Ukiah and away from the third world ambiance of Gooberstan.

Border Chess – A New Game of Kings

By Dante DeAmicis

Video games are supposed to be the new kings of games. In a way they are, because with multiple games you can have multiple kings for multiple realms. Video games are like real dynasty struggles for not only can the players lose but the specific games can lose as well in the marketplace.

Still, the chess board holds on with its 2,500 year old connection to tradition. But it needs help. Just as changes were made in its early evolution, new changes need to be made for it to survive another generation.

Change should never be arbitrary or contrived but be done to serve a purpose. Ideally change should be suggested by other traditions. The tarot is contemporary with the great board and contains concepts that should have been incorporated into the game a long time ago. Redundant pieces and a lifeless game board practically cry out for new elements from old images.

Here is the chess I wish to promote. It adds or eliminates as few components as possible with a view to advancing to the next level of the same ancient game. The focus of my chess is the new border line or border zone between the two sides of the board. Just as in the tarot or in situational video games where a change in place or event changes the rules of the game, approaching “the border” requires a similar change in behavior and strategy.

The clearest need for change is in the board itself. The current board is lifeless and nondescript. The game environment should have its own character. My board will be a grid of 9 by 9 squares instead of 8 by 8. The 8 by 8 space has no center in row or square. I have remedied this. The new center row is the “border line” where new possibilities emerge and old ones disappear. The extra column is partly to accommodate one of the new pieces and, along with the new row, to create a center of the board.

Two New Pieces:

The Chancellor. He is the chief adviser, lawyer, and administrator of day-to-day affairs. His creation is at the expense of the second bishop, a clear redundancy. The Chancellor’s move is a “zig-zag” in equal number of spaces in two opposite diagonals. As with the Queen, his move changes at the border zone, where the three pieces can move unlimited spaces but only forward and back.

The Fool. Entertainer as well as subversive communicator for he can go where others dare not. He creates a cohesive identity by transmitting culture to the realm. The Fool is created by the extra column. He normally moves up to 3 spaces in only his half of the board and the border zone where he also may begin a move to exchange places with his counterpart where ever his counter Fool may be.

Rule Changes:

The Queen loses power after the Border Zone where she can only move unlimited spaces forward and back. The Queen’s unlimited power was added a long time ago to speed up the game. This change made just for speed unbalanced the game in some ways. Retaining the power on the home side only reestablishes some balance.

The Pawns gain power after the Border Zone where they increase their moves to unlimited spaces forward but they cannot move back. They still move diagonal to kill. Adding one-way power to pawns after the border affirms how just being in enemy territory creates a new power of opportunity for the normally powerless if they are willing to make a one way trip.

Border Zone interruption. Normally unlimited moves in a direction must end in the border before continuing with another move. This clearly establishes the board is two realms as well as two sides.

The Center Square is “The Library” where landing on it transports a piece to its counter piece’s starting. space if open. Otherwise it stays in the Library until it moves or is “over run” (taken without stopping the taker’s advance).

How would we test this version of chess? With an experimental tournament of course. To create visual interest the first “theme” board should reflect conflict in the test tournament locality for publicity purposes. In Lake County there is a long standing struggle between those who demand a return to the past in spite of that impossibility and those who wish to move forward while we still can. The imposed overlay of ignorance and intolerance on Lake County by reactionaries I call “Gooberstan”- the theme of the first Border Chess game board.

Welcome to Gooberstan. Not only is the County isolated by mountains but the last redistricting segmented the region into two, from what was always one, Congressional District. Even though the County as a whole has lost influence, the Southern District is fine with being attached to Napa and Santa Rosa. However, the Northern District segment has gotten totally screwed.

The poorer North Shore communities, a former sprawling Redevelopment District, and the incorporated war zone of Clearlake are now a backwater of a Central Valley Congressional District which we have nothing in common with. When we can escape the Goobertocracy for a while it is to go to Ukiah or Willits. At least we can get a bus in that direction. The effect has been to make the class war between the Goobers and the fixed income or no income denizens more pronounced.

There is no shortage of over-the-top characters and shameless behaviors in Gooberstan. I look forward to fleshing out this region’s high weirdness to create the first Border Chess game board.