Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beandeer can inspire holiday spirit

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Beandeer is the newsroom offering in the Sacramento Bee's inter-office canstruction contest.
With some reluctance, I'll admit that as a high school student leader I actually enjoyed decorating for school dances. I've always felt the urge to be involved, but my real run as a student leader began after my Freshman year in response to my good friend Kim Cantrell's urging.

Over the years, we also organized and decorated school floats, campus rallies and hallways. I was never much into the color scheme. For the most part, I let the ladies make all the subjective decisions. However, I did feel a sense of pride when we successfully turned an idea into reality. I felt really good when the dance was filled, people liked the decorations and we made a profit.

It was with some curiousness among work colleagues that I agreed to spearhead the newsroom's holiday canstruction effort. The publisher asked various departments within the paper to create can-based holiday displays. In my book, its the same deal, bringing the right people together to execute a vision.

The judging has not happened yet, but I feel good about our effort. I feel even better about this time-lapse video by Hector Amezcua of us putting him together.

Video captures whimsical fun of Burning Man 2011

After much delay, I've finished and uploaded my Burning Man video. With so much to see and do everyone's experience is undoubtedly different. This is a small slice of the sights and sounds of Burning Man 2011 Rites of Passage. With enough distance, I can hardly remember my listless dehydration at the tail end of the week. Burning Man is not for everyone, but clearly its for plenty. Enjoy.

And while you're here, I've also embedded my 2010 slide show.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Family fun beach camping

After much delay I finally got to work and finished my video of the summer Fletcher Camping trip to Harris Beach State Park on the Oregon coast. I hope you enjoy.



I originally cut a video using Avid's Studio 11. Frustrated is video format issues I turned again to Windows Live Movie Maker.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two music idiots ask: "What the hell is dubstep anyway?"

"Dubtep is robot dinosaurs fighting with lasers," random guy at Burning Man.

Music is a big part of Burning Man. For reasons unknown to me, the vast majority of the offerings are various sorts of electronica. The meager live music offerings are dwarfed by large theme camps offering dj music. It's important to note that the Burning Man organization does not bring, host or promote any of the artists. It's all done by theme camps interesting in hosting a huge free dance party in the dessert.
For the first time, I was camped with a electronic music expert who alerted us electronic idiots on when the world famous artists will be spinning the latest dubstep.
Dubstep expert
As we came to learn, dubstep is all the rage. (If you aren't already, you should be playing the clip above). Following our music expert's instructions I listened to several artists people pay good money to hear including bassnector and Opiuo. That often meant lasting until 3 a.m. But while I knew they were spinning dubstep, I didn't have the foggiest idea what defined dubstep.
As we sat in the queue to leave Black Rock City after a week of excess, (exodus the bane of Burning Man) Princess Fussy Pants asked me, "What is dubstep anyway?"
"A series of beep and twerps," I replied, to a laugh. But what is dubstep really?
Given the fact that we had hours of mind sapping traffic to clear, we decided to ask our fellow automotiveinmates. Below is a list of responses from other waiting to leave the incredibility enjoyable and exhausting festival. Some went for humor, some aficionados gave us a clear thoughtful response.
  • "Dubstep is robot dinosaurs fighting with lasers." 
  • "You know when your in the jacuzzi and you put your head under water by the jet? That is dubstep."
  • "Pitch driven base line -- kind of a wobble. Beeps and twerps are more electro house."
  • "It's all about the whoop. Baseline of whoop, more dynamic that house or techno. Wah, wah, wah, wah."
  • "drug music."
  • "Don't know -- I'm not a fan."
  • This one super knowledgeable, not so articulate fan said it has something to do with a "double oscillating base" related to reggae and two step -- hence the name. 
  • "It's doing a hit of nitrous by the speakers."
  • "70 beats per minute sounds like doom ... do dat -- doom doom do dat."
If that doesn't want to make you run out to shill out $100 to see bassnector spin I don't know what will. Please share your impressions of Dubstep or call me a idiot below.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Burning Man is for Doers

Burning Man participants bike near "The Man"
Amateurs try their hand at basic trapeze maneuvers 
A shot ski goes down in the middle of the desert.
Why I go to Burning Man

It's cliché to say Burning Man has to be experienced to be understood, but in many ways its true. (If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is experiencing it firsthand worth?)  That said, I will attempt to explain why I attend Burning Man.
People fit into one of two groups: watchers and doers.
Watchers will critique a flash mob, but won't organize one, show up to the costume party, but don't take risks and are the last ones to go skinny dipping.
I choose to be a doer.
I guess I've been a doer most of my life. I was more or less involved in student government since grade school, was a union official at work and have served on various boards throughout my adult life. I love that Burning Man celebrates doing. 
Burning Man is not a city. City's can sustain themselves for more than a week. But Burning Man is a community. A community of people that say yes, that take risks, that participate.
For those who know little of the annual week-long experiment in the Nevada desert, Burning Man invites attendee to shed their normal governors on what to wear and how to act. It turns the show or the festival inside out and asks the guests to be the show. Some invite world class disk jockeys to perform, some create a (free) full-functional bar (minus the bathroom), some teach acrobatics, others offer massages classes, other erect beautiful works of art.
Just about the only thing the event offers beyond structure, gatekeepers, port-a-potties, ice and a few classes is a large wood "Man" that of course burns.
One could run themselves ragged, trying to do a quarter of the pre-planned event. Conversely, one could stumble on the perfect day by setting out on your bike and exploring the a dozen or so of the unmapped, unscheduled events planned and executed by people just like me -- doers.   

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Community access show step toward recapturing all-kicking of old

Sam Amick (left), Marcos Breton and Eric Hogue share a moment before taping Ed Fletcher's Access Sacramento Show on Sacramento's great arena debate. 
I hosted my second Access Sacramento show Thursday morning. It was "Meet the Press-"style news show on Sacramento's consideration of building a replacement arena. It some ways it's odd that I'm doing this. I don't have Comcast and I never watched free community content television. As my small small group of readers know, I've been a print news reporter for sometime. A dozen years professionally to be exact.
To over use a phrase it was interesting confluence of events that has me pretending I can produce and host television. I have done some multimedia reporting for my newspaper and I really enjoyed. Here is a link to somethings I've done, but that is a serious diversion. In the end, my apatite for doing it was more than theirs for it. By must accounts, I was holding up my end in terms of talent, but the Edventures didn't generate enough traffic and it was stopped before it really started. To be fair they were hyper labor intensive. Maybe I need a whole post on Edventures.
I embraced using skills I haven't used since high school and my early days of college.
The second tier of my confluence of events: Rufus. Rufus is one of my longest friends who happened to be crashing at my house until about six months ago. Rufus is a very private man so I'll have to let your mind wander for details on that subject. I can say that Rufus knew me most during my years as the forceful, innovative, ass-kicking editor of the student paper at my college the Southern Digest. Rufus pushed me to recapture a bit of the ass-kicking.
Along those lines, I'm making greater effort to execute some of my brilliant ideas. If I feel like an arena-focused panel discussion is good for public discourse, then find a way to get it done. It's a good place to start. Far too often we put our great ideas away because we don't think we're qualified, or have the money, or have the time.
Why shouldn't I get on stage as a standup comedian? Why shouldn't I start a non-profit? Why shouldn't I throw a street party?
The third event: Through my guild work, I met Ron Cooper from Access Sacramento. He was helpful and enthusiastic about the project I was proposing. In the end, that project never got off the ground. But eager for new programming, he asked me and my former guild vice chair Walt Yost if we were interested in hosting a show. It would be months before I took that leap.
It's not like I wasn't active over the last decade, I've been active with local National Brotherhood of Skier, the Urban League Young Professionals and the Guild. But I've always felt restrained, like my employer owned my good ideas. As layoff have become a twice yearly ritual, I've decided to forget holding back. Be respectful of your continued employment, but don't be so beholden to The Man as to let a good idea die.

About the show:

Three respected Sacramento voices discuss the woes of Power Balance Pavilion, rate Mayor Kevin Jonhson’s leadership and offer their predictions on the likelihood of success in efforts toward building a replacement sports and entertainment complex on an upcoming Access Sacramento show (Comcast Channel 17).
The panel consists of Marcos Breton, of the Sacramento Bee; Sam Amick, of SI.com; and Eric Hogue, of News Talk 1380. The show first airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 on Comcast 17 and will be streamed simultaneously at AccessSacramento.org.
The show News Forward is sponsored by The Sacramento Press Club and Access Sacramento. It’s hosted by The Bee’s Ed Fletcher.

Be your own judge but I think the show went off remarkably well considering the fact that what little television experience I had -- behind and in front of the camera  -- is a decade old. This was definitely one of those fake it until you make it situations. Let me know what you think, if you catch it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Time crunch as show, Burning Man approach quickly.

With one day before I tape my Access Sacramento show, a week before I go camping with my family and 13 days before I go to Burning Man, its seems everything is stacked up. Any one of those would have been fine blog topics, but given my current time crunch I'll hardly devote as many words as any deserve.

Access Sacramento

I'm hosting and producing a "Meet the Press"-style panel discussion show on Sacramento's efforts to build a replacement arena.We tape Thursday. It's my second such effort. Each time I learn so much. I don't know what the future holds in this area but, I'm glad I'm doing it.

Camping

My brother and one of my nieces will be coming down from Seattle to camp with the Sacramento-base family. We meet in Oregon. It should be a great time.

Burning Man

Within hours of returning to Sacramento, I'm load up my playa gear and I'll make my way to the Black Rock dry lake bed for my third Burning Man. I'm incredibly excited but there is so much preparation to be done. Radical self-reliance, one of the 10 principles of Burning Man, meant it was time to build a better boombox.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Internet hos attack facebook

I promises to return to posting about important stuff. I have been making "plan b" efforts, but in the meantime enjoy this work of art from this internet slut. 

I'm "friend" people on facebook for three reasons I really know them, I really used to know them or they went to my high school or my college during my years. Yes the two latter exceptions are very broad, but I figure as a known high school and college figure from student government and the paper, there is a good chance I did know them, but forgot them. 

The one area I'm fairly restrictive in the facebook realm is work people flacks and such that I'm not on "drinking beer with" terms. My weakness in that area is hot chicks. But was you notice I message them to see if they are a robot. The odd this is Facebook has been fairly good at keeping the sluts out.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I'm still working, plan b conceived

It may not be evident by this blog, but I'm continuing to work toward the goals expressed earlier in this space.
I have what I'm calling "Plan B" and am quietly working to make the transition -- whenever it may come -- easier.
I may write more about that in some time, but for now I feel its best to keep it under my hat. Regardless, of future employment I'm determined to keep the side projects moving here is an update on a few things I'm been working on:

  • My short film PINK needs some work, maybe a lot of work. After leaving it alone for a while I had the distance to really evaluate it. Something I don't think I really got before. Right now its a collection of some interesting scenes from an interesting story, but it doesn't really tell a story yet. There is no story arch. The question remains: can it be done in a 10 page short.
  • ARENA. I've decided to tape another show for Access Sacramento on Sacramento's arena debate. The goal will be to do it before September. What I need now is a sponsoring organization that doesn't impinge my journalist integrity. 
  • As noted before I dabble in video editing. The more and more Pinnacle Studio 11 fails me, the more convinced I need to become a Mac guy. I'm working on a longer multi-shot video, but here is the raw iphone video of by buddy Joe Boes singing You are my Sunshine. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Script rejected, should I proceed

Three months ago producing a film wasn't even on my serious radar. But after signing up for a screenwriting class and writing "Pink," my short about a 1969 landmark obscenity trial, I was getting increasingly excited about actually producing it.

Yesterday, I got a form rejection email from Access Sacramento.
Thank you for submitting your script for the 2011 "Place Called Sacramento" film project. The competition was very challenging and several scripts were within a few points of each other after being reviewed by at least two different professional filmmaker evaluation panels.

Unfortunately, while your script came close, it was not selected in the final ten. I encourage you to continue polishing the script and resubmit next year. I know this is disappointing news but I ask you to not be overly discouraged.
No offense to scripts chosen in previous years or this year, but I find it hard to believe mine was not one of the best written, most Sacramento-specific in subject matter and potentially entertaining.

The festival has a family-friendly requirement. Just like any body making artistic judgments on the appropriateness of art -- be it the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system  or be they the obscenity police of the 1960s -- there are bound to be problems. As Ron Cooper, Access Sacramento's executive director, attempted to explain the rules, it was apparent quickly there might be issues. While attempting to avoid specifics, such as "don't say fuck," he tried to impress upon people that family-friendliness was a category in the scoring formula.

Giving the PG intentions of festival, maybe a film based on a strip club obscenity trial was a bad idea. The rejection letter encourages flunkies to polish their script and consider bringing it back next year. But if I was tossed because there will be some (tasteful) skin, there is no point. Which leads me to the questions: Is there a better venue for this script? And should I self-produce it anyway?

Here is my tagline: A landmark obscenity trial, set in Sacramento, takes a sexy twist after Judge Earl Warren, Jr. agrees to move the trial to the club where the girls were arrested, the Pink Pussy Kat.  

At least one other rejectee is considering going forward and possibly creating a film festival. Loyal blog readers please offer some sage advise.

P.S. Please point me to a good way to share the PDF of the short script online       

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Now I'm a master video editor

After completing my Final Cut Pro video editing class, I can pretty confidently say the my next computer will be a Mac. I've been more or less a PC guy because they a cheaper. I've long recognized the superiority of the Apple computers, but I've never judged it to be worth the price.
But as I've started dabbling in video editing and online content creation I find more and more reasons to buy a mac. I might go on with the thread later, but the original point of this post was to show you the video I did in my video editing class. The class was funded by the employee union, which I think was a great offer.  It counts as a community college course, but there is so much to learn.


video

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is "Plan B" needed? If so, what is it?






At age 6 Ed wanted to be a doctor, lawyer,
race car driver, fire fighter and a pimp.

It's fair to say I've been in a funk lately. But when your work world is collapsing I think it's OK to be a little off.
This morning, I considered whether to take a personal day. I don't believe in skipping work willy-nilly, but on occasion it's best for you and your employer. Such action is justified for a specific reason. The problem is there is a good chance I could wake up tomorrow and feel the same way.
It's a new feeling for me.
I've loved my career. Since I first started writing for my college paper The Southern Digest, I've never really dreamed of doing anything else.
The life plan was to pay my dues as a reporter, one day become a columnist and eventually go into management. I've never felt a greater sense of purpose, felt more challenged or had more sustained fun than my years running the college paper.
Going into management was a dream I mainly kept to myself.
Now as the newspaper industry hemorrhages jobs and another round of layoffs loom at my newspaper a new dream may be required.
This is new to me.
No need to get too far ahead of myself. Who knows if there will actually be layoffs and/or buyouts. But with several other newspapers within the chain having announced layoffs in the last few days a foreboding malaise hangs over the entire newsroom.
Unknown questions:



  1. Will there be layoffs/buyouts?

  2. Would my neck by on the chopping block?

  3. Is the chopping block really freedom?


At this point, only a fool would not consider their options.

When I was in elementary school I refused to select one job when the "What do you want to do when you grow up." I'd have six jobs. One day I'd be a doctor, another I'd be a lawyer. I think firefighter, police officer and race car driver was in the mix too.
As I spend more and more time contemplating my "Plan B," I still have trouble settling in on one plan. Here is my list of ideas:




  • event promotion/planning

  • screenwriter

  • professor

  • radio personality

  • non-profit director

  • legislative staffer

  • public/media relations consultant

  • advertising creative

  • columnist/free lance journalist

  • television producer

  • lawyer


Undoubtedly, somebody is reading this and thinking "Man I've changed jobs six times and I'm fine." Well, I haven't.
This whole thing would be a lot easier if I could easily sell my house and relocate without the worry of a house worth less than I paid for it.
The upshot is that in preparing for the future, I've enjoyed developing my multimedia skills, am bubbling with television and movie ideas and am examining my talents like never before.
Now, if this funk would just go away.




Monday, May 2, 2011

Walking in Her Painful Shoes













Last Saturday, I walked a mile in some terrible red heels. It was more than a mile, but the point was I did it for charity. The WEAVE event raised money for their important cause.
I was struck by two things: one how painful it was to walk in those damn things and, two how well some of the men did running in serious heals.
Our team raised of five raised $1200. Several of my friends, coworkers and family supported the effort. Being a man of my word below are the visual evidence.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Japan trip multimedia masterpiece



In a lot of ways I think multimedia is my true calling. It takes advantage of my multitude of tools and hides my deficiencies. During the trip, I took pictures, captured audio and took notes in hopes of putting something together. Doing it was a challenge on by the content gathering front and the video creation side. Ultimately, I used all free software (windows movie maker, audacity, screencast-o-matic.com, and google earth) to produce video.
I'd like to thank Brandon Oreno for producing the music and for audio and computer support. Andy Alfaro and Angela Gentry for being my sounding boards. While I'm in the thanking mode I'll also give some more props to the foundation that sent me the East-West Center and the Japanese Newspaper Publishers Association.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Working on film short, help needed

I've been very busy lately. I have two projects that need to be wrapped up soon. One is the video slideshow I've been working on about my trip to Japan. The other is a screenplay for a 10 minute film short based on a true story.

I started out working the Japan slide show like gangbusters after returning. I stalled, in part because my technology and software keep failing me. Also because I wanted to strike the right tone with the earthquake and all.

About the same time as the Japan trip started to be a real possibility I paid to take a screenwriting short course. As it worked out, literally the first day I'm back from Japan was the first of three 4-hour classes at Access Sacramento. (I missed that one.)

I made the next two. The beginning of the second class Ron Cooper from Access Sacramento came in to talk about the "Place Called Sacramento" Film Festival. I stumbled upon my topic after the second class. It was a case former Bee editor Bill Menton and I talked about some years ago.

Here is my tagline: A landmark obscenity trial, set in Sacramento, takes a sexy twist after Judge Earl Warren, Jr. agrees to move the trial to the club where the girls were arrested, the Pink Pussy Kat. 

After reading the newspaper clips I knew the basics of the story. The challenge has been to imagine those conversations in my head and then to allow myself to fill in the gaps of the story.

I don't know that my script will be selected, but the application process asks what assets I have in hand. This is when you artisans email me offering to help. I'll need help with music, sound, costumes, makeup, hair, lighting, videography, editing, catering, and I'll need actors. So yeah everything.

Meanwhile, I liked to wrap up the Japan slide show. It has video clips, audio clips, music and now I'm adding a voice over track. I don't want to build it up to be something great, regardless its given me a chance to work my way though several new applications and web-based apps. It's been a real learning experience.

Here is to growing experiences.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"The Theory of Perpetual F" explained

Ed Fletcher circa 1992
Now, seems like as good a time as any to explain the name of the blog.
Early in life, I discovered that some people find spelling and math time tables easy (pause) and then there is me. I struggled with those basic things, and still do, but had little trouble with applying theories and conceiving ideas. Over the years, I battled my way from average student classes to geek squad classes.
But after cruising through the lower-level classes I discovered I had a fight on my hands when I reached Ms. Curtis honor's English class.
Frustrated by my inability to get an "A" on a essay after essay I challenged Ms. Curtis.

INT. CLASSROOM -- DAY

After the bell rings, FLETCHER waits behind, trying to hide his disappointment, as the other students file out. CURTIS collects her papers as large Hemingway print looks over her shoulder. 
FLETCHER: Clearly THIS essay is better than the last paper. If that was a "B+," then this paper must an "A."
CURTIS: The paper was better. But my expectations for you have increased since then, so this essay earns a "b" for that assignment.

To which I penned:
"Theory of Perpetual F."
As your knowledge and skills increase
your teacher's expectations will increase at at proportional rate
therefor you maintain a perpetual f

Ms. Curtis loved it. It became one of the few items in her religiously sparse classroom.
As I approach the middle of my journalistic career, I need a new Ms. Curtis. Perpetual F is a reminder to keep increasing my expectations of myself. Teach myself new skills. Test the limits of my capabilities. Expand the scope of what is possible.
I don't have a firm endgame, but as the newspaper industry struggles, its inherent that I both prepare to outlast the ugliness while simultaneously preparing to do something else that fills my cup emotionally.

Update Since I'm sharing about Ms Curtis: I tracked Ms. Curtis down once, just to chat. She said she had nothing left to teach me. She might be wrong. She called after my forum piece I wrote recently. Didn't leave a number just said she was proud.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Language gap makes ordering an adventure



Language barriers, foreign food and the dreaded group decision can turn travel meals into a stressful situations. Thankfully, our Japan exchange group benefited from having half noted food podcast and blog The Sporkful  team.;By the time we arrived at our hotel, Mark Garrison had scouted the "must eats" from the region. Communicating our dinner plan was another matter.

If and when Mark posts a report, I'll link to it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Three religions

TITAF (Things I think are funny)


Here is what I found in the desk drawer of our hotel room in Osaka

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan trip shortcourse



Here is a link to a gallery of my Japan photos. The fact that I forgot my battery charger didn't stop me from squeezing off more that 400 pictures. I'm of the option that you show your audience more respect by your photos of content and size, thus respecting their time. A good friend suggests a total dump is on order, thus allowing the audience to decide when their seen enough photos. The 50 plus picts in this file represent a compromise. Next step mixing the photos and videos to create more focused multimedia displays.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

International dateline produces double day.

Editor's note: This concludes that material I wrote overseas or on my iphone in route.(Apple has offered no compensation). Now the hard work begins.

Wednesday, March 11 was the longest day of my life -- and I don't mean a 'whew I was so busy' kind of long day, I'm talking about a literal 48-hour day.
It started in Osaka, Japan and ended with me in Honolulu, Hawaii sleeping through two scheduled phone interviews with a local television news station.
8 am Tokyo time -- The first order of business is to pack my bags in preparation for the beginning of my journey home, with a two day stopover in Hawaii. I did a poor job packing to leave the states and I didn't want to repeat the mistake. We had our first free morning in out 10 days but by that point I was too tired to utilize it.
11 am -- I decide i need a hair cut. After looking in the mirror and deciding I look as the brothers on the yard would say "a little raggedy." I haven't had someone cut my hair in six years or more, but without my clippers and numerous upcoming photo opportunities I decide now is the time -- in japan no less.
I found a spot acted out what I wanted done and settled into a chair. As my hair samurai, began his work he'd as questions in Japanese with a word of recognizable English here and there. I said yes to everything. At worst I'd end up with a shaved head and the dirt on my chin would be gone.
Granted I don't have an American cut, shave, head wash, massage to compare it to but I felt like this is what Kobe must get done weekly. By necessity the Japanese develop a much higher level of manual dexterity and discipline -- have you seen kanji -- and as expected my guy was a master with a strait knife.
I left feeling like a million bucks. I grabbed my stuff from the room, checked out and meet the rest of the East West Center visiting American journalists in the lobby.
2:30 pm -- We board a plane to Tokyo's Narita airport. For the first time in 10 days or Japanese guilds from the publishers association are not at our side. (Sleep time 1 hr.)
3:45 pm -- We arrive at Narita.
7:45 pm -- We wave goodbye to Japan in route to Honolulu where we'll finally meet the Japanese journalists that have been traveling the US. (Flight time 7 h.r. sleep time 2.5 hrs.)
** Now here is the magic -- crossing the international date line the day rests **
7:45 am (Wednesday, March 16) Honolulu time -- We gather our bags, board a bus and head strait to Pearl Harbor to tour the Arizona Memorial.
12:45 pm -- We check into our rooms at the East West Center's dorm on the Uni of HI campus.
1:30 pm -- Thankfully the US Pacific Command cancels on us. Curiously it was the first and only appointment that canceled, even after the monster earthquake.
2 pm -- A group of us head out for shaved ice, a drink and the beach.
5:30 pm -- Welcome gather at the East-West Center.
7:30 pm -- meet up with reporter friend also visiting Hawaii for drinks
11 pm -- Meet up with the television ghost hunter Amy Bruni
12:30 am -- Witness bar fight. Get blood on my hands stopping a guy from hurling a chair.
1 am -- Return to dorm
2 am -- Sleep though alarm and first of two phone interviews.
3 am -- call in but told I missed my window.
3:06 am zzz

Back in Sac, more posts to come



I'm back in Sacramento, after 10 days in safe parts of Japan and three days of debriefing in Hawaii.
As I prepared for my trip to Japan, I felt there would by sufficient material to write an ego-stroking blog.
I never did I think a "few every century" earthquake would trigger a monstrosity of a tsunami that would overpower the best countermeasures and wash away whole towns.
Fortunately for my safety, our group left Tokyo hours before the 9.0 quake. Unfortunately that meant watching the events from hundreds of miles away rather than rolling up my sleeves and reporting on the ongoing tragedy.
While in Japan I tried to strike an appropriate balance between chronicling life and living it to the fullest.
In the coming weeks I hope to revisit my notes to share some stories and photos I didn't have the time to share earlier. Eventually, the blog will move on to my more mundane regular life, none-the-less I hope you'll continue reading. And if you have tips or suggestions I hope you'll share this with me in the comments space or at edfletcher@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Best for last


I just had an incredible afternoon with a delightful Japanese woman who hosted me and a CNN producer for a home visit.
Six years ago she decided to learn English and has done a masterful job. We chatted about local politics, Obama, race and travel over tea.
But just when we thought the afternoon was wrapping up, she showed us her calligraphy. Her work is breathtaking. And I thought buying some of her work would be so much more meaningful than any of the best gift store nick knack I could find. I gently asked if I could buy some.
She would not have it.
Instead she pulled out her supplies and began teaching us the ancient art. I clumsily did a couple then she expertly showed the way. It will be an experience I will remember forever.
Tomorrow afternoon I leave Osaka for Hawaii, then it's back to the states. In a way this trip will be remembered for what I didn't experience, but that experience will be one I cherish.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In the same Japan, but a world away


View Larger Map

Update: I updated the map to show our final location in Japan and to display the route. Osaka is also not affected by power problems and is functioning as normal. Locals have been asked to conserve power, but I don't see any forced measures. There are young women on street corners collecting money for victims, but not all locals trust that the money will get to them.

The map tells me I`m in the country battered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, but it hardly feels like it here in Hiroshima.
As far as I can tell there are no runs on groceries, gas or other goods here. There are no rolling blackouts. And mass transit continues to run on-time. Some 300 km northwest in Tokyo is another story. I can hardly imagine the difficulties getting around there with the subway line in rotating operation. Just days ago I marveled at how their subway system efficiently moved the inhabitants of the world`s largest metropolitan area around.
The still unfolding disaster came up a few times yesterday:
  • The man running the Hiroshima Peace Museum said while the museum`s official position is that nuclear weapons are bad, nuclear power is alright, said he privately felt the meltdown might help turn people against nuclear in all forms,
  • I met an American stuck in Hiroshima a few extra days as a result of the troubles at Tokyo`s airport,
  • And the Buddhist temple had an extra collection bin for quake victims.
But as the sun rises as I sit my room on the sixth floor of a plush hotel in Hiroshima it`s impossible to not feel a world away from the images I`m seeing on my television screen.

Hiroshima drains, fills


Sunday offered as mixed bag as there ever was.
It started with an emotionally draining trip through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and ended with a stroll through beautiful Shinto and Buddhist shrines.
The seeing the effects the US bombing of Hiroshima was something I was looking forward to and something I was dreading. I was not sure how the Japanese would react to Americans. I know how I feel after visiting a slavery exhibit. My fear proved to be for not. The museum was a powerful experience and I hope to offer more pictures soon, but the kicker was walking to the nearby Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims and hearing (and reading poems) written by people who lived though the nightmare. Tomorrow, we`ll actually hear first hand from some victims.
I don`t quite know how to express it but it was a serious kick in the gut.
After lunch we went by ferry to a nearby island that is home to three very impressive temples from the 800s.
With our excellent host leading the way, we learned the ways and I felt like we walked away with an appreciation of the culture. Although my camera battery is running low. I could not resist taking some 100 photos.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I go, news follows

It`s with a bit of irony that our Japan study tour touches down in Hiroshima within hours the Japanese nuclear plant exploding.
Over the next two days, our groups of six American journalists will meet with activists and survivors from the US bombing. The East-West Center, our sponsors, are pushing for us to continue the program despite obvious pressure from some of our news outlets to snap into service. I did file a story, which I hope my employer runs.
Back to the central premise of this post.
The day after we arrived in Tokyo news broke that US diplomat Kevin Maher allegedly made some inflammatory comments denigrating the Okinawan people. Whereever we went in Okinawa people were eager to talk about his allegedly boneheaded rant.
The Mayor of Nago (Okinawa) summed it up well when I asked about his reaction to the comment which among other slights called the Okinawan people "lazy" and "master manipulators:" he acted out his head exploding -- as gesture that needed no translation.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lost without translation

Watching the quake followed by the tsunami unfold in real-time, but without translation, has been a little surreal.
As I earlier wrote, we first got word on the quake as we were meeting with US military leaders about the forces in Japan and plans to reduce the impact on the island state of Okinawa.
They mentioned moving to "alert 1" but did not sound overly alarmed -- for good reason we`re in the southern most part of Japan, while it quake occurred well to the north. After leaving the meeting we began watching footage on our bus ride to a meeting with senior state officials. At that point the footage -- video of toppled store items and the like -- did little to foreshadow the devastation that was to come. Naturally, some of the six journalists on our study tour wished we had not just left Tokyo.
At our brief meeting with director general of the prefecture the level of concern started to come through, but even the worry in his voice did not tell the full story.
We finally checked into our hotel to watch footage of waves of fire and homes being swept away. At this point we have not been told that the plan has been altered. We`re expected to tour a much disputed Marine base here. The agreed upon plan is to move it north, but many of the locals want it gone entirely.
Base realignment is an important long-term US Japan security issue, but given the events over the last 24 hours it seems inconsequnetial.

Quake casualties expected to be high

I can’t tell what they are saying, but the news reports are frantic here. More and more footage of the quake damage keeps coming in. A map of Japan shows a flashing red line around the eastern Japanese seaboard where the Tsunami concern is the greatest.  I don’t have details, but there are expected to be many deaths and significant property damage.
I’m sitting in my hotel room in Okinawa right now. It’s well south of the epicenter. If we had not left Tokyo this morning the story would be much different. We first got news of the quake as we were getting a briefing on the US forces in Japan at Kadena Air Base.
We later had a meeting with the governor of the Okinawa state.
“I’m concerned about the situation,” Susuma Matayoshi, said through an interpreter. He said he had dispatched helicopters to monitor the shores for the effect of the Tsunami.
He said the “the resulting number of casualties will be very high.”
I'm also told that flights to Narita, the main airport in Tokyo have been canceled.
I’m late to meet with some local journalists so this ends this dispatch.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Eat at your own risk


What is the point of going to Sushi in Japan, if you know what you are eating. The crew of American Journalists, minus one, set out for dinner without a plan. After brushing off consideration of safer places, we walked down a flight of stairs to find a restaurant without any English marking. Based on the words "sushi and tempura" we decided to go in.
The two person staff at the increasingly cozy and authentic place spoke no English, we spoke a scant amount of Japanese. It was some work, but Mark, an ABC journalist, eventually ordered for the group. The highlight was the parade of fish, in which the chief showed us fish and said the Japanese name.
We weren't exactly sure what we ate, even after tasting it, but who cares.

Complexities of US Japan alliance examined

Snow falls on the garden outside the International House of Japan.
To be honest, I slept better than I expected. Sure I woke up at 2 a.m., but I was able to get back to bed after a couple hours and at no point Monday did I feel like an extra for the movie Zombieland.
The surprise developments Monday were twofold: the Japanese foreign minster abruptly resigned and moderate rain turned into a late snow (by Tokyo standards).
Our Japanese hosts apologized for the weather no fewer than three times. The program got meaty quickly today we got a program orientation, talked journalism in Japan with association bigwigs and then got off-the-record briefings from U.S. military officials and embassy officials in Tokyo.  
While I can’t write about the specifics of what I learned, it's fair to say that U.S. efforts to consolidate military bases is a sensitive issue that I’m sure we’ll learn plenty more about when we travel to Okinawa in a matter of days.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Africans hussling Asians


My room at the International House of Japan. In addition to housing guest
 intelectuals such as me, it hosts leactures and events.
 After touching down in my compact, but comfortable room at the International House of Japan, I decided I needed to stock my in-room fridge and grab some dinner before crashing.
It wasn’t the flight that wiped me out, rather it was the 90 minute bus ride to downtown Tokyo from the airport. After barely being able to sleep until the last two hours of the flight, I couldn’t keep my eyes open as the bus navigated Tokyo traffic.
I changed clothes and walked the quarter mile or so out to one of the main avenues in an area of the city named Roppongi. If you took away all the Asian people with dust masks on, one might have confused the block with New York city. Bright lights and big screens everywhere. I popped into a store then walking back a brother approched me.
Brother law states that as more rare we become the more defference we’re obligated to offer. So when the brother – likely an African of some sort – told me I should check out this club I felt obligated to take a peek.
I was in the elevator before I discovered that the club he was hussling for was a nudey bar. It was still early Sunday evening, but it appeared I was the only customer (in the front room at least). Kevin now tried to up the buy-in from just take a look to "just stay for a drink." I insisted that I was just off the plane and would not stay.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Advice on Japan: Yes to Karaoke, avoid Yakuza

I've been given a fair amount of advice regarding my trip -- some for formal occasions, other tidbits for my unscheduled time in Tokyo.
My brother's tips include:
  • Be prepared to karaoke (even if I'd sworn it off)
  • The Japanese are incredibly formal -- suit up
  • Be on alert for boys who look like girls
He also shared this gem of a podcast about one of the dark sides of Japan. The "Snap Judgment" audio program talks about a brother seeking fame in Japan.
I've also got some solid advice from my editor and a couple photographers at my gig, but the advice I got from a friend stationed there takes the cake. Fair warning some may view his colorful language as objectionable. I don't. Some of the best stuff comes at the end when he offers advice for dealing with the Yakuza.
If you find yourself going out alone Sunday night in Roppongi, you have to watch out for a lot of stuff. If you have a group present, I suggest going to Shibuya.

Just too many fucking foreigners there looking to mess your night up in Roppongi too. If you see a fight, get the fuck out of there ASAP because Japanese cops will hold everybody for a very long time to sort shit out the slow way.

In Roppongi you better keep positive control of your drink at all times. Don't go into bars you can't see from the street (i.e. climb flights of stairs, take an elevator to get to) as you will probably be ripped off/drugged then ripped off/seduced then ripped off.

Also when in a group you don't run the risk of being held up by a group of men for a tab you owe at a bar you have never patronized.

Not trying to scare you. I can get by alone and have but then again I don't look like a typical white guy ready to be victimized. You, being Ed, will look like a potential pimp to them, so your experience will be much different, but if you get drunk out there, please have some back up.

Then again, if you don't carry too much on you, then being seduced and subsequently ripped off for chump change sounds like a great deal. Those Russian/Japanese women can be juicy.

Not to worry; there are good areas. I only know a couple places in the short time I was there. The good stuff in Roppongi:

Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills Sunset place for pics and drinks
Hobgoblin-british type pub in Roppongi and one in Shibuya too
CityView-Look over Tokyo at night and get a classy pic.
Hildago's-teppanyaki/shabu shabu type restaurant, bring your work buds with you if nothing is planned for dinner.

But business places come and go so easily, ones I recommend could have moved/shut down so go without any expectations and have a blast. Safely. Please don't stay in your room though.

Lastly, if you say fuck it and brave a random seedy bar, you need to know what Yakuza looks like.

-Tattoos
-suits with collar popped
-missing joint on a little finger.

If one or more approaches you, thinking you are a small man with local "business interests"(bar promotion, trafficking in bitches, drugs, other assorted hobbies) and asks you to drink with him/them, then motherfucker, you better drink. If you don't entertain the request, the hostess or waitress will remind you to. They like to "one shot" their juice so when he asks you what your weapon of choice is, you better pick the pussiest drink you can think of because that fun party is going to last all night.

Also, they drive flashy cars and usually keep a license plate with the number 1 on it. You can have duplicate plates in Japan so if you see one out front or in a parking lot you may not be wrong in assuming Yakuza has parked and is currently partying and getting paid.

If you hit on one of their bitches, you can tell by butterfly tattoos below the neck/small of back area. I can't tell you in words how smart it would be to avoid this.

No doubt you will be approached by skankilicious Juicers even if you don't try since they all love a bit of the chocolate infusion out there. You have a 100% chance of getting laid your first night. By multiple women.

I'm not even lying about any of this shit because everybody here has a story.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Japan awaits



As I'm contemplating how many pairs of skivvies I need for my two week trip to Japan, it seems a good enough time to pause packing to explain why I'm going to Japan in the first place.
I'll be there as a member of a six-person delegation of American Journalists enlisted to build understanding of and foster the U.S./Japan alliance. Yeah heavy. The program is sponsored by the East-West Center and the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association.
From Day 1, we'll go from meeting to meeting with high level diplomats and officials. We'll also sample the culture with a walking tour of Harajuku pop culture and a world famous fish market. The visit starts in Tokyo but eventually takes us to Hiroshima, Osaka and the island of Okinawa.
I'm extremely grateful to have this opportunity, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling a little over my head.
I'm especially excited to be traveling to Asia for the first time. As an adolescent, I wanted to do everything my brother did. That ended after the umpteenth time being called his name by grade school teachers. From that point, it was about trying to be my own dude. So the fact that my brother went to Japan meant Europe became my world playground.
But here I am, hours before I board a plane bound for one of the world's great cities of a country that is both mysterious and culturally intertwined with the United States. I'm excited to take part in the formal program, but I'm just as excited to experience the vibe and vigor of the city.

Fighting for the future in Chico

The argument could be made that if you need to be drunk for a situation to feel right you shouldn't be there. Case in point, Mardi Gras and Friday night in downtown Chico.
Great times if you're up to speed, but troubling if sobriety persists.
I'm save you some anxiety. I did not hookup with anyone. I was actually in town to talk to journalism students about the troubling future of the industry. But with the program starting at 8 a.m. it made sense to stay in town rather than having to make the nearly two hour drive in the morning.
Call it field observations. Dave Waddell from CSU Chico State had emailed me a few months back asking me to speak about diversity. But as layoffs loomed, I wondered whether they should be majoring in journalism in the first place. Graciously, Dave agreed.
The blurb: "Does your mama know you're here? Journalism in the age of the free Internet."
I didn't want to crush their dreams (they are "Journalism Day") but I feel for all the youngsters trying to find jobs as newspapers shred jobs.
Rather than just offer my own thoughts, in empanelled a panel of Sacramento journalists to talk about the state of the industry.



I hated being such buzz kill but I wanted to have an honest conversation with them about the state of the journalism industry. I did try to offer some hope. If you don't care about money and have a burning passion for the job then journalism is still you for.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Visit to the land of six-foot blonds

My first trip to Asia is hours away. In light of my upcoming excursion, it's worth looking back on my first oversees experience. After graduating from high school, I went to Sweden for a bonus year through Rotary International. Here is an exerpt from what I hope will be a larger project.


Introduction to Sweden

Going to Sweden wasn't the obvious choice for a young brother from the hood.
Just kidding. I am/was far from being from the hood.
I grew up in a lily-white suburb of Sacramento, so going to Sweden was kinda like home, minus the handful of minorities that had somehow found themselves in Orangevale.
I'd hardly left the country before I boarded a Lufthansa flight to Hamburg in-route to Stockholm, but looking back it was one of the easiest decisions I've made in my life.
I'd already graduated from high school and I had no real clue where I wanted to go to college or what to study when I got there so taking a year diversion in land of six-foot blonds made all the sense in the world.
In the interest of full disclosure -- sorry me Swedish peeps -- Sweden was not my first, second or third choice when I went to the interview. Age requirements, me being too old, meant Australia and New Zealand were out. The left Spain and my eventual second homeland.
The brave explorer I am, I boarded the plane and began my journey to the Kragsterman home without the smallest taste of fear.
As it turns out I should have been afraid of one thing, that I'd freeze my ass off.
Oh, the winter months and months were numb your toes cold, but as it turned out, coming from 100 degree weather in California, the first few nights of my inaugural Swedish summer were the most jarring.
I recall sheepishly asking my host mother, Elisabeth, whether I could get another blanket for my bed. To which, she politely told me there was an extra blanket under my bed. To which, I politely informed her I already had that one.



I blog to be free

I can't exactly explain why I've never had a blog before. A modern man -- a journalist at that-- should have a blog. Heck, by this point I should have three. Part of not having a blog can be attributed to my job as a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. Being an upstanding member of the Fourth Estate means giving away a significant portion of your personal freedom in the name of maintaining real or perceived objectivity.

But as the Fourth Estate tumbles into irrelevancy or at least insolvency, I choose now to begin to dabble as a visitor of the Fifth Estate. I don't intend to erode my ability to continue to function as a working journalist by needlessly exposing my bias against the Bull Moose Party. But I'm also increasingly comfortable with the idea that the blossom offered by my employer will not be there for me in my old age. With that comfort comes my assertion that the job can't own my mind and if I'm not paid for these thoughts I have a right to use them elsewhere.

Further, I assert that it's essential for the Fourth Estate to learn from the Fifth Estate if we are to flourish into the future.

I have several different visions for where this blog goes in the future. But without one in clear focus we'll have to see what happens. I can say this it can't nearly be as awesome as it will be starting March 5 when I travel to Japan. (More on than later.)

Ed Fletcher