A Seawolves win without me

Thanks to Ben Cima, Peter Tiberio, Siti Tamaivena, Nakai Penny and the rest of the hard charging Seawolves, I can no longer credit my not being at the game for why they won. That means I can go back for the rest of the games at Starfire this season. Thanks to the rugby gods.

Missed last night to honor a theater date made with friends some time ago. Won’t happen again. Also added Tribe app to my phone, which kept me updated, sort of. I did not sneak a look during the play. A nice reward when the curtain fell.

Ian, my source inside the stadium, sitting in my seats, said the “team looked like last year. Exciting open running. Fly half back and played great. Did not miss a kick.”

I would have been worried when the Seawolves were down 0-14, but Ian says, “They had more possession in the attacking half.”

Coming back for a 44-29 win after being down two tries and conversions shows a nice bit of character. Gotta like that.

My predictions for this weekend as a 2-2 split between the East and West Divisions were right on. Should have bet it instead of Kentucky Derby prep race, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, where my horse came in fourth:

San Diego over New Orleans: Yes, SD 25-21. West wins

Old Glory over Austin: Yes, DC 28-19. East wins

Seattle over New England: Yes, Seawolves 44-29. West wins

New York over Houston: Yes, RUNY 31-23. East wins

A happy and an unhappy thought after watching the New York-Houston game Sunday afternoon. Happy that New York made the last minute try to win by more than seven points. Houston would have gained a bonus point before that, leaving them tied with Seattle for third place in the West.

Unhappy that Houston’s Stadium, a rugby only facility with no lines on the field except those devoted to rugby, had many, many empty seats. Didn’t look to me like there was a row of seats with all of them filled. Obviously the owners there are committed to rugby and the Sabercats, but some work on attendance needs to be done.

Utah is one point ahead of the Seawolves in the West Division. A Seattle win against Utah on Saturday would put the Seawolves in second place, which, if this were May 31, would mean playoffs.

March 7, 6 p.m. at Starfire – I’ll be there.

Now let me tell you about the play . . . R. Hamilton Wright is no longer braying like he used to. He’s mellowed out some and fit well as a character whose mistress shows up at his house to chat with his wife before asking if these two retired scientists at a failed and leaking nuke plant would agree to risk their lives to . . .

 

 

What’s wrong with MLR’s Western Division?

Major League Rugby’s Eastern Division, with three new teams this year, makes you wonder what happened to the Western Division.

The six teams out here on the Left Coast and points inland have been in the league since it started in 2018. Yet the division has three teams with no wins, Austin, Colorado and yes, the Seattle Seawolves. All of the teams in the Eastern Division have won at least one game, including the newbies: Washington, D.C. Old Glory, New England Free Jacks and the Atlanta Rugby ATLs (gotta be a better name than that).

And in matches between the two divisions, the East has won eight of 10. The only Western wins came against the New England team, Utah on Feb. 15 and San Diego on Feb. 23.

Otherwise, it’s a stuck record: Atlanta over Utah, Toronto over Austin, New York over Austin, Toronto over Houston, Washington, D.C. over Seattle, New Orleans (the only East team that is in its third year) over Colorado, Washington, D.C. over Houston and Toronto over Seattle.

There are four East-West matches the weekend of Feb. 29 and March 1: San Diego at New Orleans, Washington, D.C. at Austin, New York at Houston, and yes, New England at Seattle.

So far, New England has been a punching bag for the Western Division, but their only win came against Rugby United New York, a team that ended up in the playoffs last year and on Feb. 21 signed Hanco Germishuys, a U.S. Eagle back rower who played for Colorado the past two years. And don’t forget Mathieu Bastareaud, a 285-pound center, come over from France. Free Jacks blew away Austin and squeaked out a win against Atlanta, 22-19.

Not a pushover for the Seawolves on Sadie Hawkins Day this Saturday, Feb. 29. Reading the Free Jacks’ account of their game against San Diego – which was interrupted on my TV by people driving cars in a circle and announcers with Southern accents – is mostly about mistakes, a comeback and further mistakes for a 30-21 defeat. Their roster is loaded with players from Japan, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia.

My bet on East-West rivalry this coming weekend: a 2-2 split with San Diego over New Orleans, Old Glory over Austin, New York over Houston and Seattle over New England. Don’t make me wrong.

What’s wrong with the Seawolves?

So if you had a newspaper covering the Seattle Seawolves instead devoting space to a bunch of second stringers playing slow football or a hockey team that isn’t here yet, a beat reporter would be asking the question, “What’s wrong with the Seawolves?”

The two-time champions have started the year with a 0-3 record, and the home opener Saturday, Feb. 22, a 39-17 drubbing by the Toronto Arrows, has diminished our hopes here that the Seattle team can make the playoffs, still months away.

But before we get there, someone has to answer the question: What’s wrong with the Seawolves?

Possible answers:

  1. Injuries. Lots of them, which have kept most of the team’s overseas signings off the field.
    Ross Neal
    Ross Neal

    Ross Neal from England has a broken hand. Harry Davies from Wales is hobbling around in a walking cast after surgery to his foot. I asked him if he came here for USA healthcare, and he said, “No, it was better from where I came.” (It’s Trump’s fault!).

    Harry Davies
    Harry Davies

    Ryno Eksteen has been out from the beginning with a cut foot. David Busby from Ireland played last night, but there was no sign of FP Pelser, another South African.

 

Cima
Ben Cima kicking

And then there is Ben Cima, on a concussion protocol after a nasty collision in the Tasman Mako game on Jan. 26. Scott Dean came in for Cima at stand off and kicked his way to glory and a win. He started there in the first two games in the regular season, both defeats. So the coaches tried Shalom Suniula there last night. He’s a better inside center where he has more time to distribute the ball and set up plays. And Jeff Hassler is a better wing than he is a center. But nice to see him back on the field after recovering from his injury. Also good to see Stephan Coetzee back out there.

  1. What’s missing? Besides Cima, who isn’t there this year who was there last year? Olive Kilifi? The USA Eagle prop is now an assistant coach with the Seattle Saracens, the amateur club in town. (And he reminds us that the Saracens play Glendate, CO, Merlins on Feb. 28, Friday at 7 p.m. at Starfire Stadium). Kilifi was injured much of last year, and as another prop on the Seawolves pointed out, they still won games.
    Front rows
    Front row props Tim Metcher, Djustice Sear-Duru and Jake Ilnicki
    Front row 2
    Prop Kellen Gordon

    And putting Tendai Mtawarira on the Team of the Week after the Seawolves-Old Glory game was an insult to the Seawolves front row who pushed, lifted and dominated the set scrums against Washington on Feb. 16. Bring up No. 2, Mr. Producer, and let’s see the Old Glory front row pedaling with their feet off the ground.

Apisai Naikatini? Api always gave the team at least a strong half. That allowed Brad Tucker to play wing forward (who says he likes playing second row and wing forward, finding challenges in both positions). Tucker, Riekert Hattingh and Nakai Penny at back row with Vili Toluta’u and Eric Duechle coming in as reserves. No drop off in talent there.

Phil Mack
Phil Mack

Phil Mack? He has been the coaching steadfast since day one, leading the team as player-head coach after last-minute call-up the first year and then as player-assistant coach last year. Now he’s the full-time assistant coach. Time to get back on the field? He’s a steady influence there, and he could play scrumhalf with JP Smith at No. 10 until Cima reappears.

  1. Culture. The team talks about that a lot, from owners, coaches and players. Ask Toluta’u about bringing new players into the fold, and he will talk about “getting them into our culture.” Second paragraph in the team’s media press kit defines that as:

“The organization strives to develop, cultivate and expand the sport of rugby in the US while empowering discipline, duty, respect and the spirit of inclusion both on and off the pitch. The Seattle Seawolves aim to foster a winning culture by enabling its members to meet their true potential while pursuing excellence in the MLR competition. Community outreach is a key tenet (not “tenant,” Rebecca and Kate!) of the Seawolves’ philosophy, and the organization strives to continually help enrich and give back to the greater Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest.”

Mack seems to bring that onto the field. He probably would not say much, but meeting his eyes when a player was not meeting “their true potential while pursuing excellence” would not be a pretty sight.

And no one connected to the Seawolves ever talked more about culture than Kevin Flynn, who served last year as team manager. Now he continues that with the Seattle Saracens where he has been president for many years. Is there some one with the Seawolves who can get them re-connected to the culture where they do community outreach, help enrich us and start playing together?

Getting everything right is going to take some time, but time they have. The Seawolves can come in third in their division over Utah, Austin and Colorado. They beat Houston, the second place team in the Western branch of the league, in the playoffs. Hand San Diego, the first place team, their second defeat against the Seawolves this year and then go on to meet the winner of the Eastern Division (which is looking very strong these days).

What could go wrong?

 

 

If you could re-pursue your career, I might shoot big cats

PantherWhen Shannon Wild presented her show “Pursuit of the Black Panther” in Seattle, we asked when the photographs and videos she had shot would be seen on TV. She said she hoped they would be on Nat Geo Wild in March.

Looking at the Nat Geo Wild upcoming shows, we find:

“The Real Black Panther”
One-hour special premieres Winter 2020; produced by Symbio Studios
The hot, dry, deciduous jungles of South India are no place for a melanistic leopard. But Saya is different. He is the only black panther in the entire Kabini Forest, and he’s got one thing on his mind: to take over and make this leopard paradise his own. But Scarface, the current ruler, won’t give it up easily. With one eye on his prey and the other on the ever-changing skies, Saya must befriend the sun and the clouds to master the shadows so that he can move unnoticed and hunt successfully. Between these trees lies an untold story — one that defies the laws of natural selection. Furthermore, it’s a story of astounding adaptability and success. Told in first-person narrative, this is the journey of Saya — the real black panther.

That may be the show Wild spoke of, but the above promo frames things in a much different way than how Wild depicted her adventures.

The TV promo seems to portray a standoff between wild cats (“Told in first-person narrative”? Meow, meow, grrrr!).

Wild’s presentation at Benaroya Hall on Jan. 14, 2020, seemed to be more about her versus all things that would foil her pursuit of the Black Panther, including being bitten by a cheetah, losing track of the elusive panther for weeks at a time and getting thrown from a truck and breaking her back.

Wild’s photographic career started in 2004 when she opened a pet photography business in her native Australia. As she showed the audience some of the pictures she had taken of cats and dogs, she explained her photographic philosophy: focus on the pets, pose them in natural settings, fade out the background and have vibrant colors in the photo. Also, she said, it helped to win the trust of the pet and be “welcomed into their world” – on the ground, close to the pet.

Above, Kathy shows Shannon Wild a photo of our pet cat Lily.

But after seven years of pet photography, Wild decided she wanted to photograph wildlife. So off she went to the Indonesian islands to photograph what she called “a true living dinosaur,” the Komodo dragon.

Somewhere along the line, she met Russell MacLaughlin, a photographer and videographer from South Africa. After a courtship of one week, they married. That was six years ago.

She moved to Africa and started photographing the wildlife there, using some of her pet philosophy but also learning more about cat behavior: When to hold ground, when to leave. Which didn’t always serve her well.

While photographing a cheetah in an enclosed reserve, she knelt to adjust equipment and should have recognized what the cat was doing: moving around behind her. The cheetah jumped over Wild’s back, clamped jaws down on her left arm and started squeezing it just like a cheetah would do to an antelope’s windpipe to kill it.

Russ and others rushed forward to pull the cat away. The video of her after 20 seconds in the cheetah’s jaws showed her laughing and making jokes “because I was embarrassed” before she went into shock.

She’s left-handed and lost the use of the arm for three months, but learned that “the most dangerous animal is the one you don’t see coming.”

But it didn’t stop her from pursuing wildlife. She and Russ collaborated with Shaaz Jung, a “big cat specialist,” to start filming the “panther pardus fusca,” the leopard in the Kabini Forest, part of the Nagarahole National Park in India. And how is a leopard a black panther? As the National Geographic says on its website: the result of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal so that it appears black. (If you look at the third photo on this page you can see that the black panther has spots, as in a photo Wild showed in her presentation.)

The leopards in Africa spend a lot of their time in trees. Not so in India’s forest. There they are on the ground, which makes it harder to find and film them. Wild’s camera crew also had restrictions from the park: Film between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., stay on the roads, etc.

WildAnd leopards don’t sit up and pose like pets do. Wild told about waiting four hours to get 10 minutes of the leopard in the open.

Then one day the leopard showed up with nasty scars across its face and damage to one eye. Leopards are territorial, and if another tries to encroach, well, a fight is in the offing. The leopard disappeared for eight weeks, and Wild and crew did not have enough footage yet to make a show.

They searched and waited, filmed wild dogs, Asian elephants (40,000 muscles in their trunks!) and stopped because they had too much footage of these animals.

Above, if you had 40,000 muscles in your trunk, you could do this. Saul video shot in Africa.

Finally, the panther reappeared. Thin but healed, a white scar across its face. Still had two eyes. Filming resumed. Until a nasty turn in a truck carrying Wild and her amazing equipment) sent the unbolted things flying. Equipment bolted; Wild not. Four broken vertebrae and weeks to recuperate. She adopted Phoebe, a pet cat, as in a small, kitty variety, that gave her “a reason to get up in the morning.”

When Wild returned, it was the rainy season, when the forest grows lush and it’s harder find and see the leopard. They learned the behavior of the animals, the sounds and were continuously listening, finding the animal’s territory, basically sharing their lives. You can get quite close, Wild said, as you become irrelevant: Neither prey nor enemy.

Until finally, there was enough footage and soon, Wild hopes, the show will appear on Nat Geo Wild. Don’t miss it if you love seeing wildlife in their natural setting.

Which I do. I envy Wild for her job filming big cats, probably our favorite on a fall trip to Kenya and Tanzania. Would love to do that full time, except that I would find these lion cubs I shot in the first video below so cute I would try to pet them. That would make me an enemy, soon to have my windpipe crushed.

This is why I get so excited about rugby

Andrew Shaffer, a huge Seattle Seawolves fan, put together this video clip of the first two seasons of the professional rugby team here in the Pacific Northwest and posted it on Facebook.
If you ever wondered why I get so excited about the game of rugby, have a look.
Seawolves play a preseason game Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila.
Regular season starts Feb. 9 with the Seattle team in San Diego, the team they beat to win the championship last year. Game will be on CBS Sports network. Then on to Washington, D.C., Sunday, Feb. 16, to play a newcomer to Major League Rugby, Old Glory DC. That game is on Roots TV here in Seattle.
First home game is Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, 7:30 p.m. at Starfire Stadium. It will be shown on CBS Sports network.
And as every retired player says, “Wish I could still play,” but I’ll be in the stadium having a grand time.

Looking for a depressing book? I’ve got a good one for you

Meredith bookIf you’re looking for a 675-page, depressing book, I have just the thing for you: “The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor” by Martin Meredith. As a survey history, it’s informative and well written, and I’m glad I read it after visiting Kenya and Tanzania.

But when you consider what has happened to the people there, enslaved by the Pharaohs 5,000 years ago and then ruled by the likes of Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Robert Mugabe and other pillagers, that’s what makes this depressing.

Meredith reports that Africa has the highest levels of poverty and the lowest levels of life expectancy. When the book was published in 2014, only a quarter of the continent’s workers had stable, wage-paying jobs; two-thirds made their living through subsistence activities or low-wage self-employment. Between 1960 and 2010, African food production fell by 10 percent while the rest of the world’s went up 150 percent. The number of undernourished Africans is 250 million in its population of 1 billion. The entire African continent’s economic output is 2.7 percent of the world’s economy, equal to $1.7 trillion, about the same as a single nation such as Russia.

There’s gold, diamonds, minerals, metals, arable lands and oil, oil, oil, but where has the money from those resources gone? Some to foreign corporations, but most of it into the pockets of that long list of corrupt ruling pillagers. The last chapter in Meredith’s book is a country-by-country, billion-dollar-by-billion-dollar ledger of corruption in Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. In recent years, corruption has cost Africa $148 billion annually, “more than a quarter of the continent’s entire gross domestic product.”

The overall population of Africa is increasing faster than any other part of the world. Forty percent of Africans live in cities with miles of slums and shantytowns that lack sanitation, clean water, paved roads and electricity.

Meredith head 1Meredith concludes with this from a United Nations report: “ ‘The unfolding pattern (in Africa) is one of disjointed, dysfunctional and unsustainable urban geographies of inequality and human suffering, with oceans of poverty containing islands of wealth.’ The urban crisis, it concluded, posed a threat not only to the stability of Africa’s cities but to entire nations.”

Which leads us to some questions that were raised in an earlier post here: Should the United States government, either through its military or through diplomacy, be involved in sorting out this mess? Could we mount a humanitarian effort that would be effective? Should the U.S. stay to get our hands on the resources before Russia, Islamic terrorists or China do?

And the Chinese influence is growing in Africa. As Meredith points out: “While Western powers continued to lecture African governments about corruption, transparency, human rights and democracy, China made no such demands. In pursuit of Africa’s riches, it was prepared to set up deals with dictators, despots and unsavory regimes of every hue, with no strings attached.”

Those questions about should we stay or should we go are now being addressed by the U.S. military commanders in Africa, according to a New York Times article published Dec. 24, 2019. Defense Secretary Mark Esper expects an initial decision in January.

Pulling out could mean abandoning a $110 million airbase in Niger being used to launch drone attacks. It could mean running out on French forces fighting extremists in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. (Hey, you colonized them so here’s the bill.)

In re-shifting the 200,000 service men and women the United States has overseas, it could mean confronting China and Russia more directly (Does the Commander-in-chief know about that Russian part?). It could mean endorsing Esper’s priority to get away from years of counter-terrorism deployments that try to “maintain minimum stability but without much prospect of definitive solutions.” He wants to quit going after “extremists who lack the demonstrated ability and intent to attack the U.S. on its own soil,” according to officials quoted in the NYT story.

So we might leave behind some intelligence forces, and if we learn some country is sponsoring, say, a training camp for Saudi Arabia pilots or some such, we might bomb it to smithereens, hoping we miss wedding parties, which we did not in Afghanistan.

The U.S., military or otherwise, could mount a humanitarian effort that could feed, water and save the African population, which is expected to reach 1.2 billion by 2050. That may be a naïve notion. Or, walk away, keeping American lives and treasures here at home. That may be heartless, placing Africa in the hopeless category. And that’s very depressing.

 

Alex Tizon: “Great journalism from a great journalist”

Alex T. bookjpgBack in the 1990s, I was working as a news editor at The Seattle Times, putting commas in the right places, writing headlines and helping decide where to put things in each day’s edition. That last part was never a problem for stories by Alex Tizon.

“A Tizon story? Put it on Page 1. Photos by Alan Berner? Make it the centerpiece.”

I was reminded of that in a sad way on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, at the Elliott Bay Bookstore when people who knew Alex or admired him gathered to hear readings from “Invisible People,” his book of stories he had written for books, magazines and newspapers where he had worked. His work was there, but Alex was not. He died in 2017 at age 57.

His work was read by a student from Seattle University and by his younger daughter, who is a student at the University of Washington.

People who brought this book together explained their roles and why they wanted to see these stories published in a collection.

Melissa, Alex’s widow, remembered Sam Howe Verhovek, who worked with Tizon at the Los Angeles Times, coming up to her at Alex’s funeral and saying, “Don’t throw anything away. Let’s preserve his voice.”

Sam wanted future journalists to learn from the way Alex used literary techniques to tell news stories. So Sam went through what Melissa had saved, won cooperation from Atlantic magazine, the Los Angeles Times and The Seattle Times and got David Boardman, former Seattle Times executive editor, to “go to bat” for this book at Temple University Press. Boardman probably had the inside track there as he is now dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple in Philadelphia. He referred to the book as “great journalism by a great journalist.”

Several of Tizon’s co-workers and editors wrote introductions to his stories reprinted in the book. As a former news editor, I see this book is a gift to me and my memory. The problem a news editor has is trying to remember a story – no matter how good – as it flies by in the whirl of four editions a day (back then). The story is there one day, then we’re reading copy for the next day’s paper. And now, with the news running on a full 24-hour news cycle, I wonder how anyone will remember anything that happens.

But Tizon’s book reminded me of how well he could, as one of the commentators said Thursday night, take an assignment that might be a throwaway to another reporter and “find a story with anyone.”Alex T 3

I also remember that Alex still told the news. In a story he wrote about a young bride from the Philippines murdered with two others in the hallway of Seattle’s King County courthouse, he talks about the mail-order bride business, the village in the Philippines where Susana came from, her life there, her time with Timothy Blackwell, who brought her to the United States and then, outside an ugly trial to annul their marriage, shot her three times, also killing a baby she was carrying.

When terrorists attacked New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 3,000 and injuring 6,000, Tizon teamed up with photographer Berner on a cross-America trip. The story I remember from that series was the interview with Birdella and Ollie May Wells, a daughter, 49, and mother, 74, sitting on their front porch and “talking to neighbors passing by.”

They were “raised on grits and church hymns.” Ollie May’s “face was as stretchy as a rubber band, her voice, happy as a banjo.” She referred to the terrorists as “Kamikazmi-nauts” and noticed that “much of America seemed to be thinking of God right now.”

“An airplane goin’ into a building will do that,” said Ollie May. “Praise be to Jesus,” said Birdella.

It’s an added delight to read the stories that didn’t pass over my desk at The Seattle Times and to reread those that did in a voice that needs to be preserved.

 

Amor Towles entertains with history, how he writes

Towles coverAmor Towles started with history.

Towles, who wrote “A Gentleman in Moscow,” told a full Benaroya Hall, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, the history of the Kremlin, Red Square and the surrounding area, including the Metropol Hotel, the setting for his novel.

The hotel opened in 1905 and was the first in Russia to have hot water in the rooms. This was during the era of “grand hotels” from 1890 to 1910, to “serve the great new wealth that came out of the 19th Century,” Towles said.

The Metropol was mostly used by Muscovites until 1917 when it found itself in the middle of a proletarian revolution. The tsar’s government housed soldiers in the hotel, with snipers at the windows. When the Bolsheviks took over, they kicked out the soldiers and all the windows.

Towles told the story of John Reed, who wrote about the Russian Revolution in “Ten Days that Shook the World,” and his checking into the Metropol. The desk clerk said that would be fine “if the gentleman doesn’t mind a little fresh air.”

When Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over in Russia, they moved the capital from St. Petersburg to Moscow, taking over three hotels to give government officials suites, making the Metropol the single biggest bureaucratic building in the country.

By 1922, the European nations were starting to recognize the Communist government as legit, opening the way for business representatives to start arriving in Moscow to start turning an agricultural society into an industrial one – and turning a profit. We can’t house these people in ratty hotels, the new Russian leaders decided, and the bureaucrats were out of the Metropol, the place was spruced up and an orchestra playing American jazz moved onto the bandstand.

The Communist leaders started hanging out at the Metropol even though it was supposedly off-limits to Russians. Towles said only about 10 percent of the Russian population belonged to the Communist Party, a status that brought multiple privileges and rights: Special stores where they could shop, schools their children could attend, or maybe a meal or a drink at the Metropol.

Ninety-five percent of the Russian population before the revolution was illiterate, Towles said, mostly peasants working other people’s lands. The Communists started a rapid reversal of that, using “five-year plans” for a quick industrialization of the country. To pay Western nations for help and material, the government needed hard currency, and it had little of it. But citizens did, stashed under mattresses, etc. in case who knew what might happen. So the Metropol was opened to all Russians, as long as they paid in Western currencies.

The decade of the 1930s was a bleak one for Russia, with the five-year plans failing and starvation taking millions of lives. But inside the Metropol, it was like “F. Scott Fitzgerald describing the Plaza Hotel in New York City.”

Towles

None of that, Towles said, is in the book.

The book is about individuals, especially the Count, the gentleman who lives through this history.

Towles came up with the idea about where to place his individual while he was working in finance, traveling to different cities to do presentations. He noticed that many of the same people were in the lobbies of hotels where he stayed as he returned year after year. In 1998, he visited the Metropol.

Next came the outline. He said he spent a year and a half designing “A Gentleman in Moscow.” His outline included a description of each chapter, what would happen in it, some poetry, some events, some language that could be used.

Having a structure for the book freed him to let his subconscious go, to choose the right words, to let the “flow” of creativity happen without worrying about where the book goes or how it gets there.

It took him another year and a half to write a first draft. “I write the first draft for myself,” he said. “Everything goes in, anything I want to do goes there.

“I had to ‘spend’ 32 years with a different person placed in a situation I’ve never been in, all presented to me through the craft of writing.”

The tone of voice of the character gets decided as Towles writes. Who Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov would be was decided when Towles wrote this passage, which appears on Page 10, about the Count being escorted to the hotel by two guards:

Version 2

“That’s the guy,” Towles said as he finished. He may be imprisoned in a hotel for the rest of his life, but he still takes charge.

What about historical research? “Pre-research,” Towles said, too often comes out as “clunk, clunk, clunk.” And he gave an example:

Let’s say you wanted to write about a child in the 1960s, arriving in the kitchen where her Mom is preparing dinner. Research would tell you what the room looked like and that the mother probably unwrapped a box of frozen Birds Eye peas and dumped them into a pot of boiling water. But what the child might remember is the solid brick of green peas, maybe some frost clinging to it, her reaction to that, her feeling toward her mother and what she might have said.

“And all that goes on in that room (goes there) so that when you go back and read it again, you say, ‘Oh, that’s when all that happened.’ ”

The research has to be there at some point for Towles to know whom the count is mostly likely to meet throughout the years in the hotel. But it never comes off as clunk, clunk, clunk.

He wrote the first draft for himself, but the revision is for the reader. Time to get rid of redundancies, use as few words as possible, clean up your own work and create the covenant with the reader. “I write with an audience in mind.”

That audience will probably be expanded in the next year or two as “A Gentleman in Moscow” is being made into a television series.

And Towles is working on his next book.

Using women’s instinct to protect African wildlife

Once you have seen animals in the wild, protecting them can become an obsession, as it did for Damien Mander, who came to talk and show photographs Oct. 29, 2019 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. It was the first event we have signed up for called “National Geographic Live.” I found out that I have fallen out of practice taking notes in the dark. So here’s from memory and the brochure handed out in the entry hall.

Damien

It seems that Mander is obsessed with more than saving wild animals. In fact, it looks as if he goes into all stages of his life in an obsessive fashion, out to do it all well, energetically and to the nth degree. Born in Australia, he was obsessed with water, could not stay out of the sea. He became a “clearance diver” in the Australian Navy.

Then on to Special Forces as a sniper and then a trainer in the Iraq War. He served three years there before abandoning it.

“The second mistake we made there, besides getting into it, was disbanding the Iraqi army,” Mander said. That took the jobs away from not just the soldiers, but also the income to the extended families depending on those jobs, alienating millions who probably were not sorry to see Saddam Hussein go and might have signed on to rebuild the nation.

Mander bounced around South America — photos of what looked like a good time in bars, but maybe not, as he also mentioned the statistics on Iraq War veterans’ suicides. Then to Africa where he was introduced to nature and had an epiphany — my word — when looking into the eyes of a buffalo that had ripped itself apart in a trap set by poachers. As his companion shot that animal, putting it out of its misery, Mander had found his next obsession.

In 2009, he founded the International Anti Poaching Foundation to preserve an ecosystem by “training and equipping rangers to fight the poaching crisis in Africa.” Given that a pound of ivory from an elephant’s tusk is worth $35,000 in Vietnam, it is no wonder that people in Zimbabwe, where 72 percent of the population is below the poverty line, would be attracted to poaching. So arresting poachers was taking the income from many families there, causing conflicts with local communities.

In 2017, the IAPF started “Akashinga,” which means Brave Ones in the Shona language. The idea was to empower “disadvantaged women to restore and manage a network of wilderness areas as an alternative economic model to trophy hunting” and poaching. As the brochure says:

“The women of Akashinga have built strong relationships with the locals, de-escalated conflict and invested into their communities. The community response to this was to work with us in conservation, rather than against us.”

Akashinga

A squad leader, Vimbai Kumire, who barely reaches up to the chest of Mander, also addressed us at Benaroya. Despite her diminutive size, she showed that passion could be more powerful than bullets. She told of the importance of animals to their culture and country and explained that it was not only an honor to protect them but was also providing income for her family and dignity for herself.

Many of the arrests made — “without firing a single shot” — are related to organized crime and the use of poisons.

“Syndicates have been broken open and we have been advised of an 80% reduction in elephant poaching across the region since 2016,” the brochure says.

The organization now has the responsibility for protecting wildlife in more than one million acres. The most asked question, Mander says, by those arrested is not “Why am I being arrested?” but “Why am I being arrested by a woman?”

“For so long, our vision has been clouded by ego from seeing the most powerful force in nature — a woman’s instinct to protect.”

It may take all of that and more to protect the wildlife in Africa. With more than two billion people living on that continent by 2040, the loss of wildlife habitat will continue to grow. According to an article in the Oct. 10, 2019  edition of The Times of London (picked up in Amsterdam on our way home from Africa), many countries have lost their rhinoceros populations because of habitat loss: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad.

Because of poaching, the rhino population in Botswana could be wiped out in two years, the article said. Rhino horns fetch $50,000 per kilogram in Asia, where they are used in traditional therapies. Botswana has fewer than 400 rhinos and has lost one a month in 2019, a rate that is still increasing. Conservationists blame part of that on President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has disarmed the anti-poaching unit. His predecessor, Ian Khama, had an “unofficial shoot-to-kill” policy.

PlaqueThe rhinos we saw in Kenya were kept under armed guard. Not chained up or penned, but accompanied by the guards. Theirs is a dangerous way to make a living. A plaque on the overlook into the Ngorongoro Crater listed conservationists who have lost their lives, including six killed by poachers or bandits.

“In truth, there are really only a few things that matter: character and spirit,” Mander writes in the brochure. “If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a chance. CV’s, references, qualifications and fitness levels mean nothing here. We don’t want perfect. We want scrappers. someone that knows what it’s like to have to fight for survival. The rest will be learned.”

 

 

Rugby World Cup ends, back to normal sleep patterns

First hopes were on the United States Eagles. Just win a game, maybe get beyond pool place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. A hopeless cause, and unfulfilled.

Then I turned to Ireland. They could win the whole thing, until they could not. Then Wales, another hopeless cause when South Africa destroyed them.

Lastly, I turned to England, who played so well eliminating New Zealand from the finals.

That hope died this morning when South Africa took the championship by overpowering England’s scrums, containing their running game and out-kicking them in penalties. The score was 18-12 at one point, all on penalty kicks, which makes a boring game. Then at 66 minutes into the game, the Springboks opened up scoring with two tries before the game ended, 32-12.

A more interesting game was Friday morning when New Zealand clobbered Wales 40-17 to take third place. One of the announcer said of Wales’ desperate effort to get back in the game, “it’s not tidy, not pretty, but there is a certain freedom in that kind of rugby” — throwing the ball around recklessly like kids on a playground playing keep-away. That’s what keeps me glued to this form of football.

No more 2 a.m. start times for rugby games, at least not until 2023 when the Rugby World Cup moves to France. Or, we could be in that time zone, just down the road a piece to queue up to get into the stadium. Maybe not a hopeless cause.