By Maria Hough
Hello, my name is Maria Hough, although I typically go by Cory. I'm Tommy's wife.
My colleagues often ask what it's like having a spouse running for office.
While it often means long days and a haphazard schedule, I've never seen Tommy more happy or energized. He wants this job because he wants to make San Diego the best it can be.
I couldn't ask for a better husband. Ever since we fist met and began dating, Tommy has always been supportive of my career and choices, and his honesty, genuine nature and commitment to our neighbors will make a meaningful impact at city hall.
And while I know Tommy talks tough, I also know he wears his heart on his sleeve, which is one of the things I love about him.
If you know Tommy, you know he's committed to our environment and the less fortunate, and knows that making our communities better is ultimately better for everyone. Tommy knows our city can be a better place. That's why he's running.
Well, tomorrow is October 10th – Tommy's birthday. And the best gift you can give him is a contribution to his campaign.
You know Tommy won't quit until every door has been knocked, every phone number called, and every sign dropped in the yard of someone who has said "yes."
Can you give a little extra for Tommy's birthday? Every amount makes an impact with this campaign.
Whether you give the maximum of $550, or contribute $250, $100, $50, or $20, every amount gets Tommy closer to the finish line.
I hope to see you at one of Tommy's upcoming fundraisers, including this Saturday, Oct. 13, as hosts Eden and Kyle Yaege, Mark West and Michael Torti host a reception for Tommy with Congressman Scott Peters from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
And don't forget, Tommy has a reception with Senate President pro tem Toni Atkins coming up next Tuesday, Oct. 16, and an event with San Diego Democrats for Equality on Thursday, Oct. 18.
Tommy will also participate in the City Council Candidate Forum on Homelessness tomorrow evening, Wednesday, Oct. 10, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at The Observatory North Park, located at 2891 University Ave. We hope you can join us as Tommy talks with panelists, fellow council candidates Monica Montgomery and Antonio Martinez – and you – about one of the most critical, heart-wrenching crises facing San Diego.
Thank you for supporting my husband, and thank you for celebrating Tommy's birthday tomorrow with a contribution today.
By Tommy Hough
Today, on this Labor Day, I'd like to reflect on the personal meaning labor has for my family.
There once was a time when 40-hour work weeks, eight hour days and a minimum wage weren't the norm in the United States, but unions and organized labor made that a reality.
There once was a time when health insurance and retirement plans weren't reasonable expectations of a full-time job, but unions and organized labor helped make that a reality too – along with child labor laws, collective bargaining, maternity leave, overtime, sick leave, workplace safety oversight, even lunch breaks.
My grandfather, Bert Hough, was one of those labor leaders of an earlier era who worked to organize labor at his workplace into a force to stand as equals with management.
The era was the 1920s, and the location was the Crucible Steel Works along the Ohio River in Midland, Pennsylvania, about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
An immigrant to the United States from Scotland, and a survivor of the Gallipoli and Western Front campaigns in World War One, Bert was already known to be fearless – but life in the mill was still demanding and dangerous. There were few, if any, protections for workers if someone was injured or killed on the job. Employee recourse was non-existent.
Like all mill employees, Bert began as a scarfer retouching raw steel to remove imperfections. Slowly but surely, he rose through the ranks of leadership, and by the early years of the Great Depression was actively organizing workers.
Unlike organizing in a major city, Bert's activism presented problems living in a small "company town" like Midland, where city services and the police force were recruited and paid for by Crucible.
Intimidation, violence, and even bomb threats became a part of the organizing process that demanded courage. But with support from colleagues and fellow organizers, Bert prevailed, and in 1937 founded United Steelworkers Local 1212 as the local's first president.
By the time the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Crucible Steel's Midland Works was the largest producer of tool-grade steels in the United States, and Crucible manufactured more types of steel than any other company during the war era.
The mill's stability, and versatility, was enabled not just by the ability and expertise of its employees, but by organized labor and Local 1212's apprenticeship program (which continues to this day), along with the expectations for workers spelled out in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
The act remains today, and is the gold standard upon which labor operates in the U.S.
The stability the United Steelworkers brought to the region also benefited my father, who became a steelworkers lawyer, thereby enabling my middle class upbringing. He eventually went into private practice, argued before the United States Supreme Court and was an expert on collective bargaining, which he later taught at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.
That stability also improved the region's environment. When tough pollution standards were proposed following the war in 1945 so the air, water and natural ecology of Western Pennsylvania would no longer be irreparably harmed, labor was a willing partner.
The era of Big Steel, of course, eventually came to an end in Western Pennsylvania, and the era of collective bargaining is now threatened by the Janus v. AFSCME decision. But thousands of workers around the nation continue to work today under contracts that guarantee them benefits and a livable wage, negotiated in good faith by labor and management.
The National Labor Relations Act also remains the law of the land, which is why the "reason for the season" is so critical to remember today, on Labor Day, first celebrated as a federal holiday in 1894.
I hope you and your family enjoy your time together on this day enabled by the labor movement.
And if you're ever along the Ohio River in Midland, Pennsylvania, the Bert Hough building that served as the union hall for USW Local 1212 still stands at 617 Midland Ave., now the site of a Pennsylvania Cyber school after Local 1212 moved to new offices in 2010.
Photos by George W. Harris, Jay Reilly, Mark Grago, Keith Schneider, Steve Rivera and Tony Tepsic.
By Tommy Hough
The Cadiz Water Project is a decades-long scheme to drain an aquifer located beneath the Cadiz Valley in Mojave Trails National Monument, in order to pump water to coastal Southern California so Orange County residents can water their lawns.
Given the current subversion of our government, from the nihilism of the 115th Congress to the sheer ignorance and greed of the Trump Administration, it will come as no surprise that a former Cadiz Inc. lobbyist named David Bernhardt is now the second-in-command at the Interior Department behind Secretary Ryan Zinke, who himself has already carved out a record as the worst Interior chief in our nation's history in less than a year on the job.
Environmental organizations didn't take kindly to Bernhardt's appointment, in part because of his role at Interior a dozen years ago during the first term of George W. Bush. At that time, Bernhardt served as Interior's solicitor general under Secretary Gale Norton (another one of our worst Interior chiefs), and wrote a now-dismissed legal opinion that would've made it easier for the Interior Department to dismiss endangered species recommendations.
Along with loading federal agencies with idiot savant surrogates and destructive minions like Berhardt and Zinke, the Trump administration has done two specific things in order to facilitate the Cadiz Water Project.
One, in local conjunction with Congressman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, they've recommended reducing the boundaries of dozens of long-standing National Monuments around the nation in order to create the precedent to change the boundaries of Mojave Trails National Monument in San Bernardino County in order to access the Cadiz Valley and get at the aquifer.
Two, the Trump Administration has re-written federal right-of-way railroad laws in order to facilitate the project so "red tape" that would otherwise slow the approval of the water pipeline across federal land – in part because water infrastructure doesn't "further a railroad purpose" – would no longer apply.
Fortunately, San Bernardino County is located in California, and the State Lands Commission gets a say because the pipeline would cross state education lands set aside in 1857 by the federal government in the interest of the-then new state of California.
The commission has already determined a lease to cross state lands will require additional environmental review, and that will likely trigger a public process. That's good, and it demonstrates how poorly the Interior Department's original environmental review was, because they didn't even have the right land agency and land ownership indicated in their materials.
The shame is legislation could've been passed to prevent this. AB 1000 would've stopped the Cadiz project, but unfortunately, even though it was signed off by Governor Brown and nearly every Democrat in the legislature, it was held up by none other than Sen. Kevin DeLeón, who has otherwise been a solid environmental champion. DeLeón allowed the bill to die in committee in September, before announcing his intent to challenge fellow Democrat and desert conservation champion Dianne Feinstein for her incumbent U.S. Senate seat.
According to Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times, "Cadiz donated $5,000 to a DeLeón campaign fund," in June. "Cadiz and [Cadiz Inc. founder Keith] Brackpool, a long-time friend of former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have together contributed nearly $85,000 to Villaraigosa's gubernatorial campaign."
From the environmentalists I've spoken with, state lawmakers can take the case of AB 1000 back up in January, and the Trump Administration still has the State Lands Commission to deal with. How voters opt to handle Sen. DeLeón's role in killing AB 1000, however, is another matter.
Photos by Chris Clarke (top) and David Lamfrom (bottom).
"On our trips to the Arctic Wildlife Range we saw clearly it was not a place for mass recreation. It takes a lot of territory to keep this living wilderness alive, for scientific observation and aesthetic inspiration. The Far North is a fragile place." – Arctic explorer Olaus Murie, 1963
By Tommy Hough
American conservation suffered a devastating blow Thursday, as the Senate voted to "raise revenue" by authorizing wholly unneeded and unnecessary oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeast Alaska, passed as part a sneaky provision included in the overall federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. There is no reason to expect Mr. Trump will not sign it when it reaches his desk.
Not since the decision to build Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park has such a significant component of America's environmental identity been undone with such sudden, cowardly severity. We've lost the Arctic, and we lost it on our watch.
An amendment to pull Arctic drilling from the budget was offered by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, but the vote failed almost entirely on party lines 52-48, with the exception of Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who voted for the amendment, while Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted against it.
The largest National Wildlife Refuge in the country, there has been a long and lengthy campaign to preserve ANWR – one of America's last, great, intact, pristine wildernesses – and it's now going to be opened to drilling without even the kind of national discussion we're having on other issues, like guns, Puerto Rico, kneeling for the National Anthem at sports events, and the usual horrible things uttered by the president on a daily, even hourly basis.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was first set aside by President Eisenhower in 1960, and later expanded by President Carter in 1980 with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which designated eight million acres of the refuge, or just over one-third, as Wilderness – the gold standard of American conservation.
Interestingly, the refuge was preserved with the intention of only opening it up for drilling if the nation suddenly found itself in a severe oil shortage, as was the concern in 1980 when the nation was still on the heels of the 1979 Energy Crisis.
Of course, in 2017, we're in the midst of an oil glut. Oil is cheaper now that it used to be, in part because of natural gas and renewables, but oil companies have been desperate to pry the Arctic open for decades, despite the clear, present and criminally obvious danger such activity poses to the region's sensitive, Arctic environment.
Every Alaska politician going back to Ted Stevens has wanted to open ANWR to oil drilling, and while there was some concern that Lisa Murkowski would use the political capital she earned by voting against repeated Obamacare repeals to earn Democratic support for drilling, other than Joe Manchin the Democratic bloc held firm. They should be thanked and applauded for doing so. We need more of them in the Senate.
With today's Senate vote, conservationists have lost a decades-long fight in the blink of an eye, and we stand to lose an enormous area of habitat and fragile ecosystem that affects land and water, as well as native Alaskans. We cannot continue to have our long-standing, public land conservation icons and landmarks picked off one by one by a Congress devoid of pride or honor, and who will not have to live with the consequences of the rising sea levels and global warming which they themselves are enabling.
In the Senate, we are only a few votes away from consolidating our natural heritage and protecting it as it has been protected for decades – our Wilderness areas, our National Parks, our National Monuments – but that threshold seems very far away on days like this.
When we say call your senators or your congressmen, or when we say something is all-hands on deck or a full court press, we're not crying wolf. You may have friends or family in other states with other senators than those we can rely upon in California. Utilize those relations and networks to call their senators, Democrat and Republican alike. In the fight against a Republican party that, through their repeated actions, votes and rhetoric, abhors any notion of conservation of our natural heritage, we cannot be islands. We must be the change our environment so desperately needs, again and again.
If you'd like to learn more or see photos of ANWR as the spectacular wilderness it is – and what may soon pass into myth – check out photos of the region from conservation photographers like Florian Schulz and Amy Gulick, or the photo archives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Photos by Steve Chase / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By Tommy Hough
Two years ago this body gave its support to the city of San Diego's landmark Climate Action Plan. In doing so, it gave Democratic lawmakers on city council the confidence to move forward with advocating for that plan, knowing the party's "rank and file" had their back.
Ultimately, the Climate Action Plan was passed on a unanimous vote by San Diego City Council. Democrats and Republicans, seeing the environmental writing on the wall of a warming planet, and perhaps seeing things through the political filter of necessity – but seeing the future nonetheless – understood this city must do its part to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in conjunction with the rest of the state, the rest of the nation, and the rest of the world.
This body created the opportunity for our elected officials to succeed, and move the ball down the field to a cleaner future. We are all components in making this happen – every person here. In 2015, we did that.
The city of San Diego's Climate Action Plan is a legally binding plan. It's ambitious, and it's not going away. Community Choice Energy, or Community Choice Aggregation, is a crucial component of that plan. The mayor must begin to meaningfully move forward on implementing it, and in a manner that is more substantive than simply painting bicycle lanes onto busy city streets and creating P.R. and press events.
Community Choice Energy provides consumer choice by expanding your energy purchasing and energy consumption options. It enables cities and counties to purchase cleaner power provided to consumers at a competitive or lower price. It is a partnership between the city San Diego, and the lone utility that serves this county: San Diego Gas and Electric.
Community Choice Energy – or CCEs for short – will provide you, your friends, and your families with choice. CCEs create competition between energy providers, some of whom may utilize one source of energy, some of whom may utilize multiple sources.
But you will get to determine who you want to buy from, and the idea is you may go with the greenest options available. Or not. It's up to you – it's your choice. But, over time, standard Community Choice Energy options based upon renewable sources have been demonstrated to beat the rates of competing utilities.
San Diegans pay the highest electricity rates of anyone in California. Part of the reason for that is we are currently subject to a power monopoly which doesn't allow other options. Without competition, there is no other market-based mechanism to provide a counterweight. Community Choice Energy enables local control and accountability for electricity rates, while reducing our region's carbon footprint by providing a greater mix of clean energy sources on our grid.
The city of San Diego is legally bound to get to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035, and we can't get there without clean energy provided by a multitude of Community Choice Energy providers. Over time, local community choice programs may be able to purchase increasing amounts of solar, wind or geothermal power from local sources, thereby supporting local, union jobs and local economic development in a burgeoning green-collar economy.
There are already eight operational CCE programs covering 70 cities in the Golden State, some with several counties joining together under joint operating agreements. In each case, they're offering residents competitive if not lower rates, more clean energy, and exceeding state climate goals – with more scheduled to launch in 2018.
When this body gave its approval to the Climate Action Plain in 2015, we were in the vanguard in San Diego. But over the last two years, the rest of the state saw what we were doing, and picked up the ball. Now, we're getting lapped. We were first, but among large California cities we're now being passed by.
CCEs are going on-line in next year in Los Angeles County, Riverside County, the Coachella Valley, Alameda County and the city of San Jose. These areas represent a wide swath of the state's political spectrum, and no one is going to mistake Riverside County as a hotbed of progressivism. But all see the value for their residents and constituents, and the promise of cleaner air and more renewable energy on the grid.
The city of San Diego recently published a technical study that concludes the CCE program is not only feasible, but will:
The next step is for the City Council to vote to enable staff to move into the second phase of CCE evaluation in January.
We're on track, and we're pushing for this resolution so our city officials see the support for CCEs are as strong now as they were in 2015 when this body helped greenlight the city's Climate Action Plan. We need the implementation of CCEs to get underway now so that by 2035 we won't be reacting to a deadline, but instead, will be comfortably arriving at our destination with a portfolio of functional renewable energy options available to consumers.
We can do this. We have the opportunity to move this process along tonight.
Now, I want to make this next point perfectly clear – and our club says as much in the language of this resolution. This is not a resolution that is aimed at harming anyone. This is not an anti-this or anti-that resolution.
You and I all have friends, colleagues, and family members who work for SDGE. These are dedicated professionals who love and value this community, and with our union brothers and sisters work hard to keep the lights on. They are our neighbors and they have an extraordinary volume of institutional knowledge about this region's energy needs. They have been assets to this community, and we need them more than ever. We need that knowledge. We need that aptitude. That's part of the reason SDGE has had a seat at the table on Community Choice Energy since Day One.
For CCEs to be successful, we need to utilize SDGE's transmission lines and transmission network. We need their billing capabilities. These aren't asides or minor items or small asks. SDGE has an opportunity to play a significant role in making CCEs successful as our city meets our Climate Action Plans by 2035. And as is the case with other utilities in the state, SDGE will remain whole.
You and I have a chance to get this right – tonight. We have a chance to demonstrate leadership – tonight. We have a chance to do right by our families and our neighbors and people who believe competition is inherently American and essential for a fair marketplace. And that 100 percent renewable energy, powered by good-paying, union jobs is not only attainable – but is necessary if we are going to be planning a future beyond 2035 at all.
The tipping point is here. We're on it. We've arrived. We are at the very early stages of coming to grips with rising sea levels affecting our beach communities, and wildfires that kill people and destroy lives when they dash in from the county's interior. We are fighting a two-front war against climate change in this county that grows more intense each year. Let's show the state that we know where San Diego's energy and environmental priorities are by supporting the resolution before you.
The time is now. We're not going to sit on our hands as others would prefer we do. Delay is death. Our leaders need to hear us from Downtown to Sacramento to Washington. We're not going to wait. San Diego is not only doing its part, we're leading, we're paving the way, and with your help, support and your vote in favor of this resolution we will continue to be leaders in this state and this nation in arriving at a green, renewable future.
We can do it, and we're going do it tonight.
Photo courtesy of the city of San Diego
SDCDEA president Tommy Hough spoke at the Flip the 50th Empty Chair Town Hall event on Saturday, Aug . 26, at Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego.
By Tommy Hough
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Congress was often the butt of jokes, but Congress was also working in what many now refer to as the Golden Age of Congress. For 40 years, between 1954 and 1994, Congress ably and consistently utilized the power of government to make the lives of Americans better.
It wasn't perfect, but by and large, Congress functioned in a bipartisan manner to make the lives of Americans better, and from the 1960s on began to pass into law environmental policy that continues to serve us today: the Clean Water Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the EPA – now subverted under President Trump and Scott Pruitt beyond the comprehension of anyone but the most cynical right-wing operator.
I say "all Americans" because it makes no dissemination between rich and poor, between race or religion. Our environmental laws are not there to make life easier for corporations, they're there to ensure our corporations function in a manner that do not harm our nation's health, our citizens, our greater ecology, our air or our water. Damage to our environment is in part death by a thousand cuts, and in part like toothpaste – once it's out of the tube, it doesn't go back in.
This remains an ongoing struggle. There is ongoing give and take. Part of the reason the great legislation of the 1960s and 70s was passed was because engaged Americans and robust citizens' groups were demanding it. But after a while, people begin to assume it was always illegal to dump paint or industrial detergents into a river. People began to assume vast tracts of wilderness had always been held in a state of preservation. And since the radicalization of Congress by the Republican wave of 1994, Congressional Republicans have taken on a far more contrary approach to the environment and conservation – to the point, where, today – they despise it.
They reject clear and obvious empirical evidence in order to keep their worldview from being upended, and more important, to fit the desires of their donor class, which has little in common with those who actually vote for Republican candidates. That has only been aggravated by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 – because citizens were not empowered by that decision. Only the weathly.
Today's modern Republicans reject any consideration that doesn't fit in with the views of a narrow band of AM talk radio hosts and conspiracy-laden websites – and we are now seeing the impact and consequences of 30 years' worth of cumulative exposure to radical, right-wing ideology on the public's airwaves. Today, Republican lawmakers like Duncan Hunter Jr. simply respond to issues driven by a Republican noise machine.
Part of that ideology is an abdication of the conservation tenets of one of our nation's great environmentalists: Theodore Roosevelt – a Republican. This is a president who once ducked out of a cabinet meeting to go hiking with John Muir at Yosemite. And Roosevelt listened and learned at the feet of Muir – and in doing so helped begin the process of building modern American conservation, by way of passing the Antiquities Act in 1906 and embracing the cause of protecting our special places as National Parks and National Monuments.
And what makes the current Congress so unusual, so radical, is it's dogged willingness to ignore actual, pressing issues, like infrastructure and opioid addiction and the cancer of economic inequality and the integrity of our elections – and instead, use the power of government to make life more difficult for regular Americans.
Duncan Hunter Jr. has to answer for that, because he votes the GOP party line – a line that does not benefit his constituents, or the environment. Just last year, in 2016, Congressman Hunter:
I would encourage everyone to contact Congressman Hunter and his office and ask if he knows anything about any of the items listed here. If he did, he would be here today to justify his votes to you, his constituents.
Very soon, possibly under a more organized President Trump, or under a capable and effective President Mike Pence, Mr. Hunter will be able to vote on the radical legislation that we know is ready to go on Capitol Hill, but is stalled by the cruel, disorganized mania of King Donald.
Very soon, Mr. Hunter will have opportunities to blindly vote on legislation that undoes the entirety of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. He will vote on legislation to undo the 1964 Wilderness Act. He will vote to take away any kind of reasonable protections from the worst impulses of corporate America. When even oil companies are telling Trump to slow down on deregulation for the sake of appearances, is there any doubt that Duncan Hunter isn't willing to ape and endorse the extremist right in Congress, or the desires of President Trump or Mr. Pence?
We need to flip districts this election cycle. It must happen here, in the 50th.
You are the beginning of that.
Photos courtesy of James Elia (top) and Colin Parent (bottom)
By Tommy Hough
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, and for me, it's hard to believe we've arrived at this date. I remember the day Elvis died, and I remember the shock it sent through my neighborhood, popular culture and the music world, even among people who weren't into rock and roll.
Like a lot of events that have now receded into the cultural rearview mirror, it's difficult to overstate the mania and reaction to Elvis' death in 1977, or relate how iconic a figure he was in the mid-70s, when rock and roll had only been around for about 20 years.
In 1977, Elvis Presley hadn't become the punchline he is today. Earned or not, he was still considered by many to be the King of Rock and Roll, which people said without a hint of self-consciousness or irony. The crowds that formed outside Graceland were in utter despair following the announcement of Presley's death, so much so that one person was even run over by the funeral procession as it left the estate a few days later.
This was in part because when people thought of Elvis in 1977, they still thought of him as the young and dangerous pre-Army 1956 version of Elvis, shaking his hips and outraging parents and decent people from coast to coast. Popular culture didn't yet visualize him as the grotesque caricature he'd become since his 1968 "comeback" TV special, popping buttons off his barely-fitting satin jumpsuits. The last time most people had seen Elvis was in his Aloha from Hawaii TV special in 1973, when he was still in decent shape and voice.
But shortly after that well-received performance, the rot began to set in, both in Elvis' barbiturate-addled body and his mind. By mid-decade, to cover for his Quaalude-fog on-stage ramblings, his manager's record label actually became complicit in his addiction by releasing an album in 1974 called Having Fun With Elvis On-Stage, as though it were some kind of comedy album. They even listed Presley himself as "executive producer," perhaps to distance themselves from the project even as they callously counted the money made from it.
When Elvis' body finally gave out at the age of 42 on August 16, 1977, it wasn't a surprise to those closest to him, but it stunned the nation. Only afterwards were the depths of his addiction revealed, as were the role his handlers played as enablers, rolling Elvis over in his bed on a timed schedule like Howard Hughes to prevent bed sores, and feeding him a steady regimen of drugs as his hillbilly empire churned on around him.
With that in mind, Elvis remained a durable performer capable of holding an audience to the end, as seen in this CBS-TV special shot at a June 19, 1977, concert in Omaha, Nebraska, about two months before his death. Note how his appearance had taken on that of an old man, and cue to 41:59 for the bizarre shout-out to Elvis' long-time roadie Charlie Hodge, who would hang around on stage and give the King towels or act as a human mic stand.
By Tommy Hough
From The Bridge On the River Kwai to A Bridge Too Far, the British have a fondness for their disasters when it comes to war movies. That fondness never quite became part of the American DNA, and perhaps it's a kind of national maturity that Great Britain long ago arrived at, which countries like the United States – a comparatively "moody teenager" among nations at 241 years old – still haven't been able to embrace in themselves.
Perhaps a part of that maturity is taking defeats and disasters and finding the lessons and heroism in what are otherwise dark and desperate hours. And as vividly illustrated in Christopher Nolan's new movie Dunkirk, there's also the characteristic British quality of quietly enduring in the face of despair, tragedy and rotten luck.
Dunkirk was a military disaster in that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), sent to France at the outset of World War II in Sept. 1939, was forced to retreat from the Germans nine months later in the spring of 1940 in a humiliating rout. As a final insult, British forces were forced to leave all of their artillery, tanks, heavy guns and equipment on the beach in France in order to save themselves.
The Germans, already aware of the general Allied strategy, designed their invasion of Holland and Belgium in May 1940 to also serve as a trap for the BEF and the French. It worked perfectly. When the Germans attacked, the BEF and three of the best French armies moved north to fight to fight the Wehrmacht in Belgium – just as the Germans expected them to.
While Holland and Belgium were important to Hitler, it was also something of a decoy. The main thrust of the German offensive was to conquer France, and it came several days later through the hilly, forested region of the Ardennes along the Belgian-French border to the south – an area naively thought to be impassable by French commanders who still thought in terms of static World War I battles. The Germans, however, came fighting the mobile, Blitzkrieg war of 1940.
The effect was shattering. The Germans quickly took Sedan and crossed the Meuse River – something they'd never been able to accomplish in four years of fighting in World War I – and made a beeline for the sea at the English Channel, cutting off the BEF and French armies to the north from the weaker armies in the south, which had been left to guard Paris.
French leadership, immersed in political power struggles instead of focusing on a strategy beyond their Maginot Line fortifications, exacerbated the problem. As chaos reigned in Paris, German forces moved in to annihilate the trapped British and French armies in the north. They nearly succeeded.
The result was a decision by the British high command to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force, understanding that once France fell, England would be next on Hitler's invasion list. Great Britain needed its army back – they would soon be fighting Hitler alone (the Soviet Union and United States wouldn’t enter the war until the following year). Ultimately, Britain also evacuated thousands of trapped French and Belgian soldiers.
In a modern miracle, dozens of commercial transports, along with a flotilla of thousands of so-called "little ships" made up of fishing vessels, trawlers, yachts and other pleasure craft steamed across the English Channel to the besieged French port to rescue their army. The British were reluctant to commit the bulk of the Royal Navy to the rescue, in part because they needed to conserve their resources to defend the home islands, and because smaller boats were less likely to be attacked by enemy submarines and aircraft – a point illustrated early in the Dunkirk operation in several calamitous sinkings. Those rescues and the risks at sea make up one portion of Dunkirk, which opens in theaters this weekend.
In the film, Nolan introduces us to mostly unnamed characters in the air, on the sea, and on the beach, sometimes finding their way onto ships, only to have them torpedoed out from under them and ending up on the same beach again. A minimum of dialogue is used, with a persistent, pulsating score that ratchets the tension to unbearable levels and highlights the episodic dilemmas on-screen. Several audience members near my wife and I were visibly fidgeting in their seats with anxiety during these intense scenes.
This isn't like any war film you've seen. The closest approximation may 1998's The Thin Red Line, except there is never a dull moment in this briskly-paced film. Like other Christopher Nolan efforts, the narrative has an elastic, non-linear quality, as the different air, sea and beach scenes often land at different points along the film's timeline. It's an effective device that worked in Nolan's Memento, as well as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and it punctuates the disorienting situations the characters find themselves in.
The film is also a sensory experience. The IMAX photography is incredible and the sound design is a revelation. The gunshots are jarring and ear-splittingly loud, the soundtrack works in relation to the sense of space on the screen, and the scenes of Stuka dive bombers swooping down upon ships and men are made even more excruciating – as they certainly would’ve been in 1940 – by the use of sound (the Germans fitted Stuka aircraft with sirens intended to terrify those on the ground).
The aerial scenes involving Tom Hardy's cool, professional RAF pilot who has to constantly gauge the gasoline supply in his Spitfire are like nothing you've seen. You immediately get some idea of how difficult it would've been to fly these airplanes and engage in air-to-air combat against equally resourceful and well-trained Luftwaffe pilots, flying equally state-of-the-art Messerschmitt ME-109s.
Keep in mind too, there's no CGI used in this movie – those are real ships sinking on-screen, real stunts, and real aircraft. That the filmmakers were able to get their hands on working Supermarine Spitfires over 70 years after the end of World War II is impressive. For war movie fans, it's akin to the production team of 2014's Fury getting a still-working, albeit restored German Tiger tank on-screen.
Incredibly, the filmmakers also found working versions of the Heinkel-111 bomber and Messershmitt ME-109 fighters. While almost all of those original German-operated aircraft were destroyed during and after the war, the production team located several models that had been built under contract in Nazi-allied Spain during the 1940s, but with generally unseen engine and structural modifications added by Spanish engineers.
The lasting effect of this surprisingly quick movie (one hour, 40 minutes) is of tired soldiers on the beach, patiently waiting to go home, who are also irritable and quick to turn on each other when they've had enough. This leads to several small-scale scenarios that quickly escalate, highlighting what Oliver Stone called the "dog tired, don't-give-a-damn" attitude of sleep-deprived infantrymen who are still 19-year old kids armed with the power of life and death – and conditioned by combat not to play nice.
By Tommy Hough
It's pretty obvious I love this country, and I love working to make it a better place. Things may not be perfect in the U.S. – especially right now – and we may face a variety of challenges, but no one ever said crafting "a more perfect union" was going to happen by itself without citizens getting involved with heart, sweat and elbow grease. Standing on the sidelines just doesn't cut it with me.
That's why I was a little disappointed, and a little surprised, that California didn't make the top 10 list of the nation's most patriotic states. Simply by virtue of being the biggest state in the Union, shouldn't we get something of an automatic pass on this? California has more Americans than any other state. In fact, San Diego County has a bigger population than some states. Isn't volume of Americans in of itself inherently patriotic?
You want more? Californians turn out at a rate to vote above the national average. We have more registered voters, more citizens involved in civic organizations and political processes, we innovate advancements that the rest of the country eventually adopts, we have the longest shoreline in the lower 48 states, we share an international border, we have the Navy and Marines right here in San Diego County and a massive veteran popluation that fuels our workforce, and brings greater diversity every day to our corner of the U.S.
You want medical devices, medical research, miracle cures and groundbreaking software? You come to California. Heck, we invented Viagra and the smartphone, so back off.
We have wolves, bears, snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, black widows, brown recluses, and all kinds of venomous insects crawling out of the woodpile to kill you. We fight wildfires, rising sea levels and ride our way through earthquakes in the doorway while putting away a breakfast burrito before we even start our star-spangled day.
Oh, and we have the kind of genuine American natural heritage that few states can touch, including icons like Yosemite, the Redwoods, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, the Mojave and Colorado deserts, not to mention the Golden Gate, surfers, Disneyland, Hollywood, fish tacos, food composting and we invented Star Wars and Star Trek. Led Zeppelin wrote a song about coming here. We’re so vast we have our own gasoline refined for us that burns cleaner and is more efficient. We’re the sixth biggest economy in the world. Our governor was a seminarian-turned-hippie and is now a worldwide ambassador on fighting climate change – and the guy who was governor before him played The Terminator.
Shall we go on?
Okay, fine. General Patton was a Californian (he was from the San Gabriel Valley). Reagan was a Californian, and governor for eight years. Nancy Pelosi is a Californian. George Lucas is a Californian. Chances are any band you ever liked is from California or found success here. Whether it's Metallica, Cypress Hill, Guns and Roses, Tupac Shakur, Sonny and Cher, Green Day, the Grateful Dead, Rocket from the Crypt, The Byrds, N.W.A. or the Beach Boys – even Nirvana recorded Nevermind in California (Sound City in Van Nuys). Yes, in ZZ Top's "Jesus Just Left Chicago" Jesus was bound for New Orleans – but where did he go first on the way to Mardi Gras?
So, keeping in mind that we also have the coolest state flag in the U.S., let's critque this list of the most patriotic U.S. states:
1. Virginia – Nice state, actually. You've got a lot of D.C., plus Blacksburg, Richmond, Spotsylvania, Appomattox, Harper's Ferry, the Shenandoah Valley and some nice beaches – but ours are nicer and our sand is easier on the feet. And we'll take our Yellowtail and halibut any day over your Chesapeake Bay blue fish and flounder. And pardon me, but – phew – is it low tide?
2. Alaska – Okay, you've got more bald eagles than us, more mountains, more wolves and some huge National Parks. That's cool. But as for an overall number of Americans, we've got millions more of them than you. And sorry, but you still have to answer for Sarah Palin.
3. Wyoming – You've got Yellowstone and the Tetons, but even Alaska has more people than you. And you get by on civic engagement only because there's so few people there that if your citizens weren't engaged in the first place everything would grind to a halt, but then we wouldn't hear about it for a couple of years. Next.
4. South Carolina – Charleston is a great city, but I made a fool of myself over a redhead once in Spartanburg so you're docked a notch for that. And while you get points for having the gorge where Deliverance was filmed, you're also the state where Forrest Gump was filmed. "Run Forrest!"
5. Colorado – Okay, Colorado is pretty great, and let's face it, you're an honorary west coast state anyway. But we've got beaches along with our mountains, and our craft beer is better.
6. Washington – Okay, okay. Everyone knows I used to live in Washington. Yes, I really love it there and I miss a lot of things about it, from Mount Rainier to the North Cascades to the Olympic Peninsula to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Puget Sound ferry system. But again, our craft beer is better.
7. Hawaii – Let’s not forget that the Pacific Fleet was moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor as a deterrent. Some deterrent. Nice state though.
8. Idaho – The Gem State has more designated Wilderness than any other state in the lower 48, your rivers are clean and the fishing is incredible, and it's where they filmed Napoloen Dynamite. That's awesome. But how's your voter turnout been lately? I mean, your governor is named Butch Otter.
9. Georgia – Well, I am a Jimmy Carter fan, and John Wayne did shoot The Green Berets there. Except Georgia looks nothing like Vietnam. Georgia, on the other hand, does have more Waffle House locations than we do.
10. North Carolina – Seriously? The only reason they shot The Hunger Games there was because of tax breaks. Beautuful state though, from Nags Head to Ashville.
But no matter where in the U.S.A. you may live, we wish you a fun and safe Independence Day holiday – because no matter how much you may think you hate California, our trees are bigger, our beaches are better, we're driving faster, and we're going to love you right back regardless. Namaste. Now come on over here for a safe, empowering and space-approrpriate hug.
This piece originally appeared on the 91X website.
Bald eagle photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Yosemite National Park photo by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
I can appreciate that when you're in traffic and trying to drive from one place to another, you may not be seeing the best of humanity outside your car window. And your instincts aren't entirely off. We're really awful to each other on the road here in San Diego, and it turns out, we're not such good drivers either.
San Diegans are ranked the fifth-worst drivers in the nation in a new survey of 75 U.S. cities. While this is based upon data compiled on traffic accidents, speeding tickets, DUIs and moving violations like running a red light or using a cell phone while driving, it's also based upon the general vibe people have on the road around here. We're not just in a hurry, we're in a hurry for you to get the hell out of our way.
And get this, we place one ahead of L.A. on the survey – they're in sixth place, we're in fifth. That's an unhappy little placement. But who are the worst drivers in the nation?
Welcome to Sacramento – I'm not sure what's in the water at the confluence of the American and San Joaquin rivers, but apparently it isn't good manners or driver's intuition.
Being at number five, San Diego is right behind Richmond, Virginia; our Inland Empire neighbors in Riverside; and Salt Lake City. Yeah, I thought the drivers in Salt Lake City would've been nicer and more relaxed too.
As for U.S. cities with the best drivers, Detroit, Michigan led the list, followed by Providence, Rhode Island; Orlando and Miami, both in Florida; and Little Rock, Arkansas. So, in a way, Detroit's old nickname of the Motor City still applies – and for courtesy. Who would've guessed?
Meanwhile, San Diegans – take it easy. Take your eyes off your smartphone or the fish taco you're stuffing in your mouth and pay attention to the road and your driving, and remember to be aware of the humanity in the cars around you.
In an effort to make drivers more conscientious, someone once said to drive as though everyone else on the road were members of your own family – until they realized that might actually cause MORE road rage, not less.
This piece originally appeared on the 91X website.
Photos by Tommy Hough
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in the 2018 election cycle.