Friday, December 29, 2006

Five Years Into The Tedford Era - Priceless!

Notwithstanding the bitter disappointment of the Arizona loss keeping the Bears out of the Rose Bowl, it was another wonderful year for Jeff Tedford's California Golden Bears. 10-3, a record that would have been unthinkable five short years ago, now seems vaguely disappointing to many, including the nattering nabobs on ESPN (although to their credit, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit did a great job last night emphasizing the significance of Cal's accomplishments under Tedford) who seem to view anything other than a conference championship and a BCS bid as failure. Hey, I got news for you jerks! We suffered through EIGHT STRAIGHT LOSING SEASONS and looked bad doing it before Tedford got there! These have been glorious years, and a Rose Bowl bid would just be icing on the cake.

Even though the touchdown at the end was unnecessary (and that was a great shot of Tedford grabbing quarterback Steve Levy by the face mask to make sure the point got across), the 45-10 blowout win over a good Texas A&M team was an important one - the Bears had faded in November, and hadn't looked consistently strong on both sides of the ball since mid-October. This is something that's now happened two seasons in a row, and whether it's lack of depth or bad conditioning (which I doubt), I suspect it will be something that Tedford works on next year.

In the meantime...ROLL ON YOU BEARS!!!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

One Step Up, Two Steps Back

So much for David Stern's holiday season. No doubt buoyed by the selection of Dwayne Wade as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year and the media blitz surrounding the triumvirate of young superstars (Wade, LeBron James, and Carmello Anthony) expected to lead the league back into the promised land, he gets burned by the silly "composite ball scandal" and now by the precedent-setting, 10-players tossed brawl in New York City last night. Making a bad situation worse, the brawl featured none other than anointed superstar Mr. Anthony, who by all accounts came perilously close to pulling a Ron Artest and getting himself thrown out for an entire season.

No doubt, the league will overcome this latest embarrassment, but it's just one more example of a pampered superstar exhibiting behavior that, in the long run, will lead to a further degradation of the game. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Although I admit that I'd never heard of the baiji until I read the article in tonight's newspaper, I still find this incredibly depressing.

Think about it. A species that has existed for 20 million years, gone forever because of its inability to survive in (or adapt to, depending on your point of view) a degraded environment brought about by the modern industrial age.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Great Christmas Albums #2

When My Heart Finds Christmas, Harry Connick Jr. One of two Christmas albums that Connick Jr. has recorded, but by far the best, When My Heart Finds Christmas was released in 1993. It succeeds both as an album in the Connick Jr. style, and as one that pays homage to the iconic pop holiday albums that came before it.

Over the course of 14 songs, Connick Jr. manages to succeed on several levels: swinging in the style of Billy May-produced Sinatra (Sleigh Ride, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), Andy Williams-style crooning (Christmas Dreaming, which even sounds like it might have been backed by the Percy Faith singers), and hip jazzster (I Pray On Christmas, What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?). The Connick Jr. originals are among the strongest songs on the album, and with It Must've Been Ol' Santa Claus, Harry contributed a song to the holiday pantheon that will still be listened to, and enjoyed, for decades to come.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Great Christmas Albums

The Andy Williams Christmas Album. For many baby-boomers, the name Andy Williams is probably synonymous with a series of saccharine Christmas specials that would appear, like clockwork, on an annual basis in the 1960s through the mid-1970s. The whole family would be there - wife Claudine Longet, the kids, the Osmonds, and a host of others whose names have been lost to history (at least, I can't remember them).

But even though Williams was no Sinatra, his Christmas album - his first, the one with the red cover - is better than Frank's. A lot better. Originally released in 1963, it was re-released two years ago by Sony Music in a newly remastered version that sounds as if it was recorded just yesterday. Of the thousands of Christmas albums that have been released over the years, this is the definitive easy-listening crooner holiday album.

Like many Christmas albums originally released on vinyl, the record is neatly divided between secular songs on Side One, and religious songs on Side Two. On the first side Williams tackles the two major classics of the mid-twentieth century - White Christmas and The Christmas Song - and fares just fine. It might be sacrilege to suggest that either is definitive, but he comes close enough to make it a moot argument. In the meantime, Williams comes up with two classics that, to this day, are probably more closely associated with him than with any other singer: the Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season medley, and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The side is rounded out by an alternative version of The Twelve Days of Christmas called A Song And A Christmas Tree, which I guarantee will prompt any child under the age of 10 to comment, "he's not singing it right." The side closes with Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells (in what I assume is a reference to the arranger; there are no liner notes on the original or remastered versions), a raucous, swinging version that can give Brian Setzer a run for his money any day of the week.

The highlight of side two is O Holy Night, but Williams also turns in terrific (and understated) performances on The First Noel, Away in a Manger, and Silent Night. The only stinker on the album is a song called Sweet Little Jesus Boy, which has a nice melody, but you don't want to listen too hard to the lyrics. My guess is that it's the only song in existence that refers to Jesus Christ as "sir."

Overall, a classic then and a classic now. A note of caution - there are many cut-rate discount CDs marketed under this title. Aside from the original, they are all terrible. Avoid them like the plague!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Best Article You'll Ever Read About the BCS

Courtesy of The Onion.

Some highlights:

"I think this year more than any other year proves that the BCS is working," ESPN College GameDay anchor Lee Corso said during a live broadcast from Ohio State's campus. "The system does an excellent job taking into consideration things that poll voters don't even think about: strength of schedule, whether or not the team won their conference, total distance the teams' fans are willing to travel for bowl games, average amount spent on souvenirs by alumni, and grade point average. After all those things, it's Ohio State, baby. And only Ohio State."

Corso then put on the costume head of Ohio State mascot Brutus Buckeye and was met with cheers from thousands of students.

The scary thing is, I can actually picture him saying that.

And no Onion article on College Football would be complete without a dig at Notre Dame:

All coaches interviewed supported Meyer's claim, with the notable exception of Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, who said that despite his team's two losses, weak schedule, and unremarkable defense, he still felt in his heart that Notre Dame deserved a chance at the title—a feeling that, according to a BCS official who wished to remain anonymous, was not completely overruled.

"First of all, I should note that although Notre Dame is an independent, and a highly regarded independent at that, it does not have its own special set of rules as far as determining its football team's rankings," the official said. "Instead, we use a special set of mathematical algorithms to determine its football team's rankings, which the BCS specifically determines only after ranking all the other teams. And though I shouldn't say this, we—er, the computer—would have dearly loved to have seen Notre Dame in the championship."

And that, folks, should be the last word on the BCS until Fall 2007.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Worth 1000 Words

FIVE in a Row!

1919-1923, and 2002-2006.

Those are the two periods in the history of the Big Game that Cal has defeated Stanford five consecutive times. Coming on the heels of seven straight losses to the Cardinal, it is especially gratifying to be able to say that an entire graduating class at Stanford will go through life without ever having won a Big Game. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but this is life and death stuff, folks!
Unfortunately, for me it wasn't quite the same this year. With the addition of a game to every Pac-10 team's schedule this year, the Big Game was moved from its customary spot - the Saturday before Thanksgiving - to the first weekend in December. Unfortunately, because our Annual Conference coincides with that date, I had to miss being there in person in Berkeley for the first time since 1984. For the past 20 years, a friend (and Stanford season ticket holder) and I would leave Sacramento early in the morning, spend a couple of hours perusing the stacks at some of the used book stores on Telegraph Avenue (Moe's, Shakespeare, some others) and then walk up to the Stadium for the game.

Driving home from San Francisco late yesterday afternoon, I listened to Joe Starkey's post-game show, featuring the annual interviews with seniors who were playing their last game at Memorial Stadium. This year, it felt odd - not quite right.

But in the end, all is right with the world. The Axe remains in Berkeley for another year.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Decadent But Delicious

Several of us met an old friend for dinner Wednesday night a Fleur de Lys, home of the great chef Hubert Keller and one of the classic restaurants of San Francisco. I don't know how to describe it except to say that it's more than a full day since the meal, and I still don't feel hungry. Probably best to let my menu selections speak for themselves (yes, I asked for a copy of the menu to take home).

Fingerling Potato & leek, corn, lobster and black pepper skillet bread

- Chilled salsify Vichyssoise and oestra caviar
- Warm oxtail consomme glazed with foie gras
- Hot Maine lobster bisque, veal sweetbread "croutons"

Rhubarb coulis, corn fondue and truffle sauce

With a ravioli of squab leg confit, Sauternes ginger sauce

PARSNIPS, Young leeks & foie gras, lightly smoked tarragon jus
And yes, I had dessert, not to mention the several extra mini-courses that were included in the meal. And I've nearly recovered...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's Annual Conference Time

When you work for an Association, the annual conference is an integral part of the year's activities. Our annual conference is held the week after Thanksgiving, and consumes staff for most of the Fall and certainly the few weeks that follow Halloween. We're in San Francisco this year, poised to set attendance records and with the usual thousand things going on at any given moment. Add 3 1/2 days of leadership meetings prior to the conference proper, and you've got the recipe for an exhilarating and exhausting week.

The benefits of being in San Francisco include the proximity of Union Square, the numerous wonderful restaurants that beckon, and general fact that the city by the bay is one of the coolest around. With the holiday decorations at full throttle, it's may be the best time of the year to be here.

Tonight, we dined at Kuleto's Italian Restaurant. The food was wonderful, the atmosphere was perfect, and a fine time was had by all. Many of the restaurants around Union Square fall into the "tourist trap" category, but Kuleto's has been around for a while, and judging by the fact that folks were still streaming in as we were leaving around 9:30, it remains a perennial favorite.

Outside my hotel window, I see a sliver of the Bay Bridge, the Museum of Modern Art, and can hear the city that remains vibrant and alive at this hour, on a Tuesday evening. In just a few short hours, the next long day will begin.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

All You Need Is LOVE?

Most folks are probably aware that Cirque du Soleil is performing "a Beatles show" at The Mirage in Las Vegas. According to their official web site, the show - LOVE - "brings the magic of Cirque du Soleil together with the spirit and passion behind the most beloved rock group of all time to create a vivid, intimate and powerful entertainment experience." OK, I can buy that - Cirque du Soleil is cool, and the project was partly George's idea, and was blessed by Paul and Yoko - so, no problem there.

I was prepared to completely ignore the soundtrack album, until I saw the favorable review by Robert Christgau in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone. Even then, I probably wouldn't have bought it, but when it went on sale for the holiday weekend, my defenses were shattered. Part of me felt a little embarrassed, to be honest.

But damned if the thing doesn't work, and magnificently well in some places. Sir George Martin and his son Giles have done a brilliant job of creating a Beatles pastiche, using a few dozen Beatles songs (most are credited on the packaging, but others serve only as "audio filler") to create an "audio collage." But it's more than that - in some instances, it's a re-creation of the songs - on Strawberry Fields Forever, you hear the very basic track on the first verse, one that adds a few of the background instruments on the second verse, and then the fully orchestrated version on the final verse - with the transition between the three being totally seamless. On Octopus's Garden, you hear Ringo singing that song, but the background orchestration at the beginning is from John's beautiful lullaby, Goodnight. Within You Without You and Tomorrow Never Knows are blended to magnificent effect - the list goes on and on. And I could be wrong, but I would swear that the mixes on I Am The Walrus and Back in the U.S.S.R. (and a few others) are far superior to those on the original albums.

It's absolutely terrific, but the ironic thing is that most of the people who buy it (I'm just assuming that most of the market will be folks who weren't around when the Beatles were in their heyday, but I could be wrong) probably won't "get it" - they won't be familiar enough with the source material to know that things here are any different. That's their loss, and also a reason to familiarize themselves with the originals.

Thanksgiving Weekend

In the previous post I made a comment about Thanksgiving being a time to reflect. That can be a little hard to do when you have 30 guests for Thanksgiving dinner. However, with the help of two turkeys (almost 40 pounds worth), 31 potatoes mashed to perfection, seemingly endless tubs of stuffing (traditional and oyster) and enough gravy to sink a ship, a fine time was had by all, and everyone left in a happy, having-overeaten-type-of-stupor. The weather was perfect; not a cloud in the sky. For a group this size, the china was left in the cabinet; this was strictly a paper-plate dinner.

My personal holiday weekend got off to a rough start on Wednesday when, while running, I was stung on the top of my head by a bee. I wouldn't have thought such a thing was possible, but I can attest that it is not a pleasant experience - what I imagine having a nail driven into one's head might feel like. Fortunately, with the help of a couple of beers that evening, the pain began to dull and was completely gone by Thanksgiving morning.

Lots of football...the suddenly resurgent Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving; the suddenly mediocre Texas Longhorns on Friday; the renewing of the historic USC-Notre Dame rivalry on Saturday night. When I was growing up, college football boiled down to two rivalries - the Trojans vs. the Irish, and Ohio State vs. Michigan. From roughly 1969 until 1977, those four teams were always in the thick of the national championship race, and there were an inordinate number of classic games stemming from the rivalries during that period. This year, OSU-Michigan played a game that might join those ranks, but once again the Trojans just mopped up the field with the Irish. So now, we likely have a national championship game - Ohio State vs. USC - that by all rights should be played in the Rose Bowl (to heck with the BCS - give me the old, traditional bowl lineup any day of the week).

On Saturday night, we attended the annual Christmas parade through downtown Elk Grove, to see son #1 play with his high school band. Going through old town, the parade feels like one might have, say, during the era of "A Christmas Story." Kinda corny, but fun - and over in time to watch the second half of USC-Notre Dame!

Today, a truly desultory drive from Sacramento to San Francisco in a driving rainstorm, turning what should be a two-hour drive into a 3 1/2 hour endurance test. For the next week my home is the San Francisco Marriott, resplendent with Christmas decorations for the holiday season. My view from the 27th floor includes a sliver of the Bay Bridge, and if the papers are correct, the weather should be improving over the course of the week. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving seems to have become the lost holiday, stranded in that nether-world between Halloween and the onslaught of the Christmas season, which begins for most retailers at 12:01 a.m. on the morning of November 1. As Loudon Wainwright III once sang, "Suddenly it's Christmas/Right after Halloween/Forget about Thanksgiving/It's just a buffet in between..."

More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect, relax, and of course, eat until you can eat no longer. One of my favorite essays is a reflection on the meaning of Thanksgiving by Garrison Keillor; I never tire of reading it. It originally appeared in TIME Magazine in 1995, and pops up every now and then on the Internet. So, to help get in the mood...

With All The Trimmings

It is a wicked world in which the power of any individual to cause suffering is so great and the power to do good is so slight; but here we are, the week of our beloved national feast, our annual homecoming, and signs of loving Providence are everywhere around us.

I am thankful to be alive. In Minnesota the lakes are freezing over in late November, and some men who envision a leadership role for themselves take their snowmobiles out onto the thin ice and fall through and drown in the cold water--their last thought in this life: "Boy, was this dumb or what?"--and so far I have not been one of them. Caution was bred into me: I never played with guns or made a hobby of pharmaceuticals or flung myself off a cliff while clinging to a kite. I read books instead. I read books in which men hearken to wild imperatives, and that is enough for me.

I am thankful for living in a place where winter gets good and cold and you need to build a fire in a stove and wrap a blanket around you. Cold draws people closer together. Crime drops. Acts of kindness proliferate between strangers. I have been in Los Angeles on a balmy day in January and seen the glum faces of people poking at their salads in outdoor restaurants, brooding over their unproduced screenplays. People in Minnesota are much cheerier, lurching across the ice, leaning into the wind as sheets of snow swirl up in their faces. Because they feel needed and because cold weather takes the place of personal guilt. Maybe you haven't been the shining star you should have been, but now is not the time to worry about it.

I am thankful for E-mail, which allows us to keep in touch with our children, and for the ubiquity of fresh coffee, the persistence of good newspapers, the bravery of artists, the small talk of sales clerks, the general competence and good humor I encounter every day. None of us is self-sufficient, despite what some politicians claim. Every good thing, every morsel of food comes directly from God, who expects us to pay attention and be joyful, a large task for people from the Midwest, where our idea of a compliment is, "It could have been worse."

I am thankful, of course, for Thanksgiving, a joyful and simple day that never suffered commercial exploitation and so is the same day as when I was a boy and we played touch football on the frozen turf and came to the table sweaty and in high spirits and kept our eyes open for flying food. My sister had good moves; you'd look away for an instant, and she'd flip her knife and park a pat of butter on your forehead. Nobody throws food at our table now, but in the giddiness of the festive moment, I have held a spoonful of cranberry for a moment and measured the distance to Uncle Earl, his gleaming head, like El Capitan, bent over the plate.

As I grew up, Thanksgiving evolved perfectly. It used to be that men had the hard work, which is to sit in the living room and make conversation about gas mileage and lower back pain, and women got the good job, which is cooking. Women owned the franchise, and men milled around the trough mooing, and if any man dared enter the kitchen, he was watched closely lest he touch something and damage it permanently. But I bided my time, and the aunts who ran the show grew old, and young, liberated lady relatives came along who were proud of their inability to cook, and one year I revolted and took over the kitchen--and now I am It. The Big Turkey. Mr. Masher. The Pie Man.

Except for gravy and pie crust, which take patience and practice, Thanksgiving dinner is as easy to make as it is to eat. You're a right-handed batter in a park that's 150 feet down the left-field line—it doesn't take a genius to poke it out.

Years of selective breeding have produced turkeys that are nothing but cooking pouches with legs. You rub the bird's inside with lemon, stuff it with bread dressing seasoned with sage and tarragon and jazzed up withchunks of sausage and nuts and wild rice, shove it in a hot oven; meanwhile, you whomp up yams and spuds and bake your pies. The dirty little secret of the dinner is melted animal fats: in all the recipes, somewhere it says, "Melt a quarter-pound of butter."

Think of the fancy dishes you slaved over that became disasters, big dishes that were lost in the late innings. Here's roast turkey, which tastes great, and all you do is baste. You melt butter, you nip at the wine, and when the turkey is done, you seat everyone, carve the bird, sing the doxology and pass the food.

The candles are lit in the winter dusk, and we look at one another, the old faces and some new ones, and silently toast the Good Life, which is here before us. Enjoy the animal fats and to hell with apologies. No need to defend our opinions or pretend to be young and brilliant. We still have our faculties, and the food still tastes good to us.

Walt Whitman said, "I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God's name." Thanksgiving is one of those signed letters. Anyone can open it and see what it says.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Highway 99 Entertainment

Seen while driving from Sacramento to Visalia this afternoon:

- A hand-written sign reading, "Praz the Lord. Jesus is Coming. 88.1 FM." Gosh...not even "Praze the Lord?"

- A notice on the Chevron gas pump that had been altered to read "Cash Stoners Must Pay Inside Before Pumping." Probably a wise move. Those cash stoners could never be trusted.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


The dream may not be over, but it's certainly on life support after the Cal Bears gave one away today to the Arizona Wildcats, 24-20. Aside from DeSean Jackson, who once again played a game that will make him either a Heisman contender or a first round NFL draft pick next year, none of the Bears' stars looked sharp - particularly Nate Longshore, who threw what was probably his worst pass of the year in the 4th quarter, when he locked onto his receiver and threw it right in the hands of the Arizona defender, who easily returned it for a touchdown.

A Rose Bowl trip could still be secured with a win at USC next week, but right now that's not looking too likely. Oh well - a few short years ago, 8-2 would have been reason to rejoice.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Winter Reading Challenge

I may end up regretting this, but I'm taking the "From the Stacks" challenge and going to read, and then write about, 5 books that have been sitting on my shelves for some time but I've never gotten around to reading (hat tip to Sheila). Five books, between November 1 and January 30.

Here they are:

- The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
- Atonement, by Ian McEwan
- Ordinary Heroes, by Scott Turow
- The Two-Minute Rule, by Robert Crais
- Train, by Pete Dexter

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thankfully...Just Five More Days

California has now suffered through five consecutive Fall campaign seasons: the gubernatorial election of 2002; the gubernatorial recall election of 2003; the presidential election of 2004; the governor's special "reform" election of 2005; and now, another gubernatorial election. Most of the fun in following election night results was done in by the reapportionment of 2001 (hard to get excited when fewer than 20 of your 120 legislative races are competitive); just about all of the fun that was left has been drained away by election fatigue. There are critically important issues on the California statewide ballot next week, but the desultory tone of the entire campaign season has bled from the populace any enthusiasm for having a serious discussion about those issues. Just get it over with, everyone seems to be saying and/or thinking.

In the bluest of blue states, Democrat Phil Angelides is heading towards a defeat of historic proportions at the hands of Governor Schwarzenegger, and may drag several other statewide candidates down with him (which in some cases is not necessarily a bad thing, and I say that as a Democrat). At this point, one can only hope that he doesn't drag the infrastructure bond package down to defeat.

But even Angelides is not the most hapless candidate of 2006; that honor falls to former state legislator Dick Mountjoy, who will be annihilated on Tuesday by Senator Dianne Feinstein in the race for U.S. Senate. Tony Quinn, long-time political pundit and election analyst, penned a piece in today's Capitol Morning Report speculating on whether Phil and Dick will actually end up being the poorest performing gubernatorial and Senate candidates in California history. Discussing Mountjoy, he makes this highly amusing observation:

Mountjoy's non campaign is so hopeless that the right wing blogger Jon Fleischman, in one of his sillier blogs, asked his readers to pray for Mountjoy, including with his prayer appeal a picture of a kneeling George Washington entreating God before the Battle of Valley Forge.

I was so moved by the Mountjoy prayer request that I composed a prayer and sent it to some friends, begging a gracious God to bestow upon His servant Mountjoy sacred campaign contributions. Apparently God was deaf to my entreaties and Mountjoy has had no money whatsoever to run a campaign.

Quinn closes with the following: "...we might also ask ourselves, how is it possible that we ended up with candidates such as these for the top public offices in our state?"


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Great Random Moments In Rock History

#2: Prince at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards ceremony in 2004, Prince was inducted and George Harrison, who had recently died, was honored. During the "all star jam," which has become a tradition of the ceremony, the usual suspects of honorees (as well as Dhani, George's son) paid tribute to Harrison with a rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." One by one, the guitarists on the stage, including Tom Petty, took turns taking solos. For the most part, they offered tasteful renditions of what they probably felt was an appropriate homage to the style of George.

And then came Prince. Cool and confident, he strode to the front of the stage, and one can almost imagine him thinking to himself, "all right, time to show these motherf------ how it's done." He proceeded through a solo that ripped a hole through everything that had come before it - one that was so incendiary, so exciting, so vital, that it seemed amazing that it was played on the same instrument that had produced all of the sounds that had preceded it.

But what made the moment truly special was the look on Dhani Harrison's face: he broke out into a huge grin that lasted for the entire time that Prince was in the spotlight, at one point leaning over to Tom Petty and perhaps commenting, "can you believe this guy?" No doubt, he knew that this was the purest tribute offered to his father that evening.

It Had To Be The Cardinals?

I'm sure that fans of the Cardinals and Tigers would disagree, but overall this year's postseason seemed strangely devoid of drama and excitement. It happens - there are years like 2003 where you had two of the most dramatic series of all time going on concurrently (Marlins v. Cubs, Yankees v. Red Sox), and years like this one where there just didn't seem to be a lot going on. The Tigers-Yankees series probably came closest to generating "postseason drama."

Since I don't like the Cardinals or Tony LaRussa that much, I was rooting for the Tigers; but their magic just seemed to run out. We learned a thing or two about the importance of momentum in the postseason. It isn't that important. The hottest teams heading into the playoffs were disposed of with ease; meanwhile, the Cardinals and the Tigers staggered through September and nearly played themselves out of the postseason. Didn't seem to bother them much. As Bill James and others have said on numerous occasions, in a short series the best team doesn't always win, and the pitching usually makes the difference.

Now the long off-season begins, with thoughts of spring and hope eternal for all teams far off. It will be enjoyed in St. Louis, and mourned in Detroit.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Bleat Goes On

James Lileks is a genius; of that there can be no doubt. It is quite possible to spend hours at a time browsing through his website, laughing uproariously the entire time. But today's Daily Bleat is an example of Lileks at his best: friends, family, history, and a whopper of a punch line. Yet another reason why should be near the top of everyone's bookmarks.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ho Hum. Never in Doubt.

Roll on, you Bears...

Watching this game was not an enjoyable experience, and I don't look forward to playing Washington in the next few years. Tyrone Willingham may not have been good enough for Notre Dame, but the guy can obviously coach. Don't be surprised if the Huskies contend for the Pac-10 title, and perhaps more than that, next year or shortly thereafter.

But this was the game the Bears were destined to have, and they survived it. I would be shocked if they are not 9-1 heading into the showdown with USC on November 18. Having the game in hand, and then ripped from their grasp, and still winning it in overtime, that's got to be good for the psyche.

Pasadena on January 1. Start looking into plane reservations now, before it's too late.

"Look Into My Heart And You Will Sort of Understand"

Random thoughts from my first Bob Dylan concert:

- The oldest concert crowd I've ever seen. Around me there were several couples that had to be well into their 60s, if not their 70s. It wasn't the most energetic group I've been a part of, but you could see that people were moving and definitely into it for the entire night.

- At 65 , the man still has it. Though this was my first, I knew from reading about Dylan concerts over the past decade that what keeps the songs fresh is their reinvention - the titles and the lyrics of the old classics may be the same, but for all intents and purposes, these are new songs. Part of the fun is to listen intently at the beginning, and then realize at some point, "oh yeah, this is "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)!" This could easily turn into a joke, but at the hands of Dylan and his magnificent touring band, the "updated, revised versions" of chestnuts like "To Ramona," "Tangled Up in Blue," and "Maggie's Farm" leaves them sounding just as vital today as the eras in which they were originally recorded.

- Did I mention that the band was magnificent? Denny Freeman and Stu Kimball on guitar eased the pain of not being able to hear Dylan himself strumming (he sticks with the organ exclusively these days), Donnie Herron on a variety of stringed instruments (from mandolin to steel to violin) may have been the MVP, and Tony Garnier and George Recile on bass and drums leave one thinking "oh, that must have been what Danko and Helm sounded like 30 years ago). If any band in existence is rocking harder right now than this one did on "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Summer Days," I definitely want to be there to hear it.

Overall, a terrific show.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Out of the Rubble

The Ferry Building in San Francisco stands as a testament to the fact that something good can come out of a natural disaster that leads to human tragedy.

Seventeen years ago today, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck Northern California shortly after 5 p.m. For many people in the region, the day is ingrained in their memories because they were sitting in front of their televisions, waiting for Game 3 of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants to begin. One moment, Al Michaels was telling Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer, "you know what!? we're having an earthquake!," and the next thing you knew, Michaels (who was very familiar with the area) was narrating a visual tour of the wreckage that resulted from the 7.1 temblor. The Bay Bridge; the Cypress Freeway across the Bay leading into Oakland; the raging fires in San Francisco's Marina District. It was days before the human toll became fully known; in the end, hundreds lost their lives.

And yet, today San Francisco is a greater city because of something that came out of that dark day. It signaled the beginning of the end of the Embarcadero Freeway, one of the most hated structures in modern American history. Take a close look at the picture, and then imagine, instead of those palm trees, a lovely double-decker freeway that did little to efficiently transport people in and out of San Francisco, but did a wonderful job of completely separating the city proper from its waterfront.

The freeway was built in 1958, probably right around the time that Vertigo was being filmed in the city, and began what came to be known in San Francisco as "the Freeway revolt." San Francisco residents hated it from day one, and over the course of the next decade, began one of the few (only?) successful efforts in the modern transportation era to halt the construction of freeways within the limits of a major city. Had all of the freeways that were planned for San Francisco been built, the Panhandle leading into Golden Gate Park would no longer exist as we know it today, and a freeway would have tunneled under Russian Hill, effectively bisecting several historic neighborhoods. And, the Embarcadero Freeway would have kept on going, right past Fishermans Wharf, all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to demolish the Freeway a couple of years before Loma Prieta, but had the earthquake not occurred, it is arguable whether the Board would have had the political will to see the demolition to its end. Even after the earthquake, the demolition was strongly opposed by the merchants of the downtown and Chinatown areas, resulting in the defeat of Mayor Art Agnos in 1991. But by that time, the heavy equipment was doing its work, and the freeway was coming down.

Today, the Ferry Building is a wonderful place to shop and gather; the area also hosts a Farmers Market that brings in people from hundreds of miles away. The area stands today as an appropriate monument to those who lost their life in the earthquake.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tower Records, R.I.P.

Tower Records, which announced last week that it would liquidate and close up shop, has played a big part in my life. I remember shopping at the Watt Avenue store (see left) with my dad when I was a kid , and also how cool the neon sign looked at night. Most of my large record (vinyl) collection was bought at one of Sacramento's Tower stores, either at Watt Avenue, Broadway, Sunrise Blvd., and even a handful from the Florin Rd. shop. In the pre-CD era Tower, I swear that you could walk in and smell the new records. Most of the new releases were stacked in the middle of a big aisle that went straight down the middle of the store, and it was always fun to browse, searching for something that looked good. Back in those days I was buying a couple of albums a week, and would sometimes grab something just because the cover looked cool - I clearly remember buying the Pretenders' first album that way, without ever having heard it or having heard of them.

I hadn't been to Tower much in recent years, partly because there wasn't one conveniently located near my house or my place of work, but also because other record stores had filled the void. After the advent of CDs, Tower never really quite duplicated its old atmosphere, and suffered by comparison to its old glory days as a result. Still, it is sad to see it go, and it leaves a hole in Sacramento that probably won't be filled.

You had a good run, Ross Solomon. You should be proud.

"The Ominous Dread of Looming Collapse"

A great post by Michael Totten on his recent drive across the Great Plains. Here in California we have a stretch of I-5 that heads down (or up, depending on your point of view) the Central Valley that might challenge the midwestern interstates for dullness, but we have nothing to compare to what Totten came across in Kansas - entire rural areas where people are just leaving, to the point where they're giving land away. Totten:

Some of the people who live in ghost towns to-be feel the ominous dread of looming collapse and depopulation. So they will give you free land. That’s right. It’s free land homesteading all over again. All you have to do is build a house on the land. If you like living in the middle of nowhere, if you don’t mind harsh weather and a lack of topography, and you’re looking for the cheapest deal in the country, Kansas just might be your place. Go to and take a look.

There's something about the pictures in Totten's post that are downright haunting. The ghost bridge that leads to nowhere; the ghost houses that are slowly rotting...sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel.

The Alltime Argument Starter

“A great baseball disagreement,” writes Tom Verducci in the article accompanying the selection by Sports Illustrated of the Alltime All-Star team, “generates more disagreement than resolution.” Verducci could have added that those disagreements have fueled countless bar discussions over the years, not to mention heated arguments on fantasy/rotisserie baseball draft day.

SI tags the following as their greatest of all time, and there are few selections worth quibbling about. The ground rules they followed: 25 players; seven starting pitchers; two relievers; two catchers; seven infielders; seven outfielders; one manager and two coaches.

First Base – Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial
Second Base – Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson
Shortstop – Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez
Third Base – Mike Schmidt
Catcher – Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench
Outfield – Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth
Starting Pitchers – Warren Spahn, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson
Relief Pitchers – Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Duncan
Manager – John McGraw
Coaches – Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel

My only quibbles, immediately minor, would be with the selections of Alex Rodriguez (too early), and Jackie Robinson – my guess is that his historical importance vaulted him onto the list, but strictly based on what happened on the field, Joe Morgan would have been my second selection. But in the end, it’s hardly worth arguing about.

Starting to put together my own list, I decided to change the ground rules and make it a list of the greatest players that I’ve seen since I began watching baseball, and who had their primes begin after that time – about 1968, in other words. So Willie Mays and Hank Aaron aren’t on the list, as well as other luminaries who I saw but enjoyed their primes before I began to pay attention. With that in mind, and without further ado:

First Base – Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray
Second Base – Joe Morgan
Shortstop – Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith
Third Base – Mike Schmidt, George Brett
Catcher – Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza
Outfield – Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr., Kirby Puckett
Starting Pitchers – Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson
Relief Pitchers – Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Duncan
Manager – Earl Weaver
Coaches – Joe Torre, Tony La Russa
General Manager – Billy Beane
Consultant – Bill James

I wish I could have found a place for Paul Molitor, always one of my favorites; but this is a tough crowd to break into.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"It's Just Good Investigative Journalism"

There's a scene in The Big Chill where Jeff Goldblum, who plays a reporter for People Magazine, is asked by his old classmate's husband, "where do you come up with those stories?" Perfectly deadpan and serious, Goldblum replies, "it's just good investigative journalism."

For some reason, I thought of that scene today when reading the AP report on today's tragic plane crash in New York City, which killed Cory Lidle, New York Yankees pitcher. Right in the middle of the account, this paragraph appears:

The crash came just four days after the Yankees' embarrassingly quick elimination from the playoffs, during which Lidle had been relegated to the bullpen. In recent days, Lidle had taken abuse from fans on sports talk radio for saying the team was unprepared.

I don't know - there's just something about that which feels wrong.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Memo to George Steinbrenner: Please, dear God please, just go ahead and fire Joe Torre and hire Lou Piniella. I'm sure this will result in many World Championships for your ballclub. Most importantly, it will mean no more stories on ESPN Sportscenter about the decision. Thank you.

31 Years Ago Today

Greil Marcus' review of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run appeared in the October 9, 1975 edition of Rolling Stone magazine. It is a review worthy of the album that it describes, and it is a review that you would never see in any major publication today, including (and especially) Rolling Stone. My favorite part of it is the introduction - Marcus has not yet begun to describe the record, but in setting the stage he creates a sense of drama that provides the perfect canvas on which to fully paint his account of the record's greatness:

As a determinedly permanent resident of the West Coast, the furor Bruce Springsteen's live performances have kicked up in the East over the last couple of years left me feeling somewhat culturally deprived, not to mention a little suspicious. The legendary three-hour sets Springsteen and his E Street Band apparently rip out night after night in New York, Province-town, Boston and even Austin have generated a great tumult and shouting; but, short of flying 3000 miles to catch a show, there was no way for an outlander to discover what the fuss was all about.

A bit of a dig at East Coast elitism, perhaps even directed at his friends Robert Christgau and Dave Marsh, neither of whom ever had much use for most of "the West Coast sound."

Certainly, I couldn't find the reasons on Springsteen's first two albums, despite Columbia's "New Dylan" promotional campaign for the debut disc and the equally thoughtful "Street Poet" cover of the second. Both radiated self-consciousness, whereas the ballyhoo led one to hope for the grand egotism of historic rock & roll stars; both seemed at once flat and more than a little hysterical, full of sound and fury, and signifying, if not nothing, not much.

Truth be told, Springsteen's first two albums have major flaws. I'm a huge fan, but anyone who listens can hear the problems in the production and the fact that Bruce hasn't quite yet figured out where he is going. Fun to listen to today, but neither holds a candle to what was to come.

A bit guiltily, I found anything by Roxy Music far more satisfying. They could at least hit what they aimed for; while it was clear Springsteen was after bigger game, the records made me wonder if he knew what it was. Whether he did or not, with two "you gotta see him live" albums behind him, the question of whether Springsteen would ever make his mark on rock & roll -- or hang onto the chance to do so -- rested on that third LP, which was somehow "long awaited" before the ink was dry on the second. Very soon, he would have to come across, put up or shut up. It is the rock & roller's great shoot-out with himself: The kid with promise hits the dirt and the hero turns slowly, blows the smoke from his pistol, and goes on his way. Or else, the kid and the hero go down together, twitching in the dust while the onlookers turn their heads and talk safely of what might have been. The end. Fade-out.

Goosebumps. It is now very clear what is at stake. Con-tender, or pre-tender?

Springsteen's answer is Born to Run. It is a magnificent album that pays off on every bet ever placed on him--a '57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records that shuts down every claim that has been made. And it should crack his future wide open.

Beautiful - "A '57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records..." A perfect description of how the record sounded, and a climax worthy of the review's buildup. But read it all. After all, it's only one of the handful of greatest rock albums of all time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Last Time, Bert Campaneris Threw A Bat

The only time I attended a postseason baseball game in person was in 1972, when the Oakland A's took on the Detroit Tigers. The two teams were passing each other in history - the A's, the famous "mustache gang" edition, were on their way to the first of three consecutive World Series championships, and the Tigers, still holding onto the relics of their 1968 World Series win (Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich, a handful of others), were headed straight towards the basement, beginning a period of general awfulness from which they wouldn't emerge until Sparky Anderson came on board years later.

Back in those day's, the A's were an awful draw. We were able to drive down to Oakland the day of the game, and easily buy decent seats. The game wasn't even close to being a sellout; in fact, they had trouble selling out the World Series games that year. I remember bits and pieces of the game, which the A's won in extra innings, in dramatic fashion - the Tigers had scored a run off of Vida Blue, who was pitching in relief, in the top of the 11th inning, and the A's mounted a rally and scored two in the bottom half. I remember a very old man leaving his seat and yelling quite loudly about what a bum Blue was, and then returning with a big sheepish grin on his face in the bottom half of the inning, when the rally began. For some reason, I also remember hearing "Burning Love" on the radio during the drive home.

The next day, the fireworks really began when Bert Campaneris, the A's crafty shortstop, was nicked with a pitch (and I do mean nicked - it barely touched him) and responded by flinging his bat straight at the pitcher. It was such an unexpected moment that it seemed to catch even the umpires by surprise. They tossed Campy, but they also tossed the pitcher, which set manager Billy Martin into a rage that lasted for close to twenty minutes. Good stuff.

The A's went on to win, but it wasn't easy - after taking the first two in Oakland, the A's lost two in Detroit, and were faced with a Game 5 in a packed Tiger Stadium (in those days, the team with the better record didn't automatically get home-field advantage). They pulled off a nail-biter, but lost their best player, Reggie Jackson, to injury. That set up what turned out to be a classic battle with the mighty Big Red Machine of Cincinnati, who were about as big a favorite as one could possibly imagine. More on that later.

This year's A's-Tigers series should be a great one - maybe not for Fox, considering that few people can name a player on either team, but for baseball. Proof once again that you can win without having the biggest paycheck in your pocket.

Maybe George Costanza Is Available?

Although I was inwardly cheering just as loudly as anyone in Comerica Park yesterday, it's times like this that I get close to feeling sorry for the players on the Yankees, but also for Joe Torre and Brian Cashman. The bottom line in these short playoff series is that the best team doesn't always win. The Yankees had great teams in the late 1990s, but they also had a remarkable run of luck, which is an absolute necessity if you're going to win 4 out of 5 World Series, as they did.

And it's already begun. If you believe this, then Joe Torre's job is in jeopardy, and Brian Cashman needs to begin thinking about ways to get out of the no-trade clause in Alex Rodriguez' contract. But my favorite line in the article is this:

But, clearly, these last couple of postseasons would be failures on anyone's scale.

I suppose so, but perhaps it makes more sense to laud the Yankees for being the only team in the American League to make it to the postseason for the past two postseasons. That will never happen, but it goes a long way towards illustrating the reason that the Yankees deserve an extra bit of credit when they do go all the way - who in their right minds would want to put up with this all the time?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Can Anyone Say Pasadena in January?

OK, so the gold jerseys didn't exactly set the world on fire. It's BLUE and Gold, not the other way around...but other than that, it's hard to find fault with the Bears' dominating victory over #11 Oregon. Nate Longshore, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and especially DeSean Jackson. There aren't many teams that have those kind of weapons, and with Tennessee's resounding victory over Georgia tonight, that opening day loss to the vols doesn't look so bad after all.

With this win, the Bears will be closing in on the top ten, and all signs are pointing to a November 18 showdown with the evil boys of Troy - who haven't exactly been setting the world on fire.

Stay tuned...

Friday, October 06, 2006

You Really Can't Make This Stuff Up

Terrell Owens is publishing a series of childrens' books.

Just in case you didn't catch it the first time: Terrell Owens is publishing a series of childrens' books.

The first in the series is "Little T Learns To Share." The second will be titled "Little T Learns What Not to Say," to be followed by "Little T Learns To Say I'm Sorry."

Words fail me. One can only imagine what titles might follow in this series: "Little T Mixes His Meds and Learns a Valuable Lesson," "Little T Takes His Ball And Goes Home"...the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Great Books #3: The Baseball Encyclopedia

In 1969, MacMillan published the first edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Official Record of Major League Baseball. It was under the Christmas tree for me that year, and it has been a constant companion ever since. The encyclopedia included several major sections, including year-to-year standings, a Player Register with complete statistics for every player that had ever set foot on a major league diamond, a Pitcher Register, and a Manager Register. My favorite section was The World Series, which included the game-by-game record and statistics for every World Series played up to that point, along with the highlights of each game. So, for 1954 Game 1, you would read:

With the score tied 2-2, Mays makes a back-to-the-plate catch of Wertz's 440-foot fly with two men on to send the game into the tenth inning, when Rhodes delivers a pinch-hit homer with two on to end the game.

I used to read these and walk around the house imagining the games, much to my dad's annoyance, who was always wondering what the hell I was doing (thinking, I would reply). It also allowed me to memorize details of Series that I'm still able to scare people with today, which can be a fun thing.

Even though it was "just" an encyclopedia, it was an important book - in his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James credits it for being one of the reasons that baseball's popularity exploded in the 1970s. For the first time, there was one source of pure, unadulterated statistical data for baseball fans around the world to obsess about.

New editions were published every few years, but none of them ever topped the first, which still sits on my bookshelf at work today.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

In October, It's All About the Baseball

I've bored my sports fan friends for years with my elegies on October being the greatest month of the year in sports. In the NFL, the games really start to matter; you begin to see the sweaters and coats come out and the players start getting into "mid-season form." The same can be said for college football - there are always a handful of critical matchups that go a long way towards determining who will be in BCS contention at season's end; last year, the October Notre Dame-USC matchup was one for the ages.

But October is really about baseball. As fun as the Super Bowl, NBA Playoffs, and the majors in golf and tennis can be, there is really nothing in sports like October baseball. Of course there is a lot more at stake, but it is more than that - the games just feel different. And look different - during the day, the shadows come into play in a way that they rarely do in the spring and summer. You see the bunting; you see the fans in the stands huddling up, for warmth and to alleviate the sheer tension of the moment. You hear an edge in the announcers' voices that you don't during the regular season.

These games are not fun to watch when your favorite team is involved. The tension at times is almost unbearable - every moment is magnified; a dropped routine fly ball that you can shrug off during the regular season becomes the moment that sends your team home for the long off-season. There are moments of incredible joy (for Giants fans, that would be Will Clark's dramatic single to send the Cubs home and the Giants back to the World Series for the first time in 27 years), and moments of utter despair (for Giants fans, that would be the aforementioned dropped fly ball by Jose Cruz Jr., and just about everything associated with Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against Anaheim). These moments stay with you for the rest of your lives. Out of the blue, you will ask yourself what might have happened if Dusty Baker had gone with Russ Ortiz for one more batter; what might have happened if there had been one more runner on base when J.T. Snow hit that home run against the Mets in 2000.

There will be moments like that this year. Someone will cry tears of joy, and someone will wake up in the middle of the night despairing over what happened in that day's game. That's October baseball.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

"...A Truth Universally Acknowledged"

We finally got around to watching the most recent film version of "Pride and Prejudice" last night, and for those of you who might still be wondering whether it was really necessary that another version of the Jane Austen classic be in existence, the answer is a resounding "yes." Of course it does not go into the same level of detail as the definitive 1995 BBC version - this means you get less of the interplay between Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, which is too bad; but it also means that you get less of Mr. Wickham, which is a good thing - the film still offers a vivid portrait of his duplicity without your having to endure his character.

As Elizabeth, Keira Knightley is luminous - it's a different performance than that of Jennifer Ehle in the 1995 version; less reserved, with the wit and playfulness of the character more on display. The Oscar nomination was well-deserved. Brenda Blethyn also does a nice turn as Mrs. Bennett, as does Judi Dench as Lady Catherine. I'm not quite sure what they were thinking when they cast Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett, but he's a good enough actor and it's a great enough character that it doesn't spoil the movie. As Mr. Darcy, Matthew McFadyen is better than I expected given the reviews I remembered, but will not be replacing Colin Firth in the hearts of devotees of the 1995 version.

The cinematography and use of music are specatcular, and the locales are magnificent. All in all, two hours well spent, even if you know the story like the back of your hand.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And Then There's The Oakland Athletics

Probably the polar opposite of the New York Yankees in terms of team demeanor right now are the Oakland Athletics. I mean that as a compliment, because it is a game, after all; and it’s nice to see players having fun instead of bemoaning “expectations” and generally behaving as if the fate of the world rested on a clean throw from third to first.

Clinching the AL West last night in a rout against Seattle, the A’s played a joyous game. When Milton Bradley crushed a three-run homer early on, he and Nick Swisher went into what looked like a variation of the old Bash Brothers forearm shiver in the dugout, capped by a little dance and what sounded like a rebel yell. I don’t imagine you see that happen too often in the Bronx.

Obviously, the Yankees run their business very efficiently, and they’ve had more success than any sports franchise in history doing it. It’s just nice to see in this day and age that there’s another way to succeed in professional sports.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Can We Just Fast Forward to November And Get It Over With?

With the announcement that Democrat Phil Angelides is going to try and make the war in Iraq a major issue, the desultory campaign for governor of California just took a big step towards knocking the scintillating Gray Davis-Bill Simon shootout of 2002 off its pedestal of having been the state's worst major political campaign of all time.

So far, we've already been treated to a series of commercials where Angelides tries to paint Arnold Schwarzenegger as George W. Bush II, a tactic that I can't imagine is going to have any traction. California voters aren't that dumb, and if anything the ads just make clear that Angelides has little or nothing to offer the state that doesn't appear on the wish list of one of the state's major public employee unions.

And it's not as if Governor Schwarzenegger is setting the world on fire with his vision for a new California. He's obviously a smart guy, and there is something to be said for having an optimist in office, but he's already made it painfully clear that he's unwilling to buck the Republican establishment, a move that's absolutely essential to enacting any kind of reform to the way the state handles key issues such as education funding, taxes, and immigration.

At this juncture, it's hard to imagine that the campaign could get any worse, but there's almost two months left, so I'm sure they'll try.

If You're Looking For A Reason To Root Against The Yankees...

First things first - there's no doubt in my mind that baseball's postseason is always enhanced by having the Yankees around. There's nothing quite like the atmosphere in Yankee Stadium in October, and there's nothing like a Yankees crowd that's really into the game - as they always seem to be in October.

Having said that, the canonization of the Yankee mystique gets a little old after a while, and it's already begun this year with this week's cover story in Sports Illustrated, "A-Rod Agonistes." Lots of talk about slumps, dark abysses, having to prove oneself in pinstripes, etc. Ho-hum...does anyone really care? Would this be newsworthy, let alone a cover story in SI, if it were any other team? Of course not. I can think of, oh about 30 other teams that wouldn't mind having the troubled and slumping A-Rod on their team team right now.

It's particularly amusing to see Jason Giambi say things like, "Alex doesn't know who he is. We're going to find out who he is in the next couple of months." Anyone remember how many World Series titles Jason has led the Bombers to? Oh yeah, that's right - none. Just like A-Rod. I get it that everything is magnified in New York and that the expectations are higher than everywhere else, but man I sure hope any team but the Yankees represents the American League in this year's World Series. Even the best soap operas get old after a while.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Captain Fantastic

From the time I was 13 until around the time I turned 16, my favorite singer was Elton John. The very first record I bought with my own money was “Honky Chateau,” and during the summer of 1974 I nearly wore out a copy of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” A couple of friends and I used to talk about his music all the time, arguing about which album was his best, whether he would ever come out with a Greatest Hits set (why it mattered, since all of us owned nearly everything he owned, isn’t really clear today), even arguing one day about whether drummer Nigel Olsson was a man or a woman (thank God I was on the right side of that one).

In this day of the eternally fragmented audience, it’s probably hard for folks today to appreciate what a huge star Elton was at the time. For about 4 years, there was never a time when a song of his wasn’t in heavy rotation on the radio, and his albums weren’t in the Top 5. His shows all sold out; he made the cover of Rolling Stone; his outrageous outfits made him a natural for a new magazine called People.

Elton John fever, so to speak, peaked in 1975. The year began with a single release of his remake of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which went to #1. John and Yoko reunited at his Madison Square Garden Concert. In the spring, he released another single, “Philadelphia Freedom,” which also went straight to #1. And by that time, word was out about a new album to be released in late May, an autobiographical effort with the odd title, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. When it came out, it did what no album before it had ever done – it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I wasn’t there on the day it was released, but my dad drove me over to the Record Factory that Saturday, and the album rarely left the turntable for that entire summer. I played every song non-stop, to the point where I’d play a song five or six times in a row. It wasn’t a hit machine like some his previous efforts (in fact, it was one of his few of that era that didn’t include a #1 single); in many instances the lyrics didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense; but there was something about it that clicked with me.

Later that summer, Elton released another album, Rock of the Westies, which became the second album in history to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week that it was released. It was much different than Captain Fantastic; his hardest-rocking album, one which critic Robert Christgau called “the best Rolling Stones album in years.” He ended the year with a brief but triumphant tour of America, selling out venues like Dodger Stadium while performing in a sequin-studded Dodgers uniform.

After that, the white hot flame went out. He released a string of lousy albums, broke up for a time with his long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin, and began a slow fade from view. In the 1980s he again began to release some good work, but nothing that came close to that incredible period of the mid-1970s, when he released a string of 6 albums in less than three years – Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me (I’m Only The Piano Player), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Caribou, Captain Fantastic, and Rock of the Westies – that represented a creative peak that can stand without shame alongside just about any artist in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On the strength of his wit, good cheer, and substantial catalogue, he became a mega-star, hosting Oscar parties, becoming a confidant of Princess Diana, getting knighted, writing film scores and Broadway shows, the works…I didn’t begrudge him a moment of his glory – he deserved it – but at the same time I never felt compelled to go out and buy the new one.

A year or so ago, I saw that Elton’s old classics had been released in specially-priced, remastered CD versions, so I bought Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Hadn’t listened to it for quite a while; hadn’t bought an Elton John album for over 20 years. And it still sounded great: the band was terrific, and Elton sang and performed with a confidence that made you think, here’s a guy who knows that he’s on top of the world, and is just going to keep going for as long as he can. Songs like Captain Fantastic, Bitter Fingers, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, and We All Fall In Love Sometimes are unquestionably among his best. Simply put, it’s a great album one that one can mention in the same breath as other 1975 classics such as Born to Run, Blood on the Tracks, Tonight’s the Night, Siren, Horses, and Physical Graffiti.

So now, 31 long years later, Elton has released The Captain & The Kid, a sequel (!), 31 years after the fact, to Captain Fantastic. I resisted it for a few days, but knew in the end that I would buy this album, for curiosity’s sake if nothing else. Today I succumbed, and here I sit, listening to it while I write this. How is it? Well, it probably won’t go down in history as one of the best albums of all time, but it’s Elton, and hey, it sounds good. I’ve already begun to play one of the tracks again and again, which if nothing else proves that what goes around, comes around. Rock on, Sir Elton.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Old White Guys

The old white guys of rock and roll are on a roll. Last year, the ancient Stones released their best album in 25 years. This year, we've had Springsteen maintaining his usual level of high quality; we've had Tom Petty coming out with his best work in about a decade; we've had Neil Young re-energized like he hasn't been in about 15 years; we've had Bob Dylan acting and performing like the legend and Hall-of-Famer that he is. And now, 61-year old Bob Seger has released an album that maintains a level of consistency that he hasn't matched since the late 1970s. And this, after having taken about a dozen years off to raise a couple of kids.

Elton John has a new one coming out tomorrow, a sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, if you can believe it, and a new Who album is on the horizon. Dare we hope?


OK, so I missed most of last week's first Monday night game, and didn't have a chance to listen to the new crew and make harsh judgments. After tonight's game, I would venture the following:

- Overall, a vast improvement over the ESPN Sunday night crew. Mike Tirico is light years ahead of Mike Patrick in quality, and Tony Kornheiser, while not adding much in terms of game analysis, benefits from the time-worn "addition through subtraction" analysis - 9 people out of 10 would be an improvement over Paul Maguire, and Kornheiser does much better than that.

- Theissman remains the most overbearing analyst on TV. Just turn it down a notch, Joe; and you could be among the best. But it's not necessary to be brilliant on every play, and it's really not necessary to punctuate your "important" statements by adding timbre and volume to your voice. Frankly, it just makes you look dumb.

- Kornheiser's main role appears to be as foil to Theissman - if Joe makes one of his patented important announcements, Tony's role is to disagree or debunk. That works for me, but after an entire season it may grow tiresome.

So far, they've had great games. Let's see what happens when they start having to call some real stinkers - which is bound to happen in the second half of the season.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Making the State Safer For...Something

Well, I certainly will sleep well tonight, knowing that this law is soon to be on the books:

Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Bill Outlawing Theft of Free Newspapers

Gov. Schwarzenegger signed AB 2612 by Assemblymember George Plescia (R-San Diego) which would make it a crime to steal more than 25 copies of a free newspaper.

"The freedom of the press is one of the most precious freedoms that Americans enjoy," said Gov. Schwarzenegger. "We must work to ensure that no one is able to deprive others of their first amendment rights."

In Nov. 2002, a local Bay Area politician stole more than 1,000 copies of a free newspaper that did not endorse his reelection. The politician was only able to be charged with petty theft. The newspapers were removed and immediately trashed. In a separate incident in May 2002, a free college paper had several thousand copies stolen by a group that did not agree with the newspaper's editorial content. Recently in Chula Vista and the greater San Diego area, an individual removed entire bundles from news racks and transported them across the border where he sold them to recyclers in Mexico.

Specifically, AB 2612:

1. Defines a new crime that is committed when a person takes more than 25 copies of free newspapers to sell or barter the papers, to recycle the papers for cash or other payment, to harm a competitor or to prevent others from reading the paper.

2. Provides that a first violation shall be an infraction punishable by a fine not exceeding $250 and a second or subsequent violation shall be punishable as an infraction or a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction would be punishable by a fine not exceeding $500, imprisonment of up to 10 days in a county jail, or both that fine and imprisonment.

3. Clarifies that this new offense is a unique crime, not a form of petty theft.

The bill will take effect Jan. 1, 2007.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sean Lennon Gets It

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, there is a brief interview with Sean Lennon, on the occasion of the impending release of his second album. The last question-and-answer demonstrates that he definitely has a good head on his shoulders:

Q: Besides your dad, who's your favorite Beatle?

A: Each Beatle was as the wheels of a car - you need all four to drive.

What an awesome answer - and absolutely accurate. Brilliant as all four of them were/have been in their solo careers, without question they epitomized the old saying "greater than the sum of its parts."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Never Forget

I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed where you used to be
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to the empty sky

Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

Blood on the streets
Yeah blood flowin' down
I hear the blood of my blood
Cryin' from the ground

Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

On the plains of Jordan
I cut my bow from the wood
Of this tree of evil
Of this tree of good
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

Empty Sky
Bruce Springsteen

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Let's Talk Beatles

A colleague gave me an extra copy of the July 2006 issue of Mojo (a music magazine from England) that ranks the “101 Greatest Songs” of The Beatles. I love lists like this – since they represent a composite opinion, it’s impossible to be in agreement with every single choice. That makes them the perfect argument-starter, because in many cases it’s easy to disagree, perhaps vehemently, with some of the choices.

For instance, I immediately notice that one of the panelists (and it’s a big panel, probably close to, if not over, 100 members) is Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, a band that I despise as much as any that’s ever existed. Not only do I hate their music - I honestly can’t understand how anyone can like it as much as, say, Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times, who’s actually written a book about the band. I’m freely willing to admit that this may be a blind spot in my musical tastes (which are VERY broad), but it doesn’t bode well for my being in general agreement with the Mojo list.

The other bias I feel compelled to reveal before dissecting the top 25 Mojo picks is that I think Sgt. Pepper is the most overrated album in rock history. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it’s a bad album; in fact, I think it’s a very good album. But it seems to be the popular choice among most major rock publications and aficionados as the best album of all time, and I just don’t see it. Maybe it’s a “you had to be there” kind of thing, but I can think of at least five Beatles albums that I prefer – Rubber Soul, Revolver, Abbey Road, Beatles for Sale, and A Hard Day’s Night. If forced to choose, I’d probably also pick the White Album over Sgt. Pepper, even though the Manson connections creep me out to this day.

And if it seems unfair that I would dissect someone else’s Beatles list without providing my own, be patient…I’m working on it! So, with further ado:

25. Nowhere Man. When I was in fourth grade, my parents bought me “Yesterday and Today” for my birthday. This song was on it, and at the time I really didn’t like it. Over the years it’s grown on me, and now I can see why some would rank it so high. No major quibble with this choice.

24. Please Please Me. An absolute classic; will definitely be higher on my list.

23. Ticket to Ride. I think Dave Marsh once picked this as his favorite Beatles song, so it obviously has some legs. I love it, and think it’s one of Ringo’s best performances.

22. I Saw Her Standing There. One of the best screams in rock and roll history. If you can’t get people out on the dance floor with this one, you’ve invited the wrong people to your party. Definitely deserves to be ranked this high.

21. Here Comes the Sun. Hmm…one of George’s best songs, without question. But is it really better than, for instance, “Help,” which barely broke the top 50? This seems a little high.

20. Rain. Andy Partridge of XTC: “Rain represents the glorious death of the old Beatles, the part where they stood at the pinnacle of their own Everest after they’d done all they could with just guitars, bass and drums.” XTC was one of my favorite bands back in the day, but hey – I like guitars, bass and drums. I like this song a lot, but I’m not sure it belongs in the top 20.

19. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). I guarantee this will be in my top 10. I don’t know if Dylan was influencing Lennon or if it was the other way around, and I’m not sure it makes any difference.

18. Can’t Buy Me Love. Great song; one of Paul’s best. 18 seems about right.

17. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This is really a tough one. At his best, George could write songs right up there with John’s and Paul’s. They were ten times as prolific, but I think George deserves his place in the Hall of Fame. Having said that, this might be a bit high.

16. Revolution. A great turn-it-up-in-the-car song, but hardly deserving of a ranking this high.

15. With A Little Help From My Friends. Huh? Sure, I like this song, one of the few moments on Sgt. Pepper that isn’t self conscious. But it’s a total throwaway, and this is absurdly high within their pantheon.

14. I Want To Hold Your Hand. My first favorite Beatles song.

13. Come Together. This song illustrates the difficulty of comparing pre- and post-1966 Beatles songs. For all intents and purposes, this was a different band than the one that recorded “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I’ll really have to think about this one.

12. Hey Jude. I always loved this song. Pretty simple stuff, but it still gets me every time.

11. Eleanor Rigby. Never much cared for this song, and I’m frankly amazed that it ranked this high.

10. A Hard Day’s Night. Yep, definitely top 10 material.

9. Penny Lane. This one never really did much for me either. I grant it’s brilliant, but it’s a bit on the precious side.

8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Based on her comments, Tori Amos seems to think this is an anti-NRA song. Somehow I don’t think that’s quite the gun that John had in mind. Seems a little high, but I like the song.

7. Something. Without question a pop classic, but is it a Beatles classic? I say yes. Might be a little high, but I won’t quibble.

6. In My Life. This could be John’s greatest song.

5. She Loves You. Oh yeah. Top 5, definitely.

4. Tomorrow Never Knows. For all its brilliance, this won’t be in my top 25. It’s just a matter of taste – I think they reached their peak in 65-66, and that the psychedelic era sapped their strength. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.

3. Yesterday. No, thank you. Never really liked it.

2. Strawberry Fields Forever. I won’t let the fact that this seems to be Wayne Coyne’s favorite Beatles song bother me – I think it’s great, probably the best of their psychedelic efforts. I probably won’t rank it this high.

1. A Day In The Life. Well, it won’t be my #1, even if it is the best song on Sgt. Pepper. It just seems like such an obvious choice, almost too obvious.

Overall, I have fewer issues with #11-25 than I do with their top 10. But that’s just me…

That's More Like It

After another shaky start marred by idiotic penalties and poor special teams play, Cal pulled away from Minnesota this evening to score a relatively dominating 42-17 win. Nate Longshore looked great, as did Marshawn Lynch and Deshaun Jackson. The biggest story of the day was the crowd - aside from games against Stanford, USC or UCLA, I've never seen a bigger crowd, especially for such an early season game.

And I'll try to be nice to my friends who are Texas fans, but now it's painfully clear that the Longhorns aren't the second best team in the country. Top 15, sure. Top 10, probably. Not #2.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Desert Island Books #2

Lonesome Doveby Larry McMurtry

“Why not go north?”

Woodrow Call poses that question to Augustus “Gus” McCrae, his long-time friend and fellow Texas Ranger, early in Lonesome Dove. Gus can think of no good reason to go, and plenty of reasons not to. “…It sounds like a goddamn wilderness,” he tells Call. “I’ve slept on the ground enough for one life. Now I’m in the mood for a little civilization.” But at the same time, he realizes that there really is nothing left to do in Lonesome Dove:

The surprising thing to Augustus was not just what Call was suggesting but how he sounded. For years Call had looked at life as if it were essentially over. Call had never been a man who could think of much reason for acting happy, but then he had always been one who knew his purpose. His purpose was to get done what needed to be done, and what needed to be done was simple, if not easy. The settlers of Texas needed protection, from Indians on the north and bandits on the south. As a Ranger, Call had a job that fit him, and he had gone about the work with a vigor that would have passed for happiness in another man.
But the job wore out…
And so, for no particularly good reason except that there’s nothing left to do in Texas, the men and boys of the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium head for Montana, with “a passel of shitting cattle” in tow. And thus begins a magnificent adventure, one that takes the clichés of the cattle-drive story and turns them into something memorable and magical. Much that happens in Lonesome Dove had already appeared in some previous novel or film about a cattle drive, but McMurtry creates a landscape – and more importantly, a host of characters – that make Lonesome Dove seem as if it were the only book ever written on the subject.

I’m not sure that any great themes are involved, outside of Americans sometimes do heroic things for no particular reason except that there’s nothing else to do at the moment. And while this is a great adventure story, it is also much more than that. McMurtry paints an enormous canvas that is epic in scope, but at the same time the book is full of wonderful small moments. Such as the moment when Gus encounters on the plains an enormous killing field filled with buffalo bones, and an unusual man who spends his time gathering them:

He remembered when he had first come to the high plains, years before. For two days he and Call and the Rangers had ridden parallel to the great southern buffalo herd – hundreds of thousands of animals, slowly grazing north. It had been difficult to sleep at night because the horses were nervous around so many animals, and the sounds of the herd were constant. They had ridden for nearly a hundred miles and seldom been out of sight of buffalo.

…Thus the sight of the road of bones stretching out over the prairie was a shock. Maybe roads of bones were all that was left. The thought gave the very emptiness of the plains a different feel. With those millions of animals gone, and the Indians mostly gone in their wake, the great plains were truly empty, unpeopled and ungrazed.

Soon the whites would come, of course, but what he was seeing was a moment between, not the plains as they had been, or as they would be, but a moment of true emptiness, with thousands of miles of grass resting unused, occupied only by remnants – of the buffalo, the Indians, the hunters. Augustus thought that they were crazed remnants, mostly, like the old mountain man who worked night and day gathering bones to no purpose.

Another reason for the greatness of Lonesome Dove is that there have been few books with as many brilliantly rendered characters – from Call, Gus and the Hat Creek Company – Pea Eye, Newt, Deets, Dish, and others – to the women of the story – Lorena, Clara, Elmira – who are in nearly all aspects just as strong and heroic as the men; to the villainous Blue Duck and the Suggs Gang, both evil incarnate – to the aimless Jake Spoon – to the tragic July Johnson – and even the lesser characters such as Wilbarger – the educated cattleman who reads Milton on the plains, and Po Campo – the cook who fries grasshoppers in molasses – that are drawn in such a way that in just a few pages one feels that they know them well. A great novel could be written about any of these characters, and McMurtry clearly understands the importance that each brings to the story.

But as great as all those characters are, the book really belongs to Gus McCrae. It is through Gus that McMurtry makes most of his important statements about change, about life, and about the fickle nature of that life. It is through Gus that it is demonstrated that there is more than one way to define a hero. It is through Gus’ thoughts that the book’s most moving moments are articulated, in particular this one –which may just be the most important passage of the book:

Though dawn was his favorite hour, it was also an hour at which Augustus most keenly felt himself to be a fool. What was it but folly to be riding along the Canadian River alone, easy pickings for an outlaw gang, and hungry to boot? A chain of follies had put him there: Call’s abrupt decision to become a cattleman and his own decision, equally abrupt, to try and rescue a girl foolish enough to be taken in by Jake Spoon. None of it was sensible, yet he had to admit there was something about such follies that he liked. The sensible way, which he had pursued once or twice in his life, had always proved boring, usually within a few days. In his case it had led to nothing much, just excessive drunkenness and reckless card playing. There was more enterprise in certain follies, it seemed to him.
There are parts of Lonesome Dove that are laugh out loud-funny, parts that are stunning in their unexpected violence, and parts that are just plain exciting – the book really has everything. And while McMurtry would go on to write three other novels featuring many of the same characters, none of them matched the original. Nothing could, and it is not likely that anything ever will.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tiger Burning Brighter

Five in a row. To call it awe-inspiring doesn't really do it justice. Just read this excerpt from Michael Bamberger, over at SI.Com.

He won the British Open, then the Buick Open, then the PGA Championship, then the World Series of Golf at Firestone, flew all night to play two practice rounds at the K-Club outside Dublin, woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday to fly to Boston for the tournament for which he is the unofficial host, and won that. He said he was looking forward to going home and getting some sleep. And then hitting the range and getting better.

"You can always get better," he said in the dying light of Labor Day. A new school year was about to begin. "You're always learning in this game."

You can always get better. That may help explain why he's the best.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Turn On Your Respect-O-Meters

For the record, it didn't take long for the first reference to "lack of respect" appearing in a quote associated with a football game in 2006:

"We all felt disrespected. This game tonight wasn't just for Tennessee versus California. It was for the South versus the West Coast, the SEC versus the Pac-10." - Erik Ainge, Tennessee

Yeah, whatever. The South rises again...good luck against Florida and South Carolina, Erik. Have a winning record this year, and maybe you'll get some respect.

Since the NFL begins regular season play on Thursday, I imagine it will be...oh, the 3rd quarter or so before someone gets disrespected. I'll even go out on a limb and predict that John Madden will make some sort of comment about Bill Cowher not getting the respect he deserves.

Respect...real big in football these days.

(We've Been Havin' Fun) All Summer Long

The first (and maybe only, now that I think about it) movie review I ever wrote was in 8th grade for my school newspaper, and the movie was American Graffiti. I can’t remember what I wrote, but I do remember that it was short – couldn’t have been more than two paragraphs. My parents had to talk me and my friends into seeing it, but we were glad that they did – we loved it, and it became so popular at our school that we ended up having a 1950s dance before school ended that year.

The story of the movie is so well known today that it’s difficult to imagine that nearly every actor in the movie was a total unknown at the time it was released. Ron Howard was semi-famous for having played Opie on the Andy Griffith show, but it’s a safe bet that no one at the time would have predicted that an Oscar was in his future. Same for Richard Dreyfuss – he was beginning to make a name for himself, but who could guess that in just a few summers, he would star in the first mega-blockbuster summer hit, and become a household name. The list goes on – Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, MacKenzie Phillips, and some guy named Harrison Ford, who would only go on to become the biggest movie star on the planet. Oh, and the director – just a nerd from Modesto, California named George Lucas.

I was surprised to see that the movie isn’t ranked in the Top 200 at the Internet Movie Database, so maybe its stock has dropped in recent years. Truth be told, not a lot happens in the movie, which takes place in one night, just before school begins – a bunch of driving around, a bunch of clichés (boy and girl break up and make up, smart kid has a run in with the hoods, dorky kid tries to pick up the hot chick, and on and on and on…), and not much to speak of in the way of cinematographic genius.

But it works. It transcends every cliché that it contains, and without question it contains the best (or certainly, most natural) acting performances in any movie that George Lucas has ever directed. The best performance in the movie comes from Paul LeMat, who really does instill some depth into John Milner, the cool hot-rodder who knows that his time as the drag king is coming to an end, but really can’t do anything else. For me, the most memorable performance is that of Wolfman Jack, in a role that can’t be called anything more than a cameo. But his scene is absolutely essential – stuck in a little radio station studio out in the middle of nowhere, with a broken refrigerator chock full of melting popsicles – because it underscores that rock ‘n roll music is the real star of this movie. The Wolfman sits alone in his little studio, and essentially brings hope to everyone in the world who happens to be listening to him at that given moment.

Of course, the music is magnificent – a veritable soundtrack of the 1950s and early 1960s that includes a ton of huge hits, but also just enough obscurities to render it authentic. No movie since has made better use of rock ‘n roll, although hundreds have tried and a few have come close. George has great taste, no doubt about it.

Everyone knows that summer really ends on Labor Day weekend, so it's a good time to spend a couple of hours with American Graffiti. One could certainly do worse.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Yes, I Was Ready For Some Football

In a classic trap game, the Cal Bears fell to Tennessee 35-18, after having trailed 35-0. Only time will tell whether this was a case of Cal being overrated or the Vols being underrated (or both), but it's a long season and frankly I had a bad feeling about this game from the beginning. Obvious weak spots for the Bears after week 1 are the offensive line, and the defensive secondary. Oh, and we probably have a quarterback controversy. Just dandy.

At one point this evening there were four games worth watching on at the same time; thank God for cable TV. That's the good news; the bad news is that ESPN felt compelled to keep Mike Patrick and Paul Maguire on the payroll, and they are playing key roles in two of the top announcing teams. Meanwhile, Ron Franklin, only the best college football announcer around now that Keith Jackson has really retired, gets demoted to the ESPN2 game. Franklin remains great; Patrick remains mediocre; and Maguire remains execrable. Shame on ESPN for thinking that either of the latter two deserve such a high profile job.

Notre Dame pulled out a squeaker at Georgia Tech, and we'll now begin to see whether Charlie Weis really deserves the premature entry into the Coaches Hall of Fame that most pundits were ready to grant him last year. I like Weis and want Notre Dame to succeed because it's good for college football, but let's not forget that Weis is still a little bit behind the coaching record of Ty Willingham at the same point in their Irish coaching stints. And Ty was summarily dismissed after four winning seasons.

As for USC - yet another impressive victory, even with all the new horses. ABC (excuse me, ESPN on ABC, as they're calling it now) must be salivating at the thought of a potential national championship game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Long way to go, but it could happen.