Saturday, June 30, 2007

Carmel Beach

June 10, 2007

The Ultimate 17-Mile Drive Photo

The famous Lone Cypress. Taken shortly before sunset, June 10.

A Little Further Along...

This one I know - Cypress Point Golf Club. You can tell from the "Private Property: No Trespassing" sign on the fence.

More 17-Mile Golf

This one, I believe, is on the Dunes Course of the Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Golf Along the 17-Mile Drive

I'm pretty sure this is the Links at Spanish Bay, hard along the 17-Mile Drive in Monterey. Taken by son #1, on a recent trip to the Monterey area.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Most Dangerous Job On The Enterprise

According to Wikipedia, 74 red-clad security crewmembers met their demise on the original Star Trek series. (Hat tip: Wil Wheaton).

The modern-day equivalent, I suppose, would be the CTU staff on 24. After six seasons of that show, it's a miracle that anyone is left to defend the republic, aside from Jack Bauer himself.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Banyan Tree

- From the courtyard of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, taken during our family vacation in July 2006 by our oldest son. We didn't stay there...maybe someday.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"The greatest double the history of American television"

Late to the party...

We're on vacation, the four of us cramped into a fairly small, but comfortable room in a motel in Pacific Grove. We get back to the room after dinner, following a beautiful drive along the 17 Mile Drive that presents some of the most wonderful and most American views in the entire country - the violent beauty of the Pacific Ocean; the serene views of Cypress Point Golf Club...accompanied by signs that make it abundantly clear that you are not welcome there; the homes that inspire awe, envy, and perhaps disgust in some.

Roughly 15 minutes remain in the series finale of The Sopranos.

Tony talking to Paulie; Tony visiting Uncle Junior. Obviously, something has happened; exactly what will have to remain unknown until the papers come out the next day.

The final sequence, which has inspired much brilliant writing, but none more so than Tom Shales, Alan Sepinwall, Matt Zoller Seitz. Absolutely unbearable suspense for the entire scene...what is going to happen?

There is nothing I can add to what has already been written, except to wonder how this scene will impact the career, which I assume is over, of Journey. For the past week, I haven't been able to get "Don't Stop Believin'" out of my mind. I was a Journey fan in the late 1970s; I even saw them live at the Cal Expo racetrack in August of 1978. I owned several of their albums, all of which were sold back to used records stores as my taste evolved (or so I like to think) and the space for my records decreased as the years went by. Journey was an easy sacrifice to make - they were an expert band, but false; their existence was almost entirely market driven, and their artistry, such as it was, could not transcend that simple fact.

Until now...perhaps.

Will the final scene of The Sopranos lead to a re-evaluation of the career that was Journey? Or will the song simply become a footnote in American popular culture? In any event, that song no longer belongs to the band; it no longer belongs to Steve Perry. It belongs to the millions of people who watched that final scene, and that fact lends the song a sense of importance; a sense of gravity that it never had before.

A strange legacy to add to one of the great television moments, but one worth considering nonetheless.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Never Fear, The Legislature Is Here

One can always count on the California Legislature to provide a few laughs around legislative deadline time. From my 13 years working around that august institution, I know that as the mercury rises and tempers flare, it becomes more likely that members will spend their time debating senseless resolutions on matters over which they have no jurisdiction, rather than tackle the meaty and critical issues facing the state.

This week, with the traditional deadline to move bills out of the house of origin at hand, the State Senate has added to the tradition. The AP report:

State senators debate about four-letter word
Lawmakers say senator repeatedly asked an offensive question
By Don Thompson

SACRAMENTO -- Has political discourse gone to hell in California?

State senators rushing to beat a legislative deadline Thursday took time out to debate whether the four-letter invective is too coarse for use on the house floor.

During debate about a regional planning bill, Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, used the word repeatedly to register his objections.

"Who the hell are you?" McClintock asked time and again, directing his comment to the bill's author, Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

McClintock said he was reacting to Steinberg's proposal, which he said would interfere with many Californians' lifestyle choices.

The bill would require the state to adopt regional transportation plans that encourage more urban housing, less suburban development and a decrease in traffic.

McClintock later said he meant no insult to Steinberg. Rather, he said he was objecting to "the authoritarian policy of this bill, that would dictate that all Californians live in dense urban centers and (that) our only transportation policy is to produce that result."

Other lawmakers said they were offended and castigated McClintock for violating the Senate's unwritten rules on decorum.

Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, asked McClintock to apologize.

"'Who the hell are you' is offensive," she said.

The public use of profanity by political leaders has led to a decline in accepted standards for their use, Migden said. Vice President Dick Cheney famously used the F-word during an argument on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

McClintock offered to apologize, but not for using the word some lawmakers found offensive.
"I do agree that 'preferred growth scenario' is a profanity," McClintock said, referring to language used in Steinberg's bill.

A fellow Republican, Sen. Dave Cox of Fair Oaks, jumped to McClintock's defense.

"In all fairness, 'hell' is not profanity," he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, sided with Cox after consulting with the chamber's parliamentarian.

"We're being advised it's not a profanity," Perata said.

That ruling brought a quick response from Migden: "If the gentleman wants to stand by his insulting remarks, I believe that's his privilege."

Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, sided with Migden.

"I don't think it's a matter of whether hell is a profanity or not," Kuehl said. "I believe it's a matter of comity on the floor."

Besides being described as the realm of the devil, hell describes "a place or state of misery, torment or wickedness," according to Webster's.

In an interview after the debate, Steinberg said that while McClintock's use of the word "was a little over the top, I personally was not offended.

"What he did was help me elevate the profile of a very important issue," Steinberg said. "We need to be thinking and acting regionally."

Steinberg's bill encourages more housing in urban areas as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It passed the Senate on a 21-15 vote and was sent to the state Assembly.

McClintock is a darling of the right, a conservative orator who often casts the Senate's lone dissenting vote or rises as the sole objector to legislation.

He lost a bid last year to become the state's lieutenant governor to Democrat John Garamendi, and has been a frequent critic of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In an interview after the vote on Steinberg's bill, McClintock said he believes no apology is needed.

"I know that Senator Migden has led a very sheltered life and is very sensitive," McClintock said. "But I can assure her that the word 'hell' is often used in church. If it's good enough for church, it's good enough for the Senate floor."


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lisey's Story

There's no way to do justice to Stephen King's Lisey's Story by simply recounting the plot (potential spoilers below):

But let's give it a shot: Lisey, the widow of Pulitzer Prize winning author Scott Landon, is just now, two years after his death, beginning the process of taking care of Scott's "things" - books, letters, miscellaneous notes, etc. To date, she has resisted allowing any curious academics or intellectuals to take possession of the materials, but unfortunately by denying a professor from the University which Scott attended an opportunity to go through his papers, has set in motion a series of events that results in her being terrorized by a psychopath who claims he wants to ensure that the papers see their way to that professor, but really wants nothing more than to hurt, torture, and perhaps kill Lisey (sorry for the long sentence).

At the same time, Lisey deals with her troubled sister Amanda, who falls into a comatose state with seemingly little hope for recovery. And she reminisces about her marriage to Scott. Over the course of the novel, we learn much about their relationship, and much about Scott's awful and tragic childhood, and how he channeled that tragedy and turned it into the inspiration for his work.

We also learn about another world, "Boo'ya Moon," where Scott goes when tragedy or danger finds its way to his doorstep, where wonderful things can be found, not the least of which is his inspiration, and where terrifying and awful things can be found. And can be made use of, particularly if you are being terrorized by a psychopath. If you can figure out how to get there, now that your husband is no longer there to help you.

But, as we learn, Scott is there. As is Amanda.

It's a terrific book - one with enormous breadth and depth, and one that I'm not sure King could have written 10, or 20 years ago. It does not start at breakneck pace, but gathers momentum throughout, and in the final 150 pages reaches a level of drama, intensity, and poignancy that can stand with any moment in any King novel. It tells a story of terror, but it also tells a story - two stories, in fact - of love. Of the love between Lisey and Scott, but also the love between Lisey and her sister Amanda. Eventually, all the threads begin to come together - with Scott's help from the grave, Lisey figures out what she needs to do - and figures out that she needs Amanda in order to do it:

"There, she said to Amanda, "are you happy?"

"Yes," Amanda said, and put her left hand over Lisey's right one, caressing it, making it give up its death-grip on the steering wheel. "Glad to be here, very glad you came for me. Not all of me wanted to come back, but so much of me was just...I don't know...sad to be away. And afraid that pretty soon I wouldn't even care." So thank you, Lisey."

"Thank Scott. He knew you'd help."

"He knew that you would too." Now Amanda's tone was very gentle. "And I bet he knew only one of your sisters would be crazy enough to give it."

Lisey took her eyes off the road long enough to glance at Amanda. "Did you and Scott talk about me, Amanda? Did you talk about me over there?"

"We talked. Here or there, I don't remember and I don't think it matters. We talked about how much we loved you."

Lisey could not reply. Her heart was too full. She wanted to cry, but then she wouldn't be able to see the road. And maybe there had been enough tears, anyway. Which was not to say that there wouldn't be more.

Will Reggie Bush Get Away With It?

Speaking of great black holes in the world of sports, the situation involving Reggie Bush and his alleged, but painfully apparent, flouting of NCAA rules while leading USC back to national prominence in college football surely qualifies as one of the more sordid episodes in recent college athletic history.

Full disclosure: as a graduate and fan of Cal, there is nothing more that I would love to see than USC put on probation for all eternity. However, in this instance the university does not really seem to be at fault, except to the extent that it willfully (or ignorantly) turned a blind eye to some pretty egregious violations of NCAA rules.

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated covered the issue very well in his mailbag this week. Some excerpts are below.

First, some background:

It's been more than a year since Yahoo! Sports published the first of its stunning and scrupulously reported investigative pieces about the numerous extra benefits 2005 Heisman winner Reggie Bush and his family allegedly received from prospective sports marketers while Bush was still a student at USC. In terms of bombshells, they don't get much bigger than one of the most visible college stars in recent memory allegedly breaking rules that, if true, would subject two-time national champion USC to NCAA sanctions.

Yet, aside from a couple of brief statements confirming it is conducting an ongoing investigation, the NCAA, as is its policy, has remained exasperatingly silent on the matter. (An NCAA spokesman confirmed to me last week there was "nothing to add at this time.") Gauging from my inbox, this is leading to much frustration among fans from around the country who believe the NCAA is letting Bush and the Trojans off the hook.

A question for Stewart:

Still waiting on the USC sanctions from the NCAA, or is it too much to ask? Where does the investigation stand? It seems that the NCAA is stalling in an attempt to have us all forget about the situation.--Lee Wiltrout, Abilene, Texas

It's not that the NCAA is stalling -- it's that it's flailing. Through this case, we're seeing first-hand just how limited the organization's enforcement powers really are. If Bush were a current student-athlete, the NCAA could hold him out of competition until the matter was resolved. It could also sanction him if he failed to cooperate with investigators (much like it did Maurice Clarett for lying to investigators). With Bush being a professional football player, however, the NCAA holds no more authority over him than it does over you or I. The same goes for other, non-university parties.

Not only are Bush and his family declining to speak with investigators, but, according to reports, they also recently reached a settlement with Michael Michaels -- the man whose house the Bush clan supposedly lived in rent-free -- that specifically prohibits him from talking to investigators. In other words, they bought him off. And Ornstein, obviously, has no motivation to cooperate -- he's going to do whatever it takes to protect his client's name.

If you look back, nearly every major NCAA infractions case over the past decade -- from the Alabama/Albert Means saga in football to the basketball scandals at Michigan (Ed Martin), Ohio State (Jim O'Brien), Minnesota (an academic advisor writing papers) and Georgia (Jim Harrick/Tony Cole) -- has included the presence of at least one voluntary whistle-blower. More often than not, they've also involved local or federal litigation that produced subpoenaed testimony. The NCAA is almost entirely dependent on others to do its dirty work, and so far, no one has stepped forward to help them on this one.

Another question, with partial answer:

If USC is stripped of its 2004 national championship due to the poor judgment of Reggie Bush's parents, who would the title go to: Oklahoma or Auburn?--Brian Jones, Perry, Ga.

First, I wouldn't pin all the blame on Reggie's parents. You can't tell me he didn't know he was breaking the rules when he allegedly found himself staying at the Venetian free for a weekend. Or receiving $13,000 to buy a car.

If it seems like I'm being a little harsh on the guy, it's because I find the whole thing really disappointing. Because of USC's dominance during his time there, I spent a whole lot of time around that program and, in turn, a whole lot of time interviewing Bush. He always struck me as a great kid, albeit a little cocky at times. And he's drawn raves for his extensive community-service work in San Diego and New Orleans. I'm not naïve, and I realize Bush is far from the only college star to cash in on his exploits, but his smug flaunting of the authorities since then has certainly changed my perception of him.

If nothing else, this story illustrates the total incompetence and impotence of the NCAA in dealing with this type of issue.

And there seems little doubt that Reggie Bush, for all the good he has done in the New Orleans community, is nothing more than the worst sort of fraud. But in this day and age, where killing dogs doesn't even get the attention of many NFL fans, he will probably get away with it.

Spurs in Six

The great black hole that is the NBA Playoffs, post - David Stern's unbelievably bad decision to toss two Phoenix Suns for something that the Spurs (specifically, Robert Horry) did wrong, took a step back towards light tonight with the upset victory of the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Detroit Pistons, the team that everyone loved to hate in the late 1980s and seemed bound and determined in this series to win that reputation back, nearly 20 years later.

Though as a Sacramento Kings fan I feel bad for Chris Webber, who has lost what was probably his last and best shot at an NBA title, I can't feel bad for someone like Rasheed Wallace, a player who can be called professional only in the sense that he gets paid for what he does.

And even though I would be hard pressed to name any Cavaliers beyond the great LeBron James, I suspect that with nothing to lose they will give the Spurs a good series. Having said that, I can't imagine that they will win. Thus, Spurs in six. And then the countdown will begin to the inevitable day when David Stern changes the rule that resulted in the injustice that - at least in part - allowed the Spurs to reach the Finals in the first place.

This One? 30 Years (Or So) Ago Today

I can't remember exactly when this song was released, but I know that the album "Rocket to Russia," on which it appeared, was released in 1977.

Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
The Ramones

Well the kids are all hopped up and ready to go
They're ready to go now
They've got their surfboards
And they're going to the discotheque a go go
But she just couldn't stay
She had to break away
Well New York City really has it all
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Sheena is a punk rocker
Sheena is a punk rocker
Sheena is a punk rocker now
She's a punk punk, a punk rocker
Punk punk, a punk rocker
Punk punk, a punk rocker

For my money, it remains one of the great summer songs of all time; not to mention of the great rock songs of all time. Unless I've lost my mind completely, I heard it for the first time during the Summer of 1977, a summer that I spent most of time working at McDonalds and most of the rest of it listening to loud music in my room.

Thirty years on, the song has a generosity of spirit that reverberates to this day. What teenager of any generation, boy or girl, couldn't relate to the lines, But she just couldn't stay/She had to break away? Pretty much says it all.

And how about, Well New York City really has it all? Remember, at the time, the Big Apple was going through some rough times. Howard Cosell had decried fires in the Bronx during the previous year's World Series, it was the "Summer of Sam," and it was the Summer of the (first) great blackout. Yet, it was also the place where something great was being born, with the sounds of The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, and others. What an exciting time it must have been.

In a way, it's harder for me to believe that "Sheena" was 30 years ago than it is for me to believe the Sgt. Pepper was 40 years ago.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sgt. Pepper Turns 40

As a rock 'n roll obsessive and longtime Beatles fan, I feel obliged to comment on the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but in truth I don't have much to add to what has already been written. I was only 7 when the album was released, and the "Summer of Love" meant nothing to me as it was happening (all I remember about that summer is that we moved to a new house, one that had no air conditioning, and that it was really, really hot). At the time, my favorite Beatles-related medium was the cartoon show; I still remember the skeletons dancing to "I'm Looking Through You" very clearly. I do remember getting into a ridiculous argument with one of my friends in 3rd grade, over whether the band that made Sgt. Pepper was actually The Beatles or a real (and different) band called "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." During the argument, I remember uttering the immortal phrase, "Are you STUPID or something!? Doesn't that look like John Lennon to you?"

Truth be told, it's not my favorite Beatles album; I've always preferred Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, A Hard Day's Night, and Revolver (and maybe even The White Album). There's no question that it's an excellent album, that the production was ground-breaking, and that the cultural impact it had was a high water mark of the rock era. But since I can't buy the argument that it's the best Beatles album, I've always had some difficulty accepting the conventional wisdom that it's the best rock album of all time. But since this is a time for celebration, I won't quibble. Because it's certainly among the most notable albums of all time.