Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rose Bowl Memories - 1975

The worst thing about this video is that you have to listen to "Conquest" all the way through it. But I admit, back in my formative years, I was a big USC fan, and especially when they were playing Ohio State.

This was the rubber match between the two schools in the early 1970s. In the 1973 game, a great USC team had clobbered the Buckeyes 42-17, and the following year a great Ohio State team had clobbered the Trojans 42-21.

In 1975, the teams were evenly matched - both had lost a game in the regular season, but both were ranked in the Top 5, with a shot at the national championship with a victory.

It was a classic, tense game which came right down to the end when John McKay did the manly thing and elected to go for two (no overtime in those days), and the Trojans completed the pass (Pat Haden to Shelton Diggs) to escape with a hard-earned 18-17 victory.

And that evening in the Orange Bowl, Notre Dame (which had been blown out by USC 55-24 in their season closer) did the Trojans a favor by upsetting undefeated Alabama in the Orange Bowl, giving USC the national championship.

And once again, Woody Hayes was sent home to stew in his beer.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Rose Bowl Memories - 1976

Lest my UCLA fan readership think that I forgot them, I wanted to add this to my collection of Rose Bowl memories. This was the last great Woody Hayes-coached Ohio State team, which had blown out the Bruins earlier in the season and was heavily favored to do the same on January 1. UCLA hung tough in the first half (the game was tied 3-3), and then made the OSU defense look like swiss cheese in the second half. John Sciarra threw two touchdown passes to Wally Henry, and the scoring was capped with this great Wendell Tyler run. The final score was 23-10, and once again the Buckeyes were sent home to cry in their beer.

Curt Gowdy again handles the play by play (he was starting to lose it by now, insisting throughout the game on pronouncing the UCLA QB's name "Shy-ra"), with Al DeRogatis on color commentary.

The Granddaddy of Them All

When it comes to college bowl games, I'm a traditionalist. Absent a true playoff, which I support, I'd rather be living under the "old" bowl system than the crazy BCS universe that we find ourselves in today.

When I was growing up, our household was definitely a Rose Bowl family. Sure, I would watch some (sometimes all) of what was then known as the "Big 4" - the Cotton, Sugar, Rose, and Orange Bowls. But New Year's Day was always organized around the Rose Bowl. And of course, we would always root for the Pac-10 (Pac-8 until 1976) team against their Big 10 foe.

From my perspective, 1969-1976 was the "Golden Age" of Rose Bowls. The games were always entertaining, always significant, and always offered a stark contrast between the modern offenses of the coast and the "three yards and a cloud of dust" running attacks of the Big 10 schools (in this period, that meant Ohio State or Michigan).

Finding this clip and thinking about it, I realized that this is the first college football game that I have a clear, conscious memory of watching. My dad and I went across the street to my aunts' house to watch it, because at the time they were the ones with the color TV.

I remember this run. And watching it now, it truly is a remarkable run. Setting aside the O.J. saga, he really was an incredible football player. There aren't many (any?) running backs who could make that mid-field cut that he makes here to leave the Buckeye defenders in the dust.

The commentary, by the way, is by Curt Gowdy (who sounds great here - this was before he began to lose it) and Kyle Rote. Rote's comment on the replay - "watch that block by the fullback" - is amusing, because the fullback totally misses his block. It's all Simpson.

This gave the Trojans a 10-0 lead, but it was all Ohio State after that. The Buckeyes won 27-16, and sealed the national championship.

Monday, December 29, 2008

That's A Wrap

The final regular season Sunday of the NFL always feels a bit strange. For one thing, it's the only time all year when I don't have to worry about fantasy scores - a long time ago, we decided that the final week was just too unpredictable, and we close out our season on Week 16. For another, you routinely see teams that are fighting for their playoff lives - teams you think would be motivated beyond belief to perform as well as they can - get their tails handed to them by teams with nothing to play for but pride. Overall, it makes for a very interesting brew.

Some random thoughts on this year's version:

Brett Favre. I really don't want to belabor the point, but the whole 2008 Favre saga was offensive. If you're a believer in karma, this was the perfect way for things to end, with failure all around: the Packers missing the playoffs after being so close to the Super Bowl in 2007, and the Jets collapsing in the final month of the season, in large part due to the poor play of Favre. And the sweetener, of course, was the resurrection of former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington in Miami, who pulled himself up off the floor to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs just one year after holding the distinction of being the worst team in the NFL.

I get it that it's none of my business when Brett Favre decides he wants to keep playing. But I hope at some point that he sits down and reflects on how badly he screwed this whole thing up. Like it or not, he did a lot of damage to his image this year, and the sooner he decides what he wants to do next year, the better off we'll all be.

San Diego Chargers. On the final Sunday of November, I was in a hotel room in San Diego, unpacking for an 8-day business trip. I watched the final minutes of the Chargers' loss against the Atlanta Falcons, and then kept the TV on as the local post-game show came on. Listening that afternoon, there was no doubt in anyone on that show's mind that the season was over. All of the talk centered around the future of Norv Turner, "what happened to LT?," and how disappointing the season was, all around.

What has happened since then should serve as a lesson to every player at every level of football - never stop playing; never stop trying to win; always give your best. Because you never know what might happen. The Chargers hung in there, including a miraculous comeback in Kansas City when it really looked to be all over for their season, and stayed alive just long enough to take advantage of the Denver Broncos' December collapse. As a reward, they get a home playoff game, and right now they probably think that they can beat anyone. Unfortunately for them, the team they get to play, the Indianapolis Colts, hasn't lost since before Halloween, and Peyton Manning has probably never played better. Should be a great game, and I wouldn't be surprised (remember you read it here first!) if the Super Bowl winner is whichever team survives next Saturday night still standing.

Coaches. With the lack of patience demonstrated by most team owners, you really have to wonder when Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden are going to wear out their welcome in Denver and Tampa Bay. Sure, they both led their respective teams to Super Bowl championships, but that was a long time ago, and neither team has shown any ability to win a key game after Thanksgiving for a long time. I'm sure they're both safe for one more year, but absent deep playoff runs next year, you really have to wonder.

Dallas Cowboys. OK, I know it is probably a character flaw that I take such glee at the failures of the teams that I hate the most. With some teams, I'll accept the criticism. But with the Cowboys, no way. For decades now, the Dallas NFL franchise has exuded a remarkable combination of arrogance and hubris, and they deserve every little slice of agony that they're feeling right now. Right now, I'm really hoping that Jerry Jones keeps everyone around for another year. There's no doubt in my mind that Wade Phillips will never lead a team to the Super Bowl, and as long as T.O. is around, the chemistry will be so toxic that they'll never be able to overcome it.

So, that's a wrap. I'll probably think of more to write about later.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Leftovers

A couple of holiday leftovers for y’all, courtesy of old Gap commercials: Liz Phair doing her take on Supertramp, and Rufus Wainwright with a typically atypical performance on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

To Change Or Not To Change?

That is the question.

For a while now I've been toying with the idea of changing the blog's design, but frankly the Blogger templates are pretty limited and I'm not sure that any of them are a better alternative to the design I'm using now.

In the meantime, I've cleaned up my links, moving some blogs up to the Spotlight, deleting some that no longer exist or are updated on such a sporadic basis that it's hardly worth the effort, and adding a couple here and there from a list I've been keeping.

Today's addition, in the "Do You Like Good Music?" section, is Hypnopomp and Circumstance, by Brendan O'Malley. On this site, Brendan writes about his favorite albums, several of which fall into that category for me as well. And the writing is great.

Check it out!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Cats

Resting up for Santa's big visit.

Barenaked Ladies - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings

Not bad, gentlemen - not bad at all!

Sixpence None The Richer - "Silent Night"

And the annual Musical Advent Calendar begins to wind down.

The Night Before Christmas in the California Assembly

'TWAS the night before Christmas
when all through the chamber
The leaders were grim, they couldn't be lamer;
The Dems wanted revenue, to buck up the state,
The Reeps wanted tax cuts; "they will stimulate!"
The members were wishing they could be in their beds,
It was clear - no solutions were there in their heads;
Karen Bass with her taxes, Villines' spending cap;
Were wondering how it had all turned to crap.

When out in the hall there arose such a clatter,
The two sprang from the floor to see what was the matter.
Away from the chamber they flew like a flash,
In the hopes they would find a great bag of cash.
When what to their wandering minds would appear,
But eight former Speakers, fully tanked up on beer.
Willie Brown at the head, Jess Unruh at rear,
And Bass and Villines were filled with such fear.

Willie whistled, and shouted, and called some by name -
"Now, McCarthy! now, Ralph Brown! now, Moretti, now Peek!
On! Monagan, on! Unruh, on! Collins, don't be weak!
We must tell these amateurs what we truly feel,
They must get their heads out to work on a deal!

Brown was dressed in Boroni
From his head to his foot,
And his pockets were lined
With favors and loot;
A bundle of budgets
He had flung on his back,
He looked like a Speaker
One who, yes - had the knack!

He spoke not a word
But went straight to his work,
Sharing the budgets
That said "get to work, jerk!"

They heard him exclaim
As he drove out of sight,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas From The Family - Jill Sobule

You really can't have too many versions of this song. Here's Jill Sobule's take on the classic Robert Earl Keene composition.

Christmas Music Posts!

As we get closer to the big day, I'm not the only one getting into the holiday music thang:

Undercover Black Man posted yesterday on cool Christmas music. I was happy to be able to point him to "Purple Snowflakes," the song in today's Musical Advent Calendar post.

Shyonelung has a post this morning called "A Sap's Guide to Christmas Music Part I," which includes links to versions of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland and Etta James.

Happy Holidays!

Marvin Gaye - Purple Snowflakes

I heard this one for the first time last year, and this year I put it on the annual Christmas music collection I make for co-workers. A real treat.

Monday, December 22, 2008

And By The Way...

...What scheduling genius came up with the plan to have a Monday Night game in Chicago on the first full day of winter?

God, What An Idiot Tony Kornheiser Is

Well, it's nice to see that at least one person - Tony Kornheiser - is still worshiping at the altar of St. Favre. He's just completed several minutes of commentary on why the Packers would probably have been better off this year with Favre than with Aaron Rodgers. Thank God that Ron Jaworski was there to say, "well, it may be time for the Packers' defense to show up."

What Kornheiser conveniently overlooked is the fact that, for the past month, Favre has played like crap. Against a lousy Seahawks team yesterday, in Green Bay type weather no less, you would have thought that he was facing a defense made up of the Steel Curtain and the 1985 Bears.

So let's knock it off, can we? Favre's annual retirement ritual will be beginning soon, and the world should give Aaron Rodgers a break and let the Pack see what they can build around him. And like Jaworski said, perhaps it would be a good idea to get some help for the defense.

And Tony...the lump of coal for your stocking is on the way!

Jingle Bell Rock (Randy Travis )

My favorite version of "Jingle Bell Rock," probably one of the most overplayed holiday classics. And with the lyrics, you can sing along!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It really is, you know...but you don't have to take my word for it.

Harry Connick, Jr. is on his way to becoming the Andy Williams of his generation, at least in terms of Christmas albums. This fall he released his third - I haven't bought it yet, but I know that it will join the collection eventually. Here he is on Letterman, just before Thanksgiving, previewing a song that Andy himself helped make famous back in the 1960s.

Elvis on Fire For Christmas

Jac gets into the holiday music act, posting Elvis' great performance of "Blue Christmas" from the '68 Comeback Special.

I wholly endorse Jac's comments about the special - everyone who loves rock music should own this slice of rock history.

All Hail the Pacers!

From the point of view of Sacramento sports fans, the feel-good moment of the year probably occurred last night, with the Grant Pacers' upset victory over Long Beach Poly to claim the state football championship, open division.

Along with the Cordova Lancers back in the 1970s and 1980s, the Pacers are the greatest high school dynasty to come out of the Sacramento area. Their victory over Poly - which has only been the most successful high school program in the country in placing players in the NFL - will finally silence the naysayers who scoffed all week at the choice of Grant to play in the big game. Hopefully this will put Sacramento high school sports on the map, and give the area programs at least some of the respect that they deserve.

Special kudos to Coach Mike Alberghini, whose picture is in the dictionary when you look up "good guy." Great coach, great person, great program.

Way to go Pacers!

(Sacramento Bee photo)

Brenda Lee Lassos Santa Claus

I still can't believe she was only 8 years old when she recorded this song. I think this is her best Christmas song, even better than the much better known "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Aftermath

Featuring the staple of every teenage nightover party - chocolate cake, and a case of Dr. Pepper.

Happy 18th Birthday!

At this moment 18 years ago today, I was sitting in my wife's hospital room waiting for the birth of Son #1. Random memories of the day:

- The night before, Debra had talked to our friend Lisa, who told me after talking to her that it was time to get ready - the baby was going to be born very soon.

- With our neighbor Jolane, we shared a bottle of champagne that night. As Debra said, "at this point, I really don't think it's going to do us a lot of of harm."

- We left for the hospital around 2:30 in the morning, and damn it was cold. It was early Thursday morning, and that weekend would become one of the coldest in Sacramento history - with temperatures dipping down into the teens.

- I wore a short-sleeved shirt with pink polka dots. Hey, what can I say - you're not thinking too clearly at that moment.

- We were at the hospital long enough for all three of the doctors who had seen Debra during the course of her pregnancy to participate in the birth. One applied the epidural, one "broke the water," and one delivered the baby.

- Very quickly that morning, family began to arrive - my parents, Debra's mother, my sister-in-law to be (one of my brothers was taking a final that day, and the other was getting ready to fly up from southern California).

- Son #1 was born at 5:17 p.m.

- When the doctor went out into the hallway to make the announcement, he loudly declared, "ugliest baby I've ever seen!" Fortunately, my family has a sense of humor.

And so on this morning, son #1 and his friends are playing video games, after a sleepover. He's 18 years old.

Hard to believe.

Happy birthday!

The Corrs - O Holy Night

"O Holy Night" has always been my favorite religious-themed Christmas song. The melody is gorgeous - I think you could put just about any words to it, and it would sound beautiful.

The Corrs do justice to the song in this version, recorded a couple of years ago on "Good Morning America."

Friday, December 19, 2008

More Holiday Cat Blogging

Yo Yo Ma & Alison Krauss

If this song, which I believe is "The Wexford Carol," doesn't send chills up and down your spine, then you most definitely need to be visited by three spirits.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Merry Christmas, Baby

It's been covered by Elvis, it's been covered by Otis Redding, and it's been covered by Bruce Springsteen, along with what I'm sure are a host of others. But I doubt it's ever been performed as well as it was by Charles Brown.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Little Known Facts About My Daily Existence

When the HVAC system kicks on in my office, the resulting decibel level is roughly equivalent to that of a jet airliner taking off at Sacramento International Airport.

Or a hurricane. Take your pick.

Person of the Year

Even less surprising, if that is possible, than the selection of Michael Phelps as Sportsman of the Year.

And though it may be politically correct, I still hate that they now call it "Person of the Year."

Coldplay Gets Into the Holiday Spirit

Sort of..."Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" always comes across as such a melancholy song, and this version is no exception. The video isn't much to look at (it's not anything to look at, for that matter), but the performance is a good one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dame Caroline

Some very funny commentary on Caroline Kennedy's desire to become the junior Senator representing New York state.

Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby

It's been recorded by Madonna. It's been recorded by Kylie Minogue. It's been recorded by Mariah Carey. It's probably been recorded by nearly every ingenue/singer for the past half century. But no one, ever, has topped the Eartha Kitt version.

Monday, December 15, 2008

30 Years Ago

Thirty years ago today, Bruce Springsteen played a concert at Winterland in San Francisco. The concert was broadcast live on FM radio, and I remember listening to it in my room on that wintry Friday night (though stupidly, not taping it). It's one of a handful of Springsteen concerts that can rightly be called legendary, and in all likelihood one of the three of four greatest shows he has ever performed - which means it is one of the greatest rock concerts in the history of rock itself.

Thanks to the miracle of Wolfgang's Vault, the complete concert can be streamed and listened to on your computer. It's well worth your time - the amazing performance of "Prove It All Night" is worth the price of admission alone.

Steven Rubio, who has seen a lot more Bruce concerts than I have, writes about the show here. One thing to note - the embedding of Wolfgang's Vault songs is problematic when you're using Internet Explorer, so don't scratch your head if you see "The Traveler" embedded instead of the Bruce songs which Steven references. Move over to Firefox, and you'll see what was intended.

Frank Sinatra's Silent Night on 78

Shifting gears a bit (OK, a lot), this morning we have none other than the Voice himself, in a 1946 recording on 78 RPM. The great Frank Sinatra, singing "Silent Night, Holy Night."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh Well...

I just realized that in the span of a few days, I referred to two songs as "the greatest rock and roll Christmas song ever written."

Oh well - they're both worthy of the title, so go back and give them a listen.

The Drumline

The Band Plays On

The horn section.

Scenes From the Section Championship

The dream football season of the Pleasant Grove Eagles came to an end yesterday, following a 36-14 loss at the hands of the St. Mary's Rams. The Eagles put up a valiant effort, but in the end were overmatched against the larger, deeper St. Mary's squad.

Thankfully the rain held off for one more day, but the game was definitely a brisk affair. As long as the sun was out things were fine, but every time it ducked behind a cloud, it was time to get out the stocking cap.

Considering this was just the second year that PGHS has fielded a full varsity squad, 11-3 is nothing to sneeze out. Heck, in my four years at Del Campo (this was back in the 70s, but still) the team won a total of 15 games in four years.

This shot shows first quarter action from the game, played at Amos Alonzo Stagg Stadium on the campus of the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

The Ronettes Take A Sleigh Ride

Another cut from the legendary Phil Spector Christmas album, released in 1963 as "A Christmas Gift From Phil Spector." Of course, that was back in the day when Phil was still known as an eccentric genius.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Just the greatest rock and roll Christmas song of all time, courtesy of Darlene Love (vocal) and Phil Spector (producer).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chris Isaak Gets In The Holiday Spirit

With a soulful rendition of "I'll Be Home For Christmas." All I want to know is where to find me one of them jackets!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Cat Blogging

Governor Unveils His Budget Negotiation Strategy

Stern looks and sandwich boards, from the looks of it.

One of the complicating factors in the inability of the Legislature to discuss, much less address, California's fiscal crisis has been that the governor has absolutely no influence with the members of his own party.

The latest proposal to come down the pike is to lock the members into a session during Christmas week, and let them out only when they have reached a solution. I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.

Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians

I love this video - the juxtaposition of the Christmas lights, the nativity scene, and the old fashioned record player creates an indelible vision of Christmas, American style. And for me, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bela Fleck Christmas Medley

I bought my second Christmas CD of the season yesterday, "Jingle All The Way" by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. It's great, with some wildly unusual renditions of timeless classics. In this video, Bela does a Christmas medley on solo banjo - something you also don't hear too often.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Villines Goes All In

Well, after bashing him a few hours ago, I have to hand it to Mike Villines, if nothing else for having the stones to pull off such an incredible ploy.

Basically, it all adds up to "You will give me everything I want, and even then I may give you nothing." Michael Corleone himself could not have done better.

If the response of Darrell Steinberg and Karen Bass is anything but "take a hike," then they deserve the scorn that I will heap upon them. I mean, come on - you've got near super-majorities in both houses, in the bluest of blue states, and you would let the Republican leader push you around as if he were the reincarnation of Everett Dirksen?

It's enough to piss off the good humor man.

Pride and Prejudice, Facebook Style

If you have a Facebook page and are a fan of "Pride and Prejudice," you will find this highly amusing.

Hat tip: Girl Detective

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Despite a rare joint session of the California Legislature yesterday, where members heard how bad things are in California from State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, State Controller John Chiang, State Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, and State Finance Director Mike Genest, the California Legislature seems bound and determined to run the state into the ground, and count on something like divine intervention to turn things around.

It's hard to know at this point which party is most to blame, and which party is most ill-equipped to develop solutions to the myriad problems facing California. But since I shot some barbs Darrell Steinberg's way last week, today I'm going to send some the way of Assembly Republican leaders Dave Cogdill and Mike Villines. With no due respect, at this juncture they both have their heads so far up their arses that it's hard to fathom how they will ever again see the light of day.

Of course, they will tell you that their intransigience is all in "defense of the taxpayer." Well, gentlemen - that's all well and good, and probably very appealing to the dwindling base that still supports the Republican party in this state. But, last time I checked, people of all political backgrounds, colors and creeds were looking for solutions - for leaders who know the art of compromise, who know how to fashion a plan that can appeal to the broadest coalition possible while still turning the state in the right direction.

Villines in particular has been a profound disappointment. In the early 1990s, when he was a resident of Elk Grove, I served with Mike on the Franklin-Laguna Area Planning Advisory Council. At the time, he was a dedicated, open-minded public servant, one who strove to hear all points of view before reaching a decision. I'm not sure what happened between now and then, but his view has become so narrow that there is barely room in it for one point of view, much less any others.

All in all, the whole thing is a sad and degrading spectacle, and all 120 of them will deserve a lump of coal in their stockings if they can't get moving on something soon.

Santa Claus is Back in Town

Quite likely the greatest rock and roll Christmas song ever written, courtesy of Lieber and Stoller. Of course, the King turns in a magnificent performance, which he was prone to do in those days.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Farewell Shots From San Diego

It's a crazy week, it's a busy week...there's fun, there's camaraderie, there can be moments of despair, there can be moments of frustration. And then at the end, when the packing is done and the mind and body are spent, there's a bit of an emptiness - just no emotions left.

Can't wait to get home.


Flag flying above the U.S.S. Arizona memorial. Photo taken by son #1, July 2006.

The Beatles!

I bet you never knew the Beatles did a Christmas record. Well they did, and this is it. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a classic, but hey - it is the Beatles.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Lou Rawls Gets Into The Holiday Spirit

With "Christmas Is," a smooth, jazzy tune from the 1960s. Lou and the band are both in fine form on this one.

Eagles Win!

I wasn't able to see it in person because of my trip to San Diego, but a fellow fan was kind enough to keep me up-to-date last night by texting me all the major developments in the Pleasant Grove-Laguna Creek city championship game. In just their second year with a full varsity team, the Eagles triumphed 26-7, which is a pretty remarkable accomplishment.

This Sacramento Bee photo shows one of the team's stars, Michael Madkins, scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Star of Wonder

"Star of Wonder" by The Roches, from their great Christmas album We Three Kings (which I wrote about here).

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Roy Wood As Father Christmas

We now head back to that odd time known as the Seventies, with Roy Wood's Wizzard looking rather odd but singing a very catchy holiday pop tune, "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!

Sufjan Stevens, from his remarkable 5-disc collection "Songs for Christmas." It's not all perfect, and some of it is pretty rough, but Stevens proved that it is possible to create a modern-day Christmas album that feels original and vital - and doesn't rely entirely on the classics.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Least Surprising Decision Of The Year

I guess Plaxico Burress blew his shot when he almost blew his leg off the other night. Oh well.

B.O. From B.K. With A Holiday Ditty

Buck Owens from Bakersfield, California sings "Santa Looks A Lot Like Daddy," which is certainly a welcome alternative (at least to these ears) to the overplayed "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

Monday, December 01, 2008

An Open Letter to Darrell Steinberg

This isn't going to make sense to any reader outside of California, but so be it...

Dear Senator Steinberg:

Congratulations on your ascension to the position of President pro Tem of the California State Senate. Your career of public service is one of which you can be justifiably proud. I believe you are uniquely suited to lead the State Senate in this time of fiscal crisis - as well as serve as a leader for the entire membership of the Legislature.

As you know well, the stakes have never been higher, and your moment arrives at a time when the public's confidence in the Legislature has never been lower. Put frankly, the performance of the California Legislature has been an embarrassment for some time now, but never more so than in the past year. There is no other word for what transpired in the Capitol this past year than failure. And while it is fair for the governor to share in the blame for that failure, it is also time for the Legislature to step up to the plate and assume responsibility for its own role in that failure.

But more than that, it is time for the Democratic Party to prove that it stands for something. As a lifelong Democrat, I am ashamed to associate myself with the party that has proven to be so impotent in the seat of power. It is all well and good to blame the governor and the minority party for their respective shortcomings in developing long-term solutions to the current economic situation which the state now faces. But the Democrats hold the cards, and have for some time. It is nothing less than shameful that the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy has proven to be nothing more than a paper tiger in this budget debate. It is hard for any objective observer to escape the conclusion that the party really stands for nothing more than holding power.

Fair or not, the burden now lies on your shoulders. It is time to turn things around. It is time to craft solutions that will appeal, not only to your Democratic brethren, but also to the elected leaders who sit across the aisle. No more blame. No more failure. The people demand answers. Democrats and Republicans alike demand answers.

And if the answer once again is failure, then you will have one less Democrat to worry about pleasing, because I'll be leaving the party to become an Independent.

Good luck, and Godspeed.

Get Well, Dr. Z

Sad news from Peter King this morning - Paul Zimmerman, the erstwhile "Dr. Z" who has been writing about football for Sports Illustrated for more than 30 years, suffered two strokes a week ago. He appears to be on the road to recovery, but at least for the time being there will be no Dr. Z to relish each week in the magazine and on SI.Com.

Get well soon. We miss you already.

Musical Advent Calendar 2008

Year 2 of the musical advent calendar kicks off with this classic version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," courtesy of John Denver and Rowlf. That's right, Rowlf! Scoff you may, but this is one of the most convincing (and best) versions of the song ever recorded.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Parade of Lights

A little blurry (or a lot blurry, if you prefer), but an action shot nonetheless - son #1 marching in the Elk Grove Parade of Lights, Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.

Home Away From Home

For the next eight nights, I'll be staying at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego for the annual conference and leadership meetings of the Association for which I work.

Along with millions of other travelers, I braved the airport today, and arrived safely without a lot of fuss. Two of the views from my room are shown in these pictures.

And so the longest week begins.

The BCS Is Screwed...

...because no matter what happens, there is going to be a huge controversy.

And the thing is...this year, there really is no right answer. There's no way at this point to objectively determine whether Texas or Oklahoma is the better team, aside from having them go out on the field and play 4 quarters. Next week we'll find out whether Alabama or Florida is more worthy, but that won't answer the question of whether the winner of that game is any better than the winner of the SEC Championship. And of course, we all know that whoever "wins" the right to play in the Big 12 Championship may find themselves on the short end of the stick, if Missouri can bounce back from that incredible loss yesterday and give them a good game.

And then of course, there's USC. There's no doubt in my mind that the Trojans are capable of beating all of the aforementioned teams, which is not to say that they would. And by stinking up the joint on that Thursday evening in Oregon lo these many weeks ago, they gave up any right to have an argument. As did Penn State, when they jumped the shark against Iowa a few weeks ago. But they, no doubt, could also give someone a great game.

So prepare yourselves for the storm to come, and dream sweet dreams of what might have been this year if there was an 8-team playoff.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Friday Night Lights Redux

An odd fog descends onto the field at halftime of the Pleasant Grove-Nevada Union game.

In just their second year of fielding a full varsity team, Pleasant Grove has advanced to the city championship, with a thrilling 21-18 win over perennial power NU. Next week, they will face off against another Elk Grove team, Laguna Creek, for the city bragging rights.

Meanwhile, the Elk Grove Thundering Herd was reduced to having a few dozen ill-behaved punks attending last night's game, thinking it would be fun to root for Nevada Union. Stay home next week and study, kids. You might even get into the local community college if you do.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In Honor of the Day

"Black Friday," performed live in 2006. I don't think the song has anything to do with what people call Black Friday these days (and when did that start, anyway?), but then again I've been listening to the song for over 30 years now and I'm still not quite sure what it is about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

The holiday season is bracketed by two major parades, probably the most famous in the United States: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena on New Year's Day. Maybe it's because it heralds the beginning of the season rather than its end, but the Thanksgiving Day parade has always been my favorite. Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday, as Loudon Wainwright once sang, "just a buffet in between" Halloween and Christmas. Thanksgiving deserves better.

Monday, November 24, 2008

With All The Trimmings

It's a Thanksgiving annual posting of one of my favorite essays, "With All The Trimmings" by Garrison Keillor. It first appeared in TIME Magazine in 1995.

With All The Trimmings
by Garrison Keillor

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.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Head Over To The Carnival!

Anthony McCune is celebrating the third anniversary of his blog with an old-fashioned Blog Carnival, and he was kind enough to link to one of my posts in the celebration.

Be sure to head on over - lots of interesting links. While you're there, check out Anthony's site (which is bookmarked here under "More Good Stuff") - in particular for his great photos of Frank Lloyd Wright properties.

And Finally...The Mass Exodus

Back In Its Rightful Hands

(San Francisco Chronicle photo)

Touchdown, Bears!

And on this play, the Bears have just scored their third touchdown of the quarter. We had a terrific view of all three, including the incredible hook-and-ladder play which Jahvid Best took into the end zone.

First and Goal, Bears

In the third quarter, the Bears exploded, scoring 3 touchdowns in about 7 minutes to take a commanding 30-3 lead. This is first and goal on the short drive (following an interception) which resulted in their first touchdown.

UPDATE: I screwed this one up...Stanford actually has the ball here, and I think it may have been this play where the first interception took place.

Halftime Show

From a higher angle, the Golden Bears marching band performs at halftime.

First Half Action

First half action, including the opening kickoff, and two Stanford drives down to our end of the field, one of which ended in a field goal. The Bears took a 10-3 lead into halftime, and it appeared the game was up for grabs.

UPDATE: Well, I screwed this one up too - clearly, the Bears have the ball in one of these pictures. It had to be the first quarter, because that's the direction they were heading.

The Bears Take The Field!

Stanfurd Band

When you go to the game with a Stanford season ticket holder, you sit in the Stanford rooting section. We were closer to the infamous band than we'd ever been before, but they behaved relatively well on this occasion.

The Student Section

A view of the Cal student section, with Cheapskate Hill visible in the background.

Great Seats!

Section O, Row 14, Seats 1 and 2. A difficult angle for the opposite end zone, but as it would turn out, some of the best seats in the entire stadium.

This is the pre-game show, with both bands out on the field.

Mass of Humanity

The crush gets a little serious when you get close to the stadium.

Heading Up To The Game

Winding our way up Bancroft, on the way to the stadium.

The Infamous Jacket

The infamous Stanford Indians jacket worn by my friend Steve, with whom I've attended 12 Big Games (Cal leads 6-5-1 in our personal series). Needless to say, Steve gets a lot of comments about this, and I usually make sure that I'm walking several steps behind him as we head up to the game.

Views From The Lot

Views from the public parking lot on Durant Avenue, where I felt lucky to get away with a $30 parking fee. I was prepared for $50.

Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Co., across the street from Moe's on Telegraph Avenue.

As is clear from the photos, it was a crystal clear, perfect day in Berkeley. Just right for football.

Big Game 2008

As mentioned below, the first stops in Berkeley are the used book stores on Telegraph Avenue: the legendary Moe's Books, and Shakespeare & Co. right across the street. My friend Steve collects books on cinema, sports, and the British monarchy, which strikes me as an unusual combination but maybe not to some readers.

This year at Moe's, I was able to find Greil Marcus' "Prophecy and the American Voice," which is one of the few books of his that I don't own. If I recall correctly, Steve left with a history of cinema, and a biography of Adlai Stevenson.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Master and His Padawan

Son #1, jamming after Wednesday night's concert, with his student paying close attention.

Big Game 1986 - Farewell, Joe

During the time I worked as a busboy and then waiter at Chuck's Steak House of Hawaii, I met a guy named Steve who would hang out in our bar on a lot of evenings. Steve was a huge sports fan, to the point of obsession. At the time, he would wear a Denver Broncos cap that looked like it was 50 years old, and sported a very sporty (if not necessarily stylish) pair of mutton-chop sideburns. Well before Chris Berman became a household name in the sporting world, Steve had developed clever nicknames for just about every figure in the sporting world, nicknames that were all the more amusing for their frequent ribaldry. In short, Steve was a character.

As it turned out over the course of numerous late night conversations, Steve was also a huge Stanford fan. He didn't go to Stanford, or have any relatives that went to Stanford, but had adopted them as his team. He had season tickets to football, and would also go to many of their basketball games. As it also turned out, Steve hated driving in Berkeley, after a couple of bad experiences, and was delighted to find out that I had gone there, and in fact might be willing to drive and accompany him to the Big Game on the years when it was at Cal. Our deal, which stands to this day, is that he gives me the ticket, and I drive and pay for the parking. In 1986, I was getting the better end of the deal. Today, I think it's a wash.

Our routine - Steve, shall we say, is into routines - is the same every two years: I pick him up at 8 a.m. in front of his office in downtown Sacramento, we park on the top level of the public parking lot at Durant and Telegraph in downtown Berkeley, and then spend a couple of hours in the used book stores on Telegraph perusing the stacks. Steve is a collector, both of sports memorabilia and of books about old film stars. The book stores on Telegraph are a treasure trove of such stuff, and it's very easy to lose track of time wandering through the five stories of Moe's Books and the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of Shakespeare's. After we're finished with that, we head back to the car, have our lunch and a beer, and walk up to Memorial Stadium for the game.

1986 was another one of those years (they were frequent back then) that Cal stunk to high heaven, and Stanford just needed one more win to make it to a bowl game. Heading into the Big Game, it was already known that the Joe Kapp experiment was coming to an end. Kapp, the legendary Cal quarterback who led the team to the Rose Bowl in the late 1950s and went on to a good pro career with the Minnesota Vikings (and who apparently, based on the SI cover shown above, was "the toughest Chicano"), had been hired to coach the Bears in 1982 despite never having coached a minute at any level of organized football. As became clear over the course of a five-year period, Kapp was a great guy and an absolutely wonderful cheerleader for the Cal football program, but was about as bad a coach as one can imagine. Despite having a lot of talent, the Bears underachieved each year under his tenure, although it must be said that Kapp was the coach for the single most exciting play in the history of college football (you know which one I'm talking about). He had little to do with it, but so be it. The Bears were 1-9, and the University had had enough. Joe had to go.

Back to Steve for a moment - another thing he is, is a pessimist. When he saw that Stanford was favored by 17 1/2 points, he decided right then and there that they were going to lose. All the way down to the game, he complained about the spread, and "how in the world those jerks could make any team a 17 point favorite in the Big Game!"

Well, as it turned out Steve was right. Cal played a great game, and basically outplayed the Cardinal until the very end, when it was too late. The first half was a defensive battle, but Cal crack through the end zone first to take a 7-0 lead. After Stanford closed it to 7-3, the Bears added a field goal in the third quarter, and then ran a beautiful, perfectly executed reverse with about 7 minutes to play to stretch their lead to 17-3. Stanford made things interesting with a late touchdown and two-point conversion, but for once in the Kapp era, the Bears held on when it counted, and prevailed 17-11. And once again, Stanford stayed home for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Big Game Memories - 1980

The fall of 1980 was my first quarter at Cal, and along with my last quarter, probably the most fun I had in my two years there. There was something incredibly liberating about being away from home for the first time in my life, and sharing that experience with a dorm full of people experiencing exactly the same thing. It took me a while to find an appropriate balance between "fun" and school (that D+ on a midterm helped a lot in that regard), and it also took me a while to realize that I needed to start pacing myself in the spending department if I was going to make it through two years without taking out major student loans. Over the course of the quarter I got better at it, and still managed to partake in a lot of activities outside the classroom - including my first Bruce Springsteen concert, as well as an incredible show by Talking Heads and The English Beat - to this day, one of the five best concerts I've ever seen.

And of course there was football. Cal was actually expected to contend for the Rose Bowl that fall, but unfortunately I had been accepted so late in the process (due to a mixup with my community college transcripts) that it was too late for me to get a student football pass. I still managed to hit most of the games, using the pass of someone who couldn't go or just didn't care. As the season progressed, the latter reason prevailed most often, because the team underachieved to a spectacular degree, and really stunk up the joint after starting quarterback Rich Campbell went down for the season with an injury. His successor was a guy named J Torchio (that's right, just the letter J), who was around 5'11" and was obviously not a threat to go on to a professional career. His first three starts were all blowouts, and heading into the Big Game the team was a desultory 2-8.

I wasn't expecting to go to the game, but miraculously, on Friday evening one of my dorm-mates (in fact, a classmate from my high school) decided he didn't really care one way or another about the game, and gave me his ticket. Needless to say, that made the evening, and I remember calling home to let everyone know (and no, they didn't really care) that I was going to THE BIG GAME!

If I recall correctly, Stanford was 6-4, and only needing a victory "over lowly Cal" (we saw that a lot in the papers that week) to wrap up a bowl bid. This was before the days when 2/3 of Division I teams went to a bowl game, so a winning record was no guarantee of a postseason berth. They were favored by about two touchdowns, and their quarterback was this arrogant bratty sophomore by the name of John Elway. Of course, we had no chance.

But strange things happen in the Big Game, and this one was no exception. Cal took the opening kickoff and drove down the field as if the Stanford defense was made of cheese, and of course we all went batsh*t crazy. The group I went to the game with had gotten there two hours early, just so we could stake out perfect seats on the 50-yard line. The first keg had been tapped about 10 a.m., so you can imagine we were already having a good time.

Stanford came right back and scored, and we figured the rout was on, but to our surprise and glee, Cal dominated the rest of the first half, and went into halftime with a 21-7 lead. Back in those days, they still allowed Cal fans to throw oranges at the Stanford band while they were performing, and all of us tried to get our orange into the tuba, to no avail. The band dedicated their first song to "the losers of the world," and then spelled out "Theder," the name of Cal's coach. Naturally that infuriated everyone, and the orange throwing became a little more urgent (not to mention dangerous).

In the third quarter, Stanford scored two touchdowns while Cal did absolutely nothing, and we fully expected to be disappointed. But then, after a great punt which was downed on the Stanford 4-yard line, the Cardinal fumbled the snap on first down and the Bears recovered. Two plays later they scored to take a 28-21 lead, and somehow the defense held on to that lead, despite a barrage of deep Elway passes that had us holding our breath with each heave. When Cal took over on downs with less than a minute to go, deep in their own territory, they were able to wind down the clock, take a safety, and kick the ball out of danger - or so we thought. As people around the world would learn later, that Elway kid had a bit of a gun as an arm, and he managed to get one last Hail Mary pass 70 yards down the field into the end zone. But it was batted down, and the Bears escaped with a 28-23 upset victory. And Stanford stayed home for the holidays.

The rest of the day, I have to admit, is a bit of a blur. I know that beer was involved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's Big Game Week!

That's right, folks! After two years of exile in the frozen wasteland of December, the annual Big Game between the California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal has returned to its rightful place, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. And because of that change, which by itself is reason enough to be thankful as we head into the holiday season, I'll be back in Berkeley on Saturday for my 13th Big Game seen in person.

For the next few days, you're going to see a lot on this site about Big Game memories. Most of you probably could not care less, but I hope there's enough football fans out there - particularly of the Blue & Gold and Red-shirt variety - to find the entries entertaining.

Of course, pictured here is the Stanford Axe, which is awarded annually to the winner of the game. Alas, it pains me to say that the Axe is currently in the hands of the Cardinal, which would make a victory this weekend that much sweeter.

Stay tuned, and in the meantime...Roll On You Bears!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Color Commentary

Given the increasing number of college football games that are on TV each weekend, with each passing year it becomes painfully clear that there aren't enough good announcers to go around. Last night, watching the Stanford-USC game, the color commentator (don't recall the name) said that one of the strengths of the USC defense was that they played "intelligently well." That got me to thinking - if USC's defense plays intelligently well, what are the alternatives?

- Intelligently poor
- Stupidly well
- Stupidly poor

When I figure out to which category the Cal defense belongs, I'll be sure to let you know.


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to give my highest recommendation to Michele Catalano's new music blog, "This Is Not Pitchfork." In it, she has embarked on a quest to review every single album in her music collection. It's something I've thought of doing myself, but the task has always seemed too daunting - I can barely keep up with the albums I've bought this year, much less tackle more than 40 years of stuff.

My taste does not always converge with hers (of the first 42 reviewed albums, I only own 15), and my opinions don't always converge with hers, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that she's a great and entertaining writer, which is something you don't always see even in the most popular music magazines of the day.

Check it out. It's also linked on my Blogroll.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hey...Those Are My Shirts!

Today is the Season

Today is when we find out for certain whether Cal's season is a "success" or a "disappointment." They're playing Oregon State on the road, a killer place to play in any circumstance (just ask USC) but one that should be particularly difficult today given that the Beavers have clawed their way (do Beavers claw?) back into the Top 25, and control their own destiny (imagine deep, Darth Vader-like voice solemnly intoning that phrase) in the Pac-10.

Last year, the Bears packed it in after a very good effort against USC. Last week, the Bears put up a very good effort against USC. So we'll see today whether more "packing it in" is in their future. Win out, 9-3, Holiday Bowl, good season.

Prediction? I'm going to show faith and go for the upset: Cal 38, Oregon State 28.

UPDATE: Well, that was that. 34-21, Beavers. And now the only thing left is to get the axe back from Stanford. And if the Cardinal beats USC (they're tied at halftime), we may be the underdogs.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jeff's Jukebox: D-3

D-3: Mexican Radio, Wall of Voodoo

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but what the heck: the week is nearly over, the trial is over, and I'm in a Friday kind of mood.

So from 1982, featuring a twitchier-than-normal Stanard Ridgway, the Jukebox is proud to bring you "Mexican Radio." Maybe for lunch I'll go out and look for some barbecued iguana.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Warning: Rant Ahead

My entire professional career has been focused on public education, in one way or another. I come from a family where nearly everyone was involved in public education - teachers, administrators, classroom aides, even custodians. So it's fair to say that I believe deeply in our public school system, and sincerely believe that public schools can be - and should be -the foundation of our democratic society.

But every now and then, I get so angry at the public school system that every fiber of my being bristles. Now is one of those times. Because we have reached the point, in the never-ending quest for achievement and accountability, that kids in school can no longer afford to get sick. Son #2 has had a fever, sore throat and a nasty cold for several days now, but because of the homework backlog can no longer afford the luxury of staying home to nurse himself back to health. He's already fallen behind, and another day away from school will just exacerbate the problem.

This is insanity. It's shameful. And everyone in the system with good intentions who has laid a brick in this road to hell - and I don't excuse any small role I may have played - should take a deep, long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether it's really worth it.