Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jeff's Jukebox: D-1

D-1: New Orleans, Gary "U.S." Bonds

Before I leave tomorrow afternoon, a special Jeff's Jukebox tribute to The Big Easy.


The beignets were great, but I have to admit that I was absolutely blown away by the coffee (cafe au lait, to be precise). My pet peeve with coffee is that I want it to be hot, and I want it to stay hot. Oh, and of course taste great. With a typical latte from Starbucks, I'm forced to make two trips to the microwave to bring it back up to the preferred temperature. With this beverage, it was still piping hot at the last sip. Bravo!

Really? YA THINK?

Needless to say, there was much to find on the blogosphere last night that addressed the House of Representatives' rejection of the bailout. There was plenty of venom to be found on both sides of the political spectrum, and from what I could tell very little of what one could call expert analysis.

So it was heartening to see this post on Patterico's site this morning:

Again, I feel essentially unqualified to have a firm opinion. But I’m surprised at how many people in the comments here seem to be utterly confident in their opinion that the bailout is definitely the wrong thing. You might be right. But you also might be horribly, horribly wrong.

Well, welcome to real world, my friend. You have correctly put your finger, not only on what is wrong with 95% of political blogs, and probably close to 100% of our political dialogue today. People who don't know as much as they think they do are convinced in the correctness and the righteousness of their positions. And armed with a computer and the ability to type, they are pulling a lot of people with them. And until that changes, we are just going to keep sliding down into the morass, into oblivion.

Monday, September 29, 2008

St. Louis Cathedral

The rear view. The statue is lighted from the front at night, and when you look down Orleans Street from Bourbon Street, the shadow takes up most of the back wall of the building. In a way, it looks as if it is bestowing forgiveness...and in another way, it looks like it is signaling "touchdown!"

Two Views of Decatur Street


On the shore of the Mississippi.

The Holocaust Memorial

Two views of the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial. When you view the obelisks straight on, you see nothing - it's only when viewed from each corner that the art is visible.

WTC New Orleans

The World Trade Center, New Orleans. Without a doubt, one of the most hideous structures I've ever seen.

Harrah's New Orleans

For some reason, there's something jarring to me about a Harrah's being in New Orleans. I've been inside and it's a nice casino, but not any different than any other one I've been in. Just feels out of place here.

NO Monday Night

After a long day of conferencing (not that anyone was wondering, but I'm here for the Summit for Courageous Conversation, about which I will write later, once I've had time to reflect on the experience), I walked down the Riverwalk, over to Decatur Street near Cafe Du Monde, and then through some different, non-Bourbon Street parts of the French Quarter this evening. I was delighted to discover some quiet, dare I say it more authentic portions of the neighborhood. Had dinner at a corner restaurant called Pere Antoine, complete with open-air windows and perfect ambiance, and then decided to catch the early jazz show at Preservation Hall, which tonight featured the 726 Jazz Band. It was great; with the highlight being "Baby Face," dedicated to a smiling two-year old girl who danced most of the show away. Good stuff.

Some photos from the walk appear in the posts above this one.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Just Another Sunday Night

Bourbon Street was a bit much tonight, even for someone who appreciates the outrageous and the decadent as much as I do. Saints fans had been partying since the game got over in mid-afternoon, and all I can say is that I hope they find their way home. Whereas last night everyone genuinely seemed to be in a positive party mood, tonight there was a weird, aggressive feel in the air. It may have been that it was much warmer tonight, the humidity and stillness combining to make the crowd feel almost oppressive.

It made me think of this Obi-Wan Kenobi quote from Star Wars:

"Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

Of course, I doubt that any of this is going to stop me from going back tomorrow night!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Coolest Walgreens in the World

I realize that may not be saying much, but still...

What Distinguishes New Orleans from New Orleans Square at Disneyland

This pretty much says it all.

Paul Newman

When I was growing up, Paul Newman was not just a movie star - he was the movie star. My mother adored Paul Newman; there was just no question that he was, as the saying goes, "the greatest thing since sliced bread." It may have been that my parents actually saw Newman and Joanne Woodward once, when they were on their honeymoon in San Francisco. But whatever the reason, Paul Newman was the man.

I don't know that I know enough about acting to say whether Newman was a great actor or not. But of the Newman movies I've seen, what I would say is that he made it look easy. Which leads me to believe that it was not. He looked like he was having fun. He looked like a man entirely comfortable in his own skin. He wasn't afraid to play against type, and he wasn't afraid to take on challenging roles. And he seemed like a man of character, a man of whom you could be proud to call friend.

And he was a man not afraid to poke a little fun at himself. Of all the great roles he played, what comes to mind right now is his appearance on the first Letterman show on CBS, when the camera went out into the audience to reveal him sitting there, and after Letterman introduced him, Newman standing up and bellowing, "where the hell are the singing cats!?"

Ironically, just yesterday I read this great profile of Newman which appeared in the September edition of Vanity Fair, by Patricia Bosworth. It is a great profile. I loved this excerpt, which says something about what it was that my mom found so appealing:

The first time I saw Paul Newman he was dancing with Marilyn Monroe. It was the summer of 1959 at a noisy Actors Studio party in New York’s Greenwich Village. I had just passed my audition and was being introduced to everyone as a new member by the Broadway producer Cheryl Crawford, one of the Studio’s heads.

Nobody was paying me much attention—understandably, since they were all watching a barefoot Marilyn, in a skintight black dress, undulate around the living room with Newman, lithe and sinewy in chinos and T-shirt.

They seemed to be dancing with such rapture; they both kept changing rhythms and sometimes they walk-stepped to the beat. They didn’t dance for very long—maybe three minutes—but what a hot, pulsing three minutes it was! They broke apart, Marilyn gave a giggle and a curtsy, and Newman bowed and moved directly past me through the crowd to get a beer.

That’s when I saw that rugged, chiseled, gorgeous face of his close up and breathed in his coolly seductive presence and beheld—I have to say it—those penetrating, unsettling blue, blue eyes.

When it comes to a man like Paul Newman, all you can really say is that you just can't believe he's not going to be around.

Update: Newlyweds.

Update: List making.

Update: A great humanitarian.

Update: Oh my.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Because Unfunky Pirates Are Really Uncool

More Daiquiris!

Yeah, I guess I'm going to have to have one of these too.

Hand Grenade!

"New Orleans' Most Powerful Drink" - I suppose I'm going to have to try one of these before I leave.

Old Opera House

Lots of live music on Bourbon Street. Lots of neon.

Big Easy Daiquiris

Daiquiris and pizza seem to be a big combination in the Big Easy.

A Stroll Down Bourbon Street

I'm in New Orleans for a conference which starts tomorrow morning, so this afternoon I had time to take a stroll down Bourbon Street and some other parts of the French Quarter. Based on how much partying was going on at 4 in the afternoon, I can't imagine what things must be like right now, after the sun has set.

Took a few photos; here's one.

As the sign says, people are dying to get in here.

The Great Elevator Operator Up In The Sky

When you use the elevators at the New Orleans Marriott, you enter the floor number before you get in, and you're told which elevator (A-F) to stand by. Once you step on to the elevator, it stops only at the floors that have been programmed by the selection of those waiting in the lobby.

Just thought you'd want to know.

Caveat Emptor

This post has nothing to say, except that I thought it would be cool to blog from every airport I set foot in on this trip.

Right now I'm sitting in Denver International Airport, waiting for my flight to New Orleans. So far, 2/2 with the free wi-fi at airports.

I Hate to Pile On, But...

...in the end, it's just too hard to resist.

I was impressed with Sarah Palin's convention speech, and thought her selection was a great strategic move. But facts are facts, and there's little doubt that her interview this week with Katie Couric was one of the great political train wrecks of all time.

We live in a polarized world, and everyone these days is certain of their own opinion. I always try to keep a voice in the back of my mind that tells me, "did it ever occur to you that you might be wrong?" Well, in this case I'm ignoring that little voice, because I honestly think that anyone who tries to spin that interview into something positive for the McCain campaign has been snorting something powerful that's really, really bad for you.

Brendan Loy puts it well here, and his post includes some great links.

UPDATE: As far as spin goes, I think this is probably as good as one can do. Unless I'm mistaken, it boils down to "McCain isn't letting Palin be herself." I'm not sure I buy it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Well, OF COURSE Civilization Began With Beer!

And no doubt about it, this is definitely where I want son #1 to go to college.

Truly Uncharted Waters

As leery as I am of wading back into the presidential election swamplands, what happened today just demands comment.

Frankly, I am amazed that anyone would think that John McCain's ploy is anything but just that - a cynical attempt to divert attention away from a campaign that has been sinking like a stone in the last 10 days. Obviously, many people disagree. Hugh Hewitt writes:

Today was Obama's Katrina moment and an example of great leadership by John McCain. This contrast was telling and will matter.

I honestly don't get it. I literally cannot fathom how someone can interpret what happened today in the way that Hugh Hewitt has read it.

And when you read the joint statement that was proposed by Obama, it really is hard to view what Senator McCain is doing as leadership. Oneupsmanship, perhaps, and beneath him.

The whole campaign has taken a disgusting turn that will probably turn off more voters than inspire them to get involved. Tragic is not a word that I like to throw around lightly, but we're approaching that level of disappointment.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I walked upstairs tonight after "House," fully intending to put on the new Jackson Browne CD. When I opened the CD player, I saw that Debra, my wife, had been listening to music today while she worked: Sarah Vaughan, George Winston, the soundtrack to the 2005 film version of Pride & Prejudice. I put the Jackson Browne into the player, but instead played the soundtrack.

This is not the kind of music that I normally listen to. Pride & Prejudice is not the kind of movie I normally watch, nor is it the kind I book I normally read. But there is something about Pride & Prejudice - both book and movie - that pulls me in every time. And while the 1995 Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth version is no doubt definitive (and yes, we own that one too), I confess to a fondness for the 2005 film version, starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy. The purists said that Knightley was too beautiful to play Elizabeth, and while from a literary standpoint that might be true, from a cinematic view it's hard to imagine a better match between character and actor. In a previous post I called her performance "luminous," and that still sounds right today. Macfadyen is also very good, although he will never, no doubt, replace Colin Firth in the hearts and minds of the many Jane Austen fans who rightly praise that performance as a great one.

In a great movie, all the components combine to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. And for me, the soundtrack of this film is the part which pushes the film beyond the very good into the realm of greatness. Composed by Dario Marianelli, it is the most memorable soundtrack since the great John Barry's magnificent soundtrack for Out of Africa. I cannot think of another film score which meshes so well with each scene, which is so evocative of the emotions of the film that with each listen, the sounds of the each track immediately conjure in my mind the scene for which it served as background. I hear "Your Hands Are Cold," and the scene where Elizabeth looks out on the field, and sees Darcy walking to her, his coat billowing in the breeze, is plain as day. Marianelli's score throughout the film has been building up to this moment, using similar themes in different pieces which never quite reach a climax. But when Elizabeth sees Darcy walking towards her, and they come together, and become one, the music reaches a crescendo which the composer has saved for just this moment. Perfect is the only way to describe it.

And "Mrs. Darcy," the final and somewhat controversial scene in the movie - the music fills the heart, and leaves the listener with no doubt that the life ahead for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy is going to be quite happy indeed.

Sometimes, music is just a happy accident. A soundtrack for your life.

Jeff's Jukebox: C-8

C-8: "I Only Have Eyes For You," The Flamingos

A sense of magic. A sense of mystery. The best songs have both.

There have been few songs in the history of rock and roll with as much mystery and magic as this one.

Everything is perfect. The piano. The organ. The vocals.

So perfect, it's almost scary.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Worth 1000 Words, Ryder Cup Edition

Faldo Sliced, Diced and Marinated

The early returns are in from across the pond on Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup captaincy, and if this article is any indication, 'ol Nick might as well stay over here and lick his wounds for a while before heading back home.

Some choice quotes:

"The Ryder Cup is in American hands for the first time this century, placed there, the lynch mob will say, by a European captain who could never quite get over himself."


"He is about to pay the price of a lifetime of self serving, of devotion to the cult of the individual."


"Embarrassment ought to bring him down. Virulent self-regard blinds him to it as he wanders permanently in a Faldo wonderland. "

Paper cut!

"Faldo’s gamble on the big finish, loading the European tail with alpha muscle, left Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Padraig Hamilton at 10, 11 and 12 thrashing at thin air, their legs amputated by a hopelessly incontinent ego. "

Take that, you spineless traitor!

Of course, someone might want to tell this guy that it's Harrington, not Hamilton.

Last Hole - U.S. Wins the Cup!

Furyk and Jimenez hit good drives.

Both hit good second shots; both on the green. Furyk away.

Furyk's putt is short.

Jimenez lines his up.

It heads towards the hole...and does not go in!

The putt is conceded. And the U.S. Wins!!!

What do you think now, Seve Ballesteros?

J.B.! J.B.! J.B.!

Gotta love those down home boys. And now it's all up to you, Jim Furyk.

Closing in on the Cup?

At the risk of jinxing the whole thing, it's looking good right now. Furyk is dormie with three to play and looks to pick up a full point, and Holmes is 1-up and in the fairway on 17. Chad Campbell leads Harrington by 2 back on 12, and another match is all square. It's not over yet, but all of a sudden I really like our chances.

I Think We're In Good Shape?

Watching this isn't much fun - kind of like a baseball playoff game that's tight going into the late innings.

The 17th and 18th holes of the Hunter Mahan-Paul Casey epitomized the Ryder Cup. Hugely unlikely birdie on 17 by Mahan to take a 1-up lead, immediately followed by a Mahan drive into the water on 18 to allow Casey to halve the match.

It's looking pretty good right now, but the way things change in these matches, it could be all over in the other direction in 30 minutes.

Momentum, Momentum...

How quickly things can change. Now it's starting to look very shaky for the U.S. team, and although they still hold the advantage, it's going to come down to just a couple of matches that are very close. Kenny Perry is popping painkillers out on the course, Phil Mickelson is yet again turning in a sub-par performance (and I don't mean that he's making birdies), and Ian Poulter for the Euros is again shredding everything in his path. J.B. Holmes or Stewart Cink really need to step it up and get back in their matches. It's nervous time.

Ladies and Gentlemen...Anthony Kim and Ian Poulter!

I hate to jinx them with the matches still going on, but today we may be seeing the birth of two new charismatic stars, something that professional golf desperately needs. Anthony Kim is just tearing up the course and shredding Sergio Garcia in the process, while Ian Poulter is well on his way to becoming the hero or villain of this Ryder Cup, depending on your point of view. Neither Kim nor Poulter seems interested in making this a friendly match with pals - Kim is conceding Garcia nothing on the greens, and Poulter's eyes have probably drilled holes into half the American crowd by now.

Great stuff. The U.S. is off to a great start, but there's a lot of golf to be played, as they say.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"It's Like They're Children At Play"

The less said about the California budget mess, the better. I suppose one could call the California Legislature the Lehman Brothers of Legislatures. And the governor isn't any better, demonstrating a shocking lack of vision coupled with ineptitude on an epic scale. Put it all together in a bag and shake it up, and what you're left with is something that falls somewhere on the disaster scale between the Titanic and the Hindenburg.

For a life-long Democrat such as myself, the most disappointing aspect about the entire debacle has been the utter lack of ability by the majority party to use that majority to leverage anything that they want in the budget debate. Senate President pro Tem Don Perata basically threw in the towel, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has barely registered on the radar. I'm willing to concede that they are well-meaning individuals whose service is based on a dedication to their constituency - not just in their districts, but across the state. But even with that concession, the bottom line is that they failed their constituency in 2008. And if they have a vision for how to pull California out of this downward spiral, it was not readily evident during this year's debate.

It's hard to have hope, and if the trend continues, the results are truly frightening to contemplate. There is some hope in the form of incoming Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, but to date I've yet to hear him talk about how he and his colleagues are going to pull themselves out of this hole. He needs to get it out there, and soon.

Check Those Nerves, It's Ryder Cup Time

From the viewpoint of the spectator, the Ryder Cup is something that you survive as much as you savor. The American team has gotten its behind kicked on a regular basis since the miracle of Brookline in 1999, and on paper this one didn't look to be much different. Sports Illustrated issued a special Golf Plus Ryder Cup edition a week ago, and in it they included reports on all 24 individual players, ranking them from #1 to #24. Just based on the names alone, you would have had to make the Europeans a favorite, and factoring in recent performance, you'd be crazy not to have made them a huge favorite. And then there's that small matter of the world's greatest player being unavailable to the team. You can't discount that.

So I wish I'd written this yesterday morning, because after giving it some thought I figured that the Americans were going to win this year. The team was not burdened with expectations, was playing on home soil (on "hallowed Valhalla," according to one ESPN advertisement, which is one of the more amusing overstatements I've ever read about a golf course), and bouyed by its amazing performance in last year's President's Cup matches, although there hasn't been much carryover between those two competitions in the past. Plus, Tiger's absence really shouldn't have been viewed as a weakness - he has been a poor Ryder Cup player, and positively awful in comparison to the rest of his accomplishments.

So here we stand on Saturday morning, near the end of the morning foursomes, and the Americans have lost a chunk of their 3-point lead, but are in good shape to take a 7-5 lead into the afternoon matches. No matter what happens this afternoon, the U.S. team will be right in the thick of things in the singles matches, something which has not happened for over a decade.

Watching these matches can be excruciating. It almost makes sense to wait until the players are deep into the back nine, because things seem to turn up until the very last moment. The best example of that today has been the Mickelson-Kim team, surrendering a 4-up lead on the front nine to lose the match. Watching failure unfold like the layers of an onion being peeled back is not what I would call "fun."

Stay tuned. Depending on how the day goes tomorrow, some live-blogging could be in order.

How Cats Sleep In This House

Cat #2, resting on the legs of son #2. With cool weather on the way, I expect we will see much more of this in the days and weeks to come.

How Cats Drink In This House

Simple bowls are not enough. The water must come from faucets, and the bathtub faucets are particularly popular. Pictured here is cat #2 (Scooter). At least he is willing to wait for his water until mom and dad have woken up; unfortunately, cat #1 (Sophie) thinks it is her divine right to get the wet stuff as soon as the sun rises.

It doesn't look particularly comfortable to me, but then what do I know.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

James Crumley

James Crumley died today, after a long illness.

Crumley was not as famous as James Ellroy and not as prolific as Michael Connelly or Robert Crais, but he was one of the key links between the great crime novelists of the past - Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross McDonald - and those who are at the forefront of the literary world today.

His best book was "The Last Good Kiss," released in the late 1970s, and it was good enough to stand alongside any of the great detective fiction written in the 20th century. It featured one of his heroes, C.W. Sughrue ("that's Sug as in sugar, and rue as in rue the g*d damn day"); his other main protagonist, Milo Milodragovich, was nearly as memorable in "Dancing Bear." After that there was a long stretch of inactivity, but in recent years there were a number of books - "The Mexican Tree Duck," "Bordersnakes," and in 2005, "The Right Madness." About that book, The Rocky Mountain News wrote,

"If Hunter S. Thompson had tried to write private-eye novels, they might have come out mimicking Crumley's, but never equaling them."

Not a bad epitaph. R.I.P.


Olive Garden, Red Lobster to boost prices slightly.

Oh, the humanity!

The Album Cover of All Time?

"Shame Shame Shame," by Shirley and Company (see the video below).

They don't design them like this anymore, that's for sure.

Come to think of it, they never really did.

Just this once.

Jeff's Jukebox: C-7

C-7: Shame, Shame, Shame Shirley & Company

Boys and girls, we're in for a real treat today. One of the greatest disco songs of the entire era.

And a video that truly has to be seen to be believed. Now, if you or I was dancing like this guy at a wedding reception after a few beers or glasses of champagne, that would be one thing. But to preserve this on film, that takes some real confidence. And I must freely confess that I once owned a shirt very similar to the one he is wearing here - I'm guessing Qiana, but I could be wrong.

A great historical artifact. I actually own the vinyl album from which this song came, and sometime tonight I will be posting a photo of the cover - definitely one the all-time classics.

Get up and dance!

Time Out of Mind

I think it may have occurred to me why a high school reunion - especially one so many years past the date of graduation - is such a mind out of body experience. With very few exceptions, these are people that you have not seen for at least ten - some twenty - and some, even thirty years. You remember them the way that they looked in 1978, and in the school yearbook, they are essentially frozen in ice - like the "Iceman" in the Timothy Hutton film from 25 or so years ago. So when you see what they look like now, it's a strange experience. They look the same, but at the same time they don't. And your mind (well, mine at least) has trouble getting its arms around that.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm Just Sayin'


It doesn't do much to bolster your reputation for objectivity when you show a sideline shot of Emmitt Smith late in the game, quite obviously rooting for the Cowboys.

I'm just sayin'.

30 Year Reunion

I attended my 30-year high school reunion on Saturday night, and as with all such events, it was a bit of a mind-out-of-body experience.

I was never in what you would call the "cool" crowd in high school. I can say without hesitation that I enjoyed my high school years, but they're not something I look back on with great longing or nostalgia. I was into sports, went to nearly all of the major athletic events, and had my fair share of friends. But it probably says something that in a class of over 500, there is just one person that I've stayed in close touch with since 1978. Part of the reason for that is that I got a job just as my junior year was beginning, and it was far enough away from my house that nearly every kid that worked there went to a different high school. That became my social circle, and the fact that I worked early on Saturday and Sunday mornings cut down on the prospects for weekend entertainment.

Which isn't to say that I didn't have a good time at the reunion. I had several great conversations with folks I hadn't seen in years, including some that I'd been in classes with as far back as second grade. It was nice to hear people say "you look exactly the same," which a surprising number of them did. I'm not sure it's true, but it was good to hear it nonetheless. It was fun to make mental notes of people, and it was interesting to see how many of them slipped effortlessly back into the caste system that I'm sure has existed at every high school since the dawn of time. And overall, I have to say that everyone looked pretty darn good - only a handful where I had to check the picture on the nametag to jog my memory.

And of course, it was cool to listen to the soundtrack of the evening, which consisted entirely of songs released during the four-year period that we graced the halls and classrooms of Del Campo High School. Don't let anyone tell you that the mid-seventies was a fallow period for music, because there was plenty of good stuff to go around.

All in all, I'm glad that I went, and just wish a few more people that I knew pretty well back then had been able to make it.


Since I bashed them yesterday, today I will give them credit for making the right decision and throwing their new platform out the window. It's still pretty embarrassing for them to have blown it this badly, and I'm sure they have lost customers even with the rollback, but even with that I'm sure there are a lot of companies that would have tried to see it through, even while faced with the evidence. So I'm sticking with them, in the hope that whatever changes are coming aren't too drastic - and are actually for the better.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Screwball Comedy As Done By The Coens

“Burn After Reading” is another in a long line of films that have been done an injustice by a studio’s official ad campaign. Based on the trailers, one would think that Brad Pitt is in nearly every scene, and that George Clooney is hardly in the movie at all. Neither is true, though both turn in inspired performances. The trailers show way too much of Pitt, but I say that only because familiarity with his scenes just spoils the happy surprise that you feel when you see him acting like such a goofball. And the relative lack of Clooney sightings in the trailer just gives you a greater appreciation for his “cast against type” performance as a totally paranoid, sex-addicted…well, it’s never really clear exactly what he does, except that he apparently works for Treasury and is (was?) somehow involved in “security.”

The temptation when you see the movie is to try and characterize it as a classic Coen recipe – start with a stock of “Blood Simple,” and then add two teaspoons of “Fargo,” a dash of “The Big Lebowski,” maybe even a pinch of “Raising Arizona” (others might find a few more ingredients from the Coen cookbook). But all you really need to know is that it is a classic screwball comedy as imagined by the Coens. And if that sentence doesn’t make any sense to you, then you should probably skip this movie.

You can’t really say too much about the details of the plot with spoiling the movie for those who haven’t seen it (and besides, it’s so complicated that it would take a page-and-a-half just to summarize it). In a way, it’s like “North by Northwest” completely turned on its head. People who don’t really have any idea what they’re doing find themselves in a situation involving spies and intrigue, but unlike Cary Grant they’re so dumb that they really don’t know what to do about it. And unlike Cary Grant, their motives are not pure –anyone who is truly innocent pays a price. Brad Pitt may just be trying to help out a friend, but Frances McDormand is a lot closer to William H. Macy’s Jerry Lunderberg than she is to Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill. She wants what she wants, and she doesn’t really care whether anyone else has to pay a price for it.

Everyone in the movie is great. John Malkovich hasn’t had an opportunity to chew the scenery like this since “Con Air,” and he makes the most of it. Clooney’s paranoia is hilarious, as are his quirks (an appreciation for great flooring and intricate “devices”). Pitt deserves an award just for his willingness to make fun of himself. Frances McDormand is her usual reliable self, Tilda Swinton is good in a truly thankless and unsympathetic role, and in smaller roles as CIA company men, J.K. Simmons and David Rasche are spot on.

J.K. Simmons probably sums up the movie with his line, “report back to me when it all makes sense.” This one probably won’t win many awards, but it represents an offbeat kind of film-making that is all too rare in this day and age.

What Happened to Terrell Owens?

I'm sitting here watching an interview on ESPN with Terrell Owens, and I just have to wonder: what the hell happened in his life that would turn him from a quiet, seemingly humble man into the worst kind of blowhard, the very worst that sports has to offer?

It's really hard to grasp the trajectory of his career. When he caught that miracle pass from Steve Young in 1998 to defeat the Green Bay Packers in one of the greatest postseason games in history, one would have thought he was well on his way to becoming one of the great figures in NFL history. A receiver with immense physical talents, but one also wise enough to allow Jerry Rice, still a fine receiver but well past his prime, to hold the limelight.

But it's been downhill since then. I'm all for amusing touchdown celebrations to help shake up the staid NFL image, but Owens has gone so far beyond that on so many occasions that it is amazing to me that anyone could still root for his success - even the most diehard Dallas Cowboys fan. Trust me, Cowboys fans, it is only a matter of time before he turns on Tony Romo, turns on Wade Phillips, turns on Jerry Jones. As with the scorpion stinging the frog while riding on his back across the river, it is his nature - he just can't help himself.

He is a stain on the game, and the sooner his career is over, and with it the prospect that he might actually serve as a role model for an impressionable young athlete, the better.

Can You Say "New Coke?"

This probably isn't adding anything new to the dialogue around this issue, but before it's too late I just wanted to add my thrown tomato to the SiteMeter "upgrade" that was unveiled today. The company has taken a great product, and rendered it unusable. I'm not sure what my options are now for tracking my traffic, but I'll definitely be looking into them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jeff's Jukebox: C-6

C-6: My City of Ruins, Bruce Springsteen

A couple of weeks after 9-11, a telethon was held to raise funds for the families of the victims. Normally I find such events to be ripe for ridicule, but this turned out to be quite extraordinary. This time, I was able to believe that the artists had truly set aside their egos for a greater cause. The performances (even from the artists I don't normally like) were uniformly great, and even the in-between snippets of famous actors talking were sincere and heartfelt.

This was the song that led off the evening. It is a great song, but Bruce has never been able to surpass this performance of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crystal Clear Memories

There are but a handful of moments in one's lifetime that are burned into the memory banks so deeply that all the little details remain, years later. The first one for me, even though I was only three years old, was the assassination of President Kennedy. The picture in my mind of that day is crystal clear - what our house at the time looked like, what our couch looked like, the tears that flowed from my mom all day long. And there was my wedding day. It's amazing to me how clear most of the details from that day remain.

The other day is September 11, 2001. I feel torn when I write about it. On the one hand, it is proper to remember and pay some tribute to those who were lost on that day; on the other hand, my memories are so inconsequential in comparison to what others went through, that it seems presumptuous. But I'm going to write, because I think in the experience of that week there is something to capture that is worth considering seven years later.

In 2001, I was working for the Governmental Affairs office for the California State University system. The week of September 10 was the last week of that year's legislative session, which is always an incredibly hectic and stressful time. Human nature being what it is, the California Legislature tends to put off most of its work for as long as it possibly can, which inevitably turns the final week into a chaotic maelstrom of marathon floor sessions, unscheduled committee hearings, and amendments upon amendments to the point where bills become unrecognizable from their original form. Vigilance is the order of the day, because it's also a time where the sly devils who might be trying to pull a fast one are able to do so, right under the noses of the leadership. In short, more fun than a human being should be allowed to have.

I remember that I wasn't assigned the "evening shift" on that Monday evening, and that I wanted to get home quickly because it was the opening night of Monday Night Football. But just before packing up for the day, the dreaded "one foot out the door phone call" came. It was our Deputy General Counsel, who laid a little legislative crisis on my lap the likes of which I hadn't seen in my 10 years at CSU. The details aren't that important, but suffice to say that the system's statutory authority to do something very important was about to expire without a legislative extension, a fact that somehow had escaped the notice of our crack staff of attornies, and we were about to find ourselves up you-know-where without a paddle. I remember saying to him, "you do realize this is the last week of session, right?" Yep, was the sheepish reply. "Well, we'll give it a shot, but you know how they get in this last week. I'm not going to make any guarantees."

Basically, what he had asked me to do was impossible, but I didn't want to tell him that. The job of our office was to make it happen, and if it didn't, who knew where the chips might fall. So I went home that night feeling sorry for myself, wondering how in the world we could do something in the next four days that would at least make it look as if we had given it our all. Because the mission was doomed to failure before it began. And in that circumstance, there really wasn't much to do but have a couple of beers, enjoy the football game, and find something else to worry about.

I remember being really agitated the next morning, because of what the rest of the week was shaping up to be. At the time I was taking the bus into work, but the nearest bus stop was about a mile away from our house, so my wife and I hopped in the car, and I think I may have even said I was sorry for acting like such a jerk - it was just the stress talking. And I reached over to turn on the radio, and the first thing that came on was the news announcer (and this was on a music station) saying, "It appears that America continues to be under siege at this moment." The feeling was very odd - a combination of shock, disbelief and who knows what else - numbness probably describes it better than anything else. If I'd been thinking more clearly, I would have just asked my wife to turn around and take me back home; working in a state-owned building, I should have realized that they were probably going to send us home anyway. But I didn't, and went on to work, having to scramble to find a way back home when the decision was made early on to vacate and close all state-owned facilities. The day went on; you just sort of kept on going.

It was back to work the next morning, and that was when you could tell there was a difference. In all the time I worked around the Legislature, I've never seen it act quite the way that it did during the next three days. It was still stressful, and there were still marathon floor sessions, but for once, most of the b.s. was set aside, and the work got done. And the task I had before me, impossible just two days before, was completed in the course of less than 72 hours. For that to happen, people had to act differently. People had to agree to things that they had never agreed to before, and would never agree to again in the three years that I continued to work for CSU. I think it was because of the perspective everyone had been given on that awful day. That, although important, the work being done that week paled in comparison to what was happening in New York City and Washington, D.C. Given the current political situation in this state and this country, it just seems worth reflecting upon, seven years later.

That is my little story. But I also want to devote space to some other writers:

The Sheila Variations, the blog of Sheila O'Malley, is the first blog that I really became addicted to, back in the summer of 2004. She is a great writer on many diverse topics, and has written eloquently on numerous occasions about 9/11. Her post of yesterday, "The Two Days That Came Before," is a typically brilliant piece of writing.

A Big Victory by Michele Catalano is another must-read blog. Today, she has two posts worth noting. One is a link to a project she completed in 2004, Voices of 9/11. The second is a piece that she wrote for PajamasMedia to commemorate the day. An excerpt:

We don’t want to constantly remember the towers falling, the hole in the Pentagon, or the remains of a plane in a field. We don’t want to constantly think about the deaths, the sorrow, or the anger. But we do need to remember. We need to remember the hope that most of us felt that we would work together to get through this. We need to remember that brief feeling of togetherness. We need to remember how the lines between us disappeared and how we worked with each other to comfort those who needed it. We need to remember that it is possible to work as one to help our nation heal.

Seven years later, that’s what I want to remember.

Never forget.

The third post is from Jac, a relatively new blog by John Althouse Cohen. This excerpt sums up this thoughtful and well-written piece quite well:

There was a deep psychic wound left on our country's soul.

And there were people who didn't just die, but had to live their last moments hanging out of skyscraper windows and deciding to plummet to their deaths.

That's what I try to remember every year this day. But it's so unfathomable that I can't imagine it.

I don't know how you factor that into a cost-benefit analysis. I don't know how you balance that against annoying airline security measures, library records being given an extra look beyond just checking for late fees, or eyebrows raised at Arabic-sounding names.

Maybe you can't. You just have to do whatever you can, whatever tiny amount that might be, to try to stop this from ever happening again.

And as Michele says, "Never forget."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Washington Post editorial, September 11:

"It's hard to think of a presidential campaign with a wider chasm between the seriousness of the issues confronting the country and the triviality, so far anyway, of the political discourse."

Roger Ebert Is An Idiot

Roger Ebert is a great film critic - among the handful of all-time greats.

A great political commentator he is not.

In his column today, Ebert takes on Sarah Palin, which I don't have a problem with. Candidates for national office are fair game.

But then, this:

And how can you be her age and never have gone to Europe?

Um, well...I'm four years older than her, and I've never gone to Europe.

But Ebert doesn't stop there.

You don't need to be a pointy-headed elitist to travel abroad. You need curiosity and a hunger to see the world. What kind of a person (who has the money) arrives at the age of 44 and has only been out of the country once, on an official tour to Iraq? Sarah Palin's travel record is that of a hopeless provincial.

Well, I think the only proper thing to say to that is "Mr. Ebert, with all due respect, would you kindly go f*ck yourself?" Perhaps I am a hopeless provincial, not that Mr. Ebert would know. But apparently his vast store of knowledge does not stop with the world of cinema. No, he also knows what evils lurk in the hearts and minds of all of us, and is qualified to comment on my travel habits, not knowing a single thing about me or my life. Oh dear...is Ebert GOD?

The truly enraging thing about this is that Ebert probably just cost the Democrats votes. Maybe a lot, maybe a handful, maybe just one. But smart as he is, he's apparently not smart enough to see that dreck like today's column is feeding right into the McCain campaign's hands, proving the very thing that he takes pains to disavow. He'll go to his grave denying it, but in fact he is the worst kind of elitist, one who would presume to know better than the rest of us what makes a life worth living.

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

Random Notes

- Jackson Browne has a new album coming out on October 9, "Time the Conqueror." Based on some of the song titles - "The Drums of War," "The Arms of Night," "Going Down to Cuba," "Far from the Arms of Hunger" - it sounds like it might be another political album, which may or may not be a good thing. Personally, I don't think Jackson's political songs (as a whole) are his strongest; I think he's usually sharper when focusing on matters of the heart. But on the other hand, there's "Live Nude Cabaret," which certainly seems worth a listen. And the album cover is certainly notable, sporting Jackson with a gray beard that makes him look every bit of his nearly 60 years.

- Peter King had an interesting column yesterday, noting that if Brett Favre had followed Roger Goodell's advice and waited until after the season began to sign on with a team, he might be preparing right at this very moment to become the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots. As it is, he has to settle for another Sports Illustrated cover, and preparing to play the New England Patriots.

- It's difficult to imagine at this juncture that the tone of the presidential campaign can become any more juvenile than it's been in the last week, but I have faith that the brilliant men and women behind the campaigns of the two candidates can find ways in the next six weeks to turn more voters off, create more cynics, and generally debase the entire concept of democracy. A pox on all their houses.

- Lipstick on a Pig. Hmm...I just wanted to see what would happen.

- The ads for the new Samuel L. Jackson movie "Lakeview Terrace" are in heavy rotation right now, and I have to say that it looks like an absolutely horrendous piece of film-making. I honestly don't understand how anyone can consider the premise of a man terrorizing his neighbors to be entertainment, but I'm sure the presence of Jackson alone will guarantee that the movie makes some money.

- Never let it be said that the California Legislature did not achieve something in this dark month of September. Nicole Parra, the exiled Assembly Member from the Central Valley, has been named the 4th hottest politician on the planet. Can a run at the Speakership be around the corner? [and yes, I know she's termed out].

Monday, September 08, 2008

What Goes Around, Comes Around

With the announcement today by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association that CCPOA is targeting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for recall, the circle is now complete. The sordid story that began five years ago has become a Mobius strip, doubling back on itself and ending right where it began.

On the one hand, I suppose one could get really deep and talk about what a tragedy this is for the state of California. But it's probably more like a comic tragedy - entertaining in parts, with an ugly, destructive ending. Recalling Schwarzenegger would solve nothing. There was a time when I was naive enough to think that he could come into Sacramento like a knight in shining armor to implement the reforms the state truly needs in order for it to restore its luster, but he quickly showed that he wasn't interested in anything like that. Now, he is just part of a larger problem, joined by 120 of his fellow elected state leaders who work under the dome. There's no end in sight to the crisis before them at the moment, and there's no end in sight to the larger issue of whether California as a state will ever take its head from its nether regions and do something to make things better.

And in the meantime, this will provide ample fodder for the citizens of 49 other states to declare us a laughing stock.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tom Brady's Injury

No disrespect intended to the future Hall-of-Famer and all around great guy MVP quarterback, but I'm not devastated by Tom Brady's injury. Injuries happen in the NFL, and sometimes they turn great players into mediocre ones. Sometimes, it's not fair. But life goes on, and for the NBC Sunday night crew to act as if this were some great national tragedy or something, well I'm not buying it. I wish Brady the best and hope he returns to play this year. But that's life in the NFL, folks. Don't romanticize it into something that it isn't.

I Just Have To Get This Out Of My System

It would appear that Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte's forte is running.

There, I feel better now.

Widening the Divide

I want to comment on this post by Hugh Hewitt. In the context of the current presidential election, the post deals with the question of experience and qualifications. Specifically, the question of Sarah Palin's experience and qualifications, and the value her tenure on the Wasilla City Council should be afforded in the discussion and debate on this question.

An excerpt:

The skills sets developed and honed in this setting though very real do not impress the Beltway bigs, and the Manhattan media elite has been choking back laughter since Governor Palin's selection was announced (and this though hardly any of them could read an oil lease much less review one). Every small town official and employee has got to hear this in the reporting and regardless of party, understand the contempt behind this coverage.

The elitism embedded in all of the attacks on Governor Palin is becoming more and more obvious and is itself beginning to add to the fuel behind the Palin breakout. The collision between elites and ordinary citizens is unfolding at a very rapid pace, and the spirit of reform and change isn't with the elites or their chosen candidate.

Note the language in Hewitt's post - there is no gray area, everything is black and white. If you do not agree with his position - that Palin's service on the City Council (and presumably, as governor of Alaska, though Hewitt does not address that in the post) is of great value - then you have to be an elitist, you can't be an ordinary citizen.

This kind of certainty in one's beliefs must be a wonderful thing. It must be a great experience to go through life, knowing that you are never wrong, knowing that each night you will sleep the sleep of the just. But in reality, this kind of certainty, which fuels not just Hewitt's blogs but others on both sides of the political spectrum (Andrew Sullivan, Michelle Malkin, Kos and his crew, the list could go on), is doing little to move the legitimate political debate forward in this country. It is only widening the divide, and increasing the likelihood that the "ordinary citizens" who Hewitt supposedly treasures are going to begin treating each other with more contempt, and less civility.

As for me, I'm not blessed with the ability to think that I'm right all of the time. I agonize over whether my beliefs are contradictory, and whether I'm making the right choice on issues. I see things in both candidates that I like, and things in both candidates that I don't care for. In the back of my mind, I always try to keep this phrase in mind: did it ever occur to you that you might be wrong?

On the issue of whether service on a City Council adequately prepares one to be the Vice President of the United States, I would say...maybe. I live in a town just a little larger than Wasilla, and we voted to incorporate in 2000. Seven individuals have served on the City Council since that time, and in my opinion at least four of them have proven (or proved) to be unable to meet the challenge of the office. None of them, I would argue, have gained anything relevant with respect to national experience while serving on the job. In Hewitt's world, that makes me an elitist. Well, screw that - as far as I'm concerned, I'm a realist - just trying to figure this thing out.

The bottom line is that there's no room for someone like me in the world of Hewitt, Malkin, Sullivan and Kos. And I suspect that there are more people like me than not.

Spanning the Musical Spectrum

I've always subscribed to the theory, "There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind."

One son likes Kylie Minogue, and the other goes for Metallica.

I think that means I've succeeded. At least that's how I'm looking at it.

Sign of the Apocalypse

In one of the fantasy football leagues I'm in this year (first time I've been in more than one), one of the team names is "Team Rachael Ray."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dark Knight in IMAX

The whole family went to the IMAX today to see "The Dark Knight," and as much as I liked the movie the first time I saw it, it was even better in the IMAX format. The shots of Chicago and Hong Kong were awe-inspiring, and the sound system was so good that you could feel it in your heart when the score surged (and you could even hear every word Gary Oldman said).

Everything in the IMAX format is larger than life, but "The Dark Knight" is one movie that can meet that challenge. On the really big screen, Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is even more impressive. And I don't know if it was the IMAX or just the fact that I was seeing it for the second time, but Christian Bale came across stronger on the second go-around as well.

The theater was sold out, and except for the couple in the row below us who brought their two young daughters (and I mean really young - the oldest couldn't have been more than 3 or 4), watched the whole thing with rapt attention. I can't remember the last time I've been in a theater that quiet. Or the last time I heard so much applause at the end of a movie. I would have thought that most of the folks there had already seen it, but it sure sounded like there were a lot of first-timers.

In short, great movie - even better in IMAX.

[My original thoughts here.]

Friday, September 05, 2008

"Don't It Make It You Want to Rock and Roll All Night Long?"

I'm pretty sure I've posted this one before, but that version of the video was taken down long ago. This one is worth watching until such time that it disappears. They couldn't ever have been this young, but indeed they were.

"Don't Worry About the Government"

I'd like to dedicate this song to the California Legislature.

Needless to say, this was way before David Byrne became cool.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How Lame Am I?

So I stick with the RNC until the bitter end, listening to the pundits about 40 minutes past the point where they had anything insightful or interesting to say. So I figure it's time to peruse the sports channels, see if there's a game on somewhere.

Ah, Giants game! I'm writing some emails and catching up on my "social networking" sites, since I'm such a hip guy, but I'll keep the game on in the background just in case something exciting happens. Hey, it's not as if they're going anywhere this season, so I can do the "half-watch" thing without feeling too guilty about it.

About 7-8 minutes in...hey, this is starting to sound exciting. Wait a minute...Ellis Burks? Huh? Dusty Baker!? WTF!?!?

Yeah, you guessed it. Classic Giants game, from 2000. Only took me about 10 minutes to realize it.

Oh well. It's still preferable to the talking heads.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Stars of Shame

Since I beat up The Sacramento Bee last week, it seems only fair that I throw some kudos their way today. Today's editorial, "Stars of Shame for Seven Leaders," is spot on. The performance of the California Legislature in 2008 has been beyond shameful - bordering on the criminal. Right now, it's not hard to imagine that 120 Californians plucked at random from the Golden State could do as good a job, if not better, at grasping the myriad fiscal problems facing the state today.

There is plenty of blame to go around - the governor, Democrats, and Republicans all deserve their fair share. I'm willing to concede that they are well meaning, and genuinely care about their constituents and the citizens of this state. That does not excuse their performance this year. They get a solid "F" in achievement, and "F-minus" in effort.

A pox on all their houses. They should be locked in the Capitol, sans air conditioning, until a reasonable, thoughtful approach to the state budget is developed.

MacGillycuddy's Reeks

It's been almost five years now, but thanks to YouTube and the sheer power of his talent, Warren Zevon is still out there on the periphery. This song, from his 2002 album "My Ride's Here," is Warren at his clever, witty and sardonic best.


Sarah Palin is no Dan Quayle, and based on tonight's speech, I'm tempted to go out on a limb and declare McCain's choice a stroke of genius. Aside from it being about ten minutes too long, I can't find any faults with her speech. Sure, it was just as political as one might expect, and she took what many reasonable people would consider some cheap shots, but that's all part of the game.

Best line? The hockey mom-pit bull comparison, hands down. That was the only time that we've laughed out loud at anything we've heard in any of the speeches so far, at either convention.

The thing is, she seems real. She doesn't come across as your run-of-the-mill politician, but neither does she come across as some larger-than-life mythical figure.

And no, that doesn't mean that I'm suddenly going to jump across the aisle, and vote Republican. But for the first time, tonight I wonder whether the Democrats might be in some trouble. And I certainly don't subscribe to the theory that Joe Biden is going to "eat her alive" in the Vice-Presidential debate. If I were Joe Biden, I'd have some trouble sleeping tonight.

The race is on.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tahoe Sunset

Tahoe Sunset

Sometimes everything just works out. A lucky shot to be sure, but one that turned out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

I wonder if "Tahoe Sunset" could also apply to the casinos just across the stateline. The crowds are still big, but it's still not like the days when Tahoe and Reno were the only games in town for Northern Californians. Options abound for gamblers in the Golden State now, and I wonder how long those casinos are going to last.

The slot machines that you pulled by hand are long gone, as are the days of $1 blackjack and 50-cent craps. The lowest limit I found all weekend was $10, and even though I can afford it, playing for those stakes just isn't that much fun. So I ended up on machines where I didn't even know what I was doing to win, and it just didn't have the magic of those three bars across the middle line, followed by the ringing bell of a jackpot.

End of an era, indeed.

Jeff's Jukebox: C-5

C-5: "Israelites," Desmond Dekker and the Aces

I can say with near certainty that this was the first reggae song that I ever heard, although at the time I had no idea what "reggae" meant. I'm not sure how high the song charted, but this was a big regional hit in Sacramento around 1969 or so, and was played on the radio almost constantly for a period of several months. Even my dad kind of liked the song, although I think he thought it was called "Mehezzer and I."

The song was produced by the legendary Leslie Kong, early reggae auteur who was honored with the album The "King" Kong Collection - a magnificent album that, to my knowledge, has never been released on CD (which is a crime). If anyone who reads this sees it in some remainder bin somewhere, be sure to drop me a line.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Recipe for a Democratic Convention Acceptance Speech

I may be a Democrat, but I've also got a sense of humor, and this is pretty darn funny.



Cousins #1 and #2 show off their handiwork: son #2, buried in the sand of South Lake Tahoe.