Wednesday, October 29, 2008
My favorite quote, from John Cassidy's Dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Its Money In the Internet Era:
Among the speculators' favorites during the 1920s were issues like Wright Aeronautics, Boeing, and, especially, Radio Company of America (or Radio, as it was then known), which was the most glamorous and fastest-growing corporation of the 1920s. Commercial radio was a revolutionary medium that shrunk the country like nothing before it, and Radio was the major player in the industry; it both manufactured radio sets and provided the programming they transmitted. In 1921 it's stock hit a low of 11/2. Thereafter, it climbed steadily until 1927, when it headed for the stratosphere. In April 1929, Radio hit a high, after adjusting for stock splits, of 570. During the stunning ascent, old-timers shook their heads in disbelief. Despite its rapid growth, Radio had never paid a cent in dividents, and many of its shareholders were professional gamblers. In October 1929, the stock lost 75 percent of its value. It recovered a bit during 1930, but then collapsed again, and remained collapsed for the rest of the decade. Despite the strong growth of commercial radio, RCA's stock didn't recover its April 1929 level until 1964 -- thirty-five years later.
I freely admit that I don't know enough about the crash of 1929 as I should. But it would seem that there are lessons to be learned there. Small details such as the one above, I find fascinating. A well-known corporation that took 35 years to recover the value that it held just before the crash. That's pretty amazing.
And that makes me wonder - what in the world happened? When Willingham was at Stanford, the sky seemed the limit - and had you asked most football fans then where Willingham would be today, most probably would have said at the helm of a Super Bowl-contending team in the NFL. No one could have anticipated a fall from grace like the one Willingham has endured in the past 8 years. Was he overrated then? Did he just not have the charisma to pull of the recruiting feats that are required in this modern age to keep the top squads well stocked at the collegiate level?
I certainly have no idea. But it is a mystery.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
We had a little fun in some office e-mail banter yesterday about Johnny Carson's Carnac the Magnificent, so I thought it would be a good idea to pay tribute to the great man. Of course, it is never a good sign when one of the people who works for you innocently offers, "oh yeah, I know who that was...my GRANDFATHER really liked him."
Carson would have had a field day with this election cycle, no doubt about it.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
One would have thought that, guided by Singletary, a powerful motivator as player and coach alike, the Niners would have put up an impressive effort today.
It's deep into the fourth quarter, the Niners are at home, and they're getting destroyed by Seattle, one of the worst teams in football this year.
In the NFL, it really doesn't get much worse than that. The 49ers are dangerously close to becoming a laughingstock, if they aren't there already.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
- Reviews of Fleet Foxes, Acid Tongue by Jenny Lewis, and Little Honey by Lucinda Williams
- An election night live-blog! Now just try to tell me that doesn't send a shiver down your spine.
- In December, the 2nd annual Musical Advent calendar! I've been listening to way too much Christmas music than a normal, sane person should listen to in the month of October, and let me just say that some major treats are in store.
- A major remodel! That's right, I'm tired with this template, and it will change soon. Again, "soon" being a relative term. It could happen next week, it might not happen until January. All depends on how addicted I become to playing Texas Hold 'Em on Facebook. And along with the remodel will come a revamped set of links - adding new sites, deleting sites that are no longer, and highlighting those which I read most often.
Wow. I'm almost shivering with anticipation...
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
So now it's an equally unlikely World Series: Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia. I've read a lot of scoffing about the lack of star power in this series, but think back to 1991 when there was an equally unlikely Series between Minnesota and Atlanta. All that one did was turn out to be one of the most exciting in recent memory, including a classic Game 7 that can stand with any of them for sheer drama. So I'm not worried...the World Series is the World Series.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
And that's how I feel about the Tampa Bay Rays. What they did was worse than what the Giants did - blowing a 7-0 lead with the championship (admittedly, just American League, as opposed to World Series) in their grasp. After tonight's listless performance, I really don't see any way that they can come back and win in Game 7. Part of me wants to be wrong, because I hate to see any team (well, maybe a few, who shall remain nameless) have to deal with the agony of defeat in such crushing fashion. But imagine how the players on the respective teams are feeling tonight. On the one hand, you have the Red Sox - who have extended their incredible record in elimination games, and will come to the park tomorrow believing they will win - that is is their destiny. And you have the Tampa Bay Rays, who are probably still waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about what could have transpired differently in Game 5 - much less thinking about Game 6.
Sure, anything could happen. But were I a betting man, my money tonight would be squarely on the Sox.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Del Campo's superior speed made the difference in the early going, aided by PGHS turnovers. Midway through the 3rd Quarter it was 21-0, but all of a sudden the Eagles began to play as if the game really mattered (it was a non-league game), and dominated the rest of the action. After two quick touchdowns, they again scored with 2 minutes to play, but for some reason attempted the 2-point conversion, which failed. DC recovered the ensuing onside kick, and played out the clock for a 21-20 victory. I have to admit I was silently rooting for them, at least half the time.
This shot is of the halftime show, featuring the PGHS Marching Band. Son #1 is on the drumline.
Senator McCain: Well Bob, Americans are angry. And they're hurting. And they're angry. And a lot of the ones I've talked to are hurting. And the rest are angry. And did I mention that they're hurting? And they're angry - especially Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber, he's angry and he's hurting. And he's a plumber, and his name is Joe. And he's angry. And he's hurting.
Tonight was the first time during any of the four debates that I found myself frothing with anger. Though I'm a life-long Democrat, I've found myself moving much closer to the center of the political spectrum in recent years. In statewide elections, I've voted for at least as many Republicans as Democrats in the last several cycles, including a vote for the recall of Gray Davis.
But tonight, I found myself utterly appalled and disgusted at John McCain. I'm sorry, but if the man cannot keep his cool in this setting, if he cannot look presidential in the most controlled of environments, how in the world can anyone expect him to remain cool when the situation demands it, and there is no script to follow? I just thought it was an awful performance, and it fills me with dread for the prospect of what the next three weeks are going to look like.
Sunday was a perfect example. The 49ers came into the second half with an enormous amount of momentum, thanks to an ill-advised Eagles field goal attempt that was blocked by the 49ers and returned for a touchdown. On the first two drives, San Francisco drove down the field with ease, with a healthy mix of run and pass that really showcased the talent of Frank Gore. All of a sudden the 49ers had a 9-point lead, had the ball, and appeared poised to put the game away and put themselves right back in the thick of the NFC West "race."
But, no...hardly anything but passing for the next three series, and a complete abandonment of what had proven to be successful in the first 40 minutes of the game. Philadelphia took advantage of the breather, got their offense back in gear, and turned a close game into a rout.
So what was that all about? You got me. But it sure felt like Martz trying to show off how innovative and smart he is, instead of playing the classic game of taking what the defense is willing to give you. And now, the 49ers are looking at yet another dismal season, and the likelihood that this season will be Mike Nolan's last as Head Coach. At this point, I just hope that Martz is not his successor.
Monday, October 13, 2008
D-2: "Mercury Blues," David Lindley
Let's start the week on an upbeat note. El-Rayo X, the debut album by genius instrumentalist David Lindley (Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills and Nash, others) was in heavy rotation on the 2nd floor of Cheney Hall at UC Berkeley in the spring of 1982. The album belonged to Eric, and it was a surprising choice given his normal musical tastes - Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Psychedelic Furs...but it had a groove that was inescapable, and this song made the perfect party song, especially after a couple of beers.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
What was the last book you bought?
Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais, which I reviewed here.
Name a book you have read MORE than once.
I like to come back to my favorite books - I treat them like comfort food.
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
It, by Stephen King
The Narrows, by Michael Connelly
The Bill James Baseball Abstracts
That's just a sampling.
Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life?
I've thought about this for a couple of days, and I'd have to say no.
How do you choose a book (e.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or review)?
Once I find an author that I enjoy (Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, John Sandford, James Ellroy, John Irving...) I ride that horse to the ground. Back when the Vintage Contemporaries series first got started back in the 1980s, I used to buy books based solely on the cover, and ended up with a lot of books that looked great on the shelf but didn't provide me with a lot of enjoyment. My late Aunt Lenore had a good read on what I liked, and since she read about 7 books a week, she used to recommend a lot of stuff. And I discovered some - most notably Michael Connelly - through a review.
Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?
I read a lot of both - in addition to a ton of novels, I own a lot of books about baseball, music and politics. The Power Broker by Robert Caro is one of my all-time favorite books.
What's more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?
Plot, because sometimes it takes me a while to recognize the writing. I usually have to go back and re-read stuff to truly appreciate that aspect of a book.
Most loved/memorable characters:
Harry Bosch, from the Michael Connelly books
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, from the Robert Crais books
Myron Bolitar and Win Horne, from the Harlan Coben books
Lew Archer, from the Ross McDonald books
Gus McCrae, Lonesome Dove
Skink, who appears in several Carl Hiaasen books
Luna Lovegood, from the Harry Potter books
Owen Meany and Hester, from A Prayer for Owen Meany
Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
Dancing Bear, by James Crumley
Basic Brown, by Willie Brown
What was the last book you read, and when was it?
Basic Brown. I finished it a couple of weeks ago. It's still on my nightstand because there are a couple of parts I've been re-reading.
Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?
Yes. Underworld by Don DeLillo, and Until I Find You by John Irving come to mind. In the former, after the Polo Grounds section, I literally had no idea what was going on. With the latter, I just didn't care what was going on.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
Dylan’s Bootleg Series has been an absolute treasure, and solidified his claim as the pre-eminent musical artist of the rock era. Speaking as a huge fan who falls short of obsession (there are those who own entire CDs of Dylan performances of a single song across an entire tour), it is amazing on the Bootleg Series albums to discover the degree to which Dylan allows his songs to cook in the laboratory before he releases them to the public. And it’s not as if the alternate versions are lesser than those which showed up on the final product – in most instances, they might as well be different songs altogether. A prime example is “Someday Baby,” originally from Modern Times. The version on Tell Tale Signs (Volume 8 of The Bootleg Series, released this week) is recognizable only by the lyrics, and from Dylan’s phrasing of some of the lines. This version is just as good as the original, and makes one curious about Dylan’s decision-making process as he is making an album.
Tell Tale Signs covers the period of Dylan’s great renaissance, which began in 1989 and continues to this day. I may have told the story before, but it is one of such hope and triumph that I never tire of telling it – never tire of thinking about it. Because when you think about this story, you can’t help but be hopeful about the world at large – even when it seems, as it does now, that the world is about to spin off its axis. For the sake of brevity, I’ll assume that everyone is familiar with the first chapters of Dylan’s story – the part that made him famous. The real story begins after the release of Blood on the Tracks, which for many years looked as if it would be the last great album Dylan released. Because after that, for whatever reason, Dylan’s muse deserted him, to a large degree. Sure, there were great songs, and even some good albums. But for a period of nearly two decades, there was not a single original work that should have caused one to declare, though many did, that “Dylan was back.”
The fog began to clear with the release of Oh Mercy in 1989 and Under the Red Sky in 1990, but while those works were clearly the best Dylan albums in years, neither one even approached the greatness that had flowed from Dylan’s well so consistently for so long in the 1960s. The real turning point came with two albums released in 1992 and 1993 which consisted solely of Dylan on acoustic guitar and harmonica, playing nothing but old English and American folk songs. Both albums - Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong - were brilliant, and in retrospect can be viewed almost as something akin to primal scream therapy. At around the same time, Dylan toured incessantly with a band that would, on a nightly basis, re-imagine his best known songs for a new audience who cared more about being challenged than it did about hearing a note-for-note rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone.” It was now clear that Dylan could still deliver the goods, but one still wondered whether “electric Dylan” would ever make a comeback on record.
Growing from those successes, in 1997, was Time Out of Mind. It was, as Greil Marcus called it, “a bleak and blasted work.” But from the first notes of “Love Sick,” you knew that it was a vital piece of work – an important piece of work. The songs on the album could just as easily have been recorded 30 years earlier, but they also fit perfectly into the late 1990s – which is to say they were timeless. And the way in which they were recorded and produced by Daniel Lanois created an atmosphere of danger – you could picture the musicians cloistered tightly in a circle, performing the songs in a dark alley somewhere, listening to the footsteps around them and wondering whether to fear for their life, or just keep on playing. All of which is to say that these songs felt, as had no other original Dylan songs for quite some time, as if there was something at stake in the outcome. Songs like “Cold Irons Bound” are downright scary:
I'm beginning to hear voices and there's no one around
Well, I'm all used up and the fields have turned brown
I went to church on Sunday and she passed by
My love for her is taking such a long time to die
I'm waist deep, waist deep in the mist
It's almost like, almost like I don't exist
I'm twenty miles out of town, in cold irons bound
It was, and is, a brilliant album. It is my favorite Dylan album, and to my ears the best album of the past 25 years (and maybe further back than that).
To date, the story has yet to end; Dylan has followed up that masterpiece with two others, Love and Theft and Modern Times. And it is from this incredible period that the songs on Tell Tale Signs are drawn. There is not a bad track among the 27 songs on the album, which break down into three categories – alternative versions of songs released on one of the aforementioned albums, unreleased tracks from the period, and miscellaneous recordings which turned up on soundtrack albums, tribute albums, and the like. Of the alternative versions, the two versions of “Mississippi” stand out, as do “Can’t Wait,” Ain’t Talkin’”, and “Most of the Time.” The live version of “High Water (For Charley Patton)” takes an already brilliant song and adds a dimension to it that was hardly imaginable in the original – which is what makes Dylan concerts such an exciting prospect in this day and age. But the album’s bona fide classics are two unreleased tracks from the Time Out of Mind sessions – “Red River Shore” and Marchin’ To the City.” These are wonderful songs – and one should be thankful for the bootleg concept so that they can now see the light of day.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that this will be the best music released in 2008. For that, we should feel no shame – just a desire to celebrate the ongoing musical life of a great American artist.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
So let me get this straight - conservative bloggers (to be fair, let's say many of them) believe that Mainstream Media is driving this election. Among the phrases I've read today are "as the media goes, so goes the public," and "...our gatekeepers in Big Media..."
In essence, then, aren't those bloggers and pundits saying that people are stupid? That they're just too naive or dumb to make discriminating judgments about what they see on TV or read in the paper? And these are the people who accuse Barack Obama of being elitist?
Sorry, but it's enough to piss off the good humor man.
There's still a lot to be found on the Internet about how the economic crisis is being manufactured by the mainstream media in order to get Barack Obama elected. That argument strikes me as somewhere between stupid and delusional (or some combination thereof), and I find myself getting angrier with each day that I see it somewhere.
As a matter of fact, I find myself getting really angry at a lot of things these days, which is probably a sign that I should just stop reading the political blogs, hide in my sanctuary, and turn the new Bob Dylan album up as loud as it will go.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I think that the people who think McCain won the night are people who already understand the issues and McCain's positions vs. Obama's. But most people haven't been following this for about two years. They don't know the ins and outs of these questions and haven't heard clips from their speeches over the past two years on taxes and health care and Iraq. They're just tuning in now to find out which of these guys would make a reasonable president. And Obama came across as a perfectly reasonable guy who understands how people are worried about their economic situation and future. And with the lead that Obama has now and his advantages financially plus the winds blowing against any Republican this year, I think we should get ready for an undivided government by the Democratic Party.
I could be interpreting this incorrectly, but it seems to me that this argument is basically saying that the only rational conclusion from a study of the issues and the candidate's positions would be that McCain is the better choice. And if the rest of the electorate had just devoted the time to that study, there would be no question about who the front-runner is today. If that is really the gist of the argument, I think that's kind of crazy. People come at these issues from different points of view and from different experiences. I'm not sure what it adds to the discussion to frame the debate (the larger debate, not the one held last night) in stark terms of "right" and "wrong."
Having said that, I take note of the comment about undivided government, and based on past experience in California share the concern. I worked in a governmental affairs office for 13 years, and know from first-hand experience that divided government, on the whole, is a more efficient and effective government. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it's true.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
"You don't run the four-corner offense when you're behind."
Woo hoo! An excellent college basketball reference. Wonder how many folks caught that one (of course, everyone in North Carolina got it).
- The New Republic
Hat tip: Jac.
Monday, October 06, 2008
With the presidential campaign about to enter a painful phase that should not make anyone proud to be an American, what better time to enjoy this video montage put together by Matt Zoller Seitz, the erstwhile Insomniac Dad. With the holidays before us, we will once again be treated to the two masterpieces of the animated Peanuts oeuvre, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas." No better time, indeed, to celebrate the artistry of animator Bill Melendez.
(Hat Tip: The House Next Door)
Sunday, October 05, 2008
I'm not as familiar with all the players as I was back in the day when I used to try and memorize every page of The Bill James Baseball Abstract, but I still enjoy watching whenever I can and savor the postseason, even if it is relegated to TBS. As a fan of the Giants, the lineup this year is less than appealing, even though I'm happy that Joe Torre is having yet another successful year. For me a World Series between the Dodgers and the Angels would be akin to having a root canal without novocaine, so I'm rooting hard for the Red Sox and will root for the Phillies in the NLCS. But whatever happens, I'll be watching.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
3-1 is not a bad start - those of us who have been around for a while remember the seasons when 3 wins amounted to an entire season - but today will probably be an indication of how the season is going to turn. Arizona State is only 2-2, but with Dennis Erickson at the helm they can't be taken lightly. Jahvid Best is out, and I read in the paper this morning that Jeff Tedford reinstituted the quarterback competition this week between Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore. Not having watched the games, I'm not sure what that's all about.
All of which is to say that today's game will serve as a barometer for the rest of the season. The Pac-10 is having a down year, USC has already been beaten, so the grand prize seems ripe for the taking. Can't afford to lose any more games, because USC always seems to gain strength late in the season. I'll be missing much of the game again today, but hopefully will be back home in time for the second half.
Friday, October 03, 2008
One could argue that this is just further evidence that the ballgame is over. But read on, and I'll let you make up your own mind.
On his blog today, in a piece written by Bill Dyer, things actually start to get a little creepy:
Gov. Sarah Palin is electrically fresh. And she is the real deal, an authentic three-dimensional person rather than a blank screen upon which to project our hopes. And the important point confirmed by Thursday night's debate is very simply this: Sarah Palin is nothing less than the instrument through which ordinary, non-mystical Americans may reclaim their national government. (Emphasis appeared in the original).
That's some pretty incredible language. Almost makes me want to touch her, just to see if a slight electric shock would run up my arm and cleanse my brain of all the bad thoughts I've been thinking recently. And she's going to do all that as Vice-President? That's pretty damn impressive.
A lot of hay has been made this long campaign about the "Obamessiah." But hey, go no further, folks - the conservatives now have one of their own. Maybe we should just give them both a light saber and see how things pan out.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
There's definitely an element of Jackson feeling old on the album, and after a few listens it's not hard to figure out why he's feeling that way. He's tired of the same old arguments, and tired of having to put himself out there pointing out the injustices in American life today, when it could be that what he'd really like to do is go down to Cuba, and have a little fun with some friends.
"Going Down To Cuba" is one of the album's songs, and when I first heard it on The Colbert Report, I wasn't that impressed. But in the context of what is a pretty angry album, it fits perfectly, and I've come to really enjoy the song and Browne's relaxed performance. And the lyrics demonstrate that yes, Jackson does have a sense of humor:
I'm going down to Cuba with my band/We're going to formulate a plan/Whereby we obtain that "cultural" permission/If I told you once, I told you tres/It'll put a smile on your face/To see a Chevrolet with a Soviet transmission
The album's moral center is comprised of two aggressively political songs - "The Drums of War," and "Where Were You." I'm on record as having stated that Jackson's political work is not his greatest strength, and on Time the Conqueror he goes 1-for-2. "The Drums of War" is about the war in Iraq, and represents Browne at his most strident:
Who gives the orders, orders to torture?/Who gets to no bid contract the future?/ Who lies, then bombs, then calls it an error?/Who makes a fortune from fighting terror?/Who is the enemy trying to crush us?/Who is the enemy of truth and justice?/Who is the enemy of speech and freedom?/Where are the courts, now that we need them?/Why is impeachment not on the table?/We better stop them while we are able/Roll out the drums of war
Ouch. Please excuse me for a moment, while I put an ice-pack on my noggin from Jackson beating me over the head with this song. And it's not that I necessarily disagree with anything that he's written here, though "why is impeachment not on the table?" strikes me as hopelessly (and perhaps dangerously) naive. But there isn't an ounce of subtlety in the song, and frankly it's not very interesting, musically. And it's not that I don't think the Bush Administration deserves the bashing. But given the choice, I'll opt for something like Bruce Springsteen's "Magic" every day of the week over this approach.
On the other hand, I find "Where Were You," about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, to be a powerful and utterly convincing polemic. For one thing, it's a much stronger musical artifact - I liked the song before I had any idea what it was about, which is always a good thing. The other thing impacting my thinking may be that I've just returned from New Orleans, where I was attending a conference at which one of the keynote speakers referred to the Katrina aftermath as "ethnic cleansing," and the other drew a moral parallel between the aftermath of Katrina and the Holocaust. Now, those are two very powerful statements, and frankly I'm still trying to get my head around both of them, but they had the impact of putting the issue at the forefront of my mind. So when I read these lyrics:
Where were you in the social order?/The Lower Nine or a hotel in the Quarter/ Which side of the border between rich and poor?/Where were you going to evacuate to?/Assuming there was any way to/Where, if you didn't own a car?/ Where were you?
I know that was Browne is singing was absolutely true. All you have to do is walk down Bourbon Street on a busy weekend to realize that the "border between rich and poor" is vast.
On the rest of the album, Jackson and his band strike an easy but powerful groove, as if they are saying, "we've been doing this for a really long time now, and we really don't feel the need to try and impress you with our musicianship." On "Off Of Wonderland," Browne makes note of his own naivete in the sixties, but at the same time shows that the core of his beliefs remains rooted in the best of that era. "Live Nude Cabaret" offers a wistful look at Jackson's view of the female form (I've heard form follows function/And I think that must be true/Especially when you think of/What the female form will do), and "Just Say Yeah" shows that he still feels a little thrill, even at this late date, at the prospect of a new relationship.
The album closes with "Far From the Arms of Hunger," which appears to be Jackson's rewrite of "Imagine." But the music is absolutely gorgeous, and the song serves as the perfect coda to an imperfect but powerful album that looks at our powerful but imperfect world. After all these years, no one is likely to have their opinion about Jackson Browne changed by Time the Conqueror. But the mere fact that he can produce such strong work at this stage of his career is reason to celebrate.
Ready for the punchline? Drum roll please...
A frustrated Michigan could not be reached for comment.
Get it? Get it? I thought so.
And if you're old enough, you will remember where I stole this idea from. If not...do some research!
I love the juxtaposition of these covers, from books written more than 20 years apart by the late James Crumley: "Dancing Bear," from 1983, and "The Right Madness," from 2005. One features Milo Milodragovitch and the other C.W. Sughrue, but in the end I'm not sure it matters. Both represent Crumley at his hard-boiled best.