Friday, August 29, 2008

The Greatest Grunge Song Ever?

Jac concludes his list of the Top 40 Grunge songs of all time.

It had to be Nirvana. It just did.

It may not have been the song I'd chosen, but who cares?

Quote of the Day About Palin

Just as Obama needed to pick a candidate to help with gaps in his experience, McCain needed to pick someone who he could credibly point to and say “this person is qualified to become President of the United States if something happens to me.”

Has he done that with the Palin pick, or has he picked someone that, like Dan Quayle, the public will come to perceive as a lightweight ?

We don’t know yet, because essentially what McCain has done is close his eyes, throw the football, and hope that Sarah Palin can run it into the end zone.

- Doug Mataconis, at Donklephant.

I've been telling my kids all year long to pay close attention, because this was going to be the most interesting presidential election in our lifetimes. McCain's pick of Palin just made it more interesting, and for that alone I think it was a great one.

Just Reading This Made Me Feel Good...

The estimable Sideways Mencken posts an old vent that is destined for the Hall of Fame.

[Warning: rough language ahead!]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Bee

The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento's hometown newspaper, has undergone a number of changes in recent weeks, none of them positive. A reduction in size, a reduction in staff, and subtle changes here and there have all contributed to a reduction in the quality of the newspaper, and if the slide continues at its current pace, within a year or so there may be no reason for the paper to continue - it will be nothing more than a compendium of wire stories and articles from other newspapers than can be found elsewhere. There are still a number of talented writers on the staff, but that number is dwindling at an alarming rate.

Yesterday, The Bee had a small story, one they did their best to hide from readers, announcing that The Public Editor position was being discontinued. The incumbent in the position, Armando Acuña, will be retained, but no longer play that role. According to the article,

The decision at The Bee "acknowledges several realities, the most pressing being our company's need to focus our resources on newsgathering, advertising sales and customer service," Publisher and President Cheryl Dell said in a memo. "Times have changed since the era in which many ombudsmen and public editor jobs were established. Readers now have multiple ways to be heard within the newspaper and in the community."

It may seem like a small thing, but this decision, more than any which has preceded it, is a clear indication that The Bee is a paper in the throes of a major crisis (and that the industry, unless it develops a new business model, is one facing the prospect of extinction in our lifetime). Set aside for a moment how insulting the Bee's rationale for the decision is to its readership (which is an arguable point, but that's my opinion). Instead, consider the description of the Public Editor function that Mr. Acuña himself wrote, in an email exchange I had with him earlier this year:

"...The Public Editor designation was established to give my office more territory to talk about things occurring not only at the Bee, but at other papers and with the media generally, such as various trends or controversies. The ombudsman designation implies a more rigid structure, where all a person does is take complaints and looks into it. I do that, too, but much more as well."

And that function is what The Bee has decided is no longer necessary to have as a regular feature in the paper. It's a terrible decision on the paper's part, and one that I hope is reconsidered. But I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Happy Birthday

He's probably going to kill me when he finds out about this, but so be it - the story is too good not to commit to the airwaves.

Today is son #2's 14th birthday, and the story of the day he was born is one that not many people I've known can top. Actually, nobody I know can top it. But I'm sure that somewhere, someone can.

To set the stage, in early 1994 my youngest brother had announced that he was getting married to his longtime girlfriend, and that the couple had set August 27 as the day of the wedding - which just happens to be his birthday. At the time, my wife knew she was pregnant, but I'm not sure that we had done the math yet to figure out just how much August 27 was going to be a problem.

As summer went on and the day got closer, and we both found out that we would be part of the wedding party, we began to wonder - although it would have been early, August 27 was certainly within the realm of possibility as far as the birth date was concerned. But by that time, it was like "whatever happens,'s not as if it's in our control or anything."

It would have been one thing if the wedding was in town, but that wasn't the case - it was going to be in Santa Rosa, at least a two-hour drive from our regular doctor and hospital. Since August 27 was a Saturday, Debra made sure to schedule a doctor's appointment for the Thursday prior to the wedding, just to make absolutely sure that everything was going to be OK and that we could get the green light for travel.

"Oh, sure," the doctor said, "this baby isn't going to be born for at least a week." Cool! So we motored down on Friday afternoon, enjoyed the rehearsal dinner, and put ourselves to bed that night confident that things were going to go smoothly.

When the morning rolled around, just about the first words out of Debra's mouth were...well, I can't remember exactly what they were, but the gist of it was, "I think I'm going to have this baby today!" So we contemplated our options, and at one point Debra suggested that she could drive back to town, and son #1 and I could stay for the wedding. To which my other brother (who was sharing a hotel room with the three of us) and I said, "OK...let's imagine for a moment that we said yes to that suggestion. How do you think our mother will react when she finds out that we let you drive yourself back to Sacramento to have a baby?" So, based on logic that I have to admit escapes me today, we decided to wait a couple of hours, to see how things progressed. (By the way, I should add that we had addresses and phone numbers for the closest hospital nearby, so it wasn't as if we were completely unprepared). So Debra went off to have pictures taken with the rest of the bridal party, and my brother and I took son #1 swimming.

The next time I saw her, it was in the church, and everything seemed OK. We had made plans to leave that night and leave son #1 with my parents just to be on the safe side, but right then it seemed as if that was an unnecessary precaution. The wedding went smoothly, we both looked fine in our wedding attire (if I do say so myself), and we headed off to the reception.

I think it was a couple hours into the reception, after food, drinks and a little bit of dancing, that we had the following conversation.

"I think we need to leave."

" you think we can stay until the cake?"

"Umm...I think we need to leave NOW."

And so we left, on the trek down I-80 from the Bay Area back to Sacramento, armed with someone else's cell phone just in case something went really wrong.

Around Vacaville, she grabbed my hand, and began to squeeze progressively tighter until we arrived at Sutter Memorial Hospital, just after 8 p.m. She was in her bridesmaid's dress, and I was in my tuxedo. When the doctor saw me, he did a double take, and sarcastically commented, "well, I certainly hope that we're not keeping you from something!"

Less than an hour later, son #2 was born.

And that is the story of how it happened.

Happy birthday!

[Coming in December: the story of son #1's birth, which is pretty cool as well]

The Magic Tour - That's A Wrap

Marking a celebratory but at the same time melancholy occasion, Bruce Springsteen’s Magic Tour formally concluded earlier this week in Kansas City. The tour began in Hartford, Connecticut in October 2007, and saw the band criss-cross the country twice, as well as make two jaunts across the pond into Europe. While the tour was a triumph – I saw them twice, and can attest to the fact that the band sounded better and stronger than ever – there was also tragedy along the way, with the loss in April of Danny Federici to melanoma.

The boys in the band aren’t getting younger, so with each passing E Street Band tour, the likelihood that this one will be the last increases. Of course, people have been saying that about the Stones since 1978, but consider: there were three years between the Reunion Tour and The Rising Tour, and nearly five years between that tour and the current one. Since the turn of the century, Bruce has demonstrated a desire to stretch out, following The Rising with an album of near-solo material (Devils and Dust), and following that with something completely out of left field, The Seeger Sessions (complete with full band tour). So who knows how long it will be before we see another E-Street Band album. I’ll be optimistic and say four years, but even then you’d be confronted with what my son would probably call “Old Guy-Palooza.” Would they still be up to it? Hard to say.

On the last leg of the Magic Tour, Bruce and the band played as if it were a valedictory. Songs that hadn’t popped up on the setlist for years started showing up, and the setlists varied widely from night to night (buoyed by Bruce’s new habit of plucking home-made request signs out of the audience). The second year of a Springsteen tour is always less rigid in the setlist than the beginning, but this time around he took that tendency to new extremes. In the last month of shows alone, the band played the following:

Summertime Blues
Growin’ Up
Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart
Held Up Without A Gun
Pretty Flamingo (a staple of early to mid-1970s shows)
Blinded By The Light
Little Latin Lupe Lu (I actually saw him play this once, in 1988)
You Can’t Sit Down
Loose Ends
Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)
Stand On It (saw him play this, in 1984)
Crush On You (he hadn’t played this since the first year of The River tour, and referred to it as “the worst song we ever put on vinyl.”)
Boom Boom
Part Man, Part Monkey (saw this one in 1988)
Seven Nights to Rock
the “Mona” and “Not Fade Away” intros to She’s the One
I Fought the Law
Then She Kissed Me (I had a great version of this on a bootleg tape I had back in the early 80s, but the damn thing gave up the ghost)
Mountain of Love
Little Queenie
Ricky Wants A Man of Her Own
Boys (Max Weinberg singing lead!)

I’m hoping against hope that this wasn’t the end, and that in a few years time I’ll be poised at my computer at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning, hoping against hope that this time will be the time I actually am able to score floor tickets. But if not, then the last month, as well as the entire Magic tour, was a pretty damn fine way to go out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Draft Night!

Tonight was fantasy football draft night, always among the most entertaining nights of the season. I've been in a fantasy league now for 31 years, and running my own since 1978. Some years we've had 8 teams, some years we've had 10, and for the past two years we've had twelve. That spreads the talent a little thin, puts a premium on making a good first round pick, and makes it all the more important to find the sleeper pick of the year.

Did I manage to do all of those things? Your guess is as good as mine. The group in the league now is pretty savvy, with veterans who have been around for as long as 25 years. I happen to be the defending champion, although I'd stop short of saying that I had a great team last year. But if you make the playoffs, all it takes is a little luck, and the next thing you know your name is on the trophy.

So without further ado, I present my lineup for the year. Looks OK, but ask me again in 16 weeks.

QB: Drew Brees, Eli Manning
RB: Marshawn Lynch, LenDale White, Jerious Norwood, Warrick Dunn, Deshaun Foster
R: Braylon Edwards, Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey, Vernon Davis, Deion Branch
K: Neil Rackers
Defense/Special Teams: Indianapolis Colts

Jeff's Jukebox: C-4

"Love is the Drug," Roxy Music

It's been a while since we last visited the jukebox, so let's jump right in with a classic from the mid-1970s.

Roxy Music is one of those bands that you could say was more influential than they were popular (at least in the States). This song, off the brilliant 1975 album Siren, was their biggest hit, and it topped out somewhere in the high teens on Billboard's Hot 100. In the song, Bryan Ferry is at his shady hipster best, slithering his way onto the dance floor and (in all likelihood) into the bed of some young, unsuspecting soul. The song's intro, with the footsteps and the car starting leading into an insistent bass line, is one of the most notable in the history of rock.

When I was in high school, I had frequent arguments with a friend over whether Roxy Music or Styx was the better band. I chose the former, and I like to think that I chose wisely. But if you check my yearbook from my junior year in high school, you'll see, in large block letters, courtesy of my friend Thomas, the following:



To this day, it's good for a laugh out of people who are seeing it for the first time.

Monday, August 25, 2008

For Better or For Worse

It's never been what you would call a "hip" comic strip. It's never been a laugh out loud funny strip like "Peanuts," "Calvin and Hobbes," or "Pearls Before Swine." And it's certainly never entered the national consciousness the way a strip like "Doonesbury" or "The Far Side" has. But for nearly 30 years, "For Better or For Worse" has always been there, telling a story about a family that is just as real as any story you might hear about a family in your own neighborhood. Over the years, the Patterson family has had its ups and downs - moments of great happiness, moments of great sorrow, and moments of the kinds of everyday frustrations that every family goes through.

And through it all, author and artist Lynn Johnston has nailed the details; everything about the strip rings true - the world of the kids, the key role that pets play in the family, the difficulties that families face as loved ones grow older, and the day-to-day challenges that parents face at different stages of their life. John and Elly Patterson are a strong and loving couple, but they're not without their quirks and their moments of weakness. In short, they seem real.

The story Johnston has been telling for thirty years has been somewhat unique in the comic strip world, in that the characters have aged in real time. The Patterson children, Michael and Elizabeth, weren't even in school when the strip began, and now they're adults. The youngest child, April, was born just a couple of months after the birth of our #1 son, which would make her a senior in high school.

And now, for all practical purposes, the story is coming to an end. I suspected that was the case a few weeks ago when every strip began to be devoted to a minute-by-minute account of Elizabeth's wedding day. And sure enough, when the wedding storyline concludes on August 31, Johnston plans to stop the clock and go back to the very beginning, drawing new strips to fill in the blanks that were left when she told the story the first time around. If she had asked me, it's not the way I would have wanted her to close things out, but on the other hand she's definitely earned the right to do with her creation whatever she wants.

It's never been the kind of strip that you read first when you get to the comics page - but for me, it's been a strip that I've read every day, even without realizing it, for nearly all of its existence. I remember when April was born, and I remember when the family dog, Farley, sacrificed his own life to save hers when she fell into the creek behind the Patterson family home. I remember Michael's wedding, and I remember Elizabeth's experiences at the University. I'm going to miss finding out what happens next in the life of the Pattersons, while knowing that they will endure, as the strongest families always do.

It may not be cool. But it has been great, and Johnston deserves to be recognized for a great story, wonderfully told.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Last Random Olympic Thoughts

You can have all the debates in the world about the politics surrounding the Olympics - the entire event is a walking, talking contradiction in terms - but in the end, it all boils down to the fortnight being the greatest manifestation of "the human drama of athletic competition." It's also one of the world's most fascinating melting pots - in some ways, the history of the Olympics is a microcosm of the history of the world itself. Through the results of events, you can trace the history of communism, the growth of new world powers, and the ups and downs of the United States and other countries, and if you look real hard you can even find some tidbits about social history and the mores of the day.

But enough "deep thinking." Now's the time to note some personal highlights of the games.

- Bryan Clay winning the decathlon. It's a measure of how far track & field has fallen out of the national consciousness that Clay not only is not the hero of these games, but also is relatively unknown. The decathlon has always been the gold standard of track & field - and Clay, who seems as unassuming as one can possibly be, can now proudly stand in a line of American heroes - including Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, and Bruce Jenner - who can justifiably make a claim of being "the world's greatest athlete." I look forward to seeing him on the Wheaties box.

- The Redeem Team. Say what you will (and I have, at various times) about the arrogance and hubris of American basketball stars, but you have to give them credit where credit is due. For the past three years, an extraordinary group of players has set aside the arrogance and the hubris in pursuit of a higher goal, and against a healthy set of odds was able to return American basketball to the prominence that it enjoyed for decades. It helped that it was among the few events that people living on the West Coast were able to view as it was happening, but the gold medal game was an absolute classic - one of the great basketball games in recent memory.

- Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. Grace and beauty under immense pressure, not to mention having to overcome a scoring system and set of judges that seemed to have been forged in the depths of hell.

- Usain Bolt. Yeah, the showboating was a little over the top, but this really was a performance for the ages. We're talking Bob Beamon amazing.

- Jason Lezak. The unsung hero behind the record-setting performance of Michael Phelps. Perhaps the most amazing single swim in the history of the Olympics.

- Michael Phelps. It's hard to find the words to describe the enormity of the achievement.

- Sanya Richards' anchor leg in the 4 x 400 relay, and the overall performance of both 4 x 400 relay teams.

- Volleyball. From the beach to the indoors, the teams were transcendent, even if I remain a bit skeptical about the beach version.

I'm probably forgetting something. But that seems like a decent list. I also enjoyed Tom Hammond & Ato Boldon covering track, and Mike Breen & Doug Collins & Anne Meyers covering basketball. The enthusiasm of Rowdy Gaines was infectious, and the professionalism of Bob Costas and Dan Hicks was, as always, impressive.

And of course, there was also the usual array of spectacularly unsportsmanlike moments, like the guy walking off the medal stand without his medal, and the taekwando dude kicking the referee in the face, and the usual doping disqualifications. But that's the gotta take the bitter with the sweet.

As always, I'm sorry it's over.

Let's Close It Out - The Basketball Final Live-Blog!

Fernandez brings Spain back within 8. Collins says U.S. better keep scoring, because they haven't been able to stop Spain.

4:22 - Howard about to shoot free throws. Misses first. Collins: "U.S. must shore up its defense." Collins wonders whether U.S. would be better off if Bosh was in there, to hit the free throws. Howard makes the second.

4:02 - U.S. in the penalty. Pau Gasol at the free throw line. Makes them both. As Breen notes, Gasol looks like a much different player than the one you see in the U.S.

Another miss for U.S. Gasol hits another shot; 5 point game with 3:25.

Zone defense - Bryant hits a MONSTER three and is FOULED! Could that be the kicker? Rudy Fernandez has FOULED OUT! Kobe hits the free throw. 108-99.

Navarro hits the runner - under three minutes to go!

Jimenez hits another three - Spain back within 4!!!

Wade hits a three! 111-104 and we're under two minutes. Incredible game.

Time out. Spain is playing incredible zone defense right now - the U.S. is being saved only by their three point shooting. Gasol looks like a monster! Can't believe this is the same guy who got roughed up in the NBA finals.

U.S. fouls, and is in the penalty. Coach K looks like he's going to have a heart attack any minute now. Spain makes only one free throw, but keeps possession on a loose ball.

BIG rebound from James. Under 90 seconds to play. Bryant throws in the runner!!

Spain misses! U.S. has ball with 58 seconds to play, 8 point lead.

Chants of "USA! USA!" break out.

Chris Paul shooting free throws. Makes the first. Makes the second. 10 point lead.

41.4 to play. Collins: "No threes and no fouls."

U.S. gets the ball in the front court, Paul dribbles some time off, gets fouled, Spain's bench totally loses it and now the U.S. gets four free throws. Technical on Ricky Rubio. Sit down and shaddap, Ricky. You'll look great in silver.

26 seconds to go. Time out. It's all over. Kobe douses Coach K with his water bottle.

Mike Breen: U.S. has always had the best players, but not always the best team.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. As Breen says, the team has put the U.S. back on top of the basketball world. Which, with all due respect to the rest of the world, is how it should be.

Final Score: United States 118, Spain 107.

Early Fourth

A disastrous fourth quarter start for the U.S. Missed threes, missed opportunities, and the next thing you know, Spain gets up a head of steam and we have a two-point game on our hands. Incredible.

Oh, there's some male Spain fans dressed in women's clothing. Wonder what that is about.

OK, test time for the guys. Let's see how they respond.

Tough shot by Kobe for 2. Good start.

Fourth foul on Lebron. He stays in the game. 7:42 to play.

3 by Williams. As Collins says, "gigantic shot."

Lead back up to 9. Great response by the U.S.

Spain gets three, Kobe responds with one of his own. 101-92. Less than six minutes to play.

Doug Collins

Doug Collins really is one of the best analysts around. He's paired with Mike Breen at the Olympics, and he makes Breen sound about twice as good as he did working the NBA on ESPN and ABC. As anyone over a certain age will certainly remember, it was Collins who hit two dramatic free throws with 3 seconds to play in the 1972 Olympics final to hand the U.S. the victory, which was then stolen away by the incompetent and corrupt officials calling the game. Mr. Cool.

Late Third Quarter

All right, now the U.S. is playing the kind of game that is going to win this thing - pound it inside, take the good shots, push the ball, push the ball. 10 point lead with 2:30 to play.

Apropos of nothing, about half the players on Spain's team have their first names on the back of their jersey. Somehow, "Ricky" just doesn't strike fear in one's heart.

U.S. not converting fast breaks, but still leads by 10 with just over a minute to play in the third.

Jeez - now they're letting Pau Gasol look like a strong man.

Big three by Anthony...11 point lead.

Another slip in the paint. For crissakes, get someone out there with a towel.

Layup by Navarro at the buzzer. 91-82 after three.

Middle Third Quarter

I keep thinking that the U.S. is going to catch fire any minute now, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

Spain just had a chance to come within two, but a steal and breakaway by Carmelo Anthony (who looked like he might have traveled) push it back up to six.

Damn it, they're getting beaten on the boards, and the threes have run out. I was kind of hoping this one would be over now, but now it could go all the way down to the wire.

79-73 with 4 minutes to play. Make that 79-75. No, make that 81-75. Quick, hit "publish post!"

Early Third Quarter

Disastrous start for the U.S. team. Lead is down to 4, three turnovers already, and no one seems to have any spark at all. And now it looks like it's the U.S. that's losing its cool.


The good news: a 69-61 lead at halftime; shooting from the field over 70%; Dwayne Wade shooting daggers every time that Spain threatens to get really close.

The bad news: only an 8 point lead when shooting 70%. Maybe they won't have anything left in the tank in the second half, but for now Spain is in this game.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Live Olympics on the West Coast? I Must Be Dreaming

For what I think is the very first time in this Olympics, the West Coast is seeing an event live - the men's basketball final.

Right now, the game is in the second quarter, and the "Redeem Team" is putting a little space between themselves and Spain. The refs aren't letting them play very much, and Spain looks like they're starting to lose their cool a little bit. Of course, just as I type that the U.S. has missed a couple of long threes, and Spain has a chance to bring it down under 10 with about 7 minutes to play in the second quarter.

Unlike a lot of people, I don't have a huge problem with the U.S. sending their professionals to the Olympics, especially now that the rest of the world has pretty much caught up - at least to the point where they can beat us consistently in international tournaments, if all we do is show up and expect the gold to be handed to us on a platter. Given the amount of time and effort that has gone into trying to win a gold medal this year, it will be interesting to see if the will is there to keep doing it this way at every Olympiad. I've heard that Coach K has already indicated this will be it for him, and if that is the case we'll just have to see if there is another coach with the time and the temperament to be able to mold a group of disparate players who are pretty used to having their own way on their own teams into something resembling a team.

With 5:11 to play in the first, the U.S. leads 52-42. And the clock has just struck midnight here in California.

Based On A True Story: "Basic Brown"

I started reading “Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times,” Willie Brown’s autobiography, a couple of nights ago. Although I’m not that far into it, I can already tell that it’s going to be an entertaining and vivid read.

And after reading those first few chapters, I also suspect that a lot of the book is outright, blatant fiction.

The tip-off comes early, in a chapter titled “Willie Brown Is NOT Kidding.” In it, Brown tells the story of the infamous “Gang of Five,” the group of five moderate Democratic legislators – Rusty Areias, Charles Calderon, Gary Condit, Jerry Eaves, and Steve Peace – who had the temerity to challenge Brown’s leadership in 1988, and sought to oust him as Assembly Speaker. To hear Brown tell the story, the crisis was dealt with with one swift, aggressive counter-attack. All it took was for Brown to fool the five into thinking that he was indeed interested in stepping down as Speaker, invite them into his office, and then step outside to make a quick phone call to Lou Papan, Chairman of the Rules Committee, and instruct Papan to strip the five of their chairmanships, fire their staffs, and throw them out of their offices. As Brown tells it, he then ushered the five into an ambush, where they were shocked by dozens of press waiting for them in the hallway and, embarrassed, they bowed their heads, paid their penance over time, and the crisis was averted. Brown comes across as the brilliant strategist, the Machiavellian Prince determined to keep his power, and brutally dispose of those who dare to cross him.

All well and good. Except it didn’t happen that way, and Brown knows it.

Sure, there was a Gang of Five, they did challenge Brown’s leadership, and Brown did eventually triumph over them, in the process doling out some severe punishment and embarrassment. But in real life, the saga dragged out over a period of several months, and on several occasions Brown came perilously close to losing everything. In the end, what really saved him was the fact that the five were about half as smart as they thought they were, and put together not nearly as smart in the ways of politics and leadership as Brown himself. Twenty years later, it’s almost comical to think that the likes of Rusty Areias and Gary Condit thought they could outsmart Willie Brown by making a deal with the Republican members of the Assembly, when Brown himself had written that particular book eight years earlier when he outmaneuvered Howard Berman (himself a pretty smart guy) to become Speaker by cutting a deal with the devil (the Republicans).

The tale that Brown tells is a fascinating one, the only drawback being that it’s only a fraction of the truth. It’s like one of those “based on a true story” movies, where you never quite know whether what you’re seeing is the “true” part or the “based on” part, all the while suspecting that the most dramatic parts fall into the latter category.

I’m sure that I’m going to like this book a lot. I just hope that there aren’t a lot of high school and college kids using it for research papers.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The 50th Anniversary Music Project Revisited

As my handful of regular readers will remember, it was at this time last year that I presented my parents with "The 50th Anniversary Music Project," to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of their wedding day. It was an effort, over the course of 20 CDs and more than 400 songs, to tell the musical history of the past fifty years. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun putting it together.

This year, part of their gift is Appendix I and Appendix II, which brings the collection up to date, by trying to identify a set of songs from 2007 and 2008 that fairly represent the musical landscape of those years.

This is what I came up with:

Appendix I: 2007

Keep the Car Running, Arcade Fire
Radio Nowhere, Bruce Springsteen
No Bad News, Patty Griffin

How Long, The Eagles
Words, Lucinda Williams
Our Country, John Mellencamp

Effect and Cause, The White Stripes
Heart of Matters, Ben Harper
Creedence Song, John Fogerty
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Bryan Ferry
All the Old Showstoppers, The New Pornographers

Jimmy, M.I.A.
Lion of Judah, Prince
’92 Subaru, Fountains of Wayne
Halloween Head, Ryan Adams
Only You, Dwight Yoakam

The Alley Song, Lyle Lovett & His Large Band
Killing the Blues, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

Dreamworld, Rilo Kiley

Appendix II: 2008

Long Before My Time, The Baseball Project
Golden Bear, Alejandro Escovedo
You Can’t Count On Me, Counting Crows
Mr. Richards, R.E.M.
Modern Guilt, Beck
Acid Jazz Singer, The Fratellis
Disco Lies, Moby
4 Minutes, Madonna with Justin Timberlake
A-Punk, Vampire Weekend
Motivation, Sheryl Crow
My Three Sons, Elvis Costello
Buffalo, Kathleen Edwards
In the Shape of A Heart, Jackson Browne
With My Eyes Closed, The Raveonettes
Jena, John Mellencamp
Here’s to the Halcyon, Old 97s
I Believe In You, Cat Power
Lover of the Bayou, Mudcrutch


Michael Reynolds writes what I suspect many of us are thinking these days.

If it's this bad before the conventions, it's hard to imagine how bad it's going to get by November.

This Makes My Day

Available at

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"You won't like me when I don't have my Wellbutrin!"

A story from Mark Evanier that illustrates some of the problems with modern day health care, while being hysterically funny at the same time.

Into the Home Stretch

It always seems to happen like this - after a week or so of the Olympics, watching them becomes an addiction - a beast that must be fed on a daily and/or nightly basis, lack of sleep be damned. With a cat nap thrown in every now and then, I've been burning the midnight oil for several days now, primarily because of the sadistic pleasure that NBC seems to take from saving the evening's marquee event for last. I suppose that one could argue that this is just a function of the schedule and the time difference, but I'm not sure I'm buying that argument. Just seems like too much of a coincidence to me.

My defenses against all things Olympic have been broken down to the point where I actively enjoyed the final event in women's gymnastics (balance beam), as well as the coronation of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh as the reigning queens of beach volleyball. Overall, the judging in gymnastics still drives me nuts and I'm not sold on the long-term entertainment value of beach volleyball, but those last two events had more than their share of drama.

I still wish that NBC tried to mix up their nightly program a bit; I'd love to see more of the events that they're showing on the other networks - boxing, wrestling, tennis, soccer, etc. I'd even settle for the "highlights" approach that they've taken to using for the field events, although that approach really sucks the drama out of something that might have been really exciting (no way of knowing, based on the limited evidence at hand). And Mary Carillo's nightly pieces aren't that interesting; surely there is something happening each day that could augment the drama just a little bit. doubt about it; I'm really going to be sorry when it's over.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Killing Moon

The remainder bins at the big chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble are always worth scouring. After all, how loudly can you complain when you've only paid $3.99 for a book?

I'd never heard of Chuck Hogan, but based on the cover of "The Killing Moon" alone, figured that it was worth shelling out the $3.99. And it was well worth it, because "The Killing Moon" is an excellent thriller/mystery in the classic "nothing is quite as it seems" mode. In no time at all, Hogan establishes more than a half dozen key characters, and then moves the story forward by devoting each chapter to the point of view of one of those characters. Hogan also sets the tone right away - the small town of Black Falls, Massachusetts could just as well be Twin Peaks; everyone is just a bit south of the mainstream, and strange things are happening in the woods at night.

The town's prodigal son, Don Maddox, has returned for his mother's funeral, and stayed on to become a part-time member of the town's police force. That makes no sense to anyone, including the corrupt head of the force, and as the story of the novel unfolds, the secrets of Maddox' past, and the reasons for his return, are revealed. He is clearly on a quest, but also must deal with the dead bodies that keep popping up around town. And it doesn't help that no one seems to want him to stay.

If the book has any weakness, it's that the climax isn't quite up to the set-up, but even with that it remains exciting and well executed. All in all, it feels like a book of promise, and I hope that Hogan achieves enough success to be able to build on the best parts of "The Killing Moon."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pop Quiz

What do these five albums, released in 1971, have in common?

* The Concert for Bangladesh

* The Inner Mounting Flame, Mahavishnu Orchestra

* Broken Barricades, Procul Harum

* Lost in the Ozone, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

* The Yes Album

(see the Comments for the answer)

My New Goal In Life

I had the occasion to receive a press release last night from the U.S. Department of Education, with the ominous title "U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY APPOINTS 16-MEMBER COUNCIL TO ADVISE ON STATE STANDARDS, ASSESSMENTS, ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEMS."

Perusing the list of appointments I came across the name of Carl Cohn, former Superintendent of the Long Beach and San Diego Unified School Districts, who is now identified as "Distinguished Leader in Residence, College of Education, San Diego State University."

So that's my new goal - I want to become a "Distinguished Leader in Residence." And for some reason, I don't think that's how my wife and kids refer to me. Even behind my back.

Gymnastics vs. Track and Field

Hooked on the Olympics like so many others, Ann Althouse states her preference for gymnastics over track and field, and her argument is reasonable:

I like the events where form and complexity vary infinitely. I can develop my own perception and judgment, and if the judges do something else, I can think about that and try to figure it out or get pissed off.

It's a reasonable argument, but one with which I strongly disagree. First, I don't think it's really true that "form and complexity vary infinitely" in gymnastics competitions, given the number of required elements in so many of the events. But the main problem with the argument can be summed up in her comment, "if the judges do something else." Well, that's the thing, isn't it. The judges are charged with making subjective judgments about very specific elements in a performance, with the goal of identifying the competitor who completes the best performance. While form and complexity can play a role in the perception of each judge (if, for instance, a competitor on the floor exercise is more "artistic" than his/her competitors, a judge might be inclined to award a higher score for that competitor), each judge is also expected to fairly and objectively deduct an equal number of points from each competitor based on a designated list of errors developed by the sport's governing body.

Let's assume that the judges in this Olympics have been fair and completely above-board with respect to their treatment of the individual competitors. If that is the case, then the only explanation for the awarding of a medal to an exercise which can clearly be demonstrated to be unworthy of the award (I'm talking about the bronze medal awarded in the women's vault) is incompetence - the judges simply don't know what they're doing. What they have to offer isn't any different or better than what you hear from Randy or Paula on any given week of "American Idol." And that's how you're making decisions in the most prominent event in the sport? Come on.

About track, Althouse goes on to say:

What's the point of monitoring races to see who crosses a line first?

Well, I suppose I'd say that the point is that in track, form and complexity vary infinitely. There is more strategy involved in a 10,000 meter race than there is in an entire week of gymnastics events. Sure, it's about who crosses the line first. But in many races, the "fastest" person doesn't win. The history of the Olympics is littered with the memories of track favorites who went home without a medal. In many of those cases, tactics and strategy kept the favorite off the medal stand. Every now and then, there is a super-human performance, the likes of which was seen on Saturday from Usain Bolt. But that's the exception that proves the rule.

You can make a similar argument for just about every event in track and field. And that's why I prefer track and field to gymnastics, or any other event which is left to the whims of subjective judgments from people who even the experts seem to agree are not necessarily qualified for the job.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life Sciences Building

Life Sciences Building

To celebrate the opening of my Flickr page (see link at left), a photo from last weekend's campus tour of UC Berkeley.

The Life Sciences Building was where I had my first political science class, Poli Sci 2 - Comparative Politics. The professor, the late Dr. Leslie Lipson, was probably the best lecturer I had at Cal, and I still remember how offended he was by the election of Ronald Reagan as President - setting aside his lecture the day after Election Day to discuss why he thought Reagan would be a failure as President.

Great Olympic Moments: Dick Fosbury

There are athletes. There are great athletes. And then there are the athletes who are truly revolutionary - who change their sport because of their ability and their innovations.

Dick Fosbury was such an athlete. Before Fosbury, high jumpers used one technique. After Fosbury, they used another - the "Fosbury Flop."

Fosbury became somewhat of a folk hero in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympiad, where he won the gold medal utilizing what then was an unusual, even scoffed-at technique. You don't hear his name spoken that often anymore, but he remains one of the greatest Olympians.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Elvis Presley died 31 years ago today.

I've posted this before, but it's worth taking a look at again:

“If love is truly going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others’ objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.”

- Lester Bangs

More Random Thoughts on the Olympics

* After a week of the Beijing Games, I'm more convinced than ever that the saturation coverage - 18000 hours on 45 stations! - is one of the worst things that ever happened to the Olympics. The average viewer is left with the nightly coverage on NBC, and they're doing a horrendous job - just sucking the drama out of nearly every event they cover. And as far as NBC is concerned, there are only 5 sports being contested in this Olympics. It's a classic case of more is less - sure there is more to see if you have 18 hours a day to sit in front of your TV, but the magic of the games is a casualty as a result. In their nightly broadcasts, NBC isn't even trying to give viewers the full flavor of what is going on in Beijing - and the program (not to mention the viewer) suffers as a result.

* I really don't understand how Beach Volleyball became one of the handful of sports that was granted a pass to appear nightly on the NBC telecasts. Sure, I get that Walsh and May-Treanor have great bodies and all, and their story is somewhat compelling - although not as much as NBC would have us believe. And sure, these are great athletes - no argument there. But with all due respect to enthusiasts of the sport, it's boring - deadly boring. As far as I can tell, there are a limited number of possibilities on each play, and there isn't enough strategy involved in the game to make up for the monotony of the play. I love watching "regular" Volleyball, but have totally tuned out when the beach version comes on.

* Sports Illustrated has an incredible set of photos of Phelps' miracle finish up on SI.Com. It's one of the most amazing things you'll ever see - and underscores how miraculous the victory really was. Without today's technology, there's no question that the judges would have awarded the victory to Cavic. And no one would have been the wiser.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Buy Yours Now - Beat the Rush!

Let the record reflect that our local supermarket put up its Halloween displays today, August 15 - a mere 77 days before the actual event. If my math is correct, that means I should start looking for my Christmas ornaments on October 9.

Sorry for the blurry photo - I was trying not to embarrass myself by being seen taking a photo of a witch inside of a supermarket.

"Marooned" - What A Drag It Is Getting Old

To the extent that a book of rock criticism can be considered legendary, “Stranded” certainly falls into the category. The premise of the book, released almost 30 years ago, was simple: twenty of the leading rock critics of the day would select the one record that they would want to have with them, if they were to find themselves stranded on a desert island. Nearly all of the major first-generation critics were represented: Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs, Paul Nelson, Dave Marsh, Ellen Willis, Kit Rachlis, Simon Frith, John Rockwell, and others. The book was edited by Greil Marcus, who had made a name for himself a few years earlier with “Mystery Train,” which made the argument for rock and roll music as a major American art form while trying to find where the music fit within the wide spectrum of American cultural history. “Mystery Train” was a serious book, meant to be taken seriously.

“Stranded” was more of a lark; some of the authors took the premise very seriously (and some, like John Rockwell, a bit too seriously, devoting the book’s longest essay to Linda Ronstadt’s “Living in the U.S.A.,” of all things), while others like Dave Marsh turned it into a joke, calling his entry “Onan’s Greatest Hits.” In the book Lester Bangs was atypically inscrutable discussing Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” while Simon Frith was breathtakingly brilliant on the Stones’ “Beggar’s Banquet.” The rest of the essays fell somewhere in between.

At the end of “Stranded,” Marcus contributed a section he called “Treasure Island,” which essentially tried to fill in the blanks left by the previous 20 writers. As he said, someone had to take responsibility for the tradition, and present a case to the rock neophyte as to what represented the very best of the genre. Marcus’ tastes are wide and varied, and he has a healthy appreciation for trash, so his list definitely lived up to its title. I still read it with pleasure today, and every now and then learn something new about a work that I’ve listened to for decades.

All of which brings us to the 2007 “sequel” to “Stranded,” “Marooned.” To be honest, I had no idea the book existed until my family’s trip to San Francisco last weekend. But there it was, sitting on a counter at the Virgin Megastore on Market Street, 20% off, and I knew right then and there that before the weekend was over I’d be walking out of that store with the book.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read every essay in the book yet, but I believe I’ve read enough to capture its tone. The key to the new volume is right there at the beginning, in the Foreword contributed by Greil Marcus (the book, by the way, was edited by Phil Freeman, a critic with whom I’m not familiar):

Whatever pop music might be between the covers of this book, it isn’t lingua franca. In the fifties, young people woke up to find that, somehow, they’d been born knowing the pop language that was taking shape all around them. How was it that, for a white, teenage girl on a farm in Iowa no less than for an eight-year old African-American boy in Tulsa, Little Richard needed no translator? That was the pop world; it isn’t any longer. Over the last twenty years some of the most interesting and many of the most radical pop artists have worked as if to erect barriers between themselves and any version of a so-conceived mass audience, if only to ensure that whoever made it to the other side really wanted to be there. Again and again, writers here find themselves speaking not of how a record or a musician or a singer changed their lives, or the world, or the face-of-pop – but rather “invented a language,” or tried to.

What I read in what Marcus is saying there is a theme that he has explored since at least 1980, and before that – the fragmentation of the rock audience. Whether it’s because I’m an idealist or a fuddy-duddy is for others to decide, but I find that to be almost unbearably sad – that, as Lester Bangs wrote in 1977, “never again will we agree on anything like we agreed on Elvis.”

The difference makes “Marooned” a very different kind of book than “Stranded.” In 1978, I believe the writers wrote as if the universal rock audience could still exist; they wrote about the works they loved accompanied by a thought in the back of their minds that all someone had to do was read their essay in order to become entranced by the subject at hand. I think the writers in “Marooned” write as if the opposite is true – the universal rock audience will never again exist, so they might as well celebrate the fragmentation and write about the stuff that lights the fuse that blows up the entire ship. So you have artists as diverse as Elton John, Iron Maiden, Dionne Warwick, Dio, Scorpions, Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, The Meters, Sonny Rollins, and Stereolab. An entertaining (if somewhat mystifying) mix, but all just little pieces of a vast universe.

Which is fine, and I’m just going to have to get used to it. My only quibble so far is with Freeman’s “Return to Treasure Island,” which in my less than humble opinion should be characterized as falling somewhere between a disappointment and a travesty. Sure, it’s just one person’s opinion, but if you’re going to take the responsibility for a tradition, then you need to do better than having as many songs by William Shatner as Nirvana, having three Slayer albums and none by Sleater-Kinney, and totally ignoring the recent efforts of Bob Dylan and (dare I say it) Bruce Springsteen. It may be defensible, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly honest.

But then again – what do I know? I’m just an old guy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Dorm

This is what the dorms they're building these days look like.

Hardly seems fair, does it? The damn thing is probably air conditioned.

Old Dorm

Deutsch Hall on Durant Avenue in Berkeley, south of the campus, where I spent 9 months of my life in 1980-81. The lowest floor with a balcony, the third floor, was where I lived. My room was on the far left, at the end of the hall.

I'm not sure when these dorms were built, but I like to call this architectural style "Early American Communist." The X's across the windows on the left side of the building were not there 28 years ago, so I assume they were added to bolster the building's defenses against an earthquake.

We strolled past the dorms on our way to a campus tour, and of course I had to show the kids where I spent some of my formative years. The details I kept to myself.

Happy Birthday

...dear blog.

I let the first birthday pass by without comment, but I feel compelled to recognize the second birthday of this here blog, which began life two years ago today. At that time it was called "Apropos of Nothing." I still like that name, but after 9 months or so decided to change it because there were several other blogs with the same name. On August 14, 2006 the very first post was about Elvis Presley. And 785 posts later, here we are. In two years the most frequent post topics have been rock and roll, NFL, Golf, Bruce Springsteen, and Tiger Woods. In other words, just a bunch of stuff running 'round my head. And thanks to a recent documentary which aired in Great Britain, my post from July on John Akii-Bua leads all others in hits. Regular readers - thanks for reading! Help yourselves to a piece of cake.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Views From The Top

Some shots just speak for themselves.

Almost There

OK, we're almost there. Just a huge flight of stairs to walk up, and we'll be at the base of Coit Tower.

You can just barely see the outline of the Golden Gate Bridge in this shot.

I Think I Can...I Think I Can...

I think this was taken about halfway up the hill.

One of the greatest things about San Francisco is how you can take pictures of the same thing, but from a different angle, and when you see the end result you think that you're in a completely different city.

Of course, having an elevation change like the one that San Francisco has helps a lot in this regard. And as far as I know, there aren't many - if any - other American cities with elevation changes like the ones you see in the city.

Taking Coit Tower By Strategy

[Bonus points to anyone who gets the obscure homage in the title of this post.]

Much to our surprise during the Friday afternoon walk, the kids decided as soon as they saw Coit Tower from this angle that we needed to make the walk up to the base of the tower.

Trust me, this hill is a lot steeper than it looks in this photo. But begin the trek we did. I'd say that I'm in good shape from all the running that I do, but my shins definitely paid the price for this conquest.

Can We Start Track and Field Early?

OK, I've had enough gymnastics melodrama. Setting the debate over the age of China's gymnasts aside, you know something is way out of whack when a silver medal in the Olympic Games somehow becomes one of life's great crushing disappointments. Fortunately I did myself a favor last night, and checked the results before the program began on NBC. Once I knew where the U.S. Team placed and how it got there, there really was no reason to watch. Al Trautwig is a vast improvement over John Tesh, but it would be nice every now and then to try and lend some humor to the proceedings. Notwithstanding the reactions of the U.S. team members, this really isn't life and death stuff.

So there's at least two more nights of this, but at least it's the individual competitions, where the storylines aren't quite the soap-opera of the team event. I'm just ready for it be over, so we can get to some more events that don't involve judging.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Who Let The Dogs Out?

Doggie Diner Head, Ocean Beach, San Francisco:

Top Dog, Berkeley:

More Middle of the Street Photos

In the first shot, we look down California Street, towards the Bay Bridge. If you look closely between the buildings, you can see part of the suspension section of the bridge.

The California Street Cable Car line is probably less well known than the Hyde-Powell line, but in a way is more fun because - depending on which way you're going - you find yourselves in the middle of a rousing downhill or uphill ride with terrific views. And because it's less well known, it's also a lot easier to get on than the more famous route.

The second shot was taken while standing on the waiting station for the vintage streetcars which now travel the length of Market Street, up to the Embarcadero, and along the Pier to Fisherman's Wharf.

In the distance you can see the Ferry building. This shot would not have been possible from 1958-1991, because the late and unlamented Embarcadero Freeway would have blocked the view of the building. As aficionados of the city are well aware, the much-hated freeway was torn down after suffering severe damage during the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989.

Hold Your Horses, I'm Trying To Take A Photo Here

A view of the Transamerica Pyramid, taken from the middle of an intersection on Columbus Avenue.

Don't worry - the light was red, and I was never in danger (not as if that's a concern of anyone, but still...).

This seemed like such a bizarre structure when it was built in the late 1960s (I remember that my parents absolutely hated it, and they were long-time lovers of the city), but you hardly hear anyone even mention it anymore. It's just there, and it fits in with the surroundings.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Random Olympic Notes

- I have real trouble staying up until midnight to watch. So I missed what may prove to be the most exciting moment in the entire games, the U.S. victory in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Oh well. It's not as if they're showing it live or anything.

- I don't get synchronized sports. Diving is an improvement over swimming, but I still don't get it. No disrespect intended.

- Alain Bernard? Welcome to the annals of all-time sports losers. Tough break, dude. Should have kept your big mouth shut. Or won to back it up.

- Yeah, those girls on China's gymnastics team are 16. Not.

- My patience for judged sports wanes with each Olympics.

- Beach volleyball? Not that exciting.

- Michael Phelps, you get my vote for Sportsman of the Year.

- Can't wait for track and field.


Some of the best restaurants and bars in San Francisco can be found in the alleys. Hard to find, unless you know where to look.

This is not one that I'm familiar with, but as we were heading back to the hotel after a long day's walk, it caught my eye as we were walking down Sutter Street. Based on how well it's hidden, you can almost be certain that it would be worth the trip.


Vesuvio, on Columbus Street at Jack Kerouac Alley, is full of history and great martinis.

And this mural, on the side of the building, contains some of the best advice you'll ever receive.

I've been in this bar, but not on this trip...again, those pesky kids getting in the way. But it is well worth the trip.

The full transcription, in case it is too difficult to read:

When the shadow the of the grasshopper

Falls across the trail of the field mouse
On green and slimey grass as a red sun rises
Above the western horizon silhouetting
A gaunt and tautly muscled Indian warrior
Perched with bow and arrow cocked and aimed
Straight at you it's time for another martini


The Bars of San Francisco

Like most great cities of a certain size, San Francisco has its share of great bars. Therefore, the theme of today's posts is "The Bars of San Francisco," which is probably where Karl Malden and Michael Douglas spent a lot of time after long days filming on location.

First up, the Buddha Bar on Grant Avenue, in Chinatown. I really wanted to run in and have a quick one, but alas, we were on a walk with the kids, and a good martini should be savored - not quaffed as if it were a boilermaker.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes on Stax

Most of the Isaac Hayes obituaries and tributes I've read today have mentioned "Shaft" and his role as "Chef" on South Park, so I thought I'd pay tribute with two absolutely classic soul songs, which he wrote with songwriting partner David Porter, that became huge worldwide hits for Sam & Dave.

Trust've heard them.

Views of Chinatown

Gateway to Chinatown

I've been to San Francisco countless times in my life. When I was growing up, a trip to the city was a special occasion, and usually meant a trip to the Zoo, a walk through Chinatown, and then over to Fisherman's Wharf, for dinner at Fisherman's Grotto No. 9.

Debra and I spent part of our honeymoon in the city in 1987, and then took an annual trip up until the time that Son #1 was born in 1990. After that the trips became a little more intermittent, but we still tried to get there as often as we could.

When I started to work at my present job in 2004, that meant more trips to the city, because of its popularity as a conference site and its designation as a part of the annual conference rota for the Association where I work.

This trip was a lot of fun, and armed with my new Blackberry, I probably took more pictures than I had during the previous trips combined. Because we were there for just a couple of days, we didn't have time to hit every part of the city, but we managed to cover a lot of ground.

It's a great city. And it has a ton of character, but sometimes the character is lurking in the shadows of the places that you're focused on instead, because someone has told you that's what you need (or want) to see. This shot, I think, qualifies as both. I'm sure that millions of photos of this spot have been taken over the years, but it's still a great one (not my photo specifically, but the subject generally). It is the gateway to another world. And in the shots to follow, I tried to capture a bit of that atmosphere.

Stockton Tunnel

A view of the Stockton Tunnel, walking towards Chinatown.

Union Square

Walking towards Union Square, on Geary Street.

Macy's is celebrating a birthday - its 150th.

Did I mention that Macy's was celebrating a birthday?

Oh, it was 8-8-08. There was a Burma Day Celebration taking place in the square.

San Francisco Trip

The family just returned from a whirlwind trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, and many pictures are forthcoming.

You have been warned.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

"If You Weren't At Candlestick Park Tonight, Shame on You!"

It wasn't easy growing up as a San Francisco Giants fan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sure, there was Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, and the Giants made the playoffs in 1971, but aside from that there was a lot of heartbreak, and a lot of...well, let's call it like it was - bad baseball.

The Giants made a great run at the division championship in 1982, but fell just short in the last weekend when they dropped two out of three to the hated Dodgers. But the one they managed to win was also one of the greatest moments in Giants history: a Joe Morgan home run late in the game kept the Dodgers out of the playoffs, and sent the fans home delirious.

That great moment was followed by a few years of suckiness that makes what is going on today look good - at least now, we've got Tim Lincecum. Back then, it was pretty awful.

Things started to look up when Roger Craig came on as manager, late in the 1985 season. And in 1986, the Giants were probably the overachievers of the National League, managing to win 83 games when most experts expected them to come up far short of that. They had started to come up with some great players, most notably Will Clark at first base.

In 1987, the Giants showed early on that they were prepared to make a run at the division title. But it wasn't easy, and when August rolled around they were still in a dogfight with, among others, the defending division champ, the Houston Astros.

In early August of that year, the Astros came to Candlestick Park for a critical series. And on a Monday night, 10 August 1987, the two played what would turn out to be one of the most exciting games in Giants history. And tonight on Comcast Sports Net, they showed the game (not every second, but every moment that counted).

To set the stage, the Giants had fallen behind 4-1, and managed to claw back into the game in the seventh inning, scoring three runs to tie it up at 4-4. But then the Astros scored in the top of the eighth.

I was listening to the game on the radio, and my wife Debra - after hearing the swearing and the foot-stomping that resulted from the Giants dropping the lead - made a comment along the lines of "oh, don't worry - I'm sure the Giants will win in the 9th inning." Yeah, right. Like that ever happens.

In the ninth inning, the first batter was Candy Maldonado.

He hit a home run to tie the game.

The second batter was Will Clark.

He hit a home run to win the game.

Never again did I doubt Debra.

And on that night, Ron Fairly, the former Dodger who finally came to his senses and came over to the good Dark Side, uttered the immortal words, "If you weren't at Candlestick Park tonight, SHAME ON YOU!"

Well, I wasn't, but I was listening. And I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

With Apologies...The Jinx Lives On

Home Library: The Harlan Coben Section

The career of Harlan Coben can be divided into two parts: the first is the Myron Bolitar era, during which Coben wrote seven novels featuring sports agent Myron Bolitar and his best friend, the wealthy (and deadly) sociopath Windsor (Win) Horne Lockwood III. While such a thing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, a series of books about a sports agent (and former All-American basketball star at Duke) who solves crimes with the help of a wealthy sociopath and an assistant (later partner) who at one time had been one-half of the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling’s” world champion tag-team is my idea of a good time.

Through seven books, Myron, Win, Esperanza traded wisecracks, fought their way out of scrapes, and generally managed to figure out which way was up and solve whatever mystery had landed in their lap. The books included a host of colorful characters, including Myron’s parents, a couple of old-school gangsters known as the Ache brothers, and of course the professional athletes from all sports who somehow managed to find themselves in a heap of trouble, usually of their own making.

The passage that, above all others, proved to me that I would love these books appeared in “Deal Breaker,” Coben’s first. In the scene, Myron is trying to talk Herman Ache, the oldest and wisest of the Ache Brothers, into convincing his brother Frank that he (Frank) should drop the contract on Myron’s life. He’s not having much luck, until Win takes advantage of the fact that Herman has been practicing his golf swing during the entire conversation.

Win sat forward, moving for the first time. “Your club is too far open on your swing, Mr. Ache. Try turning your wrists a little more. Shift your grip to the right a little.”

The sudden change in subject caught everyone by surprise. Herman looked at Win. “I’m sorry. I never caught the name.”

“Windsor Horne Lockwood III.”

“Ah, so you are the immortal Win. Not exactly what I expected.” [Note: early in the book, Coben describes Win’s appearance as being the epitome of east-coast prep school]. He tested the new grip. “Feels odd.”

“Give it a few weeks, Win said. “Do you play often?”

“As often as I can. It’s more than just a game to me. It’s…”

“Sacred,” Win finished for him.

His eyes livened. “Exactly. You play, Mr. Lockwood?”


“Nothing like it, is there?”

“Nothing,” Win agreed. “Where do you play?”

“Not easy for my kind to find good courses. I joined a club in Westchester. St. Anthony’s. You know it?”


“It’s not much of a course. Eighteen holes, of course. Very rocky. You have to be half mountain goat.”

Golf stories. Myron loved them. Didn’t everyone?

“I don’t understand something,” Myron said, playing along. “With all your, uh, influence, why don’t you play anywhere you want?”

Herman and Win looked at him as though he were a naked infidel praying in the Vatican. “Excuse him,” Win said. “Myron does not understand golf. He thinks a nine iron is a vitamin supplement.”

Herman laughed. The hoods joined suit. Myron didn’t get it.

“I understand fine,” Myron said. “Golf is a bunch of silly-dressed men using massive tracts of real estate to play with a ball and stick.”

Myron laughed. No one joined suit. Golfers are not known for their sense of humor.

Herman put the club back in the bag. “A man does not force or buy or bully his way onto a golf course,” he explained. “I have too much respect for the game, for the traditions, to do anything so crass. It would be like putting a gun against a priest’s head to get the front pew.”

“Sacrilege,” Win said.

“Exactly. No real golfer would do it.”

“He has to be invited,” Win added.

“Right. And you don’t merely play a great course. You pay homage to it. I’d love to be invited to one of the world’s great courses. It would be my dream. But it is not meant to be.”

“How about being invited to two of them?” Win asked.

“Two…” Herman stopped. His eyes widened for a millisecond, then quickly dimmed as though afraid he was being teased. “What do you mean?”

Win pointed to a picture on the left wall. “Merion Golf Club,” he said. Then he pointed to a picture on the far wall. “And Pine Valley.”

“What about them?”

“I assume you’ve heard of them?”

“Heard of them?” Herman repeated. “They’re the top two courses on the East Coast, two of the best in the world. Go ahead, name any hole, either course.”

“Sixth hole at Merion.”

Herman’s face glowed like a little kid’s on Christmas morning. “One of the most underrated holes anywhere. It sets up with a semiblind tee-shot to a fairway that favors a soft fade. Start your tee-shot at middle bunker, then cut back to the center, keeping clear of the boundary, which comes in on the right. Long-to-middle iron to the modestly elevated green, careful of the bunkers on the left and right.”

Win smiled. “Very impressive.”


“Don’t tell me, Mr. Lockwood, that you’ve played Merion and Pine Valley.” Something well past awe resonated in Herman’s voice.

“I’m a member of both.”

Herman inhaled sharply. Myron half-expected him to cross himself. “A member,” he began incredulously, “of both?”

“I’m a three handicap at Merion,” Win continued. “A five handicap at Pine Valley. And I’d like you to be my guest at both for a weekend. We’ll try to get in seventy-two holes a day, thirty-six at each course. We’ll start at five a.m. Unless that’s too early.”

Herman shook his head. Myron thought his eyes looked teary. “Not too early,” he managed.

“Next weekend okay for you?”

Herman picked up the phone. “Let the girl go,” he said. “And the contract is off. Anyone touches Myron Bolitar, they’re dead.”

If reading that doesn’t put a smile on your face, then these are probably not the books for you.

With “One False Move,” Coben began to take Myron and Win into darker territory, with greater personal stakes for Myron, in particular. But after “Darkest Fear,” the seventh Bolitar book, Coben tired of writing about Myron, and decided to try his hand at thrillers.

And he has succeeded, probably beyond his wildest dreams. The books he writes now are the kind that inspire clichés like “page turner,” “crackling spellbinder,” and “more twists and turns than an amusement park ride.” Though they’re all different, what they have in common is that nothing in them is ever quite as it seems. Even the most ordinary people have secrets, and the people who populate Coben’s thrillers have secrets – some going back as far as twenty years and more – that hold the potential to cause everything in the present to unravel.

Coben is an absolute master of capturing the reader with the very first chapter. Don’t take my word for it, read the first chapter of “Promise Me” (the return of Myron Bolitar, in a different kind of book) and see what you think.

You really can’t go wrong with the books of Harlan Coben.

What Was Really Waiting For Martin Balsam at the Top of the Stairs

Jeff's Jukebox: C-3

C-3: "Ode to Billie Joe," Bobbie Gentry

About as far from European synth-pop as you can possibly get. A southern gothic mystery novel, within the grooves of a 4:15 single.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Last Favre Post

Well, I'm going to take the advice of the fan who I managed to offend with my Brett Favre posts, put my "money and my mouth in sink," and make this the last Favre-related post until he does something worth writing about when the season begins.

I'll just close by noting that Favre will be moving from the team with the most forgiving fans in the league, to the team (certainly the city) with perhaps the least forgiving fans in the league.

It will be interesting.

Exclusive Footage From the Favre Bidding War!

The bidding begins roughly 2:50 into the video. Before that, Favre can be seen making his case to the brain trusts of the Packers, Buccaneers, and Jets.

Man, I take back what I said before. This is some exciting sh*t!

The 4th Sign of the Apocalypse

SI.Com has set up the Favre Tracker.

UPDATE: At 1:49 p.m. EDST, Favre entered Illinois airspace.

That is, if he was on the plane in question.

If not, then he didn't.

Stay tuned for further updates!

Plugging Elvis

No, not "de Elvis Presley," as Andy Kaufman used to say. I'm talking about Elvis Mitchell, the film critic who in July hosted his own interview program, Under the Influence, on Turner Classic Movies.

The premise of the program is simple. Mitchell talks to prominent film folk - stars from in front and behind the camera - about those from the past who influenced their work. From all appearances, Mitchell has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history, as well as a fine-tuned appreciation for what makes great films work.

Mitchell's subjects for the initial set of 30-minute interviews were the late Syndey Pollack, Bill Murray, Laurence Fishburne, and Quentin Tarantino. In each, Mitchell was easily able to get them to open up, to the point where I'm sure the interviews could have gone on for another 30 minutes without losing steam. Pollack did a great job of explaining how his acting experience informed his work behind the camera, Fishburne was positively eloquent about how he learned from the things that Clark Gable did on screen that had nothing to do with dialogue, and Quentin Tarantino was like a hyped-up kid after eating too much candy on Halloween. Great stuff, and without the fawning that has turned James Lipton into a caricature of himself.

The bad news is that the show does not return until November (with subjects Joan Allen, Richard Gere, John Leguizamo, and Edward Norton). The good news is that if you have Comcast Cable, it is still running in the On Demand feature. Check it out; you won't be disappointed.

The official Under the Influence site is here.

An interview with Elvis about the show can be found here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


National Night Out

Favre Watch

In this photo taken today, we see Brett Favre taking the remaining shreds of his honor and character out to the trash.

Stay tuned for further updates!

Robert Crais: "Chasing Darkness"

When considering Robert Crais, it’s easy to find the turning point where a reader can classify his books as “before and after.” That turning point is “L.A. Requiem,” which stands along with James Ellroy’s “L.A. Confidential” as the modern masterpiece of detective fiction. Crais wrote seven novels before “L.A. Requiem” and he’s written seven novels since, and even though he’s never written a bad one, it’s not likely that he’ll ever top “Requiem.” It’s that good.

The books preceding “L.A. Requiem” all featured Elvis Cole, a wise-cracking, Hawaiian shirt-wearing Vietnam Veteran, and his mysterious partner Joe Pike, a man of visceral force but one of few words. Pike played the perfect counterpart to the smart-aleck Cole – his wardrobe rarely deviating from his preferred t-shirt with the arms cut off and jeans, rarely talking, his eyes always hidden behind the reflector sunglasses that never leave his face. Cole, on the other hand, took the sarcastic and sardonic tendencies of Spade, Marlowe and Archer to their logical extreme, never missing an opportunity to make light of the situation, however dire, but leaving the reader always aware of a vulnerable side buried deep within.

“L.A. Requiem” stood above the books which came before it through the depth and gravitas that Crais added to both characters, particularly Pike. Through a series of flashbacks, the story of how a scared, young boy became Joe Pike is told, and that story drives the narrative of the novel, where much more is at stake than in the past - for the first time both Cole and Pike seem to be in over their heads, grappling with a case that threatens to take away everything they care about – up to and including their own lives.

After "L.A. Requiem," it’s almost as if Crais knew that he needed to take a breather from Cole and Pike. The next two books were stand-alone stories, one (“Demolition Angel”) featuring Carol Starkey, a chain-smoking member of the bomb squad who never quite came to terms with the fact that she was killed (and brought back to life, needless to say) by the bomb which killed her partner. Starkey has returned to play a supporting role in several Crais novels. The second stand-alone, “Hostage,” was turned into a movie with Bruce Willis, and it reads as if it was written to become the basis for an action movie (I don’t mean that as an insult).

Cole and Pike returned in three of Crais’ next four novels – “The Last Detective,” “The Forgotten Man,” and “The Watchman” (the latter which turned the tables by featuring Pike in the lead, with Cole playing second banana). All three were outstanding, and all dealt in one way or another with the ramifications of the events of “L.A. Requiem.” Perhaps sensing that it would be folly to try, none surpassed “Requiem” in terms of quality, but all carried within them a sense that things were now different. There is less joking from Cole, each case seems to have more is at stake, particularly on a personal level, and each man better understands than before his own mortality.

All of which brings us to Crais’ latest novel, “Chasing Darkness.” The book's premise is not original – in fact, it is strikingly similar to Michael Connelly’s 2006 novel, “Echo Park.” In that book, Harry Bosch must deal with a presumed mistake that he made years before that resulted in a serial killer remaining free to kill for years to come. In “Chasing Darkness,” Elvis Cole is confronted early on with the accusation that he made a mistake in a case three years ago, and because of that mistake a killer was set free and went on to claim two more victims. Cole knows that what he learned about the accused three years ago proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man could not have been the killer, but now he must prove it all over again, not only to himself but to the family of the most recent victim.

As with the two most recent Cole books, the story no longer is about brave Elvis coming to the rescue of someone in distress. Now, his own character is at stake, and unlike the pre-“Requiem” books, there now is always a sense of doubt that things are going to turn out alright in the end. Pike is there to help, as is Carol Starkey, but until the very end the reader remains uncertain whether this will be a triumph that Elvis can truly celebrate. While I’d hesitate to classify it in the same category as Crais’ masterpiece, I do think - despite the lack of originality - that it is his best book since then. And for fans of the genre, that should be more than enough.