Sunday, May 30, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Beneath this stone
Repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers
Gathered after the war
From the fields of Bull Run, and the route to the Rappahannock
Their remains could not be identified, but their names and deaths are
Recorded in the archives of their country, and its grateful citizens
Honor them as of their noble army of martyrs may they rest in peace.
September A.D. 1866
Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery
(photo taken June 2009)
Friday, May 28, 2010
"Sex and the City 2" is more than harmless escapism. It's an accidental candid snapshot of the sick, dying heart of America, a film so pleased with its vacuous, trashy, art-free extravagance that its poster should be taped to the dingy walls of terrorist sleeper agents worldwide. More depressing and alarming than the movies themselves is the notion that a certain culture, a certain mindset, birthed it, without a pang of remorse or even apparent self-awareness, much less self-criticism. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why they hate us."
Read the whole thing here.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
But remember - if they do manage to pull the upset, you read it here first. At least I think you did, because I haven't seen anyone else pick them.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
But now, better late than never, things are getting interesting. Odds are probably still with a Lakers-Celtics final, but it's a lot less certain than it was just a few days ago.
You have to wonder if the long break between the Eastern Conference semis and finals took Orlando out of its game, because the team that beat Boston tonight looked nothing like the team that squandered the home-court advantage in Games 1 and 2. It's going to be wild in the Garden on Friday night, but if Orlando can pull a rabbit out of a hat one more time, I'd make them an odds-on favorite to become the first NBA team in history to come back from a 3-0 deficit.
Out west, you still have to like the Lakers chances, but I'm glad that "Los Suns" have made a series of it. But right now, I just can't see Kobe allowing his team to lose. I don't think this is a great Lakers team by any stretch of the imagination, but it's good enough to make it to the Finals.
And if they do, I'd pick them to beat Boston, but to lose to Orlando.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Man, it was bad - and not just bad, but so bad that it's kind of amazing that they allowed the show to continue after efforts like this one. It was set on a planet where all the women looked like Bo Derek and all the men looked like a blonde Adonis, and the story had to do with Wesley being sentenced to death for stepping on a flower. Exciting stuff.
The acting was bad (well, Patrick Stewart was OK, but the rest were just plain awful), the writing was bad, the directing was bad, and the costumes were bad.
I'm just guessing that this episode was filmed well before either Ron Moore or Brannon Braga joined the writing staff.
"All My Mistakes," The Avett Brothers. A beautiful song, wonderfully sung. I don't know how they do it, but from seeing them live I know they can - what I'm talking about is "yelling in tune," like Seth does near the end of this song.
Gives me chills.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Tonight's finale wrapped up things about as neatly as one could imagine. President Taylor finally did the right thing, President Logan finally took the bullet he's so richly deserved for so long (alas, it did not come from Jack's gun), and Jack himself finally remembered that there was more to what he was doing than just revenge for Renee's death. But perhaps most importantly, Chloe got to be the person who saved Jack.
And Jack got to live. No happy ending, but as good as he could hope for. All in all, it was a great ride.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
I've worked in the public education arena for close to 20 years now, first for the California State University system and now for the California School Boards Association. I've been blessed in my career to work with a lot of great people, but the people I work with now are truly remarkable. We've been working on this lawsuit for close to six years now, and today was a proud moment for all of us. You like to think that you're making a difference in the world, no matter what you do, and today we took a huge step towards making that difference.
Some days, you just try to make it through the day. And some days, you hit a home run. And today was one of those days.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
But hey, even on days like this, I give myself a lunch break. And during said break, I had the chance to read a piece that you should also take a look at: Steven Rubio, on the final episodes of "24." It's a typically good piece, and as a bonus also links to a paper he once wrote on whether a leftist could love "24."
The only disagreement we have, and it's a minor one, is that I found Jack's cold-blooded execution of Dana Walsh more troubling than his torture of the Russian spy. Perhaps that says more about me than I really wanted to know.
Overall the season sucked, but the last few weeks have been terrific. Even Reed Diamond has done himself proud. Can't wait for the finale.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” is such a movie. One thing you can’t call it is dull. Considered on their own, nearly every scene has a kind of weird, manic energy, whether it’s the rich young assholes at the firm where Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) works comparing their new business cards, Bateman walking us through his exercise and skin-cleansing regime, or Bateman chasing an unfortunate victim down the hall with a chainsaw (I kid you not). Yep, this movie has energy.
But what does it all mean? Damned if I know. And truth be told, I’m not sure I care enough to try and figure it out. I’m frankly surprised that critics like Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli liked it as much as they did; the whole enterprise struck me as pretty nihilistic – not unlike the film made from “Psycho” author Bret Easton Ellis’ first novel, “Less Than Zero.” I never read “American Pyscho,” but if the quotes from Bateman that we hear in the film are taken directly from the book (and they sound like they might be), then I’d say that it takes a little more than just stringing together a bunch of words that sound good to make a good novel.
I also don’t know what to think of Christian Bale’s performance. It’s definitely flashy, but is it good acting? I’ll leave that to someone who knows more about acting than I do. Son #2 informs me that Bale was playing it for laughs, and in a way he succeeded, but even then I’m not sure why he decided that it made sense to sound almost exactly like Brent Spiner’s Data (from Star Trek: TNG) in those moments right before he was going to be wielding an axe onto someone’s head – or something worse. There's genuinely funny, and then there's just silly. But I will admit that the musical commentary - particularly about Huey Lewis and Phil Collins - was genuinely funny.
And then there was the “surprise” ending, which didn’t even register with me until I read Berardinelli’s review. Well, OK…I suppose that the whole thing could have been a fantasy in the head of Patrick Bateman. After all, it’s not as if the chainsaw sequence was terribly realistic. So I suppose it’s possible. But in the end, I don’t really care one way or another. Overall, “American Psycho” had its moments, but taken as a whole, it was pretty darn close to being less than zero.
You can see the wire mesh above the pond - that's there to protect the goldfish from an Egret that loves to come by and fish every now and then.
The last few days, Debra has found the mesh under water in the morning, and last night we found out why. Son #2 and I were watching "Fargo," and all of a sudden he jumped up and grabbed our big flashlight.
What did he see on the lawn, making his/her way towards the pond?
And it's not as if we live in the wilderness, folks. Classic suburbia, although we are fairly close to some wide open areas.
Should make things interesting.
Our cat Scooter (the young, vibrant one) likes to hang out in the back yard in the morning and guard our apricot tree against a couple of Scrub Jays that are determined to pick it clean of any edible fruit. I think they like to torment him, as well - they get dangerously close to where he is crouched in wait, "yell" at him a bit, and then skitter away.
It's all very entertaining.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Anyone who has traveled by themselves for work understands what a disorienting experience it can be. I don’t travel a lot, but 3-4 times each year, work takes me away from home to a city on the other end of the state, or even across the country. There are always other folks from work there, but a good portion of each day is spent alone, or in the company of colleagues or strangers. In other words, you’re surrounded by humans, but at the same time, all alone. There are some aspects of the experience that are liberating (Feel like having a drink after midnight? Well, there’s a great bar just downstairs!), but the liberation wears off pretty quickly, and after a while you just feel like you’re alone. It’s at times like those that you’re thankful for your colleagues, and it’s during those times that your colleagues become friends. And then, you go home. It’s all very strange.
I think what I liked so much about “Lost in Translation” is that it captures that sense of disorientation perfectly. Bob (Bill Murray), an actor who is past his prime, is in Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial and make a quick buck. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a newlywed accompanying her photographer husband on a business trip. In their age, they are decades apart, but in the course of their stay, they form a bond that is based on their mutual sense of disorientation. Their bond is something less than a romance or even a friendship, but also something more. Bob and Charlotte may be little more than two ships passing in the night, but by the time the movie is over, you have the feeling that what they’ve given each other during their short time together will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Bill Murray is marvelous in the role, and Scarlett Johansson is a revelation. It’s amazing to me that she was only 19 when the movie was filmed. They are perfect in their scenes apart, and perfect in their scenes together. Their characters have very little in common, except for their desire for companionship. But they are comfortable together, whether in dramatic or comedic moments, and their believability is a testament to Murray and Johansson’s performances, as it is to the screenplay and direction of Sofia Coppola.
And of course, there is the enduring mystery of the film’s final scene. What is it that Bob whispers in Charlotte’s ear? For me, Coppola made the perfect choice in lowering the volume to a point where there is no way to hear what he says. She may have realized that there was nothing she could write that would be as powerful as the imaginations of those watching the film. And so, it is a perfect ending to a movie that comes pretty damn close to being perfect.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Ladies and gentlemen, Del Shannon and the invisible horns, performing the great "Runaway." The #1 song in America, this week in 1961.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
“Love is Strange,” the album just released by Jackson Browne and David Lindley, is the third in a series of live acoustic albums that Browne has released since 2005 (following “Solo Acoustic Vol. 1” and “Solo Acoustic Vol. 2”). Like its predecessors, the new release is a triumph of no small proportions. Viewed as a whole, the three albums paint a picture of an artist who is totally at peace with his past glories, one who has discovered a means by which to breathe new life into his substantial body of past work.
In fact, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that Browne has managed to reinvent himself as an artist. It’s not reinvention in the Bob Dylan sense, where you sometimes listen to a song in concert and struggle to figure out exactly what song you’re hearing. Rather, it’s reinvention in the emotional sense. Browne’s songs – many of which he’s been singing for close to four decades now – have always had a strong emotional component, but the benefit of life experience now allows him to instill into them an emotional heft and depth that makes it sound as if he is singing them for the very first time. It’s really quite remarkable.
The main difference between “Love is Strange” and its predecessors is the addition of extra musicians – most notably, of course, David Lindley. Lindley and Browne haven’t recorded together on a regular basis for a very long time, but as every long-time fan knows, there was a time when Lindley was a staple – the staple – of Browne’s touring band. A brilliant musician and instrumentalist, he will probably always be known best for his falsetto contributions to “Stay” on the magnificent “Running on Empty” – probably Browne’s best, and best known, album. Here, he plays a variety of instruments, including Hawaiian guitar, fiddle, bouzuki, oud, and guitar. He also sings a couple of his best known songs, the immortal “Mercury Blues” and “El Rayo X” (featuring a wonderful falsetto vocal), and makes a memorable partner to Browne on the old Mickey and Sylvia chestnut, “Love is Strange.”
Also featured are a number of Spanish musicians, including percussionist Tino di Geraldo (in fact, the album is billed “en vivo con Tino,” vocalist Kiko Veneno (who sings “Tu Tranquilo,” which Browne introduces as “Kiko’s version of The Eagles’ “Take it Easy.”), who turns in a beautiful performance (in a beautiful Spanish accent) of Browne’s “These Days,” and Charlie Cepeda (guitar), Javier Mas (archeleud), and Carlos Nunez (whistle). Even though this is a group of musicians that doesn’t play together often (or hardly at all), their camaraderie is evident, and contributes to the album’s success.
The two-disc set is full of highlights – “I’m Alive,” “Looking East,” “Sit Down Servant,” “Your Bright Baby Blues,” “Running on Empty” – but for now, I’d have to say my favorite is “Late for the Sky,” a great performance of one of Browne’s greatest songs. Truth be told, the album is one long highlight – evidence that experience and advancing age doesn’t have to put a halt on creativity.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
From The Department of Corrections
In our Saturday post about the California Democratic Party’s ad attacking Meg Whitman but masquerading as an “issues ad,” we described the abrupt ending to our conversation with California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton. Through his spokesman, Burton on Monday complained that he had been misquoted. Burton says he didn’t say “F*ck you.” His actual words were, “Go f*ck yourself.” Calbuzz regrets the error.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
Friday, May 07, 2010
One of his favorite pasttimes was tormenting waiters. Unfortunately, he spent so much money in our restaurant that our owner/manager made us tolerate it, and had little sympathy for our stories about Fred’s latest affronts to our dignity. To make matters worse, he loved late dinners, which would generally begin about 15 minutes before closing time. To make matters even worse, he would insist that his waiter remain at his party’s beck and call until he was finished. And if it was an early dinner, that meant he didn’t care how many tables you had, you’d damn well better make his the top priority. He was a good tipper, but trust me - it wasn't worth it.
Of course, he and the members of his party were slow eaters, which basically meant (in the case of a late dinner) that you had to stand around doing nothing while waiting for them to finish, when you could be going through your regular closing routine (and get to the damn bar for a much-needed drink). And if it was earlier in the night, he and his fellow idiots would take up valuable space, sucking the potential tips from other parties right out of your pocket.
The first time I waited on him, his first words to me were, “it’s kind of dark in here – are you a boy or a girl?” I couldn’t help myself, and responded, “what will get me a better tip?,” even though as I was saying the words I worried about my ass getting fired that very night. He actually laughed, which didn’t make the rest of the night any easier. It finally got to the point that if he ended up in our section, we would literally offer to pay the other waiters to take his party. One night, one waiter paid another $50 to take the table, and later said it was the best $50 he’d ever spent.
And this is where the karma comes in. From time to time I’d pop back into the restaurant, and would ask “so, is Fred still around?” Eventually, he died, and the bartender told me, “and you’ll love this – there was a mix-up, and his body was accidentally cremated.” And this probably reflects poorly on me, but man, did that make me feel good. Because I honestly can’t think of any other person who deserved a fate like that more than Fred.
So…keep that in mind if you’re ever tempted to mistreat a waiter.
The late seventies king of disco, Giorgio Moroder, meets the queen of new wave, Deborah Harry, and the results are spectacular - "Call Me," the #1 song this week in 1980.
Also, one of the great movie openings - Richard Gere in "American Gigolo." I don't think I saw it more than once, but I liked it. At the time I subscribed to the Village Voice and read it from cover to cover, and I remember their film staff - which at the time consisted of Andrew Sarris, Carrie Rickey, J. Hoberman and Stuart Byron - was widely divided on Gere's performance. It's been a long time so I don't remember which one of them liked it, but I do remember that Bryon hated it with a passion - and he had been a long-time supporter of Gere's work, dating back to the time before Gere became famous. Truth be told, I think Bryon was a little bit in love with Gere - and he viewed "American Gigolo" as a betrayal of the talent he'd shown in "Days of Heaven" and the play "Bent."
Thursday, May 06, 2010
I may have learned just as much as a waiter - how to deal with unreasonable people; how to form a team with a group of people that have little in common except for the fact that they work at the same place - as I did in graduate school. Waiting tables is a hard job, and to this day I appreciate good service at a restaurant as much as I do the food.
Every now and then, our manager would set up a "wine seminar" for the wait crew. Our wine merchant would come into the restaurant in the afternoon, ask each of us to open a bottle and present it as if we were presenting it to a customer. He'd tell us about each wine, and then critique our technique - and even if we hadn't done a great job; well, heck - there were 6-7 open bottles of wine that needed to be consumed before the work night began.
The corkscrew in the picture above is the one I was given at the last wine seminar I attended, which was probably in May or June of 1987. Once you get a great corkscrew, you should never let it go. This one has served me well for almost 25 years, and I expect it to be around for at least another 25. That is, if they are still making wine with corks by that time.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
If you haven’t been watching and haven’t been paying attention, I can’t say that I blame you. For the most part this season has been a train wreck, substituting viewer frustration for genuine suspense, and consistently creating situations (not to mention characters) that are simply head-slapping in their stupidity.
For all that, the show still surprised (if not shocked) me last night [SPOILER ALERT], by allowing Jack to kill Dana Walsh in cold blood. Dana Walsh may have been the most poorly written character the series has had in the five (six?) years I’ve been watching, and there’s no question that she deserved to die, but it was still shocking to see Jack shoot her twice at point blank range, essentially executing her in cold blood.
In the short term, the moment was very gratifying, but as a dramatic device I think it was a spectacular failure. I have no idea how the current producers and writers are planning to end the show, but it seems to me that with those shots last night, any vestiges of humanity in Jack have been obliterated. If the show opts for a “happy ending” that sends Jack back to his daughter and grandchild with a smile on his face, it will feel totally false. From a dramatic standpoint, about the only thing that makes sense now is to allow Jack to go out in a blaze of glory, killing every bad guy in sight, and closing with a “Butch Cassidy” freeze-frame, with Jack surrounded by the entirety of the nation’s armed forces and the New York City Police Department.
To be honest, I’m not sure why I still care. But I’m nothing if not loyal; heck, I didn’t even start watching "ER" until the 4th season, and I stuck with it until the end. When it worked, which was frequently enough, “24” contained some of the greatest television I’ve ever watched. But I’m convinced that if you ask anyone who’s ever seen it to name their favorite season, they’ll tell you it was the first one that they saw – whether it was the first, third, fifth, whatever. For me, that was the 4th season. And even then, I didn’t start watching until about the sixth episode, when Son #1 said, “dad, please…just watch for 15 minutes; you won’t be sorry!” And he was right; that was all it took.
And that may be another reason why that season was so special, because in a way it represented a turning point – the point at which we could watch shows like “24” with our sons, instead of telling them to turn the channel and/or go to bed.
So…whatever happens in the next four episodes, all is forgiven. Jack, you were always great.
UPDATE: I won't post the picture here, but check this link for a photo of the moment just after Jack shoots Dana. Even after having seen the show "live," looking at the picture (it's the one where Jack is looking down at her lifeless body, gun in hand) is a shock - and pretty disturbing.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Having said that, I would also say that the end product is less than the sum of its parts. For all of Kubrick's genius, the movie fails to make the viewer care much about its characters, with the exception of Danny, the little boy, and Dick Halloran, the hotel's chef played by Scatman Crothers. And that failure, I hate to say, really falls on the shoulders of Jack Nicholson.
Even if you haven't read the book, from the opening moments of "The Shining" it is obvious that Jack Torrance, the character played by Nicholson, is going to descend into madness. A lot of what happens to Jack is genuinely creepy - the scenes with Lloyd the bartender aren't scary per se, but are presented in such a matter-of-fact way that they become scary. But once Jack goes nuts, he goes full-on nuts, rivaling "crazy Al Pacino" in terms of the lack of subtlety in his performance. And though I wonder how much of my reaction was based on the fact that every Nicholson move is now etched in memory by this point of his career, it felt like I was watching a comedian doing a spoof of Jack Nicholson. Overall, the things that happen to Nicholson are genuinely terrifying - the scene where Wendy reads what he has written since they've been in the hotel is a great, great scene - but I didn't find him very scary at all (except to the extent that any crazy dude running around swinging an axe is going to be scary).
It may not be going too far to say that the real star of the movie is the hotel. Stephen King's concept for the story was also nothing short of brilliant - who wouldn't go out of their mind after months of seclusion in a place so remote that it feels like it's on another planet? But I can also see why King didn't particularly care for Kubrick's adaptation of his book; the movie is much more "Kubrick" than it is "King."
"The Shining" is well worth seeing, because the good scenes are so good that they give the movie enough momentum to make it through the low points. But I would hesitate to afford it classic status.
He also posts temporary views, and here is my contribution, from my recent trip to Chicago.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
From 1991 until 2004, I worked for the California State University system. During that time, I met many wonderful people, and remain friends with many of them today. Some of them are my very best friends.
Because I worked for the Office of Governmental Affairs, my office was in Sacramento. The main Chancellor's Office was in Long Beach, as it is today. Because of the nature of my job, I communicated with folks in the CO, as we called it, very often. At first, most of that communication was by telephone. Later on, most of it was by e-mail. Part of my job was to manage the bill analysis process, which meant that I needed to be in regular contact with the designated liaisons for each department in the CO that had responsibility for analyzing bills.
During my time at CSU, I met Linda, who was the bill analysis coordinator for Physical Planning and Development, or PPD, as we called it back then. Over the course of 13 years, most of my contact with Linda was either by phone or e-mail, but I did have the opportunity to meet her, and then talk to her in person, on several occasions.
Linda was one of those people of whom others say, "they are too good to be of this world." It's hard to put into words what a wonderful person she was. When I first met her, my first son had just been born, and over the course of the next 13 years, she wanted to know how he was doing, as if he were her own son. When son #2 was born, it was the same thing. She was a rare gem.
When I left the CSU, I kept in touch for a while, but over time, fell out of touch. And tonight, I got a message on Facebook from her daughter (who also worked at the CSU). who remembered me and wanted to say hello, and also let me know how difficult it was to go on without her mother. It was the first I'd heard that Linda was no longer with us.
If there is a better place, Linda is there. And if she is listening, I just want to thank her for the friendship she showed me during the years I worked at CSU, and say that I'm really sorry that I didn't do a better job of staying in touch. We're doing well, and the kids are great. Thank you for everything.