Thursday, December 28, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Ten: "The Coast of Utopia: Shipwreck"

It seems unnecessarily cruel to end this excursion with a play that is the second of an epic trilogy. After starting well ("Company" "The Magic Flute"), the quality of theater then dropped off a cliff ("The Big Voice: God or Merman?" "The Vertical Hour"). Then it turned right back around with "Spring Awakening," "The American Pilot," "Regrets Only" and "The Coast of Utopia." I was just getting into the swing of enjoying great theater -- and now it comes to an end. Perhaps "cruel" is overstating it a tad, but nonetheless, another thing that had a beginning has had its end.

Perhaps I should look at this from another angle. Perhaps waiting months to find out how the lives of Bakunin, Belinsky and Herzen turn, and how their thinking affected their future, our present is a good thing. Perhaps it's the best thing of all to end with a "to be continued" in my head.

The second play in Stoppard's trilogy is not necessarily better than the first, but I'm beginning to be drawn in more deeply, and to develop a greater sense of the scope and reach of this work. I'm quite keen to see the final installment, for many reasons:
• The themes are beginning to develop, and I'm enjoying Stoppard's philosophical musings.
• Billy Crudup continues to be amazing. I didn't even recognize him for the first half hour or so, so completely did he inhabit his role. And from the front row seats, it was fascinating to see how nuanced were his expressions, even in the ample confines of the Vivian Beaumont Theater.
• While I'm on the subject of the ample confines, the scale at which the producers are allowed to work in the Beaumont is wonderfully grand. Giant chandeliers, full-size statuary, a representation of the Place de La Concorde, a forest -- in the Beaumont, it comes and goes in a moment.

I think I'll withhold full judgment on the trilogy until I've seen it all. But for now, go if you can.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Nine: "The Coast of Utopia: Voyage" and "Regrets Only"

A busy day of playgoing, so I'll keep this short.

The first of Tom Stoppard's new trilogy, "The Coast of Utopia," is a dense, multi-layered, demanding, intense, funny, complex work of art. The story is fairly sparse: young idealistic Russians come together at the country estate and debate philosophy and politics. Ideas fly fast and furious, and it can be hard at times to keep track of who is with whom, but the language is so rich and the interplay of characters and concepts so detailed that I think I'll have to read the text before I can come close to understanding where Stoppard is trying to take us. But when it comes down to it, this is a show you ought to see if you get a chance.

This evening, I went from very heavy to mostly light and funny, with Paul Rudnick's new comedy of manners and friendship and loyalty, "Regrets Only." Rudnick has always had a deft hand with a one-liner or a snappy comeback, and "Regrets Only" is positively chock-a-block with them. What's more, the cast (all six of them) have the comic timing and acting chops to deliver them perfectly.

The story concerns a very rich woman (played by Christine Baranski) and her best friend, one of America's top clothing designers (played by George Grizzard). When the rich woman's husband is asked by the President to help draft a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and their daughter (also a lawyer) steps in to help, the designer (gay, of course) is rather put off by this, as one might imagine. I can't tell you what his reaction is without spoiling the second act, but think "Atlas Shrugged."

Although the plot is political, the play is primarily about all those funny lines -- the story just gives us a reason to move from one funny line to another. That won't win you the Pulitzer, but it sure will make you popular with audiences.

Tomorrow: "The Coast of Utopia: Shipwreck"

One more thing: on these NY trips, I almost always have several celebrity sightings, but until today, I'd come up dry. Not a celebrity in sight. Then, tonight at dinner, Martin Short was seated at the table next to us. I feel so much better with that out of the way.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Eight: "The American Pilot"

As I have said in the past, art is life to scale. Effective art gives you perspective that is otherwise unavailable. It can illuminate issues that are too large to be contained inside the walls of a theater. It helps you to see what's right in front of you, but normally invisible.

"The American Pilot," by David Greig, playing through the end of the month at the Manhattan Theater Club, is the sort of play that gives just this sort of perspective. Another play about war, "The Vertical Hour," attempts to deal with issues surrounding the Iraq War by addressing the conflict specifically. That work fails rather miserably. In contrast, "The American Pilot" avoids specificity, yet hits its target (the effects of American power on the global political/economic stage) with tremendous force and accuracy -- partly because it's not set in any named country. The people there are not necessarily Muslim. The war going on in this unnamed land doesn't even directly involve the United States. They are just foreign, and that helps Greig to make his point.

The pilot himself (who is on stage, in pretty much the same position, for the entire play) has crashed into a mountain in this country, on his way somewhere else. He was not on a mission in the country, he was just unfortunate enough to crash there. "There" is rebel-held territory. When the leader of the rebels (The "Captain") finds his way to the village, posturing and positioning has already begun. The pilot is more than a hostage, he is a bit of chaos come to life. His presence stirs things up and creates opportunities and dangers the villagers must navigate.

From the pilot's point of view, the path is clear: the villagers must release him and get him to a telephone. "If you hurt me, bombs will come. If you don't hurt me, money will come." He knows what most of the villagers don't -- that America will extend its power and crush their little village if it must. The rebel leader, however, understands the situation perfectly. Even though his second-in-command thinks his strategy is nihilistic and irrational, the Captain says: "In the face of absolute power, nihilism IS rational."

The first act of "The American Pliot" is a tad slow-moving, but don't worry -- it's only setting you up for a second half where everything changes, motives are revealed and strategies alter. Showing us how American hegemony can present itself on the ground of any of the third world countries where we project our power is the bit of magic worked by the art of "The American Pilot."

Tomorrow: "The Coast of Utopia: Voyage" and "Regrets Only"

Monday, December 25, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Seven: "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother"

Christmas Day in New York. A little quieter, but lots of life going on in the city. Earlier this evening, I took in a performance piece by comedian Judy Gold: "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother." Like "The Vagina Monologues" (which Judy Gold performed for six weeks) or "Bridge and Tunnel," "25 Questions" is built upon a series of interviews done with real people and then recreated on stage. Unlike those shows, these segments are only one aspect of "25 Questions." The rest of the show is Judy Gold doing stand-up material, as well as some commentary on the process of interviewing Jewish Mothers of all varieties, if indeed there are varieties of Jewish Mothers, which was the question Gold set out to answer.

Overall, I'd call "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother" a success. I have some issues with the way Gold's stand-up persona interferes with the transitions between the comic and dramatic material, but Gold gives you an entertaining evening, especially if you had a Jewish Mother -- even a Gentile one.

Tomorrow: "The American Pilot"

Sunday, December 24, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Six: "Spring Awakening"


If yesterday's "Gutenberg: The Musical" was a mocking wink at the musical form, today's show, "Spring Awakening" was an attempt to reinvent and reinvigorate the form without resorting to ironic posturing. More than an attempt, it succeeded in this goal on many levels.

The show is based on an 1891 play of the same name by German playwright Frank Wedekind, about the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers in a repressive German town of the 19th century. Songs were added by composers Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik (who had a good-sized pop hit with the song "Barely Breathing" in the 90s), but not in that musical way of characters suddenly breaking into song. The songs are there, but they are more like internal monologues that have managed to seep out. Though the play maintains the sense of the period, the songs have a much more modern sensibility. This works because the core issues the kids deal with are universal, allowing the pull of old and new to create tension that helps to energize the drama.

"Spring Awakening" is easily the best show I've seen on this trip. The lighting is beautifully done, the staging and sets are simple, but imaginative and effective, while the choreography by Bill T. Jones takes Broadway dancing to a whole new place. A warning: the show has some pretty explicit sexual simulations, but nothing you can't handle (as long as "explicit sexual simulations" hasn't already scared you off).

Also saw "Volver" today. Also highly recommended.

Tomorrow: "25 Questions for Jewish Mother" (one of the few things playing Christmas Day)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Five: "Gutenberg: The Musical" and "The Vertical Hour"

I love the days when I step into a theater to see something new and unproven, and find there a beautiful gem of a show that few people have yet to see, so I can give you, my dear readers (all seven of you), advance word on a great show. I didn't love today.

I wanted to like "Gutenberg: The Musical." I truly did. I knew it was low-budget, I knew it tried to take an ironic look at the world of Broadway musicals, especially the big, overblown variety. The concept is pretty simple: two guys named Doug and Bud have written a musical based on the life of Johannes Gutenberg. However, since these two guys are both lazy and stupid, they neglect to do any research on Gutenberg and work solely from the piece of information everyone knows about Gutenberg: he invented the printing press and first put it to use mass-producing copies of the Bible. The musical that results features idiotic lyrics and insipid premises (though some catchy tunes -- much better original music than in, say, "The Big Voice") -- but that's the point. It's SUPPOSED to be a bad musical. We're meant to laugh at these two guys for even dreaming they have a shot at Broadway. (Sort of like "Waiting for Guffman" in that aspect.) Bud and Doug are performing the musical under the pretense that we in the audience are there for a backer's audition. Bud and Doug are hoping a producer in the audience will take their show to the big time.

Unfortunately, watching a bad musical - even when it's bad in a winking, hip, ironic way - doesn't change the fact that it's bad. I got some good laughs out of the show, and the actors playing Doug and Bud (Christopher Fitzgerald and Jeremy Shamos) bring a huge amount of energy to the project, but it's just not worth recommending. This territory has been handled far better by "Urinetown" and "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical."

"The Vertical Hour" was another production from which I expected great things. Not because Julianne Moore is in the cast, or because David Hare wrote the play, but because Sam Mendes was directing, and I thought his production of "Gypsy" is perhaps the best-staged, best-directed musical I've every seen. Unfortunately, "The Vertical Hour" did its best to put me in a horizontal position. Julianne Moore was almost completely lost on stage. In fact, none of the actors (including Bill Nighy, who is getting raves for his performance) ever really connected with each other. I was sitting in the second row, and from that proximate vantage point, I was left with the strong feeling that the three leads could just as easily been alone on a blue screen set for all the attention they paid to their fellow performers. The phrase "phoning it in" comes to mind.

Fortunately, the advance word for tomorrow's show is good, so I'm hopeful.

Tomorrow: "Spring Awakening"

New York December 2006, Day Four: "An Oak Tree"

Sometimes you take a chance on a show, simply for the fact that it's trying something new. "An Oak Tree" was such a show. Looking to fill in a few open spots made available due to the premature closings of "High Fidelity," "Mimi LeDuck" and "The Times They Are A'Changin," I read the premise of "An Oak Tree": one actor in the show plays a hypnotist who has accidentally killed a little girl with his car. (His Subaru Legacy, to be precise.) The other actor in the show plays the father of the little girl, who has come to the pub in England where the hypnotist is performing, to confront the man who took his daughter from him.

The gimmick is this: the second actor changes every night. Each night, someone new plays the role of the father. Someone who has never seen the play, never read the play, someone who knows nothing more than what I've just told you in the first paragraph. (Although the actors don't touch upon what show closings led me to the Barrow Theater.) He (or she, as several women have played the role of the father) appear at the theater near show time and are invited onto the stage just as the show is to begin.

During the show, the actor (tonight it was Stephen Lang, whom I enjoyed last year in John Patrick Shanley's "Defiance" -- recent shows have featured David Hyde Pierce, Mike Myers, Frances McDormand, Peter Dinklage and Joan Allen, among others) wears earbuds, through which he is regularly given direction by Tim Crouch, the writer, director and consistent co-star of this experimental work of theatre. Often he is told what to say. Other times he reads from clipboards with a few pages of dialogue. Everything the actor does, he is told to do, either directly or indirectly, usually the former.

Many times during the evening, this thought came to my head: there is a reason plays are rehearsed. Though I was the only person in our theater-going foursome who truly enjoyed the evening, there were times that the conceit became clumsy and I longed to be in a more traditional show. But as "An Oak Tree" continued (it's just over an hour in length), I started to see it as brilliant, if still contrived and chilly. On an intellectual level, I appreciated it. But on a deeper level, I felt just the tiniest bit toyed with.

Tomorrow: "Gutenberg: The Musical" and "The Vertical Hour."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Three: "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" and "Don't Quit Your Night Job"

Sometimes people get together out of the love of doing something, and decide that on their own they will create something, put something on stage to share with others. They don't expect the kind of box office that big time producers do. They hope people will come and enjoy, but unless they are certifiably insane, they keep their expectations low.

I saw two such shows today. Labors of love. One successful, one not so much. Let's start with the less successful attempt.

"The Big Voice: God or Merman?" is the story of two men who devoted their lives to the theater -- and each other. One is a Catholic boy from Brooklyn who wanted to be pope, the other grew up Baptist and went to bible college with the goal of being a preacher. Being gay stood in the way of all that, but somehow they found each other and had successes (a show that made it to Broadway) and setbacks (AIDS) in their life together. On the positive side, these two men telling their own story do so with great honesty and very little self-consciousness. Unfortunately, the songs they wrote for this show are mostly unimaginative and tuneless. (Or rather, minor variations of the same tune and rhythm.)

"Don't Quit Your NIght Job" is a semi-regular improv cabaret held at Joe's Pub for the purpose of raising money for charity. The cast is made up of young performers from Broadway musicals, including "Spamalot," "The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee," "The Producers" and "Wicked," among others. They do spoof songs and other comic bits (tonight included an hilarious bit with the 9-year old who plays "Chip" in "Beauty and the Beast" doing a selection from the new Stoppard trilogy "The Coast of Utopia" and a musical takeoff in which Mel Gibson's new movie is done with an island beat: "Apocalypso."), but the mainstay is improv. Improv can be great, but it can also be deadly. In fact, if it's not great, it usually IS deadly. Tonight's offering was anything but. My cheeks hurt several times because I couldn't stop laughing. More information (if you're interested) here.

New York Craft Shopping


Like almost everything else here, New York finds a way to make even the holiday craft fair better. The 70-80 booths set up at the southwest corner of Central Park offer some of the most interesting, high-quality crafts you'll find anywhere. Here are some of my favorites:

This purse is made of recycled candy wrappers -- as was everything in the booth.

This cowhide purse is much lovelier than the picture makes it look. The goods in this booth are all handmade in Argentina...
...as are these funky hand-painted leather belts:

Not much better than New York at Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Two: "Company" and "Die Zauberflote"

A brief entry this evening. Today's matinee was the revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Company." Sometimes the level of talent in New York just blows me away. Not only do the actors in this company sing and act, they are also the orchestra. Each of them play at least one instrument -- and often two or three. What amazes is that they do all three at the highest levels.

"Company" was my first live Sondheim show. I've never been an enormous Sondheim fan, but my two favorite songs of his ("Ladies Who Lunch" and "Not Getting Married Today") are both in this show. What I noticed most about this production was how economically it was directed. Though the story often flies rapidly between one set of characters and locations and another, we never feel lost or thrown off-course. It all flows smoothly. The show itself, especially the book, seems a bit dated, both in the language it uses and the issues it addresses -- but global themes of love and the search for someone with whom to share your life still come shining through.

The search for love is also at the heart of "Die Zauberflote." I won't comment too deeply on the voices in the show, as I don't have near enough opera-going experience to have a reliable reference point. But the production itself -- my first at the Met -- is breathtaking. First, some dear friends arranged for us to have fifth row seats. Second, the production was overseen by Julie Taymor, and the use of masks and puppets just blends beautifully with the story and Mozart's amazing music. Third, the chorus and the orchestra are among the best in the world. It would be hard not to love. It didn't transform me into an opera fan, but I certainly understand its power a bit better, and will defnitely return to the Met.

To top it all off, our friends know the principal timpanist in the orchestra, who escorted us backstage between act one and act two, and I got to learn a bit about the thrill of playing behind Lily Pons and the challenges facing timpanists who play in humid climates.

Both shows are recommended.

Tomorrow: "The Big Voice: God or Merman" and "Don't Quit Your Night Job."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New York December 2006, Day One: "The Scene"

I imagine most of my half-dozen or so readers know that twice a year I venture to New York for 10-12 days of "filling the well" -- reinvigorating my mind by filling it with as much of what the city offers as I can handle. That usually means museum visits, retail experiences, parks and public spaces -- but focusing on 12-15 Broadway and off-Broadway productions. (This year, the itinerary includes my first trip to the Metropolitan Opera.)

Usually I wait until I get home to compose a long e-mail providing a full report on the shows I've seen, as well as the occasional comment on a special museum or restaurant experience. (I do try make sure all six of you can make the most of any trip to New York you might ever plan.) But this trip I'm going to make an attempt to post a little something every day. Don't know if I can really keep up, since I'm also working on this trip, but I'm going to give it a shot. Starting with tonight's show: "The Scene."

This four-hander revolves around an actor named Charlie (played by Tony Shaloub), his wife Stella (Patricia Heaton), Charlie's friend Lewis (Christopher Evan Welch) and a girl they meet at the downtown loft party that opens the play, Clea (Anna Camp). Clea comes across initially as a very dumb blonde, but as the play progresses turns out to have, if not hidden depths, at least hidden width. She seems to be in it for herself in a vapid way -- but turns out to be in it for herself in a well-considered (if still shallow) way. Without giving too much away, Clea draws Charlie into her swirl of narcissism. Near the show's end, Clea tells Charlie, "life's a party." Both Clea and Charlie are pathologically narcissistic enough -- but in opposite ways. Clea feels she deserves everything, Charlie feels he deserves nothing.

The show is still in previews, so changes could be made, but my sense is the first act needs trimming, but act two generally moves well -- thanks in part to its in flagrante delicto opening scene that is quite a grabber.

Tomorrow: "Company" and "The Magic Flute" at the Met.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Furnace Man

For my readers in Marin County, I want to alert you to a fantastic resource for heating and air conditioning service.

Last year, I was having trouble with the furnace. It wouldn't always start, and when it did start, it would often stop before reaching the intended temperature. After several attempts to get it working, I decided to replace the furnace. In pursuit of that, I called several companies to give me an estimate. All came in, looked at the furnace, and gave me estimates in thousands of dollars. But Nate from The Furnace Man came in and said: "I think you've just got a loose connection. I've tightened it up, but if it gives you trouble, jiggle it here and see if you can reseat the connection." Problem solved, money saved.

This winter, the problem started all over again, and jiggling didn't help. So I called The Furnace Man and Nate came out again. Again, no suggestion of needing to replace the furnace. Instead, he installed a new ignition box and said: "I think this is the problem, but I won't send a bill for a week or so. If this doesn't do the trick, call me and I'll come back and put the old one back and we'll figure out what to do next." Of course, the ignition box was the problem.

So if you need heating or airconditioning work, call The Furnace Man at 415-883-7070 and ask for Nate Gadow.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Dreamgirls"

Doesn't live up to the hype. Jennifer Hudson is a natural and Beyonce is fun and Eddie Murphy devours his role as an oversexed junkie blues man, and Condon does an economical job of storytelling, but it ultimately feels chilly and manufactured. There's soul somwhere in there, but too little of it leaks out.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

He just really likes Judy Garland, that's all. Is it really such a big deal?

According to the Rev. Mike Ware (as quoted in the LA Times), Ted Haggard "says he's not a homosexual." Uh-huh...so he hired the rent boy on a whim? "I keep hearing about this homosex and how great it is -- let me give it a shot. What could it hurt?" It just never ceases to amaze how deeply denial can go.

Dichotomy

From a spokesperson for Mitt Romney's nascent presidential campaign: "Governor Romney opposes same-sex marriage, but he also opposes unjust discrimination against anyone." How exactly is it he can do both?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"It was not happened."

From an Iranian foreign minister at "Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision," Ahmedinejad's holocaust denier's conference. "Right now, I am not judging at all. Some people said that there are a lot of facts - a lot of evidence that confirm that Holocaust...it was not happened like the way they are claiming." I love that last sentence.

tick...tick...

I was apalled but not surprised to see that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran would sponsor a conference devoted to holocaust deniers. But I wasn't shocked until I saw that David Duke was there. And an ultra-conservative rabbi consented to appear: “I am not a denier of the Holocaust, but I think it is legitimate to cast doubt on some statistics.” Not that he's not free to say so, but to choose to say so in such a forum...a rabbi...now I'm frightened. There's just a whole lotta hatin' going on out there. Bad sign, this.

Another Tragedy of the Closet

I don't know what it is about Colorado -- perhaps with all that open space and thin air they have exceptionally large closets -- but another megachurch pastor has confessed to "homosexual sin" and stepped down from the pulpit. Unlike Ted Haggard, it looks like the Rev. Paul Barnes isn't planning reparative therapy or "reconstitution" or whatever it was Pastor Ted was planning on putting himself through (UPDATE: the term is "restoration," and Haggard himself began the process earlier this week.) over the next few years. But like Haggard, this guy still doesn't believe sexuality is fixed at birth. At least he's not clinging to the "it's a choice" nonsense.

If you have time, take a look at this story, that talks about Paul Barnes's sermon on the Sunday the Haggard story was breaking.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Jersey Boys" -- A Graphic Novel on Stage


When "Jersey Boys" tickets first went on sale, back in 2005, I was in New York and passing by the box office window. I almost bought seats, but ultimately decided to wait until the show at least started previews. Of course, once it opened, it went huge fast and you couldn't get near a decent seat.

Tonight the show opened in San Francisco at the Curran, its first incarnation outside of New York. If you haven't got tickets yet, don't make the same mistake I did in New York. Click here and get some now. It's going to be a huge hit here, as well.

There are lots of reasons for this. The performers give heartfelt, energetic performances, and though their voices don't fully measure up to the original Four Seasons, they capture the spirit of the original. And though the show begins a bit clumsily and does a lot more telling than showing, that quickly falls away and the piece settles into a steady gallop and never slows down again.

"Jersey Boys" feels like a graphic novel brought to life on stage -- and not just because of the Roy Lichtenstein-like graphics displayed on three large LED screens above the stage. The story itself is outsized, and is structured with the brief, staccato pace, quick transitions and economical storytelling associated with the best comic books.

The music is great, the whole thing just works. Go.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Rapture Film Festival

The rapture, as you likely know, is a Christian theological concept, based on a scripture from Thessalonians, that suggests that just prior to the second coming of Christ, the faithful of the church will be taken up bodily into heaven. (Actually, into "the sky," according to the text of the epistle.) It's the basis of the wildly best-selling "Left Behind" series of books.

Here is a short film, created I assume by a church somewhere, to visualize what the rapture might feel like. It's acually pretty well done.
This, on the other hand, is a more sacreligeous take on the concept, taken from HBO's "Six Feet Under":

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Madonna, Madonna, Madonna...but you keep it all inside."


If Madonna really wants to test some boundaries, I suggest on her next concert tour, instead of playing off Catholic imagery, that she come out in a burqa, backed by some dancing Mohammeds, with onstage flashpots shaped like suicide bombers.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The (Far) West Wing

Tomorrow night is the sixth (or maybe seventh) episode of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme's follow-up to "The West Wing," the Emmy-winning hit that ran for seven seasons on NBC. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is not being received as warmly by audiences (or by some critics) as "The West Wing" was, but I for one am a fan. Enough of one to encourage you to watch the show. I think what I like best about the show is what I liked best about "The West Wing": it's inspiring. It's about a group of people who care very deeply about what they do and want to do it as well as can possibly be done. It's a goal I, too, strive for --but achieve must less often than I'd like.

Unfortunately, not enough people agree with me and the show may not last into a second season. I'm not sure why it's not doing well in the ratings; it has a popular lead-in show "Heroes," which I have never watched) and it's smart and funny and talks about important things. Actually, I may have just explained why it is in danger of cancellation -- it's TOO smart. There's a lot going on in this show: social satire, occasionaly slapstick comedy, romance, rapid-fire banter. To get the most from this show, you need a broad cultural knowledge, a decent vocabulary and a fair amount of attention. Let's face it, it's a demanding 40 minutes (sans commercials, thanks to DVR) -- but a rewarding one. Tune in.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What, me worry?

A fascinating cover story in the latest issue of Time looks at why people tend to worry about some things that are remote possibilities, while ignoring risks that are probabilities.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Ancient World of Modern Design

Charles and Ray Eames were a husband and wife team, a pair of powerhouse designers whose influence on design in general and modernism in specific is both significant and enduring. Many of their designs are still best-sellers, still pinnacles of modernism. They also produced and directed several dozen short films, some of which I saw this summer at a mini-festival inside a Design Within Reach store. I blogged about it at the time.

Seeing the films at the DWR store motivated me to rent the complete collection (six discs) of the Eames film oeuvre, and I've been watching them from time to time. (Always looking for inspiration on more effective ways of communicating a message.) In addition to some fascinating short films introducing mathematical concepts to young people, tonight's disc included "the fiberglass chairs: something of how they get the way they are". Although the film was made in 1970, it's fascinating to see how the world of how designs are created and shared, and then brought into physical reality has changed in 36 years. There are no computers in the film -- drawings are created using compasses, protractors and French curves. Workers pull raw fiberglass blanks from the forming molds by hand. Color is poured into the fibers from small pans filled with paint. Handwork is present at almost every step of the process.

On one hand, I can see how technologies in the worlds of design and manufacturing have greatly increased productivity. On the other, there is a certain nostalgia associated with watching things of beauty being formed in such a physically immediate fashion. The hands-on nature of creating something real simply permeates this film, and is what made it vastly compelling to me.

Keep an eye on this

An editorial in today's New York Times discusses some voting irregularities in a Florida county; irregularities that likely swayed the election in favor of the Republican candidate. Because the voting was done electronically, with no paper trail, there are few option for registrars. I was first made aware of this incident through a post on Andrew Sullivan's blog. I'm not out looking for conspiracies, but I think electronic voting, as currently implemented, makes it far too easy for unscrupulous politicians with the right connections to manipulate results. We can't be complacent with out liberty. Keep an eye on this sort of story, and be prepared to act if necessary.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Playing the Wii


Nintendo has a new game console: the Wii. Unlike the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, the Wii differentiates itself through its unique interface. You hold a small controller, and a sensor picks up the movement from the controller. So to play tennis, you swing the controller like a racket. To play golf, you swing it like a club. To fight the bad guys in "Legend of Zelda," one controller becomes your sword and another your shield. I first heard of the concept some 13 years ago, and wrote about it in a Wired magazine article.

Save yourself...

...from the horror that is "For Your Consideration." I'd LOVED Christopher Guest's previous movies ("This is Spinal Tap" "A Mighty Wind" "Best in Show") -- because they made me laugh. Hard. Often. This latest debacle made me titter twice and laugh hard just once. I got much better laughs (and far more entertainment) out of the new Bond movie, "Casino Royale."

What I'm Thankful For

The health of my family
Golf
The digital video recorder
Allison Janney
The U.S. Constitution
The Internet
Manhattan
Kings full of queens
Andrew Sullivan's blog
Dishwashers
Science
My ticket broker

Hope you all have a great day!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Guilty Pleasure

Several months ago, I noticed a program that kept popping up on the cable TV on-screen guide: "DaVinci's Inquest." Since I began noticing it about the same time that the film of "The DaVinci Code" was being released, I thought the two were somehow related. Was it about some renaissance inquisition into Leonardo?

Turns out the show is a Canadian police drama set in Vancouver, revolving around the work of the city's coroner, Dominick DaVinci. DaVinci is a straight-talking, no-nonsense pragmatist whose business draws him into the drama of the local police, investigators and politicians. Sort of a mash-up of "Quincy, M.E." (remember that Jack Klugman vehicle?) and "Fargo." Though DVI is often pedestrian, there are occasional moments of almost transcendent truth that just burst out from the story. One happened in the first episode I watched, so I watched again. And there was another.

On the most recent episode, there is a lovely moment when Da Vinci is being shown the body of a 12-year old boy who'd been run over by a freight train. The cops on the scene watch as he begins to perform his duties. But he seems hesitant. It's slight, but it's there. Then he stands and says quietly and matter-of-factly, "Boy, this is really somethin'. This is a heartbreaker...you're gonna have to give me a second here." It was just so human and lovely. And they happen sort of regularly. Another episode, usually another moment. Sometimes two. Sometimes zero. But so far enough to keep me watching.

Me and (apparently) a lot of really old people. Here is a partial list of sponsors:

Diabetic Supply of America
VESIcare (for "frequent bladder urges")
Bristol Myers/Squibb (for "peripheral artery disease")
Rascal Scooters (not Vespas, electric wheelchairs)
AARP

Still, there's something quite compelling about watching a cop drama that is so different from the CSI or Law & Order franchises. Give it a try. It's on WGN every day.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Golf Week - Day Five

There are days when you go to the golf course and everything just feels right. The tempo is there, you're making good contact, the bounces go your way... Today was not one of those days.

Today's total score: 47-53=100 (Played from the 6615 yard tees.)
Fairways hit: 10 of 13
Greens in regulation: 1
Total putts: 35
Average shot quality: 5.8 (Front nine 5.8, back nine 5.9)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Golf Week - Day Four

A most interesting day on the course. Last year, through a friend of mine here in Palm Springs, I met a guy who's a teaching pro in Wisconsin, but spends his winters here. He plays with a group of gay golfers and has invited me on several occasions to join them. Today I finally did. Wow. First of all, a very nice group of guys, but I was by far the worst golfer in our foursome. In addition to the Wisconsin pro, there was another (retired) teaching pro, plus the winner of the gold medal in golf at the Out Games (and a succcessful Canadian amateur in non-gay competition). The medal winner shot a 68 or 69. The Wisconsin pro hadn't played in a month, and probably shot in the low 80s. The other pro was probably mid-70s. I shot a 92. But not so bad considering I played with them from the 6615-yard tees, as opposed to the 6120-yard tees I'd played from on the previous two days at this course. Intimidating to play with these guys, but after a couple of holes I settled down a bit. Hit it quite well off the tee (at least in the fairway, if not incredibly long.) If I'd played from the shorter tees, I would have likely made more greens in regulation. And if a few extra putts had dropped, I would have broken 90. So overall, I feel pretty good about the round.

Here's the rundown:

Today's total score: 46-46=92
Fairways hit: 13 of 13
Greens in regulation: 2
Total putts: 31
Average shot quality: 6.57 (Front nine 6.3, back nine 6.8)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Golf Week - Day Three

Today was a day of unrealized potential. I started relatively well, with a bogey on the first, which happens to be the number one handicap hole on the course, then followed it with a double bogey, then a par and another double. For the next few holes I settle down into a pretty good rhythm: bogey, par, birdie, bogey, bogey, par, bogey, bogey, bogey. I was hitting almost every fairway (11 of 13), and took only 14 putts on the front side. But after a good drive that fell back into a bunker in the middle of the 14th fairway, I proceeded to go triple bogey, bogey, triple bogey and double, finally recovering with a par on 18. I should have easily broken 90 today, if not for those blow-up holes on the back nine. Ah well, tomorrow is another day. (The birdie, by the way, was a thing of beauty. I visualized a drive that would start left and fade back between two fairway bunkers. This being a 270 yard hole, I was left with a 60-yard pitch that I stuck to five feet. Put the putt straight in the back of the cup. Huzzah!)

Today's total score: 42-49=91
Fairways hit: 11 of 13
Greens in regulation: 4
Total putts: 33
Average shot quality: 6.33 (Front nine 6.5, back nine 6.2)

A "think tank for thinking" - what a concept!

An interesting article from today's Washington Post, discussing the formation of a think tank designed to promote rational thought and reliance on scientific discourse in the creation of public policy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Golf Week - Day Two

Welcome to Day Two of golf week! Today's round was at Mesquite Golf Club, an underrated Palm Springs course. Althought the layout is pretty boring, the course was in great shape and service was terrific. Overall, I played about as well as yesterday -- though I struck the ball better yesterday and played a somewhat better short game today.

Here's the wrap-up:
Today's total score: 47-47=94
Fairways hit: 7 of 14
Greens in regulation: 3
Total putts: 33
Average shot quality: 6.4 (Front nine 6.39, back nine 6.41)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Golf Week - Day One

Welcome to my golf week! After spending the weekend in LA for Bob's sister's wedding (a wonderful occassion, and the weekend included star sightings of Allison Janney, Jeremy Piven, Mick Jagger and Faye Dunaway), we are in Palm Springs where I will play golf for the next five days. You, should you decide to hang on for all five days, will get a report of each round.

Today's round (as will be the rounds on Thursday, Friday and Saturday) was at Escena Golf Club. I tried something new in order to keep track of the quality of the round. In addition to monitoring total score, fairways hit, greens in regulation and number of putts, I am assigning a single number (from 0-10) for the quality of each shot I hit. A perfect shot would be 10, a swing and a miss would be zero. Great shots get 8s or 9s, middling shots 6s or 7s, fair to poor shots go from 5 to 1.

Today's total score: 48-47=95
Fairways hit: 8 of 13
Greens in regulation: 2
Total putts: 34
Average shot quality: 6.1 (Front nine 5.79, back nine 6.43)

Overall, I struck the ball relatively well, but putted poorly and made some short game mistakes that cost me. Tomorrow I play a lower-end course, Mesquite Golf Club. I'll keep you informed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Marriage Seems Safe in Massachusetts

Despite efforts of the religious right (have the Foley/Haggard affairs taught them nothing, at least in terms of timing?), the Massachusetts legislature will not take the first steps to institute an amendment to the commonwealth's constitution to overturn same-sex marriage. You can read the New York Times story here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumsfeld Finally Goes!

Big Don, chief architect of the fiasco, is being given the Rum's Bush...I mean the bum's rush. Here is the CNN story. Best quote: "Bush said he had "a series of thoughtful conversations" with Rumsfeld about the defense secretary's resignation." In other words, "you screwed the pooch, and lost us the election by talking me into standing by you."

One more step forward.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Wave Continues

As the evening progresses, Democrats continue to take seats in the House, having taken control of that body earlier this evening. However, simply because liberal Nancy Pelosi will be the first female speaker does not, in my opinion, suggest that this election is a liberal victory. To the contrary, I think the election is actually a victory for true conservatism -- small government, individual liberty conservatism. Perhaps even more than that, it's been a referendum on Iraq. America has clearly stated that we need a change of direction.

The Senate is still up in the air, with three seats still in play. However, it doesn't look good for the Dems, as they must win all three. Montana is trending toward the Democrat Jon Tester, but it's still early. Claire McKaskill is now up, but the difference is tight. The Webb/Allen race will likely not be decided for days or weeks.

Perhaps my favorite bit of good news is that the anti-same-sex marriage amendment seems to be going down to defeat in Arizona. If it had passed, I was promising myself I would boycott the state as a tourism destination, which would be a bitter pill to swallow, as Arizona is the home of one of my favorite golf courses.

First Great News of the Night

Rick Santorum is gone! The Pennsylvania homophobe and general idiot has been defeated.

Monday, November 06, 2006

FREEDOM!!!

You have to love YouTube. (Well, I guess you don't HAVE to, but I do.) Here's someone who took simple video editing software and created a powerful reminisence of the failures and horrors of the Bush administration, set to George Michael's "Freedom '90," making the song more powerful than ever.

One Breath

This is a great political ad.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

From Cocktail Napkin (almost) to Reality

In fine art, a sketch of a proposed work -- even from a lesser artist -- can be an object of art itself. Sketches can be, and often are, sold as art. In design, sketches are more transitory, especially in the design of three-dimensional objects. A sketch of a portrait can still be framed and hung on your wall and approximate the experience of that art relatively well. But you can't sit in a sketch of a chair -- or can you?


This is a fascinating bit of footage. 3:26 in length, but you need to watch all the way to the end to get the full impact.

Well said, Andrew Sullivan

I was planning to comment on Ted Haggard's confession, but I think Andrew Sullivan has said almost exactly what I feel. Worth a read.

"Shaken Nation Syndrome"

The following quote is from Larry Stockstill, pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana and member of the Overseer Board of New Life Church, where Ted Haggard was minister just last Sunday. Stockstill (which, by the way, seems a perfect name for a fundamentalist) is reacting to the statement by Ted Haggard admitting that, despite his statements over the past few days to the contrary, he is "guilty of sexual immorality."

"What's going to happen in the nation? You know what? I don't think that's your concern or mine," Stockstill said. "God is a holy God and he chose this incredibly important timing for this sin to be revealed, and I actually think it's a good thing. I believe America needs a shaking, spiritually." Personally, I'd tell Stockstill that evangelicals have been giving this nation a shaking of the sort that some very violent and abusive mothers dish out. Larry, America has had enough shaking. For that matter, it's had enough of the spanking and scolding and self-righteous judgment that so many of your ilk dish out. Spiritually, what America needs right now is to have its diaper changed. That we can do Tuesday.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

From the "knock me over with a feather" Department

As you can read here, the New Life Church has decided to dismiss Ted Haggard. What's most interesting about the decision is that the board cited "sexually immoral conduct" as the reason. Just getting a massage, even from a gay man, probably doesn't count as sexually immoral conduct, even for evangelicals. Which means the board didn't buy his story, either.

My favorite quote is from the last paragraph of the story: "This doesn't make what Ted accomplished here any less," said church member Christine Reyes, 47. "The farther up you are, the more you are a target for Satan.""

Do you suppose this means Bush is even higher on Beelzebub's "people to tempt today" list? I would have thought Cheney or Rove, but clearly Satan has already got to them, so that leaves George.

Feeling Haggard

Friday was a long day of reading and waiting for news about the latest Christianist hypocrite to learn the lesson that no one in power seems to be able to learn: there are no more secrets. Privacy is a relic of the past. Shit smells, which makes it easy to notice.

I want to feel compassion for Ted Haggard, and on one level I do. I know how easy (and how hard) it is to maintain a facade of a conventional life in order to avoid disappointing the people you love. The closet is an awful place to live, but our society -- especially its churches -- have made them the only viable housing option for millions of Americans. Spend your childhood being told that the way you feel is an abomination that will lead to eternal suffering and see how easy it is to express those feelings. So Ted Haggard started off in a bad place. And now he's made it worse.

But my compassion is also tempered by a pretty good-sized chunk of rage. This man didn't just actively lie to his family, he took it upon himself to persecute the very group of people to which he belongs. He's not the first by any means: Mark Foley, Roy Cohn...I'm sure many more could be found. Any group that is persecuted is bound to have a few members who swear fealty to the persecuters in order to avoid the lash. But it doesn't make what he did any less despicable.

Let's recap where things stand now, Saturday.

• On Wednesday morning, Mark Jones, one time rent boy (but being in his mid-40s at the time, I hardly "boy" is a fitting appelation), goes on a Denver radio station and claims he had a three-year client-ho relationship with Ted Haggard, head of Colorado's largest Christian church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, one of the largest church groups in the country. He further claims he witnessed Haggard snorting crystal meth.

• On Thursday, Haggard denies everything. Jones fails one part of a lie detector test, but the test administrator says Jones was too exhausted for the results to be conclusive.

• Friday, Haggard gets caught by a KUSA news crew and admits that he knew Mark Jones, had bought crystal meth but never used it (a most creative update of "I didn't inhale"), and that Jones was merely a massage therapist recommended by a hotel in Denver.

What surprises me most is how unprepared Haggard was. Actually "unprepared" is not the right word. "Stupid" is a better word. Did he stop to think for even 20 seconds that it was unlikely that a hotel concierge would recommend as a massage therapist a male prostitute who advertised on rentboy.com?

Then there's the fact that he's more willing to admit engaging in illegal activity (buying drugs) than he is to being gay. For all the progress the LGBT community has made in the past 50 years, that's a pretty frightening example of how much farther we have to go.

Right now I'd love to hear what's going on in the back rooms of evangelical power. (Remember when churches were about fostering spiritual life and personal improvement and not about seeking political clout and influencing civil government? Whatever happened to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's"?) What are Dobson and Falwell and Robertson saying to each other right now? My guess is someone is making a quiet personal visit to Haggard and telling him to get his ass into a very private rehab center (maybe he can room with Foley) and shut the fuck up until after Tuesday.

More lies from Ted Haggard

This is from Ted Haggard's book, "Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century":

"I want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my family and me should life become difficult someday . . . I don't want surprises, scandals, or secrets . . . I want stability and, at the same time, steady, forward movement."

Oops.

Need a laugh?

Worried about Iraq? Mid-term elections? Rampant hypocrisy? The fact that no one break dances any more? Then watch this and laugh along.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Yet More Hypocrisy

Another evangelical leader shows having Jesus in your heart doesn't necessarily mean you can keep your johnson in your pants. Ted Haggard is a major national figure, and he is alleged to have carried on a relationship with a rent boy for three years. The first story is here. More to come, I'm sure.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

An Apology for Kerry

If you haven't read, John Kerry made a major gaffe on Monday. Trying to attack Bush, he ended up sounding like he was disparaging the troops. (This guy can't be content to lose one election, he wants to go for two.)

Not that I think it will help much, as I think Kerry truly believes that military service is a career path for the less academically gifted, but perhaps he should say something like:

"On Monday, I showed that my aim with a joke is sometimes no better than Dick Cheney's aim with a shotgun. However, unlike our current administration, I can recognize when I've made a mistake and make the changes necessary to get back on the right course. While I meant to impugn President Bush's prosecution of the war in Iraq, I unintentionally called into question the intellect, talent and bravery of the men and women who serve valiantly in this wrong-headed war. For this, I deeply and sincerely apologize. America has the world's best fighting force -- specifically BECAUSE many of our most talented and intelligent men and women choose to serve their country. The point I was TRYING to make was that such a talented and motivated fighting force deserves better than the fiasco in Iraq to which our current president has sent them."

Welcome to November -- Now Smell Better

Check this out. Gum that does more than freshen your breath -- about an hour after chewing, its aroma begins to be emitted from your pores. So very Japanese!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Even Peggy Noonan

Yes, even Peggy Noonan, Reagan speechwriter and consultant, conservative bulwark, has come to realize Bush is incompetent. Read all about it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No Dissent in Jersey Decision

Although media outlets have reported that the New Jersey Supreme Court decision was "close," (a 4-3 decision) they have not yet noted that at least one of the dissenting justices did so because he felt the court should have gone FARTHER in providing equality. Chief Justice Portiz agreed that “denying the rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution." However, she went on to say: "I can find no principled basis, however, on which to distinguish those rights and benefits from the right to the title of marriage, and therefore dissent from the majority’s opinion insofar as it declines to recognize that right among all of the other rights and benefits that will be available to same-sex couples in the future." In fact, I can find no truly dissenting opinion. I will look harder, but for now, it appears equality won a bigger victory than was even first thought. (UPDATE: Turns out there is no dissent -- four justices voted for full equality, but suggest the Legislature decide what it is to be called, while the "dissenting" three wanted to go straight to allowing same-sex marriage.)

More on the NJ Decision

I just quickly read the complete decision, and I feel a bit better about it. The Court was very clear that equality must be maintained in New Jersey. I was specifically heartened to see that they rejected the specious claim that recognizing same-sex unions would somehow harm traditional unions or have a deleterious effect on the raising of children: "The State does not argue that limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman is needed to encourage procreation or to create the optimal living environment for children."

The NJ Court goes on to say: "Other than sustaining the traditional definition of marriage, which is not implicated in this discussion, the State has not articulated any legitimate public need for depriving committed same-sex couples of the host of benefits and privileges that are afforded to married heterosexual couples. There is, on the one hand, no rational basis for giving gays and lesbians full civil rights as individuals while, on the other hand, giving them an incomplete set of rights when they enter into committed same-sex relationships. To the extent that families are strengthened by encouraging monogamous relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the Court cannot discern a public need that would justify the legal disabilities that now afflict same-sex domestic partnerships."

The Court has given the legislature 180 days to either amend the state's marriage laws or enact civil unions with full equality of rights.

They Split The Difference

New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled: civil unions with full legal benefits is approved, but the term "marriage" can still be reserved for man-woman couples. This is basically good news, I think. The problem comes in that only "marriage" is what is needed if a couple joined in New Jersey wants that union to be recognized in another state. And, of course, the Federal government still denies thousands of rights to same-sex couples that are easily available to opposite-sex couples. The fight continues.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Today Could Be Huge

Today, October 25, at about noon Pacific time, the New Jersey Supreme Court is scheduled to announce its decision in the same-sex marriage case before it. This decision could play a key role in voter turnout in the November 7 election. If the New Jersey court affirms full civil rights for same-sex couples, the religious right will likely go batshit and pull out every stop to get their church ladies to the polls two weeks from today. If they strike another blow against equality (as New York and Washington have done in recent months), it could engender some complacency on the part of social conservatives. Hence, I'm torn -- I want New Jersey to do the right thing, but I also want to make sure the Democrats take over control of Congress. Still, I'm rooting for equality and will let the votes fall where they may; voters HAVE to be more concerned about Iraq than they are about same-sex couples. Don't they?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Is "gay" the new "cool"?

Why didn't "cool" go the way of "groovy" and "far out"? What is it about this ubiquitous bit of slang that it remains in the lexicon long after slang usages are left in the dustbins of language? I''m not the first to wonder about this: linguist Geoffrey Nunberg and social historian Peter N. Stearns of George Mason University have also pondered this question. Stearns believes "cool" entered the mainstream in the 50s and 60s through its effectiveness in defusing tension during an era of anger and violence.

The reason is stayed might be due to its plastic nature. It can have so many variations and so many gradations -- but it always has a positive connotation (unless it's used sarcastically). "Cool" is always sent as a compliment or with positive intent. It may not always be received as such, but that is its intent. Always positive.

I bring this up because I'm wondering if "gay" is poised to jump intergenerational divides and join "cool" as another member of the Slang Hall of Fame. (For my older readers, for young people, saying "that's so gay" doesn't really have anything to do with perceived sexuality, it's just an all-purpose epithet for things -- or behaviors -- that are gauche, awkward or out of style. Basically, if it's "gay" it is the antithesis of "cool." Which is exactly why I wonder if "gay" is the new cool. Or rather, the new anti-cool. Here is an piece from Slate from 2004 that will fill you in on some background on "gay" as a cool putdown.)

A quick Google search brought some surprising results. I googled the phrases "that's so gay" and "that's so cool." Not really a statistically valid or exhaustive search, but I think it has some merits. Just googling "gay" and "cool" wouldn't work because references to sexuality and temperature would skew the results. Adding "that's so" should greatly reduce the references to temperature or sexuality and focus on the words' uses as positive or pejorative modifiers.

Results:
"that's so gay" -- 40,400 hits
"that's so cool" -- 326,000 hits

Granted, "cool" leads by an 8-1 margin, but it's had a couple more generations of use to take hold. Perhaps in 20 years the margin could be 3-1 or 4-1. I think the possibility is there. Certainly that are some in the LGBT community who think it's degrading and homophobic, but I don't think that will really make a difference. I doubt left-handed people liked the idea of "gauche" becoming an all-purpose term for something that was out of fashion or tasteless, but it happened anyway. "Gay" might end up the same way, especially since it's as all-purpose on the negative side as "cool" is on the positive.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Spinal Tap Reinvented

If you loved Rob Reiner's classic mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap," it is a must that you immediately rent the DVD version of the film and watch it with the commentary on. Unlike most DVD commentaries which feature bored directors telling you how difficult this shot was or how wonderful all the actors were to work with, the commentary on "This is Spinal Tap" is provided by actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer in character (as David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls), talking about the original film as if it were a real documentary made about them. Hearing the three of them discuss how the filmakers used Hollywood techniques to make them come off looking foolish is priceless. It's a whole new movie.

If you never saw "This is Spinal Tap" in the first place, rent it now and watch it first with commentary off and again with commentary on.

Friday, October 20, 2006

So wrong for so long

From yesterday's edition of Bill Maher's HBO show, "Real Time with Bill Maher":

"You can't call yourself a think tank if all your ideas are stupid." Maher then went on to call to task the two major right wing think tanks, The Heritage Foundation and Project for the New American Century:

"And if you're someone from one of the think tanks who dreamed up the Iraq war and predicted that we'd be greeted as liberators and that we wouldn't need a lot of troops and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war, that the WMDs would be found, that the looting wasn't problematic and that the mission was accomplished, that the insurgency was in its last throes, that things would get better after the people voted, after the government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got Zarwqawi and that the whole bloody mess wouldn't turn into a civil war...you have to stop making predictions!"

I remember all those predictions. We can't let the people who bought this line of crap stay in power. Until we get a viable third option, we have to vote Democrat this November, It's the only message Bush and his cronies will be able to understand.

Missing in Action

12 days since I last posted. Apologies to those of you who check in regularly, but during that time I've been:

a) away,
b) in a bad mood,
or
c) had nothing interesting to say or report.

I shall endeavor to improve.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Letter from Iraq

A fascinating first-person account of a soldier's life in Iraq. Click here to read it. Brief but compelling.

On Domestication

This article from today's New York Times Magazine is a fascinating look at the tragic nature of human-elephant relationships over the years, and what a handful of naturalists, neurologists and other scientists are doing to mend the damage done. Highly recommended.

Later: Thinking more about this article and the thoughts it raises about animal consciousness and intention.

If you haven’t read the piece, here it is briefly: there seems to be an upsurge in elephant violence in the past few decades, often resulting in death. Given that elephants are intensely familial, with the ability to communicate – even across large distances (via ground vibrations), might the elephants not be trying to tell US something? Perhaps, as their habitats are destroyed and they are murdered for their ivory, those remaining are standing up to say, “No more. We will not be domesticated.”

They could choose to hang with us to share in the goodies we have (e.g, abundant food and water), the same way other domesticated animals have. Animals, after all, are to a certain degree complicit in their taming. Try and domesticate a wild boar or a badger. Or a great white shark. You don’t want to be tamed, nobody can force you. You might have to pay for that independence with your life, but every animal still has some level of choice of whether to be domesticated or not. 15,000 years ago, dogs wanted the leftover bits from whatever we had caught and killed to eat ourselves, and in return they were willing to let us know if something smelly was coming close. You didn’t see the beavers making that offer.

In fact, most animals have resisted establishing cordial relationships with humans, even though the penalty of resisting was death or imprisonment. We can capture and contain many species, but how many will stay of their own accord? My cat is intensely domesticated. She actively wants to be around me – or at least to know I’m around. The only time I ever see her across the street is when I am over there talking to my neighbor. Then she comes for a visit. A few months ago I was playing poker across the street, and she must have heard my voice, for soon she was outside the window. For the familiarity of my voice or smell, I imagine. If one definition of domestication is sticking around even though you don’t have to, Acorn not only fits that description, she exceeds it. Not only is she not running away, she’s FOLLOWING me.

Obviously, there are degrees of domestication. Pigs, I think, will run off and go feral at the first opportunity. Cattle are a bit more dependable Camels. Horses. Certain species of birds. Primates will live with us, but for some reason, the species that are closest to us genetically and are assumed therefore to be the brightest, can’t seem to learn to do their business in a special place. Dogs learn to do it outside. Cats will do it in the same place every time. (That may be cats' only trick, but it’s a good one.) Even pot-belly pigs can be housetrained. But a chimp’s gotta have a diaper. I don’t get it.

But I had a point…oh yes, degrees of domestication. While some animals can share space and enter into a relationship with human beings, most will not, or will do so only under rare circumstances: Siegfried and Roy’s prisoners, for instance. Some animals – even relatively intelligent ones, just can’t be tamed. Or won’t be. Which brings me back to elephants.

Elephants, at least Asian elephants, straddle the line of domestication. They will work for us pulling trees or standing on one leg while calliope music plays.
They were tools of war in ancient times. They still perform a great deal of heavy labor throughout Asia. But they won’t breed in captivity. And most would likely wander off if they weren’t contained or shackled.

Now, as we continue to encroach into their world, continue to separate infants from parents at an early age (females only – males won’t tolerate captivity), tearing apart elephant families, compelling them to work for our own purposes, perhaps they are fighting back, killing their keepers as a way of saying: “We will not be treated like this. You can take our lives with your loud sticks, but we will no longer submit to you.”

Can’t say I blame them.

Morning Cup


Yum.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

George W. Bush is God

An interesting article in today's Washington Post focuses on something Bush said in a CNN interview on September 24, and is repeating while on a West Coast fundraising trip: he believes that when we look back on our current situation, it will be "just a comma" in the history books.

The problem is, he's right. It COULD be that what we are doing now is assuring our future. It's possible Bush's approach to implementing a strategy to maintain access to petroleum resources will turn out to be correct. I don't know how many people -- even in Washington, and even some Republicans -- think that way, but it is possible.

Unfortunately, all evidence seems to be to the contrary. Sure, lots of people voted, but one has to judge an election by its fruits. If you're searching for positive results, Iraq isn't the place to start looking. Sectarian violence is at its highest levels ever, our troops continue to be primary targets for insurgents and the oil isn't flowing. The elected Iraqi offiicials obviously have either no real power or no real motivation to deal with their problems (not least of which is having the world's ├╝berpower hanging out in the backyard), and we seem unable or unwilling to commit the resources required to get things working. It may be that no one, not even the people of Iraq themselves, have what it takes to make the country function as a democracy. Because there are really no plausible justifications for why things are going so poorly in Iraq, Bush is left with two options. He can a)lie (which he has happily done in the past) and say things are getting better, or b)ask us to trust him. Which is pretty much where he's come to with the "comma" argument. "Really," he's saying, "it's all going to be alright. We're going to look back on this and regale our kids with stories about how much gas cost during the war, until they're as bored with us as we were with our parents when they talked about ration coupons in WWII." W, in other words, asks us to take him on faith. To believe what he says and do what he says, even if logic and common sense point to other conclusions.

Fortunately for him, lots of Americans see faith as an important and positive aspect of their lives. They associate having faith with goodness and community and eternal life. The hard core right (especially the religious right, which are on one level one in the same, since no right-wing politician can do anything but profess strong faith and a tie to one church or another as long as it isn't a mosque) have gone so far down the rabbit hole justifying the myriad ways GWB has violated American and conservative values in order to enrich and empower himself and his cronies that they can no longer see the light of day.

Will they continue to blindly follow George and his buddies down the rabbit hole (only to find that it leads to a world of stunning beauty for the elite -- to which they lock the door behind them) simply because he says "trust me, I'm right."? I'm very worried that the answer is "hell, yeah."

Hand-y Advice

The New York Times has an article in today's edition that talks about not only the "return" of hand-holding to vogue, but also interesting comments on both its mental health benefits and how it has become one of the most intimate of loving gestures, yet one which can be displayed in public without offending sensibilities.

Today, hold the hand of someone you love.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Becoming a Golfer, Part 3

I'm only a little closer to my goal of being a golfer (as opposed to someone who simply plays golf), but I wanted to share (with as many people as possible) the fact that yesterday I hit what is probably my best golf shot ever.

Yesterday afternoon I took advantage of a last-minute online tee time offer and played San Geronimo Golf Club. I had heard something Tony Jacklin said on The Golf Channel that resonated with me and wanted to put it into practice. (It had to do with a gentler grip.) I was playing basically bogey golf through the first nine holes, and hitting almost every fairway with my drives. Except the ninth. On the ninth I got a bit quick and faded my drive to the right. When I got to my ball, I was about 155 yards from the pin, which was about 15 feet above me on an elevated green. There were trees to my left and several tall trees protecting the green. The pin was on a narrow finger of the green, perhaps 10 feet wide. But as I looked at the shot, I felt if I hit a clean, crisp six-iron, I could get it over those trees.

And that's just what I did. I struck it absolutely pure and watched it soar up and over the trees, land five feet in front of the pin, bounce once, hit the pin and land at the edge of the green five feet left. Unfortunately, I missed the putt, but made the par to finish the front in 45.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

OK - I'll be the congressman and YOU can be the precocious page."

In "The Producers," down-on-his-luck former Broadway maven Max Bialystock is driven to the seduction of very rich, very old ladies. One of them likes sexual scenario games: for example, she as a duchess, Bialystock as the chauffeur who can't keep his eye on the road. Or, she suggests, "We could play 'The Wicked Rape of Lucretia' -- and I'll be Lucretia." (To which Bialystock replie "And I'll be rape.")

I wonder how many couples playfully took on the roles of a powerful member of Congress and a juvenile sexpot page? It's got all the earmarks of the great sexual role-playing fantasies: dominant and submissive roles, chance public encounters that lead unexpectedly to private contact, forbidden fruit... I'm guessing hundreds of thousands at a minimum.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Foley-er Than Thou

I think the thing I loved most (at least at first) about the Mark Foley scandal was how it knocked another sanctimonious holier-than-thou Republican off his perch. All the work he did against same-sex marriage and for "family values," and now we find yet another big mouth who can't walk the walk. The family values my parents taught me did not include hypocrisy and pedophilia. (Though I think the pedophilia charges are a bit overblown -- these weren't toddlers, they were post-pubescent and certainly capable of feeling sexual attraction. That said, they WERE minors and it's still a crime. It's just I think it's less of a crime than if the pages were eight-year olds.)

Of course, Foley deserves to be gone if for no other reason than his incredible stupidity -- surely everyone knows by now that if you put it in e-mail or an instant message, it can probably be recovered and brought into the light of day.

What's working for me now about the scandal is the chance it represents to get some of the blind fools who follow the greater fool on his silly errands -- just so they can hang onto power and use it to enrich themselves. (Not that I think the Democrats are any less self-serving, but at this point I think we just need a change, and since we're probably not going to get a new party, Nancy Pelosi may be the best we can get for a few more years. And if it turns out the Republican leadership knew about the IMs (the e-mails have been relatively innocent), I think a LOT of Republicans could go down next month.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Monkeyshines

Take a look at this ad and tell me if you don't think the monkeys bear the slightest satirical reference to our current president and his croneys. Primarily it's their way of making bad news look good, even when those more evolved point out just how tragic the situation really is.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Powerfully Stated

A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog writes:

"It would seem that all political discourse is now deteriorating into taking sides - not in the context of a particular issue, but in the Manichean sense of are you a supporter of the administration or you are against it. It is increasingly difficult to take a nuanced stance on any topic. For the record:

I do not support the war in Iraq but I fully supported the effort to topple the Taliban and rebuild Afghanistan. I oppose a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman but fully support states' rights to amend their own. I fully support the need for the West to stand up to Islamic religious extremism and forcefully espouse the virtues of the Western Enlightenment, but oppose the contorted lengths that the administration will go to justify torture, suspend Habeas Corpus for legal aliens and ignore the checks and balances of the founding fathers.

I do believe in moral values such as honesty, forgiveness, trust and tolerance but oppose the religious extremist's (of whatever faith) right to define morality for me. I do believe in the capitalist system of competition but oppose the corrupt cronyism that passes for an entrepreneurial culture in the current times. I do not believe in the phrase "if it feels good, do it" but oppose the government deciding what is moral.

I do believe in the fourth estate, but I am frustrated that the press wants to present every side of a debate as if it carries equal weight. I do believe that Western countries should have a strong military but do not believe that diplomacy is a weak option. I do believe that the UN has become a bloated body incapable of making hard decisions but do not believe that the UN is an evil conspiracy out to destroy the USA. I do believe that society, via Government has a duty to help ameliorate poverty but do not believe in massive entitlement programs.

What label should I self apply? I no longer know."

Andrew says it sounds like a party he'd be a part of. Me too. I also agree when he says "Pity it doesn't exist."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Paragons of Mendacity

Watching "The Control Room" tonight. It's a fascinating documentary from 2004 that looks behind the scenes at the Al-Jazeera network during the early days of the Iraq War. In it, Bush gives at least one big lie, and Rumsfeld is (I hope) prophetic -- though not in the way he imagines.

In a press conference early on in the way, a reporter asks him about reports of American POWs in Iraqi hands: "I expect them to be treated humanely. Just like we're treating the prisoners we have captured: humanely." Notice he doesn't say "we expect them not to be tortured." Nor does he say "we expect the Iraqis will be using coercive interrogation techniques on our brave soldiers." No, he says America is treating Iraqi prisoners humanely. Even under the new Senate language I don't think waterboarding falls under the heading "humane."

Earlier in the movie there is a quote from Rummy where he's accusing Al Jazeera of bussing women and children in to bomb sites to make it look as if they were the victims of the attacks. He says: "It's up to all of us to try to tell the truth. To say what we know, to say what we don't know, and recognize that we are dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their case. And to the extent people lie, ultimately they are caught lying and they lose their credibility."

I hope the loss of credibility is expressed during the mid-term elections.

Ratchet Up That Rhetoric

Check out these comments from a supposed Christian minister speaking at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. The Rev. Dwight McKissic said it was “insulting, offensive, demeaning, and racist” for the the gay rights movement to compare itself to the civil rights movement. He even fell back on the old (and fully discredited) claim that "gays can’t reproduce so they have to recruit.”

He claims the gay rights movement was inspired “from the pit of hell itself,” and has a “satanic anointment,” that this struggle for equality was "birthed and inspired by the anti-Christ." And he wasn't even close to alone in voicing these sorts of comments at the VV Summit. How about this from Bishop Wellington Boone:

"Back in the days when I was a kid, and we see guys that don't stand strong on principle, we call them 'faggots.' A punk is — and our people, I'm from the ghetto, so sometimes it does come out a little bit. I got another one I'm gonna say in a minute — [laughter] — that don't stand up for what's right, we say, 'You're sissified out!' 'You're a sissy!' That means you don't stand up for principles. And I just believe that God hasn't called us to be sissies on a principle level. We're called to be, to stand up and be men. I'm not talking about as in gender. I'm talking about man of God, men in the marketplace, and when a U.S. senator or congressman says that he wants me to vote for them, and he's not biblically based — if he doesn't have God as his Lord, how can somebody that doesn't feel the need for God lead me?"

Monday, September 25, 2006

Scariest Thing Ever?

Consider this: Iranian President Ahmadinejad is praying for the end times. He craves Apocalypse. George W. Bush, to judge by the Christianist company he keeps, wouldn't mind a little Armageddon himself if it meant the return of Jesus. These two guys aren't thinking of this as a fight between two countries, they're anxious for Allah and Yahweh themselves to mix it up. One has more nukes than he knows what to do with, the other wants them badly and will likely get them. Sleep tight.

Hillary is Worse Than The Devil

At least according to Jerry Falwell, who said at a private prayer breakfast at the Value Voters Conference, "I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. Because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton." Falwell added that even Lucifer himself wouldn't engage the base more than a Clinton candidacy. According the reports, the room rang out with cheers at these remarks.

One-Eyed Justice

This article in today's New York Times outlines the often horrific state of justice at the local level in New York State. It's a long piece, but deeply fascinating. The stories of defendants being denied bail or due process or simply being subject to the whims of judges who aren't even required to have a high school diploma, let alone a law degree are chilling.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Choosing the Battlefield Redux

A perfect example of the sort of thinking I posited in my previous post just popped up on CNN: an American tourist in Rome, outside the Vatican, expressing his support: "He apologized for what he said, but mostly it sounds to me like it was misinterpreted, 'cause the Pope don't have a bad bone in his body, you know what I mean? He's so pure and beautiful."

The Vatican is a political organization, and people don't lead powerful political organizations by remaining pure. Committed? Sure. Zealous? Probably. Sincere? Maybe. Pure? Not a chance.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Choosing the Battlefield

It's a maxim of military strategy that the side that dictates where a battle will be fought has a distinct advantage over its foe. And right now, radical Islam is establishing the arena of combat in the war on terror. Not the physical location of any one engagement necessarily, but that of a broader battlefield.

Al Qaeda and its ilk say they stand squarely behind Mohammed and the Q'uran. However twisted and tangled a knot they have made of the message of mainstream Islam, they believe -- with the devotion of martyrs -- that all mankind must accept that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet and that any method is acceptable in pursuing this goal. We, the sworn enemies of Al Qaeda have developed -- as we must -- a counter position. But the position we seem to be taking is not liberty vs. tyranny, but Yahweh/God vs. Allah. Our God is bigger/better/righter than your God, so shut up and let us at the oil.

It seems to me a better battleground would be to fight (truly) for freedom, support of family/tribal/community/national bonds and tolerance for all willing to follow the rule of law.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Political Correctness in the Huddle

Check out this story in the New York Times. Seems a Connecticut high school athletic league has adopted a rule to prevent lopsided scores in football games, and now a coach faces a suspension because his team won 56-0. I'm sorry, but high school sports teach some valuable lessons, and one of them is that if you are outclassed on one or more levels of a game, you're going to get your ass handed to you. We don't protect self-esteem by manipulating outcomes. Self-esteem is something each child has to earn on his or her own. This sort of thing isn't helping.

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Free Speech"

One of the new features of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric is a regular segment called "freeSpeech." According to the CBS News website, "freeSpeech" is intended to be "a segment of opinion and commentary from a wide range of Americans. This original segment is intended to create a candid and robust dialogue among viewers about issues important to them, their families and the nation." It goes on to say: "The segment will be a real attempt to reflect what Americans are thinking and feeling, as people from all parts of the country representing all perspectives and points of view will be able to speak their minds -- uninterrupted."

The key word there is "uninterrupted." In the world of televised shouting matches (that are laughingly called "debates"), the chance to say one's truth in as complete a fashion as 90 seconds will allow is certainly compelling to anyone with a passionate opinion.

The key word NOT there is "uncensored." For in a segment called "freeSpeech," one would think it ought to be practiced. But when Bill Maher wanted to talk about religion, CBS demurred. CBS denies that the subject of religion was off-limits. My guess is that the broad subject was fine, but how Bill probably wanted to approach it specifically was not. I can imagine Maher wanting to say something like (and I'm only guessing here): "Get over it, there is no God." I can also imagine CBS having an issue with an approach of this sort.

"Doesn't CBS have the right to edit its own show?" you might ask. Certainly, but if you're going to sell the segment saying the goal is "to offer a new and TRANSPARENT outlet for the incredible variety and diversity of voices in this country" (emphasis mine) it really ought to be transparent. Otherwise, why not call it "Opinion Corner"? Especially when Katie Couric introduced the segmentby saying: "Expressing your opinion is one of the privileges of living in this country." Maher rispostes: "I'm sorry -- I thought it was a RIGHT."

On one level Maher is being completely naive -- editing is not censorship per se, and simply because they decided not to air your views doesn't prove they are censorious. But on another level he is absolutely right to be incensed. Is CBS truly offering a voice to people to say what they think is most important in the world? Or is it simply a way for them to say what THEY want to say, but put the words into other people's mouths?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hubris on Parade, Part 2

After my most recent post about the turnaround of my golf game, I go out and shoot my worst score in more than two years. Perhaps it was because I had only two hours sleep, but I can hardly imagine stinking it up any worse than in this last round. 57-52 for 109. It was on a tough course, and from the back tees, but still, oy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Becoming a Golfer, Part 2

In an earlier entry, I spoke that I was on the road to becoming a golfer, but hadn't quite achieved that status and was still just someone who plays golf. Although I cannot yet take that mantle upon myself, I'm coming ever so much closer to self-identifying as a golfer, because my game is changing. I'm swinging the club better and my handicap trend is down. I'd gotten stuck shooting in the mid- to high-90s, sometimes lower, but sub-90 scores were rare. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I'd had only one sub-90 score all spring and summer.

Then I went out and shot an 87 on one of the two toughest courses in the area -- where my previous low had been 96. A couple of weeks later (with rounds of 92 and 96 in between) I went to my favorite course in the county and shot an 84. Had I not closed triple bogey, double bogey, I could have broken 80 for the first time. I was hitting it better off the tee: longer, and not so far off line (though still drifting right too often to please me). I was striking my irons better, too, and hitting more solid chips. Putting remained about the same -- still the strongest part of my game.

Then, in my most recent round, site of the recent 87, I shot 99. Thing is, it didn't feel like I was hitting the ball that much worse. Looking back, I think the major mitigating factor was the condition of the greens. They had just been aerated, meaning they are covered with a pattern of indentations the size of a quarter that make it almost impossible to predict either speed or line. I remarked to my playing partner that we ought to give ourselves three strokes a side to compensate. (As it turns out, I took exactly five more putts that round than my average, so the estimate wasn't too bad.) That would make it a 94. Put me back at the 6400+ yard tees (instead of the 6800+ yard tees I played) and it might have been 92 or 91. More respectable.

I also seem to be making fewer mental errors. I don't mind making physical errors so much. I'm not that great an athlete, so I don't expect that much out of my body. But I do think I'm relatively bright, so it peeves me no end when my mind lets me down on the links. After all, it doesn't take any special athletic skill to align yourself at address so you are actually aiming at your target, or to remember to take wind and elevation changes into account when choosing which club to hit.

Then I remembered one of my favorite quotes about golf: that the game is 90% mental, and 10% mental. The golf swing is not a reactive motion. It is triggered by my mind consciously telling my body to begin firing the neurons that will stimulate the right muscles to contract and release to turn my shoulders, fire my hips and bring the arms and hands back down and through to the other side of my body. I can't say I don't know what a successful swing feels like, because I accomplish one several (to several dozen) times a round. I cannot, therefore, let myself off the hook with the excuse that I'm not much of an athlete.

It's up to me to figure out a way to not only continue to reduce mental errors, but to also learn how to condition my mind to fire the neurons in the right patterns in order to achieve the sweet, smooth motion I emulate and am occassionally able to accomplish.

Another Report from the Department of Ignorance

Officials in Australia have recently found nearly a dozen stingrays, the species responsible for the death of Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin, dead on the beaches of Queensland, the Australian province where Irwin lived -- and died. The supposition is that deranged fans of Irwin's (I'm sure he had several) are murdering stingrays in some twisted form of revenge for his death. As Irwin would say, "crikey."

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Great Deal

If you're interested in a luxury getaway at a bargain price, check out the Spa Junkie Package at the Parker Palm Springs. Stay on a Sunday through Thursday between now and the end of the year and you'll pay only $179 a night -- but get $200 credit in the hotel's reknowned spa, the Palm Springs Yacht Club. Hard to beat that.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Give it up, Michelle

Golf's female phenom, Michelle Wie, has been playing in several men's events (primarily on sponsor's exemptions), trying to prove she has what it takes to play with the best. At one tournament, she missed the cut by just one stroke. But in her previous outing with the boys, she finished near the bottom of the field. This week, at European Tour event in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, she struggled to break 80 both days, finishing next to last at 15 over.

Michelle talks of one day making the Ryder Cup team or playing in The Masters. I defended Michelle's decision to try her hand at PGA events, and certainly don't blame tournament organizers for riding her publicity coattails to increase the draws at the events in which she plays. But I think her recent results show it's time for her to leave the men's tournaments behind for a few years and concentrate on winning on the LPGA tour, where she has come close to several titles. Start dominating the LPGA tour, Michelle, then go and actually try and QUALIFY for a PGA event if you like. Earn your spot, just like everyone else.

The Rove Effect

Fond as I am of Karl Rove (the closest thing we have to the Anti-Christ), his approach to campaigns (trading on fear and base instincts) has brought him outstanding returns. He does, after all, sort of rule the free world. So I wasn't surprised to see an ad against California's Proposition 87, which taxes oil companies in order to fund alternative energy resources in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, using Rove-like techniques.

The ad shows a man in a yellow firefighter's coat. He says Proposition 87 is a bad idea that will increase our dependence on foreign oil and increase fuel prices. (Increased dependence on foreign oil seems an unlikely result, and though it will likely increase fuel prices, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. And it will actually reduce dependence on foreign oil.) Then he goes on to say "that's why" an organization representing 85,000 public safety workers is opposed to it. "Gee..." the ad wants you to think, "I trust public safety officials -- they save our lives when terrorists attack." The ad brings it home in the final line: "It's a bad idea -- at the worst possible time."

Oh my god, you tax the oil companies (who brought this on themselves by treating their executives so lavishly -- primarily Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond's $400 million retirement plan) and now you're giving terrorists the upper hand? That's a Rove-ian leap -- that I'm afraid will work for a certain segment of voters.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Golf in Thin Air

Playing golf at the Lake Tahoe Golf Course recently, I hit what was for me a most impressive shot: a 270-yard drive with a 3-wood. Even with a bit of wind behind me and the thin air at 6200' above sea level, I was quite proud. I hit my wedge to the middle of the green and two-putted for par.

Then, a few holes later, after making a double bogey, I decided to re-attempt the shot that had put me into trouble and caused the extra strokes. I looked back down the fairway to make sure no one was approaching, but the next group was still back at the tee, 390 yards away. I swung the sand wedge, connected cleanly and executed the shot that WOULD have likely saved my par had I been able to do it properly when it counted. I walked onto the green, and as I was bending over to collect my ball, I heard a gentle thump behind me and turned to see a golf ball coming to rest, pin-high, just in the fringe of the green. One of the golfers had just struck an almost 400-yard drive, directly on line. Suddenly my 270-yard 3-wood didn't seem like all that big of a deal anymore.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Home Again, Still Screaming

They're back. Two paintings by Edvard Munch, stolen from the Munch Museum in Oslo, have been recovered by police, according to this story in The Guardian. The paintings include "Madonna" and Munch's best-known work (in fact, one of art's most-recognized works), "The Scream," seen at left.