Friday, August 31, 2007

"This above all: to thine own self be true..."

I guess among all the people who feel trapped in a life situation they can't control, some are better off than others. There are women who put up with abusive men because they are physically threatened, or fear they can't make it on their own. There are poor and unskilled people who put up with shabby treatment at work because they need the money. And there are people who are so miserable inside they pulverize themselves with drugs, or mutilate themselves, or jump off a bridge. All considerations made, being a US Senator who is gay but can't admit it because his constituency won't accept him for what he is - and maybe he can't accept himself for what he is - that's probably not a guy who deserves a full-blown pity parade. After all, he's a man with power and influence, lives among the educated elite, and should have the wisdom of experience to know how the world works. He could have changed his situation in any number of ways.

All the same, I do feel sorry for Senator Larry Craig - soon to be the ex-Senator from Idaho, if what's rumored in the news today is true - because he is so clearly stuck in a situation where he lives a lie every day. Let's be honest, we all lie to ourselves in some ways. But to be known to cruise for casual gay sex for the last 25 years, get caught doing it, and stand up there with the cameras in your face and say "I am not gay" - well, that just can't be good for the soul.

Is there a chance the whole things is a misunderstanding, and the Senator is really telling the truth? Here's an interesting excerpt from a Newsweek piece, with Brian Braiker interviewing Keith Griffiths, the founder of the web site

But wasn’t he making moves that are understood in the cruising community to be overtures?
Absolutely. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not disputing what I think is pretty obvious. It’s very, very clear what he was doing—assuming the police officer is telling the truth. He was cruising. Tapping the foot is one thing and it’s a signal; no doubt about it. The fact that he went out of his way to run his hand under the partition, that’s another signal. This man must have studied up on this. He’s got experience. He’s definitely cruising. But he didn’t take it to the step where it would have been a crime.

Some people are certainly taking glee in the fact that in the past Craig has endorsed anti-gay policies.
He’s a f—-ing hypocrite, no doubt about it.

And there you have it - "He’s a f—-ing hypocrite, no doubt about it" - a nice inscription for the statue of Sen. Craig that I'm sure someone will want to put up in Boise.

Moral of our story: Another page in your life script is written every day, and you are the author. You really do have control over how your story turns out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Afraid of public speaking? You could never be this bad...

You may have seen or heard this since it's been making the rounds this week, but it is worth a second or third look. It's from the Miss Teen USA pageant that aired on Friday August 24, 2007. I like this version of the video because of the subtitles - you can confirm that the gibberish you think you're hearing is really what's being said.

And now she's trying to spin it? Miss South Carolina Teen USA: 'I misunderstood the question'

This is an example of how not all fame is good fame.

"More Fun From AOL News Blogger: Use her words to rewrite her "answer": WIN BIG: It's The Miss South Carolina Word Scramble!!"

Monday, August 27, 2007

If Shakespeare was alive today he'd write for TV

"...That's what the universe gives us every morning. No matter how far we have veered from reverence for the miraculous fact that we exist in a universe that we don't understand, every day we get a chance to start over..."
-Steve Hawk

"...all I ever had, redemption songs..."
-Bob Marley

I know that the proper pose for the educated man is to say "I don't watch TV" or "I only watch PBS." So I run afoul of that guideline by professing my ongoing, if tempestuous, affair with the tube. (In truth, a plasma screen doesn't have a tube, but I'm sure the nickname will keep its currency for a few decades. ) I remember the excitement when a new television station signed on in my hometown. (September 2, 1967 - you can find anything on the internet, you know?) It was KUHI, Channel 16, using the daring new UHF broadcast band, and giving us the grand total of three channels to choose from rather than the two channels we were used to. Oh, the glorious array of choices to be made!

All this by way of saying that the quote from Steve Hawk above is a reference to the theme of a TV series that I have watched for the last 10 weeks or so, a show I have watched with a slack jaw, called John from Cincinnati. (I wrote about this show back when it started. The word this week is that there will not be a second season.) Although I don't know anyone personally who can say definitively where this show was going, it seemed to be about redemption, about cleaning your slate, about having the power within yourself to start over again today. And along with its elevated theme, it delivered a quality of language, a beauty of dialog, that rivals anything being done on the "legitimate" stage these days. Much like Deadwood, another favorite series, both of which were the brain-children of David Milch.

If I were more outwardly the pompous, didactic, bloviating ass that I am inwardly, I would smack down those people who say "Oh, I only watch PBS" when the subject of TV comes up, and point out that most of the great theatrical art of the past that we revere was produced for a mass audience, not for the elite few. Shakespeare is a good example. He was commissioned by the Queen but wrote for the commoner - like today, it's the regular folks who make up the bulk of the audience (at least when the performance doesn't cost $100 a seat.) And I might make the case that our favorite TV today echoes the themes we've been soaking up since before Chaucer - probably the same themes cavemen scratched on their walls - star crossed young lovers, the seduction of power, jealousy and envy and the search for the true identity, heroes seeking their great challenge that reveals their destiny - as someone who wrote for the masses once said, "there is nothing new under the sun." TV is just the current medium for delivering the message.

When I am caught up in the language and the story telling that is so captivating in the best television today, I feel a little sorry for those people who only watch PBS. There's not much chance of a cleansing catharsis watching "Wildebeests of Katmandu." (Then again, Ken Burns' new mega-documentary on WW2 is coming in a few weeks, so I will be there for that.) In the end, I think there is redemption enough to go around, even enough for those who turn up their noses at television, that product made for the commoners.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Why people love sports

The other night the Texas Rangers squeaked past the Baltimore Orioles by a final score of 30-3. (Those are baseball teams, for those who don't love sports, and that's a baseball score not a football score, for those who do love sports and know that 30-3 doesn't happen every day on the diamond.)

When this game was reported by the sportswriters and broadcasters, it was described as a "beatdown." Back in the day, I might have preferred "creamed" or "smeared." In any descriptive terms, it was a very definitive outcome. There was a winner and a loser - a result you always get with baseball, even if it takes all night long. A clear and final outcome, a plainly obvious winner and loser - that's what we love about sports.

And we love that clearly defined outcome because it's so hard to come by in our regular lives.There is always some level of doubt, someone else doing better than you, some question of whether he/she really loves me or just says they do, a performance report that "leaves room for improvement." There's always a difference of opinion, another way to look at it, a lot of gray area, walking in another's moccassins, try to see it my way. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Testimony of the witnesses is contradictory. The surge is making a difference or it's done no good at all, we should pull out now or we should stay and finish the job. This is why we feel so bad about Vietnam and so good about WW2 - clearly defined outcome, winners and losers.

If you carry this thought out to the recent controversy over baseball's home run record, it's the lack of the clearly defined outcome that makes it all so unsatisfactory. Did he dope his way to success? If he did, does the record really count? Who's the real home run king? In football there used to be a lot of tie games, but people don't like ties (one of the knocks on soccer for a lot of Americans) so they changed the rules and now a tie is almost impossible. Got to have that clearly defined outcome. Same goes for instant replay. It wasn't enough just to see that the refs blew the call, now we get the satisfaction to see them eat crow and admit they were wrong.

And in the end, it's the basis for being afraid of death - the possibility there won't be a clearly defined outcome. What if you don't get a moment of judgement, no final score, and you just fade away? And if there is a golden throne and a big book with your permanent record, wouldn't you choose hell over limbo? Nobody wants the game to end in a tie.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just curious - is a pre-stabbing apology proper ettiquette?

MESA, Ariz. — An Arizona woman has been charged with suspicion of first-degree murder after allegedly stabbing her estranged husband in the chest during sex, reports. ... husband, Juan Carlos Gonzales, 26, fled to neighbor Tony Ballard's home.... "I've never had a naked man run to my house bleeding, you know what I mean?" Ballard told "She was on top and she...pulled a knife out of a bag and drove it into his chest," Ballard said of the incident. "She apologized first," the neighbor told "She said 'Juan, I'm sorry about this.'"
So I'm curious - I guess "love means never having to say you're sorry" is out of date now?

August 22, 2007 (GamePro) -- Japanese game maker Atlus said on Tuesday that it would remove 150 Arm Spirit arm-wrestling machines from Japanese arcades after three players broke their arms while wrestling with the machine's mechanized appendage. "The machine isn't that strong, much less so than a muscular man," said an Atlus spokeswoman. "Even women should be able to beat it," the company claimed, saying that it would check the machines for malfunctions as "a precaution." Arm Spirit...lets gamers advance through 10 levels battling, among other opponents, a French maid, a drunken martial arts master and a Chihuahua before reaching the final showdown with a professional wrestler.
So I'm curious - is it a little embarassing when people ask what happened to you, to say you broke your arm playing a video game? A little carpal tunnel, maybe, but really...

(Napa Valley Register) On June 28, police responded to a report of a prowler a north Napa residential area. The victim told police she saw a man outside her bedroom window, Lewis said. “She said the man ran off.” Police searched the area and found a pickup...searched his pickup and found the video camera and a notebook containing addresses. “Going through the videotape we found pictures of young females who were in different stages of undressing. The video was taken outside the residences.” Jeffrey Brice Ogle, 34, was booked on four charges of sexual exploitation of a child involving at least nine young Napa girls.
So just curious - the peepers name is Ogle? Is someone making this stuff up?

Monday, August 20, 2007

It's pivoting day

Here is a simple phrase. I defy you to say that you can read this phrase and not have a visceral reaction.

The first day of school.

That's what it is around here today, the first day of school. I propose that the first day of school is one of the two most significant days of the year - the other being the last day of school. You can make a case for Christmas, or New Years Day, or April 15th, or whatever important day you choose, but these are all short-term impacts. The first day of school marks a true jumping off point. The significance cascades over all of us.

First, there are the kids, loosely grouped into the overjoyed and the morose. The overjoyed love school, either for the learning or the social connection, and they're more than ready to get back into the classroom with their fresh crayons, or to show off their carefully-chosen outfit. The morose include the slow learners, the picked-on, the unpopular. They gird themselves for another nine months of humiliation. Both the overjoyed and the morose are part of the larger group, the over-stimulated, on the first day of school.

Then there are the teachers. They can also be divided into the overjoyed and the morose, with a number of sub-categories such as the tentative, the cynical, the passionate, and so on. They, too, are over-stimulated.

But it's not just students and teachers and families of students and teachers whose lives are changed on the first day of school. The world pivots around the first day of school. Vacation season is over. Morning rush hour traffic gets a makeover. The working-outside-the-home moms and dad pick up that other layer of time pressure that they gladly shed on the last day of school - as if life wasn't challenging enough, now you have lunches to pack, calls from the principal's office in the middle of a big meeting, forgotten gym clothes, and another thousand natural shocks.

There used to be a sense of melancholy around the first day of school, when young nature boys and girls came in from the meadows, put away their fishing poles and baseball mitts and were compelled to wear shoes again. Kids today don't go in much for that Becky Thatcher-Tom Sawyer kind of thing. The start of school means restrictions on your MySpace and PlayStation time, but there's a trade off in getting the coolest new shoes or backpack.

So in these parts we'll pivot today and march off in a familiar direction. There will be a lot of tears shed for a lot of different reasons.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A cynic goes soft

You reach a certain age and you are entitled to be a little world weary. You've seen it, you've been there, you've felt that feeling - whether the world seems wicked or enchanted, nothing really takes you by surprise. And then, if you're lucky, something comes out of the blue and peels back your well-developed shell and you fill your lungs with fresh air. For some people that something is a new lover or a change of career or a trip to the south of France. For me, that something out of the blue is a grandson.

(Yes, I know, I look far too young to have a grandchild, and yes, I must have gotten married when I was 13, and I appreciate the sentiment but try to make the line delivery a little more sincere, ok?)

I was wholly unprepared for the emotional kick that this little kid would have on me. The best description is that of flipping a switch - that kid turned on a circuit inside me that I didn't even know was wired. It's an entirely different switch than the one that was flipped when our kids were born, so different it's hard to nail down. Is it a "survival-of-the-fittest" based sense of pride? A beating-on-the-chest, "see how our line prospers" emotion? Is it a reflected fond memory of those early baby-raising days with our own kids, amplified by an older, more sentimental nature? Or does having a grandchild rekindle a (dare I say it) feeling of hope for the future? (There it goes, half a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of pure cynicism, out the window.)

All I know for sure is this: never again will I make fun of those people with the bumpersticker that says "Ask me about my grandchildren!" I get where they're coming from now.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Heroes just aren't what they used to be

There hasn't been a lot of coverage so you may not have heard, but Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record the other day. He's kind of a big deal.

The achievement is overshadowed by the seemingly obvious fact that he cheated by taking performance enhancing drugs. I know, he hasn't owned up to it, and I even heard one person say he took the stuff but didn't know what he was taking. (You'd think he would have gotten curious when he swelled up like He Man and all of a sudden his hat and his shoes didn't fit anymore, but hey, maybe he's just not that observant - or when they studied cause-and-effect in school he was out sick.)

Bonds is not the first to get juiced in one way or another. Mark McGuire, of course, is as tainted as a doubleheader is long, and Canseco admitted it along with a number of others. You wonder if some of these guys could have even lasted in the bigs without the dope. But a little perspective is in order. If we cast our minds back to the early 1970s, we may recall a little book that created a big scandal. It was ,Jim Bouton's Ball Four which was a formative bit of literature for me. I had never thought about ballplayers struggling to make it, treating each other like crap, chasing tail, and - least of all - taking pills to enhance their performance. "Greenies" he called them in the book, and we're talking about speed here, amphetamines. That scandal was glossed over by the MLB back then. And I think there was some looking the other way in the 1980s, too, when it seemed so apparent that players were doing coke. I remember watching Pete Rose and Steve Carlton in one of the playoff series, (Phillies, early 1980s, back when Mike Schmidt used to lead the league in homers with about 40) and in the close up shots you could see them snorting back that nasal drip the way only coke users do a few minutes after they've done a line. Or maybe it was just allergies.

So I'm a little cynical about baseball these days. I think the greatest performers out there now, the guys I really admire, are those little guys who you know must be clean because - well, because they're so little. Your modern day Manny Motas and Campy Campaneris-types, punching singles around. I'll make those little guys my heroes.

But in light of the suspicion that so many of the "great achievements" of the day have been made possible by pharmaceuticals, , you've got to admire one player above all the rest - Mickey Mantle. Here's a guy who put up amazing numbers, hit some of the most monstrous taters ever measured, and not only did not take drugs to enhance his performance, he was drunk or hungover most of the time! If you've ever tried to hit a good fastball sober, you can imagine what a feat it was to get it done with the beer goggles on.

So Bonds goes in the record books, but when I'm picking my team I'll take Mickey, and Hammerin' Hank, and Barry's godfather Say Hey Willie Mays. I don't like cheaters.

Monday, August 6, 2007

"A community of diners and bowling alleys"

We came to Napa in 1986. It was three years before the Berlin Wall came down and the Mare Island Shipyard was still a major employer, keeping our subs in shape to patrol for the Ruskies. Nobody had heard of base closures, and nobody could imagine that Napa Pipe would be closed down in less than a generation. There was still a tannery in business on Coombs Street back then. Napa had no Target stores and no In and Out Burger, let alone any high end restaurants. Brewster's Army-Navy Store was one of the downtown's star attractions, in fact, and people were just starting to get serious about restoring the Opera House.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and you'd hardly recognize some parts of the downtown, and particularly the Oxbow district. The town the New York Times calls a "community of diners and bowling alleys" has passed the tipping point and the times they are a changin'. There are now 17 Zagat-rated restaurants in the downtown area alone, and 13 wine bars or tasting rooms. The City of Napa used to be a deserted island in the middle of the wine country - now it's on it's way to being the best home base for the millions who come here, and evetually may become destination in its own right.

Recent newspaper stories tell the tale. This July 30th piece from USA Today was followed by this August 3rd story in the New York Times. Both may have been stimulated by this May 27th article in the San Francisco Chronicle. The big deal here is that for the first time, major news stories talking about Napa Valley are focused on Napa City. In a couple of years there will be 1,000 hotel rooms in the downtown area, compared to 10 years ago when there were maybe 30. We've always had a healthy B&B sector, but now the hospitality engine is revving up big time.

Challenges remain. There's not enough shopping. There are still too many empty storefronts. The Flood Project is still years away from completion. And most importantly, there is a swath of of resentment that runs through a faction of the local population - they see their "community of diners and bowling alleys" becoming swanky, and they don't like it. They have no use for the French Laundry and $100 Cabernets, and no use for people who swoon over those niceties. They see the suggestion that the Ritz Carlton will build downtown as the final straw - the town has gone to the snobs. Napa is a town with blue collar roots, budding out with white collar aspirations.

I feel a little sorry for the locals who can't see the writing on the wall. What's past is past, and as the songs says, "You'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone..."

Friday, August 3, 2007

Dolphins are mammals and don't spawn - who knew?

There's some kind of dolphin convergence going on in Napa this week. In my Google News Alert, I saw these two headlines:

Dolphin spotted in Napa, CA river
Former Dolphin spotted in Napa

Story one is about appearance of one or more harbor porpoises in the river in the center of town, a good 3 or 4 miles inland from the Bay. I don't recall ever hearing about any porpoises in the Napa River before, although we do get the occasional sea lion, lots of yachts, and a dead body now and then.

Story two is from the sports page, and something to do with somebody named Russell who plays football. The Oakland Raiders have their summer training camp in Napa, so that means for a couple of weeks each year we get a lot of sports media, silver and black looky-loos, and a dead body now and then.

Having a porpoise in the river has gotten a lot of people excited. The Napa Valley Register even embedded some video on their site, which I believe is a first for them. The line between print and broadcast media fades a little more.

Here's your homework assignment: follow this link to the Register story on the porpoise, read the comments below the story (and start from the bottom so you get the right sequence) and see if you can figure out which two comments are the ones I wrote. Ready? Begin.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people asking questions

If you read the Parade magazine in the Sunday paper, or watch Letterman, you might be familiar with Marilyn Vos Savant. She's that super brainy woman who reportedly has the highest IQ measured. Naturally, what you want to do if you have a really high IQ is answer questions in a newspaper column. So she does. Along the way, she gets some real doozies, questions that only make sense to the not-so-super-brainy individuals who posed them. Here are some samples:

Didn’t Louis XIII have any furniture? Everybody’s heard about his son’s furniture, but what about him?
from a reader in Philadelphia, Pa.

Suppose we could get all living beings on Earth to face one direction and then begin running. Would this influence the speed of the Earth’s rotation?
—Waterloo, N.Y.

I notice you have the same first name as Marilyn Monroe. Are you two related?
—Portland, Ore.

Do you think daylight-saving time could be contributing to global warming? The longer we have sunlight, the more it heats the atmosphere.
—San Antonio, Tex.

After I began experiencing menopausal hot flashes, I wondered: Could we harness all this free heat generated by millions of women for a practical use?
—Stuart, Fla.

Why do birds sometimes pick a single vehicle to make a mess on? Do they have a warped sense of humor, or are they not capable of this kind of thought?
—Williamsburg, Va.

Instead of moving our clocks one hour forward every spring, then one hour backward every fall, why couldn’t we just move them one-half hour forward this spring and be done with it?
—Roanoke, Va.

I just observed a flock of geese flying in a “V” formation. Is that the only letter they know?
—Holbrook, N.Y.

If you go to the website where these are posted you can read the comments left by other folks. Some of them don't seem to get why these questions seem so funny. That's kind of scary. And other people want to argue about daylight saving time. Life it too short to argue abouy daylight saving time, ok people?

There was one comment that added another amazingly dumb question:

I live in the Quad Cities...We have a lot of bald eagles here because of the Mississippi River and there's an annual event called "Bald Eagle Days". One visitor asked, "How do the bald eagles know which weekend to come here?"
If you talk to people in the tourism business here in Napa, you can round up some pretty lame questions. My all time favorite from a tasting room is "Do you have any grape flavored wine?"

So remember, there are no stupid questions, but you might want to think it through before you open your mouth anyway.