Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Can't we all just get along?

I've heard that irony has gone out of style, but when I read that a weekly paper called AsianWeek had run an opinion piece titled "Why I Hate Blacks," I assumed it had to be some kind of - well, black humor. The weekly has pulled the story off their website but you can read parts of the attention-getting column here, and reportedly the paper is still on the streets. (I can't find the source today but somewhere I read this weekly was subsidized by the City of San Francisco as an "outreach" tool. That's embarrassing.) The latest is that this 22-year old deep thinker who wrote the piece has now been fired. I guess his earlier masterpieces (see titles here) did not give any indication of racist tendencies in his writing. The AP says:

Kenneth Eng, who has described himself as an "Asian Supremacist," has written several columns for AsianWeek since November, including pieces titled "Proof That Whites Inherently Hate Us" and "Why I Hate Asians."
Unfailingly, these "blatant racist revealed" stories bring on wailing and gnashing of teeth, apologies, promises of reform, and no doubt someone will convene some kind of "dialogue" in the community. All of which will result in - no difference. It's one thing to hold a community meeting to talk about improving a park, or widening a street, or housing density. These are tangible, physical things that can be changed. I don't think attitudes about race get changed by talking. I don't know if there is racism gene, that some people are born with the tendency, but I do know racism is a learned behavior, and it is well taught in many ways and places. The only cure for a person who is biased against a selected culture (because it is really more other cultures that we fear than other skin colors) is to live within that culture, walk a mile in those shoes. Since one who is racist (fearful) is unlikely seek immersion in that thing they hate, the chance of meaningful change is slim.

The saddest part is that this Kenneth Eng guy (whose column was titled "God of the Universe," by the way, and is some kind of science fiction writer - suggested book title, Ken: "Hatey McHateful and the KKK Conquer Mars!") will be some kind of hero to a lot of other twisted souls. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Never leaving the house again

A confluence of events leads to the conclusion that not only is it not safe, but it is not even necessary, for anyone to ever leave the safe confines of their home.

Event 1: crime spree in Napa. In the last 3 months, there have been two armed robberies, a shooting on Main Street, and a fatal stabbing on the street just two night ago. Granted, the shooting resulted from some boozy disagreement after some kind of rap or hip hop show - and the stabbing victim appears to be a transient. And granted, this is just a typical afternoon's police log in many towns, but seems like mayhem in little ol' Napa. Is it a trend, or just a series of random events? Are there holes in the thin blue line? All this will be revealed over time, but the panic mongers locally are having a free-for-all in the Register's website. Like I always say, panic first, think it through later.

Events 2 through 117: the growth of the web over the last 10 years has put more information at our fingertips that previous generations could have found in library stacks in a lifetime of searching, and the birth of Amazon along with it have made going to the bookstore equally unnecessary; the advent of Netflix removed the unpleasant necessity of going to the video store from our lives; groceries can be delivered, and the wine club will ship your way, too. Now I see in Wired and also in Ben Fong Torres' column in the pink section that there are web based barter services springing up. LaLa.com is one for swapping CDs with people, there's another one for trading paperback books. Oh, and you can work, too, either telecommuting or just selling crap on ebay all day long. Considering that there is no real compelling reason to go outdoors, and considering that the sky is metaphorically falling anyway what with global warming and whatnot, I think the plan of action is just buy a couple more bathrobes and just hang tight. Maybe log onto e-trade and buy some stock in air conditioning companies, and just hunker down till the felons wear themselves out and the streets are safe again.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Revealers of the obvious, we thank you for your insights

Stunningly obvious statement #1: the Academy Awards goes on too long.
Stunningly obvious statement #2: the Academy Awards is sometimes boring

Providing these insights that could have been written a week or a month or a year in advance is none other than Professional Critic Tom Shales of the Washington Post. And these and similar profundities, I'm sure, are being mouthed by hundreds of others this morning. (Tom comes across a little world weary in his review of the Oscars. Who peed in your Post Toasties, my friend?) This calls for my current favorite, and seemingly very popular summary statement, which is applicable to just about every situation and makes you seem wise: "It is what it is."

It is also obvious to point out that winners usually have done their best work in some earlier movie, and get the award as some kind of a make up. The constant lag between the achievement and the recognition creates a backlog, so there a line a mile long of people who deserve it but won't get it until a few years from now when they do something really ordinary. Case in point this year, Martin Scorsese. The Departed is a good movie, lots of tension and a twisty story, but Goodfellas, The Last Temptation of Christ, and, of course Raging Bull, were all superior. Forest Whitaker, too. I've heard he is real good in the new movie, but he was due. In a larger context, it would nice to think this is a representation of life (and/or afterlife?) Maybe you don't get what's coming to you now, but eventually you get your reward.

The real takeaway from the Oscars this year is not that the list of nominees and winners shows "diversity," as some have defined it, but that it shows the real world effects of globalization and the democratizing effect of technology. There was a recent newspaper story on a film school converting to teaching only digitally, no more actual film cameras and film processing. Purists cry foul, of course, but someone was quoted in that story that they could but everything they need to make a feature film for $10,000. Leads me to believe that what we are seeing in the YouTube frenzy is just the tipppy-tip of the iceberg. The next Scorsese may be living in a mud hut somewhere.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday is a good day for randomness

Without doubt the harshest comments yet on the KFTY-TV "citizen journalism" experiment can be found here. (Warning: disturbing photo included in the post. At least it gave me the willies.) These people at KFTY have taken a sound beating since they announced their ploy. But it has lots of people paying attention to the outcome. If they somehow make it work, which is not likely, there will be a lot of unprofitable TV stations giving it a go. I suppose it's a little better than infomercials. Maybe.

There's something a little disturbing about being served a cocktail by someone you once coached in Little League. That happened last evening, as I was enjoying a libation with members of the local cult I belong to. Turns out the barkeep there at n.v. (which has an excellent happy hour) looked familiar for a reason. And he does a fine job with the beverages. But still, I wanted to say "Weren't you 10 years old just the other day?"

A little later, we ankled on over to Bounty Hunter. I know certain people will snap at me for suggesting there is anything to do in Napa after dark, and I agree I have low expectations, but I can't remember a time I've been in that place when it was not jammed. And it is February, for crying loud, not even the season. It just needs to be understood that for a lot of people around here, nightlife means just sitting there and eating and drinking. Personally, I do not need a band, a DJ, freak dancers, a cloud of smoke, a fistfight, and a pissed-all-over bathroom floor to make a worthwhile Friday night. Just bring grandpa the cheese plate and the pinot.

Friday, February 23, 2007

How did hardcore porn become so mainstream?

Look, I'm no prude, and I defend the right of consenting adults to blah blah blah and the government does not belong in the bedroom blah blah blah and above all freedom of the press blah blah blah, ok? But all the same, how is that I turn on KGO-AM this week, one of the most respected news-talk radio stations in history, and hear Ronn Owens interviewing Ron Jeremy, the hardcore pornstar, as if he is some kind of elder statesman? Like he's some kind of hero! A role model! Since when is it that someone who makes their living by having meaningless sex on camera a person to be admired? I know that porn has become more mainstream over time. And let me repeat - watch what you want, no harm no foul. But don't bring somebody like this out into the light of day and try to tell me they belong on the talk show circuit. Is this the lasting legacy of Howard Stern, to lower standards to the point where things that were sketchy for Tom Snyder at midnight 20 years ago, are now acceptable at 9am on a weekday?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

There's someone out there for you, no matter how weird you are

When I write the phrase "personal ads" you may be put in mind of smutty solicatations found in the back pages of the so-called alternative weeklies. But read this one.

Melbourne Australia. You: Lady (sic) educated,70+, cultured, intelligent, fond of Mozart et al, country walks, books, intelligent conversation, isolated and marooned by time, lonely and unloved. Me - ALL of the above, 86. Sound in mind and body. Why should WE go through these latter years without being loved and giving love. We might just be lucky. Box no. 04/05
Kind of touching, no? It's from the London Review of Books, of all places. The January issue of Smithsonian magazine had a page of these not-what-you'd-expect personal ads. I found these samples on the LRB web site.

It's taken me all year to summon the courage to place this ad. M 34. Affectionate coward. Box no. 03/02

While these ads may reveal the undeniable erudition of their authors, do they actually get anyone laid? Sciolistic female, fifties, ponders. Box no. 03/03

You, F. 40s, cannot accept a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which does not exist. Me, M. 40s, will be fond of your intolerance. kerman.chiraz@yahoo.fr

Man, 42. WLTM woman to 50 to help harness the disappointment I routinely create in all my relationships. Own tap shoes an advantage. Box no. 03/05

And on they go. It's a smorgasbord.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On the Bonehead Express to Scamville

Recent news stories have noted that Napa County is statistically the scam capital of the US and A. The Napa Valley Register reported on it, as did the CoCo Times, CNN Money, and countless others. Not only did we have the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft ("We're number 1! We're number 1!") but Napa was third in per capita fraud cases. The stats are from reports to the FTC. (There's a fresh fraud story in today's Register.)

Consideration #1: anytime you see a statistic, peek under the hood. With this one, keep in mind it is a tally of reports to the FTC. There may be places where more fraud occurs but people don't report it.

Consideration #2: despite skepticism of statistics, I think it may in fact be possible that Napa is home to a disproportionate number of wide-eyed, slack-jawed, just-fell-off-the-turnip-truck rubes who have safe deposit boxes stuffed with deeds to swamp land in Florida and WebVan stock certificates. (By the way, did you know the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary? Try to look it up.)

I do not come to this theory in haste. It's based on 20 years of living here and watching some smooth operators scam up lot of cash in no time, using really basic pyramid scheme techniques. And here we are only talking about cases that are confirmed, because the bastards got caught.

It happened at least twice in the late 1980s and early 1990s. First came the Lendvest Mortgage scam that blew up when the "drug tug" was busted in the Bay. Lots of locals lost lots of shekels. The story at the time was that the "investment" was paying off so well, upstanding local citizens were promoting it to each other like crazy, talking it up in civic clubs and churches. Ouch. Businesses failed, reputations were ruined, people went to jail. (If you Google "Lendvest" you will find a passel of entertaining reading, including some items from the tinfoil-hat people. Careful, pilgrim.)

In no time, another scam was running in town. The Savage Program was the brainchild of Mike Savage, at that time the notorious local talk show host on KVON. (Note: this is not the same guy who is now nationally syndicated on radio, nor is it the guy who manages the Lincoln Theater.) Many of the "investors" who lost their shirts in the Savage Program were not locals, but the intricate web of lies spun by the perp took in lots of Napans. They (and, to be honest, I include myself in this group) were gullible enough to believe his ever-changing stories that explained his sudden wealth. He stole $6 million, spent it all, and went to the graybar hotel for a nice long rest.

Maybe there was some kind of virus going around back then that made everybody stupid. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Napa was Scamtown USA back then, and we're still getting ripped off today, albeit in new, impersonal ways. Maybe our ability to be taken is just indicative of our fresh-faced innocence, our trusting nature, our uniquely Napa belief that people are basically good and honest. You make the call. I've got to run now, I just got an email and apparently there's a man in Nigeria who needs my help transfering some funds...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The redemption of Oliver Stone

I watched World Trade Center over the long weekend. If you can face reliving the emotions you felt on 9/11, this film, along with United 93, will do it. When I heard these films were being made I was unsure. There seemed to be a great potential for something really hackneyed an inappropriate to result. Knowing what cynicism exists among those who produce most of the films we see, it's encouraging to see that some sense of perspective remains.

After the dramatically over-dramatic stinker Alexander, (too bad to even be linked) I was not sure Oliver Stone would ever again make a movie worth watching, but he is redeemed with this effort. Nicholas Cage has improved his karma as well (although he can't seem to shake the tendency to make really bad choices sometimes, e.g. Ghost Rider.) I believe in the power of drama to improve the human condition, to give us insight into ourselves, to provide that transcendent moment of catharsis, and World Trade Center will give you that gift. It doesn't explain the strategy we've pursued in Iraq, but it provides a clear reminder of that feeling at the time that we've got to saddle up and ride out for vengeance.

And while we're on the subject, let it be known that the best show on television, bar none, is Rome. There is something pure and beautiful about the approach to this series, limiting it to two seasons, and ensuring it can never jump the shark. I think HBO learned it was possible to have too much of a good thing with The Sopranos. The drop off in quality has been well noted. This can never happen to Rome, and I will thank the many pagan gods for that. Sorry, a little carried away. I pity the fool without the HBO, but for those who eschew the tube (and you know who you are because you read a lot and actually have the word eschew in your vocabulary) you can get the first season on DVD. It may send you rushing to dust off your copy of Gibbon.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cake or death?

It's no wonder we're all cynical about government. We get regular large-scale reminders of the underhandness and deception of some adminstrations - Watergate and Iran-Contra stand out in my mind, and I've heard some people are distrustful of the current White House occupant - and a constant drip of little outrages that wear away what little trust might remain. Case in point, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority cake contract story reported by Matier and Ross in the SF Chronicle.

A typical reader shakes their head and (a) is outraged that cakes are being bought with taxpayer money and (b) can't imagine how much time and money went into writing the baroque 33-page contract the agency offered for providing $2,000 worth of cakes.

As far as (a), it's a little surprising they felt the need to budget and contract for cake, and that it was an acceptable expense. In the public agency places I've worked, all the office parties are paid for by the employees. That manilla envelope with the birthday card to sign is always going around, and everybody adds a couple of dollars. I don't know how they do things in Santa Clara Valley, but local government folks in these parts would never imagine the public sector throwing a Christmas party like some private sector people do. In that sense, we really do not want government to run like a business.

But the (b) is a little more interesting. If the 33 page contract was not an effort to avoid some regulation on purchasing (it was so detailed no one bid on it, which may have freed them to buy a fricking cake from whomever they choose) then it is a fine example of how government systems can be over-regulated into inefficiency. We all want a close eye on the public treasury, but if you can't spend $2,000 without a 33 page contract, you're not exactly running lean and mean. The demand for more and more oversight, more systems, more forms, more layers of government checking on each other, runs up the cost of governing ourselves. Say hello to the law of unintended consequences.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Farmers, mostly, and baseball players


I've spent a lot of time lately pawing through all the old family photos, and a box at a time, running the best through the scanner. The picture at the left from 1920 shows the five sons of Brice Martin. That's my grandfather in the hat. I'm digitizing history for future generations, I tell myself, but sometime I wonder if I'm really doing it for myself. Every time I hit "save" I wonder if that's what I'm really trying to do - save all those faces and those memories so they can't fade, get torn, or just crumble.

Most of the people in these photos are strangers to me. I know their names and see family features in their faces, but that's it. I don't know much about their lives, what they dreamed of, whether they thought they were having a good life or going through hell. On my father's side, I don't even know where they came from. You can follow their tracks from southwest Missouri back through the Cumberland Gap to the Carolinas, but everything before that is still a mystery to me. Maybe somebody has done the research and has the full family tree, but damned if I can make the connections.

So why do I care? It's supposed to be an American trait to have no concern about your pedigree. And for the most part, I agree with that. I am what I am, as my boyhood hero Popeye would have philosophized it, and there are no inheritances worth arguing about in our family. We're all self-made. When you look through the census records, you find lots and lots of farmers, with the occasional grocer and cobbler thrown in for urban panache. There were a few who managed to earn a living playing baseball, even listing that as an occupation in the census. They had boatloads of kids, fought in all the wars, and tried to get ahead in small ways. Nobody did anything very amazing, or very disturbing. My mother joked that you didn't want to poke around too much in the family history, you might not like what you learn. Might be some horse thieves in there. I've never found any scoundrels, but that seems more likely than finding a royal lineage, or a Rockerfeller connection. (Of course, I've read that you only have to go back seven generations and we are all related; and if you dig deep enough we're all descended from kings - and scullery maids, too.)

So I look at the old photos and I wonder, and I root through the old hand-written forms that are (mercifully) available online these days, and I try to get a handle on what these people were all about. What motivated them to keep pushing west? What kind of life were they struggling for? And what were they fighting for when they went to war? When my grandfather held me in his arms, what kind of world did he imagine I would live in? And what does that give me to think about when I hold my grandson in my arms?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Vox Populi

As a kid back in Joplin MO in the 1970s, I listened to a radio call in show on Sundays. I can't remember what it was called, or even what station it was on (maybe KQYX?) but it ran for a couple of hours to fulfill the "public affairs" committment that used to be required to keep your FCC license. (Most stations now don't pay much attention to concepts of responsbility or commitment to the community anymore. Gone the way of the now unthinkably unfair Fairness Doctrine. But if you tune around early on a Sunday morning you will still hear some of these public affairs shows. Most of them are fully unlistenable.) This long-ago call in show consisted entirely of an endless tirade by conspiracy nuts, probably before they even were recognized as such. Week after week, these same two or three people would call in a rag on about the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, Council on Foreign Relations, and the coded Communist messages in Bullwinkle cartoons. (Ok, I made up that last one.) The radio station's end of the deal was to plop down some DJ who answered the calls and let these people rave, there was little or no interaction. It was not a radio talk show in the sense of that we have today.

Being a fairly small town, and back in that day when there were only a handful of signals on the radio dial and only 3 TV stations (God, the deprivation!) which on Sunday morning featured nothing but oily-haired preachers, this rant-and-rave call in radio show seemed to have an audience. You could tell because people would say "Did you hear that crazy woman ranting and raving on that radio show today? My Lord, those people are nutty!" It was insanity, but it was entertaining.

So along comes the real deal a few years later, the radio talk show as we know it today. While there were always the great heritage stations (KGO, WGN, WCCO, etc) that stayed vital as FM and cable TV and other media came along, AM radio was dying. But it made a big comeback in the 1990s, largely due to the success of Rush Limbaugh. Love him or hate him, he got people listening again. You could tell people were listening, because they would say "I hate that Rush Limbaugh! Every day when I turn him on, he just makes me so mad!" (That is a verbatim quote from my mom, circa 1995.)

But there is a big difference in big time talk radio today and the charms of that rant-and-rave show I used to listen to back in the 70s. The difference is that the callers are managed by screeners, compelled to stay on a specific topic, cut loose if they stray. If someone were to start in on the Trilateral Commission, they'd be cut off like John Bobbitt.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that the good old days are back in a new form. You can now luxuriate in the radiance of unbridled nuttiness again by reading online comments. If you like them sophomoric and mostly unintelligible, read the comments on videos on YouTube. For those of us who like to know what's going on in the minds of people who live in Napa, the online version of the Napa Valley Register has become an endless source of entertainment. The current tempest over the AMGEN bicycle race passing through Napa Valley next week is a perfect case in point. Do a little reading of the comments on the news stories and editorial page items. You may find yourself saying "My Lord, those people are nutty!" The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

For me, the cheese does not stand alone

I am new to blogging so I am still feeling my way for another week or so, at which point I will declare myself an expert. You've got to move fast in the digital universe. Despite my newness, it's apparent to me that there are two ways consider this kind of blog a success:

1. I wrote something, I was productive, I put it out there, I expressed myself, and that's all that matters. The cheese stands alone.
2. Somebody's reading it.

Being innately a performer, I prefer an audience, so I'd have to say I need somebody reading this to close the loop for me. Just writing is not enough. If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it-well, who cares?
So all of that is preface to saying that I have my first link from someone else's blog. He was writing about the KFTY-TV "citizen journalism" concept that I pooh-poohed a couple weeks ago:
Not surprisingly, many people think this is a dumb idea squared, including the TV critic from the Miami Herald (not surprising perhaps), as well as this guy and this guy. I think citizen journalism is an interesting idea — but this is not citizen journalism, it’s just financial desperation. Not a great motivator.
Proudly, I am "this guy" number one there. I'm linked, therefore I am. I will return the favor by saying you can read the entire insightful piece by following the link to this guy. It's not surprising that a TV station would come up with the idea to co-opt a concept that was born on the web, that of users providing the content. And we should give these people some credit for doing something different at least. It follows the logic that has given us so much reality TV - cheap to produce, appealing to the average viewer, and advertisers go for it. The problem remains: if I am trying to get my video seen by a lot of people, what advantage is there in providing content to a TV station over providing it to YouTube? Who offers more potential viewers? The same logic applies to radio. Why would I want to produce a radio show now when I can just podcast? Traditional broadcasting and traditional newspapering will survive for a long time. There are some redeeming benefits to those media that the web doesn't provide. But surviving ain't thriving. Traditional TV viewership and newspaper readership are crashing. That doesn't mean people don't want to be entertained, or to know what's happening, they just want it on their own terms. Although it is not a newspaper in the traditional sense, the report that the world's oldest newspaper is no longer offering a printed version is kind of shocking. You don't have to be Nostradamus to predict more of the same to come...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Taking arms against a sea of troubles?

A shocking new development in the efforts to contain the localized insurgent activity: a surrender!

The initial attack ("Insurgent activity in the front yard" Feb 3) was so brazen as to require my counterattack employing the tactical application of chemical weapons ("Everything is under controk" Feb 4.) This action appeared to drive the evildoer underground. Well, it was already underground, but you know what I mean. There was no sign of trouble for several days. Then, it's back. Fresh tracks. Game on. While I was preparing plans for a new assault on the entrenched position, a few days of heavy rain developed. At 0700 hours the morning after the storm, the Adjutant Commander of the domicile reported there was suspicious activity in the swimming pool. Upon investigation, it became apparent that one of the fanatics had succumbed. Delayed effects of the earlier gas attack? Suicide due to the stress of my relentless pursuit? Or perhaps too many margaritas and a nasty slip and fall next to the pool? Whatever the cause, our long nightmare has ended - at least for now. Remember, the price of a nice lawn is eternal vigilance.Crikey, looks at the razor-sharp claws on this monster! He'd rip out your windpipe in a heartbeat! Of course, you'd have to hold him up to your neck. And he is only about 5 inches long. But don't turn your back on him!

Monday, February 12, 2007

An early end to the winter of our discontent?

Two interesting developments:

1. You may recall the the groundhog did or did not see his shadow back on February second. I can never remember which behavior indicates what result. (And, just between you and me, I'm not clear on the nexus between the groundhog and the change of the seasons. Just how does that little furball dictate the weather?) But I do remember the prediction is for an early end to winter. You might as well believe.
2. Daylight Saving Time is starting three weeks earlier this year, on March 11. Despite the fact that lots of articles like this one in the Detroit Free Press are fomenting a "son of Y2K" worry, I say bring it on. There is nothing more rejuvenating that those first few days of DST. (You might make a note on your calendar for March 11. If every electronic device you own seems to be a mess all of a sudden, it might be Y2007DST.)

If an early end to winter is important to this soft Californian, imagine how attractive it is to the ice covered midwesterners. And if you've ever felt the wind blow through you in the canyons of Manhattan - well, 'nuff said. So in conclusion, friends, I will rapidly transition from the mundane to the sublime and quote the words of Shelley:
"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Global warming a calamity = maybe. Hard drive crash a calamity = most certainly



In yesterday' post I glibly dismissed concerns over global warming, so that's behind us. Today I have been startled back into a state of vulnerability by reading James Fallows article in the March Atlantic Monthly about backing up your hard drive. Let's face it, the ocean could be lapping at my chin and I would be less worried than if my hard drive starts squealing. Having agonized through two or three drive failures with data intact due to divine intervention (thanks, David. Ok, my tech guru friend is not divine but probably should be considered for canonization) I got wise and bought an external HD for backup. It seems to work great, and all my photos and videos and music and stuff is safely backed up on there once a week. I should rest easy. But I read this article, and he's talking about online backup services and how "data should exist in different physical locations." Egad! He's right! What if stray cruise missile took out my entire computer room, external hard drive and all, and just left a pile a smoking rubble? I've got a lot of great songs saved in here! (Granted some were stolen through Napster a few years ago, but I still need them!) And what about my collection of pictures of myself waving my hat? Imagine the loss to our cultural fabric. So I think I'd better check into some of these online backup services he mentions. What's another few hundred dollars here and there? I've got ones and zeroes that need my protection...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

We all love a good freakout now and then

It's hardly worth getting out of bed these days. What's the point? After all, in just 93 years, the climate may warm up by 3 to 7 degrees. The oceans may rise by up to 17 inches. Oh, sure, some people are harping on the fact that 6 years ago when the last "official word" on warming came out, they were predicting a 3 foot rise in the seas and now it's 17 inches. And yes, there are people, like Al Gore in his movie, who keep saying the seas will rise 20 feet, but today the experts at the UN agree the figure is 17 inches. Can you imagine the specific impacts of a 17 inch rise in sea levels? Well, neither can I exactly, but it seems like some things might get wet. So if imminent doom (or if not doom, at least discomfort, and probably a certain amount of mildew) is only 93 years away, I don't see why I should spend half my Saturday working on my taxes. And then there's the fact that someday (in a million years? Or was it a billion? Trillion?) the sun will go supernova anyway and we'll all be little black crumbs like what falls out the bottom of the toaster when you start shaking your Eggo out. I mean, really. Why bother.

So now you know. I am a doubter. I won't go so far as to say I'm a denier, but for sure a doubter. There have been just too many "end of the world" scares for me to jump on the global warming freakout bandwagon. Consider, in just the last 10 years we've had bird flu and ebola feakouts - before that AIDS was going to kill us all for sure - and I guess we've already forgotten how horrible the Y2K disaster was going to be. And in terms of scenarios that would wipe us all out purely as a result of human behavior, it's only been a generation since Paul Erlich's "Population Bomb" panic. And a couple hundred years ago there was Malthus. I'm sure he would be surprised to learn we're all still here, and not only are we not starving but we're fatter than hell. The lesson: you can make a pretty good living predicting the end of the world. Keep making the same prediction and eventually you'll be right, too.

But even while I'm doubting, I'd feel good if the air was cleaner, and when they make the alternative fuel car that lights my fire I'll buy it. I even have some compact flourescents burning (dimly) around here, and am seriously considering some solar panels. How about we do all the right things we ought to do, see if we can talk the Chinese into turning off a few of the smokestacks over there, and in the meantime, keep the freakout on the down low. I mean, these taxes aren't going to do themselves.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Let's just not talk about it

Some things are just plain sad. I don't see much value in flogging the story of Anna Nicole Smith (which, of course, is what will continue happening for the next few days.) Another victim of the pop culture machinery. Sell yourself as an object, get treated like an object. And the drugs, of course, always the drugs. Easy to imagine she was devastated by the death of her son and went off the deep end. Enough said, it's only sadness and I don't think there's anything to learn from it. Ditto the nutty astronaut stalker. Love, or possessiveness, makes people do weird things. This is not breaking news. She got mental, and now there's grist for the tabloid mill for a week or so - but I imagine nutty-astronaut-stalker gets bumped pretty fast when you have overdosed-playboy bunny-golddigger-dying-young. So we all get a chance to take a trip to tawdry town for a short visit. Never mind, I don't think I'll go. There has to be something today that is more deserving of our attention.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Go-Go Downtown Napa


This may look like just a big hole in the ground, but it's really a sign of the times and a sign of the future in downtown Napa. The old Wells Fargo location is becoming "Napa Square" - offices and retail space. They're digging out for the underground parking. That's City Hall in the background. Across the street from here the Inn at Town Center hotel will get underway in the spring. Half a block east the Zeller Building project is framing up. Over by the Wine Train depot they're going full tilt on the Westin hotel project, and the Oxbow Market is moving along. The big "Riverfront" project south of Third along the river will start this spring. After a prolonged adolescence, Napa is growing up.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Bivangelists and how one thing leads to another

So I'm reading the Bill Bryson book I mentioned a few posts ago, and he tells the story of Billy James Hargis who was a kooky evangelist in the 1950s. It catches my eye that Hargis got kicked out of Ozark Bible College, which is in my hometown of Joplin these days but may have been in Bentonville, Arkansas back then. It goes on to say that Hargis spent his later years in "the flower box City" Neosho, Missouri, a quaint little town that, to me, was always populated by people who were tweaked a little. That's all just exposition. The curious part is that Hargis self-destructed by getting caught having sex with his congregation - both sides of the aisle, as it were, sopranos and basses from the choir, if you catch my drift. Even turns out he was exposed when two of his students confess on their wedding night that they are not virgins, and discover they both got it on with the Rev. Hargis. A busy man indeed. All this is ancient history, but sure seems familiar, don't it Cletus? Reminds me of a fella named Ted Haggard. So I'm wondering, what is it about the preaching that gets the hormones in such an uproar? Haggard is seen in Alexandra Pelosi's new documentary on HBO "Friends of God" talking about how much sex he has, and how all these devout folks are just randy as rabbits all the time. And apparently they get so lathered up they're ready to get down to business with you whether you're an innie or an outie. I have coined a new term for these guys (oversexed preachers seem to be guys, oversexed teachers seem to be gals) and the term is bivangelists.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Random Monday

According to the National Archives, the most requested document they have is the 1970 photo of President Richard Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley. One wonders why, doesn't one? Guess Nixon still has a lot of fans. The book with the wonderfully uninspired and direct title Elvis: What Happened? gives an eyewitness account of all the pills Elvis had swallowed leading up to the sudden decision to visit the White House. And this adds to the irony of Nixon making Elvis some kind of double-secret spy for the DEA during this meeting.

Thought for the start of the week, from a bumpersticker I saw in Napa.
"Wag more. Bark less."

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Everything is under controk

It is a beautiful day in Napa, all the colors are so vivid!
I did not hesitate to confront the insurgent gopher activity head on. Yesterday I did some research on anti-gopher tactics, ranging from trapping (and then what do you do with them, put on a radio collar and release them out in the wild?) to pumping propane into the burrows and lighting it (which sounded like fun but required too much equipment.) I settled for some gas bombs from Home Depot. Sulfur something and sodium something. (My computer screen is very blurrry lately, have you noticedd that?) So I excavated as instructed, lit the fuse, and - "fire in the hole!" - I think I got the little bugger. No sign of new mounds today. I did get a little snootful of the gas, however, during the procession. I thought at forst it were affecthing me in some ways negatatively, that being to have had inhaleded something os the gaasss buit now habing hadd a goob nithgththsdtdhs sleep I am for surely now for usure feeelign just fine.
That"s allI has having time forr now. I thnink I have my feet on tthe wrongg legs and need too pet hte cat-.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Insurgent activity in the front yard


Not the best way to start your morning, to discover this in your front yard. We had noticed some signs of insurgent activity in the side yard earlier, but this brazen act of provocation is obviously designed to draw us out into the open. Disarming these IEDs will require patience and skill, but it has to be done. Otherwise, the terrorists have won.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Spooning a bear and other enjoyments

My buddy Scott in Santa Barbara contributes this delightful tale of Sasha Baron Cohen, the painfully funny man behind Ali G, Bruno, and now most famously, Borat.

Got to check out Sasha at the Lobero Theatre yesterday after a screening of Borat. Two writers and a producer from the movie were there too. I'm convinced that some of the best parts of the movie were left on the cutting room floor. Sasha told about a scene where he's spooning with a bear, naked, in the back of the ice cream truck. The bear then began fondling him. They also told a great story about the first of 40 police incidents, which involved Borat leaving the hotel...with everything inside the hotel room. Borat thinks that by paying for the room, everything in it is his. He gets into a fight with a security guard and the police are called in. An actual member of the crew had to spend the night in jail because if Sasha was arrested (being a British citizen) he would have been deported. Other funny deleted scenes include Borat getting confused and taking the exit to Baja California, then is forced to walk through the desert back to the U.S. after the ice cream truck breaks down. With a towel on his head and carrying the muffler from the truck he approaches the Border Patrol with what appears to be a rocket launcher on his shoulder. Finally, there was a scene when Borat decides to become an actor to earn some money. He unknowingly signs on to be part of a porn film. The woman is clean shaven leading Borat to say, "Did you sell your pubis for pots and pans?" Anyway, they're still deciding what to put on the "complete" DVD that will be coming out. We can only hope that some of these outakes will be on it.

I suppose there are people who haven't seen the Borat movie, and some who wouldn't laugh if they did, but I have to agree with commentators who have said it's the funniest movie in 10 years, or 20 years, or 50 years - pick your time frame, it's the funniest. Thanks for the story, Scotty...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Newsom scandal North Bay connection

My buddy Scott tells me Ruby Rippey was the morning news anchor on KFTY-TV before she left to work in Newsom's office. He knows because he took over that job (KFTY, not Newsom's office) when she left. Too bad KFTY doesn't do news anymore, they would have a juicy angle. A guest on KNEW's Armstrong and Getty this morning suggested this affair could actually be a positive for Gavin - makes him look sexier, maybe. And for national political stature, makes him look a lot more heterosexual.

Bill Bryson: He so funny

It's not some kind of best-kept secret or an insider tip, but Bill Bryson is great. Just started reading his latest, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (thanks to Tammy for the Christmas gift) and it is one of those "wish I had a cold so I could stay home and read it all day" books. He has a way of coming across warm and sentimental about growing up in Des Moines, while painting it a little demented like a chapter from A Christmas Story at the same time. You'll annoy others by reading funny stuff out loud to them over and over. I've also gotten a lot of pleasure from Bryson's books about walking the Appalachian Trail and traveling in Europe as a young man - both of these tales involve his strange friend Katz. (I had to jump over to Amazon to see which of his I had read and ended up ordering a couple more. Can't believe there are some I haven't read.) I think Bill Bryson just keeps getting better.