Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gee, Ted, Thanks - I think...


The top story this morning is that you can stick a fork in Rudy "Did I mention 9-11?" Guiliani because he's done. Rudy will back McCain now, the latter having won handily in Florida. All that is the latest news, but it's a development from earlier in the week that still has me thinking. The question is this: is an endorsement from Ted Kennedy a good thing, or a bad thing?

The editorial page piece by Caroline Kennedy caught my eye on Sunday. She says Obama could be a "President like my father." Lots of people like to try to project a JFK quality, and some will invoke his name, but not too many get the real deal, the blessing of the family. Big positive for Obama, you'd think, to have the daughter of a legend say outright that BO is the real change agent, is inspiring, and whatnot. You can just feel Hillary frowning.

On the heels of this comes the endorsement by Ted Kennedy. I'm not sure if it matters what rabid right wingers think, since they won't be voting for Democrats in November anyway, but I am curious whether Ted's support is actually a negative among the so-called Reagan Democrats and moderate Republicans who might be so fed up with Bush et al that they might actually cross the party line. Teddy's name says "big government," "socialized medicine," "Washington power elite" and all these buzzwords that fall so easily from the lips of the conservative punditry. And strangely enough, every time I see him I feel a little sad that he could never rise to live up to the legacy of his brothers, that that same ability to inspire that he sees in Obama was a quality that largely eluded him outside of Massachusetts.

All this Kennedy-Obama convergence led Charlie Gibson to ask Ted a question the other day that translated said "Do you think somebody will shoot Obama like your brothers?" (The actual question had to do with persons who are seen as agents of change becoming a target, or something like that.) Kennedy didn't respond directly to the question, and Gibson took some mild heat for bringing it up, but you have to admit you've wondered the same thing, haven't you? It's interesting the things we're willing to talk about, and those we want to keep to ourselves. There was an interesting new show on PBS' American Experience the other night (did I mention I only watch PBS, when I'm not watching Idol, Survivor, Wife Swap, Judge Judy or Dog: Bounty Hunter?) that was called Oswald's Ghost. I've read and seen a lot of assassination stuff over the years, so none of it was new to me, but it was a reminder that we're still living today with the aftermath of those shootings in the '60s. Coming on 50 years, and this year's presidential contest brings it all up again.

All told, I'm not sure the Obama charisma can overcome the Clinton machine in the long run. At this point I like the way McCain is surging, since he's my fave among the GOP, and I'm hoping Super Tuesday turns out to be a split for HC and OB so we can keep things interesting for awhile longer.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Finally something to do with all your old albums

Being Friday and all, and having had my fill of being serious for the week, it's time for something completely different.

The San Francisco Chronicle article turned me on to the sleeveface phenomenon, and I think it's worth sharing. A sleevface is "one or more persons obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s) causing an illusion." Here's an example:

There are over 700 sleevefaces posted on Flickr. Lots of them are very direct like this one, but you'll also find increasingly creative, and sometimes disturbing efforts like this one from sleeveface.com:


I won't spoil the fun by posting too many here (but if you send me one, I will certainly feature it.) Go see for yourself. The three main places you can peruse these are in the sleeveface pool on Flickr, www.sleevface.com, and Facebook (but you have to be a Facebook user to see those.) Notice how many of these shots appear to have been taken in record shops. A whole new time waster.

And so what I say is, grow some funk of your own, peoples.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How to show your leadership style by acting like an ass

I don't usually punish myself by watching Presidential candidates debating, at least not this early in the race. The sight of them soundbiting a circuitous route around the questions causes my eyes to roll in such a wide arc as to make me think they will get stuck. So it was more out of happenstance than planning that led me to watch the Dems debate on CNN Monday - but I'm glad I was tuned in because it was a real laugh riot.

OK, perhaps "laugh riot" is not the best description, but it was tons of fun. They started out with a contest to see who could mention "Dr. King" the most times in their first minute (since it was MLK day and all) and I think John Edwards won that segment. Then the moment Obama threw the barb at Hillary about being a corporate lawyer for Wal Mart - snap! - the gloves came off. Next thing, she says BO worked for a slumlord. Then he accused her of ordering the hit on Vince Foster. She told him he should go back to Africa where he belongs. He said "Your mother was a hamster" and she comes back with "Your father smelt of elderberries" and the next thing you know, they both jumped on John Edwards and pantsed him right there on the TV. Edwards was just glad to be remembered.

OK, those last three things might not have happened. I'm not sure because Judge Judy was coming on and I had to switch over, but it was getting a little testy there.

What this tells us is that we've reached the stage of the campaign where the parties start to eat their young. Rather than stay focused on humiliating Bush and the GOP, they are moving on to savage each other, planting negatives in the minds of the voters that the eventual Republican nominee will get to strum like the strings of a harp in the fall. This is classic Democratic politics. By the time you get to the General election, every Democratic nominee is saddled with enough baggage to make a Sherpa whimper.

I find it odd that the Clinton campaign is going negative on Obama so early and so often. I know the experts say negative campaigning works, but most voters say they hate it. And in this case, you have the person who so many people already despise -that's Hillary, if you're slow today - saying these mean things and shooting everybody the stink eye, and that whole approach just seems so much the opposite of good. And on the other hand you have Obama, who is not only tall and handsome but has a rich baritone, which are all useful traits for a President, and people admire him because he could become our first Commander in Chief whose name ends in a vowel. In short, people like him and they don't like her, and there she is giving those on the fence a reason to agree that yes, she is sort of a bitch, isn't she. Makes no sense at all.

Then again, if we start imposing some "making sense" rule on our political processes, well, then where will we be? Gridlock.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

When grocery stores and Presidential politics collide

Yesterday was a big day in little old Napa. We had the long-awaited opening of Whole Foods, and Bill Clinton was in town. I made the scene at both events, and personally speaking, the former was more exciting than the latter.

It's Whole Foods 25th store in California, and it's been a long time coming. For years there have been stores in towns 25, 30, 40 miles away, and Napa had yet to feel the love and was developing an inferiority complex. (For those who aren't acquainted, Whole Foods is like a Wal Mart Super Center for patchouli-soaked people who wear Birkenstocks AND for tennis-playing second wives who drive a Lexus. Kind of a big deal.) So apparently we finally got the hippie-yuppie balance just right now, enough to bring the WF circus to town, and a foodie frenzy is underway. This new store is gigantic - a combination drug store, grocery store, wine shop, bakery, cafe, deli, coffee shop, even a music section. There's probably some aisle in there that has medicinal marijuana, sexual aids, and laser surgery while you wait. Not exactly a category killer, but that giant sucking sound you hear is money flying out of the pockets of two dozen other Napa stores. It will be interesting to see what competitors close first.

Meanwhile, old Bubba Clinton made a stop at the Napa Valley Opera House to rally the local Dems. I had to see what the crowd was like, and see if there were any protesters and what not, so I ankled on over there in a semi-work mode. I got the lowdown from the cops as to where the motorcade would go, and found a good spot to stand. After the suspect exited the vehicle and started working the crowd, I found myself face to face with him and he extended his hand. With the thought "Probably shouldn't touch that, you don't know where it's been," we shook. It was a dry, calm handshake, not what I would call firm, but no dead fish. The handshake of a man who has had millions of opportunities to perfect his technique. He looked fit but tired, and has that becoming-transparent skin that old people get.

The crowd was flat out enraptured by Bill. (In the photo you can see four Secret Service guys, protecting him from excessive adulation.) I have never seen in him what others have seen. Yes, he's smart, he's sorta hip in an old guy way now, he's a communicator - but for me he was always about doing whatever it takes to get elected, and I don't really know what he did with that power that changed my life for the better. Yes, the economy was good in the 90s, but President's don't really have all that much to do with what happens in the economy, as much as they would like to make you think they do. I do know that today Clinton looks like Churchill in comparison with Bush, even for those who did not like Bill in office. It's like the Clinton Presidency was annoying; a splinter in your finger and a hint of infection - but the Bush Presidency has been a calamity; shoots of bamboo shoved up under every nail.

With our primary on Feb. 5, California actually matters this time around, so we will probably see a lot of stumping for the next 3 weeks.

Oh, and the protesters? Didn't really see any, but there were 3 or 4 guys walking around in complete silence holding up "Ron Paul" placards. They all had looks of smug superiority. I guess that's the look you get when your guy is destined to come in 8th place in every contest? The whole Ron Paul thing needs some further examination. More later. Got to go stock up on organic something-or-other and farm-fresh locally-grown this-and-that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

YOB: week 3

The Year of the Beard rolls on! After a full week back at work, I think I am past the point of people asking "Are you growing a beard?" I want that question to stop, because I won't have to resist coming back with "No, I am just showing up at work unshaven day after day because I am a loser." So far the most honest remark I've heard was from my friend Doug who asked "Do you realize how much older it makes you look?" I told him I was tired of getting carded at bars all the time anyway.

I wasn't really aware that there was a "grow-a-beard-until-the-writer's-strike-is-over" thing going on when I entered whisker initiation mode. And so the answer to the question is no, I am not unshaven in solidarity with the writers, although I imagine their cause is just. The two most high profile people with writer's strike-related new beards of late have been
David Letterman and Conan O'Brien.

But Dave got a shave a week ago, so his YOB is over already. I don't know what the big redhead has in mind, but he most certainly does look like some kind of freakishly giant version of the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

As you steep yourself more in the YOB lore, it' surprising to find out how many notable men (a a few women, too, I guess) have sported a beard. For example:









President James A. Garfield












Celebrated actor, director and anti-Semite Mel Gibson



















God (artist's depiction, not an actual photograph)


Just for future reference, I am learning something about New Year's resolutions, i.e., it's a lot easier to resolve to grow a beard and stick to it, than to resolve to exercise, eat better, drink less, etc. It's important to set obtainable goals. Baby steps - that's how God got started.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another reason to like F.F. Coppola


He's made some of the best movies in modern history. The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II alone qualify him for placement on a pedestal, and then there's Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, so he might have 4 films in my personal top 25 all time list. On top of being a bona fide artist with film, the man is audacious and bold, going broke and hitting jackpots with frequency. He had the huevos to go big time into the Napa wine business, buying properties to reunite the former glory of the Niebaum estate, which had been broken up and pillaged by philistine business interests over the years. Once he had the grand structure in hand, he poured a huge sum into restoration. I once watched a master carpenter working by hand to rebuild the massive staircase that you can see today at Rubicon Estate (formerly Niebaum-Coppola, formerly Inglenook.) That's the Coppola style - spend the money to do it right, or don't do it at all. The man lives large, takes big risks, dreams major dreams, and I find him to be one admirable dude.

Recently he made another move that raises his stocks even more - tearing down the barrel storage building out in front of the grand chateau. (Piece here from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.) This warehouse-like wooden box was thrown up in the '70s by Heublein, the corporate interest that had bought up Inglenook. Talk about lacking a vision! They built this big box that blocked off of the view of the classic Niebaum structure. (That's the Chateau in the photo, but it doesn't really do the place justice.) Anyone visiting Napa Valley would agree that part of the visual appeal is seeing these great old buildings sitting back along the base of the hills - Greystone, Far Niente and the Rhine House at Beringer come to mind as well. To build something out in front like that - what a bunch of goobers. Sort of like building a Taco Bell in the courtyard of the Alamo.

So hats off to Francis. He has done such a good thing here, I am willing now to forgive him for the movie Jack. (Now THERE is an obscure reference for you!)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Up close and personal in Iowa

It's easy to see why we love a Presidential election year - there's more ups and downs than college football on a muddy field. To wit, just a few weeks ago, Hilary was a mortal lock for the Democratic nomination, sitting on a huge bankroll, the presumptive nominee. Today, as the New Hampshire primary takes place and she is likely to take another beating, there are rumors afoot that she's preparing to drop out of the race. I don't think she'll really cave that fast, but I also don't think there's much chance that she will rally later, as her hubby Bill has suggested. Back when he ran in the primaries he was a relative unknown - there was time to lose a few at the start and then make a run. Hilary is just the opposite - too well known - and if people don't like her now there's no reason they'll like her more in February. So if she gets drubbed again today, she'll have a long row to hoe.

Meanwhile, there's the crying thing. Speaking to a group of voters in Portsmouth, Hil got to the verge of tears. God knows it must be a mental and physical test to campaign 24/7 for weeks on end. But expectedly, there's not much sympathy out there. From this site:

Endless interpretation of the tears on the US TV cable networks ensued, some commentators seeing it as a sign that Senator Clinton knows her campaign is sinking fast, others that it was a "Muskie" moment, a reference to 1972 Democratic candidate Ed Muskie, whose campaign never recovered after he broke down in tears.
Even centrist people are suspicious that the crying thing was staged to make her look more human. I shudder to imagine what the Clinton haters will be doing with that on the talk shows today. Or for that matter, what other Dems will do with it. John Edwards didn't hesitate to stick a fork in:

"I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business," he said.
While we await results from New Hampshire, we have today a rare treat - a guest commentator provides a first hand account of the Iowa caucuses. Thanks to my old friend Frank, here's an inside look.

In reality, our season began in August of 2006. Our own past Governor Tom Vilsack tossed his hat in the ring and started the early interest during the State Fair '06. Other candidates perused the state on a frequent basis with all efforts intensifying (both parties) after our Republican Straw Poll in July of '07. Vilsack quickly exited the race and lent his support to Hillary. One candidate, Sen. Chris Dodd actually moved his wife and children to Des Moines and rented an ornately furnished brick home (go figure.....must be nice to have the means). All others appeared to live here in Iowa, however their temporary residences were rolling billboard style luxury buses (nice way to appeal to the common masses............???).

At this point I realized (call me slow learner) this was far different than my first exposure to the political scene. I remember accompanying my Grandfather to Democratic Headquarters in downtown Joplin, Missouri and lending my support for his short lived Congressional run against then unknown Sarcoxie native Gene Taylor. At the age of 4, I handed out pencils and wooden yardsticks imprinted with his name and slogan, extended my hand and asked for anyone's support by saying "please vote for my Grandpa!"

Fast forward 44 years, we live in an era of sound bites, instant news on demand, over produced commercials, endless reams of printed literature, countless opinions from infinite angles, calculating polls at the top of every hour, and recorded phone solicitations promising a better tomorrow. Believe me, over the past 18 months residents in Iowa have seen, lived, heard, tasted, and experienced them all ..............ten fold. Thanks for the attention (est. $67 million additional revenue added to our local economy) and as they say.........the memories (intense global scrutiny resulted in a record turnout of caucus attendees in every precinct throughout the state). We loved the attention, we loved being first in the Presidential candidate selection process, and feel privileged to make a statement for change.
To describe the caucusing process, from my perspective (registered Republican) was rather uneventful.The real action appeared to be on the Democratic side. Our precinct listed 550 registered voters. Final tallies reflected a 90% turnout. We loaded up in the van, traveled less than a mile to our neighborhood grade school, stood in line for 35 minutes, listened to candidate representatives (2 minutes each), voted, elected delegates, and drove home. The entire process took just over an hour. Calm, collected, methodical, and actually ...........rather boring. Thankfully, the national and local media covered "live" action on the Democratic side from various locations throughout the state. Far more engaging, a true sampling of the caucusing process, real American politics in action. Glad for the experience, however reflecting back, I may change my registration prior to the next election (...take a walk on the wild side).

Late Friday afternoon as the dust began to settle from the wave of departing media attention, neighborhood yard signs remained visible, while the junk mail and phone solicitations became yesterday's nuisance. All eyes became focused on New Hampshire. Had Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin all that quickly? After 18 months, could it really be over in just a flash? To some, it never really happened or even deserved an ounce of effort (Rudy). To Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Chris Dodd, farewell. Thanks for the attention, but don't ask for help when moving your family back to the East coast (although, some Iowan's would probably offer help anyway). Hillary immediately offered her spin on the results by stating, "Iowa has a really poor track record of choosing Presidential candidates." Thanks Hillary, don't hurry back anytime soon, I heard the once open invitation has been rescinded. Huckabilly, sorry I mean Huckabee, move on with your good ol' boy mentality, or next time go barefoot, wear a wife beater t-shirt and overhauls. Enjoy the attention while it lasts (one Arkansas Governor as President is enough for all of us). Finally, even though my candidate (Mitt) came up short, his character, resolve, poise, and determination seemed ever sharpened. New Hampshire is today's Iowa. Treat them well, our "choice for change" will be with us for years to come.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008: The Year of the Beard

It's official. I have proclaimed 2008 to be the Year of the Beard. So shall it be written, so shall it be done.

I have had some prodigious beards in the past, including the bushy bastard that earned me the nickname Grizzly in my freshman year of college. (Grizzly Adams was a popular TV show at the time and he sported a big bushy bastard beard as well.) And I have also featured my share of goatees (long before they became required) as well as some sideburns that threatened to become mutton chops and more than one cheesy mustache. But it's been a lot of years since I last committed to any facial hair - so long I can't remember that last time. So I guess it's time.

Having a couple weeks off work I have, of course, avoided shaving as much as possible, so at this point I have a good week invested in Beard '08. Early indications are that the portions of earlier beards that came in so very red are now so very gray. Fitting for a man of my advanced age. I think this new facial accessory will lend me a certain gravitas.

Please to take note that I will not partake of any tortured, needs-to-be-trimmed-twice-a-day, geometric designs that look like they've been drawn on with an Sharpie. Either it's a real beard or out comes the razor.

With luck and just a little work, perhaps I can develop something special like these guys.