Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Am I the only one who still thinks it's bizarre that Conan the Barbarian is the governor of my state? But there he stands, as big as life, on the dais at the Republican National Convention.

"Arnold, what is best in California?"

"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!"

A public service announcement

The management of this weblog would like to assure our readers that the principal writer and editor-in-chief of SwanShadow Thinks Out Loud will never — ever — appear in a nude photo layout (I was just about to type the word "spread," but I caught myself just in time) for Playboy Online or any other electronic publication.

Unlike Jessica Cutler, alias "The Washingtonienne," whose infamous blog chronicling her sexual exploits while toiling in the trenches as a staff aide for U.S. Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio, and don't you just know he's going tire quickly of the snickers and snide comments aimed in his general direction during the GOP convention this week?) has landed her the title of "Wild in Washington" on the Playboy.com Web site.

Our discretion and restraint in this regard is a circumstance for which you, your ophthalmologist, your psychiatrist, and your spiritual advisor should all be eternally grateful. Because we've seen me in the altogether. And it ain't pretty. It ain't even man-pretty.

FWIW: I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in this beholder's humble opinion, Ms. Cutler isn't exactly all that and a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos either. Is it just me, or does she look like Björk, the singer from Iceland?

(For the record, Ms. Cutler's blog did not suggest that Senator DeWine was involved in any of her aforementioned exploits. She apparently just worked for the guy, and sweated up the sheets with half the men in the Beltway on her own free time.)

George was right the first time

The President got caught talking out of school in an NBC interview yesterday when he said concerning the war on terrorism:
"I don't think you can win it...I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."
No sooner did Mr. Bush's GOP colleagues hear that typically ill-considered remark than a full-scale backpedaling was in order. Here's George W. today at the American Legion convention in Nashville:
"We meet today at a time of war for our country; a war we did not start, yet one that we will win. If America shows weakness or uncertainty in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch."
Truth to tell, the Prez was right the first time. Terrorism can't be entirely defeated. That's what makes it scary.

It's no different from what the Secret Service used to say about defending the life of the President: no matter how snug the security, a determined maniac who isn't afraid to scarifice himself in the attempt will always be able to accomplish an assassination. It's ugly and frightening, but it is what it is. As long as there are people who will do anything — even at the cost of their own lives — to pull off a terrorist attack, we will always have terrorists we cannot prevent. No possibility of punishment is a deterrent to the person who is willing to die.

And, because terrorists rarely announce their future plans on The NBC Nightly News (or, perhaps more appropriately these days, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart), we will always be in peril of surprise attacks. Think about it: if you got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and decided to blow up your neighborhood Wal-Mart (I'm not saying you should, you nitwit; I'm speaking hypothetically here — put the blasting caps down), and didn't tell a soul beforehand, who could stop you? No one, unfortunately.

Until the day comes that we have precognitives floating in a pool at the police station forecasting violent crimes like Samantha Morton in Minority Report — and you remember how badly that turned out — unannounced acts of terror will continue to plague us, and we will be powerless to eradicate them. All we can hope to do is keep our eyes and ears open, try to learn as much of what the bad guys are up to as we can, catch as many of them as possible in the act...and leave the rest up to the Lord.

I'm no fan of this President, but I do think it's a sad commentary on politics that he can't tell the truth even when it's obvious that he wants to. It should be okay for the leader of the free world to admit that there are some problems that are beyond our power to fix; we'll make ourselves as secure as we can, but we can't expect to wipe out or imprison all of the people in the world who may decide to do us harm. It's a dangerous world out there, and not even the President of the United States, the most materially powerful person on the planet, can promise to make it otherwise.

Sad fact but true: we can't win the war on terrorism, any more than Pandora could cram all the pandemonium back in the box, or than I can get all the Styrofoam packaging back in the shipping carton. The best we can do, as the President alluded, is to try to mitigate the damage, and make mass violence a less attractive option.

It's a shame that our elected officials — on all wavelengths of the political spectrum — can't just be honest and tell us the truth. It's an even bigger shame that if they did, we wouldn't vote to elect them.

Monday, August 30, 2004

What's Up With That? #5: Upside-down in Australia

Prime Minister John Howard, the leader of the government of Australia, has announced that the country's next national elections will take place on October 9, 2004. Already you're thinking, "Why do I care about Australian politics?" To which I reply, "No reason why you should, unless you're from Australia. Or from New Zealand, which is right next door, and might have something to worry about if the Aussies get crazy all of a sudden."

But there is a point to my mentioning this.

Mr. Howard represents Australia's Liberal Party, which has been the ruling Aussie party since 1996. Here's the weird part: the Liberal Party is actually the more ideologically conservative of Australia's two largest political factions. The opposition, known as the Australian Labor Party, is the truly liberal party, relatively speaking.

What? How did that happen? Maybe the Aussie conservatives were sitting around the barbie one day grilling kangaroo meat, drinking Fosters Lager, and singing rounds of "Waltzing Matilda," and some Outback Jack in the gang pipes up, "Oy, mates, 'ere's 'ow we'll fool 'em -- we'll call our party the 'Liberal' party, so all the liberals will vote for us, and we'll win the election." And everyone shouted "Huzzah!" or whatever it is they shout in Australia when they mean to say, "That's a capital idea, old bean." (Remember, Australia is a country that, before it was a country, was a continent-sized penal colony. Not only that, but they have that Crocodile Hunter guy, who has nothing to do with politics, so far as I know, but whom I personally find irritating.)

I thought only the American government pulled crazy stunts like naming things the exact opposite of what they are, the way the Department of the Interior is actually in charge of a whole lot of outdoor stuff, and not really much at all that's inside. Or the Central Intelligence Agency, which, as we've seen lately, has precious little genuine intelligence evident in anything it does.

One last item: the Australian liberal party, which as noted above is called the Australian Labor Party — apparently because the conservatives were already calling themselves the Liberal Party, as if that made sense — spells the second word in its name "Labor" even though everyone else in Australia spells that word "Labour," with a "u" in it, as the Brits do. Perhaps they figured if the conservative faction was going to do something as stereotypically American as name themselves the opposite of what they are, then the true liberals would at least spell their own name American style.

All of which just goes to prove that the stupidity of politicians knows no national boundaries.


Sunday, August 29, 2004

I'm tired

Yeah, me and Lili von Shtupp.

The chorus performed in Santa Clara last night, which meant a three-hour round trip in the back seat of someone else's car, a four-song set in sweltering 100-degree heat, and hours of standing around before and after our performance. When I got home at midnight, I still had a bulletin article to write, and not enough winks of shuteye before diving into my usual hectic Sunday. Then I couldn't get a rest break in the afternoon, thanks to a church picnic. Sigh.

So tonight I'm beat. My feet are pounding out the standing-in-dress-shoes blues, my back is its cantankerous Sunday night self, and my head feels like gerbils are nesting behind my eyeballs. I have a stack of reviews to edit for DVD Verdict, but there's no way I'm coherent enough to touch them right now. On top of everything else, KM starts her sophomore year tomorrow, so summer sleep-in mornings are officially over. I'm back to the painfully early risings that come with the school term. The joys of being a work-at-home dad.

Not that you care about any of this, but I thought I'd share. Now I'm going to bed. Incidentally, this is my 100th post. I'd serve cupcakes or something, but you know what? I'm tired.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Prez sez, "Oops!"

Now the President admits that he made "a miscalculation of what the conditions would be" in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. Shocking. That's parallel to Osama bin Laden issuing a statement about 9/11 saying, "Who knew those towers were actually going to fall down?"

Anyone with any understanding at all of the nature of the sociopolitical climate in the Middle East in general, and Iraq in particular, could have told Mr. Bush how miserably this would play out. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if someone on his team (I'll guess Colin Powell) tried to tell him.

Maybe we need someone in the White House who knows how to use a calculator. Or will listen to people who do.

Larry McCormick, 1933-2004

I was sorry to read about the death of Los Angeles newscaster Larry McCormick, who passed away at age 71 after a lengthy illness. McCormick worked for KTLA-TV for 33 years, an almost unheard-of tenure in the transitory world of broadcast news. He was also one of the first black newscasters in the nation's second-largest broadcast market, and one of the few local TV news personalities represented by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (6420 Hollywood Boulevard, in case you'd like to drop by and pay your respects). By all accounts, he was a nice fellow, too.

Larry McCormick's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I never met Larry McCormick, but I saw him frequently on the news when I was at college in L.A. in the early '80s. He was a familiar face to me still, even though I haven't lived in Southern California in more than two decades. You've probably seen him before too, even if you're not from L.A. Why? McCormick was one of the elite handful of TV newspeople filmmakers often call upon to portray newscasters (often using their own names) in the movies. Most recently, McCormick appeared as himself in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and S.W.A.T.

(If you've ever seen an actor try to play a TV reporter or anchor, you understand why directors try to get real newspeople when they can. Actors can't get the cadence of newsreading quite right, because they're accustomed to memorizing lines and knowing their dialogue cold. News broadcasters, by contrast, read their scripts off a TelePrompTer; often, they're seeing the words for the very first time as they speak them into the camera. It gives their speech a certain quality of hesitant unfamiliarity that is tough for an actor to duplicate if he or she has never actually read the news live.)

My condolences to the McCormick family, and to Larry's coworkers and friends. He'll be missed.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

And America makes three

Gold, silver, bronze in the men's 200 meters. Kudos, respectively, to Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams, and Justin Gatlin. All is again, momentarily, right with the universe.

I wish I knew how it would feel to drink Coke with Nina Simone

My favorite current commercial is the one in which a young woman walks down a city street handing out bottles of Coca-Cola to passersby as she sings the classic Nina Simone civil rights anthem, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free." I'm sure this ad strikes a lot of people as annoying sweet and sappy, but I would remind those people that Coca-Cola pulled this same stunt back in the day with "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," and that earworm sold enough Coke to float Australia. Trust me — they know what they're doing.

I like this ad because the singer — she's a black Englishwoman named Sharlene Hector — does a nice a cappella rendition of the song (with aid from an invisible gospel chorus), and you know how much I love the unaccompanied human voice. Ms. Hector is also a lovely natural type not often featured in commercials, and she has a winning smile she flashes at the very end of the spot. Her charm is so infectious you can't help singing along.

The ad agency didn't use songwriter Billy Taylor's complete lyrics from the Nina Simone recording — it's only a 60-second commercial, after all. So I'm pasting them below for your edification, and so you can join in the next time the ad airs. I don't know how the late Ms. Simone (who, sadly, passed away last year, leaving the world short a monumental musical talent) felt about Coca-Cola. I can guess how she might have felt about a megabuck corporation co-opting a deeply personal civil rights song in the pursuit of crass commercialism. I can't help thinking, though, that she'd at least have enjoyed the job Ms. Hector does with her song.
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish I could break all the chains holding me
I wish I could say all the things that I should say
Say 'em loud, say 'em clear
For the whole round world to hear.

I wish I could share all the love that's in my heart
Remove all the bars that keep us apart
I wish you could know what it means to be me
Then you'd see and agree
That every man should be free.

I wish I could give all I'm longing to give
I wish I could live like I'm longing to live
I wish that I could do all the things that I can do
Though I'm way overdue I'd be starting anew.

Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly
Oh I'd soar to the sun and look down at the sea
And I'd sing 'cause I'd know that
And I'd sing 'cause I'd know that
And I'd sing 'cause I'd know that
I'd know how it feels to be free
I'd know how it feels to be free
I'd know how it feels to be free
By the way, if you enjoy great soulful jazz vocals (and what right-thinking person doesn't?), and you don't own any Nina Simone albums, hustle down to your neighborhood music store and pick up a couple of her CDs. Just a tip from your Uncle Swan.

You movie fans can hear the original Nina Simone rendition of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" on the soundtrack of the film Ghosts of Mississippi. Several other movies also feature Simone songs:

Not exactly selling like hotcakes

Krispy Kreme stock took a tumble today. I haven't been in there in a while; I feel responsible.

The company's real problem, as ably elucidated by Herb Greenberg of CBS MarketWatch, is that the people in charge may know doughnuts, but their business skills stink on ice. They've made their product so darned pricey that it's cheaper for the larger chain groceries to bake their own doughnuts for sale rather than buying Krispy Kremes. Plus, you can get them almost anywhere now, so there's no longer any mystery or cachet about the one-elusive treats.

The Krispy Kreme brass keeps harping about all the people on low-carb diets, but that's a canard. Had Krispy Kreme stuck to selling their wares in their own stores, rather than making the little sugarlumps ubiquitous in every supermarket, gas station, and ballpark in America (no, I'm not kidding — there are several gas station mini-marts in our area that sell Krispy Kremes they import from the local outlet in Santa Rosa, and you've been able to buy Krispy Kremes at Giants games since Pac Bell...umm...SBC Park opened.

Still, there are few sights in life as thrilling as that bright red "HOT NOW" sign. Maybe I should go pick up a dozen, and help the fellows out.

These Olympic moments sponsored by Kleenex

I'm not the sentimental type, but I almost had to brush away a tear when I saw:

Wrestler Rulon Gardner leave his shoes at the center of the mat, signaling the end to his wrestling career. Gardner won a bronze medal in these Olympics to go with his gold from Sydney four years ago. He seems like a big, good-natured farm kid, and I wish him much luck in future life back on the Wyoming homestead.

Hurdlers Gail Devers and Allen Johnson ending their Olympics in ignominious fashion. Devers pulled up lame in her semifinal heat of the women's 100-meter hurdles, while Johnson tripped and fell in the preliminary round of the men's 100. Both athletes have represented the U.S. ably and with distinction for many years; Johnson is the captain of the U.S. men's track team in these Games. We may see Johnson again in Beijing four years hence, but for Gail Devers, this was a sad end to a storied career.

Greek speedster Fani Halkia winning the gold in front of her home folks in the women's 400-meter hurdles. Knowing what a fiercely proud people the Greeks are, I understand how much this victory means to them, especially after the drug-suspected absence of Greece's top male and female track stars, Kostadinos Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou. Halkia, a near-unknown in track circles before the Olympics — she left a budding career in TV journalism to train for the Games — seemed genuinely grateful for the victory.

The "Fab Five" of U.S. women's soccer receiving their gold medals after defeating the Brazilian squad. Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, and Joy Fawcett played together on the legendary team that won the first Women's World Cup in 1991 and again in spectacular fashion in 1999, adding an Olympic silver medal performance in Sydney four years ago. All now in their mid-30s and headed for retirement, they have raised women's soccer to the level of national consciousness during their years together.

I Wish I'd Said That #1: They're different, those women

During the U.S. women's soccer victory over Brazil today, the NBC commentators mentioned that Brazilian women's soccer coach Rene Simoes has also coached the Brazilian men's team at various times. When Simoes was asked the difference between coaching women and men, these pearls of wisdom dripped like honey from his lips:

"With men, you solve problems. With women, you discuss problems."

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

What's Up With That? #4: Esther Williams has risen from the grave

Three questions about synchronized swimming:

1. Why don't they call it "Swimnastics"? Shorter, punchier, more marketable. "Synchronized swimming" sounds like something that might be performed by watchmakers or accountants.

2. What's with all the face paint and sequins? If you want to attract an audience for this insanity, dress the performers in those two-piece sports bra-and-thong outfits the women's beach volleyball teams are sporting. (You don't really suppose those mammoth ratings are the result of America's insatiable hunger for the raw skill and athleticism of beach volleyball, do you?) And the nose plugs have got to go. Drown if you must, but look good doing it.

3. Why is this in the Olympics? It looks like a bad idea left over from the Splash production show in Las Vegas, back in the days when Splash actually involved water instead of ice skating and motorcycles.


New on the DVD rack 8/24/04

Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Edition.
Nobody in this film, from the star to the stereotypical '80s glam rock extras, can act a lick. But with a soundtrack like this, who cares? It's amazing to see the digs Prince takes at himself as the egomaniacal Kid. Too bad he forgot how much fun he had not taking himself too seriously, and went off the deep end with that whole "I'm not a man, I'm a glyph" charade. Spare yourself the agony of The Purple One's two follow-up films, Under the Cherry Moon (pretentious, silly, and dull) and Graffiti Bridge (the actual sequel to Purple Rain, and as unwatchable as its predecessor is fascinating — looks like it was filmed in Prince's garage), also out on DVD this week.

Ella Enchanted.
KM loves The Princess Diaries and Ever After, so I'm sure she'll love this. Highly recommended by Uncle Roger. Anne Hathaway has genuine star potential. I just hope she doesn't turn into Lindsay Lohan, another young actress with superlative talent but who is rapidly transmogrifying into the thespian Britney Spears. (No, that's not a compliment.)

Attention Wal-Mart shoppers: there's a wedding on aisle five

No matter how pitiful your love life is, you probably didn't get married at your local Wal-Mart, like this couple in Boise, Idaho did.

Of course, when you live in Boise, Idaho, Wal-Mart may be just about the classiest venue in town.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Stupid election tricks

Rohnert Park held a special election today, for the purpose of putting two members of our City Council to a recall vote. As I write this entry, both Councilpersons appear to have held onto their seats by comfortable margins: roughly 55 percent opposed to the recall, and 45 percent in favor. I'm not a fan, particularly, of either Councilman Armando Flores (who has been on the City Council pretty much since the dawn of time) or Councilwoman Amie Spradlin (a relatively new member of the Council whose entire political career has circled around the issue that prompted the recall), but I'm glad they kept their jobs — if only because the effort to oust them was petty, ignorant, and typical of California politics these days.

Flores and Spradlin ired a coterie of townsfolk by helping to broker an agreement with a local Native American tribe, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, that plans to build a casino just outside the city's northwestern limits. According to the agreement, the Rancheria will pay the city of Rohnert Park about $200 million over the first 20 years of the casino's operation, ostensibly to help offset the additional cost of law enforcement and other city services. People opposed to the casino, led by a local minister and inveterate rabble-rouser named Harry "Chip" Worthington, got the notion into their heads (with some pounding from the Chipmunk) that booting Flores and Spradlin off the Council would somehow stop the tribe from building the casino.

Only one problem with that concept: it just ain't so.

By federal law, Native American tribes can establish tribal lands wherever they please, so long as they acquire the land by legal means, better known as cash American on the barrelhead. Furthermore, thanks to the (as usual) short-sighted voting populace of our fair state, tribes have the legal right to build Vegas-style casinos on their tribal lands if they so choose. In March 2000, we Californians passed Proposition 1A by a two-to-one margin, legalizing slot machines and certain house-banked casino games in Indian casinos. (Previously, California tribes were only permitted to offer bingo, video lottery machines, and a modified player-pool form of blackjack.) To put it another way, we dug our casino foundation, and now we have to lie in it.

Funny how, when Prop. 1A was on the ballot, there was precious little public consternation over it in this neck of the woods — as I noted above, the measure passed with almost two-thirds of the vote. But, you see, at that time all the Indian casinos in existence were way out in the boondocks. The nearest ones to us were up north in sparsely populated Mendocino and Lake counties. It wasn't until the Graton Rancheria, led by Loyola Marymount professor and best-selling author Greg Sarris as tribal chairman, decided that they wanted to park their little slice of Vegas in traffic-gridlocked Sonoma County that people — and by "people," I mostly mean your non-Native American Anglo-Saxon folks — got up in arms. Originally, the tribe suggested a site near Infineon Raceway at Sears Point, which draws crowds in excess of 100,000 for NASCAR, NHRA, and other Days of Thunder-inspired events. When the locals bridled at that, Sarris and company revealed what they had really intended all along, which was to build their casino just outside Rohnert Park, in the middle of a potential customer base of nearly 300,000 people (figuring RP at 45K, Santa Rosa at 150K, Petaluma at 55K, Windsor at 25K, and the smaller communities totaling another 25K between them).

Faced with a new neighbor that approximated the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, the Rohnert Park City Council had two choices: strike a cooperation pact with the Rancheria that would help financially mitigate the disadvantages of having a casino right next door, or fuss and fume and gain nothing, while the casino gets built anyway. They chose the former, and I can't say I blame them. If you have to have a casino within a stone's throw — and you do have to, if the tribe so decides — better you should have it with $200 extra-large in the city coffers than have it with pocket lint and hurt feelings.

I think putting a casino — and all the attendant traffic, crime, and general mayhem that will surely follow — in a suburban community like ours is a morally and logically bankrupt idea. But when the slot machine deals you three lemons, sometimes all you can do is stir up a pitcher of lemonade. I think that's what Councilpersons Spradlin and Flores were trying to accomplish. To kick them out of office for making the best of a lousy situation would have been foolish, mean-spirited, and a Pyrrhic victory for the anti-casino folks, who, NIMBY or not, are going to have a casino in their back yard. I don't like that inevitability either, but I'm not prepared to punish people for something that isn't their fault. Blame your fellow voters for not reading Prop. 1A carefully before they scribbled in the "YES" box.

You can probably tell how I voted in today's election. (KJ and I became permanent absentee voters when she was undergoing chemotherapy, so we actually voted a couple of weeks ago.) I'm not embarrassed to explain why.

Let's play "Mystery Date"!

Here's a fun quiz, courtesy of the good folks at Turner Classic Movies. You'll answer a series of probing questions, and based on your answers, you'll be presented with a choice of three dream dates from classic motion pictures. At the end, you can print personalized 8x10 glossies of your fantasy women (or men, if that's how you roll).

I ran through the quiz a couple of times to see whether the questions changed (they do) and whether the matches would also (and they do, too). Interestingly, my Number One match every time was the same: Victoria Jones (Ava Gardner) in Bhowani Junction. She's passionate, would enjoy going to Las Vegas shows, and loves sentimental songs. And, judging by the photograph, isn't the least bit bothersome to the eyes.

The other options that kicked out for me were:
• Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) in The Philadelphia Story — she'd take me for a surprise weekend getaway on Valentine's Day.
• Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) in The Trouble With Harry — she's a sexy, independent woman who would feed me apple pie.
• Annette Kellerman (Esther Williams) in Million Dollar Mermaid — a fun, laid-back girl who's not afraid to go after what she wants.

I'm long since off the dating market, of course. But the quiz was fun, and the souvenir photos are pretty snazzy. Were I adding a few "mystery date" choices of my own, they might include:
• Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) in The Abyss — tough, fiercely loyal, can operate a minisub.
• Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham — loves poetry and baseball...among other things.
• Kate the Farrier (Laura Fraser) in A Knight's Tale — smart, strong-willed, handy with tools.
• Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) in Panic Room — gutsy, resourceful, and graceful under pressure.
• Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) in Raiders of the Lost Ark — ditto, plus the greatest smile in the history of the movies.

I'd be tempted to add Susan Ricci (Rebecca Pidgeon) in The Spanish Prisoner — in her own words, "a hell of a person...loyal and true and not too hard to look at," and says cute things like "Crikey!" and "It shows to go you" — but at the end of the date she'd stick a gun in your back and vanish with your wallet.

Monday, August 23, 2004

GOP: They don't need no stinkin' overtime

It's been quite some time since I qualified for overtime pay — I've been self-employed for two years, and was an exempt employee for the last few years with my previous company — but I'd be concerned about the new overtime rules were I still punching a clock. CBS MarketWatch published in-depth stories on the new law here and here.

From what I gather, it looks as though supervisors, programmers, and teachers (and I know folks in all of those categories) are among the folks who will suffer the most from this. The facet that would trouble me most is the provision regarding so-called "executive personnel," which basically appears to be anyone with the authority to tell someone else what to do. If you're a manager at Radio Shack — as I was once, in a previous lifetime — making under $30 grand a year, and can't collect overtime, you're shafted.

Of course, the Bush administration will be quick to point out that anyone making over $100,000 now doesn't have to be paid overtime. Thanks for the tip, George, but those aren't the people I'm thinking about. At a hundred large, you shouldn't be worried about where your next rent payment or grocery bill is coming from, unless you're blowing your cash on drugs, booze, and hookers.

What's Up With That? #3: The Big Bear Brotherhood of Hamms

Mia Hamm, U.S. soccer star and wife of baseball great Nomar Garciaparra. Last name pronounced "ham," like the popular and tasty meat.

Paul and Morgan Hamm, U.S. gymnastics stars and identical twins. Last name pronounced "hom," like the tall bald fellow on Star Trek: The Next Generation who played butler for Deanna Troi's mother.

Can't we get together on this, folks? It's confusing to have athletes on the same Olympic team favoring two pronunications of the same last name. Are the gymnast twins so swine-averse — we know they're not big eaters in that sport — that they'll do anything to avoid being associated with fine pork products? Come on, guys: embrace the pig within.

Sidebar regarding the controversy over Paul Hamm's gold medal in the men's all-around: he should tell the IOOC he'll give the medal back the day the 1972 U.S. men's basketball team gets the gold they were jobbed out of by the officials 32 years ago. That'd fix 'em.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

Just call him The Flash

A 22-year-old American with ADD, Justin Gatlin, is the World's Fastest Human. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Gatlin is also an accomplished musician (he plays piano and saxophone) and artist, and — you've gotta love him — an ex-military brat.

Sit down, Mo Greene, and take your funky-looking clown shoes with you.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Olympic flashes

I feel sorry for the woman living with this name: Loudy Tourky. (She's an Israeli-born platform diver competing on the Australian team.)

Unfortunately, age and craftiness don't always win: Witness the travails of 37-year-old sprinter Gail Devers in the women's 100 meters, and of 31-year-old swimmer Jenny Thompson in the women's 50-meter freestyle.

Needs a Double-Cheese Whopper in the worst way: Beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh stands six-three and weighs just about that many pounds.

I believe he can fly: Shawn Crawford laid down a smokin' 9.89 100 meters. And that was just the semifinals.

The whiff of overconfidence: Seemed like pole vaulter Stacy Dragila thought she could breeze through the qualifying rounds just by tossing her pole onto the field. Sorry, kid — you actually have to come ready to compete.

Have to root for: Sprinter Lauryn Williams, whose father traveled all the way to Athens to see her compete, despite a battle with leukemia that requires him to undergo frequent kidney dialysis. I'm glad Lauryn won a silver medal in personal-best time to make her dad proud.

I wanna be a rock star: Swedish heptathlete Carolina Kluft — now there's a cool name — cracked me up with her pump-up-the-crowd moves. It ain't showboating if you can back it up, and she did, winning the multi-skill competition handily.

White men can run: Shades-sporting, bling-bling-flashing Jeremy Wariner made it look easy in the semis of the men's 400 meters. He and teammates Otis Harris and Derrick Brew — another name you've gotta love — could sweep the medals in this event on Monday.

White women can run, too: Wow — Yuliya Nesterenko from Belarus can really scoot.

"Are you sure?": American diver Sara Hildebrand couldn't believe she made the cut for the finals.

Good runner, great kitchen gadget: LaTasha Colander, who finished last in the women's 100-meter finals.

The Stepford diver: Is it just me, or is there something unidentifiably creepy about Laura Wilkinson?

You have to know how the Dutch swimmer's surname is pronounced to get the joke: What can Inge de Bruijn do for you?

Super Freakin', redux

When a commercial for the new movie prequel Exorcist: The Beginning flashed across the screen just now, for some strange reason (you know how my brain works) I recalled that Linda Blair, who as a teenaged child actor 30 years ago starred in the William Friedkin-directed original, used to date funk singer Rick James, who passed away earlier this month.

Rick James and Linda Blair. I can't even imagine what it must have been like living in a house with the Super Freak and the Satan-possessed Regan MacNeil, who went on to star in a string of sleazy, fetishistic flicks wherein she played young women who end up raped and imprisoned (Born Innocent, Sweet Hostage, Red Heat, and the ever-popular Chained Heat). I'll wager there are untold horror stories from that relationship that if revealed would, in the words of George Carlin, infest your soul, curve your spine, and keep the Allies from winning the war.

As legend has it, James wrote his hit "Cold Blooded" in the throes of his enthrallment with Blair. How much actual blood was involved, only Ms. Blair now knows. I checked her Web site — she isn't telling.

Let's just call them the Nightmare Team

In all fairness, this Lithuanian men's basketball team is awfully good. The Lithuanians have been coming on strong for years — Dallas Mavericks general manager and longtime Lithuanian assistant coach Donn Nelson has contributed greatly to helping them improve their game, and they've produced a growing number of NBA-caliber players, including former Warrior Sarunas Marchiulionis and current Cleveland Cavaliers star Zydrunas Ilgauskas. (Nelson, to his credit, viewed today's contest from the stands. After the Lithuanians came within an eyelash of beating the U.S. squad in Sydney four years ago, Nelson vowed never to coach directly against his countrymen again.)

But until we put a team on the floor with genuine outside shooting ability, we'll always be trading two points for three against the better international teams, who practice shooting the lights out from beyond the arc. Watching the U.S. team clang shot after shot off the back iron is agonizing.

Despite the two losses — as many as American teams have lost collectively in nearly 60 years of Olympic hoops history — the U.S. should advance to the next round, as their next opponent will be Angola, the weakest team in their bracket. But if our guys want to come home with bemedalled necks and egg-free faces, they'd better spend some quality floor time in shootaround the next couple of days.

Baby, you can drive my search

Anyone in the know regarding the Internet who still doesn't recognize the genius of Jakob Nielsen should read his current Alertbox column, "When Search Engines Become Answer Engines."

Search engines truly have become more important than the individual sites they catalog. I know how crippled I'd be in my daily online activities without Google. It doesn't make me want to hop on the phone to my stockbroker — if such I had — and buy stock in their spanking new IPO, but it does make me think that offering won't be the bust many of the financial pundits are predicting.

If you ever get Googled out, though, and want to try a different tool, give AlltheWeb.com a shot. It's a pretty fair second choice, and its handlers at Overture — now an arm of the Yahoo! empire — have managed (thus far) not to clutter up the interface with the text ads that make Google increasingly unattractive, if no less essential and effective. Overture also runs Altavista.com, which a few years back used to be one of the best pre-Google search sites on the Web.

We love the subs, 'cause they are good to us

I capped off the week Friday evening with a Classic Club with Bacon from the new Quizno's across the street from Sonoma State University. As they say in the commercials, "Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm...toasty." They really do make a fine sandwich at Quizno's. It's that brief pass through the toaster oven that makes the difference.

I'm not a fan of franchise sub sandwiches in general. Subway's much-touted in-house-baked bread tastes like styrofoam, plus they cut the upper slice in a bizarre V-shaped fashion that makes the sandwich nearly impossible to eat without dumping toppings all over oneself. (No wonder that Jared guy lost all that weight — half the calories from each sandwich ended up in his lap, then he threw that wretched bread in the trash.) Port of Subs, which also has an outlet here in town, makes dull, flat-tasting, generally unappetizing fare. Togo's serves up a decent sub — when I worked for the health plan in Santa Rosa, I lunched on their offerings a couple of times a week — but our local branch closed a couple of years back when the owners retired. Sigh.

Quizno's has them all beat, and I'm delighted that they finally opened a pair of outlets here. If there's a branch in your neck of the woods, hie yourself over there and pick up a sub sometime. (Skip their so-called "Philly Cheesesteak," though. The meat is okay, but they slather on this nasty white cheddar cheese sauce that would send true Philadelphians into apoplectic spasms. Just a tip from your Uncle Swan.) A Quizno's Classic Club and a Coca-Cola Slurpee from the 7-Eleven next door, watching the Olympics...as Alton Brown would say, "That's good eats." (Alton would probably cavil at the thought of a franchise sub — toasted or not — and a Slurpee, but unlike him, I am a man of unrefined culinary sensibility and darned proud of it.)

I do miss the spongmonkeys, though. One of the most memorable TV spots ever. "They got a pepper bar!"

Sidebar: the resident students at SSU must be loving life. After decades of not having any form of fast food within speedy reach of the campus — not that anything here is all that far, but nothing was within a ten-minute walk — within just a few months they've gained a Quizno's, a Mickey D's, a Starbucks, one of those Taco Bell/Pizza Hut hybrid joints, and a 7-Eleven, all a stone's chuck across the road. Any of those franchises within such close proximity to a college campus represents a license to print money, at least during the school year.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Can you hear me now?

Today I finally did something I've said for years I'd never do — I bought a wireless phone. (I understand it's not strictly accurate to call them cellular phones anymore. Who knew?)

KJ has had one for years, and even KM has one now, but I've always ridiculed the idea that I'd ever carry one myself. (Anyone who knows my legendary antipathy for talking on the phone can surmise the psychological reasons.) But I do drive long distances to chorus rehearsals and performances and competitions, so I guess it won't kill me to have one along for emergencies. And, in these uncertain times, one never knows when one might be stranded on the wrong end of a bridge somewhere.

The main factor in my breakdown, however, was a system that appeals to my inner control freak. I've heard so many horror stories about wireless contracts — my father-in-law spent several hours on the phone with his carrier just this week trying to sort out an overcharge on his latest statement — that health club memberships seem user-friendly by comparison. Then earlier this week, I learned about a company called TracFone that will sell you a phone, and you just buy minutes every couple of months according to your usage needs. (All right, it's slightly more involved than that, but don't interrupt me when I'm pushing my comfort envelope.)

So this afternoon, in the wake of a hefty check from my favorite client, I bopped over to Target, plunked down fifty bucks plus tax, and became the latest idiot with the ability to careen heedlessly through traffic with a little plastic box plastered to my ear, like James T. Kirk piloting a shuttlecraft high on Antarean brandy.

Not that I will, mind you. But now I can.

Welcome to the Wireless Age, Mr. Swan.

Why do they call it gymnastics, when there's never a competitor named Jim?

Kudos to American gymnast Carly Patterson, who captured Olympic gold in the women's all-around. She did it in only slightly less spectacular fashion than Paul Hamm's stunning quantum leap from twelfth place yesterday, but it was still stirring to see.

I sure wish they didn't feel compelled to plaster the young women's faces with a half-inch of makeup, topped off with a slather of rouge, a couple of hefty dollops of mascara, and a blizzard of glitter. It would make us take the female gymnasts far more seriously as athletes if they weren't painted up like porcelain dolls from the Marie Osmond Collection.

And will someone please order Russian silver medalist Svetlana Khorkina, a Double-Double with cheese, animal style, with fries and a shake? That poor kid looks like the Olympic version of Karen Carpenter. I understand she was a centerfold in the Russian edition of Playboy — if that's true, I'll bet she disappeared behind the staples. Check out the souvlaki and baklava before you leave Athens, Svetlana.

Hippo hat birdies two ewes!

Today was KJ's half-birthday. I'm sure she'd be quick to tell you that when you're 18 months from the Big Four-Oh, those half-birthdays are a lot less enthusiastically announced.

Then again, a month from now, we'll mark four years out from her diagnosis. When we think back on that, we'll summon up some enthusiasm for every precious day we get.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


Now that was sweet.

Gymnast Paul Hamm, after a devastating fall in his vault maneuver, roars back to kick tail and take names on the high bar to become the first American male to win the gold in the Olympic men's all-around. Gynmastics isn't really a sport in my opinion, because its outcome is determined by judges' scoring, but as an athletic exhibition, Mr. Hamm's performance was one heck of a show.

It was almost enough to make one forget about the defeats incurred by Venus Williams and Andy Roddick in tennis singles, and by the no-shooting, ball-hogging, defense-incapable, Allen Iverson-led U.S. men's basketball team.


Introspection break

Call me a mindless dope with too much free time (yeah, right), but I always get a kick out of memes that take the form of personality analysis quizzes. This one I stumbled across today was kind of fun.

Are you more...

1. Uptown or downtown? Downtown. I like bright lights, neon, and nervous energy. It's why I dig Vegas so much.

2. Country or rock and roll? Rock and roll, of course. I share Buddy Rich's allergy. (For those whove never heard the story, the great jazz drummer Buddy Rich was once rushed to the emergency room after suffering a mild heart attack. As the admitting nurse was filling out his paperwork, she asked the patient, "Mr. Rich, do you have any allergies?" To which the legendary percussionist -- his wit undimmed by his medical circumstances, replied, "Yes. Country music.")

3. Extrovert or introvert? Introvert. Though it would surprise many who know me best as a dazzling public speaker, master of ceremonies, and extemporaneous presenter, I suffer from occasionally paralyzing bouts of social anxiety. It just happens not to affect me in front of a group -- only in one-on-one situations, in social groups (I'm the world's biggest wallflower at a party), or on the telephone.

4. Top or bottom? Top. I'm a control freak.

5. Timid or brazen? Timid. See #3 above. I'm risk-avoidance with a capital R.

6. Slow and drawn out or fast and furious? Slow and drawn out. I don't do anything fast, except maybe eat.

7. Pitcher or catcher? Pitcher. It's that control freak thing again. Plus I have bad knees and can't squat or kneel for any length of time without excruciating pain.

8. Lefty-loosey or righty-tighty? Righty. About all I can do with my left hand is type.

9. Into singin' in the rain or feelin' no pain? Definitely singing. I can't survive a day without it.

10. Prone to bark or meow? Bark. Sometimes I even mean it.

11. Spider-Man or Wolverine? Spider-Man. My hero since I was five. Wolverine, in my opinion, was one of two characters (the Punisher was the other) that helped ruin my enjoyment of Marvel Comics in the '80s.

12. Crazy genius or starving artist? Crazy. Genius. Wile E. Coyote, at your service.

13. Alpha or omega? Alpha. I'm a great starter, lousy finisher.

14. Good Time Charlie or the third little pig who built his house out of bricks? I'm afraid I'm the pig.

15. A cool cucumber or a hot pepper? Cool cucumber. In the immortal words of Ricky Jay in David Mamet's Heist, I'm so cool that when I go to sleep, sheep count me.

16. A bowler or a golfer? Bowler. The only golf I enjoy involves volcanoes and windmills. That, or Microsoft Golf, which is one of the few games (along with chess, blackjack, solitaire, and Elf Bowling) I keep on my computer.

17. Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla. I'm not much for chocolate. Pass the cream soda.

18. Meat and potatoes or haute cuisine? Meat and potatoes. The portions are bigger.

19. Livin' large or laughin' easy? Both. Can't have one without the other.

20. Catch of the day or the house specialty? Catch of the day, if it's truly fresh and well prepared.

Incidentally, if you dig this sort of thing, The Memes List is an excellent place to lose yourself for a few hours.

The rivalry lives!

The best ad I've seen on TV lately is one I spotted today for Fox Sports Bay Area.

A bicyclist has been struck by a car and is lying injured in the street. An ambulance arrives to assist. The two EMTs leap from the vehicle and dash to the unconscious victim, life-saving equipment in tow. The paramedics lean down to begin resuscitation, unzipping the cyclist's jacket as they do so. Underneath his windbreaker, the victim is wearing...a Los Angeles Dodgers T-shirt.

The paramedics pack up their gear, pile into the ambulance, and drive off, leaving the cyclist as they found him.

Okay, so you have to be a Giants fan to appreciate it. I thought it was hilarious.

The spot reminded me of another Giants-oriented TV commercial from back when Jeffrey "The Hac-Man" Leonard was one of San Francisco's star players. The ad featured Leonard, whose other nickname was "Penitentiary Face," staring into the camera and intoning, "You shouldn't hate anyone. The Bible says it's wrong to hate. But if you were going to hate someone, the Dodgers would be a good place to start."

Dodgers fans, feel welcome to keep your comments to your own late-arriving, early-departing, beach-ball-bopping selves.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Actually, those have always been on the menu in Vegas...

The well-known Hooters chain of restaurants today signed a deal to manage the Hotel San Remo in Las Vegas. (The San Remo is the smaller hotel behind the Tropicana, across Tropicana Boulevard from the MGM Grand.)

Insert your own punch line here.

I suppose that after the Hooters folks bought their own airline (you think I'm kidding, don't you?), their own Vegas casino was inevitable. I've never eaten at Hooters (will you relax?), but they do seem everywhere these days (oh, stop that -- you're being childish now). The last time I went to San Diego with KJ, we stayed at the Radisson in Mission Valley, which is directly across the freeway from the local Hooters outlet.

A couple of years ago, when I went to Nashville, the first sight that greeted me as I exited the jetway into the terminal at the Nashville airport was a Brobdingnagian poster advertising the three local branches of Hooters. The same poster appeared in three different locations at the Nashville Convention Center. Which surprised me, really -- I'd always envisioned Nashville as a rather conservative place, not the sort of city where one would expect to find three Hooters restaurants. Especially not advertised so prominently in areas where visitors would happen by.

From a marketing standpoint, you'd have to figure this will make a big difference for the San Remo, which has long been overshadowed by the mammoth hotels surrounding it -- in addition to the Trop and the MGM, the San Remo is just a stone's throw from Excalibur, Luxor, and New York New York. It will also no doubt make excellent cannon fodder for the comics playing the Comedy Stop at the Trop next door.

At Miller Brewing, rockers gotta have the complexion to make the connection

The Miller Brewing Company is currently running a promotion celebrating the 50th anniversary of rock 'n' roll, with a series of eight commemorative beer cans featuring covers from Rolling Stone magazine.

Here's the odd part: all of the musicians featured on the Miller cans are of the Causasian persuasion.

That's so bizarre it almost defies description. How do you design a retrospective about an art form that originated in the African American subculture, without including any African Americans? As Robert Thompson, a popular culture historian from Syracuse University, put it, "It would be like doing a set of cans of six great Impressionist painters, and not including any French people."

Or, to use a more directly parallel example, it would be like issuing a set honoring the history of the National Basketball Association, and featuring only Larry Bird, Rick Barry, George Mikan, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Pistol Pete Maravich. Nothing wrong with any of those guys, but wouldn't that look a little peculiar?

Has no one at Miller ever heard of Chuck Berry? Ray Charles? James Brown? Little Richard? Sam Cooke? Jimi Hendrix? Tina Turner? Smokey Robinson? Aretha Franklin? The artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince? Earth, Wind & Fire? Or how about Lenny Kravitz, or Run-DMC? Apparently not. They have, however, heard of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, and Blondie, all of whom are showcased on the commemorative cans as hallmarks of rock history.

Bon Jovi? You've got to be kidding. Def Leppard? Their chief claims to fame are a drummer with one arm, and a blatant ripoff of another, far superior band's name. Alice Cooper? Please. He's better known as a commercial pitchman these days than as a rock 'n' roll heavyweight.

And Willie Nelson? What in the name of McKinley Morganfield does Willie Nelson have to do with rock 'n' roll? Perhaps they intended to feature Ricky Nelson, and someone in the art department got a mite confused.

This reminds me of that scene in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, in which the character Buggin' Out, played by Giancarlo Esposito, complains to pizzeria owner Sal (Danny Aiello), "How come there's no brothers on the wall?" referring to a wall at Sal's that's decorated with photos of celebrities including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Sal replies, "You want brothers on the wall? Get your own place, you can do what you want to do. But this is my pizzeria. American Italians on the wall only."

Maybe the message from Miller Beer is, "Get your own beer, and you can put whomever you want on the can. This is our beer, and it's white rockers (and Willie Nelson) on the can only." I don't who the Miller people think is buying all those forties of Olde English and Mickey's malt liquor they churn out, but here's a hint: they're the people not pictured on the Miller cans.

I don't drink, so I'm sure the Miller Brewing Company couldn't care less for my opinion. But here's a suggestion for a new tagline for Miller High Life: "Miller: It's not just the foam that's white."

Monday, August 16, 2004

Erdman on the economy

I heard a fascinating interview with economist Paul Erdman on KCBS Sunday morning. (The half-hour "In Depth" interview show at 8:30 a.m. Sundays is always worth tuning in.)

Erdman, who's an insightful guy and a homeboy of sorts — he lives here in Sonoma County — made a number of excellent observations about the current state of the economy that bear analysis.

First, Erdman did a turnaround on the Bush tax cuts, which he originally favored. In retrospect, Erdman said, the tax cuts focused too exclusively on the very wealthy -- people making over $200,000 annually, and those rich folks aren't spending the money due to the unsettled conditions in Iraq and in the domestic economy. They're sitting on the cash rather than pumping it into the system.

No surprise, from my perspective. I think the whole tired trickle-down concept has been pretty thoroughly discredited. Most rich people aren't rich because they spend their money frivolously, just because they have it to spend. They're rich because they're conservative and cautious, and know how to hang onto a buck. The notion that giving rich people more money will encourage them to spend more is foolish — if anything, it encourages them to stockpile more. The only way tax cuts boost the economy is if they're given to middle-class people, who are just itching to have a wad of cash to blow on some long-desired purchase.

Second, Erdman was surprisingly sanguine about the bugbear of outsourcing. As he put it, outsourcing is part of a capitalist economy — you produce goods or offer services where it's cheapest to do so. By Erdman's calculations, outsourcing is only responsible for a tiny portion of the job loss. Sure, those jobs are significant if one of them was yours, but in the larger scope of the economy, it's not a huge factor.

I think outsourcing is simply a fact of life. As Erdman says, the capitalist ideal is to go where it costs the least. But there will always be goods and services that can't be outsourced to any practical degree, or that are simply more convenient to produce domestically even if they could be done less expensively abroad. Plus, these kinds of things are cyclical. Erdman noted that the U.S. benefited in a major way in the post-WWII era from entire industries being outsourced from Europe because so many of the factories there were destroyed.

Third, Erdman finally said what I've been saying for some time about the crash of Silicon Valley — that the problem was overcapacity. The high tech industry simply developed the ability to produce more product than the market wanted to buy, and that efficiency killed them. That's exactly what happened to the PC manufacturers. They were cranking out new machines at record pace, thinking that people would upgrade every time a new model hit the market, turning their Pcs over every year or so. Well, the fact is that people don't upgrade anywhere near that often.

Most of us learned fairly early on in the PC boom that as long as your present machine still runs all the software your business and/or home situation requires, you can sit on that machine until it either goes bust on you, or your needs outgrow it. Given the capacity of most PCs on the market now, that need to upgrade is miles down the road for the majority of users. My current PC, for example, is two years old. It has an 80GB storage capacity on two drives, a 20GB and a 60GB. In two years, I haven't come close to maxing out the capacity of the smaller drive. The machine is plenty fast enough for all the tasks I perform, and more than adequate for all the apps I run. Unless it blows up, I could easily continue using it for many years to come, without needing to upgrade. And I think I'm typical of the home office PC user.

Erdman's bottom line in this interview was that the much touted recovery is smoke and mirrors. We could very well be headed back into recession by year's end, especially if the situation in Iran continues to tank, and the oil supply becomes adversely affected. I take no joy in saying it, but I suspect he's right.

Saturday, August 14, 2004


Now that Craigslist is going to be partly owned by eBay, it will be interesting to see whether the site maintains its uniquely charming character.

I think Craigslist is one of the most incredible tools on the Internet. (There's a link to it in my list of "Sites I Couldn't Function Without," in case you hadn't noticed.) Although I haven't posted there in a while, for the first year and a half I was independent, I kept an ad in the Creative listings all the time. It was part of my routine that the first thing I did on Monday morning — okay, second thing; first, I make coffee — was put up my Craigslist ad. I picked up quite a few jobs that way, and at least two regular clients. Cost out of my pocket? Not one red cent. I still scan the Writing/Editing and Marketing job postings a couple of times a week, fishing for leads.

I just hope that Craig Newmark stays in command, and doesn't let the corporate dunderheads mess up his good thing.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Olympic nostalgia

Watching the Olympic opening ceremonies, with athletes from 202 countries walking proudly behind their national flags, people of every shade and tone of humankind, sharing a stadium and the world stage, I just have to wonder...

Isn't it a shame we can't live like this all the time, instead of just for two weeks every four (every two, for the countries with winter sports) years?

It's also very cool to see Greece in the spotlight. I can't recall if I've written about it before, but I lived in Greece for two years when I was a preteen. My father was stationed at what was then a U.S. Air Force spy base (they called it "Security Service," but none of us had any illusions what was really going on) outside the city of Iraklion on the Greek island of Crete (Kriti, as the locals call it). Beautiful place, warm and lovely people, with a history unique in all the world as the cradle of what we so boldly call "Western civilization" today.

Interesting story — we ended up in Greece entirely by accident. My father was a carpenter by trade, and when he showed up at Iraklion Air Station, the base commander was completely nonplussed as to what to do with him. (Generally, Dad was assigned to civil engineering units, of which IAS had none.) The Pentagon refused to allow him to be sent back Stateside until his 24-month tour of duty was concluded, so the base brass put Dad in charge of the base's private beach. Seriously. His assigned job was loaning out volleyballs and styrofoam boogie boards, and overseeing a staff of three Greek lifeguards, two of whom were named George. (Half the men on Crete were named George. The other half were named either Stavros or Costas.)

The beach duty went so well that Dad got kicked upstairs to an air-conditioned office on the main campus, from which he managed not only the beach, but also the movie theater, the restaurant, and the other entertainment facilities. Our second year there, he won the award as the base's Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, complete with a massive trophy that was nearly as tall as I was then. I always used to kid him that the gave him a trophy because they felt sorry for him, getting stuck in Greece for two years with no real job.

I still look back on our Greek stay with a special fondness. If I ever got kicked out of my homeland for some reason, and had to live as an expatriate somewhere, I could do a lot worse than Crete. Yasou!

Bon appétit, Julia...and au revoir

I was sorry to hear about the passing of Julia Child today. My passion for cooking and for television cooking programs (drop by the house any Saturday morning or afternoon when I'm working, and you'll find the current PBS slate on in the background) began with Julia's The French Chef back in the day.

It's been interesting to see Julia's programs of the past few years, as she's relied almost entirely on guest chefs such as Jacques Pepin and Alice Waters to do the actual cooking, as she kibitzed and tasted everything in sight. (How funny it was to watch her hovering over the guest's shoulder, practically drooling over the moment when she could finally reach over and stick a tasting spoon into the pot!)

Julia was a quirky and fascinating presence on the tube — down to earth, unpretentious, and uniquely herself. She knew what she liked and didn't like, and was never afraid to say either. She wasn't embarrassed to acknowledge when a dish she was preparing didn't turn out quite as she had planned. She gleefully swiped crumbs and spills onto the floor with the verve of knowing some volunteer intern would clean it up later. She introduced millions of us to the joys of dabbling in the kitchen, and of being willing to experiment with new tastes and new culinary concepts. She also introduced the cooking world to the notion of not taking itself too seriously, and did us all a favor in the process.

Although I'm sure her old shows will run on PBS in perpetuity, it won't be quite the same on Saturdays knowing Julia has said her last "Bon appétit." We'll raise a glass in her honor.

And again there were four

Well, that didn't take long.

The quartet landed a bass singer on Thursday. We auditioned two guys on Tuesday night, and the one who turned out to be the clear and unanimous choice accepted our invitation.

Our new fourth makes us substantially better immediately. He's an exceptionally talented singer, if still a little raw around the edges, with energy to burn and a real drive to learn and grow. We may all end up chasing him eventually — he's that good — but it'll be an exciting run.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Amazin' Jason

Congrats to Jason Schmidt on a sterling pitching performance today, shutting out the Pirates on four hits for his National League-leading 15th victory.

Interesting to note: right behind Schmidt in the "most wins" column are two ex-Giant hurlers, Shawn Estes (now with the Colorado Rockies) and Russ Ortiz (now with the Atlanta Braves), each with 13 victories.

Just imagine where the G-Men would be if they had all three of those guys in their starting rotation, instead of Unhittable Schmidt and the usual gang of idiots.

Funny this wasn't mentioned in his official bio...

So the governor of New Jersey is resigning because he, although married (to a real live woman and everything), had an extramarital affair with another man. "My truth," said Governor James McGreevey, "is that I am a gay American."

Here's the weird part. (I know, you're thinking that first paragraph was already pretty weird.) Not only is McGreevey married now (to a real live woman and everything), but he's been married once previously. I haven't seen photos of his first wife, but I will give her the benefit of the doubt and presume that she, like the current Mrs. McGreevey, is a real live woman and everything.

So, to quote Fred Willard in A Mighty Wind, "Wha' happened?" Did McGreevey just wake up one morning and decide, "You know, this whole hetero thing just ain't cuttin' for me — I need a taste of 'the love that dares not speak its name'"? I don't know why his first marriage broke up (apparently Mrs. McGreevey #1 now lives in British Columbia, where men are men and moose are nervous), but if this predilection had anything to do with it, why get married (to a real live woman and everything) again? How do you make that mistake twice?

And for pity's sake, man — you're the governor of a state, with all the intense media scrutiny that attends the job, and you didn't think someone would eventually spill the beans on the fact that you're hitting on one of your top (or perhaps bottom — however that goes) advisors? Did you miss that whole Lewinsky thing? Do they not have CNN in New Jersey?

Speaking of New Jersey, the folks there must be absolutely ecstatic to learn that they were forking over $110,000 per year from the state kitty to pay some guy to play Terry and the Pirates with the governor. When they say, "your tax dollars at work," I doubt the good citizens of Jersey thought anyone would be "workin' it" quite like that.

The same-sex marriage conundrum

Today the California Supreme Court declared null and void the nearly 4,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in San Francisco during February and March of this year.

This shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. California state law is unequivocal on the issue. Some will argue that the law is unconstitutional — and the day will doubtless come when the U.S. Supreme Court is forced to rule on that point — but until the law itself is nullified, it says what it says.

I've always been a little puzzled by the whole same-sex marriage argument anyway. Those who advocate for the practice argue that they only want the same rights everyone else has. The problem, in my view, is that they have the same rights already. Every unmarried heterosexual adult has the right to marry any other unmarried adult of the opposite gender who will marry him or her. Gay people have that exact same right. Every unmarried homosexual adult has the right to marry any other unmarried adult of the opposite gender who will marry him or her — same as straight folks. Everyone's rights are identical in this regard.

Now, it may well be that, if you're gay, you don't especially want to marry an adult of the opposite gender (unless you're the governor of New Jersey, but that's another post), but that's irrelevant. We all have rights we elect not to exercise. As an adult, I have the right to smoke tobacco in my own home. I choose not to do so. Since I'm over 21, I have the right to drink alcohol responsibly. I choose not to do that either. But the fact that I have rights I elect not to exercise should not entitle me to additional rights no one else has. No one in California, gay or straight, can legally marry a person of the same sex. I wouldn't want to, myself, but I don't have the legal right even were I so inclined.

To argue that some people should be able to do what no one else has the right to do is not an argument for equal rights. It's an argument for having greater rights than others. And why should anyone, regardless of sexual preference, be entitled to that?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Guilty pleasures

In the world of film fandom, we call them "guilty pleasures," movies you know aren't great art — and which you may in fact recognize as utter trash — but with somehow bring a big goofy grin to your face if you happen across them while channel-surfing. The writers at MSNBC.com have weighed in with their favorites, so I'll contribute a few of mine. (This is by no means an exhaustive list — half the films I enjoy fall into the "guilty pleasures" category.)

Anaconda: Hey, it's J-Lo and a giant jungle snake — what's not to like? Quite a bit, apparently, as this film is almost universally scorned. Of all the movies I've reviewed for DVD Verdict, this was the one for which I've taken the most flak for giving a positive review.

Necessary Roughness: It's an impossibly lame Longest Yard swipe, with all the awfulness that phrase suggests. However, Sinbad and Larry Miller — two underrated comedians — each have some funny moments, and how could you not enjoy seeing Harley Jane Kozak (an undeservedly overlooked actress; she was originally cast in the TV series Once and Again, but when she got pregnant, her role went to Sela Ward) and Kathy Ireland (yes, the one-time supermodel, still in her pre-voice-lessons, early-Mariel Hemingway helium-speech phase) in the same movie? I'm doing my "I'm gonna get some poi" dance just thinking about it.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: I can cite you 100 reasons why LXG stinks like a Missouri compost heap in August, among them bizarre anachronisms (yes, this is steampunk, but poorly researched steampunk at that), hilariously bad technical errors (a submarine the size of the Chrysler Building navigates the canals of Venice — what?), and a sleepwalking Sean Connery in all-out "hand me my paycheck, junior, and get out of my face" mode). But that doesn't keep me from having an absolute blast watching it.

Passenger 57: As cliched as action films come, but still enormous fun. Wesley Snipes snaps off one of the great one-liners in action movie history: "Always bet on black." (You have to see the film and understand the context to get the joke. But trust me — it's funny.) The tagline for this film should have been, "Don't mess with Wes."

The Golden Child: Like Beverly Hills Cop, this is a movie that was envisioned very differently (originally, it was supposed to star Mel Gibson, with horror maven John Carpenter directing) and reimagined for Eddie Murphy, who's actually excellent in it despite a patchwork script and clunky ending. Charles Dance's Sardo Numspa is one of the great overlooked movie villains of the 80's. And, oh yeah...Charlotte Lewis. (Whatever happened to her career?)

Risky Business: Better than most of the teen comedies of the '80s because of its dark edges and stellar acting by stars Tom Cruise, Rebecca DeMornay, and the always dependably sleazy Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano. You haven't lived until you've heard Curtis "Booger" Armstrong intone, "I've got a trig midterm tomorrow, and I'm being chased by Guido the killer pimp."

Frankie and Annette Beach Party flicks: I grew up watching these blamed fool things on Armed Forces television, and even now I'll stop and chuckle over them if I stumble across one on a Saturday afternoon. Harvey Lembeck's hapless biker Eric Von Zipper always makes me laugh. The first time I ever really noticed a "girl" — in real life or onscreen — was Annette singing "I'll Never Change Him" in Beach Blanket Bingo.

The pot calls the kettle Darth Vader

The Internet Movie Database reported yesterday:
George Lucas, a longtime foe of "colorized" movies, has sharply criticized Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment's decision to release two Three Stooges DVDs today (Tuesday) that will allow viewers to watch them in either their original black-and-white or digitally colored versions. In an interview with the Associated Press, Lucas said, that the Stooges' slapstick comedy belongs in a black-and-white universe. "Would color distract from their comedy and make it not as funny anymore?" Lucas said. "Maybe just the fact that they're in black and white makes it funny, because their humor is dated. But by putting it in black and white, it puts it in a context where you can appreciate it for what it was. But you try to make it in full living color and try to compare it to a Jim Carrey movie, then it's hard for young people to understand. ... It's not fair to the artist."
Hello? Is this the same George Lucas who insists on digitally doctoring his iconic original Star Wars trilogy to suit his current agenda, then refuses to release the films on DVD in their pristine theatrical condition so viewers can decide for themselves?

To paraphrase the late, great Marvin Gaye (who was not, despite anything Terrell Owens may tell you), "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Hypocrisy)."

The Owens Doctrine: Don't ask, but tell anyway

A new chapter from the best seller How Not to Win Friends and Influence People by Terrell Owens:

The ex-49er -- now Philadelphia Eagle -- wide receiver was asked in an upcoming Playboy interview whether former teammate Jeff Garcia, now quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns, is gay. (In case you're wondering from where in left field that question was lobbed in, the issue was a constant source of media speculation and pseudo-insider scuttlebutt throughout Garcia's tenure with the Niners.)

Here's the response from Owens, one of professional sports' leading sufferers from hoof-in-mouth disease: "Like my boy tells me: "If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat."

When Garcia bridled at the reported comment, Owens had this to say: "My thing was I didn't say that he was gay. Like I said, the conversation and interview was loose and from my knowledge I'm not sure if Jeff is gay or not."

So, the question is, T.O., why even address the subject? If someone asked me if an associate of mine was gay, I'd tell them, "Why ask me? If you think it's your business, have enough gumption to go to the source, and ask the person directly." Instead, Owens chose to answer the question in such a way that the clear subtext is, "Yeah, he's gay, but I don't want to say it in so many words." If Owens really isn't sure if Garcia is gay, why the innuendo? Or at the very least, how about giving the guy the benefit of the doubt: "I don't know, but I don't have any reason to believe he's gay."

Then again, if you consent to be interviewed in Playboy -- hardly a bastion of serious journalism -- what does that say about you?

"The famous Long Island bluesman comes back"

Back in the days when Walter Hill still made good films, circa 1986, he directed an offbeat little number entitled Crossroads.

The film stars Ralph Macchio (not the Marvel Comics editor -- the kid from The Karate Kid and My Cousin Vinny), the always excellent Joe Seneca, and Jami Gertz, at the time probably best known as the annoyingly enthusiastic Muffy Tepperman on the short-lived but fondly-recalled TV comedy Square Pegs. Loosely based on the legend of blues guitarist Robert Johnson, the story also bears a remarkable similarity to the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band.

Crossroads is a silly bit of fluff, and as implausible as it's possible for a movie to be and still retain some semblance of suspension of disbelief, but it's great, artfully crafted fun nonetheless. That fine actor Joe Morton cuts a cool and stylish swath cool as the devil's henchman, rock stud Steve Vai gets to reel off a few choice chords, and there's a delightfully realistic and nonsaccharine byplay between the young white kid who wishes to play the blues like Robert Johnson, and the old black man who knows all too well the price that wish can cost.

The film is newly available on DVD this week, in case you're intrigued enough to go check it out. (My copy's already in the rack, waiting to be viewed. You'll have to get your own.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Welcome to the 30/13 Club, Barry

Tonight, Barry Bonds joined yet another elite club of which he is the sole member. Bonds became the first player in baseball history to hit 30 or more home runs in 13 consecutive seasons.

The guy never ceases to amaze. And I hope things work out that he never wears another uniform in baseball besides the Orange and Black. Time will tell.

As they used to say about Roy Hobbs, he's the best I ever saw.

Monday, August 09, 2004

'Twas Beauty killed the Beast

Fay Wray, whom we'll always remember as the beautiful girl in the giant paw of King Kong, died today at the age of 96.

A lot of people don't realize that Ms. Wray had appeared in some 40 films before she became cinema's most famous damsel in distress in 1933, and made about 45 more after that — mostly cruddy B-movies. She also co-starred in a 1950s TV series entitled The Pride of the Family, in which she played the mother of a young Natalie Wood.

Too bad Ms. Wray didn't live long enough to attend the premiere of Peter Jackson's Kong remake. That would have been a photo op worth savoring.

Picking up the Keyes to the Senate

So the Illinois GOP convinced Alan Keyes to run against Barack Obama for Peter Fitzgerald's soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat. I can just imagine how those meetings went.

"Do we have any black guys who could run against Obama?"
"Black guys? What are you, kidding? This is the Republican Party, man. The GOP: Gentlemen Of Pallor only."
"Come on, there's gotta be somebody."
"Well, who was that black guy who ran for President the last couple of times? Short fella, talked a lot."
"Alan somebody."
"Keyes. Alan Keyes."
"Yeah, him. Could we get him?"
"I dunno. Is he even from Illinois?"
"No, I think he's from Maryland or someplace."
"Who cares? He's like the only black Republican anyone's ever seen since Sammy Davis Jr. kissed Dick Nixon."
"What the heck. Give him a call."

The ironies of the Keyes for Senator from Illinois campaign are almost too numerous to mention, but let's tick off a few, shall we?

  1. Keyes royally ripped Hillary Clinton on his then-extant talk show for carpetbagging her way into New York's junior Senate seat. In fact, just last week when asked his opinion about possibly running for public office in a state where he's never lived, Keyes said, "I don't think it's a good idea." Hmm..."happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves."

  2. Keyes is fond of preaching the gospel of personal responsibility, but he still owes half a million dollars from his two abortive Presidential campaigns, plus more than seven grand in unpaid income taxes in Maryland. He's already saying he's going to rely on the GOP, and GOP voters, to bankroll his campaign. Way to take responsibility, Alan.

  3. Keyes routinely lambastes affirmative action, but here he is taking a nomination that he's only being offered because the Republicans want a black candidate to divide the vote. I think that's the Clarence Thomas "it's only affirmative action if it helps some other black person beside me" defense.

  4. Keyes talks a good game — he's been the Republicans' most interesting and engaging candidate the past two Presidential campaigns, and seems like a decent guy — but he's never actually run anything. He's a Harvard PhD who's mostly lived on the taxpayers' ticket his entire adult life, as a Foreign Service officer, an ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and a State Department official.

  5. Keyes has never held elective office; in addition to his two quixotic Presidential runs, he's twice run for and lost Senate seats in Maryland. The last time, he caught major flak when it came out that he was paying himself a salary out of the campaign kitty, which isn't illegal but isn't especially ethical.

Let's not forget that the reason the Repubs need a fresh candidate in the first place is because their previous golden boy, Jack Ryan, aka Mr. Seven of Nine, got outed by his TV-star ex-wife, whom he apparently tried to persuade to have public sex at swingers' clubs. Yeah, that sounded pretty conservative to me, too.

Of course, I'm a Californian, so neither Obama nor Keyes has any real reason to care what I think. But as I've written previously, I believe Barack Obama has a future on the national stage, and when he gets there, I'll certainly consider voting for him. Alan Keyes? He's a pretty good talk show host, from what I hear.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Did Bell make the first booty call?

I get a chuckle out of the new SBC telephone company commercial that begins with the impersonated voice of Alexander Graham Bell uttering the first electronically transmitted vocal sentence: "Mr. Watson, come here; I want to see you."

What makes the ad funny is that all the historical texts I've ever seen — including the Columbia Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Encarta — record Bell's famous first call thus: "Watson, come here; I want you."

I guess the folks at SBC thought that whole "I want you" business might be misconstrued in this more entendre-alert age. Or maybe there was more to the Bell-Watson relationship than we've been told, and SBC is trying to hush it up.

Giants update: Swan the Swami correct again

I hate to say, "I told you so," but...well...

I did.

Nevertheless, congratulations to Greg Maddux, who won his 300th game by beating the Giants. Maddux is an unusual duck — a smart guy of unimposing size and underwhelming velocity who has simply outfoxed hitters over his phenomenal career with pinpoint control and a variety of pitches and speeds. He may well be the last 300-win pitcher we'll see in baseball (Maddux's ex-teammate Tom Glavine is closest at 259 wins and is still pitching well at 38, so he has an outside shot). But if someone had to be the last guy to achieve the mark, Maddux is a great choice — a pitcher who, were he just starting out in this era of obsession with the radar gun, would never get a second look from most major league scouts because he doesn't throw 95-mph fastballs.

If I ever publish my long-percolating novel about a fictional ex-Giants pitcher, sharp sabermetricians will notice that I stole my character's stats right off the back of Greg Maddux's baseball card.

Mr. O'Lucky's luck runs out

Lovers of Vegas kitsch are mourning the passing of Mr. O'Lucky, the giant leprechaun who lived at the front of Fitzgeralds Hotel and Casino downtown during the '80s and early '90s. Mr. O'Lucky perished in flames at Vegas' famed Neon Boneyard, to which he had retired a few years back.

Speaking of the Fitz, here's some interesting trivia for you:

Fitzgeralds is the tallest hotel/casino in downtown Las Vegas, and was for 15 years the tallest building in all of Nevada. It lost the title when the Stratosphere Tower was erected.

Despite its pervasive Irish theme, Fitzgeralds is the only hotel/casino in Nevada owned by an African American: Don Barden, the CEO of a gaming company called Majestic Star Casino LLC. (Of course, the Fitz was "Irish" before Barden bought it.)

Friday, August 06, 2004

Talk about a set-up for failure...

Tomorrow, a rookie named Brad Hennessey is pitching his major league debut for the Giants against the Chicago Cubs. It's nerve-wracking enough to be pitching one's first game in the big leagues, but the Giants are asking the kid to do it on a day when opposing pitcher Greg Maddux will be angling for his 300th career victory, with all the attendant media attention that will engender.

What were the Giants brass thinking? Why not put one of their more experienced starters into that pressure cooker — say, the recently-banished-to-the-bullpen Dustin Hermanson — and move the kid to Sunday, thereby earning him a fighting chance of winning that first start?

Then again, this is the same Giants brass whose big move before the trading deadline was trading F-Rod for the ever-popular Ricky Ledee.

It's going to be a short October for the G-Men.

Super Freak no more

On the obituary front, funkmeister Rick James died today at the age of 56. Hundreds of his brain cells, the interior lining of his nasal cavities, and any hope of a sterling reputation preceded him in death.

All kidding aside, Rick James was a phenomenally talented musician who allowed his passion for drugs and certain bizarre sexual proclivities get the better of him. His lengthy string of hit tunes — "Bustin’ Out," "Mary Jane," "Love Gun," "Big Time," "Cold Blooded," "Give it to Me Baby," and the ubiquitous "Super Freak," which gained a second life on the pop charts when MC Hammer co-opted its bass line as the platform for "U Can't Touch This" — created the foundation of much of modern hip-hop. (You might argue whether that's a good thing, and I might even agree at some level, but you can't deny the power of influence.) He also created hits for such artists as Teena Marie, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and his protégés, the Mary Jane Girls.

It's sad that James, whose real name was James Johnson, expended his talents in such a profligate manner. The man could definitely write a riff — whether you enjoy funk or hate it, just try to keep from moving your body to the beat when a Rick James classic comes pumping out of your stereo speakers, or those of the near-deaf kid in the car next to you. Too bad the Super Freak couldn't pull his life together and fulfill his enormous potential.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

We have met the enemy, and he is ours

Great line by the President today as he was signing the new defense spending bill:
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
I've long suspected that was the case. It's a little scary to know I was right.

Good on ya, John McCain

Kudos to Senator John McCain, for expressing his disgust with the latest attack ad against John Kerry's Vietnam service, sponsored by the Bush-supporting "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." Boos and hisses to the White House for not complying with McCain's request that the President denounce the ad publicly.

McCain remembers all too well the same kind of dirty pool being pulled on him by the Bush backers during the 2000 campaign. He could have simply said nothing in this case, but instead had the courage to step forward and make it known that these tactics are "dishonest and dishonorable." (None of the veterans who appear in the ad were members of Kerry's crew in the incident for which Kerry won the Bronze Star and earned his third Purple Heart, but rather were on other swiftboats in the same general area.)

The President, via his mouthpiece Scott McClellan, had the audacity to refuse to echo McCain's outrage, instead patting himself on the back for signing the campaign finance reform bill McCain co-sponsored — a bill the President opposed, and only signed because his feet were held to the fire.

I used to have serious reservations about McCain, given his association years ago with the so-called Keating Five Scandal, a savings and loan influence-peddling debacle back in the late 1980s and early '90s. McCain was one of a quintet of U.S. Senators (and the lone Republican) connected to a shady character named Charles Keating, at the time the president of a financial institution, Lincoln Savings and Loan, that went belly-up, taking a couple of billion of its depositors' simoleons along with it. These Senators, dubbed the "Keating Five," attempted to persuade the chairman of the federal regulatory agency which governed S&Ls to curtail an investigation into Lincoln's finances. Whether that attempt at persuasion had anything to do with the combined $1.3 million in campaign contributions from Keating weighing heavily in their pockets, I'll let you speculate.

Over the past dozen or so years, McCain has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be a stand-up guy, even when that's meant putting himself at odds with many of his GOP cohorts in Congress, and with the Republican White House. This present instance is merely another example of the way McCain has fairly consistently put justice and truth first and partisan politics second — a rare act in Washington these days.

Sometimes I'm asked what it would take for me to vote for a Republican for President. If the GOP ever nominates John McCain, I'll at least be compelled to think about it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Swimmin' pools...movie stars...

Max Baer, Jr. is at it again.

The one-time actor, best known as the musclebound bumpkin Jethro Clampett on the 1960s TV comedy The Beverly Hillbillies, is still trying to build his long-planned — if not especially eagerly-awaited — northern Nevada hotel and casino with a Beverly Hillbillies theme.

Baer originally wanted to erect his masterpiece, complete with a 200-foot-tall fire-belching oil derrick, right on the main drag in Reno, on the current site of a shopping mall. The Reno city fathers repeatedly told him to take his cement pond and his possum pie and not let the screen door smack him on the rump on the way out of town.

After years of wrangling with the Reno authorities without success, the erstwhile Jethro bought an old Wal-Mart store in Carson City as the site for his dream castle. This week, a judge put the kibosh on the project, ruling that local zoning restrictions prohibit places of recreation or amusement on the property.

Memo to Jethro:

Pardon my asking, but...does anyone except you still care about The Beverly Hillbillies? That chapter closed 30-plus years ago, man. Time to move on. Nothing to see here.

Perhaps instead of trying to build a casino in Nevada, where your sterling contributions to American popular culture are apparently not appreciated, you should consider opening your hillbilly house in Branson, Missouri. That crowd may just be more your speed.

Tigger the fondling tiger exonerated

A guy who plays Tigger at Walt Disney World was today found not guilty of inappropriately touching a 13-year-old girl while in costume as the friendly tiger character from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

The only times I've felt inappropriately touched at a Disney theme park was by the inescapable hand of Uncle Walt grabbing at my wallet. But I've never brought charges.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

All's (County) Fair

Tonight I took KJ, KM, and one of KM's friends to the Sonoma County Fair. We had a ball, as we do one summer evening every year.

For those of you living in the stifling crush of urban America who have absolutely no clue what a "county fair" is, think of a really low-rent amusement park, a rodeo, a petting zoo, and every product you've ever seen advertised on late-night TV crammed together in a big open space populated by all of the people who usually (a) shop at Wal-Mart, (b) work at Wal-Mart, or (c) live in a trailer in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It's a place to wander around eating greasy food you'd never dare touch in a normal environment, buy weird junk you'd never consider buying in a store (my prize this year — a necktie with musical notes on it; KJ got some New Age-y misting fountain gizmo that cost eighty bucks), and see as bizarre a collection of unwashed humanity as you'll ever find in one location. Anyone who thinks God lacks a sense of humor has never been to the Sonoma County Fair.

For young (and not so young) women, shirts that uncover the midriff (and the stretch marks, cellulite, navel jewelry, and C-section scars that accrue in that anatomical region) were still the height of fashion this fair season. Half the people of both genders (okay, all genders — this is Sonoma County, after all) toured the fairgrounds with a wireless phone plastered to one ear. ("Yeah, I'm walking down the midway with people screaming on the Kamikaze, carnies barking at me left and right, and insanely loud heavy metal and rap music blaring from every oversized speaker in sight. Can you hear me now?")

There were fewer food concessions this year — a recurrent theme the past several fairs — but I scored a pretty decent fried seafood plate (they actually battered and cooked the stuff as I waited; no Mrs. Paul's for these guys) and a better-than-average Philly cheesesteak. KM and friend rode everything that didn't turn upside-down and had a grand time. KJ and I people-watched and had a grand time too.

I know; you're glad you missed it. But when I see the grins on the girls as they troop back to the car at the end of the night, munching cotton candy and with hair still damp from the flume ride, I know I wouldn't have missed it for the world. In fact, I can hardly wait until next summer.

Howlin' "Wolf"

Now that the President has decided to adopt the recommendation of the 9/11 Committee to establish a "czar" for the nation's intelligence operations, I have a few suggestions for people he might consider for the job:

  • Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens.
  • Ben Curtis, the guy who used to do the Dell Computer commercials before he got busted with the Evil Weed ("Dude, you're gettin' a cell").
  • William Hung.
  • Sharon Stone.
  • Ted Lange, who played Isaac on The Love Boat.
  • Ken Jennings, Mr. Jeopardy!
  • The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
  • Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart.
  • Emo Philips.
  • Me.

Why these folks? No particular reason, really. But if any of them took over the responsibility for U.S. intelligence from the people who are doing it now, you'd never notice a difference.

This whole business about issuing a limited terror alert based on three-to-four-year-old intelligence is just plain wack. Let's get people all excited about something someone may have been thinking about doing around the time of the last Summer Olympics. Never mind the fact that, as the New York Times quotes an unnamed "counterterrorism official in Washington" as saying, "We know that al-Qaeda routinely cases targets and then puts the plans on a shelf without doing anything." The Times article also notes, "Federal authorities said on Monday that they had uncovered no evidence that any of the surveillance activities described in the documents was currently under way."

We all remember the story of the boy who cried "Wolf." He did it so often without just cause that on the day the wolf really did appear, no one heeded his pleas for help and the wolf ate him. Our government is well on its way to doing the exact same thing. How many times in the past three years have we heard these kinds of warnings, and nothing ever comes of them? Thank God nothing does, but one supposes it might be a good idea to wait until someone actually smells (maybe even sees) smoke before screaming that the house is afire. Otherwise, a cynic might envision all manner of sinister reasons for the false alarms.

It's a Catch-22, of course. The day the Feds disregard some possible warning sign, fail to sound the alarm, and the threat proves to be real -- and lethal -- everyone will point fingers of blame and shout, "If you had some indication, why didn't you warn us?" But my problem with what's going on now is that they always seem to warn us when there's no solid reason to believe that danger is imminent. We need someone in charge who's better able to sift the wheat from the chaff, and can make more reasoned determinations about which threats matter and which ones don't.

No, I don't know how to accomplish that. What concerns me is this: neither do the people whose job it is to know.

Positive proof that bad movies can kill

More from the legal front:

Erwin Petterson of Kenai, Alaska is on trial this week for killing a husband and wife in a vehicular incident two years ago, allegedly caused by the fact that Petterson was watching the movie Road Trip on a dashboard DVD player while driving.

If he's convicted, they ought to throw the book at this clown. For negligently causing the deaths of two people, certainly. But also for actually watching Road Trip.

If they could nail Tom Green, Breckin Meyer, and writer/director Todd Phillips as accessories to the crime...even better.

Hide your male offspring: "All-American Girl" back on the prowl

Mary Kay LeTourneau rejoins the unincarcerated world tomorrow.

For those of you who've forgotten, Mary Kay is the Seattle schoolteacher who had a much-publicized affair with one of her male students, beginning when the boy was 12 years old. Before the legal establishment of Washington state finally tossed her in the slammer for seven years, Mary Kay — who at the time was 34 years old, married, and the mother of four children — had succeeded in getting pregnant by her youthful paramour, not once, but twice. Even after serving her time in the hoosegow, she still says of the affair, "We had a beautiful relationship, and I value it for what it was."

Umm...what it was was statutory rape, Mary Kay. What it was was you having a sexual relationship with a kid who wasn't even a teenager yet. What it was would have landed you in jail a lot sooner, and for infinitely longer, had you not been (a) blonde, articulate, and attractive, which made a lot of people think, "Well, why the heck not?"; (b) the daughter of a formerly prominent California legislator named Jack Schmitz (as in, "You don't know..."); (c) female.

Lest anyone think we judge poor Mary Kay too harshly, we challenge you to read the self-justifying screed on her official Web site (how many convicted rapists do you know who have their own official Web sites?) in which Ms. LeTourneau enumerates 27 (count 'em, 27) reasons why she shouldn't be locked up. By the time you're halfway down the page, you'll understand just how twisted this woman is.

I'm all for giving sincerely repentant and rehabilitated people second — even third — chances. But here's a person who used her second chance — the brief period of freedom following her first conviction (the judge suspended the majority of her sentence) — to recommit the original offense in the back seat of a car.

The bottom line (no pun intended): adults who have sexual relations with preteen and teenaged children — both gender and the issue of physical force are beside the point — should be locked up with the keys to the cell conveniently lost at the bottom of the ocean of your choice, even if said adults look like Penelope Ann Miller.

Meanwhile, here's hoping that, if you have young sons, Mary Kay LeTourneau doesn't take up residence in your neighborhood.

All work and no play makes Swan a dull boy

I begged out of chorus rehearsal Monday night because the Good Doctor needed a report done by noon Tuesday. A report, incidentally, for which I received the information on Friday, without a rush deadline attached. Ah well — much-needed billable hours. Besides which, the GD and company tend to be very forgiving of my eccentricities, so I don't mind accommodating them on must-haves once in a while.

But couple this missed rehearsal with the quartet being dark Tuesday night, and I won't get my MWR (Minimum Weekly Requirement) of Vitamin S (that's S as in Singing) this week. I hate when that happens. (Okay, hate is a strong word. I'm severely disappointed when that happens.)

Monday, August 02, 2004

Bond...who's Bond?

It appears that in the wake of his recent Entertainment profile, Pierce Brosnan is definitely out as 007. Of the top candidates to step into the tuxedo, I prefer Clive Owen — he's the most Flemingesque of the possible choices — but have resigned myself to the likelihood that EON, the producers of the Bond films, will choose a younger actor (Owen will turn 40 in October).

If Eric Bana is indeed the choice, he'd be a fine one. Unlike many fans, I thought Hulk was a terrific film, and Bana did a nice job in it. Hugh Jackman is a stronger screen presence, but after two films (and likely a third in the offing) as one iconic pop-culture character — Wolverine — he'd probably be better off broadening his range as he's been doing most recently on Broadway. Of the other possibilities, Ewan McGregor would make an interesting Bond (plus he's actually Scottish), as would the already-too-old-for-the-teenybop-crowd Colin Firth. Orlando Bloom? Hugh Grant? Please. Not unless you're going to turn the character into camp.

Then again, I was the guy who thought Pierce Brosnan would make a weak, prissy 007, and he's actually turned out to be excellent in the role. So what do I know?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Maybe Sleep Inducer would have been a better name

Tonight as I'm working, one of the myriad HBO channels is running a dreadful bit of cinematic business entitled Dreamcatcher. It's one of those films that's so embarrassingly executed in every conceivable way that I feel sorry for everyone involved with it, while simultaneously wishing I could smack each one of them alongside the head for perpetrating such a foul excuse for a movie, and wasting valuable time and resources in doing so.

Apparently, this stupefying picture is based on a novel by Stephen King, which pretty well explains its awfulness. I haven't attempted to inflict one of Mr. King's bloated masterworks on myself since high school — the experience of trudging through Salem's Lot was sufficient to turn me off to the author's product forever. Since, however, the Maine Maniac continues to churn out these potboilers, and his legions of fans (many of whom, I'm convinced, wouldn't recognize real literature if it landed in their laps) continue to buy them by the truckload, there must be some marginal entertainment value in them somewhere. "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people," as H.L. Mencken observed.

But if I were Mr. King, I'd stop letting people attempt to make movies out of my writings, at least the allegedly scary ones. (I'll give him The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.) Either that portion of the King oeuvre is as terrible as I remember Salem's Lot being — in which case even the greatest of filmmakers couldn't turn excrement into excellence — or the horror stuff simply doesn't translate to celluloid. (Exhibit A: Rose Red.) Whatever the scenario, it's time for Steve to just say no to Hollywood. (Or at least everyone in Hollywood except Frank Darabont.)

I won't give you a detailed review of Dreamcatcher here, other than to say, "Avoid it like you'd avoid rancid meat." But it does raise a question that has bugged me in several other pictures from which this one has liberally plagiarized, including Alien and its sequels (one of the characters in Dreamcatcher shares his name with Sigourney Weaver's cat in the original film — if you're going to steal, at least try to subtle about it), John Carpenter's grisly remake of The Thing, and the various iterations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Here it is: If alien monsters from outer space require human hosts in which to breed and thrive, what did they do before they found us? How would a creature like that exist in the absence of human beings? And assuming they survived long enough to (a) recognize that we were essential to their existence, and (b) develop the complex technology necessary for interstellar space travel, how did they know where to find us?