Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's getting Earthy up in here

In honor of Earth Day, I am committing to spending the entirety of today on Earth.

Furthermore, I vow to use only products that have been grown and/or manufactured on Earth.

I will also watch only those TV programs that originate on Earth.

I encourage all of my Earth-based readers to join me in this celebration.

Those of you from other celestial bodies, I'll check back with you tomorrow.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Madden cruises

No news is bigger around these parts today than the surprise announcement that John Madden — a national pop culture figure, but a Bay Area icon — is retiring after 30 years as America's most recognizable pro football broadcaster.

I was just scratching the crust out of my eyelids as the story broke on KCBS, San Francisco's all-news radio station, where Madden contributes a live interview segment every weekday morning. And, like many fans around the Bay Area and nationally, I found myself stunned by Madden's announcement, broadcast live.

Although my affection for the NFL product begins and pretty much ends with the 49ers — I don't often watch a regular-season game on TV unless the Niners (or, on occasion, the Raiders) are playing — I can't help but acknowledge the impact that Madden has had on the popularity of football. Or, for that matter, on the popularity of football in general — witness the continued success of Madden NFL, by all accounts the best-selling video game ever created. The former Oakland coach's bombastic personality and easy-to-imitate shtick has become ubiquitous in American culture. (Don't you just know that Frank Caliendo is weeping into his Miller Lite today?)

Mostly, though, I've come to know Madden through his long-running daily spot on local radio. For years, Madden joined legendary morning man Frank Dill's show on KNBR — well before that station transmogrified into "The Sports Leader" — for a spot of chat, usually about sports but often just about whatever Madden felt moved to yak about. During the season, Madden would check in from wherever he happened to be, often from the famed Maddencruiser, the tricked-out bus in which the airplane-averse commentator traveled from game to game.

When Dill retired, Madden couldn't stand Steve McPartlin, the former happy-talk TV host who replaced Frank on KNBR's morning drive. So, Big John took his act across the dial to KCBS, where he interfaced with venerable news anchor Al Hart. Even after Hart stepped down from the daily grind, he'd still pop up every Wednesday to bat things around with his old pal "Coach," whose morning foils now are anchors Stan Bunger and Susan Leigh Taylor and sports reporter Steve Bitker.

The hot rumor now is that Madden will go back to work for Al Davis's Raiders, possibly as general manager or director of football operations. I'd like to think that Madden has too much sense to subject himself to Al's senile shenanigans, but the two have remained close over the years. Anything's possible.

For public consumption, Madden is saying that he just wants to spend more time with his family. He and his wife are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and Madden's five grandchildren are at the ages where, as the Hall of Fame coach noted, they know when he's gone.

After 42 years in the NFL, and at 73 years of age (his birthday was last Friday), I think the big guy's earned the right to do whatever he pleases.

Happy trails, Coach.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

Every player, manager, and coach in Major League Baseball will wear a uniform number 42 during today's games, in commemoration of the Brooklyn Dodgers' Hall of Fame infielder's breaking of baseball's racial barrier 62 years ago.

Robinson's number was permanently retired from active use by all MLB teams during the inaugural Jackie Robinson Day festivities in 2004.

For whatever reason, Jackie Robinson Day always reminds me of that classic episode of Sanford and Son, in which the always-scheming Rollo gives Fred a special birthday present: a baseball autographed by Jackie Robinson.

Upon examining his gift, Fred asks his friend, "Rollo, how do you spell 'Jackie'?"

replies a confident Rollo.

"That's right," says Fred. "That's how you spell 'Jackie.' But that's not how Jackie Robinson spelled 'Jackie...' you dummy."

The moral of this story: If someone gives you an autographed baseball for Jackie Robinson Day — or tries to sell you one on eBay — be sure you authenticate the signature.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let's play!

As Thomas Boswell, the legendary sports columnist for the Washington Post, once wrote...

Time begins on Opening Day.

At the moment that my fingers hit the keyboard, the San Francisco Giants are about to begin their first game of the 2009 baseball season, on a gray and stormy Tuesday here in the Bay Area.

The Giants are coming off their fourth consecutive sub-.500 season. The franchise has never endured five straight losing campaigns. Giants fans hope that history holds up, and the Orange and Black can get off the schneid this year.

Whether that will happen is anyone's guess.

San Francisco's brightest ray of sunshine is its pitching staff. The Giants' starting rotation boasts three — count 'em, three — pitchers who have won the Cy Young Award, including the National League incumbent, Tim "The Freak" Lincecum. Following Lincecum is baseball's leading active Cy Young winner, 45-year-old Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson, who has five of the awards in his trophy case. Barry Zito hopes to regain a flash of his former glory after a couple of difficult years. The rotation rounds out with two young pitchers with future Cy Young potential, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sánchez.

One of the game's premier closers, Brian Wilson, anchors the Giants' bullpen. The rest of the relief corps — an inconsistent mess in 2008 — should be bolstered by the additions of veterans Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry.

The G-Men fell shortest last year on offense, fielding the most impotent lineup seen in these parts since the miserable 100-loss 1985 Giants. Key to improvement at the plate will be the development of third baseman (and backup catcher) Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, who dazzled fans with his aggressive hitting in the closing months of the '08 season, and rookie first baseman Travis Ishikawa, one of the stars of the just-concluded spring training exercise.

The Giants' offense will also hinge on another big year from catcher Bengie "Big Money" Molina, San Francisco's RBI leader (and the top RBI man among all major league catchers) last season, and sustained production from the outfielders, veterans Randy Winn (a .306 hitter last year, seventh in the National League) and Aaron Rowand (disappointing both at the plate and in the field in his first campaign as a Giant), and speedy youngster Fred Lewis.

If everything comes together for the Gyros, they could contend in the National League West, given baseball's weakest division and the fact that neither of the top teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, look any stronger than they were last season.

If the Giants hit the way they did in 2008... well, it'll be a long summer in San Francisco.

Here's wishing good health and good luck to manager Bruce Bochy and his boys.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No uvas for you!

Monday, March 30, 2009

New sheriff in Trebekistan

I'm several days late in getting to this, but, well, life happens.

Here's a belated yet heartfelt salute to Dan Pawson, who emerged triumphant in this season's Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. Dan pulled out a hard-fought victory over two worthy co-finalists, Larissa Kelly and Aaron Schroeder, in the 25th Anniversary ToC taped at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

I had a premonition when I first wrote in this space — more than a year ago — about Dan's Jeopardy! skills that a Tournament title might be in his future. As it turned out, I was correct. That means next to nothing, however. I am notorious lousy at sizing up the field in Jeopardy! tournaments, even after having played in three of them. (For the benefit of any new arrivals, those three were the 1988 Tournament of Champions, Super Jeopardy! in 1990, and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005.) When you fill a room with top-level Jeopardy! players, anything can happen, and often does. In this instance, I believe that the strongest player came away with the grand prize.

Well played, Mr. Pawson. Congratulations also to Larissa and Aaron, who helped make this one of the most memorable two-game finals in ToC history.

Speaking of Jeopardy!, I just finished reading Bob Harris's excellent book, Prisoner of Trebekistan, in which Bob spins a hilarious, often surprisingly heart-tugging tale about his career as a Jeopardy! champion. I had the pleasure of meeting Bob during my second-round taping in the UToC, and he's every bit as charming and funny as his book would lead you to believe.

The fact that I personally relate to many of the anecdotes Bob shares added to my personal connection with the book, but it's a fun read even if you've never been a quiz show contestant. If you dig Jeopardy!, or simply enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek at the inner workings of television, I enthusiastically recommend Prisoner of Trebekistan.

Even though Bob neglected to mention me in it.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy birthday, Supergirl!

Twenty years ago today, at precisely 5:02 p.m., my only child — a daughter — entered the world.

Where did the last two decades go?

KM — in spite of the paternal half of her genetic pool — has grown up to be an astounding young woman. She's smart — Dean's Highest Honors last semester — funny, charming, and loves horses, In 'n' Out Burger, and Shemar Moore.

She also loves the Giants and Warriors, which means that she is both discriminating and endowed with a insanely high tolerance for pain.


She is no longer my teenager.

As long-time SSTOL readers are aware, "Supergirl" is one of my nicknames for KM. (This despite the fact that, as a petite brunette, she's really more a Mary Marvel than a Supergirl.) The sobriquet stems from the fact that for several years, one of KM's favorite items of apparel was a pink hoodie with a Kryptonian shield emblazoned across the chest.

Happy 20th, Supergirl! Welcome to the Land of Beyond Teenagerness. Your mom and I love you more than all the snickerdoodles in the whole wide world.

Just don't go all Power Girl on us before your time.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

25 years with the Razor

Today on "The Sports Leader" — San Francisco's KNBR 680 AM — afternoon drive host Ralph "The Razor" Barbieri is celebrating his 25th anniversary with the radio station.

If you know anything about the radio business, you know that 25 years in one location is a remarkable achievement.

At the risk of seriously dating myself, I recall when Ralph first joined KNBR as a commentator and host of the evening talk show, Sportsphone 68. (KNBR didn't add the terminal zero until just a few years ago.) In the beginning, I thought Ralph was an obnoxious, self-important, hypocritical jerk. That assessment hasn't changed much in the past quarter-century, but at least I've grown accustomed to him.

The late, legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen first hung the moniker "Razor Voice" on Barbieri shortly after Ralph came to KNBR. At that time, the station was still pursuing a general-interest format of which sports programming was but one component. Caen helped bring Barbieri to the attention of the masses by mocking the broadcaster's raspy, decidedly unappealing vocal quality.

Thus, a career was born.

Aside from Caen's column, the best thing that happened to Ralph occurred halfway through his KNBR tenure, when he was paired with former NBA journeyman Tom Tolbert to form "The Razor and Mr. T." At first, I couldn't imagine the partnership lasting more than a few months, given the cohosts' radically different styles (Ralph the raging pseudo-journalist; Tom the laid-back surfer dude) and perspectives (Ralph is a vegetarian with an MBA from the Wharton School; Tom is a retired pro athlete who loves McDonald's hamburgers). And yet, twelve and a half years later, their show remains KNBR's most popular talkfest. Go figure.

My chief frustration with Ralph has always been that he's a dreadful interviewer — although, to his credit, he's improved slightly over time. When Ralph conducts an interview, it's never about the interview subject — it's always about Ralph and his opinions. Ralph rarely asks a question. Instead, Ralph delivers speeches that may or may not end in questions. The interview subject frequently can't get a word in edgewise.

To test my anecdotal observation, I once took a stopwatch to an interview Ralph was conducting with a member of the Giants organization. Ralph posed one "question" that droned on for nearly three minutes, after which the interviewee got less than 30 seconds of response time before Ralph began interrupting. The rest of the interview proceeded in similar fashion.

Any regular KNBR listener knows that I'm not exaggerating.

Still, the guy has lasted this long for a reason. The banter between Ralph and his long-suffering foil Tolbert is entertaining and lively, and Ralph — despite his frustrating deficiencies as an interviewer — is exactly what sports-talk radio calls for: he's opinionated, he's polarizing, and he's never at a loss for words.

Congratulations to the Razor on his quarter-century celebration.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Birth? Day.

I've commented before about the odd coincidence of nature that resulted in my wife KJ and my now six-year-old goddaughter in Maine sharing a birthday.

Well, it's time to mention it again.

Happy birthday, girls!

And, while we're at it, happy birthday to:

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Super President's Day

What a joy to celebrate Presidents' Day with a President worthy of celebration!

Speaking of super Presidents...

This might be a good day to reminisce about Super President.

Super President was a short-lived animated series that aired on Saturday mornings in 1967 and '68. The show's title superhero battled the forces of evil using his power to transmute the molecular structure of his body into any substance he could imagine. (Think Metamorpho the Element Man, who debuted in DC Comics a couple of years earlier.)

In fact, Super President's morphing ability wasn't limited to forms of matter — I distinctly recall episodes in which he changed himself into things like electrical energy and radio waves.

When he wasn't fighting crime, Super President was... well... President.

You read that correctly. Super President's secret identity was James Norcross, the President of the United States.

By now, you've figured out the essential flaw in the Super President concept.

The most visible public figure on the planet becomes a costumed hero, and in order to protect his identity from supervillains, he gives himself a code name that advertises who he really is.

And no one ever figures this out.

Although he was not a DC Comics character, I always supposed that Super President must be the Chief Executive in the DC Universe, an alternate reality in which people fail to recognize that Clark Kent is Superman because Kent wears horn-rimmed spectacles, whereas Superman does not; and where no one realizes that Oliver Queen, the billionaire mayor of Star City, is Green Arrow, despite the fact that both the Emerald Archer and His Honor sport the same distinctive facial hair, and GA's only disguise is a domino mask.

Aside from the issue of its hero's pathetically obvious secret identity, the Super President series never dealt with how the Secret Service got comfortable with Norcross disappearing from the White House for hours at a time without accounting for his whereabouts. Fortunately for America, no international or domestic crisis ever arose at a moment when Super President was off adventuring, causing people to rush into the Oval Office and freak out because President Norcross was nowhere to be found.

Only the President's chief of staff, apparently a genius in a world of morons, ever sussed out who Super President really was.

Personally, I think President Obama would make a wicked cool superhero. If he was, however, I have a feeling that we'd figure it out.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Old dog, new trick

Congratulations to Champion Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee — or, as he's known to his close personal friends, Stump — on his Best in Show victory at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show earlier this week.

Stump, a Sussex spaniel, made a particularly noteworthy champion due to his advanced age. Born December 1, 1998, Stump is ancient for a top-level show dog, especially at the "Super Bowl of dog shows."

When contacted for comment about his historic win, the 2009 Westminster champion reportedly flopped on his side and took a nap.

Several years ago, when my office assistant Abby was just a puppy, we took her to see some of her relations compete in a Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed show. One of the dogs in that show was still showing at the McCainesque age of 15. The wily veteran received a standing ovation from the Corgi crowd as he trotted around the ring.

Little-known fact: The Sussex spaniel was one of the original ten breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club when the AKC formed in 1884.

There is no validity to the rumor that Stump was already competing at that time.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Did you ever know that you're my Hero?

The artwork featured in today's Comic Art Friday is, at 2.5 by 3.5 inches, far and away the smallest piece in my collection. It's special, however, for reasons that go beyond its size... or even its content.

It's a drawing of Medusa, the prehensile-haired member of that mysterious family of superpowered beings known as the Inhumans. Medusa has also, at various times in her career, fought alongside the Fantastic Four, even joining as a temporary member when Susan Richards, the Invisible Woman, took a leave of absence.

Medusa appears here courtesy of industry veteran Bob Wiacek, who has done the majority of his considerable comics work as an inker. Bob's inks have graced dozens of titles since the mid-1970s, most recently DC's The Brave and the Bold over the pencils of the legendary George Pérez.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. What's so special about a head sketch of Medusa by Bob Wiacek?

The logo at bottom right answers this question.

I received this sketch card when I became a member of The Hero Initiative, to which I'll refer henceforth as Hero, for the sake of brevity. Hero is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation established by several comics publishers to aid comic book creators who find themselves in financial hardship. Hero provides veteran comics writers and artists — who generally worked freelance for microscopic wages during much of the industry's history — with funds for emergency medical care and basic necessities to get them through difficult times.

Hero began in 2001 as ACTOR (A Commitment to Our Roots). A couple of years ago, the organization adopted its current name, to avoid confusion with charities benefiting members of the acting profession. Hero's leadership includes a panel of prominent industry insiders, including such noted artists and writers as Dick Giordano, Roy Thomas, Dennis O'Neil, John Romita Sr., and the aforementioned George Pérez.

As part of its fundraising efforts, Hero recently began offering annual memberships. One randomly selected sketch card, each created especially for Hero by an assortment of talented artists, is included in the membership packet. My Bob Wiacek Medusa card arrived in the mail just a few days after I signed up.

In a magnificent gesture of partnership, Comic Art Fans — the site where I maintain my online art gallery — is offering its subscribers a $10 discount on their annual fee if they purchase a Hero membership. You'll notice a Hero Initiative logo marking the galleries of those Comic Art Fans denizens who also are Hero members. Including yours truly.

Like many longtime comics fans, I harbor a deep appreciation for the gifted folks whose creative talents have been an essential element of my life for more than 40 years. I've supported Hero for the past few years by dropping a few dollars in the collection can at the Hero Initiative booth at WonderCon every February. I'm pleased and honored to have yet another way to give something back to the artists and writers who've provided me with so much entertainment.

I know times are tough for everyone at the moment. They're especially tough for some of the older comics creators whose careers provided little opportunity for significant savings, or such essentials as health insurance. If you're a fan of comics, and you can spare as little as $29, you too can become a member of Hero, and do your part to help. If you can't afford a membership, you can donate any amount that fits your wallet at the Hero Initiative site.

Like the Hero tagline says, everyone deserves a Golden Age.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jonesing for Obama

One further thought...

As I'm watching and reading the inauguration coverage, political bloggers and reporters keep referring to Obama as a "Baby Boomer." Although that's technically correct — the traditional cutoff for the post-World War II Baby Boom is 1964— as Obama's immediate peer (we both were born in 1961; he's a few months older than I), I don't think it's sociologically accurate.

Those of us born in the late 1950s and early 1960s better fit the description of "Generation Jones," as defined by pop culture savant Jonathan Pontell. We have far more in common with today's young adults, a.k.a. Generation X, than we do with the more conservative Boomers who arrived in the decade before us.

Like our younger colleagues, we Jonesers tend to be more liberal politically, more tolerant socially, and more savvy technologically than our Boomer elders. (Obama's infamous Blackberry is an excellent illustration of this latter point.)

We mark a striking transition between the children of WWII veterans — the generation that voted Ronald Reagan and both Bushes into office (as well as Bill Clinton, who ran as a conservative Democrat) — and the enthusiastic youth who helped sweep our new President into the White House.

It's an important distinction to make, I think.

Our generation elected Barack Obama. The Baby Boomers would have elected John McCain.

So let's call Obama, not the last President of the Baby Boom generation, but the first President born of Generation Jones.

Now, my fellow Jonesers, let's go change the world.

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Marshaling my thoughts in the wake of President Obama's inauguration...
  • Ironic, in a way, that I was in my minivan returning home from taking my daughter to class at the local junior college (her car is still in the shop after she was rear-ended two weeks ago) as Obama took the oath of office. History is made... but everyday life goes on.

  • Memo to Chief Justice John Roberts: For pity's sake, man, memorize the Presidential oath. And if you can't memorize it, write it down.

  • As stately and majestic a President as Obama makes, Michelle is every inch as stately and majestic a First Lady. They both chose well.

  • Glad as I am to see Bush 43 leave office, it's a touching moment watching him and the former First Lady board that Marine helicopter for the final time. Bush was among our worst Presidents ever, but he was still our President.

  • I'd describe Obama's speech as soberingly electric. He clearly understands the gravity of his new office.

  • Obama also made clear the distinction between his incoming administration and that of his predecessor: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." Cut to Bush squirming in his seat.

  • I love the fact that Obama didn't run from anything in his speech: not the challenges ahead, not the mistakes of the past, not the darkness of racism, not even his own middle name — which he used in taking the oath.

  • They should commission Maya Angelou to write the inaugural poem every four years. No disrespect to the writer who composed today's poem, but... she's no Maya Angelou.

  • I was surprised that Dianne Feinstein blew off the Constitutional deadline for the new President's swearing-in, in favor of Yo-Yo Ma and Yitzhak Perlman playing John Williams. But when in doubt, go to the arts.

  • How fitting that Dick Cheney gets trundled out of office in a wheelchair, given everything he's done to cripple the country while he's been Vice President.

  • I'm reminded of that old Peugeot commercial with tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis showing off his new car to his unimpressed father. "Is a nice Peugeot, Vitas," said the elder Gerulaitis after his son finished extolling the virtues of his ride. "Now when you are getting a haircut?" In that same spirit: It's a nice inauguration, Mr. President. Now it's time to get a haircut, metaphorically speaking.

  • Yet, at the same time... what a spectacular, enthralling, glorious moment for our nation, and indeed, for our planet. America is indeed ready to lead once more.

  • You go, 44.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. King on the power of love

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, August 16, 1967:
It is perfectly clear that a violent revolution on the part of American blacks would find no sympathy and support from the white population and very little from the majority of the Negroes themselves. This is no time for romantic illusions and empty philosophical debates about freedom. This is a time for action. What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been offered by the nonviolent movement. Without recognizing this we will end up with solutions that don't solve, answers that don't answer and explanations that don't explain.

And so I say to you today that I still stand by nonviolence. And I am still convinced that it is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for justice in this country. And the other thing is that I am concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice. I'm concerned about brotherhood. I'm concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer but you can't murder. Through violence you may murder a liar but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I'm talking about a strong, demanding love.

And I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.

I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.
Thanks for the reminder, Dr. King. I wish only that you could be there in Washington tomorrow, to see in shining measure what you and so many others made possible.

Speaking of love...

Happy 24th anniversary, KJ!

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Monday, January 12, 2009

One hot dog, with a side of Rice

As we predicted nearly a month and a half ago in this space, all-time steals leader Rickey Henderson was a first-ballot electee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame today.

Given Rickey's noted propensity for non sequitur interview commentary during his career, this should be an induction speech worth hearing.

Jim Rice finally made the Hall also, in his 15th and final year of ballot eligibility. I believe that's the correct call, and long overdue. Rice was the best all-around offensive player in the American League during his peak years. The fact that he was, in the estimation of some baseball writers who covered the Red Sox during Rice's tenure, an insufferable jerk, should not have kept Big Jim out of Cooperstown for as long as it did.

After all, the player who came the closest to being a unanimous selection for HOF glory, one Tyrus R. Cobb, was practically the definition of an insufferable jerk. If Cobb's well-documented jerkiness didn't disqualify him, Rice's shouldn't either.

I'm sorry that Andre Dawson — an even greater player than Rice, and possibly more likable — missed election again. Given his upward trend in the voting, however, I'm convinced that "The Hawk" will get in eventually. I say that even though this year, with only Henderson as a runaway first-ballot favorite, would have been an ideal time for the voters to show Dawson some love.

Every year, a handful of "what the heck?" votes turn up in the Hall of Fame tally. To the BBWAA's credit, there were remarkably few of these (even if I disagree, I understand the logic of the seven electors who cast a vote for Matt Williams, to cite one example) this year. Still, I'd like to know who were the two nutjobs who voted for Jay Bell.

Did Jay Bell's mom and dad get sent Hall of Fame ballots by mistake?

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa's little helper

Still struggling to come up with that last-second Christmas present?

Have a stocking or two yet lacking a bit of stuffing?

Can't figure out what to give the man or woman who has everything?

Is that what's bothering you, bunkie?

Just remember this simple three-word phrase, and all will be well:

Everyone loves Money.

Your Uncle Swan included.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

I'm a Funny Book Fanatic!

But then, you knew that. Especially if you drop around here on the sixth day of every week, when we celebrate Comic Art Fridays.

Today, however, we here at SSTOL are honored — and more than a mite humbled — to be recognized as Funny Book Fanatic's Blog of the Week.

Surprised, too, given that we deal with a diversity of pop culture whiz-bang here, and focus on comics and our lifelong affection for them only on Fridays. We're tickled by the notoriety, nonetheless.

Funny Book Fanatic was launched recently by comics industry veteran Dave Olbrich, who was founder and publisher of the late, much-lamented Malibu Comics for nearly a decade in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dave was also one of the leading lights behind the development of the Eisner Awards, the comic book industry's annual equivalent to the Oscars. Therefore, the fact that our little effort here even landed on Dave's radar is wicked cool.

Then again, I love comics, and I attended college in Malibu. So I guess all of this serendipity makes some kind of cosmic sense.

In his blog post, Dave makes particular mention of our "Common Elements" commission series, with which Comic Art Friday regulars are familiar. It's only fitting that we flash back to this Common Elements creation by Darick Robertson, which features one of Malibu Comics' biggest stars, The Night Man, in pitched battle with Marvel's Night Thrasher. (Darick co-created The Night Man, and drew an extended run of New Warriors, starring Night Thrasher, back in the early '90s.)

Thanks to Dave Olbrich for the publicity and the ego-boo. Please be so kind as to check out Dave's Funny Book Fanatic, and dig the wealth of comics insider lore that's to be enjoyed there.

If you, too, are a funny book fanatic, it's a must-read.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

The Man of Steal

The 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame ballots were mailed today to all members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America with ten or more consecutive years of service. It's the smallest HOF ballot since the current election system was instituted, with only 23 players listed as eligible.

The most notable newcomer to the list is Rickey Henderson, the longtime outfielder who owns baseball's career records for runs scored (2,295) and stolen bases, and is second all-time in walks with 2,190. Henderson played with nine teams during his 25 years in the major leagues, but is best remembered as a member of the Oakland Athletics, with whom he began his career and served four discrete tours of duty.

Rickey's a dead-solid lock for first-ballot election to the Hall, and deservedly so. He hung around far longer than he should have — he really wasn't much of a player his last four seasons, though he had as good a year as a 40-year-old guy could ask while playing for the New York Mets in 1999. But for the first dozen years of his career, Henderson was one of baseball's marquee superstars, and he was still a quality player for seven or eight years after that.

None of the rest of the incoming class of eligibles seems likely to make the cut. Power-hitting Mo Vaughn might have been a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate had his career not been shortened by injuries. Matt Williams, the Giants' best third baseman during their San Francisco tenure, had some fine years, but not enough of them to earn a ticket to Cooperstown. Mark Grace and Ron Gant were pretty good players, and 1994 American League Cy Young Award winner David Cone was a pretty good pitcher, but we aren't talking about the Hall of the Pretty Good. The remaining newbies — Jay Bell, Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, and Mo's cousin Greg Vaughn — net a collective "meh."

Of the holdovers from last year's ballot, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice should score a long-overdue Cooperstown call in his final year of eligibility. Rice, the American League's best offensive player in the late 1970s and early , just missed the Hall by 16 votes last time. He deserves those last few check marks that would push him over the hump. Were I a ten-year member of the BBWAA, I'd also throw votes to slugging outfielder Andre "The Hawk" Dawson, starting pitcher Jack Morris, and reliever Lee Smith — all of whom, like Rice, should have been inducted years ago.

So, anyway, here's my funny Rickey Henderson story.

I was sitting down the left field line at an Oakland A's home game in the early '80s, when Rickey was the lone megastar on an Athletics club that didn't have much else going for it. Then, as is too often the case now, the A's didn't draw many fans, so the few of us in attendance didn't have any difficulty making our individual voices heard to the players on the field.

One loudmouth in the left field bleachers, who sounded as though he might have been keeping the beer concession in business all by himself, kept shouting, "Rickey Henderson! Rickey Henderson!" over Rickey's shoulder, at a decibel level that ensured that everyone in the Oakland Coliseum — including, I think, the security guards in the parking lot — could hear him.

Rickey studiously ignored the guy's incessant chatter for about three innings. At long last, he made the fatal error of sneaking a peek back to check out this character who seemed so enamored with his name. The instant Henderson turned around, the guy yelled, "You sissy!" and cackled like a drunken hyena.

Rickey, who always had a lively sense of humor, broke up laughing.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The $9 million Danish

I wish I could steal the headline composed by Lance Bradley, writer for the poker magazine Bluff: "The Riches of Eastgate."

But I won't.

Congratulations to Peter Eastgate, who in the wee hours of this morning became the youngest-ever winner of the World Series of Poker's Main Event.

Eastgate dominated the so-called November Nine, routing the final table in convincing fashion. The 22-year-old from Odense, Denmark held off a worthy challenge from Russian pro Ivan Demidov to capture poker's highest prize, the gold World Champion bracelet and the $9 million cash that accompanies it.

You can catch the highlights of the final table, with scintillating commentary by Lon McEachern and Norman Chad, tonight on ESPN starting at 8 p.m. EST.

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Lincecum, by landslide

Four long decades of waiting have come to an end. A San Francisco Giant has won the Cy Young Award.

Tim Lincecum, whose 265 strikeouts led the National League this past season, becomes the first Giant tabbed as the league's best pitcher since Mike McCormick won the honor in 1967 — a time when many Americans were still watching television in black and white, and when only a handful of current major leaguers had been born.

Lincecum grabbed 23 first-place votes from the panel of 32 baseball writers. He placed second on seven ballots. Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the 2006 winner, finished second behind Lincecum in the voting. Johan Santana of the New York Mets, who won the American League Cy Young in 2004 and 2006 while pitching for the Minnesota Twins, was third.

There was some question about whether Lincecum would garner the necessary votes to take down the Cy Young, given the fact that Webb won 22 games (Lincecum won 18) and Santana finished the year blazing hot, with a 9-0 streak. Luckily, the baseball writers saw what every hitter in the National League experienced this season — when Lincecum was on his game, as he was most of the time, he was nigh onto unhittable.

"Tiny Tim" may be the most unlikely pitcher ever to win the Cy Young. In an era when it's rare to see a major league pitcher under six feet tall, Lincecum stands somewhere in the neighborhood of 5'10" (the Giants officially — and generously — list him at 5'11"). If he weighs the 160 pounds noted on his baseball card, it's only in full uniform, and with a handful of lead sinkers in his pocket. With his boyish face, Tim could easily pass for a teenager (he's 24). He throws with a peculiar delivery that reminds me of a fake snake springing out of a can of peanuts. And yet, he consistently cranks out fastballs in the mid-90s, where his combination of speed and motion baffle hitters at an incredible rate.

And to think, 2008 was his first full season in the Show.

It seems odd that a team that has boasted some pretty fair pitchers over the course of its West Coast tenure — including Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry — should only have had two Cy Young winners. Perry did, in fact, win two Cy Young Awards — one in each league — but both came after he left San Francisco at the end of the 1971 season.

The Giants' best starting pitcher of the pre-Lincecum period, Jason Schmidt, came close to a Cy Young twice — he finished second to the Dodgers' Eric Gagne in 2003 (a year in which Gagne posted 55 saves, becoming one of only a few relief pitchers to taste Cy Young glory), and was fourth the following season.

Two of the Giants' most promising chances to post a Cy Young season both came in 1993, when John Burkett and Bill Swift each won more than 20 games. Ironically, their simultaneous accomplishments came in a year when, as good as both Giants were, Greg Maddux was even better. Swift finished second in the Cy Young vote, and Burkett fourth.

Here's hoping that Lincecum can stay healthy — and stay in San Francisco — for many more stellar seasons to come.

Way to go, Timmy!

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Heroes of the day: America's veterans

We are humbled by your sacrifice, veterans, and that of your fallen comrades.

May all your brothers and sisters who are manning foreign battlefields and bases return home safely, and soon.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

If it's November, these must be the Nine

After a four-month break, the Main Event of the 2008 World Series of Poker is once again under way, its nine-man final table having reconvened earlier today at the Rio in Las Vegas.

Personally, I think the new format for the Main Event — which played from 6,844 entrants down to nine back in July, before taking a planned hiatus — is ludicrous. With everything that's happened in the sports world (the Summer Olympics, the World Series) as well as the real world (the plummeting economy, the Presidential election) during the past four months, you'd have to be a hardcore poker fanatic to even remember that the tournament was resuming today, much less still be interested.

Which tells you something about me, I guess.

As I compose this post, the November Nine have already been whittled down to the Magnificent Seven: Craig Marquis, a 23-year-old from the Dallas area, busted out in ninth place (Craig was eighth as play resumed), and Kelly Kim, a poker pro from southern California, departed in eighth place (Kelly had been the final table's short stack).

The remaining players, as they rank at this moment, are:
  • Ivan Demidov, a 27-year-old poker pro from Moscow (Russia, not Idaho), who last month finished third in the WSOP Europe Main Event in London.

  • Ylon Schwartz, a 38-year-old former chess prodigy from New York City.

  • Peter Eastgate, a 22-year-old pro from Denmark.

  • Scott Montgomery, a 27-year-old pro from Ontario, Canada.

  • Dennis Phillips, a 53-year-old trucking company executive from St. Louis. Dennis was the chip leader at the start of today's play.

  • Darus Suharto, a 39-year-old Indonesian-born Canadian accountant.

  • David "Chino" Rheem, a 28-year-old pro from Los Angeles, and probably the best known of the November Nine prior to July.
Tournament officials expect to have a winner sometime tomorrow night, or early Tuesday morning at the latest. A two-hour condensation of the final table play will air Tuesday night (and endlessly thereafter, if tradition holds) on ESPN.

Let's shuffle up and deal!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dawn of a new day

Did Obama still win?

Yes, it appears that he did.

There may be a handful of folks surprised that the sun rose this morning, on the day after an African American man was elected the 44th President of the United States. But it did. And, I suspect, that handful is smaller than it ever would have been before today.

What still stuns me most is not so much the fact of Obama's victory — although, to be honest, I'm considerably stunned by that alone — but the nature of that victory. Just consider the popular vote: Obama's 52.4% (which may change by a tenth of a point either way, once all of the absentee and provisional ballots are tallied) is the highest mark for any President-elect in 20 years. By way of comparison, Ronald Reagan racked up only 50.7% in 1980, running against a hugely unpopular Jimmy Carter.

Obama won Florida. He won Virginia. He won Indiana, for crying out loud — I would not have believed that possible, based upon my brief personal experiences in that state. North Carolina's 15 electoral votes may yet fall into Obama's column — we're talking about the state that kept the virulently racist Jesse Helms gainfully employed for decades. Obama got 56% of the vote in New Mexico, and 54% in Iowa. He garnered 55% in Nevada, which, despite its proximity to California and its legendary embrace of casino gambling and legalized prostitution (only in counties with populations under 50,000, though — not in cities like Las Vegas or Reno), is a fairly conservative place with a sizable Mormon citizenry.

The overall popular vote favored Obama by roughly six percentage points, which is fairly close to the final pre-election aggregate of the major polls. The vaunted Bradley Effect didn't manifest itself to any significant degree — which, again, surprises me, but not as much as it might have a decade ago.

As ludicrous as it sounds, I think that popular culture helped pave the way for a President who just happens to be African American. Millions of people saw Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in the movie Deep Impact; who's not cool with Morgan Freeman? (Well, maybe his soon-to-be-ex-wife, but that's another issue.) Millions more watched Dennis Haysbert as President David Palmer on the first three seasons of 24; Haysbert was so authoritative and reassuring that he's now the "you're in good hands with Allstate" guy. D.B. Woodside then followed Haysbert to the 24 White House as President Wayne Palmer, David's brother and indirect successor. (I was going to mention Chris Rock as President Mays Gilliam in Head of State... but that's probably not a good example.) Seeing these talented African American actors playing strong, capable, decisive Presidents may — even at a subconscious level — have planted the notion in people's minds that, yeah, okay, a black guy could be President. You've gotta name it before you can claim it, as the saying goes.

Certainly, for President-to-be Obama, the tough journey is only beginning. Getting elected is one thing; governing effectively enough to get re-elected is entirely another, as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush could relate. Everything we've seen of Obama gives me confidence that he's equal to the challenge. How great a President he will be, only time will tell. But he will be President, which in itself is something special.

The additional symbolism of Obama as our 44th President resonates with me, too. One of my favorite baseball players of all time is Willie "Stretch" McCovey, the long-time San Francisco Giant whose number 44 hangs in retired glory at AT&T Park. McCovey was a smooth, cool, easygoing man whose quiet authority made him a respected team leader, and ultimately, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. His 1959 selection as National League Rookie of the Year, 1969 National League Most Valuable Player Award, six All-Star appearances, and 521 home runs — including a National League record 18 grand slams — contributed also. The Giants' annual "most inspirational player" honor, the Willie Mac Award, bears McCovey's name.

Although he won't take office for another 76 days, Obama 44 is already in the running for that "most inspirational" tag.

Now, he'll have to earn it.

In local election news, I was glad to see that my neighbors passed Measure Q, which provides funding (via a quarter-cent sales tax increase) for the SMART passenger-rail system. SMART will run from Cloverdale, Sonoma County's northernmost outpost, to Larkspur in Marin County, where the Golden Gate Ferry terminal is located, with 14 stops in between. SMART has been on the ballot at least twice before, and has lost narrowly each time, mostly due to opposition from Marin County interests. (In 2006, SMART received 65.3% of the combined Sonoma-Marin vote, just short of the two-thirds majority required for a sales tax hike.)

In this era of high energy costs, and given the perennially impacted commute corridor on U.S. 101, SMART makes excellent sense. The railway easement, a now-dormant line formerly operated by Union Pacific, already exists. Now that funding is approved, SMART should be up and running by 2013.

On a related note, it looks as though California voters also approved Proposition 1A, a bond measure that will help fund a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with eventual extensions to San Diego in the south and Sacramento in the north. Again, this transportation solution is an idea whose time has long since come, and I hope that the measure is officially passed once all of the votes are counted.

All right, election over. Everybody back to work.

One more quick note: This morning on KCBS News Radio, I heard a psychologist talking about the effects of Post-Event Energy Deficiency, a condition many folks may be suffering in the aftermath of an intense and attention-commanding election. That's as may be... but that condition would benefit from a better acronym.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy Wonder Woman Day!

What? You didn't know that today was Wonder Woman Day?

Then permit me to enlighten you, friend reader.

Three years ago, writer and pop culture maven Andy Mangels hit upon the brilliant idea of using Wonder Woman — one of American womanhood's recognizable icons — as the avatar for a campaign to raise public awareness about domestic violence. As a result of Andy's inspiration, the last Sunday in October became Wonder Woman Day.

In partnership with Raphael House, a women's shelter in Portland, Oregon, Andy took the message of Wonder Woman Day to the Internet in general, and to the comic art community in particular. Each October, dozens of talented artists donate original artworks featuring Wonder Woman, which Andy auctions off to help support Raphael House, an associated shelter called Bradley-Angle House, and the Portland Women's Crisis Line.

Noted artist Adam Hughes, who drew several years' worth of Wonder Woman covers for DC Comics, and Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti, the current writer and penciler, respectively, of the Wonder Woman monthly series, will be appearing in person at today's Wonder Woman Day festivities in Portland. An additional event and auction will take place across the continent in Flemington, New Jersey, to benefit Safe in Hunterdon.

In last year's auction, I placed the winning bid on the beautiful pen and ink drawing shown above. It's the work of artist Michael Bair, most recently the inker on DC's Nightwing.

Even if you're not interested in owning any of the awe-inspiring Wonder Woman art that's up for auction today, you might consider making a cash donation to one of Wonder Woman Day's associated charities, or to a women's shelter or help line in your local area.

Wonder Woman said to tell you that she approves this message.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Now that's a GRAND slam!

Congratulations to Gary Sheffield of the Detroit Tigers, who tonight hit the 250,000th home run in Major League Baseball history — a base-loaded shot off Gio Gonzalez of the Oakland Athletics.

How fitting, that the quarter-millionth homer should be a grand slam. And how equally fitting that it was struck by Sheffield, a player with more than a soupçon of flair for the dramatic. (Not always in a good way.)

Considering how long baseball has been the national pastime, it seems odd to me that it's taken until almost the end of the 2008 season to reach this milestone. Then again, baseball's current love affair with the long ball is still only a few decades old. When I was watching the game as a kid, a guy who hit 20 home runs a year was viewed as a power hitter. That same slugger would be a lightweight today, in an era when 40- and 50-homer seasons are not unusual.

Wonder whether the game will survive to reach the half-million mark.

I'm pretty sure that I won't.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hero of the Day: The real Crash Davis

If you've seen the movie Bull Durham, you'll remember Crash Davis, the character played by Kevin Costner. Crash is a grizzled veteran catcher who, during the course of the film, sets the career record for home runs in baseball's minor leagues... largely due to the fact that he's spent all but three weeks of his lengthy career in the minors.

Yesterday, after more than 7,300 professional at-bats, baseball's real-life Crash Davis hit his first major league home run for the San Francisco Giants.

And in the Church of Baseball, there was much rejoicing.

Unlike the cinemythical Crash, Scott McClain is not a catcher; he's a utility infielder who can play either third or first base. And, also unlike Crash, Scott doesn't hold the career minor league home run record. (According to San Jose Mercury News columnist Andrew Baggarly, that honor goes to the sadly unheralded Russell "Buzz" Arlett, who hit 432 home runs in the minors back in the 1920s and '30s.)

McClain does, however, rank first among active players with 291 minor-league taters, not including the 71 he smacked during a four-year stint in Japan.

Yesterday, after a roster-expansion call-up by San Francisco, the 36-year-old McClain crushed a 2-2 slider from Colorado Rockies pitcher Steven Register over the left-field wall at Denver's Coors Field for his first round-tripper in The Show.

McClain has had brief stints in the majors before. He played in nine games for the Tampa Bay Don't-Call-Them-Devil Rays back in 1998, and 13 more with the Chicago Cubs three seasons ago. Last year, during his previous cup-o'-coffee with the Giants, Scott got into eight games, in which he logged a grand total of two base hits, both singles.

So far this week, since returning to the G-Men from the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, McClain is three-for-five with three runs batted in and, of course, his first major league homer.

You've gotta love a guy who, at age 36 and with any realistic shot at a long-term major league career about a half-decade back in the rear-view mirror of life, just keeps plugging away out of sheer determination and passion for the game.

Atta boy, Crash!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Primary post-mortem

Rubbing the sleep gunk from my eyes and reflecting upon yesterday's electoral events...

You go, Obama.

This is, without question, the funniest thing I've read all week. Mark Evanier said it, over at his excellent blog, News from ME:
Going into this election, McCain has certain advantages and Obama has certain advantages. Obama's biggest one may be that there are no photos of him hugging George Bush.
The funniest thing I've heard aloud all week was spoken last night by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, asked about the historic nature of Obama's now-certain nomination:
It's certainly a historic moment in our history.
Which is where historic moments occur, historically speaking.

Back to McCain: Was that the most agonizingly dull political speech any Presidential candidate ever delivered, or what? I was driving to rehearsal as McCain was speaking, and I darn near dozed off at the wheel. And he wants to go face-to-face with Obama in ten town hall meetings this summer? Egad. Someone in his campaign needs to talk him out of that idea, pronto. It'll be JFK vs. Nixon all over again.

What does Hillary want? For the entire planet to kiss her pantsuited little butt, apparently. Memo to Hil-Rod: The fat lady hasn't just sung; she's recorded an entire soundtrack album, packed up her microphone and Viking helmet, and headed for a nice leisurely vacation in Hawaii. Let it go, already.

By the way, is Hillary taking oratorical lessons from John McCain? Yikes, that was dreadful. If you're going to be irritatingly ubiquitous, at least be entertaining.

I can't believe that Obama would seriously consider Hillary for the second slot on the ticket, given the way she's dragged this mess along. I think he might roll the dice with Kathleen Sibelius, the governor of Kansas, a savvy manager (Time Magazine named her one of the country's five best governors a couple of years back) who's popular with the electorate in an generally Republican state. Obama still, however, seems more likely to choose a seasoned veteran with foreign policy experience — a Sam Nunn or Chris Dodd type. Bill Richardson wouldn't be a bad choice, either, and could help Obama draw in some Latino voters.

In local politics, not such a good night for me. The candidates for whom I voted in both our State Senate primary (Joe Nation) and the county supervisor race (Tim Smith) lost by wide margins. I'm better at picking racehorses than politicians.

Ah, well. There's always Obama.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Roll, Waves!

Nice to see that my old school, Pepperdine University, is once again in the hunt for the College World Series, the national championship of NCAA Division I college baseball.

The Waves will begin regional competition on Friday at Stanford University's Sunken Diamond, in a regional that also includes Arkansas (Pep's first-round opponent) and first-time tournament qualifier UC Davis. You can check out the entire tournament bracket here. The University of Miami is seeded Numero Ono in the nationwide double-elimination playoff.

Pepperdine has a long and storied baseball tradition, having won the CWS title in 1992 under Andy Lopez, now the head coach at the University of Arizona. Roughly two dozen future major leaguers have come through the Pepperdine system, including current San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry, Arizona Diamondbacks starter Dan Haren, and 1986 National League Cy Young Award winner Mike Scott.

Yours truly played a microscopic role in Pep's proud baseball history, as a member of the Waves' radio broadcast team during the 1980 and 1981 seasons. I wouldn't be surprised if there's an ancient air check tape of one of my calls gathering mildew in a desk drawer somewhere — the highlight of my otherwise inconsequential stint as a play-by-play announcer was a no-hitter thrown by a Pepperdine hurler named Bob Iezza.

Pepperdine hadn't yet developed into a baseball powerhouse in those days. However, the '80-'81 squad's star catcher, Bill Bathe, did eventually make the major leagues, playing briefly for both Oakland and San Francisco. In fact, as a backup for the Giants, Bathe hit San Francisco's only home run during the ill-fated "Earthquake World Series" of 1989.

During our Pepperdine days, Bill Bathe's car once served as my personal ambulance. My girlfriend at the time prevailed upon a mutual pal — the Waves' center fielder, and Bathe's roommate — to borrow Bill's ride and rush me to the hospital during a severe bout of food poisoning. The last I heard, Bathe was a fire department captain and paramedic in Tucson, Arizona. Perhaps his tangential connection to saving my life helped frame Bill's future career path. If so, my existence is justified.

Here's hoping that the 2008 Waves enjoy abundant success in the upcoming tournament.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Never too late to Pollardize

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to a genuine legend of the comic book medium, artist Gene Colan. The man whom Stan Lee dubbed "Gene the Dean" is one of comics' most distinctive stylists, due to his instantly recognizable sweeping, swirling linework and shadowy textures.

Colan worked on numerous titles during his 60 years in the industry, including memorable stints on Dr. Strange and Iron Man for Marvel Comics, and Wonder Woman (a seemingly unlikely choice, but it worked) for DC. Colan's legacy, however, was secured by his artistic contributions to three vastly different Marvel books: the superhero series Daredevil, the updated horror saga Tomb of Dracula, and Steve Gerber's wildly satiric Howard the Duck.

Recently, Colan's wife Adrienne announced that the great artist is suffering serious health complications related to liver failure. Like many old-time comics veterans, Colan didn't make a fortune at his craft. In the absence of health insurance, Gene and his family are struggling to pay his rapidly mounting medical bills.

Comics historian Clifford Meth is coordinating a benefit auction to which dozens of comics professionals and fans have contributed. If you have a few extra simoleons in your pocket, the Colans would, I'm certain, appreciate anything you might care to bid. (I don't know why Clifford didn't call the project "Simoleons for Colan." I would have.)

Occasionally someone asks me, "What's your favorite piece in your entire comic art collection?" My usual answer is, "The piece I commissioned most recently." Truth to tell, there are some perennials that would top the list, even though I've owned them for years. But here's a recent addition that will likely find its place among my all-time greatest loves.

Keith Pollard was one of the pencilers in comics whose work I most enjoyed, beginning in the late 1970s and continuing for the next two decades. Of the many artists who took stylistic cues from the late, great John Buscema — in my opinion, among the three or four finest comics artists ever — Pollard comes the closest to channeling Big John's unique amalgam of heroic power, majestic scope, and superlative anatomy in the classical model.

During his years at Marvel, Pollard worked on every major character from Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four, the latter of which he drew for two classic runs a decade apart. His most memorable run may have been on Thor, on which Keith was the regular penciler from 1979 to 1982.

When I heard recently that Keith Pollard was accepting commissions after a lengthy stretch away from comics, I could scarcely restrain my giddy glee. (If you've ever seen my giddy glee, you know it isn't pretty.) You can see in the drawing above that Keith's creative chops remain as sharp as ever, as evidenced by his stunning rendering of mace-swinging superheroes Thunderstrike (a Thor spinoff whose adventures Pollard drew in a pair of 1994 issues) and Hawkman (whom I'm not sure Keith had ever drawn before).

But wait! There's more!

Among Keith Pollard's most triumphant additions to comics lore were the 300 or so character model sheets he created for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Master Edition, from 1991 to 1993. (EDIT: As noted in the comments, I originally misstated the date of this edition. Thanks to Bob Almond for keeping me on my toes.) The assignment reflected Pollard's talent for drawing practically every significant (and many not all that significant) Marvel hero and villain with equal aplomb. Joe Rubinstein, an inker likewise skilled at handling a broad diversity of characters, garnered the job of finishing Pollard's hundreds of pages.

When I saw Keith's dazzling addition to my Common Elements theme, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to reunite this incredible artistic team. Joe, who's done several commissions for me previously, readily agreed to the proposal. The results, I believe, speak for themselves.

Yep... giddy.

Did I mention that I actually own a couple of those original Pollard and Rubinstein Official Handbook pages? Indeed I do. This one features bionic private detective Misty Knight...

...while this one depicts Battlestar, one of Captain America's many sidekicks.

My third OHOTMU page retains the raw Keith Pollard pencils (Joe Rubinstein inked a blueline copy of this page for publication) of Drax the Destroyer.

Pollard and Rubinstein: No wonder they called it a Master Edition.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. (Do a good deed for a worthy recipient this weekend — check out the Gene Colan benefit auction.)

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Like Grant took Richmond

The Dean of Bay Area newscasters has hung up his TelePrompTer.

Last night, Dennis Richmond — the longtime anchor of KTVU-2's Ten O'Clock News — signed off for the final time. Dennis spent 40 years at KTVU (the Bay Area's FOX affiliate, and a major independent station for decades before FOX), the last 32 of which saw him anchoring the area's lone "early" newscast with gravitas and aplomb.

As news anchors go, Dennis was solidly old-school. He rarely cracked wise, offered political commentary, or indulged in tabloid fluff from the anchor chair. In the immortal words of Jack Webb, Dennis stuck with "just the facts, ma'am."

His female co-anchors — and they were always female, beginning with Barbara Simpson in the late '70s, who gave way to Elaine Corral in the mid-'80s, who in turn stepped aside for Leslie Griffith in the late '90s, before perky Julie Haener snatched the job two years ago — came and went (mostly as they crept toward middle age, because that's how the broadcasting business goes), but Dennis remained constant, every night offering his sober and elegant delivery of the day's critical stories.

I would never hope to switch on the television and hear that World War Three had erupted. But if it had, I'd have wanted Dennis Richmond to be there to break the news, in his rich, reassuring baritone.

Now, when the Big One drops, I'll have to settle for Frank Somerville. Not that there's anything wrong with Frank — he's a fine reporter and anchor in his own right. But no one is Dennis Richmond.

Heck, they already named an East Bay city after the man.

Bon chance, Mr. Richmond. Thanks for all the news, good and bad. May your retirement be long, healthy, and fulfilling.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

See Wolves, be Wolves

Congratulations to our hometown scholar-athletes, the Sonoma State University Seawolves, whose baseball squad won the NCAA Division II West Regional this past weekend.

On Saturday, the Seawolves will make their first appearance in the NCAA Division II Baseball Championships, taking place this year at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Illinois — home of the Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League.

That Sonoma State has become something of a small-school athletic powerhouse is no small source of amusement to me. I can recall when, in my long-ago high school days, the university barely dabbled a toe in the competitive waters, in keeping with its bohemian, "Berkeley North" atmosphere. Back then, SSU was derisively known throughout the California State University system as "Granola State," a refuge for aging hippies and their college-age progeny. The primary campus sports in that era were Frisbee and spliff-rolling, not necessarily in that order.

Over the years, as SSU gained more traditionally focused administrative leadership, its sports programs expanded and improved. Longtime NFL star lineman Larry Allen garnered national attention while playing at SSU (the school dropped football after Allen's departure, to focus on baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, and tennis), and the Sonoma State women's basketball team is a perennial contender in the NCAA Division II tournament.

The SSU team mascot also underwent a transformation. Originally, the university's athletic teams were nicknamed Cossacks — a nod to Sonoma County's Russian heritage, still in evidence today via such local landmarks as the Russian River and the town of Sebastopol.

Eight years ago, someone at long last picked up a history textbook, only to discover that the real-life Cossacks were bloodthirsty invaders who raped and murdered the female citizens of the communities they ransacked, and who collaborated with the Nazis in their anti-Semitic reign of terror during World War II.


After much public sturm und drang, the SSU administration changed the team nickname to Seawolves, in honor of Jack London's novel The Sea-Wolf, whose author lived out his final years in nearby Glen Ellen. Anyone who's ever read London's book knows that its title character is a vicious, brutal individual not unlike those Cossacks of old, but in this illiterate age, progress is progress.

Best of luck to our young Seawolves as they contend for collegiate baseball glory. Jack London would be proud.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse: Blackbyrd

This morning, West Virginia's senior U.S. Senator, 91-year-old Robert C. Byrd, formally endorsed Barack Obama for President.

Robert Byrd... who six decades ago was the Exalted Cyclops of his friendly neighborhood klavern of the Ku Klux Klan.

Robert Byrd... who in the 1940s opposed the integration of the U.S. military, saying, "I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side."

Robert Byrd... who actively campaigned against civil rights legislation throughout the 1960s.

Robert Byrd... whose state handed the all-over-but-the-shouting Hillary Clinton campaign a 41-point victory in its Democratic primary just a week ago.

That Robert Byrd.

In announcing that his superdelegate vote will be cast for the junior Senator from Illinois, Byrd said:
I believe that Barack Obama is a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history. Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support.
Robert Byrd said that?


This settles the reality — if all of the other overwhelming evidence fails — that when Obama speaks of himself as the candidate of change...

...he's not just whistling "Dixie."

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Astronaut of the year (literally)

Just a few hours ago, NASA astronaut and biochemist Peggy Whitson achieved a noteworthy milestone:

She became the first woman in history to spend the equivalent of one full year in space.

Dr. Whitson — currently the commander of the International Space Station and its resident mission team, Expedition 16 — is nearing the conclusion of her second extended tour aboard the ISS. At this writing, she has logged slightly more than 180 days in space on her present assignment. Combining this mission with the 184 days, 22 hours, and 15 minutes Whitson spent aloft six years ago as flight engineer of ISS Expedition 5 (June 5 to December 7, 2002) gives the groundbreaking astronaut a grand spaceflight total of 365 days and change.

Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks (Extra-Vehicular Activities, if you want to get all technical about it) by a female space traveler: six EVAs totaling 39 hours.

Last fall, when Space Shuttle Discovery's STS-120 team, under the command of U.S. Air Force Colonel Pam Melroy, visited the ISS, Dr. Whitson and Col. Melroy became the first two women to command active space missions simultaneously.

Dr. Whitson and her colleague, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, are scheduled to return to terra firma aboard Soyuz TMA-11 — the same craft that carried them to the ISS last October — on April 19.

We bid them a safe journey home.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hey, Nineteen!

My daughter KM is 19 today.

Nineteen is my lucky number. My daughter is most certainly the luck of my life. Great student (Dean's High Honors in her first semester of college), excellent horsewoman (with a wall filled with ribbons to prove it), solid citizen (beloved by all who know her), and all-around wonderful person ('cause I said so).

KJ and I could not have bargained for a better kid.

Which reminds me of a Steely Dan number...
Hey Nineteen
That's 'Retha Franklin
She don't remember
The Queen of Soul
It's hard times befallen
The sole survivors
She thinks I'm crazy
But I'm just growing old...
KM does, in fact, remember the Queen of Soul, who just happens to share her birthday.

Happy birthday, Aretha.

And happy birthday to you, Punkin. May my God and yours grant you long life and good days.

You go, Supergirl!

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Comic Art Friday exclusive: Inkwell Awards founder Bob Almond (part two of two)

Previously on Comic Art Friday...

We presented the first half of our exclusive interview with comic book artist Bob Almond, one of the industry's foremost inkers. Bob stopped by SSTOL to chat with us about the Inkwell Awards, which will honor artists who practice this misunderstood, often unheralded specialty. As founder of the Inkwell Awards, Bob is the perfect man to give us the straight skinny on this unique new recognition program.

As in last week's session, we'll intersperse Bob's comments with "before and after" examples of commission projects "The King of Ink" has done for me over the past several years.

We now rejoin our interview with Mr. Almond, already in progress.

SSTOL: In addition to yourself, Bob, who are the fine folks who make up the Inkwell Awards committee?

Bob Almond: The committee consists of several talents as passionate as I am for getting our message out. I'll start off with Bill Nichols, my editor at Sketch Magazine, where the awards were born in my "Inkblots" column. Bill and the magazine were the instruments that allowed me to take my idea and let it germinate. And, besides being another inker, Bill brings an editor's perspective to the game. His goal has been to educate and help other creators in our community.

Then there's Tim Townsend, our unofficial ambassador. He's about as close to "superstar" status as inkers get these days. Tim was my first choice for a team player due to his ability to bridge and connect to professionals from the legendary veterans up to the young hotshots of the medium.

We have Jimmy Tournas, fellow inker and moderator of the Inkwell mailing list on Yahoo Groups. Jimmy is one of the most giving and nicest guys around. He is the reason we have accomplished so much at our site, since he designed and created the bulk of it. He's the tech guy I go to when I'm typically ignorant of some matter. Definitely the "glue" of the group.

Daniel Best
is our resident writer Down Under. His blog, 20th Century Danny Boy, has always impressed me for showing his efforts to help out the little guy, or yesterday's legends who have fallen off the radar. For that reason, he's like the soul of our team mission.

And lastly, we have our non-inker celebrities, Mike Marts and Adam Hughes. Mike is presently a DC Comics senior editor, and has spent editorial stints at both Acclaim Comics and twice at Marvel. In fact, he even edited my run on Black Panther. Mike knows how to motivate the best out of people, he knows and loves the business, and he adds to our credibility by adding a mainstream editor to the fold in support of our cause of respecting and giving back to those ink artists deserving of attention.

And what can I say about Adam that his work doesn't? He's a multi-talented and respected artist with whom we are sincerely honored to be sharing the floor. The man knows how to ink, but he transcends that. And yet, he still feels it important enough to help recognize that what we do is important. Besides overseeing the awards proceedings, Mike and Adam bring a cross-professional, non-partisan atmosphere to the group which amplifies the solidarity involved. In other words, they really make us look good!

SSTOL: You've named your Lifetime Achievement Award after Joe Sinnott. Why did you choose Mr. Sinnott, who's probably best known for his work over Jack Kirby's pencils during Marvel's Silver Age?

Bob Almond: The committee discussed several candidates for the title, in terms of having an ink artist whose name recognition brings distinction and respect to the craft due to his or her quality of work, character, and accomplishments through the years. Ultimately, we all agreed on Joltin' Joe.

SSTOL: I definitely concur with that choice — Sinnott was my favorite inker of that historic period. Who are some of the other inkers who most influenced your own work?

Bob Almond: As a young 'un Marvel fan in the mid-to-late '70s, I always adored and studied the work of Joe Rubinstein, Bob Layton, Terry Austin, Tom Palmer, and Klaus Janson.

I'd collected back issues and was familiar with the great Golden and Silver Age inkers, but I felt that these upstarts were pushing the medium even further along and made the work more exciting overall, almost regardless of who penciled the work. So, while I studied and was inspired by others along the way, I have to say that those five guys were my earliest influences.

SSTOL: One final question, Bob. If you could put to rest one misconception about inking, what would it be?

Bob Almond: I may need to stretch that beyond one misconception when it comes to our work. Not to sound bitter, but there's a belief by some that inkers are talentless hacks. Many ink artists are fine, accomplished pencilers and painters who have cut across to other areas like commercial art, animation, and storyboarding. Inkers know how to draw, but tend to be quicker or better at the inking path of creation, thus making it a more practical career choice.

Some feel that inkers just trace the work. But they don't know what the work looked like when we got it. The reader is actually seeing our interpretation of the work in ink. Often we add, edit, and redraw much of what was there originally, for whatever reason.

Also, some feel that we're interchangeable. I'm sure many could also challenge that line of thinking by recalling some art matches [of penciler and inker] that were ill-conceived by editors over the years. With the right style combination, the inker will certainly bring the best out of the pencil art, and achieve transcendent work that will be cherished for years to come.

Voting for the Inkwell Awards begins April 1. If you're a fan of comic art, please take a moment to drop by the site, and put in a mention for your favorite inkers. The competition covers both classic and modern artists, so there's ample opportunity to acknowledge all of your favorites past and present.

Thanks to my friend Bob Almond for his generous participation!

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Comic Art Friday exclusive: Inkwell Awards founder Bob Almond (part one of two)

You've arrived at a good time, friend reader. Your Uncle Swan has a special treat in store for today's Comic Art Friday... and for next week's, as well.

If you drop by this august establishment frequently, you'll recognize the name of comic book artist Bob Almond, whose titanic talent has graced many a Comic Art Friday. One of the most gifted inking specialists in the industry, Bob is a master at transforming pencil drawings into beautifully finished art.

Over the past few years, Bob has accepted about 30 commissions from me. It's fair to say that my art galleries would be drastically different were it not for the brush strokes and pen lines of the man other collectors and I affectionately call "The King of Ink."

Recently, Bob teamed with a stellar assemblage of comic industry insiders to create the Inkwell Awards, a soon-to-be-annual celebration of inking artists and their craft. Through his "Inkblots" column in Sketch Magazine, Bob developed the concept of acknowledging the often overlooked (and in my opinion, tragically undervalued) artists who, as Bob defines it, specialize in:
"the craft of enhancing an illustration through the means of redrawing pencil lines with ink and its related tools... in areas of — but not limited to — weight, space, depth, definition, contrast, texture, composition and design."
Online balloting for the inaugural Inkwell Awards begins on April 1. In anticipation of the launch, Bob graciously consented to an interview with SSTOL. You're about to read the first half of this interview; we'll publish Part Two next Friday. To illustrate (no pun intended) the importance of "ink editing," I've chosen some of Bob's finest "before and after" projects from my collection to accompany this conversation.

SSTOL: Bob, what inspired you to create the Inkwell Awards? And why do you think that inkers don't get more recognition in the comics community?

Bob Almond: Actually, to combine these related questions into one answer, the fact that ink artists don't [get their just recognition] is what inspired me to create the awards. One reason for the latter is the fact that "inker" is almost exclusively a comic book industry product. As such, the name doesn't have a precedent for people comprehending what exactly s/he does.

In general, everyone knows what a penciler does, and they can easily determine that they draw. Same with the letterer, colorist, and even the editor. Not the inker. The common understanding from the public is that we fill in the blacks, or that we color, and, of course, that we "trace," which is the simplest and most ignorant of definition of our craft. If that was all we did, then anyone off the street could do it.

The other reason is that, for whatever reason, the status of inkers [within the comics industry] has been diminished of late. Their credits have been absent from some solicitations, reprint collection covers, and reprint sample art. Some major conventions haven't listed inkers in their guest lists, and some industry awards don't give them their own category. Inkers used to be one of the top three creator categories, but they've lost some leverage in that arena due to — in our opinion — less recognition for their work and lack of information.

We inkers certainly don't follow this line of work for the money. We do it for the love of the medium and craft, and for the credit. This is what motivated me to initiate an effort to give back to the invisible inker — often unsung, like the bassist of a band, who's not a rock star like the lead singer or guitarist.

We want to show appreciation to the ink artists, as well as have our site consisting of information and resources to help educate and inform the fans on what we do. Not to elevate our work to that of brain surgery or anything pretentious — we just feel it is an essential part of sequential art production in the area of quality control and storytelling enhancement.

SSTOL: In this age of computer graphics, is inking a dying art?

Bob Almond: Dying, no. Diminished, yes. But not necessarily due to computer tech. The comic book implosion of the '90s caused much of that, as in the other areas of production, simply from a reduction of publishers and titles.

The introduction of actual digital inking added but a new component to the equation of creating comics. It consists of using a "wand" tool on a tablet or the screen to simulate the inking gestures without ink. But this skill has been extremely limited in usage, because of the cost and the difficulty of getting that natural look and versatility of line except over the most simplest of drawings. I only know of Alex Maleev and Brian Bolland who use it on their own art in the mainstream.

The misnomer "digital inking," the process of darkening and cleaning scanned pencil art lines in Photoshop, is not inking at all. [The term is] actually insulting to the traditional inkers. It's a cost-cutting measure and another exclusively comic book industry product, one that some pencil artists have requested in the goal of achieving more art sincerity.

But I feel what they've lost is the distinctive power of the ink through the missing weights, depth, textures, and other enhancing traits. Comic art commission clients know this, as do some editors. So I don't believe that the craft of inking will "die." But our present status could surely use a boost.

SSTOL: From a historical perspective, why is inking as a specialty such an important part of comic art?

Bob Almond: Deadlines. Inking was used on comic strips, and a form of it was created in the production of animation cells. But it was the comic book publishers who realized early on, when the medium was still young, that they could get more work out of their most popular and skilled artists by having their work inked by other artists. This way, a prolific superstar like Jack Kirby, for example, could draw and create most of the Silver Age Marvel Universe on his own. So it's a quantity tool.

Inking in general was also an essential part of the process, because the art wouldn't print properly, if at all, just in pencil. Successive decades later, technology allowed for such a possibility, but uninked art was used sparingly until recently. But as I discussed, it's also a quality tool, as the missing ink is very much missed.

In next Friday's second half of our interview, Bob Almond introduces us to the array of creators behind the Inkwell Awards, and also to some of the inkers who helped shape his own personal perspective on this unique artistic craft.

So, join us here in seven, won't you?

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Pedals to the metal

Crank up the Queen: It's "Bicycle Race" time.

The Amgen Tour of California gets under way today. In fact, it's already under way, but I don't get up as early in the morning as professional cyclists do.

This event is of local interest for two reasons:

One, today's first stage of the race ends — and tomorrow's second stage begins — right here in my own backyard. Well, not literally in my backyard, but a mere stone's chuck to the north in Santa Rosa's Courthouse Square. The "no parking" signs were already out in full force throughout downtown when I was there yesterday morning.

Two, our hometown two-wheeling hero Levi Leipheimer is the Tour's defending champion. Levi, riding for Team Astana this year, is again favored to win the Tour. Levi — the current USA Cycling National Road Race Champion — will doubtless be hungry to repeat, especially since Astana has just been banned from competing in this year's Tour de France, due to doping allegations involving competitors who were members of the team before Levi signed on.

On the latter point, there's an online petition aimed at encouraging the Tour de France organizers to reconsider their decision and admit Levi and his Astana teammates to the Tour. I've already signed. I'm sure that Levi would appreciate your support as well, if you're so inclined.

We here at SSTOL wish Levi a swift, smooth ride in the Tour of California.

Sad to say, no fat-bottomed girls are competing.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm Karen for you, Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone in SSTOL-land! May you live in romantic times.

All this hearts-and-flowers talk has me wondering, though...

Whatever happened to local girl Karen Valentine?

Born and raised just around the corner from here in Sebastopol — then nationally renowned for its apple orchards (now mostly gone, as progress would have it), and later as the one-time residence of cartoonist Charles Schulz — Karen Valentine leaped into TV prominence in 1969 on the seminal academic drama Room 222. As perky, neurotic student teacher (and eventually, full-fledged faculty member) Alice Johnson, Karen quickly became one of 222's focal points.

For those of you too callow to recall, Room 222 broke significant broadcast ground back in the day. The show, set in an inner-city Los Angeles high school, boasted one of network television's first thoroughly integrated casts, headlined by African American actors Lloyd Haynes and Denise Nicholas (who was briefly married to soul singer Bill Withers). The plotlines often dealt with topical issues, such as race relations and the Vietnam War.

But let's face it: It was Karen Valentine we tuned in to see.

After 222 ended in 1974, Karen headlined a short-lived sitcom entitled — not surprisingly — Karen. She also made frequent appearances throughout the '70s as a celebrity panelist on the popular game show Hollywood Squares, before launching a decade-long career as the heroine in a skein of maudlin made-for-TV movies.

Although her IMDB listing reflects sporadic acting credits in recent years, I don't believe I've actually seen Karen in anything in 15 years or more. Unlike the remarkably similar Sally Field, who pushed beyond her youthful roles in Gidget and The Flying Nun to become a respected, Oscar-winning film actress, Karen never quite made the on-camera jump from bubbly, fresh-faced girl to mature, sophisticated adult woman.

Too bad, really.

Wherever you are, Miss Johnson, I hope you're enjoying your Valentine's Day.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You go, Uno!

Congratulations to Champion K-Run's Park Me In First — known to his pals as Uno — who last night became the first beagle to win Best in Show at the canine version of the Super Bowl, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Somewhere in puppy dog heaven, Snoopy is smiling.

Happy though I am for Uno and his owner ("Uno, owner. Owner, Uno."), I feel compelled to point out an ongoing injustice: No Pembroke Welsh Corgi has ever won Best in Show in the 132-year history of Westminster.

As the great Tony Bruno would say, it's an outrage.

Somewhere beneath my office chair, my assistant Abby is definitely not smiling.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The missing Linc

It's Lincoln's Birthday today!

Oh, what a joyous occasion!

Lincoln has always been a hero of mine. He hung tough in the face of adversity and violent opposition. He stood determined in his resolve to battle injustice and hatred. Charismatic, yet possessed with a dignified cool. A champion defender of the disenfranchised, and a staunch advocate for the rights of black Americans.

Plus, his monster Afro and aviator shades were wicked cool.


Oh, you meant this Lincoln...

...not this Lincoln.

Never mind, then. Carry on.


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Friday, February 08, 2008

In simplicity, beauty

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to longtime comic book artist Creig Flessel, who celebrated his 96th birthday last Saturday. Flessel's career in comics began way back in 1936, two years before Superman made his debut. He is best known for his work on such characters as Superboy, the Shining Knight (whom Flessel created), and especially the original Sandman.

Mr. Flessel lives here in the North Bay — in Marin County's Mill Valley, to be precise. He still makes occasional appearances at our biggest local comics convention, WonderCon, where later this month he will be one of the guests of honor.

I'm looking forward to seeing him there.

In the modern era, when so many comics artists hold the view that if one scratch, scribble, or hash mark is good, twelve will be even better (thanks, Image Comics founders, for your contribution to the medium...), it's always refreshing to see an artist capable of accomplishing great things with a deft economy of line.

That's why I'm a fan of the work of Brian Stelfreeze.

Brian is most familiar to comics fans as a cover artist. His work has adorned the faceplates of such series as Batman: Shadow of the Bat (for which Stelfreeze painted 50 consecutive covers), and recently, the futuristic action serial The Highwaymen. He has also drawn interior pages on occasion.

This evocative Wonder Woman pinup demonstrates how beautifully Stelfreeze can communicate physical power, grace, and subtle emotion without scattering random crosshatching all over the page.

Here's another striking example of the Stelfreeze style, this time featuring Marvel's female assassin, Elektra.

I first discovered Brian Stelfreeze's art when he did the covers for a Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze miniseries published by Millennium Comics in 1991 — the same book that introduced me to the work of another favorite artist, Darryl Banks.

A couple of years ago, Darryl was generous enough to allow me to purchase several original pages from the first issue of that miniseries (subtitled The Monarch of Armageddon). I now own roughly two-thirds of the art from that issue, including this spectacular opening splash page, penciled by Banks and inked by Robert Lewis.

Memo to comics artists everywhere: Less is more. Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, and their ilk notwithstanding.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Still the dream

But for an assassin's bullet, and barring further untoward incident, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 79 today.

From Dr. King's speech at the Great March on Detroit, June 23, 1963:
We've been pushed around so long; we've been the victims of lynching mobs so long; we've been the victims of economic injustice so long — still the last hired and the first fired all over this nation. And I know the temptation.

I can understand from a psychological point of view why some caught up in the clutches of the injustices surrounding them almost respond with bitterness, and come to the conclusion that the problem can't be solved within, and they talk about getting away from it in terms of racial separation. But even though I can understand it psychologically, I must say to you this afternoon that this isn't the way.

Black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. No, I hope you will allow me to say to you this afternoon that God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men. God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.

And I believe that with this philosophy and this determined struggle, we will be able to go on in the days ahead and transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
Preach on, brother Martin. Preach on.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Praise Bozo, and pass the Pepto-Bismol

Ladies and gentlemen, please doff your caps and raise your forks.

Eddie "Bozo" Miller has died.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: Bozo the Clown died? Well, yes and no. The first man to wear the famous Bozo makeup and attire — cartoonist, comedian, and voice actor Pinto Colvig, best remembered as the voice of Walt Disney's Goofy and of Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — died in 1967. The most famous Bozos — NBC weatherman Willard Scott and entrepreneur Larry Harmon, who owns the Bozo trademark — are both very much alive at this writing.

But I digress.

Eddie "Bozo" Miller was not a clown — at least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, Bozo Miller — no relation to the greasepainted TV icon — was the first of the great modern trenchermen.

That means Bozo could eat.

A lot.

Decades before competitive food-guzzling devolved into Saturday afternoon ESPN fare, and decades before skinny Japanese guys made themselves household names by pounding endless streams of frankfurters and raw oysters down their gullets, Bozo Miller was the undisputed ruler of the independent kingdom of Gastronomy.

Miller first cracked into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1963, when he devoured 27 two-pound roast chickens in a single sitting at a Trader Vic's restaurant in the East Bay. For more than half a century, Bozo dazzled his friends with displays of prodigious consumption. The Guinness book reported that he was undefeated in eating contests between 1931 and 1981.

In his prime, Bozo packed away 25,000 calories a day. He once ate 30 pounds of elk meat loaf — I know, it turned my stomach just typing it — and on another occasion, 324 ravioli. Miller once chowed down 63 Dutch apple pies in an hour. My neighborhood supermarket doesn't even sell 63 Dutch apple pies in a week. Maybe a month.

Not a man to limit himself to a single aspect of conspicuous consuming, Bozo could drink, too. He regularly swilled a dozen martinis before lunchtime. He claimed to have drunk a lion — yes, an honest-to-Simba lion — under the table once. The lion didn't dispute the claim.

When Bozo wasn't eating — and I'm uncertain exactly when that might have been — he was a fixture at Bay Area racetracks. I would not be at all surprised to learn that horses with Bozo's money riding on them usually ran a step or two faster, for fear that Bozo would eat them if they lost. For all I know, he may have.

And here's the kicker: Brian Maxwell, marathon runner and PowerBar inventor, died at age 51; fitness guru Jim Fixx, at 52; health food promoter Euell Gibbons, at 64; low-carb diet doctor Robert Atkins, at 72.

Bozo Miller — the self-proclaimed World Champion of Gourmand Gastronomics — munched, gulped, and scarfed his way to the ripe old age of 89.

Chew on that, why don't you?

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Dan's the Jeopardy! man

Congratulations to Dan Pawson, whose streak as reigning Jeopardy! champion ended tonight after nine victories.

Dan's run marks the third-longest winning skein in non-tournament Jeopardy! play, after the phenomenal Ken Jennings (74 wins) and David Madden (19 wins). (Long-time viewers will recall that until a few seasons ago, returning champions — including yours truly — were retired after their fifth victories.)

Dan's prize total of $171,601 will come in extremely handy, given that he and his wife are expecting a new baby, quite literally any day now.

Way to go, Dan!

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Goose gets loose

Congratulations to Rich "Goose" Gossage on becoming only the fifth relief pitcher to gain election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As I wrote in this space when the Hall of Fame ballots were distributed last November, Gossage certainly deserved to be voted in before this, his ninth year of eligibility. As I also noted, this year offered Gossage his best opportunity, as none of the 11 new names on the ballot would garner much attention. Of the fresh faces, only Tim Raines — a very good, but not great, player — logged enough votes to remain on the ballot next go-around.

I'm disappointed that Jim Rice, the American League's best all-around player for more than a decade, was denied election for the 14th time. On the positive side, Rice received considerably more votes this time than he ever has before, so there's a chance that he'll make it over the hump next year — his final shot at the ballot box.

With all of the anti-steroid furor of recent months, it should surprise no one that Mark McGwire fell far short of election for the second straight year. In fact, McGwire notched exactly the same number of votes he got last year: 128 (a total of 407 was needed in this year's balloting). I maintain that, steroids or no steroids, McGwire is not a Hall of Fame player in my estimation. An decent-fielding first baseman with a mediocre career batting average (.263), Big Mac wouldn't even be considered in the Hall of Fame conversation were it not for his now-suspect home run numbers.

The biggest addition to next year's eligibility list: Record-setting base stealer and 1990 American League Most Valuable Player Rickey Henderson. (Remind me in November to tell you my funny Rickey Henderson story.)

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Eight years of News From ME

Happy blogiversary to writer, humorist, and all-around good guy Mark Evanier, whose celebrated blog, News From ME, marks its eighth year of existence today.

Mark's blog was the first I ever read on a regular basis. My enjoyment of his daily — and usually, several times daily — jottings helped inspired the genesis of SSTOL, some three and a half years ago.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mark's oeuvre, suffice it to say that his nearly 40-year career writing for television and comics spans more credits than your average small-town phone book. For the small screen, Mark has written hundreds of sitcoms (everything from Welcome Back, Kotter to Bob, in which Bob Newhart played a comic book artist), variety shows (including That's Incredible! and the infamous Pink Lady and Jeff), and animated series (he was the producer and chief writer of Garfield and Friends, among numerous others).

In the comics world, Mark broke in as an assistant to the beyond-legendary Jack Kirby. Although he's written all kinds of comics, from superhero (DNAgents) to adventure (Blackhawk) to just plain fun (Scooby-Doo), Mark is best known as the cocreator, with artist Sergio Aragonés, of the hilarious sword-and-sorcery spoof Groo the Wanderer, about a Conanesque barbarian who loves fighting and cheese dip. (You had to be there.)

Mark and Sergio are currently teaming up to write the further adventures of Will Eisner's The Spirit, following an epic run by cartoonist Darwyn Cooke. I've met both Mark and Sergio at various comic conventions in recent years. Two nicer gentlemen you will not find, in any industry. (Sergio Aragonés is, in my never-humble opinion, one of the funniest human beings on the planet, on paper and in real life.)

If you're not already making a daily pilgrimage to News From ME, drop around and check out Mark's musings. Because Mark is one of the leading lights in the Writers Guild of America, his blog is your best source of ongoing information about the WGA strike. It's also just a wonderful read.

Here's to eight more years, Mark — and eighteen more after that!

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Special victim

I don't know Evanthia Pappas.

But I intimately know someone like her.

Evanthia, a prosecutor who works for the Sonoma County District Attorney's office in the so-called "special victims unit" (dealing with sexual abuse and domestic violence crimes), was diagnosed a year ago with stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. IBC is a relatively uncommon disease — it accounts for only about two percent of breast cancer cases — and is much tougher to diagnose and treat than solid-tumor breast cancer like KJ's.

The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has offered Evanthia the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial of an experimental treatment involving stem cell transplantation into her bone marrow. It's an expensive ticket — Evanthia's portion of the bill totals approximately $250,000 — and no insurance company, pharmaceutical entity, or government program covers it.

With the help of family, friends, and coworkers, as well as our local Greek-American community, Evanthia is raising this hefty sum on her own.

Having spent a dozen years in the health care industry, and seven years and counting as the husband of a woman battling breast cancer, I've read reams of information about breast cancer and its treatment. I know that the course of therapy Evanthia Pappas is attempting probably isn't the light at the end of the dark and terrifying breast cancer tunnel. Most researchers discontinued investigation of bone marrow transplant treatment of breast cancer more than a decade ago, because, quite frankly, there was no clinical evidence that it worked. Sad — infuriating, even — though it is, I understand fully why Evanthia's insurance company won't cover an experiment that the current medical literature doesn't support.

But, as KJ just said to me, "Someone had to be the first to try the treatments I'm getting now."

And she's right. Evanthia Pappas may or may not benefit from this experiment. It may help her body stave off her cancer, and it may not. Her participation in the trial, however, may help medical scientists learn something new that will eventually save other women's lives. For that, if for no other reason, it's worth a shot.

A quarter-million bucks is a ton of cash. But it's a small price to pay for hope.

If you're so inclined, you can make a contribution to Evanthia Pappas's quest for life by writing a check payable to The Evanthia Pappas Transplant Fund (S-5 Account), and mailing it to:
San Francisco Police Credit Union
2550 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122
Evanthia will thank you. And someday, your wife or daughter, mother or sister, lover or friend may thank you, also.

After all, it's only money, right?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Say Hey, Aaron!

In their first big move of the baseball off-season, the San Francisco Giants today signed Gold Glove-winning center fielder Aaron Rowand to a five-year pact.

Rowand's one heck of a player. A product of the stellar baseball program at California State University at Fullerton (or, as it's often nicknamed, Cal State Disneyland), Rowand is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game today. Fans may recall that oft-aired footage of him from the 2006 season, crashing face-first into the center field wall in Chicago, shattering his nose but holding onto the ball.

Last season, as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, Rowand notched career highs in home runs (27) and RBI (89), all while picking up his first Gold Glove and an All-Star team selection. He probably won't post numbers like that in less hitter-friendly AT&T Park, but he'll cover that huge outfield ground like a human vacuum, and get on base a lot.

Rowand's arrival means that the Giants can move ancient Dave Roberts to left field, replacing the departed and indicted Barry Bonds. It's a far better move for the team than the hotly rumored trade for Toronto's Alex Rios, a comparable player to Rowand (albeit four years younger), but also one who would have cost the Giants one of their youthful starting pitchers — probably Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain. By scoring Rowand off the free agent market, San Francisco keeps its rapidly rising hurling staff intact.

Nice going, Brian Sabean. Keep up the momentum, and you'll have earned that two-year contract extension.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The category is: Cardiac Arrest

I was shocked and saddened to hear the news this morning that my old pal, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, has suffered a mild heart attack.

Word is that Alex is resting comfortably in a Los Angeles hospital, and is expected to be back at his podium after the holidays. I certainly hope that's the case.

For all of the ribbing Alex takes, even from his most ardent fans — and I'd count myself in that number — you don't enjoy the success he's had for nearly 25 years on the same television program unless you're awfully good at what you do. When the annals of game show history are written, Alex's name will be right there at the top.

Get well soon, Alex. And when you're back on your feet, have your people call my people. We'll do lunch.

I'll even let you pick up the check.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Not good, not bad... just Evel

Another chapter of my increasingly long-ago youth has departed the premises:

Evel Knievel died yesterday.

It's a fitting testament to the unparalleled weirdness that characterized America in the 1960s and '70s that one of our most recognizable entertainment icons from that period was a guy who jumped over large objects — and, on frequent occasion, failed spectacularly in the attempt — while riding on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

To young people who've grown up in the era of ubiquitous stunt reality television from Survivor to Jackass to The X Games, it probably seems bizarre that a professional daredevil was once such a novelty that his performances would sell out football stadiums, and make front page headlines in newspapers and lead stories on network news programs. But back in the day, Robert Craig Knievel Jr. — known to the world by his nickname, Evel — was that mammoth a star.

And believe me, we ate it up.

When Evel made one of his famous jumps on ABC's Wide World of Sports — the biggest thing going in televised sports in those pre-ESPN days — ratings skyrocketed. The clip of his spectacular crash at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas is one of the most repeated snippets of film in the history of broadcasting. When Evel made his ill-fated attempt to vault Idaho's Snake River Canyon in a rocket car designed by former NASA engineer Robert Truax, the world held its collective breath.

Elvis may have been the King, but Evel was the Emperor.

The youthful Uncle Swan was a major Evel Knievel fan. I owned his Ideal Toys action figure. I played dozens, maybe hundreds, of games on his Bally pinball machine. I devoured his cover story in Rolling Stone, and Shelly Saltman's unauthorized biography — the one that so incensed Evel that he assaulted Saltman with a baseball bat and spent six months in jail. I eagerly tuned in Evel's every TV appearance, even when he popped up as himself on dreadful programs I'd never have watched otherwise. A poster of Evel in his trademark white star-spangled jumpsuit adorned my bedroom wall. I paid actual money to see his self-starring 1977 biopic, Viva Knievel, and hardly cared that the man couldn't act. (The earlier Evel Knievel, starring the perpetually tan George Hamilton in the title role, was only marginally better.)

For a kid who loved comic book superheroes, Evel Knievel was as close to the real thing as one could get.

After his daredevil career ended in the early '80s, Evel Knievel's life meandered down a dark and painful road. He went bankrupt, ran repeatedly afoul of law enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service, and struggled with numerous health problems — some stemming from the world record number of broken bones Evel suffered in his infamous crashes; others, such as the hepatitis-C that necessitated a liver transplant in 1999, resulting from the numerous blood transfusions his injuries required. A lengthy history of diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis finally claimed the life of the self-proclaimed "last gladiator" at age 69.

Still, even in his final days, Evel was never far from the spotlight. Earlier this year, he found religion and was baptized on Robert Schuller's Hour of Power program in front of a nationwide TV audience. A couple of months ago, Evel Knievel: The Rock Opera premiered in Los Angeles to mostly positive reviews. Only a few days before his death, Evel settled a lawsuit against rapper Kanye West over Kanye's unauthorized use of Evel's trademarked image in one of his videos.

Despite the proliferation of self-destructive insanity in modern popular culture — and the ongoing career of Evel's son Robbie, who followed his father into the daredevil trade — we will never see the like of Evel Knievel again. He was truly an original, and unquestionably unique.

Thanks for all the thrills, Evel.

Happy landings.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Queen of Jeopardy!

Hearty congratulations to Celeste DiNucci, winner of this year's Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.

In one of the most unpredictable tournaments in Jeopardy! history, Celeste emerged triumphant, edging out a narrow victory over crafty Canadian Doug Hicton in the finals. Celeste garnered $250,000 and the adoration of millions for her stellar efforts.

Despite my nearly 20 years of association with Jeopardy!, and the fact that I've been privileged to meet — and in a few cases, compete against — some of the best players ever to pick up a signaling device, I've never been any great shakes at evaluating competitor talent, or at forecasting tournament outcomes. This year's Tournament of Champions was no different.

Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have figured any of the three finalists to make it out of the first round. That's not intended as an insult to them, in any way — I just thought there were several stronger players in the field. But Celeste and Doug, in particular, showed themselves worthy to stand among the game's elite. Celeste is an impressive and personable grand champion, and only the third woman in Jeopardy! history to win a Tournament of Champions.

Celeste came within a hairsbreadth of missing the finals altogether. In her semifinal match, she and Christian Haines — one of the pre-tournament favorites — finished the game tied at $15,401. Host Alex Trebek announced a tie-breaking category, "Child's Play," then read the final answer: "A Longfellow poem and a Lillian Hellman play about a girls' boarding school share this timely title." Celeste rang in first, and delivered the correct question: "What is The Children's Hour?"

Way to go, Celeste!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

C.C. Sabathia, see what you have done

Congratulations to North Bay native C.C. Sabathia, who today was awarded this year's American League Cy Young Award.

The Cleveland Indians' ace posted a 19-7 record in the baseball season just concluded, with a 3.21 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 241 innings pitched, the most in the majors this year.

Sabathia becomes the first African American pitcher to win the Cy Young in 22 years, since the Mets' Dwight Gooden in 1985, and the first in the American League since Vida Blue won with Oakland in 1971.

With his 19 victories, Sabathia fell one win short of becoming the 14th member of the Black Aces, the elite group of African American pitchers who have won 20 games in a major league season.

Not too shabby for a kid from Vallejo.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Honor a veteran today

On this Veterans' Day...

Capt. Carol Danvers (USAF, ret.) thanks all current and former members of the United States armed forces for their honorable service.

Shake a veteran's hand today, and let him or her know that you appreciate their contributions to our country.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

In celebration of Cleavage

Just to prove that the need for breast cancer awareness doesn't stop at the end of October (which was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in case you were asleep at the keyboard for the past 31 days), let's give an SSTOL Hero of the Day shout-out to the fine folks at Cleavage Creek Cellars, based right here in eternally beautiful northern California Wine Country.

Cleavage Creek was recently purchased by local entrepreneur Budge Brown, whose wife of 48 years, Arlene Brown, passed away two years ago after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. Budge has pledged to contribute ten percent of Cleavage Creek's gross revenues -- and yes, that's gross receipts, not net profits -- to breast cancer research.

As a clever marketing move, the label of every bottle of Cleavage Creek wine features an eye-catching snapshot of one of seven attractive models. Nothing new there, right? Wrong. Here's the twist: Each of the "Ladies of Cleavage Creek" is a breast cancer survivor.

You can read each model's personal story in detail at the Cleavage Creek Cellars Web site.

Cleavage Creek's eight 2008 releases range in price from $22 to $60 per bottle, and can be advance-purchased from Cleavage Creek. Since I don't drink wine, I can't comment on the quality of the product. (If you partake, please don't drive.)

From what I've heard and read about Budge Brown, I'm confident that every bottle is being made with love.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Licensed to thrill

Beware, California...

my daughter has joined the ranks of licensed drivers.

KM passed her road test on the first attempt, with no errors, earning an "Excellent!" on her score sheet from the DMV adjudicator.

You go, Supergirl!

Thank heaven that she doesn't have access to a Hot Rod Lincoln.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And like that... he's gone

Tonight, Barry Bonds played his final home game — and, in all probability, his final game, period — as a San Francisco Giant.

After 15 seasons, I will miss the big lug.

As a Giant, Bonds won five Most Valuable Player awards (he brought two with him when he came over from Pittsburgh), and one could effectively — and, in my never-humble opinion, accurately — argue that he should have won at least two more. For most of his tenure in San Francisco, Bonds was the most dominant, most imposing, most statistically singular baseball player of his generation — perhaps of any generation. This season, he chased down and captured the most legendary record in professional sports, in that handful of games when he wasn't looking like a 43-year-old bodybuilder with gimpy knees.

I've been watching baseball with avid fascination for nearly 40 years. I never saw another player like Bonds.

Did he inflate his statistics — and his uniform — with anabolic steroids and human growth hormone? I don't know. Maybe. Probably. There's no concrete evidence that he ever failed a drug test, but yeah, if I had to guess, I'd vote for the juice. (But not The Juice. That's a whole other story.) How much did it help, if he did? Hard to say. The Bonds who joined the Giants in 1993 was already the best ballplayer I'd ever seen, and even his harshest critics grudgingly acknowledge that he was probably pharmaceutical-free then, and for at least another five or six season thereafter. How much better could he have become, really?

I guess you'd have to ask Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Caminiti for starters. Except Caminiti's dead. I suspect you should ask Roger Clemens, Pudge Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Albert Pujols, too. Not that there's any conclusive evidence there, either. We're just shooting the hypothetical breeze here, right?

You see, that's the reason why an inveterate baseball purist such as myself just sighs and shrugs when the discussion of Bonds, performance-enhancing drugs, and the non-existent asterisk arises. There's as much documented empirical evidence against several dozen other stars, near-stars, and wannabe-stars as there is against Bonds, and no one breathes a word about striking any of their accomplishments from the Baseball Abstract.

We all know why that is. Barry Bonds has all the personal charm of a Gila monster, at least when dealing with members of the fourth estate. Nice guys may finish last, but at least they get the benefit of the doubt. Everyone wants to take down the dude who acts like the wrong end of a horse.

I'm not Barry's apologist. He doesn't appear to want or need one — unless it's his old pal Greg Anderson — and I wouldn't accept the job if offered. But the bottom line is that if (and I believe we still have to say if, Game of Shadows notwithstanding) he used the juice, he wasn't alone. That doesn't excuse it if he did, but it means that in order to serve justice, we'd have to hunt down every Tom, Dick, and Jose who likewise did the stuff, and erase every accomplishment that every one of them ever did. That's assuming that we could prove anything against anyone at this late juncture. And that we could catch everyone who ought to get caught.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

While you're busy with the snipe hunt, I'll be over here remembering 762.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

There be pirates here, matey!

Avast there, ye lubbers!

Today be September 19, and ye be knowin' what that means...

Talk Like a Pirate Day, it be!

All ye scurvy scalawags and wayfarin' wenches best keep yer powder dry and yer cutlasses swingin', if ye know what's best fer ye! Don't give ol' Cap'n Swan an excuse to make ye walk the plank!

Consider yer timbers shivered!


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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hero of the Day: The Big Kahuna

In the midst of a dismal season for the Giants, a moment of class and brilliance shone like a beacon in last night's game at The House That Barry Built.

During a break in the action, a camera operator for Fox Sports Bay Area trained his lens on a young man in the stands, who was busy with a laptop, scorebook, and headset microphone. It was obvious to any observer the kid was calling his own play-by-play and recording it into his computer.

In the next half-inning, the camera's eye found the young man again. This time, Jon Miller — the Giants' lead announcer — was seated next to him. When the duo appeared again a short time afterward, Miller and the boy were ensconced in the press box, with the kid nestled between Miller and his broadcast teammate Dave Flemming as they called the game.

This incident resonated with me, recalling my long-ago days as an aspiring sportscaster, sitting in the upper deck at Candlestick Park and pretending I was Hank Greenwald. At the time, I would have traded my most prized possession for a chance to have one of my announcing heroes take notice of me and invite me up to the booth.

I'm sure Jon Miller remembered times when his present dream job had seemed like a distant, nearly impossible fantasy, as it perhaps does to this young fellow. He certainly gave that kid a memory he'll never forget as long as he lives. It cost Jon nothing but a few minutes of his time.

In a sports world fraught with scandal and scuttlebutt, it's a joy to see a sports professional taking time just to do something nice for a fan. I know these moments happen much more often than we ever hear reported, but it affirms one's humanity when we catch a glimpse of such a case as it happens.

Good on ya, Big Kahuna.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007


The name is Bonds.

Barry Bonds.

And he now owns the most storied record in professional sports.

I'll have more to say soon, but for this electric moment, that one number says it all:





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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Send in the pinch-hitters

Sometimes, nice guys finish first. Or at least tie for second.

Congratulations to Drew Carey, who beat out a raft of likely (and, in the case of Rosie O'Donnell, unlikely) suspects to land the coveted hosting duties on The Price is Right.

Departing TPIR host Bob Barker commented on the Carey signing, "I'm cool with it." (Although you know that with the substantial nest egg Bob's carrying into his cozy retirement, he'd be cool with whomever CBS hired to replace him: Mr. T; Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; Wendy the Snapple Lady; or Wilbur, Zuckerman's famous pig.)

Congratulations also to the Giants' Mark Sweeney, whose first-pitch double in the seventh inning of last night's loss to the Atlanta Braves was the 150th pinch hit of his journeyman major league career. The achievement ties Sweeney with the legendary Manny Mota for second place on baseball's all-time pinch hits list. (Lenny Harris holds the record, with 212.)

Speaking of Manny Mota, here's a story I heard back in my college days, from a friend who played center field for the Pepperdine University Waves.

During his years with the Dodgers, Mota had a favorite bat that traveled with him everywhere. One season, Mota departed his native Dominican Republic for spring training having neglected to pack this particular bat. Mota had a horrendous spring that year — as Crash Davis might say, Manny couldn't hit water if he fell out of a [expletive deleted] boat. Near the end of spring training, Mota's wife, at home in the Dominican, received a terse telegram from her husband. The message contained but three words: "Send the bat."

Perhaps if Drew Carey struggles to sink his putts in TPIR's golf game, he can summon Bob Barker's putter to the rescue.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Giant awakens!

After enduring an embarrassing 0-for-21 drought, The Bondsman went off today.

Three hits — two of which were booming home runs in the classic Bonds style — and six runs batted in. That's 753 round trippers: just two shy of Henry Aaron's storied mark.

Of course, San Francisco still lost the game to the Cubs, 9-8.

Were it not for Bonds and the run for the record, not even Kruk and Kuip would care about the G-Men this season. (Okay, Kruk still would.)

Anyway... you go, Barry.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Psych-out at the WSOP

Congratulations to Dr. Jerry Yang, a psychologist from Southern California, who in the wee hours of this morning won the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. Yang outlasted a field of 6,358 to take down the $8.25 million top prize and a lifetime of bragging rights.

Yang, a 39-year-old father of six, only started playing poker two years ago.

I hate him already.

(Just joshing, Doc.)

Yang is, in fact, not an atypical poker success story. A Hmong immigrant from Laos, Yang follows in the footsteps of numerous other top players — including Scotty "The Prince of Poker" Nguyen, the 1998 World Series Main Event winner — who came to the U.S. from southeast Asia and discovered the American dream through the great American game.

The poker-playing shrink bested a diverse final table, including players from Denmark, England, Russia, and South Africa, as well as Vietnam-born Canadian Tuan Lam, who finished second. The best-known player in the surviving nine, Spokane-area poker pro Lee Watkinson, busted out in eighth place.

As SSTOL regular Tom Galloway sagely predicted a few weeks ago, the Main Event field was narrowed considerably this year by fallout from recent legislation passed by Congress. Fear of possible prosecution has caused many online poker sites — a primary source of qualifiers for the WSOP — to discontinue accepting action from U.S.-based players. Only a handful of online casinos, including PokerStars, Ultimate Bet, and Full Tilt Poker, continue to keep the welcome mat out for courageous card-playing Americans.

Nice going, Dr. Yang. Save wisely — you've got a sextet of future college educations to fund with those millions.

By the way, I'm SwanShadow at PokerStars. Come play with me.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bell-ringing day

Congratulations to KJ, who completed her course of radiation treatment today.

She received a handsome "graduation" certificate (suitable for framing, and with a lovely patina finish) and a hearty round of applause from the staff at the Cancer Center. In celebration, she got to ring the brass bell in the office lobby, signaling that she had finished her therapy.

This is, of course, merely the second step — the April surgery to implant a titanium rod in her left femur was the first — in what is likely to be a lifelong battle against the metastasis of her breast cancer. From here, she'll continue on oral antihormonal drugs, and undergo frequent monitoring scans to keep a watchful eye out for further developments.

But, for today, having the daily radiation phase behind her represents a major accomplishment, and a chance to breathe a sigh of momentary relief.

We're all proud of her here.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

65 thumbs, way up

The entire SSTOL crew sends a laurel and hearty handshake to the dean of American film critics, Roger Ebert, on the occasion of his 65th birthday.

As most of you know, Mr. Ebert has been struggling with serious health challenges in recent times. Complications from a series of surgeries to combat salivary gland cancer have robbed the Pulitzer-winning writer of his ability to speak, forcing him to temporarily (we hope) relinquish his television duties opposite fellow critic Richard Roeper to a parade of guest reviewers.

Recently, Ebert returned to the public eye at his annual film festival, still unable to speak but flashing his trademark "thumbs up" to his fans. He's also back at the keyboard writing film reviews, as only he can.

Were I to list the writers who have most inspired and influenced me, Roger Ebert would occupy a place near the top of said list, if not indeed the very pinnacle. I don't always agree with Roger's opinions — heck, I don't always agree with my own — but I never question his scholarship, his communication skills, or his boundless passion for the medium of cinema.

Happy birthday, Uncle Roger. Be well.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

A golden anniversary

Happy 70th birthday to my favorite piece of steel that I can't clip inside my pocket: the Bay Area's most magnificent manmade landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge.

After 30 years of living here — and despite the fact that, during my last two years of college, I crossed the span five days per week — I still gasp a little every time I exit the Waldo Tunnel southbound and the Golden Gate Bridge rises into my view. It's a truly awe-inspiring work of engineering mastery combined with unparalleled artistic majesty.

People have designed and built plenty of cool things all over this planet, but the 'Gate is assuredly near the top of the "cool list."

My most dramatic memory involving the GGB: Ten years ago this August, my family and I were northbound on the 'Gate (we'd just left a performance of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus at the Cow Palace) when we learned via a radio news report of the death of Princess Diana. Because Diana was KJ's personal heroine — she remains Diana-obsessed to this very day — the bulletin struck our car with an overwhelming tsunami of emotion. I can't imagine a more powerful place to hear such tragic news.

May the local paper-shufflers never mar the aesthetic grace of this incredible structure by installing an anti-suicide barrier.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

And the American Idol is...

...Jordin Sparks!

Good choice, America.

Jordin was our family favorite from the beginning of the competition, in part because she was familiar to us from her appearances on America's Most Talented Kids a few years back, and in part because her family is the one that looks the most like ours. (Although I'm pretty sure Phillippi Sparks would kick my butt in the father-on-father physical challenges.)

Jordin might not have been the best singer in this year's Idol cast — Melinda Doolittle held that distinction — but Jordin has that ineffable je ne sais quoi that none of her competitors possesses: star quality. Your eye immediately tracks to her whenever she appears on camera. Her personality lights up the screen.

Vocal coaches will help Jordin refine her monumental, but often poorly controlled, singing talents. (As everyone associated with the show kept reminding us ad nauseum, she's only 17. That powerful voice will only get bigger and richer in the years to come.) But no coach can teach charisma — you're born with it, or you aren't.

Jordin exudes it. She'll be a superstar long after Idol has run its course.

It couldn't happen to a nicer kid.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hero of the Day: Ready Freddy

Congratulations to San Francisco rookie outfielder Fred Lewis, who hit for the cycle in Sunday's romp over the Colorado Rockies.

For the baseball-illiterate in the crowd, hitting for the cycle involves getting a single, a double, a triple, and a home run all in the same game. Only 24 players in the Giants' storied history have accomplished the rare feat, most recently Randy Winn two seasons ago. (Barry Bonds, the king of all things Giant for the past 15 years, has never hit for the cycle while wearing the Orange and Black.) Lewis became only the fourth major leaguer ever to hit his first career home run as part of a cycle.

Lewis was called up from the Giants' minor league affiliate in Fresno just four days ago. His previous experience in The Show was 13 garbage-minutes games for the G-Men late last season.

Let's hope the kid keeps the hits coming.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

A real-life hero: Mario Kawika DeLeon, Sgt., U.S. Army

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of a hometown hero.

On Monday of this week, Mario Kawika DeLeon, a 26-year-old U.S. Army sergeant from Rohnert Park, California, lost his life to a sniper's bullet while on patrol in Baghdad. Kawika — Sgt. DeLeon was commonly called by his middle name, "David" in Hawaiian — was a member of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, known in military lore as "The Big Red One." He graduated from Casa Grande High School — archrival of my alma mater, Rancho Cotate High — and attended Santa Rosa Junior College, where my daughter KM will be a student in the fall.

I didn't know Kawika DeLeon personally, but my dear friend Donna e-mailed me to say that her parents and his were close friends, back in the day. Donna herself worked for a time with Kawika's mother, Barbara. Thus, aside from the fact that we probably rubbed elbows at Wal-Mart or Costco at some time or other, Sgt. DeLeon and I are separated by a mere two degrees.

To paraphrase John Donne, the bell tolls for me.

According to his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kawika was a fan of the Star Wars film franchise, the animated TV series ThunderCats, and X-Men comics. I don't have any ThunderCats art — a generation older than Kawika, I wasn't watching many cartoons in the '80s. Instead, I'll share from my art collection some images of my own favorite feline hero, the Black Panther, and my best-beloved among the X-Men, Storm, in Kawika's honor.

The quotes below are excerpted from the Chronicle's obit by Steve Rubenstein.

Mario DeLeon loved the old "Star Wars" movies, fast cars, hip-hop music, shooting pool and hanging out with his pals in Rohnert Park.

He loved his wife, Erika, and his 2-year-old son, Keoni.

And, in February, he told them he'd be home soon from his Army tour of duty in Iraq.
"He kept saying, 'Nothing's going to happen to me, nothing's going to happen to me,' Erika DeLeon said.

"He was fearless. In his mind, he was so strong and so brave. He was so sure of himself. He said he was coming back, and so we all knew he was coming back. That's how he was."
A tall, large man with what one friend described as a "goofy grin," DeLeon enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school and served for four years, including a tour in Afghanistan.

After attending college for a while, he served two years in the Air Force Reserve before rejoining the Army last year. He was sent to Iraq over the winter, and spent most of his time on patrol in Baghdad.
"He loved making everyone laugh," his wife said. "Nobody could make people laugh like Kawika. He lighted up everyone's day."

He drove a 15-year-old Nissan and he was pretty good at the motor sport technique known as "drifting," or driving sideways in a controlled slide. He and his friends enjoyed watching drifting competitions, reading car magazines, and talking about the best pro drivers and the latest tricks.
In the evenings, the DeLeons would hunker down on the sofa and watch a "Star Wars" movie — he had the complete set — or episodes of the old "ThunderCats" cartoon show, in which giant human cats battled the Mutants to save the innocents on a planet called Third Earth. In his 20s, DeLeon still enjoyed the animated shows and "X-Men" comic books he treasured as a kid.

"At first I didn't like watching those shows," his wife said. "But he was so passionate about it. He'd say, 'But Babe, everyone has to watch it.' So I did. And now I'm wearing the 'ThunderCats' sweater."
Above all, Erika DeLeon said, her husband was a gentleman.

"Sweet, polite, kind. I never met anyone like him. I wanted his son to grow up like him. Now all he has is pictures."

He is survived by his wife and son, by his mother, Barbara, and by his brothers, Gabe and Bruce. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Rest in peace, Kawika. Your sacrifice humbles us.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Doing our part to keep doctors in BMWs

We'll return you to our usual pop cultural frivolity in a moment, but first, this medical update.

Thanks to all of you who've e-mailed to wish KJ well in her latest battle with The Big C. I'd assemble you all for a group hug if it were technically feasible. She and I both appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers more than we can say.

Today at 3:30 p.m. PDT, KJ will be undergoing a surgical procedure intended to stabilize her fractured thighbone where the tumor has weakened it. A very fine orthopedic surgeon will bolt a steel rod to the femur as a brace, with screws through the fracture to hold the bone together. This will help prevent further breaking, eliminate the intense pain she's been experiencing, and provide a sound platform for healing as the tumor itself is treated with radiation and chemotherapy.

As always, KJ's attitude going into the surgery is positive and strong. We have great confidence in her medical team, and know that she'll come through this first step in her treatment with flying colors.

To complete the picture, KJ's recent full-body scans didn't turn up any additional cancer sites aside from the main tumor on her upper femur, and a couple of smaller loci on her pelvis of which we'd already been made aware. So that's the good news.

I'll keep you posted.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Adonal Foyle: American

Everyone here at SSTOL congratulates longtime Golden State Warriors center Adonal Foyle, who today became a naturalized citizen of these United States.

Unlike many pro athletes these days, Foyle is a genuine role model — an all-around good guy who's active in charitable causes and enjoys a spotless reputation both as a player and as a human being. He's a magna cum laude graduate of Colgate University, and is pursuing a master's degree in sports psychology at John F. Kennedy University.

Six years ago, Foyle founded Democracy Matters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that "gives college students a voice in the pro-democracy movement, and an active role in the national dialogue on money in politics." He has twice won the NBA's Community Assist Award for his efforts to serve and enlighten young people.

I'm delighted to call Adonal my countryman. We could use a few thousand more just like him.

This, alongside Golden State's snapping of the Dallas Mavericks' 17-game winning streak last night, makes me proud once again to be a Warrior Worrier.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Abby is six

My personal assistant Abby turns six today.

In canine chronology, that's about 40. So she's gaining on me.

Abby would like you to know that gifts of Milk-Bones, large knotted rawhide chew bones, and squeaky toys are always welcome, and greatly appreciated. She says any original comic art you have lying around would be cool, too.

She's still ticked off at Bob Barker about that whole "Have your pets spayed or neutered" business.


Monday, February 26, 2007

All he wants to do is bicycle, bicycle

Congratulations to local hero Levi Leipheimer, who pedaled his way to victory in the Tour of California cycle race that ended yesterday.

Levi, who never trailed at the end of any stage of the race, completed the 539-mile, eight-day Tour in a total time of 24 hours, 57 minutes, and 24 seconds. That works out to an average of 25.6 miles per hour. Levi finished 21 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, a cyclist from Germany.

His legs, I'm told, look fantastic.

There is, apparently, no truth to the rumored connection between Levi and the mysterious John Jacob Leipheimer Schmidt.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It's Fat Tuesday, and I'm a bit fluffy myself

As I sit here sipping my Starbucks Kenya from my Mickey Mouse coffee mug ("It's really swell!"), I'm thinking.

You know what happens when I do that.

Get on your bikes and ride: The Tour of California bicycle race kicked off here yesterday. The first stage concluded with a 90-bike pileup in downtown Santa Rosa. At our house, we're rooting for local hero Levi Leipheimer, who's currently wearing the yellow jersey — which means that he's either leading the race, or knows where the urinals are located.

We figure Levi deserves a little applause, mostly to make up for what his parents did to his psyche by naming him Levi Leipheimer.

You really can find IT on eBay: For years, I've been hunting for a CD by an obscure '90s a cappella cover band from Washington, DC called Brock and the Rockets. The Rockets — four men, four women — performed at the very first Harmony Sweepstakes finals KJ and I attended, in 1993. In the years since, I've worn out my cassette tape of their sole album, entitled Out to Launch.

A couple of weeks ago, by sheer serendipity, I discovered a copy of the CD on eBay for just $3.99. I'm one happy Solid Rocket Booster. You haven't lived until you've heard Catherine Boland Hackett's hilarious rendition of Julie Brown's "I Like 'Em Big and Stupid."

Life begins on Opening Day: The Giants undergo their first full-squad workouts of spring training today. The wonderful thing about the first day of spring training is that every team is undefeated, every pitching staff looks like the second coming of Cy Young, every batting lineup looks like Murderers' Row, and every infield looks like Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. Hope springs eternal in the spring.

Will this be the year Bonds breaks Aaron's record, if he's ever going to? Will Zito flourish in the National League? Will Durham prove he deserved the new contract? Anything seems possible. I loves me some Giants.

Our long national Monday nightmare is over: NBC has finally pulled the plug on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Starting next week, the oddly titled drama The Black Donnellys (odd because, from what I can tell from the previews, none of the characters are black; but then, if they were, the show would probably be called The African American Donnellys) slips into Studio 60's timeslot, by all accounts permanently.

As one of the few hardy souls who stuck it out with Aaron Sorkin and company until the end, allow me to offer three quick insights about what went wrong here:
  1. Studio 60 was a show about comedy writers and comedians, but almost no one in the cast was a comedy writer or comedian. The scripts never gave the one real-life comic in the crew (D.L. Hughley) anything funny to say or do. The actor playing the show's comedy star (Sarah Paulson) was the least funny person in the cast. Why didn't Sorkin stock the crew with genuinely funny people?

  2. The show wasted tons of airtime on relationship stories that lacked chemistry. The romance between the characters played by Paulson and Matthew Perry was doomed from the start — you never believed those two people felt anything for each other that was hotter than day-old oatmeal. The late-blooming love story between Bradley Whitford's producer and Amanda Peet's network executive seemed sillier and creepier every week. The one truly intriguing combination — Nathan Corddry's geeky comic and Lucy Davis's shy English writer — never got off the ground.

  3. The writing, to put it politely, sucked. I can't remember a show that loved to pontificate as much as Studio 60 — unless it was Sorkin's previous effort, The West Wing. There, at least, the White House setting gave the pontificating some gravitas. TV writers and comedians pontificating just came off as gratuitous and self-important.
Mrs. Butterworth, I think I love you: Today is National Pancake Day, which means that you can stop in at your friendly neighborhood International House of Pancakes before 10 p.m. today, and scarf down a free stack of three buttermilk pancakes. In exchange, the IHOP folks ask that you consider making a donation to the Children's Miracle Network, or another charity of your choice. So eat up, flapjack lovers.

(Not that I'm quibbling or anything, but I hardly believe that serving French toast, English muffins, and Belgian waffles qualifies a restaurant as "International." But maybe that's just me. I definitely would not bring up this point with your waitress, should you decide to go for the free stack.)

Happy Mardi Gras! Remember: For some of us, every Tuesday is Fat Tuesday.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Stump the artist!

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to fantasy novelist Peter S. Beagle, author of — among numerous other works — the popular The Last Unicorn. The animated film based on Beagle's famous novel is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, with a newly remastered DVD presentation from Lionsgate Entertainment.

What you may not know is that for the past quarter-century, Beagle has been involved in a legal dispute with the producers of The Last Unicorn over his rights and royalties. Although the movie is widely considered a classic — it was one of the first American animated films to be animated in Japan, and many of Japan's best-known animators worked on the project — Beagle has never received a dime of profit from the production.

Beagle's U.S. publishing representative, San Francisco-based Conlan Press, has struck a deal with Lionsgate to directly purchase copies of the new The Last Unicorn DVD for resale. Conlan's even offering autographed copies, hand-signed and personalized by Peter Beagle himself, for an extremely reasonable price. For every DVD Conlan sells, Beagle receives about half the funds. So now, at long last, there's an opportunity for Beagle — who's experienced some tough times over the years — to recoup some financial benefit from his most famous creation.

My daughter KM received her autographed copy in yesterday's mail. I've ordered another autographed copy that will soon be winging its way to my goddaughter in Maine. And it wouldn't hurt my feelings one iota if you, friend reader, dropped over to the Conlan Press Web site and ordered up a copy of The Last Unicorn for yourself, or someone special. In fact, I'd be thrilled if you dropped a note in the comments section to let me know that you did. It's a delightful film, and if you buy your DVD directly from Conlan, the money goes where it should have gone all along.

I thank you, and Peter Beagle thanks you.

I'm sure that as a fantasy writer, Peter Beagle is often asked the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" I get that same query about my Common Elements art commissions. And I answer in the same way that I imagine Peter Beagle does: "I make them up." In fact, concocting ever more mesmerizing combinations of unrelated comic book heroes tied together by some arcane connection is the second-greatest thrill — aside from admiring the art itself — I derive from my comic art collecting obsession hobby.

My greatest thrill? Coming up with a Common Element even the most expert of comic mavens can't decipher. Because I'm devious like that.

On today's featured Common Elements project, I managed to stump even the artist who drew it. I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl with a new DVD of The Last Unicorn, personally autographed by Peter S. Beagle.

Starring in this Common Elements spectacular are two of the lesser lights in the DC Comics universe: The Huntress, seen swinging into action at center stage, and Deadman, reeling into the foreground. This phenomenally designed and beautifully executed drawing sprang from the fertile mind and pencil of artist Luke McDonnell, most famed for his tenures on Marvel Comics' Iron Man and DC's Green Lantern, but a favorite of mine thanks to his work on one of my best-beloved comics from the late '80s and early '90s, Suicide Squad.

After this artwork was completed, Luke e-mailed me to ask: "The common element of this team-up escapes me; care to divulge?" After shouting "Yes!" and pumping my fist into the air in imitation of Tiger Woods, I was only too happy to fill Luke in.

The two leads in this little action drama are the only two superheroes of whom I'm aware whose first names are state capitals. Out of costume, the Huntress is Helena (as in Montana) Wayne, daughter of Bruce (Batman) Wayne and Selina (Catwoman) Kyle in an alternate timeline in which those two legends hooked up. (The current Huntress, who appears DC's Birds of Prey series, has a different backstory and surname, but she's also named Helena.) For his part, Deadman's real name is Boston (as in Massachusetts) Brand.

And before you wags write in, Black Lightning — real name: Jefferson Pierce — doesn't count. His middle name is not "City." Nor do any of the numerous superheroes whose last names are state capitals — i.e., Roy (The Human Bomb) Lincoln; Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond. Jean (Phoenix) Grey doesn't cut it, either.

Although, now that I think about it, I believe there might be a superheroine whose first name is Madison. But I can't remember who she is.

Luke McDonnell, however, got the last word on this conversation. He stumped me with the villain who's tussling with Deadman and the Huntress here. For the record, it's the Lizard, Spider-Man's reptilian nemesis. But I didn't figure that out until Luke told me.

Well played, Mr. McDonnell.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. Remember: Save the unicorn, save the author.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

You don't mess around with Jim

Jim Hamm, the 70-year-old California man who was attacked by a mountain lion last month, is celebrating Valentine's Day by going home from the hospital.

Jim and his wife Nell celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary during his unplanned vacation at San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center. Nell is the hero in this story — she saved Jim from becoming lion lunch by clubbing the attacking beast with a stick until it finally took flight.

One note of future advice for Jim and Nell: Never go strolling in carnivore country, especially if your last name sounds like a tasty delicatessen meat.

In other news from the animal kingdom involving someone named Jim, a six-year-old English springer spaniel named Felicity's Diamond Jim won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last night. The jovial Jim beat out more than 2,600 other stylish canines representing 165 breeds and varieties to claim honors as America's top dog.

Among Diamond Jim's competitors in the final posedown was the preshow favorite, a Dandie Dinmont terrier belonging to entertainment legend Bill Cosby. When notified of his pooch's defeat, Cosby reportedly said, "Hey, hey, hey — that's not okay," and assuaged his grief by consuming an entire box of Jell-O Pudding Pops.

For his part, Diamond Jim is retiring from the show ring to work as a therapy companion for Alzheimer's patients. Hopefully, his new job won't bring him into contact with any mountain lions.

Although I have it on good authority that he does enjoy a bite of ham now and then.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Monday, and remember to drink your MLK

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.

I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.

I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent, redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid."

I still believe that we shall overcome!

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 1964

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mighty Morphin Power Stevie

Our SSTOL Hero of the Day salute goes out to four-year-old Stevie Long of Durham, North Carolina.

When two gun-toting robbers forced their way into the apartment occupied by Stevie, his mother Jennifer, and his five-year-old sister Mary, Stevie sprang into action. Dashing into his bedroom, the diminutive dynamo donned his Red Power Ranger costume, armed himself with a wicked-looking plastic sword, and charged into battle to thwart the evildoers. Stricken with terror, the cowardly criminals fled before Stevie's surprise assault, escaping with the contents of Jennifer's purse.

Stevie remains fully convinced that his awesome superpowers helped him save the day. "He fully believes he morphed," says Stevie's aunt, Heather Evans.

Whether Stevie actually transformed himself into a fearsome defender of justice, I really can't say. But trust me when I tell you:
  1. You do not want to mess with the Red Power Ranger, ever.
  2. You do not want to attend the next local chapter meeting of the Thieves' Guild and have all your fellow bandits find out that you got your sorry butt handed to you by a four-year-old kid wearing a Power Ranger costume and swinging a plastic sword. You do not.
  3. Clearly, the Red Power Ranger favors the pro-registration position in the Superhero Civil War, as he apparently has no qualms about unmasking in public.
  4. This effectively ends any attempt on the part of Stevie's mom to throw his comic books away.
And that, friend reader, is no Durham bull.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Alicia's Story

The next time you're sitting around feeling sorry for yourself because of some infinitesimal irritant that's been nagging at you, go read Alicia's Story.

Alicia Rose Parlette is a copy editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. She was recently diagnosed with a metastatic alveolar soft part sarcoma, which has spread from a mass in her right hip to her lungs and one breast. The cancer is so rare that fewer than 200 cases are diagnosed each year.

Alicia Parlette is 23 years old.

This week, the Chronicle published a seven-part series of narratives written by Alicia, recording her thoughts beginning with the discovery of the lump that in turn led to her diagnosis.

If you don't need a box of Kleenex before you're halfway through the series, the undertaker is on his way to your house right now.

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