Monday, June 30, 2008


Wall•E is a remarkable movie. And while it deserves to walk away with Oscar nods for its animation prowess, it also merits a close look for Best Picture.

For me, much of Wall•E's power comes in its gift of images that I've never before seen. I'm thinking of the desolate landscape of future Earth whose majestic skyscrapers stand alongside ziggurat towers of rubble, with little distinction between the piles. I'm thinking of humanity sailing the stars in a giant luxury liner, its people pampered into blubbery obsolescence by ubiquitous machines and corporate anesthesia. And I'm thinking of that ambitious closing-credits narrative that portrays the planting of a new human civilization through an evolution of art forms that sweep across millennia, a story that connects the future and past in mind-bending ways. Mostly though, I'm thinking of the moment in which our audience stood up in a darkened room, stretching bodies in varied degrees of decay, some folks hefting Big Gulp-sized soda cups from their armrests, and reminding me all too closely of the tomorrow foretold by this film. Wall•E is no mere cartoon.

And yet a number of folks dismiss the film as being "too preachy," as some sort of castor-oil message of environmentalism and anti-Bushism. Certainly the creators of Wall•E are making a point. But good for them, I say. These points need to be made. We may look back onto the Bush-years as historians now look back onto the Pierce and Buchanan years before the Civil War or the Hoover years before the Depression, periods in which history seemed like a freight train barreling down upon us, only to be ignored by people lacking vision or courage. In this era, as traditional media of public discourse seem to be derailed by privileged interests, artists are right to use their media to sound the alarm. Wall•E rightly sends us past the movie marquee and into our own thoughts, asking us to consider just what the hell is happening to us.

Nonetheless I plan to see the movie again for more than its "poignancy." I have enough civic homework piling up; I don't need to see a movie out of duty. I'll see Wall•E again (and surely again) to enjoy its collection of clever and humorous moments that create an improbable love story between a garbage compactor with a penchant for Hello, Dolly! and a plant retriever who happens to possess nuclear firepower. And I'll surely return to savor the glorious images of human wit that provide fertile ground for new productions of my own imagination. I'll see Wall•E again because it is a great movie, one that does what all great movies can do. Wall•E amazes us by revealing the fantastic and the ordinary together, showing just how connected they are.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Daytime Dispatches - 2008

Today I'll do nothing but watch daytime TV from 8 to 5, flipping channels in search of infomercials, soap operas, and court shows, intermixed with commercials for "career colleges" and weight loss "systems." No news, no reading. Nothing but network television (and occasional visits to my email account). My only companion for most of the day? A cat happy to have a warm body on the couch. Why am I doing this? Hard to say. I guess I'm just interested in the daytime television world that I generally never get a chance to see.

From time to time, I'll update this blog-post with Daytime Dispatches.

8:00: Let's start with an informercial for Hair Club for Men and Women.

8:07: Pat Walker describes life before Hair Club: "You're very uncomfortable going out. It's a windy day. You don't know if it's going to blow off. I'm a profuse sweater, right? It could just slide off. Then you pick up a kid. They grab it, it moves. It's like, enough already! There's got to be something better."

8:20: They keep showing the same montages of vital, cool looking guys riding jet-skis and motorcycles every five minutes or so. I suppose the idea is that few people actually watch an entire 30-minute commercial.

8:25: "Young or old. Man or woman. No matter what kind of hair-loss you have, Hair Club has a unique solution for you, guaranteed. No other company on the planet can make that claim."

8:30: Let's buy some cheap real estate with Real Estate Disposition Corporation!

8:32: Wendy Walsh, standing with one leg in front of the other to create an "hourglass effect," stifles her disgust about the the competition: "You've probably seen the advertising for real estate seminars and TV commercials selling strategies on how to get rich quick by buying and selling real estate..."

8:41: The benefit of buying a home at auction? "You set your own price! You are not at the mercy of a seller's unrealistic asking price."

8:45: I'm getting a little creeped out by how often Wendy emphasizes, "these are real auctions."

8:48: I think this is the third time I've seen that animated iron stamp marking "FORECLOSURE AUCTION" in red stencil font on my television: "Your attention please! This is a public auction notice!"

9:00: It's time for Judge Maria Lopez!

9:01: The first case: "A Terrible Tussle Over Some Toy"

9:03: Pete the Bailiff explains to Judge Lopez how iPods work.

9:07: Judge Lopez does a swell Jack Nicholson imitation over those horn-rimmed glasses.

9:15: A commercial explains, "Life doesn't always give you options. Meineke does."

9:16: I'm beginning to see a pattern in the next commercial: "Is there anyone out there who wants more choice? Is there anyone out there who wants more freedom? Is there anyone out there who wants to be treated with a little more respect? It's time to give choice - a voice. MoneyGram. The power is in your hands."

9:17: An urgent message from a law firm about Digitek: "Call today if you've taken any of these medications and experienced cardiac instability, heart palpitations, kidney failure, or death."

9:17: "Do you want to own a brand new HP, Dell, or other name-brand computer and improve your credit at the same time?"

9:25: "Are you a woman who feels taken advantage of by a man - and you want justice? If a man in your life took advantage of you, call 1-866-Maria 12."

9:30: Let's switch over to Judge Hatchett. It's a special intervention into the life of a 17-year old sex addict.

9:34: Kimberly keeps a list of the 22 sex partners she's had from 15 to 17.

9:38: A business-suited man stares into my soul: "You need to see the dentist, or maybe your child needs braces. But you've put it off because your gasoline or living expenses are so high." Those folks at Western Dental really understand.

9:42: Judge Hatchett lays down the law on Kimberly: "You are playing Russian Roulette with your life." It's time for a Reality Check.

9:44: At last, the bearded dude from OxiClean!

9:45: Hmmm. Another trend: "Are you a woman who feels taken advantage of by a man - and you want justice? If a man in your life took advantage of you, call 1-866-Hatchett."

9:51: Kimberly attends a sex-addicts anonymous meeting, but we don't.

9:52: After her intervention, Kimberly seems poised to leave a life of skankdom

9:53: A woman wearing white dances in slow motion while installing a Glade air freshener.

9:58: Judge Hatchett is going to help Kimberly learn about her future career as a child advocate: "I expect greatness!"

9:59: Choices, choices. The People's Court, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, or The Price is Right?

10:00: "Come on down!"

10:01: Drew Carey, huh? I miss Bob Barker.

10:02: Drew notes that the first successful contestant, Morgan, isn't wearing some sort of slogan on her shirt.

10:05: Morgan loses, paying too much for a pair of scooters. But at least she gets a souvenir oversized check.

10:06: I think I've switched audiences. Commercials are now for AARP, a multivitamin, and a calcium supplement.

10:08: Poor Drew Carey. He looks like he'd rather be anywhere but here.

10:10: The crowd lustily boos when a kid (his t-shirt slogan reads "Show Me The Money") overpays for Gold Bond cream.

10:15: The next contestant looks like she's about to leap out of her low-cut blouse. Yikes!

10:20: I can tell it's going to be a long day. They keep showing those danged Progressive Insurance commercials on each channel I watch.

10:21: At last, the first commercial for a power chair from The Scooter Store!

10:27: Dude! The poor college dude bid one dollar over the price of that electric guitar!

10:36: Alex Trebek speaks to people "our age," 50 to 85: "You may know me from TV, but I'm also a husband and father with family responsibilities just like you. So I understand the importance of life insurance. I have it myself." And yet for some reason he never looks into the camera. He sits on a "soundstage" with monitors that show him from various angles, always slightly off center. I imagine that the effect aims for some sort of "authenticity." We know he's shooting a commercial, he's not actually talking to us. Maybe that makes his pitch more honest.

10:42: Ahh, good old Wilford Brimley.

10:48: "Bye Bye ooze. Hello Sea-bond."

10:49: Dixie Plates promise to remove the guilt: "I will no longer be defined by the number of dishes I wash . . . I deserve a paper plate that's as strong as I am . . . My children come first, it's as simple as that, and I'm proud to use Dixie Ultra Paper Plates if it means fewer dishes and spending more time with my family."

10:57: I'm feeling "young" and "restless." Is there anything on TV that can help me?

11:00: "So my father is wanted for murder..." I don't think I've ever seen an episode of The Young and the Restless. But based on the first words of today's episode, I like it!

11:04: Guys with greasy hair and two-day beards. Nice.

11:06 "The Young and the Restless. This portion sponsored by: Caduet."

11:07: "Venus believes every woman is a goddess of something. Embrace your inner goddess with new Venus Embrace!"

11:23: I have no idea who these people are on The Young and the Restless, but that woman with the snippy attitude and the pulled-back hair seems shifty. I just don't trust her.

11:35: I wonder how many minutes of this show are spent in fancy restaurants?

11:39: A lover's quarrel on The Young and the Restless: "You are a very sick man." "Sick for you!"

11:51: Is it me, or do many characters on this show look like cast-offs from Friends?

12:00: Oh. Yes. It's Time for Jerry Springer. The first sound effect? A flushing toilet.

12:01: "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!"

12:03: I love how Jerry interviews a guest who has been dating a woman online for four months, as if he has no clue that the guest is about to meet . . . waiting . . . waiting . . .

12:04: A transsexual! Wow, what a surprise.

12:07: Have a structured settlement? Need cash now? Call JG Wentworth!

12:15: The bell rings and two guys start fighting! Does this happen every time on Springer?

12:18: Place your unwanted or broken gold or silver in an envelope, wait, and receive cash in the mail. Thanks Cash4Gold!

12:21: Springer waxes poetic: "Every guest we have comes from a very small universe. There's a small town called Springerville."

12:24: And the crowd chants: "Fight like gay prisoners!"

12:30: California Culinary Academy: "Just imagine getting paid to prepare gourmet dishes for hungry guests."

12:31: Jerry meets a mobile home park manager named Jerry Lee Springer.

12:36: A gay soldier. An angry uncle. More fighting.

12:43: Reverend Shnorr inducts a couple of guests into the Army - and the audience sings The Star Spangled Banner.

12:47: "USA! USA"!

12:48: "Own a timeshare or campground membership? Turn it into cash!"

12:49: "Do you want to have a successful business career? Work with executives in a fast-paced environment like this? Well, you can with Heald College. They can take you from boredom to boardroom in less time than you think."

12:57: "Here are three good reasons why you should get off the couch and call California Culinary Academy!"

12:59: "There are consequences for all our secrets . . . Take care of yourself - and each other."

1:00: It's time for - Maury! One topic: "Is the man she wants to marry a male prostitute?"

1:06: "No way in hell that baby's mine!"

1:10: The lie detector results come back, producing a shriek that wakes up my cat.

1:14: "Do You Believe The Man You Are Madly In Love With Is Cheating On You? Call 1-888-45Maury."

1:17: I love when they're showing back-stories; they intersperse grainy-looking footage of the guests shaking their heads angrily.

1:23: "Peachtree can turn your structured settlement or annuity into cash today! . . . Money does grow on trees!"

1:26: "She says he is selling his body for money and sneakers."

1:28: "When I come home every night she's checking me for scratches and sniffin' my underwear. What is that about?"

1:30: Yep. He's a cheater.

1:40: Several minutes of shrieks and censor-beeps.

1:43: An ad for "The General" Auto Insurance announces a down payment for as low as $59 in huge print. Tiny text below? "Average down payment about $125."

1:46: Another cheater caught. More minutes of shrieks and censor-beeps.

1:48: RightSize smoothies can help you lose weight! "Have you ever had a diet fail because you were hungry all the time? If you have, don't worry. It's not your fault."

1:53: Roseann thinks Don cheated on her again - after going on the Maury show six weeks ago.

1:54: Yep. He cheated. "Six women?" "No, they were six dancers."

2:00: Let's watch General Hospital!

2:03: Dig the rockin' intro.

2:05: "You've got the baby sleeping in the closet," he says. She replies: "Dressing area!"

2:12: "Because a bathroom can be more than a bathroom, Clorox helps keep it clean - even the imaginary parts."

2:25: Apparently there's a guy on General Hospital called Stone Cold. Cool.

2:28: A commercial for Botox depicts one woman in various poses, virtually all of them making her look kind of gross, particularly when she "winks." Seriously, who thinks the full-face wink that lifts the jawline to the forehead is remotely attractive? It gets better. The background music for a product known to remove facial expressions? "Express yourself."

2:38: "With kids, teens, pets, and husbands, ever wonder how you can keep your house clean?" Lovely. A commercial for Stanley Steamer that reaffirms the popular television motif of the dumb guy.

2:40: I get it! That annoying blonde is supposed to be General Hospital's version of Paris Hilton.

2:45: "Are you making it easier for bacteria to grow on your dentures?" Yuck.

2:52: "You cannot petition for visitation rights with an unborn child!" "There are many studies that indicate that it is possible to bond with a child in utero." Well, you're not bonding with this one."

3:00: I need justice! It's time for Judge Joe Brown.

3:02: Cool. Miss Sonya, the bailiff, has a gun!

3:03: I like this judge. He appears to have just woken up from a long, long nap.

3:05: The eye-rolling defendant who wrecked the plaintiff's car while driving drunk needs to get her comeuppance.

3:11: Here's comes the justice! Referring to the defendant who crossed a lawn to crash a car into someone's house, Judge Brown asks, "How did you manage to drive up there? What were you doing? Trying to run down sassy squirrels who were sittin' up there trying to act crazy and audition for a Geico commercial?"

3:19: The next case and another rude, clueless defendant, to which Judge Brown admonishes: "Don't talk over me, son! I might say something humorous or enlightening and people will miss it."

3:25: "There's no manual on how to be a good parent. Fortunately, there is a recipe." Thank you, Duncan Hines.

3:30: It's time for more Judge Joe Brown!

3:37: Linda says, "I will not take care of my sister who has been very irresponsible herself." Awkward pause. The sister, Lisa, then replies ominously, "Oh. She went there."

4:00: My adventures in Daytime TV conclude as they must, with Oprah. How could this day end any other way? Today's topic: "The Law of Attraction."

4:03: Weird. This show seems to be drawn from a conversation and set of key words that this audience already knows. It's as if this show began a few hours before 4:00. Oprah would surely respond: a lifetime before!

4:05: Hmmm. Oprah sure loves quoting O Magazine.

4:06: Buzzword alert! Go into your "Core of Peace."

4:08: One Oprah guest discusses her work with homeless heroin addicts: "I love 'em to pieces. They're just wonderful."

4:15: Oprah thinks about all of her good fortune and asks, "Why does that happen? 'Cos it happens to me a lot." Her guest responds, "Because you're living at your Core of Peace!"

4:21: Jenny McCarthy discusses her "Vision Board."

4:28: Another Oprah guests opines, "There's another great affirmation that I have hanging on my wall, I have for years: 'The world is conspiring in my favor.' Isn't that great?"

4:30: Oprah asks about getting a Vision Board. A guest explains that she merely needs to snip and affix pictures from a magazine. Oprah beams, "I can use my own magazine!"

4:36: One guest ponders, "We all hope we will win the lottery or dream about a new life, [Of] course many of those things don't happen. So what's the difference between an intention versus a wish or a dream?" Oprah replies: "Good point. Ohhh, good, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh, that's so good."

4:42: Brittany (age nine) explains, "If you think about something for a long period of time, you will eventually get it." Oprah then looks at Vision Boards created by Brittany and her sister Dominique, asking, "What's come true so far?" Dominique answers, "So far, I've been on Oprah's show." "Wow," Oprah replies, "I'm impressed with that. I'm really impressed with that."

4:48: Oprah has an epiphany! It turns out that she's been living her vision board, even though she didn't make it yet!

5:00: I can't believe it's actually over: nine hours of daytime television. I'm surprisingly tired, even though I've done nothing but sit on the couch with one of the cats, flipping the channels. It was fun. It was unique. It was enlightening. I'm glad it's over.

Maybe next time I'll write dispatches from the land of night time "news" shows.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Arrested Development Returning?

The New York Post's Michael Starr reports that an Arrested Development movie is set to release next year. There's no real "news" in the piece, just the pleasure of imagining the stuff the writers and actors will do when freed from the yoke of television censors.

By way of illustration, check out my list: Top ten things I can't believe they said on Arrested Development.

Also, read Starr's story: 'Arrested' Movie in 'Development'.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Iran Update

CBS News reports a White House internal debate, spurred by Israel's warnings, over the wisdom of striking Iran's nuclear weapons program. Here's a snip:
Israel's message is simple: If you don't, we will. Israel held a dress rehearsal for a strike earlier this month, but military analysts say Israel can not do it alone.

"Keep in mind that Israel does not have strategic bombers," Oren said. "The Israeli Air Force is not the American Air Force. Israel can not eliminate Iran's nuclear program."

The U.S. with its stealth bombers and cruise missiles has a much greater capability. Vice President Cheney is said to favor a strike, but both [Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike] Mullen and Defense Secretary Gates are opposed to an attack which could touch off a third war in the region.

U.S. intelligence estimates Iran won't be able to build a weapon until sometime early in the next decade. But Israel is operating on a much shorter timetable.
Read the entire piece: Israel Prodding U.S. To Attack Iran

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Obama and the Price of Victory

Thinking about Barack Obama's choice to forgo public funding, I find myself flashing back to Howard Roark's reminder about the limitations of altruism: "Before you can do things for people, you must be the kind of man who can get things done."

The admonition seems reasonable enough in its own context. But what about this conundrum? Is Obama demonstrating himself to be a hard-nosed, steely-eyed leader who can tackle the realities of a dangerous world? Or is he simply selling out his ideals for cheap political advantage?

I've thought about these questions while listening to the arguments floated by his supporters (a number of whom, like Joe Biden, appear to be suppressing a gag reflex while defending their party's new leader). Their excuses are predictable.

Sure, Obama has flip-flopped on his previous promises to stay within the public funding system. But McCain has enough flip-flops to open a surf shop.

Sure, Obama has enough funding to weather any attacks the GOP can throw at him. But remember the threat of 527-groups who sunk John Kerry's campaign. They're not limited by public financing, and they'll stop at nothing.

Sure, Obama has enough money to melt the moral compass of the Dalai Lama, and more checks pile up every day. But individual contributions are so small as to preclude the risk of corruption.

Reasonable points, I suppose. But the simplest and most basic point is this: Obama said he would stick with public funding, he said he'd work within that constraint, and now he's breaking his word.

That decision comes at two costs.

First, he's opened himself up unnecessarily to accusations of the most naked form: Obama can't be trusted. GOP attackers can merely edit their posters from "Hillary Clinton will do anything to get elected" to "Barack Obama will do anything to get elected." No surprise there.

More importantly, Barack Obama has set back the cause of finance reform by removing his own foundation to improve the work. We can hardly take him seriously when he pledges to change Washington while affirming its worst credo: money talks.

His supporters retort, as did Roark, how can Obama change things until he's in the position to affect them? OK, that makes sense. But Roark knew something else too. He knew that some goods come at too high a price.

I haven't abandoned my hope for Obama. We could do much worse. But I'm more wary than I was.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Project: Pimento

Yesterday, Jenny and I visited Alameda's Forbidden Island so I could check out Project: Pimento, a five-piece band featuring real-life biochemist "Dr. Robby Virus" on the theremin. That's right, the creepy-sounding electric musical device, the one immortalized in classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and homages like Ed Wood, also serves a San Francisco-based lounge-exotica band.

We arrived early (way too early for Jenny's taste) and snagged the couch nearest the band. The venue was perfect: small, intimate, relaxed. I even had a chance to meet singer "Lola bombay" who delighted that we'd driven so far to see them. She and I chatted about our mutual amazement that Gene Roddenberry actually wrote lyrics to Alexander Courage's Star Trek theme. Thus her smile was all the sweeter when she sang that song in their first set.

Project: Pimento plays jazzy mid-century standards (and some quirky choices) that range from "Moon River" to "Barbarella," each drifting like clouds in the form of "Lola's" ethereal voice. And yet you can't imagine the cool effect of hearing those tunes backed by a device that looks like it came from a mad scientist's lab. Sitting close enough to alter the theremin's electromagnetic field, I was mesmerized by the sight of the doctor's hands weaving invisible strands of volume and pitch, watching him flick his fingers to create trilling vibratos.

The theramin is one of those devices that looks easy to play; it's just a wooden box with metal arms and an amplifier. But its artist must be able to pick out notes from three dimensions of empty space, without the aid of visual cues. The result of a theremin played well is eerie and beautiful, a sound that mixes sci-fi futurism and something more primordial: googie-music.

I've already picked up Project: Pimento's second album, "Space Age Love Sounds," and will likely grab their debut, "Magical Moods of the Theremin" later this summer. While the band sounds best in a dark tiki bar, I think they'll do well by the beach too.

Visit Project: Pimento's website:

(Photo by Andrew Wood)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama and Campaign Finance

As an Obama supporter, I'm initially depressed to hear the candidate's decision to renounce a pledge to stick with public financing for his general campaign - especially since campaign finance reform is one thing that both (a) he supported and (b) I believe to be essential to renewing American confidence in the political system. While I won't dip into the same vitriol as New York Times columnist David Brooks, I find his response to be sadly compelling:
Fast Eddie Obama threw public financing under the truck. In so doing, he probably dealt a death-blow to the cause of campaign-finance reform. And the only thing that changed between Thursday and when he lauded the system is that Obama’s got more money now...

I have to admit, I’m ambivalent watching all this. On the one hand, Obama did sell out the primary cause of his professional life, all for a tiny political advantage. If he’ll sell that out, what won’t he sell out? On the other hand, global affairs ain’t beanbag. If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.
Read the entire piece: The Two Obamas

Iran: Closer to War?

Israel recently practiced long-range bombing techniques in what many analysts interpret as preparations to bomb Iranian nuclear sites. Writing in The New York Times, Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt describe the wargames, which took place earlier this month, as designed to both warn Iran about Israeli abilities and prepare for an actual attack: "'They rehearse it, rehearse it and rehearse it, so if they actually have to do it, they’re ready,' [a] Pentagon official said. 'They’re not taking any options off the table'."

Read the entire story: U.S. Says Exercise by Israel Seemed Directed at Iran

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ritz Motel Sign

John from WeakEnd Productions has made a swell video depicting the refurbishment and lighting of an old motel sign. It's a clever computer effect, of course, but it's pretty cool all the same.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My New Favorite LOLCat

I have no idea who made this image. Do you?

Route 66 and Cars

Here's another newspaper Route 66 travelogue (leading me to wonder how many people traveling the Mother Road are simply reporters doing stories on people traveling the Mother Road). What interests me about this piece from the Birmingham Mail is its set of references to the movie Cars. As I'm exploring in an essay under development, it seems that more and more people find "reality" on the road most vividly when it matches what they saw in the movie. Here's a snip:
[M]y amazing two-week trip is best summed up by Cars character Sally when she shows Lightning McQueen the distant interstate that reduced Radiator Springs to a ghost town.

As she says: "Back then, people didn't drive to make great time, they drove to have a great time."

So it is with the REAL Route 66 because there are so many fabulous sights and eccentric characters along its path.
Read the entire piece: Back then, folk didn't drive to make great time, they drove to have a great time

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wacky Packs

When I was six or seven, I loved to collect Wacky Packs. Sure, they were technically called "Wacky Packages," but I don't know a single person who used that formal term. In case you don't remember, Wacky Packs were collectible stickers, sold like baseball cards, that mocked household products.

For example, Spam was rechristened "Cram" on a sticker depicting a maniacal mother shoving some gross meat-like product down her kid's gullet. Similarly, Virgina Slims cigarettes became wack-ified into "Virgina Slums," complete with a depressing shantytown and the slogan, "Inhale the smoke from the factories..." I had no idea about satire back then, but I knew it was cool to see those boring grocery store products transformed into something silly.

For Generation Xers like me, Topps has released a book-length compilation of Wacky Packs from 1973 to 1974, including a brief essay from an unlikely source, Art Spiegelman, the guy who started with this low-rent goofiness before proceeding to produce the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus.

The book is a dandy addition to anyone's collection of Me-Generation pop culture. Even the dust cover brings back memories, since it was created to look and feel like those old wax coverings. On the hard covers? Surprisingly 3-D-looking images of those awful pieces of gum that came with the packages. Best of all, the book comes with a set of four previously unreleased Wacky stickers, perfect for affixing to a briefcase or the back of your car!

Normally I don't use this blog to shill for products. But I really got a kick out this book. Check out the Amazon listing to see for yourself.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rising cost of gas

Considering that I expect to read my blog years from now as a means of textual time travel, it seems appropriate to post articles such as this one from San Jose Mercury News, which seeks to explain the contemporary price of gas. The upshot is not too surprising. Ricing gas prices are due to increased demand by emerging economies, along with our nation's insatiable appetite for oil. Here's a snip:
Less than 10 years ago [1998], gas was 99 cents a gallon. But since May 2004, when the U.S. average first topped $2, the upward movement has been fairly steady. The $3 plateau was topped in September 2005, and the U.S. average could rise above $4 this week - even as it moved closer to $5 in the Bay Area.
Oh yes, you can believe that we California drivers are feeling the pinch. Prices in Scotts Valley are slightly above $4.50 now.

Folks who study this stuff (and are quoted by mainstream media) believe that price volatility cannot hide an unmistakable reality: "This much is certain: Gas will never be cheap again."

Read Matt Nauman's entire article, Why gas costs more, more, more

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert (1950-2008)

"If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press." Those words were certainly true for me.

Devoted Bills supporter, Springsteen fan, favorite son of Buffalo, this guy was an indispensable part of American politics. No one faced his relentless questioning without fear and respect. As Andrea Mitchell just asked on MSNBC, "Who could stand up to the rigor of sitting down for an hour with Tim Russert? Some could, some couldn't, some were too afraid to even try. But it became the gold standard of political journalism."

Of all television news figures I've seen over the years, he was my favorite.

I can't believe that Tim Russert has died.

(Image from NAB)

Congratulations, Vienna!

That's our lovely daughter graduating from Scotts Valley high. The kid worked hard and did well, and now she's heading off for even more adventures at Reed College.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Future Cities

A. O. Scott wrote an essay for The New York Times (June 8 edition) that explores film directors' efforts to depict dystopian cities of tomorrow as warnings about the world of today. Naturally, he starts with Metropolis, which depicts a hellish corporate world, one in which "the gaping maw of the factory; the literally subterranean slums where the workers live; the mansions and gardens of the ruling class -- are nightmarish and, somewhat paradoxically, beautiful."

Scott transitions from Fritz Lang's Metropolis to the duo of Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, both depicting grandly modern projects amidst (if not succumbing to) the ravages of age and dysfunction. However, to A. O. Scott, films like Alphaville and Michael Winterbottom's Code 46 are unique from Blade Runner, with its towering superstructures, because they reflect Susan Sontag's notion that "[t]he fables about the future . . . are at the same time essays about today."

These films typically borrow from contemporary structures, projecting them forward as exemplars of the future. From this vantage point, we find that we're getting precisely the future that we feared and deserved, and that we're living in it now. Thus the author concludes: "There is luxury and squalor, a mobile elite served and enriched by an army of transient workers, an architectural hodge-podge of pristine newness and ancient disorder. The kind of thing you see everywhere. The science-fiction movies of the future will be called documentaries."

Read the entire piece: Metropolis New

(Metropolis image from Skyscraper World)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Return to Forbidden Island

We returned to Forbidden Island this past weekend, with that danged MC Frontalot song of the same name running through my head the entire time. A second visit confirmed that this tiki place is really something special. I particularly dig their menu, which illustrates the potency of each drink by a range of one to four liquor bottles. As I recall, the Zombie boasts a full four - with an extra one tipped over on its side. I avoided that butt-kicker this time - recalling all too well the effects of my last visit.

(Photos by Andrew Wood. The effect in the second photo came from fiddling with the camera settings while drinking a Mai Tai.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sunset Drive-In - San Luis Obispo

Just yesterday, Mandy Major published a commentary entitled Drive-ins deliver Hollywood hits alongside a sense of nostalgia. In her essay, Major cited San Luis Obispo's Sunset Drive-In as one of the nearly 20 drive-ins remaining in California (out of less than 400 nationwide). Coincidentally, Jenny and I visited the Sunset last Friday as part of our twentieth anniversary celebration, and we loved it.

The price was six bucks a head for a double-feature of first-run movies. While the Sunset offers only one screen, we lucked out at the pairing: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Iron Man. We arrived at about 7 and enjoyed the lovely transition from dusk to night, with me shooting photos of the neon marquee and "Sunset" sign behind the screen.

The property is well maintained, featuring a swell snack bar that sells all the typical treats. My favorite part of the snack bar are the speakers and large windows behind the counter, allowing you to see the movie while you're waiting for the popcorn. Intermission is also a treat. The Sunset projects the "Let's all go to the lobby" cartoon, along with other pitches from the sixties and seventies. That's a sign of a drive-in that values its heritage.

Jenny and I loved visiting the Sunset Drive-in. We're only bummed that getting there requires a three-hour drive. Even so, depending on the show, we might consider the trek on down to SLO to visit this drive-in again. It's the return drive that would be a bit much. Who knows? We might stay at the Madonna Inn a bit more frequently from now on.

(Photos by Andrew Wood)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Our 20th Anniversary Weekend

Jenny and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary over the weekend. We started with an early departure south on 101 toward San Luis Obispo and the world-famous Madonna Inn. After our arrival and a decent interval to freshen up a bit (our room was the Krazy Dazy), we sat down for a tasty meal at the Gold Rush Steak House. As ever, the room was practically pulsating with pink, everything sumptuous, decadent, and delightfully tacky.

Following a complementary dessert of black forest cake, we changed into comfy clothes and headed to the Sunset Drive-in to catch a double-feature of Indiana Jones and Iron Man. We'd seen them both before, but Jenny and I love drive-ins, and we'd never visited this one before (I'll post pix tomorrow). The Sunset is a terrific drive-in: clean, friendly, and well-priced. We thought we'd stay for only one show, but we enjoyed both.

We slept in the next morning, saw Hillary Clinton's concession speech, and had a free breakfast at the Copper Café (thanks to being awakened by hotel construction before 8 a.m.). Jenny thought it'd be nice to check out the new pool, and - wow - is it impressive. The pool's got one of those swell overflow features and the area also includes a rocky waterfall that kicks up every hour. Sure, it's fake, but it's also pretty cool. We turned our deck chairs away from the sun and enjoyed the show. We dug our stay so much that we reserved a room next June for our 21st anniversary.

Our next stop was Oakland, thanks to free baseball tickets supplied by Jenny's boss at Seagate. I'd been wanting to see a baseball game for a while now, even though Jenny gets bored with most sporting events. So when her boss was handing out free "Diamond Level" tickets, Jenny kindly snagged a couple for us.

Oh, the Diamond Level. It's cool for so many reasons. First, it has its own parking area. Second, it's only accessible through the same hallway as the players. Third, it's got all-you-can-eat sausage, pizza, wings, and coupons for free beer - delivered to your seat. And best of all - it's right behind home plate. That's why individual tickets run 225 bucks - and they can only be bought in half- or full-season amounts.

We had an awesome time. About twenty players were kind enough to sign my ball, and even Jenny got excited by the game, especially the heart-breaking finale as the A's came that close to overtaking the Angels in the bottom of the ninth. Afterward, we got onto the field for a phenomenal fireworks show.

We closed out our evening with a quick visit to Forbidden Island, my favorite Bay Area tiki bar (other than Hula's, of course). The next day was dedicated to rest and much needed relaxation from a terrific celebration of twenty years.

(Photos by Andrew and Jenny Wood - and a friend we met at the game)

Friday, June 6, 2008

20th Anniversary

Tonight we're heading to San Luis Obispo to stay at the Madonna Inn. Tomorrow we're heading to Oakland to catch the A's-Angels game, thanks to free tickets from Jenny's cool boss. Location? Fifth row, home plate.

What's the occasion?

Nothing much, just a celebration of our twentieth anniversary (technically: June 8th).

That's right. Jenny and I have been married for two decades.

One silly little blog post will not do justice to how lucky I feel to have been married to Jenny for 20 years. And one weekend of celebration (resting of Sunday, of course) will not adequately reflect the significance of this milestone. But it's something to say this: I married "up."

Anyone who knew me back in high school recalls a fellow with a big mouth but not much discipline. That's why I joined the Navy; I had no other options. That, and the fact that my grandfather was a sailor too.

I hit boot camp, and it hit me back. I couldn't wear my uniform right, I couldn't march straight, and I couldn't seem to avoid pissing off my company commander. I just couldn't seem to keep my stuff in one sock (though I distinctly recall a different word for "stuff" back then). Somehow I managed to squeak through and snag my spot in journalism school.

There again, though, I was a screw-up. Sure, I was smart enough. I could understand the material and I showed promise as a writer. But the exacting discipline of the work, the demands of correctness, frustrated me. It was easier to go my own way rather than to follow orders. For a while, it seemed like I'd wash out.

But I was engaged to Jenny back then, and I knew I had to straighten up.

As now, Jenny was kind, trusting, and resilient. She'd thrown her lot in with me, even though she could have done much better. She could have found a fellow with a better career path, with better prospects, and with better looks. But she stuck with me through the hard times.

So I knew that I couldn't screw this thing up.

I endured boot camp and survived my schooling because I wanted to be worthy of Jenny.

And more than anything, I wanted to be stationed near her.

Naturally the Navy sent me to Rota, Spain.

So she and I got married and started our family overseas.

We kept a dingy, cold, tick-infected apartment in town, me working 12 hour shifts and her not knowing a soul. I was tired; she was lonely. It was a miserable way to start a marriage. I was always stressed over something, so even when I returned to our flat, she didn't get a break, just a cranky sailor.

Some Navy spouses leave, but she stayed.

We decided to have a baby, and pretty soon we had to transform our wretched apartment into a place suitable for a child. Jenny and I spent our Saturdays "yard sale-ing," shopping for bargains to furnish the baby's room, and we attended evening parenting classes. I did what I had to do as a father, I guess, but it was she who transformed our apartment into a home.

Jenny tackled motherhood without proximity to her family or even a husband who had a clue what it meant to be a father.

I could go on, but twenty years is worth a book, not a blog post. Suffice to say that when we returned stateside I had to find a job, get a degree, start a career, and grow up as a man. We had tough times. We faced predatory landlords, wrecked cars, empty bank accounts, and terrible arguments. Our "salad days" sucked.

But Jenny stuck with me.

She and I attended Berry College, where we both finished our bachelor's degrees. We then moved to Ohio, where she worked while I continued school. We ate because Jenny brought food home from the restaurants where she waited tables. We kept our budget balanced because Jenny took the needle every week at the blood bank. And our daughter grew up into a fine young woman because Jenny taught her to read, ride a bike, and believe in herself.

I was in our family. Jenny made our family.

And now it's been twenty years. We live in a home that reflects our shared work and sacrifice. We have a daughter heading off to a fine college. And we have learned to treat each other with kindness, respect, and patience. It was never easy, but it was worth it.

I can't wait to see what the next two decades hold.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Crime on the Rise in Liberty City

I'm having so much fun playing GTA IV, though I have to remember sometimes that I'm not in Liberty City when my foot feels heavy on my Saturn's accelerator. That's why I chuckled at this Onion article:

Liberty City Police Face Allegations Of Incompetence, Brutality

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Outta Here!

At last...

Summer Orientation Speech

This summer, I'll present a 5-7 minute orientation speech for incoming first-year students to SJSU. I'll deliver the speech at ten separate orientation events, so I want to get it right.

Here's a draft:

[Slide 1: splash slide]

On the road toward graduation

[Slide 2: Congratulations]

First let me say a few words to the parents out there, preparing to send your daughter or son off to college. Congratulations.

No doubt, it's been a long road just to get here.

And now these college students prepare to get behind the wheel.

That's the easy part.

[Slide 3: Cloverleaf]

But if you believe that life is a highway -- filled with strange twists and distant horizons, glittering cities and greasy spoons -- you want to know: how can this trip be a success?

To you new Spartans: Imagine your college years as one awesome road trip. To get where you want to go, I offer these three tips: Prepare for your journey, get a navigator, and always take the high road.

[Slide 4: Plan your journey - car on road]

Prepare for your journey

That starts with a trip to the gas station. Fuel up and grab some maps.

For maps, start with the university catalog. It's got information you'll need to get around and graduate on time. You can learn about the various departments and degree paths, and double-check that you understand the rules of the road.

[Slide 5: Plan your journey - map]

And it even includes a handy map of the campus. It won't fit in your glove compartment, but it's good to have along in case you get lost.

And here's a travel tip: Read the syllabi you get in the beginning of each class. They'll tell you how to succeed. And they should include a calendar to help you plan your itinerary.

[Slide 6: Plan your journey - Water for Elephants]

As for the treat, I recommend a book called Water for Elephants. Read it, and you'll visit a world you've probably never seen before. It's part of our Campus Reading Program - and you're getting a copy as part this orientation.

So now that you're prepared for the journey…

[Slide 7: Get a Navigator - MUSE class bullet points]

Get a navigator

It's a fact: even the most experienced travelers can get lost.

For expert navigation help I recommend that you start with a MUSE class.

MUSE stands for Metropolitan University Scholar's Experience, and these classes are really cool. They're small -- no more than 18 students. They're designed to help you make sense of university life. And each has a unique topic, such as:

"The Simpsons as Social Science: Exploring Faith, Philosophy, and Ethics with American's Favorite Cartoon Family." [topic can be switched]

[Slide 8: Get a Navigator - Peer Mentors]

Best of all: many MUSE classes include Peer Mentors.

Peer Mentors are experienced navigators, expert in time management, study skills, and university resources. Like I said, they can be found in MUSE classes. But they're also waiting to offer roadside assistance in the Academic Success Center, every day and Tuesday nights. Just drop in. No appointment needed.

Other ways to navigate your way through SJSU include:

[Slide 9: Get a Navigator - Honors Humanities bullet points]

The Honor's Humanities Program:

This is a four-semester sequence of courses that offer a rigorous and thought-provoking intersection of art, literature, philosophy and social institutions.

There are 100 students in the lecture and twenty-five in each seminar. The seminar groups rotate from teacher to teacher at each semester, allowing you to stay with the same group of students for both years.

[Slide 10: Get a Navigator - American Studies bullet points]

The American Studies Program:

Similar to Humanities Honors, but only a 1-year sequence, each semester you take a lecture and a seminar, for a total of six units.

The course looks at American culture and combines approaches and insights from several disciplines.

[Slide 11: Get a Navigator - Science 2 bullet points]

Science 2:

This program meets Area E GE requirement with a large lecture and small activity groups. You'll work with a peer advisor every week, and are part of a four-person Success Team. This class is ideal for Science and Engineering majors, but everyone is welcome.

[Slide 12: Get a Navigator - Students with faculty in regalia]

Oh yeah, here's one more navigation tip: talk to your teachers.

We'll always be there to help you navigate your way to academic success.

Now that you're cruisin'…

[Slide 13: Take the High Road - Hopper's Western Motel painting]

Take the high road

That means maintaining the highest personal standards.

Come to each class -- even those you'd rather not take -- and work to get the most out of them. While you're at it: give your best efforts toward them.

Taking the high road also refers to our university's culture of academic integrity.

Let's face it: Sometimes on this long journey you might be tempted to cut corners. You might even presume that the fastest way from point A to point B is simply a matter of copying and pasting from some Wikipedia site. But plagiarism is really a fast way from point A to point F. I'm a professor - I know.

[Slide 14: Take the High Road - Cadillac Ranch]

This being California, I should emphasize what I do *not* mean when I say, "take the high road." After all, I'm talking about *road* tripping - not road *tripping*. Avoid substances that impair your ability to get where you want to go.

[Slide 15: Sunset over highway]

A final thought from one road-tripper to another.

Once in a while, your car will break down. But even if you're stranded in some desert somewhere, that's no reason to believe you'll fail to reach your destination.

So prepare for your journey, get a navigator, and always take the high road.

After all…*You're* in the driver's seat now.

[Slide 16: splash slide]

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

William J. Clinton=Barack Obama?

Cruising the net tonight, checking out the Hillary Clinton website, I thought it might be cool to try Oddly enough, I got a generic place-holder site.

For no particular reason, I then tried using the Clinton's full first name, typing in WilliamClinton and WilliamJClinton. Guess what popped up?

July follow-up: Weird. While these sites once led users to Obama-land, they now connect to McCain pages. What's up with that?


Once more, Hillary Clinton defies expectations - at least for a little while more.

Even though Barack Obama has passed the "magic number" of delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination, Clinton made it clear that she's conceding nothing tonight, as evidenced by her Nixonian call for her 18 million supporters to write in letters of support, a moment of such other-worldly gall that CNN commentator Alex Castellanos remarked, "she did everything but offer Barack Obama the vice presidency."

Insiders report that she's working behind the scenes to arrange a face-saving exit. Most likely, she herself is angling for veep, implicitly threatening to hold out until Denver should Obama not hand her the number two spot. She's earned a respectful hearing on that point. But still...

As Maureen Dowd just wrote for the New York Times: "He thought a little thing like winning would stop her? Oh, Bambi."

Outta Here?

An hour later...

An hour later...

Outta Here

Today marks the end of the Democratic primary, which, as Barack Obama frequently notes, has gone on long enough for babies to be born and even start discussing the race with their parents. This evening, Hillary Clinton [should] admit what the rest of the world has long known. No matter how many sweaty hands she shook or greasy spoons she visited or tiresome slogans she tried or loathsome compromises she made, she couldn't put the kid away. How frustrating it must be, that this young, skinny, inexperienced guy would have been just another Chicago-pol wannabe if not for that damned convention speech. Following his 2004 oration, Obama became something larger than politics, a force representing the national zeitgeist that could not be trounced the usual way.

That's the story anyway, though it's not really what happened.

Plenty of political obituaries will be written today and tomorrow, page after page sifting through the wreckage for an answer to the question that Clinton surely ponders at 3 a.m. (when the phone isn't ringing): What went wrong? There are plenty of clues. Her husband comes to mind for his many and inexplicable failures to understand the meaning of the glowing red dot on recording devices (and the parallel reality that where there is a president - present or former - there are recording devices). Then one might recall Clinton's tone-deaf inability to read the public mood about Iraq and admit before anyone really cared that she'd erred in providing Bush the authority to launch an ill-timed, ill-planned war. Oh, and we might want to give props to her opponent who, despite his many missteps, seems to possess a zen-like calm in the face of adversity. But as far as I'm concerned, the final cause of Clinton's slow-motion collapse comes down to one date: February 5th.

Clinton simply never imagined a campaign lasting past "Super Duper Tuesday," and she paid a dear political price for that lack of vision. Failing to put her upstart opponant away in Iowa and New Hampshire (despite her surprising win in the Granite State), she should have recognized this race for what it had become, a toe-to-toe knockdown that would lurch across the country. This required a strategy of body blows meant to keep her opponent from getting any air. Instead Clinton practically ceded the red states to Obama, since she'd never built much of an infrastructure there anyway. Clinton's failure to compete in GOP strongholds allowed Obama to jab and dart across the country for weeks, catching his breath and rolling up points in his favor.

Sure New York and California have more delegates, lots more. And swing states make the difference in November. But Democrats live in the south and mountain west, too. They won't necessarily convince their neighbors to vote Democratic in November, but they count in the primaries. And they showed up for Obama because he showed up for them. In fact, for all of his well-crafted references to MLK and all that soaring oratory about hope and change, it was simple mathematics that put Obama at the top of the ticket this November. His numbers added up; Clinton's did not.

Yes, there's a certain pointlessness to these sorts of self-congratulatory postmortems. It's easy to read a campaign as history, much harder to predict one as destiny. I was surprised by the twists and turns to this race, and I was frequently wrong in my speculations. But there's no doubt: Clinton's likely concession tonight will be a sad one. How sad? Advance-team staffers have been told that they can have a plane ticket to one of two places, New York, where Clinton will congratulate Obama, or home, where all political types dream of going one day. But if they fly to New York, they're expected to find their own way from there.

It's a sad epitaph for a hard-fought campaign: Thank you for standing with me all this time. Now you're on your own.

Learn More: The AP has run a pretty good "greatest hits" summary of the Democratic primary: Obama effectively clinches nomination

Monday, June 2, 2008

Saturday Afternoon Massacre

The blood flowed at Saturday's meeting of the DNC's rules and bylaws committee. On that day, Hillary Clinton's campaign was voted out of existence by Democratic Party insiders. For something so dry and removed as the internecine debates of party hacks, this was an exciting day for political junkies like me. [OK, Jenny and I had planned to hang out on the beach near Santa Cruz Boardwalk, but dreary weather kept us home.]

The morning was dedicated to arguments by Obama and Clinton partisans trying hard not to look partisan, advocating the comparative values of "the rules" and "the right to be heard." The party leaders sitting around a square table were augmented by crowd of visitors, and the proceedings got heated with spirited cheers and boos filling the air. I was impressed that this critical debate about the internal workings of the party was being televised.

Leave it to the Democrats to screw up that good will, transitioning from "lunch" to a closed door afternoon meeting that stretched about two hours after the committee was set to return. The delay left reporters and commentators scrambling to fill the airtime while speed-dialing and blackberrying their contacts during commercial breaks, asking "where the hell are these guys?"

And then the committee returned with nary a note about their absence. Exhausted from hours of bickering, they launched into a ritual of motions, speakers, and votes, though clearly they'd arranged their solutions behind closed doors. The committee first heard a plaintive and pointless call to seat the entire Florida delegation with full voting rights. With languid ceremony, the motion was offered, praised, and slaughtered. Even Clinton supporters in the audience seemed to slacken into merely pro forma catcalls. Then Florida and Michigan were handed compromises designed to move the goal posts but fix the game: Obama is a virtual lock on the nomination.

The committee voted unanimously for the Florida option but split bitterly and publicly on the Michigan compromise, particularly as Clinton is losing delegates while Obama, who wasn't on the ballot, is receiving them. Clinton strategist Harold Ickes performed the appearance of being stunned:
"This motion will hijack, hijack, remove four delegates won by Hillary Clinton . . . This body of thirty individuals has decided that they're going to substitute their judgment for six hundred thousand voters. Now that's why I call 'democracy.' There's been a lot of rhetoric during this meeting . . . about democracy, and on and on and on. I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for six hundred thousand voters. Was the process flawed? You bet your ass it was flawed, [but] I've never heard that advanced as an excuse to overturn elections."
Inspired by Ickes, particularly his threat to bring this issue before the Party's credentials committee, Clinton supporters pumped their fists and shouted "Denver, Denver!" pledging to carry this fight to the convention floor this August.

Nobody really knows what will happen tomorrow and Wednesday, whether Clinton will withdraw or press on. Even so, here's a copy/paste from Drudge that seems to capture to mood: