Annual Report

Posted in Somebody's birthday on May 31st, 2006 by bill
Now that a year has passed since I started clogging up the Internet with my words and pictures, I've been reviewing the work (if you want to call it that) I've done so far. For the record, that's 183 entries (and 147 comments, only about a hundred of them from Cecil). Some updates and corrections: • Against all odds, Abe Vigoda remains alive. I know this because I have installed a Firefox status bar that keeps me continually abreast of Abe's well-being (in the broadest possible sense, i.e. whether he is alive or dead). You can get it for yourself here: http://www.vesterman.com/FirefoxExtensions/AbeVigodaStatus. • Last June 15, I predicted that the Lakers would trade Kobe Bryant after rehiring Phil Jackson. I could not have been more wrong. Not only did Kobe and Phil make it through the season together, they nearly upset the Phoenix Suns in the first round of this year's playoffs. I still think it would have been a good idea, but what the hell do I know? I'm a Warriors fan. • A Peanuts strip that I posted a while back disappeared due to whatever demons insert unwanted spaces into random HTML. It has now been restored, and you can view it here. • In my entry of June 27, 2005, I implied that the destruction of a dryer at the local laundromat was due to negligence. A subsequent discusssion with the manager revealed that the incident was in fact caused by a customer who tried to dry a down sleeping bag in the machine, which is something that you should never, ever do. The bag had a hole in it, some feathers got into the gas flames that heat the machine, and the rest is history. I'd like to apologize to the management of Bud's Suds, the employees, their families, and anyone else I may have offended with my ill-informed speculation. • The mural on the side of Dave's Coffee Shop has been painted over since I wrote about it. Which makes no goddamn sense, because the building's still not being used for anything. I hope the parties responsible are publicly flogged. • In one of my entries about Steve Martin, I said this: "The movie version of Shopgirl, starring the man himself, is coming out soon, and it is on this that I pin whatever slim hopes I have of Steve once again making a good film." I only recently got around to seeing Shopgirl, and it is a good film, although in a very different way from, say, The Jerk. It is sometimes funny but often melancholy, permeated with a sense of loss. Set in a burnished-looking LA, it could conceivably be viewed as a sort of sequel to LA Story, if you imagine that Steve's goofy weatherman character has matured and grown wealthy, but had his spirit crushed somewhere along the way—probably by the loss of Victoria Tennant. As in LA Story, Steve seems to be playing himself here, but this is a somber Steve who's given up on happy endings, at least for himself. • When I reviewed Martina Topley-Bird's album Anything, I was unaware that this domestic release is a truncated version with three fewer songs than Martina's UK album Quixotic. Why this was done is beyond me; two of the three songs are excellent, and there was plenty of room for them. Anything remains a good bang for the buck, but for the whole story it's worth seeking out the import. • I'm gonna have to go ahead and say that Spoon's album Gimme Fiction is better than I gave it credit for. I've kept coming back to it over the last few months, which means that it's the real thing. I'd like to apologize to Spoon, their families, Matador records, and anyone else who may have suffered because of the profound influence I wield over the record-buying public. • In re Blue Öyster Cult's Workshop of the Telescopes, I said this: "The first disc is a waste of time." Further listening has caused me to reconsider this rash statement; as So-Called Jeff pointed out, songs like "Stairway to the Stars" and "Career of Evil," while noticeably cowbell-deficient, are nothing to sneeze at. My conscience is now clear, so I can sleep soundly tonight and start making new mistakes tomorrow.

Better Know a Candidate

Posted in Whatever Else on May 29th, 2006 by bill
RonPyjamas500x350.png Ron Oz, like The Man Who Fell to Earth
or Reverend Jim Ignatowski, is capable of
monitoring seven TV broadcasts at the same time.


We are currently having a mayoral election in Oakland, where of course the real election is the primary—the Republican candidate is about as relevant as facts to Fox news. Along with front-runners Congressman Ron Dellums and Ignacio de la Fuente, Jerry Brown's chosen successor, we also have in the race a genuine eccentric—or is it visionary?—in Ron "Oz" Oznowicz. I had been aware of Oz's existence for some time, but he first really got my attention with a full-page ad in last week's paper headlined "What would a Ron Oz mayor do?" Note the phrasing: not "What would Ron Oz do as mayor?" or even "What would a Mayor Ron Oz do?", but ""What would a Ron Oz mayor do?" The ad itself was almost all text, crammed full of Ron Oz's positions and philosophies and favorite quotes, none of which was, in and of itself, nutty; but the page as a whole was suggestive of someone who's wired up a little strange. Perhaps the oddest thing about Ron is how completely he's rebranded himself as Ron Oz, as if "Oznowicz" is just too much for people to deal with. This in a state with a governor named "Schwarzeneggar." Maybe's he's trying to associate himself with The Great and Powerful Oz, but I have my doubts about that idea—do you really want to suggest that people Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain? Or perhaps he's trying to say that as mayor he would turn Oakland into the Emerald City. To call Oz's approach "idealistic" or "Utopian" would be a vast understatement. Consider the following, which I lifted from his Web site:
My platform is first and foremost based on the premise that government should be courteous and polite to the citizens. Oakland 's Mission Statement demands it, when it says that Oakland will strive to be “courteous, effective and responsive.” It isn't surprising that because two of the Council members running for Mayor now lack the first criterion that the City is failing in the rest. When I see repeated often that one candidate says he is ready to “kick ass” why am I not surprised that this technique hasn't worked for Oakland in the past? When I get an impression of another candidate with a heart similar to the frost surrounding a freezer, why am I not surprised that Oakland 's pulse is barely perceptible?

So in a Mayor Oz Oakland how would things be different? Attitude, attitude, attitude, would be the three part answer. City employees cannot, will not, and may not, do their jobs unless they enjoy doing them. The citizens of Oakland cannot enjoy their lives in interface with the City in such an environment of uncordiality and unfriendliness. Attitude is transmitted throughout the City employment base from the top. It is projected throughout the populace from the Mayor's office. A Mayor who enjoys his City and People, who respects them, who lives his office with a can-do confident smile, and who has visions unleashed by imagination, such a Mayor can turn the City positive, ambitious, energetic and offer a new life force to realize Oakland's potentials.
When you get right down to it, Ron Oz's answer to everything seems to be, "Be nice to people." Crazy, maybe. But then again, maybe worth a try. I encourage you to visit ronoz.com—which also features a suite of photos of Ron in his pajamas—and decide for yourself.

Selvin Watch

Posted in Dancing about architecture on May 25th, 2006 by bill
Like most of us, I was overjoyed when the Chronicle's Joel Selvin "retired" a few years back. And yet he keeps popping up with disturbing regularity. Recently, he wrote a profile of local music mogul Will Bronson where he managed to misspell the subject's name every time it appeared. Then yesterday he wrote a piece about T-Bone Burnett. I'm not sure what Selvin is calling himself these days, but "writer" is surely one of them, and yet the following sentence appears in his article, describing the difficulty that Reese Witherspoon had recording the soundtrack for Ring of Fire:
Burnett watched one afternoon as she literally exploded in frustration, pounding her way through doors out of the house.
That's right: Reese Witherspoon literally exploded at T-Bone Burnett's house in Brentwood. Selvin doesn't address any of the questions raised by this revelation, such as: Was anyone showered with gristle when the lovely young actress spontaneously combusted? Why was it not reported in the mainstream press? And who was that collecting Witherspoon's Oscar?

Verse 53

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him) on May 21st, 2006 by bill
And now, a few words from Lao Tzu, as transmitted to me postally by Gentleman James Foley. Keep in mind that though the translation is modern, these words were written 2500 years ago.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 53
If I had the least wisdom I could follow the Tao very well My only fear would be going my own way The great path is simple and direct But people prefer byways Look how magnificent civilization has become The women in the finest fashion The men with the slickest gadgets Food and drink everywhere Wealth and finery abound! Yet in the shadow of this splendor, The economy slows Personal debt is very high Possessions have accumulated in excess This robber's extravagance goes against the grain of the universe It is not Tao Indeed

Talkin’ Bout My Speciation

Posted in Whatever Else on May 18th, 2006 by bill
Read a very interesting article in the paper this morning about a study of the evolutionary split between humans and chimps.
"The study gave unexpected results about how we separated from our closest relatives, the chimpanzees," Reich said in a statement. "We found that the population structure that existed around the time of human-chimpanzee speciation was unlike any modern ape population. Something very unusual happened at the time of speciation."
The unusual happening was that once the two species began separating from their common ancestors, they might well have been repeatedly interbreeding with each other—at times producing sterile offspring but sometimes producing offspring that remained fertile and, in turn, created a short-lived mixed lineage—a kind of dead-end tribe combining both pre-human and pre-chimp genes.
It's a somewhat lengthy and complex piece, so let me sum it up for you briefly, in layman's terms: "Hey skeeziks, I've got some news for you! You think you're so great, but it was really not that long ago that your ancestors were screwing chimps."

You learn something new every day

Posted in Whatever Else on May 15th, 2006 by bill
ttmbs1.jpg For instance, I had always assumed that the title "Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)" was devised by Brian Eno for his 1974 album of that name. (By the by, today is Eno's 59th birthday. If you haven't already, by all means please read last year's Eno birthday tribute.) But no; turns out he lifted the title from a "Maoist revolutionary opera" that was one of the "eight model works" promoted by Mao's wife, Jiang Quing, during the Cultural Revolution. Eno apparently never saw the opera, but was inspired by a set of "Tiger Mountain" postcards, which you can view (along with a plot synopsis) here. And just to bring things full circle back to rock'n'roll, Jiang Quing later became known as a member of the Gang of Four. I think she played bass.

The Difference Between the Sixties and Today

Posted in Whatever Else on May 13th, 2006 by bill
Back in the sixties, they used to say "Don't trust anybody over 30." Nowadays, it's more like "Don't trust anybody."

Sancho Panza Quote of the Day

Posted in Whatever Else on May 10th, 2006 by bill
"...from now until the day I appear before God I forgive all offenses that have been done or will be done to me, whether they were done, are being done, or will be done by a person high or low, rich or poor, noble or common, without exception, and regardless of rank or position." (Don Quixote, Grossman translation, p. 105)

Don Quixote Quote of the Day

Posted in Whatever Else on May 7th, 2006 by bill
The Don Quixote Deathmarch is having a rest week right now, so I'm going to go back to a couple of quotes I wrote down and never posted. Without further ado, a perfectly lovely sentence... "It seems to me I can see her now, with that face of hers shining like the sun on one side and the moon on the other..." (Grossman translation, p. 83)