Thursday, April 27, 2006

An Evening in Margaritaville

Gosh, roughly 24 hours since I got back from seeing Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band at Shoreline Amphitheatre, and it's hard to believe I haven't said anything about it yet. [Possibly it's harder to believe that I've been blogging for the better part of a month, and haven't mentioned Mr. Buffett before!]

First, I guess I'd better come clean: I'm something of a Parrothead. I don't belong to any club, but I have lost count of the number of Buffett concerts I've attended, and I am known to wear colorful Hawaiian-style attire.

So, about last night: good show. I rather enjoy when Buffett tours when he's not promoting a new album, because he generally chooses to play some fun, older songs that might get aced out by something new and forgettable. Last night had a couple of fun covers: a version of the John Phillips/Mamas and Papas tune "California Dreamin'" and (because Bill Payne of Little Feat was sitting in) a delightful rendition of "Dixie Chicken."

Obviously, the show couldn't measure up to last October's hurricane-relief concert at the historic Fillmore Auditorium (where I was one of about 1200 people attending...awesome!). I'm still hoping Jimmy will put out a recording of that show. He covered tunes by Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, Jimi Hendrix, and Neil Young that night in addition to some of his own classics (and a couple of Grateful Dead tunes, of course). Truly a memorable night.

Only real downside to this show last night was that the current edition of the Coral Reefer Band doesn't have a horn section. I think the horns add a lot to the sound, but the set list didn't include many tunes that truly need horns, so I guess that's how he justifies it. But A Pirate Looks at Forty just isn't the same without Amy Lee's soulful alto sax solo.

On the plus side, however, this was probably the best Buffett crowd I'd ever seen at Shoreline. The last time we went, the crowd was apathetic and sat through much of the show. Last night's crowd was up all night, dancing and singing. That was really good. It also helps that the staff and administration at Shoreline seem to have lightened up a bit, making the whole scene more pleasant.

And oddly enough, as I fell asleep last night, I was singing to myself a song that they didn't even play in the concert, a Mac McAnally tune called "Semi-True Story":
It's a semi-true story
Believe it or not
I made up a few things
And there's some I forgot.
But the life and the tellin'
Are both real to me
And they all run together and turn out to be
A semi-true story.
Which pretty much sums up any explanation of a concert you didn't attend.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Power of Blogs

I've been meaning to recommend a political weblog written by Glenn Greenwald. I find the content compelling and well-reasoned, and the writing terrific. It's a pleasure to read something of that quality (and quantity!) in a "blogosphere" that seems intent on proving that all discussions can devolve into name-calling, profanity, and invective.

So I was especially pleased to see that Glenn has written a book, called How Would a Patriot Act?, addressing what he deems to be a "president run amok." Strong words, but I anticipate that he will back them up, based on what I've already seen in his blog.

But the most impressive thing to me is this: based on almost no advertising or promotion other than mentions and links on blogs, his book has shot to the top of Amazon.com's book sales in the last couple of days. That is just incredible to me, and speaks volumes about the power of this medium to actually reach and move people.

[Disclaimer: I have no connection to Glenn Greenwald, other than admiring his writing. I have no financial stake in promoting his book, just a rooting interest.]

The End of the Innocence

Had to go away (sans computer) for a few days to take care of some family business (and drive the U-Haul truck...), and then get caught back up on work.

Many thoughts that could have been blogged while I was away. I'll try to get to them.

While I was in Orange County, CA, this weekend I must have heard some Muzak playing Don Henley's song "The End of the Innocence." And as songs often do, that one started bouncing around in my head. And it struck me that this ballad of disillusionment in the late 1980s seems downright naive, given the ensuing 17 years. And that's a sad thing.
But "happily ever after" fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly
Given the levels of corporate and government corruption we've seen over the last decade or so, it almost makes one long for the somewhat-less-jaded 80s, if not Henley's lamented bygone innocent age.

Though as another 80s musician (Dan Fogelberg, 1981) put it:
Storybook endings never appear
They're just someone's way of leading us here
Waiting for wisdom to open the cage
We forged in the fires of the innocent age
Which finally leads me to the Dixie Chicks. I had never paid much attention to them, until they started getting all kinds of grief a couple of years ago after rather bluntly criticizing the U.S. president on the eve of the U.S. invading Iraq:
"Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas."
Frankly, I wasn't terribly impressed with the comment itself, but neither was I offended by it. Everyone is entitled both to have and to express their opinions. Now they're coming out with a new CD, featuring the song Not Ready to Make Nice that comments on their experience:

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don'’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

Wow. So now I'm at least impressed with both the content and the expression of the message, and I'm glad that they're standing up for their right to speak out. And I'm supporting them in substance: I just pre-ordered my first Dixie Chicks CD. And apparently I'm not the only one. The CD pre-sales on Amazon.com have been high enough to place it in the top few CDs sold in recent days/weeks.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Playing with words

Someone once asked me what my favorite toy was. [I wish I could remember the context, because in retrospect, that's a strange question!] After a little thought, I chose the English language.

Now, given that I have a degree in Rhetoric (which is essentially a license to play with language), that might not be too surprising. I love words. I love what people can do with words. But at the same time, I'm also pretty appalled by what people do when they thoughtlessly abuse them.

What brought this to mind was a posting on another blog about profanity. I don't like it, either. Doesn't mean I don't use a little, now and then. But I don't like it. Not because the words themselves offend me, but rather because of the sloppiness of thought they generally represent. Much as I loathe hearing the word "like" popping out of every other phrase in some conversations.

So really, it's not swearing per se that bothers me, it's the overuse of it. Movies get downright ridiculous; I think it was Casino that I just tuned out, verbally, because every sentence was so laden with "F-bombs" that it was just too hard to parse out the actual meaning. I think it was a pretty good movie, but just too hard to listen to.

And that, in turn brings me to a recent work-on-the-house day with a couple of friends. After stuffing insulation into the attic for a few hours, somehow we decided we were all from Brooklyn, and suddenly had these outrageous accents, dripping with flying F-bombs. It was fun, for a while, but we were all self-consciously saying things that we had heard other people (often actors) say; we did it for ironic effect.

And a few days afterward, I was passed by a kid (well, teenager...early 20s at most) walking down a suburban street, talking to someone on his mobile phone. He wasn't angry, at least not that I could tell. But his calm, relatively friendly conversation was so laced with profanity, you just wonder what this guy is really like. I almost wanted to stop him and say, "You talk to your grandma like that, son?" But I doubt that would have been well received.


I hope it's not just a generational thing. Not because I mind being on the older side of that gap, but more because I'm worried about the viability of a generation that thinks that somehow profanity in profusion is eloquence, rather than a woeful cover for its lack.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Another day, another...

...rainout. *sigh*

First time in the history of the San Francisco Giants they've had two consecutive rainouts at home. Should I feel bad about that? Well, I would like to have gone to either or both of the games. On the other hand, neither night would have been very pleasant for a game. So curling up at home on the couch and getting some actual work done seems like a reasonable tradeoff.

Should be interesting tomorrow, making up last night's game after the scheduled afternoon game. No idea what they're going to do about tonight's game.

Which brings to mind a discussion we were having at the home opener about stupid scheduling. Now, I know it's very difficult to create a workable schedule for all the major-league teams. Really, I do. On the other hand, nearly all the rained-out games in San Francisco come in April and early May. So why schedule games with teams that only come to town once during that time? Bring in the Colorado Rockies, so if a game (or two) gets rained out, they can make it up later in the season.

Now, potentially we have a scenario where the teams might have to make up the game at the end of the regular season, but only if it affects the playoff picture. Dumb.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Redemption and Initiation

Did I mention that one of the good things about baseball is that they play almost every day, so you can shake off a bad loss with a good game the next day? [Ah...yes, I did!]

Well, the Giants did just that today, coming back from the late-night debacle with a nice afternoon drubbing of their own, beating the Braves 12-6. After the rain delay and late night, it was a mostly sunny, bright afternoon, a perfect setting for a baseball game.

And I wasn't there.

Because some things are more important than baseball, like my daughter's dance class performance. After watching highly-paid professional athletes and drinking a cup of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for which I paid $8.25 last night, it was darned refreshing to watch a group of 4- and 5-year-old kids having a wonderful time performing for us. May not have had the same degree of polish, but the joy in both the performers and the viewers was very genuine.

There will be another ballgame tomorrow, but there will never be another performance like the one I saw today.

Ouch!

Much as I love baseball, sometimes it can be painful. Like tonight.

I just got home from tonight's game. Game time was 7:15, so my friend and I decided to meet early so we could do a little shopping before the game. We meet at the gate at 6:00. No problem. We shop, find the item he wanted, get some dinner and beverages, and head for our seats.

Shortly after 7:00, the cast of a local musical (touring company of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; I understand it's very good) sing the national anthem (very well, which is rare, both for the song and for the venue), but there's still a tarp over the infield, and no one has warmed up yet. Eventually they announce that we're in a rain delay (no...really?).

Long story short, it's nearly 9:00 before they finally throw a pitch, but at least we got to watch the grounds crew get the tarp off and ready the field. Must say, those folks work hard, and they do a great job. They moved a lot of water and a heavy tarp, put down the lines and bases and got things relatively dry. I always appreciate getting to see them work. I know they work hard all the time, but we only see them when it's raining, for the most part.

Then we settle in for a pretty good game for six innings. The Giants take a lead over the Braves, then lose it, but come back to tie and then take the lead 6-4 on a dramatic pinch-hit home run. Cool.

And then comes the seventh inning. No one can throw a strike. Walks abound. Errors in the field. When the dust finally settles (which is hard, even metaphorically, when it keeps raining), the Braves have scored 8 runs. They add two more in the eighth, and the Giants don't really make a whimper the rest of the game.

Final score, Braves 14, Giants 6. Ouch.

Luckily, the kind people who sit next to me offer to drive me home, so I don't have to take the last, slow BART train back across the Bay. So I get home just before 1:00 am, instead of probably closer to 1:30 or 2:00 if I'd taken the train.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Literature

I stumbled onto some discussion of a survey done in Britain about books men read versus those women read. Best analysis was by Echidne of the Snakes.

Scariest quote was this:
On the whole, men between the ages of 20 and 50 do not read fiction.
Wow. I can't imagine not reading fiction. I think I got my first library card about the time I was able to write my name on the application. And read voraciously thereafter. I vividly recall the summer after I graduated from college, sharing a house with three other people rented from an English teacher. The entire living room and dining room walls were covered with bookshelves, and I reveled in the chance to do recreational reading after having little time for anything other than assigned material for so many years.

Reading fiction has always been a fulfilling part of my life. On the other hand, I'm a little unclear on what question people were actually asked in these surveys. Oddly, a search of the net turns up lots of discussion of the media reports of these various surveys, but no links to any primary sources.

I can't think of any book I've read that was truly "life-changing," but when phrased (as it is in the article) which books "meant the most," I can certainly name lots of them. Most specifically, there have been a number of books that changed the way I think about books and literature. Off the top of my head:
  • The Hobbit, JRR Tolkein
  • The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
  • Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
What's all that mean? I dunno. Good books introduce one to worlds one had not imagined, and/or to uses of literature that broaden one's conception of what literature can be.

I suppose one could get a graduate degree with a thesis on this, but for now, a blog entry will suffice.

Take me out to the ballgame!

Oh, that was good.

Home opener for the Giants, starting the 7th year in the new ballpark. The weather cleared up, the fans showed up in record numbers (it's amazing how you can pad the numbers when you start selling SRO tickets), and I got to have a Cha-Cha Bowl for lunch. Life is good.

Did I mention that the Giants won? Good stuff.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

OK, you want serious?

I'll give you serious. How about cancer?

I got an e-mail earlier this week from a friend, asking me to sponsor her participation in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Unfortunately, the invitation arrived the same day we got confirmation of what we already knew, that my wife's grandmother has cancer.

Enough already. My dad had cancer three different times before it finally killed him. I lost a cousin to a brain tumor. Another cousin has had multiple skin cancers. A childhood friend survived Hodgkin's Disease, and his wife is battling breast cancer. I have lost friends to prostate cancer, and had others survive it. I could go on (unfortunately), but I think you get the point: I'm sick of it.

I'm tired of wearing a yellow wristband in memory of my dad, who, like Lance Armstrong, survived testicular cancer. I'm tired of trying to figure out what all the colored wristbands, ribbons, and whatnot are for. And yes, I'm tired of all the fundraisers. But I still support all the friends and organizations who are taking care of those affected by cancer, trying to find cures, and so on. And trying to persuade the government that instead of wasting billions of dollars pretending to fight terrorism, they ought to spend more on real solutions to real problems.

I hope you'll help, too, however you can.

Sorry about the rant. But that's what blogs are for, right?

...sometimes it rains

Bull Durham is one of my favorite baseball movies:
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
Rainouts are never fun. You go all the way to the ballpark, wait around for a while, and eventually they tell you there's no game. Now, I'm lucky that the ballpark isn't all that far from my home, and my season tickets are under the cover of the upper deck, so at least I get to wait where it's dry. And you can still have a hot dog and a beer before you go home (public transit is a wonderful thing).

But there is definitely a sense of incompletion. On the other hand, you get to come back for the makeup game, so there's something to look forward to. And with any luck, the makeup is scheduled for a time of year with better weather.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Corporate Takeovers, Stadium Makeovers

I've always been annoyed by stadiums that sell their "naming rights" to corporations. When the Giants built Pacific Bell Park, they at least sold out to a local company with a lot of history.

Unfortunately, said company has been sold/merged twice since (with another pending), causing two renamings of the ballpark. SBC Park was a particularly bad name, but then, "SBC" is/was a dumb name for a company. At least AT&T (or should I say, "at&t") has some history. Here's a thought: when you sell the naming rights, get a commitment that they won't change their corporate name and logo!

I just stumbled across a grassroots local effort to rename the place "Mays Field." Makes sense to me; I always thought making the address of the stadium 24 Willie Mays Plaza was a very classy move.

BTW, I think the worst corporate renaming ever is a tie between San Diego renaming Jack Murphy Stadium (named after a popular local sportswriter) to Qualcomm Stadium and Miami renaming Joe Robbie Stadium (named after the guy who paid to build it!) to Pro Player Stadium.

And yes, I will write about something other than baseball one of these days....

Post-Opening Day

Losing on Opening Day is not fun. At least I don't take it as seriously as some:

...but it isn't the end of the world. Now, if the Giants don't tag Shawn Estes for five earned runs, I'll go down to the pound and light a homeless animal on fire.

I used to take the winning and losing thing a lot more seriously. I've got a bit more perspective now, I suppose. Or maybe I just won't let myself get as caught up as I was in 2002, when I really thought my team was going to win the World Series.

I try to keep some sense of balance.

I try.

Really.

*sigh* There's always tomorrow. Or today, as it turns out. One great thing about baseball is that they play almost every day. So it's easier to shake off a loss, and maybe easier to build on a win.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Opening Day

Opening Day is my favorite day of the year. Better than Christmas. Better than Cinco de Mayo. Better than my birthday. Better than my daughter's birthday.

Opening Day for me represents the renewal of life and hope that spring is supposed to be about (sort of like Easter, without requiring a miracle). For years, my employers have understood that I do not work on Opening Day (at least, not the home opener); it is a religious observance, a time to spend with family and friends at a place of worship.

So it's appropriate that my first blog post comes on Opening Day. The posts to follow will doubtless reflect some of my longtime mania for baseball (and particularly for my beloved San Francisco Giants). But I hope it will also be an outlet for some thoughts on all the other things I think are important, like language, books, science, the environment, scuba diving, and even politics. I'm hoping it will be a bit more up-to-date than my sadly static website.

See you at the ballpark!