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more bob smith

Robin asked me to scan some photos of her dad, and I thought I'd post a few here, which give a feel for the person he was.


Here he is with newspaper magnate Dean Lesher and Dean's wife Margaret. Bob managed to stay in the Lesher fold long enough to call it a career, which wasn't true of too many people. A couple of years after Lesher died, his newspapers were sold for $365 million.


Here he is doing … what, I have no idea, really. When I think of his work at the newspaper, I think of him as management … he wrote the occasional column but he wasn't a writer. So this picture, which makes him look like he's on his way to The Front Page, isn't quite how I remember him. But there are many pictures like this, so obviously for a lot of people, this IS Bob Smith.


It's hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about the man, and this picture pretty much sums up why.


On the back of this photo, he has written "I am the guy in shorts." He had this one blown up … it was on the wall of his family room. He's a long ways from Iowa in this picture.

warriors come out and play-ay

I don't talk much about basketball here. I am a fan of the Warriors, going back to their arrival in the Bay Area in the early 60s, and have fond memories of some of their great teams, including the championship team from the 70s (Neal was less than two weeks old the night they won it all, and I can still remember telling him to pay attention). Robin and I used to attend a lot of home games, as well. But it got too expensive, so we don't go anymore. And I pay attention, but when your team doesn't make the playoffs for 13 years, it's easy to forget they are there.

Which is my way of saying I am a Warriors fan, but there are much more hardcore fans than I am. And out of respect for them, I have been quiet as the locals put on an amazing playoff run against the Dallas Mavericks. The fans who have stuck with the team through the long nights and months and years deserve the moment more than a fair-weather fan.

But I have to say something now, because to be silent is to be disrespectful. I have to at least make note here that the Warriors are on the verge of something historic in the NBA, and it's pretty damned exciting.


I'm a big fan of Aidin Vaziri. Far as I can tell, most people hate him, but he must do something right because he has a job doing the very thing that pisses people off. His "interviews" in the Chronicle are always a highlight, because he knows such interviews are always pointless promos for whatever the celebrity is trying to sell, and because the questions that he comes up within the context of his lack of actual interest in the promo part are often hilarious. A good example came in this morning's Datebook, where he interviewed Lynda Carter, who is in town for a cabaret show. Among Vaziri's questions:

The last time I heard you sing was on an episode of "Wonder Woman" called "Amazon Hot Wax." Will your Plush Room appearance be that good?

How high did you get with Willie Nelson on the set of "The Dukes of Hazzard"?

Carter got in a good one, too, when she stated at one point, "Oh my gosh, you are a retarded person."

Anyway, in the same Datebook is a piece on the reissue of the Sly & the Family Stone back catalog. Granted, it's not exactly an interview … Rose Stone goes through the various albums and offers memories and insights … that's probably what explains the lack of snark from Vaziri, whose name is on the byline. Nonetheless, I can't help thinking that Sly & the Family Stone were so great, that even Aidin Vaziri had to bow before their excellence.

help shape our time

Rolling Stone is 40 years old, which makes me feel pretty fucking old, too, but that's not the point. They are running a series of special issues devoted to their anniversary, and the first is out now. It includes 20 interviews with "the artists and leaders who helped shape our time."

"Our time" means … well, even I'm probably a bit young. So it's no surprise, and perhaps it's even appropriate, that the interviewees are all in the general vicinity of 60 or older. (Just eyeballing the list, my guess is the youngest is Jackson Browne, who is just under 60.) None of the choices are particularly bad … Bob Weir seems a bit of a stretch, but the Dead were in the first issue, so even he makes some sense. There are nine musicians, three directors, two actors, two writers, two politicians, one journalist, and Stewart Brand, a blend which reflects Rolling Stone, I'd say.

But here's the thing: the 20 people they chose as "the artists and leaders who helped shape our time" are 18 white guys and 2 white women.

Which, now that I think of it, also reflects Rolling Stone.

by the hammer of thor: 30 rock season finale

I didn't expect to be writing this post, back when what passes for "the season" began last fall. As a long-time Aaron Sorkin fanboy, and as someone who hasn't watched more than a YouTube's worth of SNL since, oh, 1979, and therefore knew nothing about Tina Fey, it was pretty clear where my loyalties would lie in the faux-SNL sweepstakes. But then Studio 60 turned out to be a composite of all of Sorkin's bad points with too few of his good ones. And meanwhile I was issued something of a challenge by a friend here on this blog, and ended up watching a few episodes of 30 Rock. It was a series that grew on me … I'm not the only one, most people think it took awhile for the show to hit its stride … and by the end of the season, I was hooked. I don't watch many sitcoms … I watch three on NBC on Thursdays. 30 Rock is the second-best.

What is it about 30 Rock? It's funny to me, but humor is pretty subjective. It's well-written and acted, they pay attention to the details, they sneak in lots of in-jokes without making the audience feel like we're missing all of the in-jokes. Alec Baldwin has been winning most of the acting kudos, but it's really an ensemble affair with Fey and Baldwin at the top. Mary Elizabeth Williams nailed some of the appeal:

What other show so wickedly exposes the entertainment industry as the glorified Dunder Mifflin it truly is? Tosses out carelessly scathing jibes at Ann Coulter and Brian Williams, and gives a central character a doomed love affair with Condoleezza Rice? Or serves as such a pungent post-Imus reminder that we are not in fact so p.c. we can't make abundant sport of gender and race -- it just helps to be really good at it?

This, after all, is the show that devoted a whole episode to its heroine's Elisabeth Kübler-Ross-like response to being called "the C-word," that anointed our third president a "jungle-fever haver." An equal-opportunity comic blowtorch, the series has also given us a gay Will Arnett in a shortie robe. Thrown in a character with a dubious relationship with prescription meds. Introduced a pugilistic Irish clan of con artists and possible sheep rapists. Then, for the mother of 21st century taboos, added a spectacular fireworks celebration that bears an unfortunate resemblance to a terrorist attack. "30 Rock" is the series that even dared to take on the "powerful bread lobby."

I'm pretty sure that many people read the above and think "you'd never catch ME watching that show." The thing is, it's not enough to simply go against that which is considered correct (although it's pretty damn funny when the black star of the show-within-a-show finds himself being attacked by the "Black Crusaders" … you know, Cosby, Oprah, Gordon from Sesame Street, and the afore-mentioned Condi Rice … for giving in to stereotypes about African-American behavior). No, the key phrase in Williams' review is "it just helps to be really good at it." 30 Rock took its time getting really good, but somewhere about halfway through the season, it made it.

Grade for Season One: B+

Predicted Grade for Season Two: A-

why all the whaling?

Back when I was more likely to assign classic literature to my students, I was working in a course that included Moby Dick. Many of the students found the novel overwhelming, and they would ask me how they could be expected to read it all.

I was reminded of this when I read a story about "Compact Editions" from Orion Books. The concept is to edit out 30-40% of classic novels to bring them down to a manageable 400-page length. Lots of people are pissed about this, of course. It's nothing new … I can remember abridged versions of classics when I was a kid, and Reader's Digest used to abridge non-classic texts (they may still do this, for all I know).

I don't have an opinion about this, beyond suggesting that folks read the originals. But I should probably confess the advice I gave to those Melville-impaired students back in the day. I would tell them that if they could give me a good explanation for why Melville included all those detailed descriptions of whaling life, they could skip the rest of those chapters. But first I had to hear their explanations.

I didn't hear back from any of them. I suspect they just quit reading and bought the Cliff's Notes.

Meanwhile, BET continues to butcher The Wire via their cuts and censoring. There are some unverified rumors that Season Two, which dealt in part with dock workers and which had more white cast members than other seasons, has been treated with particular disdain … while Season One episodes were shown full-length (if censored), Season Two episodes are being squished into 60-minute time slots with commercials, and some think the first things to get deleted are storylines about the dock workers.

friday random ten, 1972 edition

1. The Rolling Stones, "Rip This Joint." Holy shit. The last Stones album of their greatest period, and it's so good they can take this song, a barn-burning album-opener if there ever was one, and stick it at #2 on Side One. As propulsively rock-and-rolling as anything they ever recorded, with typical Exile lyrics, as in "why did they mix it like that, I can't understand a word Mick is saying." As I heard it, the song starts out "Mama say yeah papa say no, may blughghs blah blah ugh low" and ends in a more comprehensible fashion with "Wham! Bam! Birming! ham! Ala! bam! Don't give! a DAMN!" In the video link, from the '72 tour, the whole damn song finally falls apart as Mick stretches out on the floor. One of the best songs ever by one of the best bands ever, and a perfect song to start a Random Ten.

2. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, "If You Don't Know Me By Now." The early 70s was a great period for soul music. "We've all got our own funny moods. I've got mine, woman you've got yours, too." The video link has a surprise for fans of ... ah, but that would be telling.

3. The Carpenters, "Goodbye to Love." I've written enough about this song over the years that I should probably be brief here. So I'll just give my semi-annual shout out to Tony Peluso for two of the greatest guitar solos of all time, on the only Carpenters' song worth hearing. If you can stomach the video link, take my advice: let it load first, then fast-forward to about 2:45, so you don't have to listen to the other two songs.

4. The Stylistics, "Break Up to Make Up." This illustrates two of my points from above: the early 70s was a great period for soul music, and by comparison, virtually the entire Carpenters catalog is tripe. "First you love me, then you hate me, that's a game for fools."

5. Curtis Mayfield, "Superfly." "Ask him his dream, what does it mean, he wouldn't know."

6. Bonnie Raitt, "Love Has No Pride." Fans of the group in song #3 might take note of this song, or anything else Bonnie Raitt recorded back then. The only song on this week's list without a video link, because I didn't want Linda Ronstadt to mess with my images of Bonnie.

7. Roberta Flack, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Cheating a bit, sticking this here … it was recorded a couple of years earlier, but was revived on the soundtrack for Play Misty for Me (the Carpenters, Roberta Flack, Clint Eastwood … it's an Over-rated Festival) in 1972. I'm not sure whether Flack was the Karen Carpenter of soul, or the Judy Collins.

8. Elvis Presley, "An American Trilogy." The song that best sums up Elvis in the 70s. "An American Trilogy" is bombastic, silly, touching, intelligent, ridiculous, all in equal measures. And it barely matters, because of the performance of the King. When he cared, he was the greatest singer in rock and roll history. There are several songs on this Random Ten like this one, lesser songs made great by the artist. This is the best of them all. As Greil Marcus wrote in Mystery Train, "When Elvis sings 'American Trilogy' … he signifies that his persona, and the culture he has made out of blues, Las Vegas, gospel music, Hollywood, schmaltz, Mississippi, and rock 'n' roll, can contain any America you might want to conjure up. It is rather Lincolnesque; Elvis recognizes that the Civil War has never ended, and so he will perform the Union." (Marcus, it should be noted, didn't think Elvis cared by this point in his career … "He sings with such a complete absence of musical personality that none of the old songs matter at all, because he has not committed himself to them." This marks a rare occasion where I disagree with Greil.)

9. Taj Mahal, "Cakewalk Into Town." What is Taj Mahal's legacy? I have no idea. He's been doing the same thing for many decades now, yet the variety of his musical interests mean "the same thing" offers up far broader results than it would suggest. I find much of his work delightful, myself. There are better songs and better artists on this list, but nothing makes me marvel with happiness at the joys of YouTube more than the fact that there is a video of Taj Mahal singing "Cakewalk Into Town."

10. Randy Newman, "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)." This version comes from a Boarding House concert in '72. Randy's introduction: "This is my contribution to ecclesiastical music…. God is in this song. I'll sit up straighter when I play God's part." The video link is to the Dana Fuchs Band … I'm not sure what to make of an earthy blues-mama version with hot-licks gee-tar solo, but I'm kinda impressed that someone out there actually wanted to cover the song in the first place. Earlier this week, I attended the funeral of my father-in-law, and at the service, his favorite song was sung, "Red River Valley." On the ride back from the funeral, I wondered aloud what song I would want played at my funeral. My family assumed it would be a Bruce Springsteen song, and that's probably true … "Born to Run," or maybe "Across the Border" except it implies a belief in God that is more ironic when I'm alive than it would be when I'm dead. To myself, I thought that your choice of song would depend on whether the song was for you or for the survivors, and if it was for the survivors, was it meant to make them feel better, or to send a last message from beyond the grave? If the latter, I would want to choose "God's Song":

Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:

Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
'Cause he thinks that's where I'll be
That's why I love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind

The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, "Lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won't take care of us
Won't you please, please let us be?"
And the Lord said
And the Lord said

I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind
You really need me
That's why I love mankind

what's opera

I'm behind on teevee watching, so I only just now saw the following exchange from last week's 30 Rock:

Liz Lemon's cell phone rings ... the tone is a famous bit of opera.

Cultured acquaintance with British accent: Oh, you like Wagner!

Liz: No, I like Elmer Fudd.

Didn't I write an essay about this once?

the kitties are back

I picked up the kitties from their bed and breakfast this morning. Seriously, that's what they call themselves, the Feline Bed & Breakfast. I'm happy with the results, and won't worry too much if we decide to leave the cats there while we're in Europe … the only real problem is the cost, which isn't unreasonable but which adds up over the course of a whole month.

As expected, Starbuck was the problem … not really, she didn't do anything wrong, because she didn't do anything. She climbed into a dark place underneath a little fake mountain in their "suite" and didn't come out. The lady at the place called Starbuck "shy," which doesn't quite get it … she's skittish and paranoid … but the result is the same. She didn't have much fun, and it will likely take awhile to get her used to us again. I don't know how much better it would be if we had a cat sitter … might work out since at least she'd be in her own house, but it's strange people that bother her more than anything.

Meanwhile, also as expected, Six and Boomer were very popular. They both love every person they meet. Six is … how do I say this … outgoing, and she was friends with everybody pretty much by the time we left the building on Saturday. Boomer took a bit longer, then was much the same as Six. While the basic rules are to keep the cats in their "suite" except for two short "playroom" sessions, I am happy to report that when/if the cats acclimate themselves to the place, they get to come out a lot, and they get to roam all over the joint. So Six and Boomer were spending as much as five hours a day just playing wherever they wanted, because everyone found them so lovable. I have a feeling if they'd kept Six longer than a few days, they'd start noticing how quickly "lovable" can transform into "annoying" … Robin doesn't call her "Brat Cat" for nothing … in any event, she and Boomer charmed the heck out of the staff, making up for Starbuck's unwillingness to even come out and play by herself.

I'd recommend the Feline Bed & Breakfast, if anyone is reading this via the wonders of Google. The people there love cats, which I bet isn't always the case, and they seemed from this short stay to know what to do with them. YMMV depending on the personality of your own cats.

sopranos f-word update

Delayed due to my being in the midwest for a few days ... I haven't actually seen this episode yet, so an extra tip of the cap to Steve Hammond for doing all the work:

Episode 80 - "Remember When"

Said the F-word 76 times (the highest count since episode 38 "Amour Fou" in season three!)
First utterance - Paulie, 1:55, talking to Tony

Total for Season 7 - 170
Average per episode for Season 7 - 56.67

Total for all episodes - 4189
Average per episode - 52.36


Most ever in a single episode - 105 - Episode 19 "The Happy Wanderer"
Least ever in a single episode - 13 - Episode 27 "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood"

Most in season 7 episode - 75 - Episode 78 "Remember When"
Least in season 7 episode - 37 - Episode 67 "Sopranos Home Movies"