Sunday, September 27, 2009

the blog of Apr. 27, 2006

Lee Raymond's favorite Yellowman album

I heard today on the radio that Lee Raymond, the CEO of Exxon, makes over $13,000 an hour (if you were to break it down that way).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

the blog of Apr. 22, 2006

the Tale of Galong Galong Galong

It began one chilly night in New York City, around the year 1990. I was walking down St. Mark's Place when I overheard what was recognizably a Yellowman song emitting from a boom box held by a shadowy figure in a dark corner. The funny thing was, I didn't recognize this Yellowman song, and even stranger, he was singing about how "Michael Jackson make me crazy". That encounter with that song left a deep impression on me, and the heady combination of Yellowman singing about Michael Jackson was one I could not shake, even if I wanted to.

Fast forward to 2005. There comes a time when a man feels the need for a new Yellowman album -- not that the old ones have lost their luster, but a certain adventurousness kicks in. I remembered the song, but I didn't know the name, nor the album it was on. An extended Internet search revealed that it was, appropriately, "Beat It" from the Galong Galong Galong album.

Since there was no guarantee the whole album was worth one song, I decided to buy a used, discounted copy from a third party on Amazon.com. I hadn't experienced any problems buying this way in the past. I guess there's a first time for everything.

The day the CD arrived I feverishly popped in in my player and turned up the volume. Imagine my astonishment when Country Music started pouring out of my speakers. Was this some kind of a sick joke? The cover and CD said Yellowman, so evidently someone burned these hee haw ballads right over King Yellow.

When I e-mailed the vendor, he responded with some kind of "What? I've never heard of this" line, and asked me to return the CD. I did, but never heard from him again, in spite of bombarding him with e-mails. So I proceeded to crack down on him with the full force of Amazon.com ethics enforcement. My money was refunded, and I eventually ended up buying a new copy of Galong Galong Galong.

It's not a spectacular album. It's sort of average. Stick to "Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt" and "King Yellowman". But retain the memory of that clever song emerging from the dark shadows one chilly night in New York City.

Friday, September 25, 2009

the blog of Apr. 15, 2006

various forms of danger

Late, late last night -- or early, early this morning -- I thought I felt the ground moving, and I wondered if there was an earthquake. I've had this experience several times now: I'm usually half-asleep, and can't be sure if it's the ground moving, or me moving, or vibrations caused by a truck, or a completely imaginary event.

When I woke up hours later, I rolled over to look at the weekend paper Lisa had brought in. The front page headline was about the anniversary of the great San Francisco quake of 1906. An old black and white photo showed a collapsed building in Salinas, but the article explained that, unlike San Francisco, nobody died here.

Even so, it made me pause to realize that April 18 will mark the 100th anniversary of the worst earthquake disaster in U.S. history, and that it occurred in the wee hours of the morning, before 6 am.

Later this morning, while I was preparing coffee and unloading the dishwasher, I overheard a report on CNN, which Lisa had on in the background. There was mention of a terrible car accident on the Long Island Expressway that had been fully captured on video by a new kind of camera installed on the bus behind the car. The man in the car survived, and was interviewed; Jill Claybrook of Public Citizen was also interviewed. Then they showed the section of the LIE where the accident took place, and added that it's one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the state. At the end of the report the newsman said, "From Old Westbury, New York..." I took that as a sign to call home, which I was planning on doing anyway.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

the blog of Apr. 13, 2006

fine organic wine

Who among us has not heard the ads for Ecowine.com a hundred times while listening to the Thom Hartmann show? Anyway, I decided that this year, instead of giving money to the local NPR affiliate, I would support one of the advertisers of progressive talk radio. It must be admitted that, at his best, Hartmann is better than NPR, and more like an AM version of Pacifica at its best. So it was with pleasure that I purchased a three-bottle sample pack from Ecowine.com -- organic wine from France, geared toward the California market.

The pack consisted of two reds and a white. We have so far only tried the reds. The first one we opened was "Chateau Bousquette", appellation St. Chinian, from the Languedoc. I must say we were both impressed. This wine is at once very French-tasting AND organic, so critics of organic wine (Monsieur Gazpachot) take note. Not sure what kind of grapes, I can only say it came in a Bordeaux bottle.

Tonight we cracked open the Merlot, and while ok, we both agreed it wasn't as good. In some ways it was similar to the Bousquette, but it was somehow less balanced. This one was "Domaine de Bajac" out of the Pays d'Oc.

All in all a good experiment, and based on the quality of the Bousquette I would buy this organic wine again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

the blog of Apr. 12, 2006

on a bright note

There is so much bad news lately politically... But on a bright note, Italy has just elected Romano Prodi, which seems to signal a return to rational government. It's incredible to hear Berlosconi flail his arms and pull out all the stops. And equally unbeleivable that our government doesn't immediately recognize Prodi as the new leader.

Monday, September 14, 2009

the blog of Apr. 1, 2006


Lately I've been exploring the sandy, scruffy banks of the Salinas river along the edge of San Lorenzo Park. There's a trail I almost forgot about, which is good on a mountain bike, and smaller side trails to remote picnic and meditation spots along the river. Anyway I was on the other bike path to Pine Canyon when I saw a strangely familiar lavender inflorescence. Close inspection confirmed what it appeared to be: Tamarisk -- a beautiful but perniciously invasive shrub of Mediterranean origin. I had seen it once at a recreation area in San Diego County, and I had heard and read about a number of times. I don't recall ever seeing it around here. Maybe it's been here all along, but I think it's just as likely to be Monterey County's latest invader.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

the blog of Mar. 26, 2006

A High Wind in Jamaica

I recently read, at Ted's recommendation, "A High Wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes. The jacket identified it as one of the top 100 novels of the twentieth century. I'm not sure about that, but the unusual structure of the book kept me interested and wondering what it was really about. What I thought was going to be a nautical yarn and snapshot of the old Caribbean, turned out to be equally about the psychology and behavior of children. There were some nice details on the geography of Cuba and the reality of pirates (as opposed to the mythology). The book also serves to remind adults of some of the weird thought processes children have, simply because various restrictions haven't set in and they don't know otherwise. I know that as a child my own mental universe was larger, and there was the constant assumption that the adult world understood everything I didn't. This book makes the unsettling point that neither children nor adults have a full grasp on the world around us.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

the blog of Mar. 18, 2006

American Hanami

OK, let's set the record straight on cherry blossom festivals. I always figured that Washington DC adopted the custom from Japan, but recently some idiot rather jingoistically suggested that it must be the other way around.

From today's Salinas Californian, on the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC:

"The festival commemorates the March 27, 1912, planting of the first two cherry trees by First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador. A few of the original 3,020 trees donated to Washington on behalf of the Japanese capital of Tokyo remain. Others were cultured from cuttings taken from the original trees.

'New York owns Christmas and shopping, and we own the spring and cherry blossoms' said..."

If I'm not mistaken, the Japanese cherry blossom festivals or 'Hanami' go back a little further than 1912.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

the blog of Mar. 12, 2006 (2)

emergency coffee procedure

This morning the power went out. Since the previous afternoon's coffee had been such a failure, it was imperative that I have a good, strong morning coffee to make up for it. Fortunately I had an old fashioned coffee grinder to grind the beans. To boil the water I had to break out one of the Sternos we were saving for an emergency.

I hadn't used a Sterno for many years. I managed to prop the kettle in the sink on two soup cans while the Sterno burned beneath with its invisible flame. It took an entire half hour to boil the water! And even then it wasn't boiling vigorously. I guess I had too much water in the kettle, among other problems. In any case this drill was a good thing in that it underscores the need to improve my emergency coffee procedure.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

the blog of Mar. 12, 2006 (1)

the coffee that nearly ruined my day

Over the years my taste in coffee has evolved into a drink that is basically half a cup of strong, above-average coffee blended with half a cup of cold vanilla soy milk.

Making it at home is easy, but at Starbucks I always have to explain the details. Recently the girl at Starbucks explained to me that there is something called a "Misto" that is essentially the same thing. This discovery has made my life -- my coffee life -- a little easier.

Yesterday I asked for a Misto and what I got nearly ruined my day. I was already miles away on the freeway when I realized that the coffee was blended with steamed, low fat milk, and the resulting flavor was quite nauseating. Apparently one has to specify soy milk, and then cold rather than steamed. The other two or three times I ordered a Misto they asked about those details. It never occurred to me that they would assume that anyone wanted steamed, low fat milk.

Monday, September 07, 2009

the blog of Mar. 10, 2006 (2)

snow line

The snow here is a real novelty. I've never seen this much snow in Monterey County, and most people around here feel the same.

The snow line appears to be at less than 1000 feet, and thicker than the usual blanket.

Aesthetically, the mountains are turning lots of heads. White and green go well together.

Friday, September 04, 2009

the blog of Mar. 10, 2006 (1)

death by peanut butter

One morning this week I decided to pack a banana in my lunch. No sooner had I grabbed one of the organic bananas I'd purchased at Safeway a few days earlier than I noticed that a very flat bug had been hiding between bananas. It looked like a cockroach but it was whitish-yellow and therefore unlike any insect I'd ever seen.

It was a bit too exotic to overlook so even as the kettle boiled I scrambled for some kind of container. The only one available was an unwashed peanut butter jar in the sink. I had no intention of killing the thing but death by wet peanut butter was its fate.

I was going to take it to the cooperative extension at the Ag Department, but Lisa assured me that the nurse at Del Rey elementary school was an accomplished amateur entomologist. A few days later she identified it as a Cuban cockroach, which makes sense since the bananas were from Ecuador and had no doubt spent time bouncing around the tropics.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

the blog of Mar. 4, 2006 (2)

obscure destination: Cuesta Ridge

A few things went right this weekend. I decided I would search for the Imogen Heap CD "Speak for Yourself". I had heard a track in Banana Republic while using the gift card John and Christine got me for Christmas. But to find it would probably require a trip to Monterey or San Luis Obispo.

After work on Friday, on a whim, I slipped into Wherehouse Music in Salinas. I knew the odds were slim. They had the Frou Frou CD at a ridiculously high price. Then I saw a separate section for Imogen Heap. What? The have it? And it's on sale? What's this? A used copy for even less? Bullseye. Those who know me know I have a special talent for this kind of experience.

Another thing that went right was today's weather. We had rain all last week and are due for more, but today was a beauty of a clear, sunny but not-too-hot day. I was due for a hike so I jumped in the car and headed for Cuesta Ridge, an obscure destination in SLO County I wanted to check out.

I blasted the Imogen Heap CD. She is the singer from Frou Frou, whose 2002 album "Details" was my favorite of that year. For all practical purposes the Imogen Heap album is a Frou Frou album. If you enjoyed her highly emotive vocals on the one, you will find more of the same on the other.

To get to Cuesta Ridge, you pull off south-bound 101 at Cuesta Pass, right before descending the big mountain. It's actually one of those emergency lanes for runaway trucks, but it also takes you to one entrance of Los Padres National Forest. There is a dirt clearing where hikers and mountain bikers typically park.

My goal was the "Botanical Area", three miles from the freeway on a winding, bumpy-ass road. Most people seemed to be driving there, but since the underlying purpose of my outing was to burn calories, I walked.

From the freeway these mountains look as though they may be heavily forested, but in fact they are covered with a thin layer of chaparral, barely three feet high. The views of Pismo Bay, the ocean, and Los Osos Valley were spectacular. There were some people para-gliding in one area and two fellows shooting at clay pigeons in another. There was also a big installation of radio towers, beyond which was the Botanical Area.

The Botanical Area is 1334 acre section of land covered with groves of rare Sargent Cypress trees. Suddenly the ground cover goes from about three feet to anywhere between fifteen and thirty feet. The groves are actually almost equal parts Cypress and Manzanita; neither are very tall, but the effect is pleasant enough.

Looking northeast, I thought I could see the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. They may have been clouds; but on the other hand they really looked like mountains. On a clear day, from such an elevated vantage point, why shouldn't one see the highest mountain range in the country?