Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Another recent music fetish

I was overdosing on iTunes the other night and stumbled upon Joanna Newsom. She plays harp like nothing you've heard before, and her voice is unique and enchanting while slightly annoying - a combination of Bjork, Kate Bush and Cindy Lauper.

Here's her video to the song, "Sprout and the Bean."

And her she is in a recent interview.

Monday, March 26, 2007

To err is human; to be gay is divine

Comedy Central produced this hilarious piece recently after a Baptist minister penned a controversial article arguing that genetics plays a leading role in causing homosexuality, a problematic viewpoint for the theologically handicapped on several levels.

Does that mean homosexuality is a creation of God? Should gay fetuses be altered in the womb? Should they be aborted? Should we love the sinner AND the sin?

It's been fun watching the fundies trip over themselves trying to make heads or tails of the minister's heretical declaration.

Of course, they'll find some way to weasel out of this conundrum. And if logic or the facts fail them, then they'll fall back on the tried and true "faith" argument -- "The bible says it. I believe it. That settles it."

Do people who use that phrase ever think about what they're saying?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My San Diego garden

I've managed to create a little green space in my rather tiny concrete deck outside my apartment.

While it doesn't compare to the garden I had at my house in New Orleans, it's a nice place for drinking coffee and reading the newspaper in the morning or for relaxing with a book at night.

I've got a bunch of succulents growing on the window sill in the kitchen.

Click on any pic to make it bigger.

Here's a my garden in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina wrecked it.

Here's the garden from the same view after the storm, covered with trees that fell from both of the neighboring yards.

I'd love to see what it looks like now. I'm sure Constantine has brought it back to life.

No more widgets

Okay, the experiment is over. I've dumped those little boxes that had been popping up to the right of the screen showing various useless things (the San Diego temperature, newspaper front pages, LSU Tiger headlines - well, maybe some of them were useful). Somehow they all seemed interesting when I added them during late night blogging sessions. And weren't they sooooo pretty to look at?

Turns out this Web page eye candy was destructive. For some unexplained reason, this particular strain of widget causes Internet Explorer 6.0 to crash on many computers, including mine at work.

So, my apologies to everyone who's had trouble loading this page. I promise I won't do it again.

Can't get it out of my head

I recently discovered this song, "How Can It Be," by Australian duo Forever Thursday.

JC Penny is using the tune in its latest TV commercial.

You can buy the single at iTunes, but I haven't had any luck finding any other recording by this group.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blood on their hands

LSU researchers today released the results of their nearly 18-month study of the role of the Army Corps of Engineers in the flooding that destroyed much of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

They came to the same conclusion as everyone else who has studied the levee system failures since the storm.

The headline on Bob Marshall's story about the report in The Times-Picayune doesn't mince words - "Corps caused disaster, report says."

Here are some excerpts from the article:

- By ignoring two increases in the severity of the Standard Project Hurricane — the model storm the system was designed to thwart — the corps knowingly failed its 1965 Congressional charge to protect the city against “the most severe combination of meteorological conditions reasonably expected.”

- In 1985, the head of the project ordered his staff to ignore an official reduction in the elevation of the land they were building on, which meant the corps finished levees and flood walls it knew were as much as two feet lower than claimed. That decision ultimately helped turn Katrina from an inconvenience into a catastrophe.

Applying the corps’ own design manuals in use at the time, Team Louisiana found instances where the agency missed glaring engineering mistakes made by subcontractors, which led to breeches including those on the 17th Street and London Avenue canals.

The system “was managed like a circa 1965 flood-control museum,” the report reads, pointing out that the corps made no improvements to account for well-known changes in elevations, sea-level rise or even gaps left in the system.

- Paul Kemp, who was part of Team Louisiana as an LSU storm modeler, said he was “struck by the fact that the corps showed no sense of mission on this project, even thought it was involved with it for more than 40 years.”

- (T)he agency showed "absolute adherence" to obsolete standards -- a 1959 model for the Standard Project Hurricane. And yet the corps seemed willing, Kemp said, to make other wholesale change(s) mid-stream, such as abandoning a proposal to install floodgates at the canals in the mid-1980s, which might have stopped the Katrina surge that ultimately broke through the walls. "It looked like no one was really in charge," he said.

Can anyone tell me why criminal charges haven't been brought against any current and former Army Corps officials who clearly were responsible for this disaster and the deaths of hundreds of people?

And why the HELL is this disaster of an agency still overseeing the nation's flood control systems? Who will they kill next?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Escaping LA

We headed home from L.A. early this afternoon and quickly got snarled in a series of traffic jams, including this one.

The cause was nothing unusual, just the intersection of two highways. Everyone tells me that this kind of gridlock can happen anywhere and anytime in Los Angeles.

We actually were fortunate today. None of the jams lasted long, and we were back in San Diego in 2 1/2 hours. Rex says that's unusually fast for a daytime trip.

Celebrity stalking

A trip to L.A. just wouldn't feel complete without running into a star or two.

I took this pic of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger while he addressed the Association of Health Care Journalists convention this weekend.

I had another celebrity encounter outside the back entrance to my hotel where I found comedic political commentator Mo Rocca standing alone and taking pictures of a rather uninteresting water fountain.

Rocca gained wide fame as a correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and for his satirical coverage of the 2004 political conventions for CNN.

I was too shy to talk to him, but as we walked past him he gave us several long glances. Either he was bracing for an autograph request, or he was cruising us.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

L.A. mountains

We headed to Mount Wilson, a 5,710-foot peak among the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles.

The mountain is home to a famed observatory and the biggest cluster of radio towers (at least 20) that I've ever seen. After parking under these, my car lock clicker wouldn't work. I was quite troubled by this and worried that we might go home with brain tumors. Rex was unmoved.

Smog and clouds blocked our view of the city below but they produced a spectacular sunset. (Click on pics to make them larger.)

Los Feliz

We walked around L.A.'s Los Feliz neighborhood, an eclectic and ethnically mixed area that sits between Hollywood and Silver Lake.

We found this T-shirt in one of the quirky shops that line the neighborhood's main commercial strips.

We found this kitty in the front window of a bookstore.

Back in the land of LA

We're in Los Angeles for a long weekend while I attend the Association of Health Care Journalists convention in a hotel next to Universal Studios.

We took in Universal City Walk, a larger-than-life, hyper-theatrical, open-air shopping mall near the entrance to Universal's theme park. City Walk combines the most extreme elements of tackiness and conspicuous consumption that America has to offer.

So let me get this straight. People who live in boring track-home neighborhoods without the kind of walkable shopping areas that form the heart of real communities get in their cars and burn high-priced gas driving to this giant fake main street that's little more than an overpriced movie set where they mingle with strangers they'll never encounter again.

Welcome to the American dream.

Mall operators redeemed themselves a bit by showing us ABBA's classic "Waterloo" video on the big big screen that overlooks City Walk's main plaza.

Monday, March 12, 2007

So is she, or isn't she?

High-profile lesbian Web site afterellen.com jumped on the Pokey Chatman story this weekend with a story (read it here) saying that the LSU women's basketball coach's surprise resignation and ensuing reports that she had an affair with a former player "has turned the media spotlight on closeted lesbians in women's sports."

Also over the weekend, the daily newspaper in Baton Rouge - which happens to share a name with the national gay magazine The Advocate - FINALLY reported the reason for Chatman's sudden departure, a full four days after the affair was disclosed by The Times-Picayune, ESPN.com, The New York Times and much of the rest of the Western world.

It's not that reporters at the B.R. Advocate didn't try to drop a few hints while they were scrambling to catch up with everyone else. In a Thursday sports section column, writer Scott Rabalais asked this loaded question: "Why, after almost 20 years with a school that became so intertwined with her life, has Chatman decided to ride her Harley off into the sunset?"

Why invest in gumshoe reporting when an overused stereotype can do the trick?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

When the going gets hot, the hot head for the mountains

To escape the unseasonable record-setting heat wave that baked much of SoCal this weekend, we headed to the top of Palomar Mountain, about a 90-minute drive north east of San Diego, where temperatures were much cooler.

Palomar is home to the California Institute of Technology's Observatory which, unfortunately, had just closed for public tours when we arrived.

So we headed to a nearby mountain-top state park and hiked around Doane's Pool (below), down a wide meadow and along the stream that feeds the pond.

I stopped for a snack along the trail.

Rex climbed a tree.

We both were puzzled by this strange little hut sitting next to the stream. The only clue to its purpose was a small sign designating it "State Property." Is it a bathroom, a weather station, an enclosed water well, housing for Hobbits?

Any better ideas?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Rovics plays New Orleans

Folk singer David Rovics will play a show on Friday, May 30, at Tulane University's Lupin Theater.

His repertoire of politically charged music includes "New Orleans," a moving and powerful response to the failure of government both before and after Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city.

I saw him perform last month while I was visiting London, and his show was great (see my previous post here). He's traveled all over the world and he has spent time in the Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans. He has ties to Common Ground Collective, an activist group doing amazing post-hurricane relief work in New Orleans.

He's also a writer and political commentator (check out his Songwriter's Notebook blog).

If you're still in New Orleans or within driving distance, go see his show and say hello for me. David says the show likely will start at 8 p.m., but you should double check the time with the theater.

Click the links below to listen to some of David's songs:
"After the Revolution"
"The Battle of Blair Mountain"
"St. Patrick Battalion"

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Calling all SoCal crawfish lovers

The LSU San Diego Alumni Association annual crawfish boil is just around the corner - May 26 - and I'm getting all tingly inside!

Rex and I attended last year's event (see photos below) just a couple of weeks after leaving Louisiana and it was a blast.

The event is billed as the biggest crawfish boil this side of the Rocky Mountains - and it might very well be all of that.

The club trucks in more than 12,000 pounds of live mud bugs from Louisiana and cooks them in giant boilers mounted on a tractor trailer. There's also lots of Abita beer and Zydeco music.

I'm a member of this year's Crawfish Boil Committee, so I'm expecting the boil will be an all-day affair for me. I'm hoping to get enough friends to pony up the $45 each to reserve a 10-seat table. You've got until April 15 to let me know if you want to join in.

We'll be sucking heads and biting tails at a new location this year - a grassy area next to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers.

I can't wait to see the Rexter chow down on crawdads again. He's crazy about them. You should see what he does when they serve boiled Chinese crawfish at the casino buffet.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Music in the hood

The San Diego Indie Music Fest happened just a few blocks from my front door this weekend.

Vendors were hawking everything from ZIP code T-shirts . . .

. . . to handmade jewelry.

This guy was from the Technomania Circus of San Diego.

They're not the Waltons and they're not from Amish Country. These people are part of some sort of fringe Christian hippie religious movement - some people call it a cult - that apparently has been the subject of numerous controversies. These particular members live in north San Diego County at the group's avocado farm/commune.

They sang sweet folksy songs about bugs and flowers and lemonade. They served tea out of their psychedelic bus parked a couple of blocks from the music festival's main stage. And they invited everyone to join their club. Go figure.

The pug enjoyed the sights.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Chocolate couture

Rex's friend David, visiting from across the pond, arrived tonight with offerings of Cailler Frigor chocolates from Switzerland.

I've never seen anything quite like this. These delicious dark squares are individually wrapped then stood on end in a pair of plastic trays that slide in and out of a smokey translucent box.

The packaging, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel (even his name sounds expensive), is part of Cailler's effort to reinvent its stodgy, old-fashion image. But the containers have caused a storm in Switzerland because they forced a price spike for the chocolates and they can't be recycled.

Sales of Cailler chocolates dropped after retailer Denner, the Wal-Mart of Switzerland, pulled them from shelves and ran advertisements declaring: "Callier sells packaging. Denner sells chocolate."

Apparently, David doesn't have much of a social conscience.