Sunday, July 29, 2007

Habemus tigris

White smoke was seen wafting from LSU's Memorial Tower over the weekend.

Mike VI has been selected, according to several reports out of Baton Rouge (here and here.) The new mascot, reportedly a two-year-old, will replace Mike V who died in May.

The new tiger will arrive on campus sometime next month, and after two weeks of successful adjustment, he will officially be named Mike VI. No word on whether he will be ready to make his first public appearance at LSU's Sept. 8 home football opener against Virginia Tech.

The emperor's new clothes

Nick Saban's pathetic pre-season sideshow soared to new heights this weekend at the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Frenzied delusional Bama fans, many of them topped in trademark Bear Bryant hound's-tooth hats and shouting out their ridiculous expectations for an undefeated national championship season in 2007, mobbed Saban everywhere he went.

Though he likely won't satisfy the unrealistic dreams of his redneck faithful, at least he came through for the rest of us who have come to expect little more than egotistical chest-thumping and lies practically everytime he opens his mouth in public.

For example, we learned this weekend that Saban never really wanted to leave LSU. He was tricked by the devil himself in the guise of Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga. And he didn't wake from his satanic stupor until he was on a Crimson Tide plane headed for a press conference to announce that he was, indeed, taking the job he had so forcefully denied any interest in.

Here's what some of the reporters at Media Days had to write about Saban :

Right now the coach is perfect, and he is theirs. The obvious question with Saban, and Alabama for that matter, is how long will he be theirs? Alabama has had four coaches this century. And Saban moves around the football world like a hummingbird, drinking from a few feeders, then buzzing away.
-- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Earlier this summer Saban sounded like he was putting some of the blame on the news media for going against his wishes and constantly asking him about the job at Alabama . . . None of that sounded like the man who rebuilt LSU football to powerhouse status with the-buck-stops-here certainty and full accountability. He sounded instead like a man looking anywhere but in the mirror for the direction of his life and for the public perception of the way he left Miami for Tuscaloosa.
-- The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

Players are the key difference between (Florida coach Urban) Meyer and Saban's arrivals. Meyer inherited a talented team from (former Florida coach Ron) Zook and a fertile recruiting base. Saban inherits a team less talented than any he coached at LSU. And while he had talent-rich Louisiana all to himself, he now must share a state that produces fewer prospects with rival Auburn, which has beaten Alabama five consecutive years.
-- The Tampa Tribune

And, finally, we have this gem from Ft. Worth Star-Telegram sports columnist Wendell Barnhouse:

I find Saban to be neither believable nor credible. He's a coach who has been coached on what to say and how to say.
Saban's first comments to the print media were to thank us for our coverage. Then he said the media probably knows more about the Alabama team than he and his staff do.
Don't believe that.
His picture is on the front and back covers of the Alabama media guide. There are no players pictured. Asked about that, he said he "didn't really make that decision."
Don't believe that.
Asked about being a poster boy for rising coaching salaries, he said, "I actually took a pay cut.... I don't think what I do is about money."
Believe the pay-cut statement, don't believe the second half of that statement.

The sad reality of Crimson Tide football is that the dark shadow of The Bear will always linger like a sledgehammer over the head of whomever happens to be filling the head-coaching shoes in Tuscaloosa. Combine that fact with Saban's larger-than-life ego and his penchant for dishonesty, and it becomes clear that the Bama Nation could be headed for one of the most spectacular and expensive letdowns in college football history.

With more humility and integrity, and less program baggage, Saban could be a college football king. In fact, he nearly achieved that status in Louisiana despite his shortcomings.

In Alabama, however, he'll never be more than a pretender to the throne.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Little Mumbai

Nirmala and Hieu took us a few miles north to this suburban shopping center for lunch and a dip into immigrant Indian culture.We ate lots of vegetarian south Indian dishes that one would normally buy from street vendors in Mumbai, according to Nirmala, who is a native of the city still better known as Bombay in the West.
This is masala dosa, a crêpe made from lentil and rice flour then stuffed with a spicy potato mash.

The shopping center is full of Indian shops of all types.

Clearly none of these shop owners got the memo about the city's name change.

There even was a Hindu temple.
Inside, a priest was chanting Sanskrit prayers. Nirmala said the people in the temple probably paid the priest to recite a specific set of prayers to celebrate some good fortune or to seek divine intervention.

Gumbo with an unfortunate Mississippi twist

I ate this nice dish of gumbo at Ritual, a brand new restaurant just steps away from my North Park apartment.The gumbo had a few problems: the roux was too blond, it was served over slightly crunchy wild rice instead of the soft white version that's a staple in Louisiana, and there were chunks of carrots mixed with the Andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp.
I told the waiter that mixing carrots and gumbo is a culinary apostasy. That's how gumbo might be made in Jackson or Tupelo, I said, but not in southern Louisiana. His response: "What should we put in it instead?"

Sigh . . . I tried as best I could to explain that gumbo doesn't really need any vegetables other than the trinity -- onions, celery and bell pepper. Anything else, I said, and you're on the verge of vegetable soup.

Don't get me wrong. I liked the gumbo. The stock had a rich, complex flavor, and the sausage (supplied by Niman Ranch in California) was the best I've tasted outside Louisiana. Still, it would be better and more authentic if the chef left out the orange bits next time.

When it came to beer, Ritual did everything right. I downed a glass of local draught, Green Flash Nut Brown Ale, that was served at the perfect temperature -- just below room temp.
The menu, so far, is limited to a single page, but all of the items are tempting and the prices are reasonable. I paid $14 for my dish and $5 for the beer. Entre prices ranged from $11 for a hamburger and fries to $19 for lamb tenderloin.
A street-front window lets diners on the deck look into the kitchen. I think this guy is the chef.
Here's the view across 30th Street from my table. That's a coffee shop on the right and a naughty bookstore on the left. The bus stop is a popular late-night hangout for transgender escorts and the occassional hustler and drug dealer.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Erasure Live!

So I was wondering, after a grown-up Debbie Gibson and reconstructed versions of When in Rome and A Flock of Seagulls headlined San Diego Pride Festival 2006, could organizers top such a gay-friendly '80s pop-music extravaganza? Did they ever!
Erasure duo Andy Bell and Vince Clarke played a mix of their older and newer hits during a one-hour-plus set in Balboa Park early Sunday evening.
For a while, I thought I would miss the show. I had to work Sunday - unusual for me - and just 20 minutes before Erasure was set to take the stage I was still sitting in the newsroom waiting for my editor to clear my story. Somehow I managed to race from the office to the park in my car, walk the half mile or so from the zoo parking lot to the festival area and find Rex, with a few minutes to spare.

The crowd was decidedly Erasure-friendly, obviously filled with guys between 38 and 45 who, like me, came out in the late '80s and early '90s. Erasure's songs - Chains of Love, Oh L'Amour, Home, A Little Respect - were our anthems.

And don't discount Bell's role in the global gay rights movement. He was openly, unashamedly and undeniably homosexual from Erasure's earliest days in 1985, when the only other widely known gay pop musicians were drag queens.

Here's a video montage of today's show that Rex shot:

San Diego Pride 2007

We watched the Pride Parade today as it rolled through Hillcrest - the city's gayest neighborhood - on its way to the Pride Festival in Balboa Park. There were lesbians . . .
Leather guys . . .
A few drag queens . . .
And most members of the City Council -- along with the mayor, the police chief, the (openly lesbian) fire chief, the (openly lesbian) district attorney, the city attorney, the district's congresswoman, and a car announcing that openly lesbian state Sen. Christine Kehoe was stuck in Sacramento working.
A few misguided Christians who imagine Gay Pride as nothing short of an open-air public porn flick took to the sky with this banner offering a magic way to become straight.

Of course, study after study has shown that so-called reparative therapy not only doesn't work, but can be damaging.
These Frida Kahlo look-a-likes made me laugh.

See Rex's take on S.D. gay pride here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Peanuts, Cracker Jacks and the Gay Men's Chorus

Despite a tedious protest by 75 homophobic Christian suburbanites outside Petco Park Sunday (read about it here), the Padres' gay pride game went off without a hitch. More than 1,000 gays and lesbians along with friends and family mixed quite unremarkably with thousands of other baseball fans.

Our friend Fergal, who sings in the San Diego Gay Men's Chorus along with our other friend Tom (the former New Orleanian), had this to say about the group's pre-game performance of the national anthem (see video above):

"The crowd cheered when we marched out. Rainbow flags were visible waving in every section. There was no audible booing or hissing, to our shock and surprise. It was a breeze. I think Sandy Eggo is a completely gay-ified city now, since the Christian wackos from El Cajon were so few in number and so pathetic on TV, using worn out soundbite platitudes like 'lifestyle' and 'protect our children' to the yawns and boredom of all present."

Instead of annoying Padres fans, maybe those Christians should have spent their time Sunday praying for all the god-fearing Republicans, such as Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who have landed on the phone list of Washington's most famous escort.

Vitter, who won his first term in the Senate with a pro-family campaign, not surprisingly has been a leading supporter of so-called defense of marriage legislation. Funny how the biggest hypocrites often have the biggest mouths.

The word out of Louisiana is that local Republicans are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to figure out ways to make Vitter's transgressions go away: It happened a long time ago. He only did it once. He's been forgiven by god.

Maybe Dubya can give him some sort of commutation.

Zoo View

We went to the San Diego zoo Sunday where we watched the pandas eat.
Then walked down wild cat row.

We wanted to take this one home.
These two demons should be living along the Salton Sea.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Slab City

My final installment from our Salton Sea road trip weekend takes us to Slab City, an abandoned military post just down the road from Salvation Mountain. The area serves as the year-round home to camper dwellers who survive without any public utility services.
The "town" is centered around The Range, an outdoor lounge and music hall that sits on one of the better preserved concrete slabs at the site.
Here's the stage.
And here's the view from the stage.

There wasn't much going on at The Range when we drove through. But apparently when Slab City fills with snow birds in the fall and winter, there's no shortage of performers of all sorts.

The Range had a disturbing look of sudden abandonment, as though in an instant the place had been emptied of people and not a thing had been touched since.

It was sort of like being in one of the neighborhoods destroyed by Katrina in New Orleans.
Here's back stage at The Range.
Front row patrons get to chose from charter bus chairs, old movie theater seats or an old sofa.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Did somebody eat beans?

We found this cluster of percolating mudpots and mud volcanoes in a field at the intersection of two gravel roads near the southeastern corner of the Salton Sea. (Click on pics to make them bigger.)
The geothermal area sits on the southern end of the San Andreas fault atop a fumarole, an opening in the earth's crust that emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and sulfur dioxide.
The constant gurgling and searing desert heat helped give the site an other worldly feel. It was the highlight of our road trip hands down.
Getting there: Drive about three miles south of Niland on Highway 111 to Schrimpf Road and hang a right. Drive about three and a half miles until the intersection with Davis Road. Click on the map to make it larger.

They don't all live in New Orleans

This is Salvation Mountain, a rocky hill on property owned by the state of California about five miles east of the town of Niland at the southeastern corner of the Salton Sea. The site has served for years as a giant canvas for folk artist and classic American eccentric Leonard Knight. (Click on any pic to view it larger.)
The Vermont native started building and painting Salvation Mountain after he found Jesus during a visit to San Diego (why not, they do call it paradise after all). He started work on his first unusual religious project while living in Nebraska. Leonard sewed a hot air balloon bearing the words, "God is love," but the balloon rotted before he got a chance to try flying it.

Leonard now lives in a small trailer that sits next to his mountain sculpture. We found him napping (maybe we should have checked for a pulse) in the shade inside one of the cave-like rooms he has created inside his monument.

Who could blame him. It was blazing hot in the mid-afternoon sun - at least 115 degrees.

Leonard uses a wide range of materials to sculpt the mountain, including cement, sand, tree limbs, hay bales and old car windows.

One of the rooms serves as a sort of shrine with imbedded charms that reminded me of Mexican milagros.
Most of the charms contain pictures of the mountain or news clippings about the site.
Nothing seems to escape Knight's brush, including his collection of vintage vehicles strewn around the site.
In earlier years, some locals wanted to tear down Knight's work because they thought it was an eyesore and environmental hazard. But in more recent years the mountain has been recognized for its artistic value and even has been protected by Congress.Getting there: Head east on Main Street in Niland, cross the railroad tracks and continue straight on Beal Road for another two and a half miles. Click on the map to make it larger.