Monday, July 29, 2013

The $3500 bottle of wine

I won't dispute Neil Irwin's claim here that "If you spend $41,500 on a case of wine, you just might be a moral monster."
If you are about to drink a $3,500 bottle of wine, you have to think for just a minute about this option instead: Drink a $100 bottle of wine that is about as good, but from a less renowned chateau. And deploy the other $3,400 to pay for malaria-preventing mosquito nets in Africa that, by one charity’s calculations, would be enough money to save about 1.5 human lives.
But it's hard to see why the logic doesn't extend a lot further down the expenditure chain, as Peter Singer famously argued. How much will you suffer if the $100 bottle is replaced with the $20, or for that matter the 2-buck chuck? Utilitarianism is a tough taskmaster.

Note: title fixed 7/31

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Three million attend Mass led by Pope Francis in Rio

Wow. I don't suppose he said, "We're more popular than Jesus now."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Caturday blogging

Everyone else does it, why not me?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 31

The almost always reliable "Dean of Rock Critics" Bob Christgau gave the album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" his very rare A+ rating. I always thought it lacked some of the authenticity and immediacy of the two classics that preceded it... to me, a little bit of the "Lucinda trying too hard to sound like Lucinda" syndrome. But every damn song nails it, hard. I may have been wrong.

This live version shows that while she may not need that particular guy, she is well-served by the guys in the band.

Thanks, Anna Eshoo

My Rep did the right thing and voted to defund the NSA's bulk collection of domestic telephone records. Too bad she couldn't get her buddy Pelosi to join her, or any 7 of the 83 Dems who sided with the national security state and its ruler, our occasionally very disappointing president.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'd love to know the poet...

... who spray-painted (quite unobtrusively) the following exquisite one-liner on the pedestrian bridge across 101 at Embarcadero:

This hair that I leave on boys' pillows splits the sun's rays for my eyes only.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Your FSA/OWI Photo of the Day

By popular request, a picture in honor of Detroit. This shot is rich in history and perhaps some irony. Ford Motor Co. was a notoriously brutal union-buster. The UAW gained recognition at GM and then Chrysler in 1937, but it was not until 1941 that they succeeded at Ford. Meanwhile, partly as a means of dividing and conquering, Ford earned a reputation as a major employer of African-American workers. Fortunately the UAW recognized the virtue in and necessity of cross-racial worker solidarity.

Detroit, Michigan. Ford workers carrying American flag and union banners in the Labor Day parade. Arthur S. Siegel, 1942.

Friday, July 19, 2013


All on one fallen oak branch...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I'd sorta forgotten about this album. I sure like the sound.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

From the sublime Quincy Jones...

... to the ridiculous Jerry Fielding. On the other hand, this theme song was quite lovely and somehow captured the gentle quality of this amusing 70s TV show. Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James were one of the great TV couples. Proof that chemistry does not require sexual attraction, I reckon.

And another...

... sound quality a bit murky, but hang in there for the awesome Hubert Laws flute solo. This may the all-time greatest TV theme song.

Here, have another...

... you deserve it...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 30

"You get some uh, have you ever had any rozinrizin"... well, have you?

Oh golly...

The worst David Brooks ever! Men who can't find a good job are just like... John Wayne in The Searchers! "Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating." But apparently that hasn't stopped Mr. Brooks...

Nuke it, Harry!

The American system of government has checks and balances up the wazoo. Already the Senate way over-represents lame states like Wyoming and Idaho. The filibuster gives even more power to the obstructionist dumb-ass minority. The argument against the nuclear option is that when the Repubs regain the majority there will be hell to pay. Maybe so, but if that's what the people want...

Trayvon Martin

Given the law and the evidence (or lack thereof), it seems unlikely that the verdict could have been otherwise, as Ta-Nehisi Coates cogently argues in this post. It's not even clear to me that "stand your ground" per se was necessary to Zimmerman's self-defense defense. No doubt we'll see more of the same.

Friday, July 12, 2013

It's the cheese

Joe and Mary Matos make one kind of cheese only, Saint George, a medium-hardness cheese based on the cheese of the proprietors' native Azores. A visit to their little cheese "factory" on the outskirts of Santa Rosa is for me always a highlight of a drive through Sonoma County.

From their sign on Llano Road, you head up a narrow gravel drive through the cow pasture, park, and enter the closet-sized front office. A loud bell announces your presence. Some minutes later, an oldish woman appears from the door to the aging room. I think it used to be Mary herself, but I believe it was someone else on my recent visit. She slices you a generous taste, and if you are like me you say, "I'll take a wheel" (the small size is ten pounds). She asks, in very halting English, "Want it cleaned?" The first time I bought a whole cheese I had no idea what she meant, but I figured it must be a good idea. "Sure." In the aging room, she takes a wheel down from the shelf, seats herself on a low stool, and with a large knife (small machete?), proceeds to scrape the entire surface of the cheese, white curls flying into a box between her knees. The sight and sound of this simple procedure justify going out of your way, regardless of any savings on the price of the cheese.

The price of the cheese... did I menton the price of the cheese? You can find St. George in a number of cheese shops around the Bay Area. At retail it runs between $15 and $23 per pound, usually around the middle of that range. Factory direct you can get as much or as little as you want for $7.50 a lb.

The cheese is very good. It has a pleasing, simple nuttiness and a little cheddar tang, and a wonderful airy texture. It is a great table cheese and would, I think, be great for cooking too. Trust me, you will want to buy a wheel and share some generous slices with your friends.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...

... especially for lazy NY Times columnists. "I might as well tell you upfront that this column is a book report," writes Mr. Brooks. Not a book review, mind you, since that might require exercising some critical faculties, which can be so taxing. A reviewer might feel obliged, for example, to question the book's claim (according to the book report) that with secularization "Common action... gives way to mutual display." True? A consequence of secularism, or mere correlate? Oh nevermind. At least he's getting some reading done.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Breakfast at Wimbledon

I tuned in this morning to catch some of the men's final. All I saw was the very last point of the match! So much for breakfast. I made up for it with lunch: a falafel wrap from Mediterranean Wraps (don't forget the hot sauce), accompanied by a refreshing salted mint yogurt drink. Followed by an organic Santa Rosa plum from our fantastic California Avenue farmers' market. Congrats, Andy Murray!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Qingdao algae bloom

I wonder if the brewery could use this stuff instead of hops?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Oil and gas drilling near Mesa Verde!

Seems like a win-win opportunity to me: Valuable oil and gas, and ready-made accommodations for the roughnecks, with only a few renovations needed...

Photo source.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is one of the best novels I have ever read. It lives up to the kind of hyperbole you might read in the blurbs: exquisite, profound, devastating.

Up to now I had not read his equally acclaimed earlier book, The Remains of the Day, although I had seen the fine Merchant Ivory screen adaptation some years ago. I have mixed feelings about the novel. There is no question about the craft: Ishiguro is a master. The story uses a clever construction: our protagonist and narrator Stevens recounts episodes from his life while driving through the English countryside on his way to meet his former colleague of many years ago, the housekeeper Miss Kenton. The plot's momentum builds as his memories, expectations, and physical journey converge on his destination, and his destiny.

The central theme is a mainstay of the English novel: self-delusion. Like a character from Austen or Eliot, Stevens appears not to be in touch with his true feelings, and the consequences are both comical and sad. I say "appears," because Stevens is an unreliable narrator. He occasionally admits that his memories of some key incidents may have been faulty, and then offers an alternative account. He does not lie directly, but sometimes allows the misapprehensions of others to persist. Can we trust him to be honest with us... or himself?

This ambiguity fuels the psychological mystery that lies at the heart of the book: Is Stevens a monster, incapable of deep human emotions and attachments; or has he so repressed his feelings that only rarely do they bubble up to the surface of his consciousness; or is he in fact a tortured soul, perpetually struggling to suppress any outward display of emotion in the name of his misguided butler's code of "dignity"? Ishiguro allows Stevens to let himself off the hook near the end:
I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed--why should I not admit it?--at that moment, my heart was breaking.
Perhaps so. And I wish I could sympathize, but I can't. I never much liked this fellow, and I sense that Ishiguro didn't either. There's no reason that the reader should have to love a novel's main character.  But if the author does not, can the character, or the book, come to life?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Reading roundup

At last I've had some time to work my way through part of the pile of books on the nightstand.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell was one of the Pulitzer finalists snubbed this year. I'm not sure it's a prize winner, but it's certainly a very good read. Our protagonist is 13-year-old alligator-wrestler Ava Bigtree, whose journey to hell and back is the novel's triumph--creepy, harrowing, and lovely all at the same time. The parallel tale of her big brother Kiwi at work in a hell-themed theme park... less compelling. I suppose the contrived ending is permitted because of the novel's flirtation with magic realism, but things wrap up a bit too tidily, and quickly. I doubt that hell exists, but if it does, I'm sure Russell got one thing right: there will be lots of mosquitoes. Definitely a good book for your next vacation in Florida.

Harry Hole, the hero of Jo Nesbø's crime novels, is cast from the same mold as other brainy but taciturn and depressive detectives, like fellow Scandinavian Kurt Wallander and of course the greatest of them all, Adam Dalgliesh. I was not fond of the first Harry Hole thriller I read, but desperation at a lousy airport bookstore drove me to a second, The Snowman. (I know what you are thinking: buy yourself a Kindle, dumb-ass!) As one after another implausible suspect turned out not to be the twisted serial killer (surprise!), it soon became apparent that this novel violated my rule number one of suspense: Harry Hole should never make mistakes that any reader of a Harry Hole thriller would know not to make. Most unforgivable is that the true (but equally unlikely) culprit revealed himself to Harry and the reader by the halfway point, but apparently only the reader noticed. A life or two and many pages could have been spared.

From the very start, Colson Whitehead's first novel, The Intuitionist, reads like something new, all crazy rhythms, sentence fragments, off-kilter adjectives jumping off the page-- it takes some getting used to. Alas, by the end of this short novel, the whole contraption almost shudders to a halt under the burden of its unlikely premise and overreaching metaphors. What it's about: in a parallel but familiar universe, elevator inspectors and manufacturers are vying for power in New York City. What it's really about: political corruption, identity, matter-of-fact racism, and just maybe spirituality. Promising, ambitious, disappointing... I'll give Mr. Whitehead another chance.

Some grown-ups seem to like The Hunger Games, and I've read and enjoyed a few kid novels in my day (several Potters, The Golden Compass), so why not? I doubt I'll be reading the sequels of this one. For me the writing falls pretty flat, and the book seems aimed at a different demographic than mine (duh, ya think)? That said, there is a pleasingly subversive feminist message behind the story arc (and no, I don't just mean the fact that the female protagonist can shoot an arrow and generally kicks ass). Keep on reading, kids!

Speaking of sequels, digging any deeper into my stack of unread novels is on hold until I finish Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel's sequel to Wolf Hall, my favorite book in years. After reading a few pages I am pretty confident that I will not be disappointed...