Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Robert Frank, RIP

Gosh, so many obit blog posts lately. Anyway, I own a reprint edition of Frank's The Americans, and I have had the privilege of seeing the actual prints, in book order, in a museum setting. I love his approach to photography, and I love his take on America: critical, leftist, but open-minded and big-hearted, and with a real sense of humor: Why not obscure the faces of your subjects with jingoistic iconography? But when he wanted to capture faces, he didn't mess around...

Democratic National Convention, 1956, 1996.147.1

Monday, September 9, 2019

Jimmy Johnson, RIP

Even if you've never heard of him, you've heard him. The Swampers... Art and commerce vs. racism? Sometimes it even worked...
“We didn’t know we were making history,” he said of this interracial affinity in an interview with Southern Rambler magazine. “Black or white, we had the same goal: to cut a hit record.” 
After the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the all-white Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section’s work on soul music sessions for Atlantic and Stax, two of the era’s most influential record companies, was suspended. To Mr. Johnson’s relief, the suspension was temporary. 
“We were an integral part of Atlantic and Stax and thought that might be it,” he recalled in that interview. “We were told we wouldn’t be cutting any more black records, and those were our favorite records.”

Friday, August 30, 2019

Pedro Bell, RIP

Not always PC, but always visually funky.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Tuxedo Junction

Dr. Lenzy Wallace, who directed our high school jazz band, must have had his moments of frustration and doubt. We weren't very good, through no fault of his. I'm no racial essentialist no-how, so I don't for a moment think that white folk are less capable of swinging than black folk, but the suburban white kids in Storrs CT did NOT swing, for whatever reason. Perhaps Lenzy should have forced us to listen to recordings of the tunes he selected for us to play, such as "Tuxedo Junction." Erskine Hawkins, who co-wrote it and made this 1939 recording with his once-college dance band, knew how to swing and chicken-scratch his way to perfection. Who knows, a little bit of the humor and easy elegance might have sunk in with us.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Across the divide

One of my favorite day hikes follows the Pacific Crest Trail from Carson Pass up to Meiss Col and down into beautiful Meiss Meadow, from which you can proceed to lovely little Showers Lake and/or elsewhere. An interesting feature of Meiss Col, which had not occurred to me until this visit, is that it lies along the divide between the Pacific and the Great Basin watersheds. So at the point where the first picture below was taken, looking roughly southward toward Round Top, any rain or snow melt in front of me would run downhill into various creeks and eventually into the American River, the Sacramento River, and the Bay, before emptying into the Pacific; whereas behind me, the water drains into the Upper Truckee River (e.g. from the snowfield in the second picture), into Lake Tahoe and then out of it into the Truckee proper, which finally drains into Pyramid Lake, an endorheic lake within the Great Basin. Endorheic is a new word for me: water checks in but it doesn't check out. Well, evaporation notwithstanding. Two raindrops or snowflakes that fall quite near one another on Meiss Col could end up thousands of miles apart. Of course there may be some hapless little raindrop that falls at the very divide and languishes there, like Buridan's ass, unable to decide which great watershed to join. Such a drop may happily end up nourishing one of the many western blue flag irises that flourish in the col. (The map below thanks to Wikipedia... don't forget to send them money.)

This being a family-friendly blog...

... I feel obliged to provide wholesome information about the birds and the bees... or in this case the sphinx moths. This pair were removed (gently) from my tent at Woods Lake yesterday. Lovely.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Sons of Kemet, My Queen is Ada Eastman

We heard them live at San Jose Jazz on Saturday. Something new under the sun: An hour-and-a-half of ultra-high-energy... what?... acoustic jazz-funk-afropop? There's a punk sensibility in there as well. No breaks, no let-up. Theon Cross on tuba is a force of nature. If they come to your neighborhood, don't miss them. The music starts at 1:38.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Toni Morrison, RIP

John Leonard, on when she received the Nobel. A more optimistic time, perhaps, not so long ago.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Itsy monkey flower

I won't nominate this (Diplacus nanus?) for national flower, but it is quite lovely if you notice it underfoot– noticed in this case at Upper Kinney Lake, near Ebbetts Pass.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Our national flower...

... has been the rose since 1986, when Reagan signed it into law... I did not know that! There had been a movement– championed by seed mogul David Burpee and Senator Everett Dirksen– to name the marigold, but obviously that failed. In 1962 Katharine S. White made a good case against both the rose and the marigold, and she had a much better nominee, although it ultimately fared no better than the marigold against the rose:
Feeling as I do about the marigold as the flower of the United States, I've decided to start a flower lobby of my own. I thought of nominating the moccasin flower (or lady's-slipper), our handsomest native orchid—it would be a nice tribute to our earliest inhabitants—but the moccasin flower does not grow in all our states. May I therefore suggest the humble but glorious goldenrod, which grows wild in every state of the Union[*] and spreads its cheerful gold in August and September from Maine to the Pacific, from Canada to Florida and New Mexico? It is as sturdy and as various as our population; there is delicate dwarf goldenrod, silver goldenrod, tall yellow goldenrod in a multitude of forms and shapes—spikes, plumes, and panicles of native gold. Hortus Second lists fifty-five species, only one of which is not native to the United States, and one or another of these fifty-four grows in every sort of soil. Descend into a bog and there, growing wild, is goldenrod; climb a mountain and there, between the crevices of boulders, is goldenrod; follow the shore of the sea and goldenrod gleams along the edge of the sands; drive along our highways from coast to coast in August and September and the fields and ditches are bright with goldenrod, unless the state you are driving through has destroyed them with chemical sprays. The very ubiquity of the flower has given it a bad name as an irritant to hay-fever victims, but I've recently read that it is the ragweed and flowering grasses growing alongside goldenrod that are the villains during the late-summer hay-fever season. The goldenrod also has the great advantage—if it were to be our national flower– of owing nothing to man, of enriching no seed company, or companies, and of being as wild as our national bird, the eagle. Canaries, like marigolds, presumably thrive in all fifty states, yet no one would dream of nominating the canary as the national bird. 
 – Katharine S. White, Onward and Upward in the Garden

The goldenrod I planted in my yard some years ago is just getting started on its graceful, cheery, and abundant annual bloom. I look forward to it every year.

* Perhaps with the exception of Hawaii, methinks, where it is an introduced non-native.

Warren's wealth tax

I'd like to believe Saez and Zucman's estimate that Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax of 2% on the very wealthy would bring in $200 billion annually. Summers and Sarin figure it might be a lot closer to 25 billion. (Links to the arguments can be found here.)

Why such a huge difference? It all hinges on how successful you think the very rich will be at tax avoidance. I suppose if there is a president who can bring them to heel, it will be Warren. Then again, ask yourself who can afford to buy the very best lawyers, accountants, lobbyists, and congresspeople?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Opportunity cost is real

Money doesn't grow on trees, and if and when progressives return to power in this country, we will face hard choices, no matter how much we soak the rich. Leaders like Bernie Sanders should not be pushing the wrong choices, no matter how salient and rhetorically appealing some of them may be. Case in point: cancelling all student debt.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Singing in English

Not always the best idea. If I had to pick my favorite musician, Rubén Blades would be right up there. His gig with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra included some typically Rubénesque gems, such as this one... which includes the bonus of Winton going all salsa c. 3:40. On the other hand, you have Rubén singing "Too Close for Comfort," and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," and "They Can't Take That Away from Me," in which he sounds quite a bit like a middling Tony Bennett impersonator. I doubt it was intended.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Early Rubens

Now at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco– a fine little museum in a spectacular setting, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and what must be one of the world's loveliest golf courses (?!). This version of his Raising of the Cross, a later, smaller rendering of an earlier triptych, was my favorite piece. The energy and tension ripple across the painting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Alameda County Fair

I love county fairs, from the goat judging to the pig racing to the bunnies to the ferris wheel to the quilts, pies, and jelly jars to the gut-wrenchingly disgusting yet somehow perniciously tempting food-booth items, such as deep-fried shrimp-on-a-stick dipped in Fruity Pebbles. Now in California we can add the splendid influence of our Latinx immigrant population, with live mariachi, banda, Modelo, and tamales-eating contests. Alameda County has got to be one of the most diverse counties in the USA: the great California melting pot, everybody having fun. And a 10-year-old 4-H-er named Yashvi can take first place in the craft competition with a Hot Dog Stuffed Animal. If that doesn't make you proud to be an American, I can't imagine what possibly would.


Who knows whether Facebook bucks will take off, but regardless, I will forever think of Libra as the title of Don DeLillo's fantastic paranoid thriller about Lee Harvey Oswald and the JFK assassination. Of course, Facebook would never inspire paranoia!

Monday, June 17, 2019

"Don't worry 'bout the President, he can't stop us now"

A nice groove to feed whatever optimism you have left.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The best breakfast in Palo Alto

Halwa puri at Zareen's... weekends only! Happy Father's Day to me!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fuzzy things

A couple of our nice fuzzy native plants...
Cirsium occidentale: cobweb thistle. I grew it from seed!

Clematis lasiantha: pipestem, between its lovely creamy flower and its appealing puffball stages...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 89

I've been listening to the Murray-Allen-Carrington Power Trio recording, Perfection, and the album title is not far off. Here's a studio recording of the title track, with a couple of guests. It's not my favorite track on the album– Craig Harris gets things off to a slow start– but it gives an idea of what they're up to. David Murray sounds like... David Murray... always first-rate, never phoning it in. Terri Lyne Carrington is a drummer to be reckoned with. Geri Allen (RIP) was more of a chameleon... she could do sophisticated or New Age-y, Ellington or Evans, and she could do fists, elbows, and glissandos. This was the dream trio for her talents– one more reason to lament her premature death at age 50.

Saturday, June 8, 2019


The humble little ngoni has a sweet lilting sound that can also rock, especially with judicious use of wah-wah pedal, and in the hands of Bassekou Kouyate and friends and family. Amy Sacko does the blazing lead vocals. Beautiful.

Random reading

Sometimes you just have to pick it up and read it, not knowing exactly what to expect.

Tears of the Trufflepig

Fernando A. Flores
The cover of this book, with its unappealing title, caught my eye at the local library. A near-future political dystopia, somewhere on the Texas-Mexico border... why not? It's a good read, reminiscent in style of Karen Russell's Swamplandia!, with its touch of magic realism, humor, dread, and local flavor, along with the humanism at the core of the main characters. Add to that two (count 'em) border walls and trafficking in genetically engineered designer animals, and you have what strikes me as a fully plausible storyline ripped from the headlines of 2030.

Onward and Upward in the Garden
Katharine S. White
Consisting of her collected reviews of garden catalogues, starting in 1958. Seeds, bulbs, and roses. I kid you not. I don't garden much, and when I do it's not even close to the kind of gardening White engaged in. So why am I compelled to read on, season after season, hybrid after hybrid? It's the writer's voice, of course...
By August a flower garden, at least on the coast of eastern Maine, where I live, can be at its best—and at its worst. Most of one's successes are apparent, and all of one's failures. For me, this year, heavy memories remain from spring of the disaster area in the north bed of old-fashioned roses, where field mice, hungry under a snowdrift, stripped the bark off the bushes and killed two-thirds of them. Like all disaster areas, this one is still, although replanted, rather bleak. A more recent sorrow is the sudden death on the terrace of a well-established Jackmani clematis, which turned black overnight just as its big purple blossoms were opening. There are numerous theories in the household about this loss—too heavy a dose of fertilizer, too much watering, too strong a spray drifting over from the nearby rose beds, a disease still undiagnosed. My own theory is dachshund trouble. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Game 4 and Dark Magus

This has got to be one of the most god-awful sloppiest-ass first halves of basketball I have ever seen, Klay aside. I watched with the sound off while listening for my first time ever to Miles's Dark Magus, a relentless masterpiece of funk-noise. Hard to imagine what the Carnegie Hall audience back in 1974 made of Pete Cosey shredding and Dave Liebman and Azar Lawrence honking and squawking. The Miles recordings of these years went somewhere music has never gone before and probably never will again.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Dr. John, RIP

American music is the best music, and New Orleans music is the best American music, and though Dr. John may not have been the best of New Orlean music, he was pretty damn good.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Panda's Thumb is my Achilles' Heel

A sesamoid bone "is a bone embedded within a tendon or a muscle." In the ball of your foot, the two little metatarsophalangeal sesamoid bones can become inflamed and cause a small world o' pain. As they are doing in my left foot as I write.

Until reading the Wikipedia entry, I had not known (or had forgotten) that the panda's thumb, as made famous by Stephen Jay Gould, is in fact a sesamoid bone. I'm happy for the pandas, who can use that sesamoid to grasp and strip tasty bamboo leaves from a branch. As for me, it feels as if somebody shoved a bamboo sliver right into the ball of my foot. Nothing a little ibuprofen and ice can't cure... for now... I hope...

The bad dream that is Trump

Every time Laura expresses justified outrage at the latest Trumpian outrage, I remind her that we should be very thankful that Donald Trump is an incompetent idiot... that he really hasn't done all that much permanent harm. In this regard, I am very much in agreement with Kevin Drum. Of course Trump is appalling, and the sooner we are rid of him the better. But almost any currently influential Republican you can think of would probably have done more damage as president– it's just that he (yes, I presume he) would not have been as downright embarrassing.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Happy 200th Birthday, WW!

Immortal, indeed!

Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? as every
      one is immortal,
I know it is wonderful—but my eye-sight is equally
      wonderful, and how I was conceived in my moth-
      er's womb is equally wonderful;
And how I was not palpable once, but am now—and
      was born on the last day of Fifth Month, in the
      Year 43 of America,
And passed from a babe, in the creeping trance of
      three summers and three winters, to articulate
      and walk—All this is equally wonderful.
And that I grew six feet high, and that I have become
      a man thirty-six years old in the Year 79 of
      America—and that I am here anyhow—are all
      equally wonderful.
And that my Soul embraces you this hour, and we af-
      fect each other without ever seeing each other,
      and never perhaps to see each other, is every bit
      as wonderful.

The Walt Whitman Archive

Monday, May 27, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 88

I'm definitely looking forward to hearing Rudresh up at SFJazz in a couple weeks. I don't expect his trio with Eric Revis and Dave King will be quite as out there as Rez Abbasi and Dan Weiss are on this cut, but no doubt they will deliver. Great head-exploding jazz.

"Hey man..."

"... Is this the line for that new ramen place? Sheesh."

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Lichens Family...

... is a small musical promotion operation in Chile. I have to approve of their choice of name and logo! They also represent the excellent Newen Afrobeat, recommended by Aidan. It's as if Fela learned to sing in Spanish... well, sometimes they adopt his pidgin too...


A unique, funky little town– part abandoned naval base, part working-class residential town: People still smoke stogies here and there are lots of corner bars. It also features some very lovely tree-lined avenues with grand Victorians where the rich captains must have lived. Like all good things Bay Area, it is now being invaded by hipsters, which of course has its pros and cons.

The old naval air station has become home to some craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries, among other enterprises. From the St. George distillery, where they concoct their very aromatic gins, you get a fine view of the Port of Oakland and the massive container ships, Trump trade war be damned!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Ditch the trey

Or at least move the lines back. Steph is great, for sure, but this piece from FiveThirtyEight helps explain why the game has become a little less fun to watch, because the palette of shot selection has become much more limited.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Reading roundup

I guess it's been a while. Von besser zu lesser...

Wolfgang Herrndorf
Le Carré meets Nabokov– with a little Kafka and Elmore Leonard thrown into the mix– in this very well-written, darkly funny, and harrowing literary thriller. It's 1972, and our nameless hero has come-to after a blow to the kopf, and finds himself stricken with amnesia and in the thick of some very nasty business, somewhere in North Africa. Amnesia is a plot device best used sparingly if at all, but Herrndorf pulls it off with bravado. A great entertainment, exquisitely translated by Tim Mohr.

A Long Way from Home
Peter Carey
A typical shaggy-dog tale from Carey, following an oddball threesome on an early cross-country auto race through Australia in the 1950s. Carey's parents ran a GM dealership in the same place and time as the novel's starting line, and he seems to know of what he writes. Funny and splendidly written with vivid, likable characters, the story picks up speed through the first two-thirds or so and then suffers a flat tire or two toward the end as it takes a political turn. Still, a good read.

Elizabeth Costello

J.M. Coetzee
Efficient, chilly and beautifully crafted, it is a novel of ideas and writing. The title character stands in for Coetzee, a person you'd only want to know on the printed page.

Natsume Sōseki
Sōseki's The Gate is one of my favorite novels... a book in which not much really happens. In this wistful coming-of-age story, even less happens, if that is possible. That doesn't mean it's a better book...

Ride the Pink Horse

Dorothy B. Hughes
Hughes wrote noir but never stuck to a formula. This feverish, surrealistic tale– a revenge story featuring a sympathetic but not very bright protagonist in a southwestern town– is not as good as her masterpieces, The Expendable Man and In a Lonely Place, but it holds your attention.


Penelope Fitzgerald
A literary rom-com a la Fitzgerald, set in Italy in the 1950s. Gramsci puts in an appearance. A decent read, but not my favorite of hers.

J.G. Farrell
A grand old hotel in Ireland crumbles as the English dominion over Ireland crumbles, along with a way of life. Well executed, I think, but it did not keep me awake.

Berlin Game
Len Deighton
Le Carré aside, I don't read much spy fiction, and I'd never read Deighton, considered one of the masters. This is a pretty good yarn with a nice twist, but I won't be running out to read his oeuvre, as I have with Mr. Le Carré.

Sue Burke
On an alien planet, the fungi communicate and compete and are pretty smart. Would you trust them?

Linda Nagata
This novel does a pretty good job imagining a version of human existence–if we can still think of them as humans– millions of years in the future. The problem is characterization. And sci fi without good characters is– frankly– bad fi.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

“We are and will always be a values-driven company"

"Sasan Goodarzi, the CEO of Intuit, says the company’s efforts to make its free tax-filing software harder to find on Google were part of the software giant’s commitment to educating taxpayers."
In an 11-minute video sent to Intuit employees, Goodarzi said the company was trying to help consumers by steering them to “educational content” instead of TurboTax’s free filing website. 
The company promised the IRS it would offer a free option to tens of millions of taxpayers earning less than $34,000. 
Responding to our reporting, which shows that Intuit, H&R Block and other for-profit tax software companies were steering low-income customers to their paid products, Goodarzi said the company’s marketing practices “had been misinterpreted to signal that we were trying to hide the product we offer in the IRS program. That is inaccurate.” 
“Our choice around search was intended to be [in] the best interest of taxpayers so they were more fully informed about their options and could choose what they felt was best for them,” Goodarzi said in the video, which was marked “Intuit Confidential” and was sent to staff on May 3.
The story and links to ProPublica's ongoing investigation can be found here. One of my favorite installments dug into the HTML code and showed how the customer steering sausage was made. Perhaps Intuit's good intentions were indeed "misinterpreted," but it is noteworthy that since the story appeared Intuit has changed the code on its Free File page.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 87

For Cinco de Mayo I put on Vicente Fernández... quite a crooner, but I must admit I like my Mex seasoned with a little more Tex... Freddy Fender... While we're at it, stir in a little rockabilly, Cajun, and LA punk... mmm... perfect... Los Lobos.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Rave reviews and the precedent of Get Out– which was truly something new under the sun and a great entertainment as well– gave me high hopes for Us. It's worth a watch, but kind of a letdown. Neither as scary nor as funny as expected, it's a pretty conventional horror movie dressed up with some undercooked "meta" themes. The acting is ho-hum, except for Lupita Nyong'o of course, who seems to be enjoying herself and eclipses everything and everyone else anytime she is in the frame.

I'd forgotten about Hands Across America. Good times. Jordan could have made more of that. I also learned that if I ever get a smart speaker ("Ophelia" in the movie, hee hee), it's important to enunciate. The consequence of failing to do so in the movie becomes a kind of a stupid joke, although also an opportunity to beef up the soundtrack and to remind us how good Ice Cube was back in the day.

The greatest mystery in the film is where you can find a waterfront house like that place within driving distance of Santa Cruz. Maybe Seattle? Long day trip.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Free college for all?

Kevin Drum brings a few facts to Elizabeth Warren's proposal to eliminate (public) tuition and most student debt. I think his sympathetic skepticism gets it just about right.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 86

My favorite Go-Betweens song. It reminisces experiences I had no part of, but I am nostalgic for them nonetheless.

Table Mountain viewed from the west

Google Maps' 3-D satellite image shows the inverted valley winding its way across the landscape...

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Table Mountain

There are a few different "Table Mountains" in California, but the one I visited for the first time yesterday is near Jamestown in Tuolumne County. It is a plateau formed by volcanic rock. The top features vernal pools that– at least after a nice wet winter like this one– generate a riot of wildflowers. The Wikipedia entry explains the fascinating geology:
Table Mountain is an inverted valley, an elevated landform which follows the former contours of a river valley above level of the surrounding topography, rather than below it. It was created by lava flows which filled an ancient river bed. The resulting igneous rock resisted erosion better than the materials around it, leaving behind a sinuous rock formation elevated above the surrounding landscape.
I was there for the flowers, but the views are spectacular too– to the west, New Melones reservoir, and to the east, in the distance Yosemite's still snowy peaks and directly below, somewhat less appealingly, the Chicken Ranch casino, the surrounding oaks and grassland glowing green.

The dominant flowers on top are lupines, butter-and-eggs, goldfield, and clover. A very special place this time of year.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Interview with Preston McAfee

Interesting throughout. He has served as chief economist at Yahoo and Microsoft. His views on antitrust as it relates to the big tech companies bear special attention as we consider calls by Elizabeth Warren and others to bust up FB, Google, etc. And this...
EF: What was the most surprising part of your transition from being an academic economist to being an economist in a high-tech corporate setting?
McAfee: There's a school of thought that government is inefficient because it can be, while firms, subject to markets, are forced to be efficient. The thing that shocked me the most was how inefficient large firms can be. Sure, there is government waste, but it is commensurate with size and clarity of mission. In one sense, I already knew that large firms could be inefficient — the failure of Kodak and Blockbuster are examples — but it is another thing to live through it.
Hat tip to Tim Taylor.

Sunday, April 7, 2019


I attended and gave a couple presentations at the American Association of Geographers meetings in DC the past few days. It's a huge conference with tremendous breadth of topics and methods. I was most inspired by the poster sessions, where you can wander around and engage a (usually) young scholar in conversation about their work. The undergrad researchers are particularly inspiring.

The cherry blossoms were at their peak, but I didn't find time to join the hoards at the Tidal Basin to gawk at them. Instead, I spent my free afternoon inside, at the National Gallery, with Jacopo Tintoretto. I have been to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice, which is justifiably considered Tintoretto's Sistine Chapel. That was probably the greatest artistic experience of my life. The National Gallery exhibition is not the San Rocco, but it provides a broader view of Tintoretto's genius, including his sketches, his impressionistic brushwork, his radical evocation of depth, motion, and narrative, his empathy, and, in particular, his stunning portraits. Some snapshots...

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The awesomeness of American pop music

Three degrees of hook separation... I feel it in my bones...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Higher returns on education can’t explain growing wage inequality"

The college wage premium remains very high in the United States, but its role in explaining recent inequality trends is negligible. A very insightful post from EPI's Elise Gould.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Well I'll be darned

I'm not fond of the language of "sin." And David Brooks sees absolutely nothing new here that was not always sitting squarely in front of his face. But it's still quite something to read a defense of reparations coming from his pen.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 85

The album Glitter Wolf by Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom got a rave review on Fresh Air the other day, and I hope it helps her sell some albums and concert tickets. The music is stunningly good, and really fun. Miller's playing and composition bring out the best in Myra Melford, who is clearly having a ball. Her solo on this track, commencing around 3:30, exhibits many of the traits that make her my favorite pianist: elaborate modal runs, thundering Tyner-like chords, Taylor-esque motifs, and her own special sauce. Actually, Miller seems to bring out the best in everyone, including Jenny Scheinman and Ben Goldberg, two musicians I admire but don't always enjoy. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lichens at Coyote Hills

Coyote Hills Regional Park is a special place tucked against the east shore of San Francisco Bay in Fremont. It is rich in habitat– from marshland to rolling hills featuring interesting Franciscan complex outcroppings– and has a long human history, indicated by an old Ohlone village site and shellmound. The lichens growing on the reddish radiolarian chert are the most lovely I know of in the Bay Area...

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Oscars wrap-up

I did see "The Favourite," and though I wasn't all that fond of it, Olivia Colman was awesome. I didn't see "Bohemian Rhapsody," and though in fact you'd have to pay me to see it, I do like Rami Malek in "Mr. Robot," so... good for him! I liked "BlacKkKlansman" and would like to see Spike Lee win more Oscars. That's all!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Conserving the Magnitude of Uselessness

Pied Beauty for the atheist... the poet... or both...

Conserving the Magnitude of Uselessness
A.R. Ammons

Spits of glitter in lowgrade ore,
precious stones too poorly surrounded for harvest,
to all things not worth the work
of having,

brush oak on a sharp slope, for example,
the balk tonnage of woods-lodged boulders,
the irreparable desert,
drowned river mouths, lost shores where

the winged and light-footed go,
take creosote bush that possesses
ground nothing else will have,
to all things and for all things

crusty or billowy with indifference,
for example, incalculable, irremovable water
or fluvio-glacial deposits
larch or dwarf aspen in the least breeze sometimes shiver in---

suddenly the salvation of waste betides,
the peerlessly unsettled seas that shape the continents,
take the gales wasting and in waste over
Antarctica and the sundry high shoals of ice,

for the inexcusable (the worthless abundant) the
merely tiresome, the obviously unimprovable,
to these and for these and for their undiminishment
the poets will yelp and hoot forever

rank as weeds themselves and just as abandoned:
nothing useful is of lasting value:
dry wind only is still talking among the oldest stones.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

S/he cardinal

Who knew it was possible? A cardinal under any circumstances is already some kind of little miracle.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Go West

As AOC and Bernie try to restore socialism's good name, we'll hear plenty of red-baiting. Why not get it all out in the open with some high-concept homoerotic Soviet-style socialist realism? And who better to do it than the Pet Shop Boys?


I watched most of it. Happy to see the women being recognized. Great: Brandi Carlile. Good: Janelle Monáe, Cardi B. Bad: Kacey Musgraves (love you Kacey, but ouch...), Lady Gaga. Indifferent: the rest, including Alicia Keys.

I know it's all about pop and commerce and "youth." But really... no jazz? no classical? You want youth, how about Felix M, who wrote this crazy wonderful thing when he was 16. Sweet 16!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Lichen is fungal, mostly

It sops up the rain like a sponge... or a moss. I can't vouch for my phone getting the colors exactly right, but pretty close.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 84

Isn't it cool when you cut your hand and the blood is red instead of sellout green?

Sunday, January 27, 2019


On my own last night while Laura was out of town, I thought I'd give the movie version of Annihilation a try. I loved the book, but the movie was unloved by critics. Perhaps the perceived flaws with the movie reflected the inability of critics to deal with the fundamental vagueness at the narrative core of the novel? Alas, no. The movie took a strange, impressionistic novel and (surprise) rendered it Hollywood. Natalie Portman was a great choice for our protagonist– "the biologist"– but she was wasted, toting a machine gun and oo-ing unconvincingly at weird exo-biologies that resembled nothing as much as plastic flowers and deer lichen purchased at a Michael's craft store. Perhaps they were. I turned it off after 30 minutes and decided to re-read the book. Just as good the second time around. Note to Guillermo del Toro: I bet the rights to the excellent sequel are available for cheap. You'd have fun.


At Pajaro Dunes.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 83

Can't get enough of this one.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Lobaria pulmonaria...

... is the symbiotic relationship of organisms belonging to three different kingdoms of life! Fungi, algae, and cyanobacteria. I suppose the same will be said of humans once we fully understand our microbiome.

Three lodges

Woodrat lodges, that is, in Foothills Park. The first is there just so you can adjust your vision. The next two are typically obscured in their respective thickets of poison oak. Relax your focus.