Thursday, December 10, 2009


A Science Nerd's Analogy
Back in 1909, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Ernest Rutherford at the Physical Laboratories of the University of Manchester, performed an historic experiment. In an effort to deduce what the inside of an atom 'looked like,' they fired small helium nuclei, alpha particles, at a thin layer of gold foil. Up until this point, it was thought that the atom had a similar structure to plum pudding. Negatively charged electrons were suspended in a positively charged matrix, and it was expected that the alpha particles would just zip through the atom, like a bullet through a cake.

But things didn't turn out this way.

What happened was that most of the particles did indeed travel right through, as if nothing was there. But...a few of the particles were deflected at an angle, and some of them simply bounced back, as if bouncing off a brick wall!

This is not the place for another of my boring science lectures, but I'm simply trying to illustrate how we do our best to infer what the hidden looks like, even if we can't see it. Which leads me to one way to look at Obama's recent decisions on the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. I am reticent to do this, knowing I might be on the wrong side of an issue many of my friends I respect feel deeply about. But, since I've never been that smart about keeping my mouth shut, I'm going to try and explain why I continue to support Obama, and give him the benefit of the doubt, even as so many on the left despair.

Many people have a general distrust of all politicians, and for some valid reasons. Congress members and Senators cannot expect to get re-elected to continue doing the 'people's work' unless they get up every morning and raise tens of thousands of dollars in re-election funds. All that money probably doesn't come with unconditional love. As we've seen lately in the health care debate, the GOP is essentially a wholly-owned subsidiary of trans-national corporations, and many Democrats are in pretty deep too. How else do you explain the public's support for a public option, while at the same time the Senate seems so willing to kill it? Most of them are bought and sold, that much seems true. But without meaningful campaign finance reform, how likely are any significant changes? I'm totally opposed to term limits, as all that does is weaken the public's representatives compared to the lobbyists, who never get termed out, and just get stronger and stronger.

I've also heard lots of people complain about plumbers, and how much money they make. Do you really want to hire a gardener to fix your broken toilet? In San Francisco, we elected a mayor, Frank Jordan, whose shtick was that he wasn't a politician, and that's exactly what we got. A politician that knew nothing about the plumbing of the political machinery, and we had to live through it. If you lived in California the last 40 years, you had to live through 16 years of Ronald Reagan, whose charm was also being cast outside of the normal politician mold, first as Governor, then as President. What a national tragedy.

So it turns out Obama is a politician. What a surprise. Anyone who thinks they can just drop into the job of President, and instantly turn the ship of state on a dime will be disappointed. The entrenched power interests who fight Obama at every turn are venal and corrupt beyond belief. Out here in commie-pinko San Francisco, we don't live around such cretins as Senator James "no such thing as global warming" Inhofe, and all those other cult members of "The Family" who live in the house on C Street.

The euphoria over Obama's election was short-lived, once it became apparent that the right wingers would not roll over, and would fight tooth and nail, and lie, anything to blunt Obama's pull with the American people. Even with 60 Senators, every piece of legislation is WWIII.

So, what's the deal with Afghanistan? There's only supposed to be about 100 al-Qaeda in that fractured country. The Karzai government is corrupt, and the civilians there don't seem to appreciate having Predators drop bombs on them. We need 30,000 more troops for that?

So, what does this have to do with alpha particles?

Today, Obama gave a speech in acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. In many ways, he sounded themes George W. Bush might have mined, but did it in a real, complex way:
I face the world as it is

This is reality. I think what's hidden is what's in Pakistan. Pakistan has nukes. Pakistan has al-Qaeda, probably bin Laden too. The government of Pakistan is anything but stable, and will not officially allow US troops to press al-Qaeda there. Currently the CIA, with those mercenary contractors, is in charge of what goes on in Pakistan, but now it seems like the Air Force is also involved. The real story is in Pakistan, but it cannot be viewed or acknowledged directly.

Obama is straddling the dangers of the world, with the quest for peace. Most politicians give us an either/or fantasy. This is hard.

For the moment, I'm still thinking Obama is playing chess, while the rest of us are playing checkers. But I'm still proud that an American President shares these kind of words with the world:
Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review: Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio (US)
The Boat That Rocked
Good Morning England
Radio Rock Revolution
<--Phillip Seymour Hoffman as "The Count"

It's Only Rock and Roll, but I liked it!

I'll be brief; I liked the movie. I'm glad I went to a theater to see it, and I would recommend it to people who remember what it was like, when listening to the radio late at night held some sort of magical power.

This film will not win any Oscars, nor should it. It is filled with technical inaccuracies, and at times is clichéd and predictable. I personally do not believe that it will ever be possible for people to be 'transported' or 'beamed' from place to place, but I still enjoy watching Star Trek.

What is true is that at the height of the 'British Invasion,' the BBC barely allowed any broadcast of rock 'n' roll. It is this spirit of liberation that infuses the music, and the experience of watching the movie in a theater with other fans of rock.

This is not a movie for cynics; save your money and don't go!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bushel of Lies

Where to Begin?

Lately, the whole effort to reform America's health care system has exposed a corrupting power structure whose size has been hidden from most of us. The magnitude of the power and money involved in propping up the status quo for the insurance companies, big pharmaceutical firms, and the for-profit hospital systems has been revealed to be as massive as any industry there is. The talking points have been distributed, and people are parroting the propaganda from sea to shining sea. (Quick, put Z on your Netflix list of movies to watch!)

I have received emails from people I know, with outrageous lies. How is it that ordinarily good people have taken the bait so easily? Are we that easy to manipulate with racist ideas, fears of immigrants, and general socialist bogeymen? Can our synapses be so easily accessed with massive advertising slogans? It's 2009 for pete's sake! Why is this happening?

Today, in "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire, a gun-toting protester stood outside a town hall appearance by Obama, standing with permission on church property. This is nuts!

Here is a list of some of the most frequent lies that you will hear over and over (so it must be true!), which are all easily refuted. But does that stop people?
  1. President Obama wants to euthanize your grandma!!!
  2. Democrats are going to outlaw private insurance and force you into a government plan!!!
  3. President Obama wants to implement Soviet-style rationing!!!
  4. Obama is secretly plotting to cut senior citizens' Medicare benefits!!!
  5. Obama's health care plan will bankrupt America!!!
I know many of you work or have worked in the healthcare arena, so I'd like to hear from you. In the words of Rachel Maddow: Talk Me Down! Tell me I'm hallucinating. Tell me a rational reason we cannot join the rest of the developed world in how our citizens access healthcare.

Here is the video I was telling you about. I'll bet you can't stomach the whole thing! I practically hit the "I can't take it anymore" wall around one minute into it. When you Google this ad, there's very little info about who's behind it, just a lot of right-wing websites telling you how cool it is!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Inconvenient Science

The Request Line is Open!
Yesterday I went to the Exploratorium to visit some old friends and check out some teaching resources, and posted in my FaceBook status "getting ready to go to Exploratorium." Tyree asked that I report about this in my next blog post!

Now, one one hand, my trip itself was not really newsworthy, outside of some weird pictures I took of myself in the new exhibit. But on the other hand, my blog doesn't have that many readers, and who am I to ignore such a request! Perhaps I can weave something about the Exploratorium's approach to science with something that's really concerned me lately.

The Exploratorium is the original 'hands-on' science museum for the general public. No longer just the province of nerds and geeks (not that there's anything wrong with nerds and geeks!) The Exploratorium is just downright fun, and if you're not careful, educational too! And if you've ever visited, and wondered what was going on in those classrooms in the middle of the building, the museum also runs a Teacher Institute to help with the professional development of science teachers. Their goal is to support teachers in their first years, when most teachers quit. I went through a two-year induction program with them, and found it very important to my survival, as well as making good friends that are going through the same struggles I am.

What the Exploratorium represents to me is the intersection between high science and personal experience. Many exhibits may just appear to be fun optical illusions, but if you want to know, there is much deeper science involved. You can just enjoy the beauty of the rainbow streaming into the building through the diffraction gratings installed on the roof, and if you want, you can dig deeper, to the 'why' of it all. If you haven't been there in a while, check it out again; new exhibits are built all the time.

This brings me to something that has been on my mind lately, and focused by and a recent survey published in the New York Times. There seems to be a large disconnect between what the public believes, and what scientists believe, even as far as what the public believes the scientists believe! More specifically:
...while almost all of the scientists surveyed accept that human beings evolved by natural processes and that human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, is causing global warming, general public is far less sure.

Almost a third of ordinary Americans say human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, a view held by only 2 percent of the scientists. Only about half of the public agrees that people are behind climate change, and 11 percent does not believe there is any warming at all.

According to the survey, about a third of Americans think there is lively scientific debate on both topics; in fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution and there is little doubt that human activity is altering the chemistry of the atmosphere in ways that threaten global climate.
Plainly put, there is no actual debate among scientists about evolution or global warming, yet one can frequently find references to such a debate.

What seems to be going on here is a large denial on the part of the public about science, and I wonder why this is. I would really like to get your two bits on this.

I tend to believe that those who try to control society favor a populace that is as scientifically-illiterate as possible. That makes it easier to control people, since you don't have to be logical.

There is another train of thought that says people themselves avoid freedom, and choose to be scientifically illiterate for that very reason. They don't need any deep conspiracy to believe in superstitions.

I would really be interested to hear from you as to why this disconnect exists. What other factors might be at play here? Religion? Schools? Social customs?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wedding Reflections and Flashbacks

It's All a Dream We Dreamed One Afternoon, Long Ago
Since our daughter Grace's wedding, people ask me how it feels. I don't quite know what to say. Certainly Grace and Peter have been together for years, so there's no change in location. Mainly I felt swept up in the moment, and felt very blessed to be alive, and dancing (somewhat clumsily) at my daughter's wedding. There were regrets that our parents (both dads gone, and our moms not well enough to attend) couldn't be there, but the heavens smiled, the weather was perfect, and who can beat redwood trees for a natural setting?

I have been thinking about our own wedding, at the Los Gatos History Club on the Winter Solstice of 1975, and just looked at our photo album for the first time in years. The colors are fading a bit from the prints, and there are many faces in the pictures no longer with us. In the picture above (we were playing "Attics of My Life") David and Chris (3rd and 5th from the left) left us way too young.

Not to make too fine a point of it, this is indeed a passage, even if there are no major changes on either side of the time demarcation.
  1. I'm very happy for my daughter and her new husband
  2. This has caused me to reflect on our own wedding
  3. Which led to the picture book
  4. Who are all those young people in the pictures?
And now for the T. S. Eliot I didn't quote at the wedding:
I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant—
Among other things—or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.
You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.
When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief,
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.
Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think 'the past is finished'
Or 'the future is before us'.
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Reflection

Dad Dreams

Usually on Father's Day, I force my kids to play golf with me, or in Jesse's case, since he refuses to ever play golf again, he caddies for me. Everyone groaned about the forced indignity, but I'm under the illusion we generally had a good time.

Grace exhibiting great form, Father's Day 2004

Sonja celebrates while Jesse waits

This year, I will be celebrating Father's Day by attending my daughter Grace's wedding. It's not the same as playing golf, but I suspect it will be OK. They're going to let me speak at the ceremony (highly irregular!) as long as I don't give too much advice, and I think I can do that.

So my dad, who passed away in '95, will not be there for the wedding, and I'm sure there will be bittersweet moments, as these types of events are prone to provide. This brings me to a dream I had recently of my father, and I'd like to share it, even if I don't quite understand it.

About a week or so ago, I was napping post-breakfast (one of my totally favorite things!) and was having some sort of vivid cinematic dream. At one point, I realized that the man next to me, who I think was wearing a plaid shirt and who I don't remember talking to, was my father. As the awareness came to me that I was dreaming and wanting to savor the moment, I tried to speak to him, but he quickly receded into the distance, down to a small stick figure. As I watched him disappear into the far away hills, even this much contact evaporated, as I was pulled back into consciousness, unwillingly.

Perhaps this is a very normal dream, maybe about not realizing what you have until it's gone. I'll leave the analysis to the professionals, but I do treasure moments like this, even if they don't really 'exist' in our so-called real world.

Carl Gould, my dad

Frank Gould, my dad's dad

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Golden Rule

Why I like this guy

Today, President Obama walked into another trap, and as far as I'm concerned, did brilliantly, in spite of a few hecklers, or maybe because of them. I was reading a few articles about the speech, and stumbled across his remarks about faith and doubt. I know there's some who are giving him heat about the war in Afghanistan, and his recent reversal on releasing torture photos, but I still find him worthy of praise, and I find these words very poignant. I also continue to be surprised at having a president who is unafraid of trying to use language intelligently. So, let's cut to the chase here. Please read this fragment from his speech at Notre Dame today, and let me know if this is typical rhetoric or not.

And in this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you've been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. In other words, stand as a lighthouse.

But remember, too, that you can be a crossroads. Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It's the belief in things not seen. It's beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. And those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

And this doubt should not push us away our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us even as we cling to our faith to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works and charity and kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It's no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule -- the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. The call to serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days

Might as well, Mighty Swell...
Tonight, President Obama gave a prime time news conference on his 100th day in office, and everyone seems to want to give him a grade. As a teacher, who has seen front line action in the grade inflation wars, you'd have to give him at least a B+, and probably higher, but it's too early to tell, so it's just a progress report.

To be honest, compared to the presidents since JFK, and I really wasn't that aware of government policies at 10 years old, this guy is a freakin' A+! He's sharp, concise, and thoughtful, and going for it full tilt.

I'm unfortunately a little scared of the crazies being whipped into a frenzy by Fox News, and I sure hope the Secret Service is doing their job. I think America is too invested into this one person, and if we should lose him, it would be difficult to go on with the same energy.

I would like to say a word about the "torture thing." I know there are many on the left who are unhappy he's not actively trying to put Dick Cheney in prison, and seemingly uninterested in prosecuting anyone for the abuses of the past administration. I heard a phrase on the Stephanie Miller show, which I usually catch a few minutes of in the morning on the way to work, where she says "Obama's playing chess, while the rest of us are playing checkers."

I think he cannot allow himself to be seen as spending any energy gunning for the crooks from the previous administration, but the wheels of justice are grinding away, and I could see an unavoidable, inexorable collision ahead where some of the crooks will pay.

So, I think he's doing great, and as long as we don't all perish in an H1N1 pandemic, I look forward to a brighter future for once!

What do you think?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Look at Me

Forgive us our pleasures...

Sure, the state of the world is on my mind, and I hope you all are thinking about it too.'s a beautiful Spring Day in San Francisco, and while I was mowing the lawn, I thought about all these flowers screaming for attention! So, let's give the little prima donnas their moment in the spotlight, and vote for your favorite colored flower, somehow surviving in my backyard!

Orange Nasturtium
I think these plants are weeds, Martha does not.

Cala Lily
These have been popping up since February; how long do they last?

Geraniums with pink highlights
I think these are weeds too, but pretty right now.

Geraniums with purple highlights
I like these better than the pink ones, don't you?

Yellow flowers
Trying to stand out amidst the iceplant (early feedback: Lauren says yellow nasturtiums or coreopsis. I'm thinking yellow clover right now, Margaret says it looks like oxalix, but as Karen says, Dennis will know!)

Flowering purple iceplant
Cameras can't quite catch the psychedelic essence of this color. It probably has some sort of natural fluorescence to bring it out so bright.

So, there you have it. Vote for your favorite color!

Here's a link to the photo gallery of the flowers

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There But For Fortune

Time for Jubilee?
Lately, there's been an ugly mood in some areas of the media surrounding Obama's plan to bring some relief to people who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. A recent rant by a CNBC reporter has become something of an Internet sensation on YouTube. The basic message is that by trying to help people in this foreclosure crisis, we are rewarding people for bad behavior, and punishing those who were responsible, and did not get themselves into trouble.

Certainly there are people losing houses that never had any business signing a mortgage in the first place, but lo, I shall say unto you:
Let he or she who has read every line on their credit card agreement, read every line in the software agreement, or read every word of their own mortgage agreement cast the first stone.

I have been working on a spreadsheet simulation of 'generational luck' lately, and when my brain cells permit such activity, I promise to share it with you when it becomes more useful. The point is that I think many people give themselves more credit for success than they probably have a right to. I'm not saying that successful hard working people are undeserving, but there's way too much Social Darwinism in today's neocons, as if there is no such thing as good fortune, or, for the more religious, the Grace of God.

I'm not a religious man, which doesn't mean I'm not spiritual or haven't learned a lot from playing bass in church all these years, but there is something interesting I've learned about the concept of Jubilee.

There are many variants, but the basic idea is that every 50 years, debts are forgiven, slaves and prisoners are set free, and so on. Sure, I can hear what you're thinking, that this is not practical, not gonna happen, is just an ancient, archaic tradition, and maybe you're right. But the concept of Jubilee points to a reality that much of the world is shaped by events beyond our control, and unless you believe in a God that preordains the suffering of the multitudes, I think every now and then we need to do whatever we can to ameliorate the inequities caused by birth, climate change, and yes, the so-called "act of God."

When I was a child, sometimes serious family squabbles would occur, not unlike many families I'm sure, and the only way forward was to "start from scratch." The burdens of the past can be overwhelming, and the need to start over is natural, and healthy. Just like a forest fire becomes inevitable when smaller natural cleansing fires are suppressed, societies can come to a flash point when large amounts of underclass build up, until catastrophic change is the only possible outcome.

Forgiveness is a trait I think most people understand, but it's really just the everyday microcosmic version of Jubilee.

Rather than quote T. S. Eliot again (it would be so easy!) I am reminded of the late Phil Ochs (the troubadour pictured at top) song "There But For Fortune." Here's the last verse:

Show me the country where bombs had to fall,
Show me the ruins of buildings once so tall,
And I'll show you a young land with so many reasons why
There but for fortune, go you or go I -- you and I.
You and I,
There but for fortune, go you or go I -- you and I.

I know it's presumptive to think I have anything to add, but perhaps we could add a new verse?
Show me the family asleep on the floor
Show me the insurance they can't pay anymore
And I'll show you a country with shame piled so high
Yes there but for fortune, go you or I -- you and I

Friday, February 20, 2009

Penguin Indecision

In either a brief respite from the idiocy of the current political news, or perhaps subconsciously inspired by the same news, I bring you the penguin that couldn't jump in the water.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Beware the Bathtub

Taxation as Theft?
Like a bad movie, the neocon zombies just keep coming. Here we are, less than a month after the historic inauguration of Barack Obama, and just when you thought it was safe to ignore these zombies, they still still walk on, droning the monotonous mantra: "More tax cuts, less spending!" over and over and over...

The harmless-looking fellow pictured here is Grover Norquist. I had to search Google to find the name of the person credited with the infamous quote:
I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

One might think that the last 8 years of failed policy would have put a nail in that coffin, but just like a contract killer, whose employer may have changed his mind, the killer continues the quest. Even with the country in the grips of the worst recession since the Great Depression, there has been a near-total opposition to Obama's stimulus plan, a plan almost all economists (Democrat and Republican) agree is necessary. It seems like the neocons are on a kamikaze mission. They can't let Obama's plan succeed, because it represents the triumph, in their eyes, of socialism over the so-called free market. They would rather we all go down in flames than give the government a chance to put people to work. Obama has had to revert to pre-election town halls to keep the pressure on these politicians to do something. Meanwhile, the stimulus package gets watered down, and spending programs (dubbed "pork" by the conservative media) get cut.

Meanwhile, back here in California, another group of robots has control of the state budget. Due to the legacy of Prop 13, new taxes must be approved by 2/3 of the state legislature. So, a small band of Republicans has held the California budget hostage every year, even with a large Democratic majority. The media seems unwilling to confront head-on the notion that taxes are inherently bad, that for some reason we shouldn't have to pay for government in bad times. Who the h-e-double hockey sticks do they expect to pay for things?

Dig this, there's even some very literal talk of denying the New Deal even worked. If they repeat these lies enough times, it must come true.

Do whatever you can to support the government actually being allowed to help.

What a concept, the government being actually
of the people, by the people, for the people

Saturday, February 07, 2009

My Life in Posters

Sing a Song
I was looking through the web at old Fillmore posters, primarily of concerts I'd been through, and thought the posters themselves were an interesting story, probably more interesting than my comments, so it's an experiment to see if I can keep the format moving, without too much interruption on my part! I also hope that some of you may chime in if you saw any of these shows, or saw these bands during this short era.

Donovan/HP Lovecraft/Mother Earth Thanksgiving Weekend 1967
The first one is actually one I didn't go to, but Martha did! I never got to see HP Lovecraft, and always wished I had. I remember hearing Bill Graham talk about what a shame they broke up so early.

This was during the height of Donovan's popularity. I asked Martha to share a few words about this concert, and here is what she remembers:

I went to the Winterland concert with my friend Jan Burton and Kate Meyers, who I believe were going to write a review for the high school newspaper. Jan's older brother drove us from San Jose to San Francisco. I knew the headliner was Donovan, who had some big hits (Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman), but didn't know the opening acts, H.P. Lovecraft and Mother Earth. We arrived from our suburban teenage world to a very strange scene--a big crowded concert, dark with a light show behind the bands on stage, lots of smoke in the air, loud music, dancing, no assigned seats. I remember Donovan had long hair, wore some kind of flowing robe, tossing flowers out to the crowd. It was a new concert experience for me, but was evidence of the new alternative music that we were listening to on the radio--KMPX on the FM dial.

Mothers/Tim Buckley/Chambers Bros
Winterland, December 1967
This was my first concert of any kind or size, and quite mindblowing. The only group I was familiar with at the time was The Chambers Bros. At this point in time, "Time Has Come Today" was out and out the most exciting thing being played on the radio, or just wafting out of record stores on Telegraph Ave. The stage was on the Eastern side of the room, and projection screens were hung all the way across the East and North side of the hall. Since I had no knowledge at the time of The Mothers or Tim Buckley, I don't have much in the way of specific memories. I have this image of Buckley wearing an oversized denim shirt, big head of hair hanging down over his face, as he strummed wildly on his acoustic 12-string. The crowd seemed much hipper and older than me (I was a high school senior at the time, just turned 17) and they seemed very knowledgeable about Zappa's music.

Chambers Bros/Sunshine Company/Siegel-Schwall
Fillmore Auditorium, January 1968
This was the second time I'd seen The Chambers Bros in an 8-month period of meteoric change. They were now headliners, and dressed more in the hippie fashion than the first time I saw them, when they were in more traditional sharp looking suits. The Sunshine Company was somewhat out of place, being a hit-single type of group, sandwiched in between the bluesy Siegel-Schwall band and the hyper-hot Chambers Bros. in the intimate confines of the small Fillmore.

John Mayall/Arlo Guthrie/Loading Zone
Fillmore February 1968
What a concert. At the time, what John Mayall meant to me was Peter Green's "The Supernatural," my favorite guitar instrumental of all time. But Peter had left the band, and his replacement was Mick Taylor. Yes, that Mick Taylor, future Rolling Stones guitarist. It should be noted, that during this whole era, there were usually 3 bands, and each band did two sets! The Loading Zone was new to me, and looked totally un-rockstarish, but they really cooked. Arlo's sets were really good. I saw him wandering in the back room between sets later that night. John Mayall's sets were just basically a long blues groove. At one point he pulled some old black blues guy from the audience to come up and jam with him. They were still playing at 2 AM, when we left to go pickup some friends, including Lori Englefried, who had been waiting outside the Avalon for me to get there! I still apologize to Lori everytime I see her at our high school reunion! I didn't get home until 3 AM, and was grounded for a while!

Cream/James Cotton/Jeremy and the Satyrs/Blood Sweat and Tears
Winterland March 1968
Fortunately, after a couple of months, my parents let me go out again to a concert. This was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, obviously, Cream was the hot thing then, and this was the concert they recorded Wheels of Fire at. Also, this was the West Coast debut of Blood Sweat and Tears, who were descended from The Blues Project, and there was a lot of hoopla about them. It was great to see James Cotton, the classic Chicago blues harmonica player, the real deal, sandwiched between the generation-younger white bands. Cream was excellent, but my memories are hard to separate from the live album I've listened to a jillion times. What I do remember was that the horns in BS&T were so loud, some of my friends (Jeff Gossett among them) bailed during the second set, and missed Cream's 2nd set rather than sit through the horns again! I do remember Al Kooper standing on stage, playing his SG real loud, doing "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know."

Chambers Bros/Albert King/Richie Havens Winterland May 1968
You may notice the poster says Buffalo Springfield. They unfortunately had just broken up, and Albert King played instead. The Chambers Bros were again red hot. At this time, it was somewhat typical for the audience to sit on the floor during the set. When The Chambers Bros played, however, everyone stood up and danced! Richie Havens was excellent, and Albert King's Flying V, coming out of his huge Acoustic amp (you know, the one with the horn on top!) just sliced through air in his classic Live Wire/Blues Power style!

Big Brother/Richie Havens/Illinois Speed Press
Fillmore West, July 1968
While I have memories of Big Brother being OK, and Richie Havens acting really stoned, what I really remember about this night was what happened to my car. Earlier on the way to the concert, we drove my MG sedan through the Haight, and there was a lot of police there. Apparently some sort of riot was going on at the time. When I got back to my car, parked in a nearby alley, my car had been broken into, but nothing taken. Rumors of policemen breaking into cars were rampant, but I never quite understood what was going on. Strange days indeed.

Chambers Bros/Charlatans/Queen Lily Soap
Fillmore West August 1968
When I attended my first concert back in December, The Chambers Bros were third on the bill. Now I was seeing them for the third time as a headliner, and the line waiting to get in was really long. Now at the Fillmore West, the crowd was wearing lots of Nehru jackets and peace medallions. At this show, they played selections from their next album, A New Time - A New Day, which is sadly out of print. Smokin' versions of "I Can't Turn Your Loose," and "I Wish It Would Rain" stand out.

The Charlatans, which at the time featured a soon to go solo Dan Hicks, played their old-timey stuff, featuring songs such as "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" and "Alabama Bound."

For some reason, all I remember about Queen Lily Soap was the guitarist had frizzy hair, and was left-handed. I guess I'll never know if that's true!

Chuck Berry/Steve Miller Band/Kensington Market
Fillmore West, September 1968
Chuck Berry is notorious for using any band of locals as his backup band when he comes to town. But for these shows, his backup band was most excellent indeed! This was the original 5-piece Miller band with Boz Scaggs, who I did not really appreciate of course at that time! This was before Sailor came out, but they did preview "Livin' in the USA" for us that night. I remember during the Berry portion of the show (Boz not in backup band) Chuch egged Steve into a guitar duel. At first, Stevie Guitar demurred, rather than offend a living legend. But soon lick-trading ensued, and Miller was beyond up to the task. Eventually when Berry could no longer keep up, he wave him away, and duck-walked across the stage away from him! [note: I saw the 3-man Miller band later at Fillmore West, but can't find the poster art I remember. Perhaps I just don't remember the other bands that night!]

Jefferson Airplane/Ballet Afro Haiti/AB Skhy
Fillmore West, October 1968
I must've been home for the weekend from UCSB, and I remember arriving late, not knowing who was on stage, or what I'd missed. I did see this guy with long blond hair on stage, but when they started to play an electrifying cover of Fred Neil's "Other Side of This Life," I knew that guy with the long blond hair was Jack Casady, and that the Airplane was on stage!

Again, I was lucky enough to be at a concert that would be recorded, and eventually came out as Bless Its Pointed Little Head, which I think is one of the best live albums ever. Once again though, my specific memories, except for the opening notes, are mixed with repeated listenings to the album.

Ten Years After/Spirit/Country Weather
Fillmore West, March 1969
Perhaps I was home on Spring Break, but I remember going with my roommate Chris Torlakson, Linda Melin, and some friends from Daly City of Chris'.

I definitely remember this concert. Alvin Lee was the awesome speed demon of blues guitar back then, and this was before he became a big star vis-a-vis Woodstock. [on a side note, I stumbled into him years later at the New Orleans NAMM show, all alone in the Tokai booth, working for the Japanese musical instrument company. I told him about seeing him at this concert!] Also memorable was how the bass player, Leo Lyon, would over-emote his playing, even with the two-note "Spoonful!"

Of note were the two sets by Spirit. The first set was a total knockout, with all their hits of the time, and they really cooked. When they did the beginning of "It's All The Same," with that Theremin-sounding intro, it was so loud, that when it bottomed out, it sounded like a bomb went off! Their second set was way too spacy, and they never seemed to get it going again.

Butterfield/Bloomfield/Birth Fillmore West, March 1969
I'm not quite sure how I got back to the Fillmore West a couple of weeks later for this show, but back then, a student could fly standby from Santa Barbara for almost nothing! I had never seen the original Buttefield Blues Band with Mike Bloomfield, so this was a treat. At this time, music critic Ralph J Gleason put Bloomfield in the top pantheon of guitarists, and Bloomfield's passing was a real tragedy.

In a related coincidence, I was recently having lunch with our future in-laws, and saw this poster on the wall in Reno!

I have no specific memories, except that I was very impressed with Bloomfield's sense of touch on the guitar, a true master.

Ten Years After/Ike and Tina Turner/The Flock Fillmore West, July 1969
Having survived my first year away at college, Here I was seeing Ten Years After again. What Bill Graham was great at doing back then was exposing his clientele, which was primarily young and white, to musicians they might not normally get a chance to see. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue was so cool. This was the first time I saw them (I think I saw them also at UCSB) and they really knocked me out with their energy. It was kind of an echo of the Chambers Bros earlier, in that this time the band was all decked out in matching suits. The next time would be quite different.

It's A Beautiful Day/Ike & Tina Turner/Alice Cooper Fillmore West, end of October 1969
Looking back after 40 years, three months would seem like a quick flash in time, but much was happening at the time in Ike and Tina's world. This was an entirely new show, and they were debuting covers of the Beatles' "Come Together" and CCR's "Proud Mary" before they would release these versions on vinyl. The band was now dressed very casually, and the crowd loved them.

All I knew of Alice Cooper at the time, was that they were somehow associated with Frank Zappa. This was indeed the presaging of a new era in rock shows, as this was the first time a band eschewed the normal light show, and used dramatic lighting that I had seen. They had bright spotlights at the foot of the stage that projected stark shadows on the rear wall; it was really rather shocking at the time!

Beautiful Day was excellent, but what I mainly remember is that at the beginning of the second set (remember, this is the 6th set of the night!) I scored a seat on one of the couches in the back of the room, and all I remember is the start of the song "Bulgaria," with the words

When you're in a dream...

The next thing I remember is one of the Fillmore guards waking me up, saying something like "Party's over, can't stay here, gotta go home!"

The Closing of The Fillmore West
Boz Scaggs/Cold Blood/Flamin' Groovies/Stoneground
June 30 1970
I think I'll stop with this one. This was definitely a beginning and an end for me. This was the only show of the last week of shows I saw when Bill Graham decided to stop the concerts. It really seemed the end of an era. I had recently dropped out of school, and had just moved in with my friends Jack and Kate on Miramar St. in the Ingleside. This was practically my first night in San Francisco as a resident!

I have seen Boz countless times, but I do remember this show. His band was the one from the Moments album, and the FM hit at the time was "We Were Always Sweethearts." This show was right in my wheelhouse, as Boz, Cold Blood, and Tower of Power were three of the records that drew me to leave school and move back to the Bay Area. After all, the last song I played on the turntable before I drove away was the closer from Boz's album, "Can I Make It Last, Or Will It Just Be Over?" Cold Blood was exciting, and tight, and for a special treat at the end of the night, they had an all star jam, with Taj Mahal on vocals.

Yes indeed, there were some nice shows back then. I don't think it was all just my imagination.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Definition of Insanity

I had no idea who first said "The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result." A quick web search says Einstein, with some sources saying Ben Franklin, and yet others claiming neither. It's not really important who said it, or if it's even true. I imagine the medical community has a different definition altogether.

But, I do have to tell you, it makes me crazy!

After the last 8 years of tax break mania, not to mention those 8 painful years of Reaganomics, it's just making me bananas to hear these idiots in the House and Senate who worship Jabba the Limbaugh keep talking about how they don't like Obama's stimulus package because it has too much spending, and not enough tax cuts! Jeebus! What the hell do they think stimulus is? This is like rolling that rock up the hill over and over and over...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Undiscovered Country

Are We There Yet?

When the day finally came for Barack Obama to become our 44th President, it unfolded with a lot of positive energy I hadn't foreseen. I knew I'd be happy, but the incredible outpouring of emotion and joy that enveloped every available square inch of Washington D. C. just floored me. I was out of town this last weekend, and missed the big Sunday musical celebration, but eventually watched it online. It's odd that with just a simple exorcism via the ballot, the mood of the country could change so dramatically. The symbolism of the performances on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was striking. Video clips of Marian Anderson, Martin Luther King, and JFK were counterpoints to young and old musical artists singing classics. I was particularly moved to see the old Sam Cooke song, A Change is Gonna Come. It was great to see U2 do Pride (In the Name of Love), which was originally dedicated to MLK, done in front of the huge seated statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Obama's acceptance speech was not the second coming of the Gettysburg Address, nor was it meant to be. It was a direct communiqué to all of us that the day had come, and that the change we'd all been waiting for was going to happen through our own hands, and that the government would not be a thing of alienation, but an extension of the will and needs of the people. While his first words were gracious ones, directed at ex-president Bush (jeez, it feels good to say 'ex-president Bush!') but soon heard in no uncertain terms that there was a new sheriff in town, and America would no longer be operating under the same old patterns of politics and power.

Before today, I'd heard some snickering remarks about the phrase "Be the change," but today, that seems real to me, and what it's all about, and also how it must be the way things will work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Odd Couple: Barack Obama and Rick Warren

Does this make me an apologist?
On January 20, Rick Warren will give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. This has caused much uproar, outcry, and gnashing of teeth in the progressive and gay communities, for obvious reasons.

Four years ago, I wrote about my dislike for Rick Warren. My distress over the passage of California's Proposition 8 is just as public. I have been solidly in Obama's camp since the Dead's endorsement back in February.

So...what's the deal here with Rick Warren?

In a recent, well-written column by Jon Carroll in the Chronicle, called The Purpose-Driven Bigot, Carroll totally, and logically describes why inviting Rick Warren was such a mistake. I couldn't disagree with any of it, and especially resonated with this statement:
It was an easy trap to avoid, is what I'm saying. It was an easy statement to refrain from making. But Obama has chosen to start his administration with a bigot addressing God on behalf of the American people. Not the change I was hoping for.

So..what's the deal here with Rick Warren?

Why would I dare touch this? Perhaps the same stupidity that prevents me from being silent when I should just stifle; who knows? But I think there's something extra going on here. Perhaps I just want my heroic image of Obama to be vindicated, and not dragged down into some sort of crass political expediency. I don't think Obama is throwing gays under the bus by any means. I see revisionists laying the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy towards gays in the military at Bill Clinton's feet, but I feel that's unfair. Clinton tried to do away with discrimination against gays in the military, but ran into such a buzzsaw, DADT was forged in the process of compromise.

I think that what's going on here is that Obama is trying to bring two disparate worlds together, to see and experience each other.

To progressives like myself, the issue of marriage equality is a no-brainer, and just another in a long line of examples of why church and state need to be kept separate. There's nothing vague about this. But to many people, who may have voted for Proposition 8, they may have a different reality. Some of them are outright homophobes, but I supect many of them are just out of touch, and have not been able to see our gay brothers and sisters as, well, simply our brothers and sisters. I heard one commentator on the radio say that if everyone had been to one of the same-sex marriages that went on recently in California, the vote would have been different. I truly believe that. When one can put a face to 'the other' it is no longer 'the other.'

In short, what I think Obama is doing is bringing two worlds together to try and work it out. I think this falls under the You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar philosophy. It's sort of like a time warp. If we were to look at ourselves a century ago, there are many aspects of our lives we would all (hopefully!) agree have no place in the modern world. I think in most respects, many evangelicals are good people, but are still in a mindset that blinds them to the consequences of their actions. If Obama can bring us together, could we indeed 'work it out?'

Hey, it's not even January 20th yet! I prefer to give Obama the benefit of the doubt at this point.

All good things in all good time.