A quick note on the memorials for Prof. Lindon Barrett

Tomorrow is the first of two memorials to Prof. Barrett being held in Southern California. My full post on Prof. Barrett can be read here. The memorial information from there, slightly edited:

The UCI memorial details, as posted on the African American Studies site:


Directions to the Alumni House are available here. A link to a campus map is included. UCI Parking information can be found here.

The UCR memorial details for Prof. Barrett:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Location: Alumni & Visitor’s Center

Parking Information

Open to: Public
Admission: Free
Sponsor: English Department

Contact Information:
Susan Brown
(951) 827-1456


My thanks again to Marie S. for providing this information.

Storm clouds and sunrise

Today, as you might have noted, was a rather busy day in terms of things like politics, economics and more besides.

This morning, though, I thought instead about how lucky I was to be able to see a sight like this — a combination of unstable air and the season leading to a spectacular display of lightning and rain in the distance on my way in to work.

Perspective is all. As I said over on Facebook today, I am neither Chicken Little nor Pollyanna, and I’m content to stay that way, open-eyed to the various oddities of the world but seeking to draw on that which is good in it at the same time.

Onward and along. Another busy week at work calls, but we’ll see how it all goes.

RIP Paul Newman

Though not for the reasons you might think. Or maybe so anyway.

The first thing I thought of when hearing the news this morning was that my parents would be sad to hear the news. Some cultural figures, no matter how long lasting, how notable their continuing presence, are associated most closely with a time, place and generation, and while Newman continued to work ever more sporadically over time as I grew up and became aware of him, I was also aware that he was an inherited figure for me, somebody who had made his impact in earlier times, before I was born and in my earliest years.

Reading some of the comments over on ILX has been helpful — Drew Daniel, in a brief comment, noted, “His performances in “Hud” and “Cat on A Hot Tin Roof” have always meant a lot to me, his kind of masculinity is missing nowadays from Hollywood.” This seems as good a read as any, and other comments in the prepared obits now surfacing on the news sites mention his aptitude for playing anti-heroes, characters going against various kinds of grains. I think it’s interesting to note a potentially unconscious but extremely deft character choice on his part: whereas Robert Redford, perhaps his most famous acting partner thanks to the one-two punch of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, played a role glorifying the press in All the President’s Men, Newman ended up playing in Absence of Malice, a much different film. And this some years after having ended up on Nixon’s enemies list, something which Newman apparently took a lot of pride in (who could blame him? talk about a compliment!).

Butch Cassidy is I suppose my favorite film by him but as I said in turn on ILX, “I don’t have a defining performance in my head to draw on as being a favorite; I’d say he was more someone who transcended film if that makes any sense. Obviously his public profile vis-a-vis politics and philanthropy was a large part of that.” He wasn’t quite famous for being famous but he ended up pretty close — and for me it was, indeed, down to the salad dressing in terms of how I first really got to know him. It was introduced while I was living in upstate New York, and since Newman famously lived not too far away in Connecticut it felt like a bit of regional support, in a way. The eyecatching woodcut-style illustration of his face — his famously handsome, eye-catching calling card — was clearly meant to be the selling point above all else for the first time buyer.

But as was stated right from the start, the whole point of the Newman’s Own enterprise wasn’t to make a mint for himself — and with that first dressing as the start and a slew of other food products to follow, a nice combination between mass market and the kind of stuff that Trader Joe’s would eventually fully popularize, good down-the-middle efforts that weren’t hypergourmet but were no slouches either, he raised a huge amount of bank for a variety of causes. I’ve spoken before about my thoughts on charity but it strikes me that Newman’s approach wasn’t a bad one at all, and it would have been both personally and professionally satisfying to see it grow the way it has, and to know that it’s left in good hands.

Is my interest in food derived in part from all this? I wouldn’t say so, the initial seeds were already in place when I was smaller, but in retrospect I see now that the growth of Newman’s food interests from personal gifts to the enterprise that it is is something that comes from similar sources. One loves what one creates, so why not share? The killer motto of the company — “Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the Common Good” — says it all, with wit, knowledge and awareness, that the common good can be found both in the support to those in need the company stands for as much as in the good cuisine one can enjoy or contribute to.

This story from the Hartford Courant celebrates the food aspect of his life and work, and is worth a read. I’ll end with a quote from it, and a thanks to him for setting what strikes me all in all as a good example — to explore and create and try many things in life, and to not be defined simply by the one thing you are most well known for.

To a younger generation, Paul Newman wasn’t Butch Cassidy or Cool Hand Luke or Fast Eddie Felson. He was a witty guy who ran a food company that made popcorn, salsa and spaghetti sauce.


The actor was a hands-on director of the company, whether the task was taste-testing new products or presiding over the finals of a Newman’s Own recipe contest.

“He really loved good food, so he was really involved in the business,” said Kirsten McKamy, who worked for Newman’s Own for eight years. “He wasn’t just a figurehead; he came up with ideas.”


The chef marveled at Newman’s accomplishments not only in the arts but also in the fields of food, business, philanthropy and auto racing. “It’s almost unfathomable that one human can have that much reach,” he said. “But the interesting thing is, when you take all that away, he’s just a normal guy. He loves things like having a ham salad, riding a bicycle, ordering eggs over the counter at a diner. He loves the notion of Americana and America, in the sense of that Norman Rockwell time.”

Nischan, who spoke with great respect for the actor, said he was thankful for the opportunity to be witness to Newman’s ability to dream of new ideas, to articulate those ideas and to his sense of humor.

Speaking about Newman a few months before his death, McKamy also remembered the actor’s wit. Her boss was a man with a “very dry sense of humor” and who thought before he spoke. “He is a man of few words, but the words he comes out with are perfectly chosen.”

Would we were all so fortunate. It’s good to reflect on somebody who was, and didn’t keep it to himself. RIP, and thanks.

My one brief thought on the first 2008 presidential debate

At some point this evening Devo made perfect sense:

Don’t take the theater of the debates to mean anything more than that. Though that said, next Thursday’s theater will be of the Grand Guignol variety.

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Up at the Quietus — a brief Melvins/ATP piece

Did the interview with Buzz O. while he was out on the road with the band — more staccato than the Metal Edge piece I did with him and I’m not entirely happy with my writing on this one. But you can be the judge!

A brief reflection on time in the political sense


Four weeks ago, Barack Obama delivered a big ol’ speech to a big ol’ bunch of people, while there were some tiny initial rumors about a plane flight from Alaska.

Seems like a thousand years ago now, yes?

And it’s STILL not October.

I’ve been saying this privately for a bit but I figure I can put it on the blog too. Back on September 3, I said this:

I predict Palin will make a firecracker of a speech tonight that will be welcomed with huge applause and cheers by the crowd. And I suspect that will be the highlight of her entire time as vice-presidential nominee.

I feel my prediction was far too limiting. It’s turning out to be the GOP’s highlight of the year in general.

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“There was still a chance of making a profit. Now, it’s doubtful.”

Will be a busy day for me already, I can tell, but anyone interested in the economics of music in America — or, indeed, the economy — would do well to read this Idolator post that just went up courtesy of Lucas Jensen, talking specifically about how the ‘you-make-your-money-on-tour’ model of bands’ surviving these days is taking a major hit. This isn’t just a simple rant or observation, but a detailed breakdown and invitation to ask for more data. Absolutely essential. To quote a chunk:

More and more of my artists were telling me that they had to work a day job and couldn’t hit the road. At first, I thought they were missing out on golden opportunities. Hit the road! Make new fans! Do it the way our indie forefathers did it! But these days, a day job seems like a way to go. Unless someone provides me with a statistic that people are going out to shows more, I’m gonna assume that they aren’t. Going out costs more for music consumers: ticket prices are higher, traveling costs are higher… hell, beer costs are higher. Bands have to ask more from clubs. Clubs have to charge customers more to cover the bands, etc., etc. It’s a downhill slide that ends with the music consumer eating a load of crap.

And that’s all before the hard data gets posted. Give it a read, and also read Kate Richardson’s piece and linked article from yesterday.

To Senator John McCain, Esq.

…let me get this straight.

You survived life in the Naval Academy as a plebe. (As did my dad, for instance.) It’s not the bowels of hell or anything, but even so, it lasts a full year, for instance.

You survived imprisonment and torture by the North Vietnamese for years. Not something I would wish on anyone. Only fools would say otherwise.

You spent decades negotiating the thicket of politics in general. Decades, sir.

The election will be concluded in a few weeks from now, no more. And you’re not on the Senate Finance Committee, it should be noted. And you have a debate scheduled in two days’ time.

So today this comes along.

Senator, full presidential campaigns have been mounted in wartime and have always occurred without a problem. Even during the Civil War. They’ve been run during world wars, during depressions, during times of general unrest.

And you do this.

Enjoy whatever cheap points you’ve scored. Who knows, maybe they’ll be enough in the end. I have my hunch otherwise, though.

I will, though, say this — you could always send Palin to face Obama on Friday. That could be fun. I’d laugh.

I wouldn’t be alone, either.

[EDIT — and after seeing this clip, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t be alone.]

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To anyone attending the upcoming My Bloody Valentine shows

A little warning. A note of caution.

I should have said something about this a while back. But in seeing the various texts and messages and status updates all around over the past few days, there’s a specific theme running through them all, and it is, at base:

“These guys are LOUD!”

Yes. Yes they are.

Please reread my Marooned piece if you like, but more appropriately, I think, read Alex in NYC’s blog about seeing them then and seeing them again the other day. To quote him:

Even from where I was standing (parallel to the soundboard, yet frustratingly far from the bar), I was forced to gaze at my own shoes in a vain attempt to stop my retinas from immolating. Being up front also won’t do you any favors in terms of the band’s penchant for…


Listen, if a venue is giving out free earplugs as you walk in, this should be giant clue as to what awaits you. If you weren’t bright enough to bring them along with you, seize the opportunity at the door. You WILL need them. You WILL regret it if you don’t have them.

And if you choose to ignore that advice, don’t come crying to me.

(I wore earplugs both times I saw them in 1992. And I was and am very very glad I did so.)

Positive results from the Metrolink Chatsworth crash

Since I first heard about the crash, I’ve been hoping something good would come out of it, and buried in all the news about the bailout and whatever else was going on yesterday was a Congressional hearing headed up by Senators Feinstein and Boxer, with some necessary grilling taking place. Regrettably I was too busy at work to throw up a live link to the hearing and there’s no full transcript available yet to my knowledge, but both senators have info on their sites linked above, while the Bottleneck Blog has some relevant links to prepared statements and this full LA Times story provides a general summary.

The key things to note:

Spurred by the deadly head-on crash of two trains in Chatsworth, congressional negotiators agreed Tuesday to a groundbreaking rail safety reform bill requiring many passenger and freight trains to be equipped with technology that can automatically prevent collisions.


The compromise legislation will be put to a vote in the House today and then go to the Senate before Congress is scheduled to adjourn Friday.

The bill would provide $50-million to help pay for the technology, cap the number of hours that freight train crews could work each month at 276 hours — the current limit is more than 400 hours — and require the U.S. Department of Transportation to draw up limits for passenger crews. In addition, the bill would require the Federal Railroad Administration to add safety workers.

Nothing to object to in any of this, I think. It’s good to keep in mind that this is neither an exact guarantee against a repeat of something like this, nor meant to be an immediate fix (Feinstein herself is quoted at her frustration that the deadline will be 2015). But it’s a recognition that standards need to be improved where possible, and there now seems to be a broader consensus in accepting the positive train control technology standard. At the least, it puts David Solow’s previous — and admittedly, pre-crash — argument about ‘flexibility’ to bed once and for all. (Also, $50 million is chump change against $700 billion, say.)

There were some tart words from both Feinstein and Boxer about it all, too — reminds me why I enjoy having them as my senators:

The senators repeatedly expressed frustration over the fact that in Southern California, Metrolink and Union Pacific have to rely solely on single engineers as the last defense against collisions.

Rail industry officials said the most advanced technology is not yet developed enough to dependably work in Southern California’s complex web of passenger and freight traffic.

“I can’t understand it, I can’t be sympathetic with it,” Feinstein said during the briefing. “It’s an incredible frustration to say you can continue to operate passenger and freight on the same single track with no collision-avoidance system.”


Boxer questioned [Joseph H. Boardman, head of the Federal Railroad Administration] about what he could do immediately to help improve safety on rail lines in Southern California.

Unsatisfied with Boardman’s answer that he couldn’t do anything dramatic immediately, Boxer replied: “So you can’t do anything about safety?” then added a few moments later “What powers do you have? What’s your job? You’re sitting there saying you can’t tell them to do anything?. . . . You have the power, you don’t want to do it, you’d rather work with the railroads.”


Feinstein left the hourlong hearing clearly exasperated with what she heard, calling the Federal Railroad Administration “an old boys’ club” in an interview.

“I think they sit down and talk to the railroads,” Feinstein said. “I think they do what the railroads want.”

In a statement after congressional negotiators had agreed on the rail safety bill, Boxer noted that, “The Federal Railroad Administrator has the ability under this bill to speed up the timeline” for the installation of automatic breaking systems, “and I trust he will do it.”

One does trust.

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