April 25, 2014

Beatniks, Hippies and computer geeks

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:27 pm

Nerd Life

While the whole world waits for Vladimir Putin to heed President Obama’s urgings to pull his troops back from the Ukrainian border, management has requested that this week’s column ignore the possibility of a foreign policy disaster and write one that features innocuous items and so it came to pass that the World’s Laziest Journalist was awarded a one day all expenses paid excursion to San Francisco to gather material and do some fact checking. We haven’t heard conservative talk show host Michael Savage for quite awhile but he used to be terrified that San Francisco values would metaphorically do to America’s collective code of ethics what the black plague did for Europe’s population of peons a few centuries back. With the proliferation of gay marriages and the growing success of the legalize pot movement, he must be much more frantic these days.  We thought a walkabout look at his hometown might be fun.

Last Sunday, the advocates of legalized marijuana gathered around Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park and expressed their view on the topic by committing the infraction of smoking pot. Fifty years ago when the Jefferson Airplane, the Hair soundtrack album, and Santana were all the rage, pot was a hot topic. Some folks thought that life in prison for one joint in Texas was excessive and that using Agent Orange wasn’t.

We headed right for the North Beach area that was home to the beatniks and hippies. We squeezed into the Space Between art gallery and learned from artist Chris Farris that a local political dispute was going global. A petition critical of efforts to put a fence around Huntington Park (Google hint: Huntington Park fence petition) has drawn responses from around the world. The board of Supervisors has indicated that only local

registered voters should be counted as valid signatures, but the petition posse maintains that in a city that is saturated with tourist attractions and visitors from far far away, the opinion of someone living in Ulan Bator (formely Urga) should also count.

Speaking of going global it seems that Smart Car tipping (the urban equivalent of cow tipping?), which got started in San Francisco, is showing up elsewhere and is rapidly becoming a trendy world wide prank.

While walking from the Little Italy section towards Fisherman’s Wharf, we noticed La Rocca’s Corner bar, which promotes itself as the “Home of Rugby in San Francisco.” We ducked in and, knowing that restrooms are always for “customers only,” inquired if someone who knows who the All Blacks (New Zealand’s highly regarded rugby team) are could use the rest room. The bar tender said “sure!” Since he had a great radio voice we decided to linger and buy a glass of ginger ale and chat.

We were informed that local legendary columnist Herb Caen wasn’t the universally admired personality that he claims to have been. Our bartend told the story about the time the columnist went into Harrington’s and ordered a drink, Caen’s bar tender (now standing in front of us) informed him of the price and he responded “I’m Herb Caen.” After being charged for the drink, he wrote derogatory remarks about the bar and advised his readers to patronize a nearby competitor. (And you thought columnists were inconsequential?)

We asked if locals, such as the barkeep and the owner, objected to “Frisco” as the slang term for Fog City and were informed that during WWII many soldiers (such as the owner’s father) from San Francisco were assigned the nickname “Frisco.” They shrugged their shoulders and said “We don’t care.” They added that the only person who objected to the sobriquet was Herb Caen who was from Sacramento. They added a vulgar assessment of the man who claimed the title of “Mr. San Francisco.” It is our understanding that Caen recanted and sanctioned the moniker very late in his life.

We saw what is allegedly the world’s only steam powered motor cycle at the Musee Mecanique.

As we headed back to the BART for transportation back to Berkeley, we encountered a group of adults in pirate attire. They were playing a game (at noontime on a regular working day) and while we were urging them to read our online columns to impress our editor with our popularity, they spotted Batman and went running after him like (dare I say it?) bats out of hell. We had not gone a block further when we encountered a pack of cats playing the same game.

If San Francisco is going to become a bellwether for the USA, perhaps we will have to do some future columns that examine the wider implications of the fact that voter subsidies for professional sports team owners may have met their Waterloo at San Francisco’s recent Embarcadero arena fiasco.

The San Francisco and Oakland football, basketball, and baseball teams are playing cities off against each other in an effort to get the biggest and best deals from their hometown. If San Francisco can’t come up with new economic advantages and incentives, well then maybe San Jose can.

As long as the teams stay where they are, the wheeling and dealing doesn’t matter to team fans and the political wonks have enough on their plates already and don’t have the time to read up on the political backroom strategies needed by anxious politicians who want the sports fans who are registered voters to stay content.

Rent affects all Golden State tenants and San Francisco’s battles over the Ellis Act might change the game completely. Hence it makes sense for groups such as the Marina (del Rey) Tenants Association to read up on and be well informed about the changes to the Ellis Act that are being urged by San Francisco landlords.

The mid term elections are a bit more than six months away and the Presidential election is about two and a half years down the road. Long and intricate assessments of the local stories can not be used for the entire intervening time frame at a time when skim reading is gaining popularity. Run more than one extended analysis of the problem and it is very likely the regular readers will become bored and restless.

The World’s Laziest Journalist will have to intersperse team moves, rent control, and fencing off public parks with more frivolous items such as asking: “If Golden Boy’s pizza isn’t proclaimed the best, then why is it the most popular?” (Could the locals bar’s genial atmosphere be the answer?)

We understand that our alma mater has an chapter of the alumnae society based in San Francisco and that makes us wonder why in the era of computer doesn’t the college website have a way to list all the class members of every year’s graduating classes with an asterisk by the names of each class member who is known to have gone on ahead to the great lecture hall in the sky? That, in turn, makes us wonder: Do the underachievers live longer? Does some institution of higher learning need to do a study on that very question?

The hopes for finding survivors in the Korean boat tragedy are fading rapidly but didja know that after the U. S. S. Arizona was sunk at Pearl Harbor rescue workers reported that responses to their banging on the pipes were heard until after New Year’s Day?

We picked up the latest copy of SF Weekly that asserts on the cover that smartphone theft is “a billion-dollar part of the business model” for the various companies associated with that product.

In addition to the challenge of keeping the audience amused and entertained until the electronic voting machines deliver the indisputable election results to a world wide audience breathlessly awaiting the loser’s concession speech, the World’s Laziest Journalist makes an effort to take photos that will draw more eyes to the weekly example of gonzo punditry.

[Note from the Photo editor: Some of the participants in the 4-20 festivities embraced Scott McKenzie’s decades old advice: “If you’re going to San Francisco, wear a flower in your hair.”]

While we were looking for items to use in this column, we learned that there was a search/contest that was looking for stories using just 10 words or less. (Google hint: gothamwriters dot com forward slash tenwordstory) Their contest was inspired by the legend that Hemingway won a bet about such a short story. His entire story will serve as our closing quote: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.”

Now the disk jockey will play Apogee Sound Club’s song “Norfoked,” Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and Moby Grape’s “Trucking Man.” We have to go see “Finding Vivian Maier.” Have a “Decisive Moment” type week.

April 11, 2014

Tanks, cars, and books

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:27 pm


Napoleon learned the hard way that waging war during winter in Russia is a brutal ordeal.  Hitler disregarded his military advisors advice and dawdled for a few weeks before implementing their strategy.  The postponement caused the German army to relearn Napoleon’s military lesson that was readily available in the history books.

American news reporters and political pundits apparently aren’t aware that Vladimir Putin would be much more versed in Russian history than they are and led their audiences to think that after the winter games were concluded the Russian leader would immediately make a military move in the Ukraine.  The American journalists’ eager anticipation of doing voiceovers for dramatic video of new hostilities in that region is getting bogged down in the spring thaw mud.

If the newsies would read up on military history they could sound authoritative and knowledgeable if they advised their audience to expect any military movement in late spring or very early summer.  Televised news thrives on expediency and so they disregard practical considerations and emphasis that Putin could send troops into the Ukraine any minute rather than taking the spring thaw into account.

[For a different perspective on Putin try reading Christian Neef’s commentary “It’s time to stop romanticizing Russian” in the English language section of Der Spiegel’s web site.]

Some folks think that a guy who was community organizer will not be pushed around by a former KGB agent who was born in Leningrad.  This columnist is prepared to bet otherwise.

While we are waiting for the news readers’ time schedule for life-and-death drama to unfold on dry ground, we seized an opportunity to see the exhibition of French Impressionist paintings at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco while simultaneously reading Christopher Moore’s speculative fiction novel “Sacré Bleu” about the same group of famous artists.

The San Francisco show may lure some French Impressionist enthusiasts from “shakey town” up to the Bay area just to see that particular exhibition and we don’t think they will be disappointed by the effort.  It is closer and cheaper than a trip to Paris, eh?

Since Christopher Moore is publicizing his newest book, “Serpent of Venice,” and he is coming to the Bay area to do a book signing event at 7 p.m., at Books Inc. on April 22 later this month, we sent him a suggestion that he might like to see the show at the Legion of Honor and we are attempting to perhaps interview him while he is in Frisco, so that we can get some exclusive information which will give us another chance to plug his newest novel again in a future column.

While sensation seeking journalists eagerly anticipate Putin’s next move, for columnists, April is a smorgasbord of topics.  The Titanic, the century old run-up to WWI, the similarity of events in the late Thirties to the show down in the Ukraine, and yet another chance to write about National Columnists’ Day (April 18) and see if we can enlist the aid once again of Jim Romenesko, who runs an “inside baseball” website for journalists, to help us in our annual effort to raise awareness of the date which marks the day when famed columnist Ernie Pyle was killed in action during WWII.

Meanwhile car enthusiasts are busy preparing to celebrate the Ford Mustang’s 50th birthday.

Since coast to coast journeys always get our attention, we will plug the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Beer Camp effort to promote a celebration of hand crafted beer even though we haven’t had a brew in several decades.  Do they need a designated driver/columnist?

Willie Nelson is famous for playing musical gigs at American Honkey Tonk bars and since he will be playing two shows at UCB’s Greek Theater this weekend, we will henceforth be tempted to think of the local world famous learning establishment as being “Honky Tonk U.”

The Ambush Review is holding a poetry reading at the Beat Museum in San Francisco on the night when this column will be posted and so we may feel obligated to cover the event in the hopes that it will become a milestone in literary history similar to another one  that happened in that same city many years ago.

This month we intend to do some fact checking on the pop culture beat to learn more about “the Spleen” from the Mystery Men.  It seems the fellow’s super abilities are unleashed when he gets a positive response to his signature challenge:  “Pull my finger!”

NBC has caused a sensation this week by starting a search for new sit-com talent by issuing an opportunity to make an online pitch.  (Google hint:  NBCComedyPlayground dot com)

War usually gets such bad publicity that we were very glad to see that the premise for the new book “The Love-charm of Bombs,” by Lara Feigel is that the Battle of Britain provided an exciting and romantic backdrop for Great Britain’s social elite to have extra-marital love affairs.  Wasn’t it called the “live life to the hilt” approach to contending with impending doom?

If American news media stations assign some correspondents to go to Perth to monitor the MH 370 search efforts, does that mean that they will, during the wait, be expected to start filing feature stories about the charms and tourist attractions available in the W. A.?  The million square mile state known as Western Australia is called “the W. A.” by locals.

Maybe some of the visiting journalists will note that a large number of local vehicles feature snorkels and that indicates a high likelihood for some freelance assignments from America’s 4wd publications?  What journalist doesn’t love the prospect of some extra loot via a bit of freelancing done on the side?

Speaking of “appropriate setting,” Kalgoorlie is the perfect place for an American to hear Bobby Bare’s “Five Hundred Miles” song.

Fans of the film “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” might want to read about the Prospectors’ Hall of Fame which is located in (relatively speaking) nearby Kalgoorlie.

[Note from the columnist:  We have been posting a column almost every week for 15 years but due to some temperamental vintage computer equipment, we might be forced to go AWAL one of these weeks.  We’ll start taking preventative measures, but there are no guarantees in life, eh?]

[Note from the photo editor:  We illustrated the 50th birthday for the Ford Mustang by running a file photo taken a few years back at the Los Angeles Shelby American Auto Club’s annual car show.]

In “hip: the history,” by John Leland, readers are informed that George W. S. Trow wrote:  “To wear a fedora, I must first torture it out of shape so that it can be cleaned of the embarrassment in it.”

The disk jockey will play Wilson’ Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” the theme music from “Un Homme et une Femme,” and Marianne Faithful’s “Ballad of Lucy Jordan.”  We have to go inquire about how to get a press pass to cover this year’s Le Mans 24 hour race.  Have a “why do we do this, Buzz?,” type week.

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