Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Them Ol' House-Sellin' Blues

A quick update on the houseselling front. We have had several open houses now, with varying degrees of interest. The first were attended mostly by neighbors. The most recent was hardly attended at all, but has generated the most serious interest. We ended up with a personal showing this afternoon and two tomorrow. We have been whipsawed so many directions emotionally during this time that we do not know whether to be cautiously optimistic or hopefully cautious anymore.

Ironically, an article about our community's real estate market came out in our local newspaper this week. The recent rate reductions by the Fed are some positive news, but mostly the news is bleak. It is my belief that this has helped contribute to an artificial standoff between buyers and sellers, in that buyers seem to be stuck on the notion that all news is equally bad everywhere, and that therefore all real estate is overpriced everywhere. Without making offers to prove the point, however, that is nothing more than empty rhetoric designed to make the seller bid against himself, not an open market in which the true value of the property can be ascertained.

Okay, so I'm a little tired of people coming to our 95-year-old house and saying in surprise, "ooh, it's old." Well, of course it is. When you saw the ad for the "1912 Craftsman," what exactly did you think those funny little numbers at the beginning meant? Age seems to be an excuse to automatically deduct sums from the perceived value of the home. Again, that's not a free exchange market, that's huffing and puffing. We just want someone to make a real offer. Then we'll see what the house is worth.

Today's Brainless Entertainment, Take 2

Just when you thought you had killed off all the bloons, they're back! I haven't had time to play this one yet, but rumor has it that the "hard" game is pretty tough. Go monkeys!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This Is Depressing

And I'm not even suffering this loss.

Here is a list of addresses of homes lost in Rancho Bernardo so far -- ten pages of them. It looks like some entire neighborhoods are gone.

Thick Skies Over SoCal

Here is a recent satellite radar image of southern California:

Despite what the legend says on the map, I assure you that this is not a record of rainfall. The smoke and ash is so thick that the radar interprets what it sees as rain.

The 250,000513,000+ people evacuated from their homes should be so lucky.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sherman Could Only Dream Of This

I've experienced a number of disasters in the years I have lived in Southern California: a huge earthquake, record-setting rains, catastrophic landlides, and fires. Lots of fires. We have had a couple in our local hills, but the big ones have usually been some distance away from the house, although close enough for the smoke to obscure the sun.

The fires seem to come in groups, and the gathering storm in Southern California today is scary in its breadth. What began yesterday as a fire in Malibu and a couple of fires in San Diego County has become a set of fires that threatens to jeopardize most of California south of Oxnard and stretch firefighting resources to the breaking point.

The fire in northern San Diego county has overtaken the more glamorously-sited Malibu fire as the true concern. Following a path similar to that of the Cedar Fire from a few years ago, a quarter of million people are under evacuation orders. This is a staggering number of people, many of whom already have no home to return to this evening. Many acquaintences of ours are among those who have been forced out of their homes today, with guarded hopes of being able to return a few days from now.

It now seems like fires are popping up all over the place. Fires have erupted in Lake Arrowhead, Irvine, and now Valencia, which is the first to directly threaten the San Fernando Valley.

So far, we are okay, as the Verdugo Hills have not caught fire. Yet. Like four years ago, our timeshare outside of Ramona is once again in the path of a big San Diego county fire. As of three months ago, the burn scars from the last fire were still clearly visible less than a mile from where we enjoy swimming, tennis and golf every once in while.

It is disconcerting being so far away from these events that are understandably dominating the news in SoCal. Here in the Bay Area, under spectacularly clear skies and mild temperatures, the fire story could be occurring anywhere else in the world for all of its lack of immediacy in the media (also understandable, I suppose). While I wish I were at home to keep a close eye on things, I'm glad I don't have to breath the smokey air.

If it were my home threatened, though, I would trade a few days of labored breathing for a nice big helicopter drop of water on my house.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Maestro, A Touch More Strings, Please

The musical score has been an important implement in the moviemaker’s toolbelt since before “movies” were “talkies.” In the hands of an unimaginative director who can only muster slavish adherence to convention, a score can give away the game, clumsily seeking to manipulate the viewer with too-overt foreshadowing. Talented filmmakers, however, such as Mr. Hitchcock to name one, can turn the score into a character all its own, bringing depth and meaning to the production wholly apart from, but in close coordination with, the visual images.

Francis Ford Coppola is one of those cineastes who has turned a score into its own, compelling character. The theme for The Godfather, composed by his father, is a theme that manages to contain within it all that is great and fascinating about those films. One need not have seen the movies (but if you haven’t, what wrong with you?) to hear in the melody the languid sunbaked hills of Sicily, the mourning what was left behind in the Old World coupled with the hope thought to exist in the New, and under it all, menace in the not-quite-major, not-quite-minor sequence. It is a beautiful little piece of music, used by Coppola to brilliant effect in the Godfather movies as the central conceit, the Maypole around which the story revolves.

Real life does not come with a musical score. Unlike the popcorn-noshing viewer in a darkened theater, we never receive advance warning from dour cellos that life is about to take a turn for the worse, nor does a crescendo of lush violins herald a romantic encounter.

As someone who believes and thinks about such things, then, I was not sure how to react when at lunch today the faint strains of the Godfather theme wafted through my local diner. Songs on a sound system I can understand. We hear songs everywhere. A score, though, can actually be experienced as an enhancing backdrop even to a scene in real life, since that is how it is used on screen. I allowed myself the brief, unsettling sensation of imagining that I had dropped into the movieworld of the Corleones, that in a moment Vito Corleone would shuffle in to buy some oranges. An amusing moment in the middle of an ordinary day. There is nothing quite like music that carries the potential to lift you out of your present and dispatch you to a world far away.

Of course, if the Darth Vader theme had come on, I would have scurried out the back door as fast as I could.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The End (of Social Security) Has Begun

The first Baby Boomer has applied for Social Security.

That sound you just heard was Gen-Xers running their annual Social Security statements through paper shredders, thereby dramatically increasing the value of their investment.

Friday, October 12, 2007

It's Time For Some October Baseball

This is why I love baseball. Without the “enlightened,” highly regulated salary cap approach of other major sports leagues (and the NHL, too), major league baseball has managed to put together a post-season dominated by solid, deserving teams that are nevertheless considered underdogs because of their finances.

The Cleveland Indians (23rd highest payroll out of 30 teams), Colorado Rockies (25th) and Arizona Diamondbacks (26th) have proven, yet again, that a team of highly motivated, talented young players can succeed against the teams that spend lavishly for established stars. This speaks well of the team nature of the sport of baseball, as well as for the intangible factor of team chemistry. It is often the case, as it is with each of these three teams, that the low-priced youngsters have played together for many years within the organization prior to getting to The Show. It may be anecdotal evidence, but the results are compelling. The happy result for fans is that we get to see young players who still love the game for what it is, not necessarily for what it can do for them. I defy to to not crack a smile when grown men, playing a boy's game, cheer for each other and their team's accomplishments as if they were still the boys that, in their hearts, they still are.

It is worth noting that so far in the playoffs, these teams have taken down the teams with the highest payroll (New York Yankees), the 8th highest (Chicago Cubs) and the 13th highest (Philadelphia Phillies).

Of course, each of these teams is likely to be crushed by the other team remaining in the playoffs, the Boston Red Sox (2nd highest payroll, who defeated the team with the 4th highest payroll, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, United States of America).

[Incidentally, one of the other major leagues of world sport that operates without a salary cap, the English Premier League, has come to a completely contrary result. English football is known by its “Big Four”: Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Spending money in quantities that make George Steinbrenner look like a penurious miser, those four clubs have rarely finished anywhere but the top four places since the Premier League came into existence in 1992. Oddly, English football fans seem to like it that way. If ManU ever goes into a rebuilding cycle, it is certain that scores of supporters will be found blundering about the stoops of pubs the world over, babbling incoherently about how the end is nigh, and that ol’ Sir Alex would nevah’d alloowed this ta ‘appen on ‘is watch.]

Monday, October 08, 2007

Missed It By That Much

I was just reflecting this morning, as I walked through the concourse of the Southwest terminal of the Oakland Airport for the fourth Monday morning in a row, that I have probably made more flights into and out of that airport than any other except Burbank. So my newfound familiarity with the place added to my surprise when I heard that the Oakland Airport was evacuated a couple of hours ago due to a bomb threat.

The Oakland Airport is an unspectacular facility, but it handles a tremendous volume of Southwest flights every day. This event will probably ruin Southwest's day across its entire schedule. I'm just glad I got through this morning before the place shut down.

I trust (hope) that, as with most disruptions of this nature, this ends up only being a scare and not a real threat.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Requiem For A Talent Wasted

Former U.S. Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones has confessed to using steroids prior to the 2000 Olympic Games. She raked in five medals, three of them gold, in dominating her competition in Sydney. Since then, however, her career has been dogged with suspicion that she was a steroid user. She was connected to BALCO, the organization at the center of the Barry Bonds story. Her ex-husband, a shotputter, was run out of the sport for doping. The father of her child, a sprinter, has been connected with BALCO and has been stripped of a world record as a result.

Through it all, Jones adamantly proclaimed her innocence. She even sued the founder of BALCO for defamation stemming from his identification of her as one athlete who was supplied with his company’s products. Today, she has confessed to lying to federal investigators in connection with a steroids investigation. In one stroke, she has confirmed the spread of BALCO’s influence, irreparably tarnished her legacy, and ended her career. Ironically, for someone raised in a town known primarily for its prison, Jones may now spend some time behind bars.

This story makes me sad, but not because of the admission of steroid use, which comes as no surprise, and not because the vehement denials turned out to be utter lies. The time has long since come to stop trusting what comes out of the mouths of star athletes who stand to lose millions of dollars in an instant if they do anything other than declare their innocence.

What saddens me in particular about this story is that I remember Marion Jones from long ago. I remember when she was a brilliant, gifted talent on the rise. She spent her high school years in Lompoc, just up the road from Santa Barbara during my time there. The local papers were full of her exploits as a prep-school track star. It was impossible to deny that her future was bright. She regularly dominated her competition; it is rare that Olympic greatness can be forecast with as much certainty as it was for Jones. She was a superior athlete, she was pretty, she had personality … great things were inevitable, and it was fun to have been there from the beginning.

And yet she had the misfortune to be an insecure star in an era when doping became the way to ensure greatness. Jones is much like her BALCO stablemate Bonds: she was undeniably talented, perhaps the greatest of her generation, yet suffered from a peculiar crisis of self-confidence that led her to surround herself with people of questionable character, among those people who led her to use substances that would assure her of the greatness that already lay within her grasp. She cannot be excused for the choices she made, but it is no less frustrating and sobering that another transcendent talent has been relegated to shameful recollection as a result.

She had the potential to be great, but risk losing; she chose to guarantee that she would win. In the gap between the two is the divide between sport as competition and sport as commerce.

But The People In There Walk Funny

Maybe it is because of our recent activities (see Michael's 6th birthday post), but every time I look at the Oakland federal building, I see the product of an architect who played with Legos as a kid:

With a couple of Saturday afternoons, I'm sure Michael could build a nice scale version on our dining room table.