Archive for October, 2006

Actual Conversation …

... with my nine-year-old this evening, as we approached our first Halloween house:

Me: "Now, remember to say 'trick-or-treat.'"

Son: "But Daddy, that would make me sound so juvenile!"

October 31st, 2006

History, Herstory, Ourstory

Gary&JoshIt was a thrill for me to interview UCLA historian Gary Nash, my guest on tonight's show (at 7:30; repeated on Friday night at 10:30). Nash's latest book, The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, brings together a panoply of amazing-but-true stories about the lesser-known people who contributed to the American Revolution. As Nash writes in the introduction:

We cannot capture the "life and soul" of the Revolution without paying close attention to the wartime experiences and agendas for change that engrossed backcountry farmers, urban craftsmen, deep-blue mariners, female camp followers and food rioters -- those ordinary people who did most of the protesting, most of the fighting, most of the dying, and most of the dreaming about how a victorious America might satisfy the yearnings of all its peoples.

NashCoverLike Nash -- and like most of us, I imagine -- I have enormous respect for our famous Founding Fathers. They were, for the most part, brilliant political thinkers and doers, and we are all in their debt. But they were not gods, and they did not achieve the Revolution by themselves. The full story is not only richer and more complex, it also allows us non-geniuses of today to find meaningful connections to our nation's founding: politics then were as messy and divisive as politics now. Too often, our history seems like a distant, static thing -- dead and permanent, like marble. What Gary Nash brings us is a historical narrative that we can connect with -- like us, it's alive, contradictory, glorious. He gives us a history that we can not only study, but participate in as well. ...

Jack&JoshI also wanted to see how others in the Bay Area felt connected (or dis-) to American history, so my crew and I walked around San Francisco to chat with folks on the street. As you can see in the resulting "Wandering Josh" segment, from the Fillmore to North Beach (where I got an earful from S.F.'s current poet laureate, Jack Hirschman, outside his beloved Caffe Trieste), people had lots to say on the subject. I hope they -- and you -- find Nash's stories as provocative and inspiring as I did.

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2 comments October 30th, 2006


My memory of the taping of the show that airs tonight (at 7:30; repeated on Friday night at 10:30) is somewhat hazy. But I have an excuse: I was drinking!

LeslieWait, that didn't come out right. What I meant to say is that one of my guests, the vivacious Leslie Sbrocco, brought in a bunch of wines for me to try -- and, dutiful host that I am, I sampled each of them. Leslie, who of course is the host of KQED's Check, Please! Bay Area, also happens to be a world-class expert on wines. And since she's just come out with a new book titled The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide: Buying, Pairing, and Sharing for All, I thought this would be the perfect time to challenge her to put her palate where her mouth is (that didn't come out right, either!) -- and find the perfect wines to pair with a series of increasingly difficult-seeming foods. Not only did she come through with flying colors, but she also showed a frightening dexterity with a saber -- so I certainly wasn't going to challenge her choices, even if I disagreed with them.

For anyone who may have caught the show already and wanted to check up on the suggested food-and-wine pairings, Leslie was kind enough to supply your humble blogger with reminders and extra tips (thanks, Leslie!). Here's what she wrote:

  • Food: Pad Thai, or other Asian spicy foods
    Wine Pairings: German Riesling or Dry Rose

    Tip: These white wine help off set the spicy character of the food with their sweetness. The pairing here proves that opposites attract and complement each other. Spicy Thai or Vietnamese cuisine is a perfect pairing with these wines, as they quench the fiery flavors.

  • Food: Pastrami sandwich
    Wine Pairings: California Zinfandel or Australian Shiraz

    Tip: Bold red wines pair perfectly with the peppery kick of the pastrami. In this case we matched the flavors: the smoky, hardy, and peppery characters of both the wine and pastrami prove that like-flavors are a marriage in the mouth.

  • Food: Rice Krispies Treats
    Wine Pairings: Late Harvest Pinot Gris

    Tip: When it comes to desserts and dessert wines, the key is to serve a wine that is as sweet, or sweeter, than the dessert. Another secret is to match the color of the wine with the food. Golden-colored sweet wines pair well with light-color deserts, while ruby or dark purple wines are ideal with chocolate cake or brownies.

  • Food: Popcorn, or potato chips
    Wine Pairings: Sparkling Cava or California Sparkling Wine

    Tip: Zesty sparkling wines offset the salty richness of the food while delivering palate-cleansing freshness.

MiguelAfter hanging out with Leslie at the kitchen counter, I moved -- or, more accurately, staggered -- over to the couch for a delightful and informative conversation with nutritionist Miguel Villareal. Miguel, a passionate advocate of proper nutrition for schoolchildren, showed me how to make delicious organic wraps that kids will actually eat -- and enjoy!

And to top that off, wouldn't you know it? Leslie came over with a perfect wine to pair with the wraps (for grownups only, of course).

All in all, it was a hecka-fun taping -- at least, that's what people tell me. ...

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3 comments October 23rd, 2006

Crunch Time, Part 2

I just had lots of fun taping an interview with a couple of guys from the great satirical newspaper The Onion. In the interests of providing TV-friendly visuals, we juggled some actual onions, and I even took a bite into one. So if you see me walking home from KQED's studios, now would definitely be a particularly bad time to try to kiss me.

2 comments October 18th, 2006

Quixotic Query

Has anyone out there read the relatively recent Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote? If so, I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

October 17th, 2006

Crunch Time

We're about to have our weekly JK Show meeting -- to talk about upcoming programs, possible guests, etc. -- and I'm catching my breath for a moment.

In the next week and a half, we'll be taping five shows (three more than usual), in preparation for our Nov.-Dec. taping hiatus. My series producer, Lori Halloran, will be going on maternity leave (I like to think that working with me has prepared her for dealing with a small child) -- and I figured that, rather than bring in a substitute producer, the whole show should go on maternity leave as well.

Actually, I personally won't be having a new baby during that period. Rather, I'll be working on my upcoming stage monologue, Citizen Josh (opening next May 9 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco): mostly touring college campuses, doing improvisations about democracy and talking with folks about politics. I'm really looking forward to it.

But in order for us to stockpile enough episodes of this program to tide us over till January, we're doing a whole lot of them now (and with fabulous guests!). This kind of schedule puts a strain on my usual habit of working for a little bit, then spending a long time decompressing and gloating about having finished that task, followed by a rising panic as I realize that I am already way behind on preparing for the next task. This week and next, that whole cycle will have to be condensed down from days or weeks into hours or minutes. Kubler-Ross should write something about this, stat!

In the meantime, I just thank the heavens that my beloved Oakland A's were knocked out of the playoffs -- allowing me much extra time to focus on my work.

October 17th, 2006

Clutch Performers

If there is a calmer person on Earth than Judy Lundblad of Fearless Driver (a.k.a. Ann's Driving School), then that person is either asleep or dead. So I'll stick with Judy as my driving instructor. As documented in the "Wandering Josh" segment on tonight's show (at 7:30; repeated on Friday night at 10:30), the preternaturally serene Judy recently took me through the forbidding streets of San Francisco on my first-ever driving lesson. Now, you may be thinking that 47 is rather a late age for me to be learning how to drive, but in my defense let me say this: I'm from New York. Also, I have always depended on the kindness of strange drivers. But sometime last year, as I sat in an isolated hotel room on a strip mall somewhere in Florida, with nothing (except ice, lots and lots of ice) available via foot, I became determined to finally evolve into an auto-man; a few months later, I had my learner's permit; and now this: actual driving! I have to say it was pretty cool -- though someone should really do something about putting the brake so close to the gas pedal. ...

VickiAnd actually, just that someone was one of my in-studio guests! The amazingly young Vicki Vlachakis is an extremely successful car designer, and she was kind enough to stop by and explain some aspects of her craft to me. (If you're intrigued by a career in auto design yourself, you can get some info here.)

Dane & JoshAlso stopping by was the amazingly younger Dane Cameron, a local teenager who -- barely out of high school -- is already a champion racer. Not having yet reached either automotive or emotional maturity myself, I was somewhat nervous about talking with this accomplished young driver, but right away I realized that someone poised enough to zoom around a track at ridiculous speeds would have little trouble dealing with a coffee-swilling neurotic. And sure enough, Dane handled my loopy questions with an impressive equanimity. ...

By the way, in the not-too-distant future (after taking some more lessons from Judy) I hope to actually get my driver's license. If the spirits (and the DMV) are friendly enough, I may even be able to do it on camera. As for the post-test celebration, my tentative plans are to rent a car and re-enact the chase scene from Bullitt -- though I'm certainly open to alternate suggestions. ...

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1 comment October 16th, 2006

The Constant Gardner

ChrisMaking tonight's program (at 7:30; repeated on Friday night at 10:30) was quite a moving experience. My in-studio guest, Chris Gardner, is a remarkable man who has succeeded despite terrible hardship -- as vividly described in his new memoir, The Pursuit of Happyness. Gardner suffered through a trying childhood with a brutal stepfather, as well as an early adulthood in the Bay Area that at one point found him and his young son spending nights in a BART station restroom. The fact that he was able to lift himself up out of those situations and become a successful stockbroker -- and, more impressive, a loving, constant father to his children -- certainly explains why Hollywood was inspired to make a soon-to-be-released movie based on his life (starring Will Smith). But what could possibly explain the resilience that allowed him to keep on going, despite everything? That question was at the top of my mind as we sat down to chat. And as raw and revealing as his book can be, I found him in person to be even more accessible -- one of those interviewees who are alive and present for each moment of our conversation.

Cecil & JoshPreparing for the interview, my crew and I went out to do a field piece at Glide Memorial Church, where Gardner -- in his bleakest hours -- had received invaluable support. (He's now a major contributor to the church's many social programs.) I couldn't have had a better guide: The Rev. Cecil Williams himself, who has led Glide for decades, took me around the church's Tenderloin neighborhood. At one point, we witnessed a heartbreaking encounter between Rev. Williams and a young woman on the street who had approached him. The woman was clearly going through a tremendously hard time, and Williams received her with great kindness and respect; the moment was so intimate that my crew and I almost felt as if we were intruding by simply being there. Even watching the footage later, with our editor, I found myself moved beyond words.

Life can be so hard -- especially for those whom society has, in its neglect, tacitly labeled as expendable. Through the loving efforts of people such as those in the Glide community, the Chris Gardners of the world can sometimes actually experience the happiness that we are all supposed to be free to pursue.

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3 comments October 9th, 2006

This Year’s Model

Apparently, according to some obscure publication called Esquire, Joseph Pineda is the best-dressed "real" man in America. It is a measure of my legendary politeness as a host that, during our on-air conversation in tonight's episode (airing at 7:30 p.m., and repeated on Friday at 10:30 p.m.), I never mentioned the glaring fact that Esquire's fashion researchers didn't bother to put me in the running for this accolade. Still, I have to admit, Pineda did look sharp -- especially after the grueling drive from Richmond (where he lives and works as a real-estate agent) to our San Francisco studios.

He was helping me explore the subject of fashion -- a new passion of mine ever since my whole family got hooked on Bravo's fashion-designing reality show Project Runway. As Heidi Klum says on that program -- repeatedly, and in her bracingly clipped Teutonic accent -- "In fashion, one day you're in and the next [pause for dramatic effect] ... you're out." So we wanted to make sure we got to talk with Pineda and our other guests, local clothiers Umay Mohammed and Marie Biscarra of Nisa, before the cognoscenti could deem them "fashion-backward." (Though having met them all, I predict that they will forever remain way ahead of the fashion curve.)

I also wandered over to something called "Fashion Boot Camp" (part of San Francisco Fashion Week), where I received expert advice on how I might leverage my aquiline features into a lucrative modeling career. It all got pretty intense. By the time photographer James Reid was done with me, I felt almost too sexy, if such a thing is possible. ...

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5 comments October 2nd, 2006

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