Archive for May, 2007


Tonight's show (at 7:30) is a lovingly restored rebroadcast of an episode that ran earlier this season -- one that focused on two-wheeled conveyances. So in order to keep the conversation balanced, we had to keep moving forward. (Sorry -- I'm a bit under the weather, and my writing is possibly even loopier than usual.)

Two-Wheeler Type 1: Choppers -- those beautiful, raunchily loud, handmade motorcycles. Expert: Tom Zimberoff, chopper-lover, photographer extraordinaire, and author of the dazzling photo book Art of the Chopper II.

Two-Wheeler Type 2: Mountain bikes -- that relatively new species of bicycle that allows people very much not like me to go at high speeds up and down really big hills. (Okay, I do have a mountain bike -- and I love it -- but I tend to stay on the flatlands.) Experts: biking pioneers Joe Breeze and Jacquie Phelan. Joe made one of the first mountain bikes and currently makes commuter-friendly "Breezer Bikes." As for Jacquie, she was one of the early woman mountain-biking champions and now -- among other endeavors -- runs WOMBATS: the Women's Mountain Bike & Tea Society.

Plus, there's a "Wandering Josh" segment in which I attended a chopper show at the Cow Palace and earned my leathers -- well, tried to.

2 comments May 28th, 2007


Someone in our extended family gave my son a watch last Christmas. There were lots of kids and lots of presents at my sister-in-law's place, and somehow we immediately lost the little instruction sheet for the watch. The watch is kind of high-tech -- a very cool gift for a child my son's age -- but it doesn't have the simple markings that would tell us the make or model of the thing. So we haven't been able to set it properly.

The watch has been with us almost half a year now. A few times a day it beeps, loudly and repeatedly. If you try pressing buttons randomly, sometimes the beeping will stop for a few seconds -- and then start up again. Eventually the beeping ceases. Then, a few hours later, it beeps again, for a while.

It used to live on our kitchen table, for some reason. In the great migration of all things, it now sits next to my computer.

Whoever gave my son the watch is beloved to us, and we have never even broached the possibility of getting rid of it. The beeping isn't that terrible; you kind of get used to it after a while. And you know that the beeping will stop eventually, if you just leave the thing alone.

Okay, watch. I've got my battery. You've got yours. Let's both try to keep ticking for as long as possible.

May 25th, 2007

The Playwright’s the Thing

Tonight's show (at 7:30) is an immaculately reconditioned broadcast of a program we first ran a little while ago -- featuring a conversation with one of our local Bay Area treasures: acclaimed playwright Philip Kan Gotanda. Philip's latest play, the Fillmore- and Japantown-based After the War, recently ran at the A.C.T. -- and he always has new, ambitious stuff in the works: not just plays, but also movies and even (sometimes) dance works. He's a deep, fascinating artist, and it was a pleasure to sip some of the organic wine he brought and talk about all kinds of things.

May 21st, 2007

Citizen Josh

My new one-man show, Citizen Josh, opens tomorrow evening at the Magic Theatre in S.F. I'm hecka-excited! If you want info, you can click here.

2 comments May 18th, 2007

Of Einstein & Bagels

Tonight's show (at 7:30) was tremendous fun. For the first time in our program's short history, we taped in front of a live audience -- at the gloriously remodeled Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. The crowd was fantastic -- as was my guest, biographer extraordinaire Walter Isaacson. I loved his Franklin biography from a few years back, and his new, best-selling book -- Einstein: His Life & Universe -- is that rare combination: a page-turner with depth and substance. It was a pleasure to talk with him -- and a relief to discover that he approved of the way I tried to explain general relativity with a bagel and a couple of macaroons (donated by the JCCSF's café).

It was also a thrill for me to be present at the beginning of what I hope will be a long partnership between two great organizations: the JCCSF and KQED. I don't know anything about technical stuff, but I could tell that it was quite a challenge to have the show run relatively smoothly for both the live audience and the viewer at home -- but our crew just did a fantastic job. And the folks at the JCCSF made us feel so comfortable, it was like being in our home away from home.

What would Einstein have made of the convergence of public television and a JCC? One can only begin to imagine. ...

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2 comments May 14th, 2007

Round 2: Warriors Open with a Narrow Loss …

... but it was an exciting, hard-fought game. Looks to be a great series in the making. ...

May 8th, 2007

Warriors Win Game 6!

Yeah, yeah, their stunning 4-games-to-2 upset of the Dallas Mavericks was completed last Thursday -- but since that was the first of four days in a row in which I was doing improvs towards my upcoming show opening, I've fallen behind a bit in my reportage. (And not just about sports: I also failed to note Cinco de Mayo, John Ratzenberger's ejection from Dancing with the Stars, and even -- based on a banner I saw in front of the Cowell Theatre this weekend -- National Norwegian Day.)

Actually, I went straight from my improv at USF last Thursday to catch part of the game at Looney's Smokehouse BBQ in Berkeley (order the bread pudding -- you'll thank me), accompanied (and driven) by my friend Brian (a USF politics professor) and his friend and colleague Ron (philosophy). The second quarter was starting as we squeezed into a corner table. People throughout the restaurant/bar were going nuts, and the waitpersons were proving themselves acrobatically flexible enough to continually bend over while serving, lest they impede anyone's view. Brian and I, big hoops fans, were going nuts. Ron, who for some strange reason thinks there are things more important than sports, poked fun at our excitement. We glared at Ron -- which, I quickly gleaned, is what he enjoys. Philosophers!

The third quarter was one for the ages. The Warriors riffed and rocked their way to a rout over the formerly feared Mavs, swishing threes (Stephen Jackson) and going strong to the rim (Matt Barnes). Finally a timeout was called. Ron leaned over and started giving me incredibly perceptive notes on the improv I'd done earlier. As play resumed he was still going -- and I was torn: between my professional duty to improve my piece and my irrational commitment to the basketball team I've watched struggle for 13 years. Amazingly (to me), I chose to stay with Ron's feedback till he was finished. I just hope that when the great Artistic Director in the sky tots up all my plusses and minuses, he or she takes this sacrifice into account.

Tonight the Warriors play their first game of the second round -- against the charmingly oxymoronically named Utah Jazz (at Salt Lake City). Is Baron's hamstring back in fine fettle? (I'd loan him one of mine, but they're congenitally tighter than Dirk Nowitzky at crunch time.) Will Al Harrington and young Monte Ellis rebound from their subpar first-round play? And, as ever, will Citizen Adonal get a chance to show the world that this new American is a shot-blocker for the rest of the world to fear?

Those are some of the pressing questions. And my only excuse for having no answers is that I've been hanging around with philosophers, so I've been skewing kind of Socratic. ...

May 7th, 2007

Amy’s Back!

Tonight's episode (at 7:30) is a super-duper, buffed-and-shined rebroadcast of a fun time I spent with the divine Amy Sedaris. We spoke of many things -- her book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence; bunny rabbits; Totie Fields; lumberjacks; and some other topics of vital importance.

I'm still unsure whether Belva Davis appreciated the sandwich. ...

May 7th, 2007

The Death of a Public School

On Wednesday night the state-appointed administrator of the Vallejo City Unified School District announced that the John Davidson Elementary School will be shut down after this school year.

The teachers at Davidson are an exceptionally dedicated and close-knit group, many having worked together for nearly two decades. With their hard work, Davidson last year had the highest test-score point gain in Solano County. (I know that the whole test-scores thing is a dicey issue -- but if you're going to use these scores as a cudgel to attack teachers and students for their performance, then you should also give them credit when they do well.)

Several years ago the Vallejo City USD -- plagued by underfunding and declining enrollment -- had its school board replaced by a state-appointed administrator. Since then the teachers at Davidson have had to deal with unrealistic edicts from bureaucrats, such as the demand that they continually be holding their teaching "manuals" during instruction. The overall message to the teachers was this: you guys don't know what you're doing. And yet, despite all this -- despite having their job drained of nearly all joy and creativity -- these teachers have continued to pour themselves into the task of educating the children of their community.

Last month the Vallejo City USD held hearings in which -- among other things -- they announced that they were considering closing Davidson and Lincoln (another outstanding elementary school). You see, the state had loaned millions of dollars to the Vallejo City USD when it took over, and the administrator is dedicated to repaying that loan on a strict schedule. But what do you do when there's no "fat" to cut? (There are already ridiculously low numbers of vital positions, like nurses and guidance counselors.)

Hey, I know: how about closing a school or two!

For the last month or so, the school district strung the Davidson teachers along. The state-appointed administrator had suggested the possibility that Davidson be converted to a science-and-technology magnet school -- so long as the teachers, on their own, could get 75 students to enroll who were new to Vallejo public schools. So during their recent spring break, Davidson's teachers woke up early in the morning and went out to places like the ferry terminal, Little League games, the farmers' market, and grocery stores, where they distributed self-designed materials about the proposed magnet school and invited people to sign up.

The Davidson teachers -- along with their very supportive principal and staff -- returned to work feeling guardedly hopeful. They had responded to the district's sort-of-ultimatum with typical creativity, enthusiasm, and action -- and they had gotten people in the community excited as well.

And then, on Wednesday night, the hammer came down.

So next year the Davidson teachers, who have worked together so effectively for so long, will be dispersed among other schools. But in the meantime they are back at work, still doing their very best to educate tomorrow's citizens.

6 comments May 4th, 2007

Warriors Lose Game 5 …

... despite the intensely helpful vibes I was trying to send them in Dallas. It was a great game, though. The Warriors are now up 3-2 in the series and are coming back home. ...

I guess I have to acknowledge the obvious limitations of being a fan: we live through our teams, but they're the ones doing the playing, and when they lose there's nothing we can do about it except mourn.

In the summer of 2004 I was at the Oakland Coliseum when the A's lost the deciding fifth game to the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs. (Is that what they call the postseason in baseball? I'm so immersed in hoops right now that I can't remember!) It was devastating. I remember getting on the BART train at the Coliseum station. We sat there a long time while the train filled up with inconsolable A's fans. Nobody said a word -- until finally someone announced, "Well, all I can say is, after this game, Bush better not win -- that would just be more than I can take."

Which got me to thinking: How much has politics become like a game to us? We can vote for who goes on our team, but then many of us (like me, too often) just sit around and hope that they'll play up to our expectations. That can be a tendency in representative democracy: a kind of passivity. I think that's why I've gotten interested in grassroots activism lately: You don't have to wait four years to get in the game. Sure, my hoops playing at the local playground is quite a few notches below the pros' -- but it leaves me invigorated, and perhaps with an added understanding of what the experts are sometimes able to accomplish.

If you're as tight as I am, though, it would probably be a good idea to stretch before any strenuous athletic or political activity. ...

May 2nd, 2007

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