The principles of uncertainty

Great fall cultural days in town this weekend: La Canada High graduate Sabrina Ward Harrison was back from a secluded period of work in Bonny Doon in the hills behind Santa Cruz and before she moves to New York City and has mounted a show of her multi-media art at the old Gas Company headquarters on South Flower Street downtown. Sabrina is the author of four books aimed mostly at inspiring young women that began with “Spilling Open” and that continue in fantastically creative ways. Her opening was Sunday night.

Later that evening Lisa Krueger and Bob Wyman held a dinner at their Chapman Woods house honoring Billy Collins; the former poet laureate and South Pasadena poet and YA novelist Ron Koertge were among those who took turns playing wicked games of eight ball on the Krueger-Wymans’ billiards table. Ron insisted he hadn’t chalked up since grad-school days but you’d never have known it from the way he cleared the table. Billy made an otherwise gorgeous shot that ended up sinking the ocho itself at an untoward time.

Then today, the great and wildly influential illustrator and author Maira Kalman gave an illustrated talk at Art Center celebrating her new book “The Principles of Uncertainty,” a compilation mostly from her year-long column in The New York Times. Kalman, whose children’s books including “Max Makes a Million” and “Stay Up All Night,” the illustrated version of the Talking Heads’ song, were among my favorites for reading to Julia before a thousand bedtimes back when our now-16-year-old was a baby, has changed the way we look at the world. Like Sabrina, she can’t separate her passion for the written word from her need to make visual art, and so she doesn’t: Words cascade across her pictures in her signature (Sabrina’s is signature, too) scrawl.

Some thoughts from Chairwoman Maira’s talk: “How do I work? I get up, have a cup of coffee and read the obituaries — the best way to get up and going.”

“My life is a mixture of ridiculous pleasure and unending sadness.”

“Stalin — how paranoid he was — even more than my father.”

“This sense of gloom covers you, and then something good happens.”

“I think I’m going to have a giant sign built over my house: ‘Everybody gets on everybody’s nerves.’”

“The head of the philosophy department at Columbia is this wonderful man who teaches a class called ‘Vagueness.’ So of course I wanted to take it but can’t because it turns out to be about mathematics and so I just stalked him and we had lunch and he had a stomachache and so had a crepe with whipped cream.”

On her life’s work: “The stories go on, and my passion for bobbie pins gets explored, somewhat.”

Late for the sky

When introduced by hosts Phaedra and Mark Ledbetter to Jackson Browne Saturday night at their Greene & Greene just south of the Colorado Street Bridge, for a half-second I didn’t know why it should seem fitting to meet the songwriter while standing on the edge of the Arroyo Seco. Also, it was the fancy culmination of Pasadena Heritage’s annual Craftsman Weekend; while hundreds of revelers swirled about us, all the rest of us were ordinary Arts & Crafts nerds.

And while it may not be cool to say so, associated as he is to most of my cool pals with songs I also don’t care for — the Eagles’ version of his “Take it Easy,” shudder, for one — Browne is a kind of heroic musical figure of our time, and I was probably nervous. The dead giveaway about his high talent is to hear his songs interpreted by someone you really do like as opposed to the anti-Buffalo Springfield. And when that someone else is, say, the coolest, most chillingly beautiful person who ever lived, Nico, who very early on recorded “These Days” on her first solo album, “Chelsea Girl,” as soon as she split with the Velvet Underground — well, all I can say is, give it a spin. “I count the time / in quarter tones / til 10 … Please don’t confront me with my failings: I am aware of them” intoned in her Teutonic accent is sheer godhead. She also recorded his “Fairest of the Seasons.” Plus, as I recall, he got to sleep with her. With Nico. No cooler thing could happen to a fellow.

Anyway, as I shook his hand, I laughed and said, “That’s it. You go way back with the Arroyo Culture.” He agreed that he does.

Remember the cover to “For Everyman”? It was shot at theAbbey El Encino, Browne’s boyhood home in Highland Park, in the Arroyo Seco, designed and built by his famed Craftsman printer grandfather Clyde Browne out of Arroyo stone. I love the fact that in the previous link, with a great picture of the house, that it’s Jackson’s far lesser-known brother Severin whom the Highland Park history buffs note a connection with.

But I didn’t know, and later at the party was told by the Gamble House’s Ted Bosley, that another reason Browne was at the party to see the Ledbetters’ gorgeously restored Robinson House is that he used to own a Greene & Greene in Santa Monica, which I gather is the Whitbeck House.

The Ledbetters’ infinity pool overlooking what Browne recalled Arroyo kids used to call Suicide Bridge? It has a better view than that from any old beachside manse: this one has the remnants of a culture below it.

Kurtz to resign as Pasadena city manager

Pasadena City Manager Cynthia Kurtz will later today announce that she will step down from her post after nearly 10 years in the job, according to a City Hall source.

Kurtz is leaving to join a Pasadena consulting firm with expertise in transportation issues. She is expected to stay in her job until January of next year as the City Council, to whom she reports, finds a successor.

She has worked in City Hall for almost 20 years. From the city Web site: “She began with the city in 1987 as the capital program administrator. In 1991, she became director of Public Works dealing with the nuts and bolts of the city from streets and traffic signals to the $24 million reconstruction of the Colorado Street Bridge and the planning for the light rail line to Pasadena.

“Before she came to the city of Pasadena, she worked 10 years for the city of Portland, Oregon, holding a variety of positions in the Office of Transportation and the Bureau of Economic Development.

“She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in community development and housing from Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Arts degree in transportation and urban planning from the University of Iowa.”

When I am king …

you will be first against the wall.

Oh, wait. That’s the lyric from Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” More on Radiohead in a moment. No, what I meant to say is, If I were king, I would indeed disinvite China, by proxy of Avery Dennison, by double proxy of the Beijing Olympics as opposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat, from entering a float in the Rose Parade next year.

The censorship, the human rights violations, the lack of religious freedom, the absence of democratic institutions — this is not a country I would select as host of the Olympics. And Monday night, when a Burmese Buddhist monk and others reminded the City Council that it’s the Chinese who supply the Burmese generals with the weaponry to oppress their citizens … well, that was pretty much a deal-sealer, what?

I am not king. Nor is Pasadena City Hall, which has no say as such in telling the private Pasadena Tournament of Roses whose entries can run in its parade.

But I have a bully pulpit, and so does City Hall, which, by the way, Aaron , doesn’t make any money on the Rose Parade, although I did otherwise dig your blog today on council chambers shenanigans, which seems unaccountably to have been replaced in the mid-afternoon by a long list of Aaron-related stuff.

So it would be futile for the Human Relations Commission to bootlessly demand that the TofR boot China from the parade. And it gets even more delicate, politically, since there is a sister-city relationship between Pasadena and a suburb of Beijing. Tim Kelly, the Fuller prof and old China hand who has been writing letters and will be writing op-eds in the Star-News about constructive engagement with the Chinese, would tell me to do just that — engage — rather than act unilaterally. If I were king, understand.

So here’s my suggestion, probably to be reiterated in a Star-News editorial later this week — or maybe I’ll get harsher, less engaging, and just say off with their heads. We’ll see.

But in a rational mood, how about the Human Relations Commission instead offers to set up a series of forums on the question of human rights in China timed to New Year’s Day, and allows everyone a say? Beijing, Falun Gong, Taiwan, the Dalai Lama — let a thousand flowers bloom.

Back to the rather lesser, Radiohead fan’s dilemma. Since the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world has announced that fans can download its new album for whatever price they want at the band’s Web site, what’s the right price? Free? $9.99, as if it were iTunes? X percent — about 10 percent, as it happens — of that price, since bands get the shaft from record companies anyway and only get a fraction of albums’ sales price?

As much as you can afford, since Radiohead is godhead, and deserves to be rewarded for their art?

It is one of the questions that shall bedevil me until “In Rainbows” is available Oct. 10 and I have to actually make the ethical and financial call.