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you can't beat fun at the old ball park

It was an odd day at China Basin this afternoon, although the game itself was fairly normal. What made the day more interesting than usual (besides the rare fact that the Giants won) was my companions in the stands. Which didn't look to be the case as I left for the game, since I went alone (it's not easy to find other people with nothing to do on a Wednesday afternoon).

There was Dale, who has been sitting behind me since the park opened. This season, he decided not to keep his season tickets, but he has grabbed some games from another of our regulars, so it wasn't much different than usual. This was the first game where he and I were both in Section 317, so we got caught up on stuff. Dale is a guitarist, and he has a new album out that I listened to on the weekend ... if you are a fan of solo guitar, mostly fingerpicking, in the style of Fahey or (as I said to him today) Jorma Kaukonen when he's doing acoustic, you'd like Dale's music.

To my right, another longtime fellow fan who I hadn't yet seen this season, Dan, a freelance writer formerly of the Chronicle. I keep up with his writing because he always posts links to his Facebook page when he has something new ... he's been in the New York Times a lot recently ... but it's good to see him at the games, and I would say that even if he hadn't given me those "Little Man" souvenirs when he left the Chron. (Being that he specializes in technology, it's no surprise that Dan knows my old friend Annalee, a small-worldism I had to mention.)

Dan brought his friend Jason, who I hadn't met before. He, too, is a freelance writer ... Jason writes a lot for Giants Magazine, so he had some good stories about the players. Also, he's got a book coming out early next year, Breaking the Code: Baseball's Unwritten Rules Revealed, that sounds right up my alley.

Dan is working on his own piece for Giants Magazine, and during the game he pulled out his laptop and started writing. After awhile, he passed the computer to Jason, who edited the piece for awhile. It was delightful to see how they worked together on the writing ... I can tell you from experience that there is nothing so wonderful as an editor you can trust. That they were typing on a computer while the game went on didn't seem as awful as the purists might imagine ... they could have been in the press box, they opted for the sun and the reg'lar fans like me, and it's hard to complain about that.

And finally, there was one more group of people that made the day memorable. I'm going to have to apologize in advance ... I don't know the correct term for people who are ... well, if I could tell you, I'd know the term. I'll try "developmentally disabled." They were a little less intelligent than "normal," a little more socially inappropriate than "normal," and that's really about it. Different enough to be noticeable, but not more than that. There were three of them, and one other friend who seemed a combination friend/aide.

These guys were locked into the game, and had no qualms about expressing their interest. Quite enthusiastic, to be sure, and very optimistic about the home team. What was especially interesting to me was how their fandom existed in the moment. Each batter was the beginning of a new story ... each at-bat was as important as the last out of the World Series. The joy we might feel when one of our guys makes a fine defensive play, for instance, was felt by the fans behind me for every ordinary ground ball. It was hard to be cynical, sitting in front of great fans like them.

And so, in many ways, it was just another midweek day game, spent with the other ne'er-do-wells who fill the stadium when the real world is at work. But it was memorable in its quirks, which is pretty much the best we can hope for with the Giants this year.


our ignorance

When a person begins with the question itself he inevitably winds up confronting his own ignorance, and trying to find ways to fill in the gaps in his knowledge. The person who begins with a position on the issue never sees his own ignorance, and, in fact, deliberately avoids seeing his own ignorance. The person who begins with a position on the issue and argues for that position naturally tries to hide his ignorance of the other internal issues, since the things that he doesn’t know are a weakness in his argument. The person who begins with the question itself, on the other hand, inevitably winds up reveling in his own ignorance, celebrating his ignorance, and sharing it freely with the world at large.

But the person who begins with a position on the issue, by this process, becomes a borrower from the Bank of Knowledge. He borrows from the things that he knows, and uses them to construct an argument.

The person who begins with the issue itself, on the other hand, eventually becomes a contributor to the Bank of Knowledge. Forced to confront his own ignorance, he is forced to find ways to figure out the information that he is missing—ways to count things that haven’t been counted, or ways to estimate the parameters of things that are unknown. Through this process, he winds up knowing things that were not known before.

This is essentially what we do: We try to construct knowledge to fill in some of the spaces in our massive ignorance. We are not people who know things. We are people who are honest enough to admit that we don’t understand things, and frankly, we don’t believe that you understand them, either.

Bill James, from Bill James Online


1968: april 29

It had opened off-Broadway the previous fall, and, after changes, had its Broadway premiere on April 29, 1968. The cast included such names as Melba Moore and Diane Keaton. It was a smash hit that ran for 1,750 performances in its initial Broadway run, played in cities across the U.S. (in San Francisco, one of the actors was Philip Michael Thomas), and in London ran for almost 2000 shows (Moore starred there as well, as did Tim Curry and Richard O'Brien). It was a musical, and several songs from the production became hits for various pop singers. A film version in the late-70s starred Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo, John Savage, and Ellen Foley. It was, of course, Hair, responsible for all those "rock" musicals to come (like Jesus Christ, Superstar, Grease, The Wiz, and Evita). Before Hair, the closest thing to a rock musical on Broadway was Bye Bye Birdie. Hair was the first one made from the point of view of the rock generation.

Was it rock, and does it matter? Most people would say no to the latter question ... I'd say no to the first, and while I suppose I can't blame the creators of Hair, I don't know that the aesthetics of rock and roll are a good match for those of Broadway. I'd argue that Hair was more important in theater than in rock ... the "rock musical" is an accepted form now, but how many rock musicians would cite Hair as a primary influence? Suffice to say that the title song was a popular hit in 1969 for the Cowsills.


a midsummer night's dream

Today I got to continue my education into the theatrical arts, as our friend artfan is in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I guess I should say was in a production, since tonight was the final performance. I had to go alone, as Robin was too sick to attend.

I confess I don't "get" Shakespeare's comedies, so I'm not the best judge of how good the show was. I can say that the convoluted plot was easier to follow than usual. Whether that was because the production foregrounded clarity, or because at this point I'm familiar enough with Midsummer that even I understand the plot, the result was the same. The art direction was a delight ... probably goes without saying that they made the most of a small budget, but it was indeed atmospheric and clever. As for the actors, I liked the woman who played Helena ... I should look up her name, Elise Youssef ... early on she was almost dippy in a teenage girlish sort of way, but she grew into maturity as she stood up for herself against the taunts she thought were being inflicted upon her. Puck is NOT a favorite character of mine, and I'm not sure I'd like anyone in the role, so the fact I didn't want to strangle the sucker probably means Mick Mize did a good job. Early on, I wanted to dislike Bottom, but the entire Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play was so well done, and such an audience pleaser, that I found myself laughing along with everyone else. It was this that really brought home the pleasures of live theater ... watching Bottom in movie versions has never done much for me, but it was fun to be a part of an audience enjoying the "stoopid" humor.

As for artfan, who played Flute/Thisbe, he struck just the right note in his death scene over the body of Pyramus. You felt the character's pain, and you knew it was funny ... hard to convey both at the same time, but artfan did it with panache.

Overall, this was much more fun than I expected. A very professional production, resulting in my liking the play more than usual.

And Arthur, are you ready for this? When I got to my car, there was indeed a ticket ... it had been written FOUR minutes before. Boo hoo.

See you at artfan's next play!


friday random ten, 1973 edition

1. The New York Dolls, "Personality Crisis." I'll run out of superlatives if I talk too long about the Dolls. One of the best bands ever ... one of the greatest debut albums ever ... one of the great first tracks ever ... one of the greatest first-track-first-album-here-we-are tracks of all time. As I recall, and my brain remembers less with every passing day, the ad campaign for this album was "The New York Dolls. You're Gonna Like 'Em, Whether You Like It Or Not." I had a friend who once told me whenever he heard a drum solo, he thought of someone falling down stairs, and after that, I never heard a drum solo without thinking the same thing. Johnny Thunders is the only guitarist I ever heard who sounded like he was falling down stairs. R.I.P. everyone but David and Syl.

2. Gladys Knight & the Pips, "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me." I wish I could put my finger on why Gladys Knight appealed to me. Her kind of middle-class soul wasn't my cup of tea, but she sang the hell out of it, and that's good enough.

3. Bob Dylan, "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Dylan was awful in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (but then, no one was gonna do much with reading the labels off of cans of beans). The film was butchered, as most of Sam's movies were by that point. But this song became a standard.

4. Faces, "Ooh La La." If "Personality Crisis" was a great opening salvo, "Ooh La La" was a gentle way out for this rowdy band. That's Ron Wood on lead vocals.

5. Stories, "Brother Louie." A song about interracial love, written and sung by a black Jamaican-turned-Brit, a hit in the U.K., then covered by an American band with a white singer, a hit in the U.S. And the chorus went "Louie Louie." Before the Kingsmen got ahold of it, Richard Berry's classic "Louie Louie" was about a Jamaican coming home to see his woman. (That may have been the plot of the Kingsmen's version, too, but who could tell? Heck, back in the day we thought the lyrics went "fuck that girl across the sea.")

6. The Isley Brothers, "That Lady." Ernie Isley, ladies and gentlemen!

7. Dobie Gray, "Drift Away." You know how when a radio station changes formats, they'll often go commercial-free for awhile to prepare folks for what is coming? There was a station once, can't remember when but it was in the Bay Area, they went that route for their format change, but instead of playing a bunch of songs in the style of the new format, they just played Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" over and over and over and over and over and ...

8. Roberta Flack, "Killing Me Softly With His Song." You know what I said about Gladys Knight earlier? Roberta Flack to me was like Gladys Knight without the parts I liked.

9. Ann Peebles, "I Can't Stand the Rain." It's been remade a zillion times by some fine artists, but no one touches the original. Missy Elliott comes the closest.

10. Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird." It's a bit of a leap from Ann Peebles to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but there's no more appropriate closing song than this one. I'm going to guess that among the people that are reading this are many who never liked the song, many who have tired of the song, and maybe a couple of unreconstructed folks who never got tired of it. I'm one of the latter. I can remember a poll, I think it was in Rolling Stone, asking us to vote for the Song of the 70s. This was near the end of 1979, as I recall. Remember that I loved Bruce Springsteen more than anything, and that I was a fervent punk fanatic. But I didn't hesitate when I cast my vote in that poll. The video is notable in that it's one of the few videos that I am in. OK, there were 50000+ of us and you can't see me very well ... but I was at the show where this was filmed.


somebody explain me

I don't trust my own opinion of myself. I seek other's opinions of me, not because I care about the opinion, but because I want them to explain me to me. I'm fascinated by reviews of my work, because I love to find out what people think I said. Truth is, once I see what people think I said, I usually decide they are right, even when they are not. Because I don't trust my own opinion of myself.

Some years back, I wrote a couple of essays about the web that were well-received. The first was about personal home pages ... the sequel was about the newly-emerging blog phenomenon.

Today I find that my essays are briefly discussed in a book called Storytelling in Daily Life: Performing Narrative by Kristin Langellier and Eric E. Peterson. I can't tell how exactly they are "using me" ... I turn up in Google Book Search, but only some of the pages appear, so the one part I can find is out of context (they are already referring to me as "Rubio," which suggests I've already been mentioned). Here is what they say I said:

The reduction of storytelling to an exchange of self-revelation for attention and gifts from "an audience of total strangers" would appear to confirm Rubio's suspicion of weblogs and Internet-based communication as a reduction of the social realm to the aesthetic. Critics such as Rubio do not indulge in sensationalism or moral panic but question the kind of community and social relations that weblogs facilitate. In this case, the possibilities for cultural self-expression are seen as masking and obscuring social relations rather than restructuring them: the homeless are forgotten in our fascination with home pages, as Rubio says.

Well, there you go. It's important to note that I was just ripping off Benjamin in my argument ... ok, utilizing him, how's that? Langellier and Peterson saw what I was up to, as the quotation above is followed by a discussion of this particular Benjamin quote, which I obsessed over at the time:

Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.

The authors then proceed to point out some flaws in my argument:

The problem with this reduction of storytelling to an aesthetics of self-expression is that it tends to position webloggers as cultural dupes who have been led to exploit themselves for fun and profit before others do it for them.... Storytelling in weblogs, as we have developed it, is a bodily practice of discourse in a particular social and material context. The relations of weblog authors and audiences in storytelling are not pre-given, fixed, or stable but open to changing as well as reproducing those relations which they perform.... weblogs offer a possibility but not a certainty for strategic intervention in mainstream cultural forms and conventions that go beyond the minor tactics of self-expression ...

There's more ... there's an entire book, after all. What's odd is how the Internet allows us to peek inside a writer's thoughts, but, in many cases at least, only as a come-on to get us to buy a book that will reveal all. If I want to know everything that was said about me in the book, I need to buy it. If you want to delve deeper into the authors' argument, you need to buy the book. Looks worth buying ... I'm not trying to do an anti-sell thing here. But the reason I know about it is because it turns up on a Google Book Search for my name, a search that only shows part of what is being said.

Hey, I'm just glad someone took me seriously enough to engage my work in the same chapter as Benjamin. I've been misquoted many times at this point ... it's a pleasure to read an actual analysis, even if it's partial. And, like I said at the start, the best part is I get to have someone explain me to me.


1968: april 23

On this date 40 years ago, protesting students at Columbia University occupied several buildings on campus as part of a movement to force the university to sever ties with the Institute for Defense Analyses. The occupation lasted a week, when the NYPD destroyed the demonstration. Among the leaders of the occupation was Columbia student Mark Rudd, chair of the Columbia SDS chapter and later a founder of the Weather Underground, who spoke about the occupation almost 40 years later:

[T]the student occupation and strike of April and May, 1968, against Columbia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and its institutional racism, were the product of more than three years of concerted, focused, unrelenting organizing. This fact is generally not known or discussed, having been overshadowed by Columbia SDS’ aggressive militancy, demonstrated in the building takeovers begun on April 23, and by the subsequent role of Columbia in generating numerous other campus uprisings and Weatherman itself. From the outside, and from this distance in time, it may appear that the uprising was spontaneous, but the reality is otherwise....

[W]e had this standard-issue faction fight on What Is to Be Done? with both sides quoting Lenin, Fidel, Che and Mao Tse-tung. “Dare to struggle, dare to win!” was among my favorite slogans. My group was called the Action Faction. It consisted of myself, John Jacobs, an anti-imperialist wild-man with a brief PL background, a few more enflamed juniors like JJ and me, and a bunch of action-freak sophomore and freshman kids. The SDS regulars, circled around the two Teddies and Dave Gilbert, now a graduate student downtown at the New School, were labeled the Praxis Axis, due to both their tendency toward talking theory rather than taking action and also because of what I’ve described years ago as the never-ending need for symmetry. During the argument I developed the rhetorical position, “Organizing is another word for going slow,” a line which I repeated endlessly in the year that followed as I spread the story of the Action Faction to other SDS chapters throughout the country....

The unplanned building occupations beginning on April 23 appeared to be a victory for the Action Faction. By the time the dust cleared after the police riot on April 30, in which many hundreds of students were beaten and arrested, the entire campus was on strike, polarized against the stupid and inept administration. We had been proved right beyond our wildest dreams that bold action would build our movement; the Praxis Axis line was smashed and some of their leaders, including, tragically, Ted Gold and David Gilbert, were won over. Ted died in the townhouse explosion of March, 1970, and David has been in prison since 1981 for participating in the Brinks robbery in which three people died.

Unfortunately, in our arrogance, we forgot that the years of tireless organizing, base-building through education, agitation, and personal connection, had laid the groundwork. Just as we took too much credit for the victory, we also raised the tactic of militancy to the level of strategy, a very common self-defeating error. This mistake led directly, a year and a half later, to the disaster known as Weatherman....

[T]he building takeover and subsequent strike at Columbia was almost entirely non-violent. Building occupations were in the great tradition of the auto workers’ sit-down strikes of the thirties. We had no weapons. With one exception we were careful to not harm the occupied offices, despite New York Times articles to the contrary. For our part, this was non-violent direct action at its best.

It is true that much of our rhetoric was over the top, like the appropriation of the slogan, “Up against the wall, motherfucker!” from a poem by then LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) which had been adopted as its name by an SDS anarchist street collective on the Lower East Side. We must have needed that sort of thing to fire us up, being mostly pacifistic white middle-class college kids, and to a large extent Jewish, to boot. Thank God the Panther slogan “Off the Pigs,” hadn’t yet reached the east coast, or the police riot that ended the occupation and launched the shut down of the entire university might have been even bloodier than it was.

In retrospect, that slogan was one of my few regrets about Columbia, since it muddied the waters concerning the non-violent nature of our protest. Verbal violence is still violence, I’ve come to understand. We weren’t too clear about our non-violence at the time. But we were essentially nonviolent in our actions, and that created our moral and political strength: it was Columbia that resorted to violence, in its racism, its support for the war, and its using the cops against us.


you are there

When I was a kid, I liked to see pictures of people in the past congregating to hear news as a community. Maybe the telegraph office would get reports on the ball game and post the scores where everyone could see, things like that. It seemed so old-fashioned, yet perfectly understandable ... even in such a filtered way, it would be nice to receive the news among others who shared your interests.

We get those ball scores a dozen ways in the 21st century. You can attend the game, you can watch on TV, you can listen on the radio, you can get updates on your phone, you can "watch" the box score on the Internet. The information available is far deeper than what those telegraph guys posted back in the day, but the community is missing ... we're all on our own, keeping up with the games.

Today is an important primary election day in America, and people are "keeping up with the games" there, too. Doesn't seem odd at all ... it's how we get our news, whether from TV or radio or print or online.

Something similar happens where I wouldn't expect it, among music fans. I can't speak about every artist ... this may be standard for all fans of all musicians now ... I can only talk about what I know, which is Bruce Springsteen and his fans. When Bruce is on tour, people post ongoing set list updates in various online fan venues. It's an odd way to enjoy a concert that you can't hear ... you imagine in your head how it sounds, marvel at this or that change from the usual set list, feel joy when a rarity is played. In some ways it's no different from following a ball game or an election, but to me, at least, the crucial thing is that you can't hear the music, so the experience is pretty limited. Which is why I don't do it. Oh, I love to check the set lists after the show, but I never see the point of doing a real-time session.

Until tonight.

Tonight is the first show since Danny Federici died. And all of us want to "be there." So we're online, reading the set list. There are so many of us that a lot of the fan sites are crashing under the burden of everyone hitting the refresh button.

I can tell you that the band came out, Patti included. A video was played featuring Danny while "Blood Brothers" played on the soundtrack and the band watched the video along with the audience. An accordion was setup on a stand with a spotlight hitting it. When the video ended, the band played "Backstreets."

I don't know why I'm following along on this, but I can't help myself. It seems important. And the nice thing about those crashing servers? They are evidence that I'm not alone tonight ... we're a community.


is this the end of my hbo?

My Comcast bill is too high. I know it, Robin suspects it but doesn't want to hear about it, and Comcast certainly knows it. I save a decent amount of money by bugging Comcast once a year and finagling as best as I can, but I still pay too much.

The latest deals run out next Monday, so this week I need to start finagling. I begin with what I absolutely must have (knowing, of course, that I don't need any of it on some level). Then I see what Comcast offers. Part of the problem is that much of what they offer comes in package deals. So, let's look at what I "must have":

Broadband Internet, obviously.

HD channels, a DVR. (Two DVRs, to be honest.)

HBO and Showtime.

Fox Soccer Channel and GOL TV.

What I get right now that I don't really need:

Telephone.

Premium movie channels like Starz.

Now, I could start by eliminating the phone service, but over the past year, I've saved money by using Comcast phone because the cost of the phone is less than the amount of discount they give me elsewhere to get me to use their phone service. As best as I can figure, I'll about break even if I keep their phone service for another year, so I'll probably do that just to make it easier on me.

The only real question about the Internet is whether or not to cough up the dough for the faster speeds they now offer at a premium. What I have now works fine ... faster would definitely be better, though.

Which leaves the TV. And here, Comcast is fucking me over. It used to be, you could get one premium channel like HBO or Showtime, two premium channels, or all five premium channels. My choice was two ... I never cared about paying extra to watch four-year-old Will Farrell movies on Cinemax. I've had five for the past year because I was essentially given the extra channels for free. The rules have changed now, though. Your choices are to get HBO, to get HBO and Starz, or to get all five. IOW, if I want Showtime, I have to either pay for all five, or add Showtime on its own for $17.95/month.

So, I want to save money without losing the stuff I really want to watch. I can get the HBO package and add Showtime, or ... I can get a no-premium package and add Showtime. That is, I could dump HBO.

And amazingly, that is a viable option.

The network that set the standard for the current golden age of television isn't really worth the cost right now. Their best series are finished ... the interesting series of the future won't be on for some time ... there's no real reason to get HBO right now, at least based on what I watch. HBO is less important right now than FX, than AMC, than Sci-Fi. Shit, they're less important than NBC.

Meanwhile, I can't do without Showtime. They've got Weeds and Dexter, they've got The Tudors ... what the heck, they even have The L Word, god forbid.

So, will I really do it? Will I cancel HBO in favor of Showtime? Or will I just pay for it all and waste my money?