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August 2013
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October 2013

the 2013 fantasy baseball rubio begonias

Nothing is more boring than someone talking about their fantasy team, so I’ll make this brief.

90% Mental 2013

I snuck by last year’s champs by the proverbial skin of my teeth (he’s hard to beat … he’s also my cousin). At the All-Star break I was in fourth place, 25 points out of first. Two of my players, including team star Ryan Braun, would be suspended for the season a few days later. I traded a closer for a starting pitcher, began using a streaming strategy for my SP (if that means nothing to you, no problem), and two months later, I took over first place to stay.

My best player was Mike Trout, who I froze after picking him up last season. My best pitcher was probably another of my freezes, Kris Medlen. It says something about the level of play by the Giants this season that I only had three SF players the entire year. One, Yusmeiro Petit, made two starts for me at the end of the season (see “streaming”, above), and another, Brandon Belt, only had 25 AB for me (and only got 3 hits). I actually drafted the third Giant, Angel Pagan, and he played 43 games for me before getting injured.

If I had to submit a freeze list right now, I’d probably go with Trout and two pitchers, José Fernández and Hisashi Iwakuma. But I’ve got six months to worry about that. In the meantime, I’m the champ.

riddick (david twohy, 2013)

I once attended a day-long music festival (well, maybe I have that wrong, since the name of the show was “This Is Not a Festival”) that featured 7 acts, including my beloved Sleater-Kinney. As you might expect, the crowd got bigger the further the show progressed, as each act was a bit more well-known than the last. By the time Sleater-Kinney hit the stage, the place was mostly full. Or so I thought. One more act remained, Sonic Youth, who were the headliners, and it was then that the crowd filled up. Caught up in my own taste preferences, I found this surprising … didn’t everyone come for Sleater-Kinney? I thought of this while watching Riddick. Katee Sackhoff doesn’t show up for about half an hour, and I kept thinking, “where’s Katee? Don’t they know she’s the reason we’re here?” Of course, that wasn’t true … folks were there to see Vin Diesel. And see him they did. That first half an hour consisted almost entirely of Diesel-as-Riddick trying to survive, Crusoe style, on a desolate planet. It was pretty interesting, even a bit risky. Sure, Diesel was the drawing card, but to give the entire screen over to him (and the special effects) for the first 30 minutes was certainly a way of saying, “people want to see Vinnie”. The remaining 90 minutes are decent … the supporting actors overact engagingly, with the exception of Sackhoff, who underplays as Yet Another Ass-Kicking Woman (she’s just fine in the role, but at this point, she could do it in her sleep). The much publicized five seconds of Starbuck’s sideboob come and go very quickly, and if that’s the only reason you’re watching, you might as well just check it out on the Internet. I gave the first movie in the series 7/10, agreed with most people who found the second movie bloated and gave it a 6/10. Riddick is about as good as Pitch Black, so I’ll give in to the grade inflation curse and give this one 7/10, as well.

end of season, san francisco giants edition

The Giants are playing their final game of the season today, so I better get a wrap up posted.

I went to fewer games this season (9) than I have since the new ballpark opened (at least). I was out of the country part of the time, but that’s not a very good explanation for the entirety of the six months. If I had to guess a reason, I’d say the fact that I spent around $1000 less on Giants games this year than I had in each of the last few seasons is a good place to start. This was also the first bad team of the four since I gave up my season tickets, so there wasn’t always a pressing need to BE THERE. Maybe it’s that I’m 60 years old, I don’t know.

Nine is such a small number, I could post the highlights of each game right here. I think I will. (All links are to the Baseball-Reference site.)

April 5: Opening Day. They raised the 2012 Championship flag. Barry Zito (yes, Barry Zito) threw seven shutout innings. The only run of the game came from a bases-loaded walk to Angel Pagan.

April 10: Barry Zito (yes, Barry Zito) threw seven shutout innings. Again. This time, the Giants scored more than one run … ten, to be exact, with a one-out triple by Buster Posey in the first inning starting the rout.

April 23: Zito didn’t pitch, so of course, the Giants lost. It took 11 innings. The game was not without its moments … trailing 4-0, the Giants scored two in the 8th, and two more in the bottom of the 9th, the latter courtesy of Brandon Belt’s first homer of the season. I’d call that the play of the game, except the Giants still lost. At that point, I’d already been to three of their first eleven home games … no sign that I’d only see six more.

May 5: My first Dodger game of the year. The Giants won their 6th straight, Matt Cain got his first win of the season, Sergio Romo his 12th save, Hunter Pence had two doubles and three RBI. I’d now been to four of their first fifteen home games.

May 21: This one had the best ending of all the games I saw, with Pablo Sandoval hitting a two-run walkoff homer in the bottom of the 10th. He hit it off of Yunesky Maya … it was Maya’s only major-league appearance of the year. The game only made it to extra innings because Gregor Blanco hit a two-out, run-scoring triple in the bottom of the 9th. After the game, the Giants were tied for first place. I wouldn’t attend another game for two months.

July 23: At least when I returned to China Basin, I got my money’s worth: a doubleheader. In the two months I’d been away, the team had gone 19-33. They weren’t in first place. In the first game, the Reds battered Eric Surkamp around on their way to a 9-3 victory. The second game was an oddball … it was a makeup of a game played in Cincinnati, so the Giants hit first and wore road uniforms, and the Reds hit second and wore home uniforms. As many noted, this gave Cincy a chance to get a walkoff hit while on the road. Barry Zito gave up three runs and left before he’d pitched five innings. When he left, the Giants still led, 5-3, and that’s how it ended. Sergio Romo ended any chance of the Road Walkoff … after a leadoff single, he struck out the side. And we were still there … kudos to Olivia for doing only the second DH in the “new” park.

September 8: Somehow, I missed all of August. This game was the highlight of the year, because my brother made his first trip to China Basin. And the baseball gods rewarded him. The game took more than 3 1/2 hours, went 11 innings, and ended when Angel Pagan singled home the game-winner.

September 24: A pitcher’s duel where all three runs came via bases-empty homers. Unfortunately, the Dodgers hit two of them. It marked Brian Wilson’s China Basin debut as a Dodger, and went without much hubbub. (That came the next night. Thanks for 2010, Brian. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.) Final record for the season: 6-3.

So … how about that Hunter Pence? He just signed an extension, five years, $90 million. That’s probably too much, although there is a lot of money floating around baseball these days. I’m not much for including “intangibles” in player evaluation, and I have no inside information (which is one reason I suspect “intangibles” … do we really know what Hunter Pence is like in the clubhouse?). But … one of those old baseball beliefs is that a good clubhouse atmosphere leads to a winning team, while I assume it’s the exact opposite, that a winning team leads to a good clubhouse atmosphere. Well, the Giants are not a winning team this year. And again, I’m not privy to inside information. But in September, the Giants have played well, and have rarely looked like a team that couldn’t wait to be done so they could go fishing. The team attitude seems (I emphasize, seems) to be realistic but positive. I could be making all of this up, I don’t know. But Hunter Pence won the Willie Mac Award this year, which goes to the player who shows best shows the spirit and leadership of Stretch. Most importantly, it is voted on by the players and staff. It’s their way of saying, Hunter Pence meant a lot to this team. That is probably worth something.

music friday, 1997 edition

1. Blur, “Song 2”. I know Blur have made other songs … they have seven albums, after all. But this is the only one I know, and most American sports fans couldn’t tell you the name of the band (or the song). But we know “Woo hoo!”

2. Missy Elliott, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”. There have been a shitload of inventive samples throughout the history of hip-hop, and I marvel at the ability to hear a tiny piece of a larger recording and know it’s just the right sample. Ann Peebles makes a terrific sample here, but I can’t call it surprising … even my ears can tell it’s perfect.

3. Cornershop, “Brimful of Asha”. The first of three songs that bring 1997 back with great immediacy. I can’t have been the only person in the States who sang along without having the slightest idea what it was about.

4. Hanson, “Mmmbop”. An underrated band comes up with a great single that they will never match, although they deserve credit for trying. Earlier this year they launched their own beer: Mmmhops. The video link is one of my favorites.

5. Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”. The punk anarchist version of “Song 2”.

6. Shania Twain, “You’re Still the One”. Honestly, all I knew about her for many years was that Jon Landau managed her for a while. I know this song, though.

7. Pavement, “Stereo”. I grapple with Pavement to this day, yet I’ve never gotten any further than my early assessment that I would have loved them very much if I had been born fifteen years later than I was.

8. Spice Girls, “Wannabe”. Another video I love. Yes, their “rebellious” behavior is harmless rather than revolutionary, the lyrics are silly, and Posh comes across as fairly useless (in part because she was not very involved in the recording of the song). It was created in a manner to make a Ramone proud: 30 minutes to write it, an hour to record it. The video is one take, which means they practiced a lot before running the camera. I love the way they have to turn their heads whenever they’re dancing backwards, so they don’t bump into anything. It’s a tossup which is the more delightful pop tune from 1997, this one or “Mmmbop”.

9. Puff Daddy & the Family, “I’ll Be Missing You”. Second only to “Come to Me” as a hip-hop revision of a classic rock band (which is what the Police turned out to be), and it has the added factor of the emotions being real.

10. Sleater-Kinney, “One More Hour”. The pleasures I get from Sleater-Kinney are bittersweet. I knew I loved them … I did see them in concert 12 times. But it was clear when they went on “hiatus” that they would be gone for a lot longer than that word implied. “One More Hour” is one of the greatest break-up songs, not just in the lyrics, but in the way the song is constructed around the simultaneous voices of Corin and Carrie. Yet, as with most of their music, when I hear it now, it hurts inside. The quality of the video in the link is pretty lo-fi, but it shows the band closing the last show they ever performed together.

marvel's agents of s.h.i.e.l.d., series premiere

First off, can we dispense with the bloated title, complete with punctuation? From this point on, the show is called Agents of Shield on this blog.

I assume most people made up their minds about whether to watch this show before it aired. If you like Marvel comics, or, more importantly, if you like Joss Whedon, you are going to give this series a chance. If Marvel means nothing to you, if you aren’t quite sure who Joss Whedon is, then I imagine you’ll find something else to watch. Agents of Shield is at least momentarily critic-proof. Lots of critical hosannas might get the show a bit more attention, and a bunch of pans might turn potential fans away in advance. But basically, it will take a lot more than one episode for Joss fans to give up (I can’t speak for Marvel fans).

A couple of days before the premiere, I thought about my own Joss Whedon fandom. I began from the position that I wasn’t that big of a fan … certainly not compared to the hardcore. I never watched Angel, which is usually what I trot out when I’m distancing myself from his work. Buffy was my favorite, but I came late to it, not tuning in until Season Three. I passed on Firefly until it was released on home video … I found I liked it, and I liked Serenity even more, but the hardcore fans were out in front on that one. Finally, I jumped on Dollhouse from the beginning, which might have been a mistake, since Season One wasn’t very good. But the season ended well, the extra episode included on home video was promising, and Season Two was the best TV Joss since Buffy.

And I haven’t said anything about Dr. Horrible (thought it was fun), Cabin in the Woods (liked it a lot, although it wasn’t entirely his), or Much Ado About Nothing, which is my favorite Movie Joss of them all.

So yeah, I’m a fan.

When you’re a fan, you don’t mind some of the repeating trademarks. Certainly it was fun to hear Joss Whedon dialogue again on TV. There are ass-kicking women … I particularly appreciated Ming-Na Wen, who showed that you could be a 49-year-old woman and still be an ass-kicker. I can’t tell from the pilot if J. August Richards will stick around, but it would be nice to have a black character.

I felt the explanation for the appearance of Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson was clever in a proper look-at-what-we-did way (Coulson died in The Avengers movie). It seems at first like a unique take on the superhero genre, to focus on a bunch of people with no superpowers. On the other hand, it’s familiar ground for Whedon (Buffy was surrounded by “regular” folks, although as the series progressed, they became witches and such).

Agents of Shield may not have knocked my socks off in the pilot, but it didn’t have to … as I noted above, Whedon has a lot of goodwill from his audience, we’re happy to let him take his time. Perhaps this is best shown by the simple fact that I’m not a fan of these kinds of shows, but I’m excited about Agents of Shield, because he is involved. Grade for pilot: B+.


There is much that seems generic about Broadchurch when you first confront it. It tells the story of the murder of a young boy in a small town where everyone knows everyone. Every character has their secrets … every character, at one time or another, is a suspect. In the end, the mystery is solved, but the small town is changed forever.

But there are many reasons why Broadchurch is far better than a simple description of its plot might suggest. Start with the writing, which is excellent. Add the believable and atmospheric location shooting, and the top-notch cast (all but one of whom I knew nothing about). This all brings Broadchurch to the higher levels of the solid whodunit.

But I would argue that the structure of the series is what took it over the top. Broadchurch is a British show that aired on ITV, with BBC America picking up the U.S. rights. There are only eight episodes (although a second season is apparently going to happen, about which more in a bit). And eight is exactly the right number.

A typical whodunit like this might turn up as a single episode in a series, with everything taken care of in an hour. A movie version might last twice as long. But eight episodes, totaling around six hours, add a depth that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. There was no rush to uncover the murderer. Instead, as the case progressed, we got to know the people in the small town, a couple of dozen at least. Each character gets the time to show their depth. We have favorites and not-so-favorites, we think we know whodunit (a basic pleasure of the genre), and each episode, we know those people a little bit better. Thus, the impact of this horrible event on the town is driven home to the viewer, through the way it impacts the characters. And eight episodes allows us to get inside each of those characters in turn.

The whodunit aspect of the series is very good, as well … it moves along at a decent pace, the red herrings are well-placed. This is not one of those mystery series that strings the viewer along, endlessly. The detectives in charge, played by David Tennant (the one actor I’ve heard of) and Olivia Colman (who I didn’t know, but wow, I know her now), are interesting, with just as much depth as the other characters.

By the final episode, when the killer is revealed, you are exhausted in a good way. (I can’t imagine binge-watching this … the emotional turmoil would be unbearable without breaks.) The minute we find out the killer’s identity, we start thinking about what that discovery will mean for all the characters we have come to know. That’s what the first seven episodes have established, and it makes the final episode heartbreaking. The big reveal comes early in the episode, giving time for those characters to react, one by one, before the series ends.

And that ending is fitting, bittersweet, and final. I was surprised to see a second season has been ordered … sure, you’d want to repeat something of quality, but those eight episodes resolved themselves so nicely that it’s hard to see what could be next. No matter what comes, this first season is there for people to catch up on, and I strongly recommend you do, with the caveat that it is emotionally wrenching. Grade for season: A.

carolyn cassady, 1923-2013

Back in 2008, on the 40th anniversary of the death of Neal Cassady, I wrote an email to Carolyn Cassady, which ended:

As I think back on your Neal today, and remember that he was a mythological character to us but a husband and father to you ... I know that the ongoing inspiration comes not only from the myths of the past, but also from the people who live in the here and now. As we continue on our life's path, we draw inspiration from many sources, the myths and the people behind the myths. Thank you for allowing your life to be a part of our myth. Thank you for showing us the life behind the myth.

She replied to that email, thanking me for “a very kind and generous sentiment”. I assure you, her reply is something I will always treasure.

Here is what may be her last interview:

Carolyn Cassady died last Friday.

what i watched last week

The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988). Morris deserves credit for expanding our notions about what belongs in a “documentary”. But he works too hard to be artistic, at the expense of his reputed subject matter. I once wrote about his movie about Robert McNamara, The Fog of War, that “the ‘better’ the movie on an aesthetic level, the less believable it becomes as a documentary. A film like Battle of Algiers, of course, works in the opposite direction, using aesthetics to emulate a documentary feel. The odd result is that the fictional film feels ‘real’ and the ‘real’ film feels fictional.” Morris does not try to trick the viewer into thinking everything in The Thin Blue Line is “real” in a strict documentary sense … his recreation of events ensures that. And I suppose he can’t be faulted for withholding some information until late in the movie, in order to create a level of suspense. There’s just something about his movies that nags at me, and I like them … maybe if I could put my finger on what is bothering me, I wouldn’t like them as much. #319 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 movies of all time. 8/10.

Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936). Not exactly a request, but I had it at #74 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list, and a few people requested that I take a look at my “also rans”. I included it on that list partly because it felt right having at least one Chaplin movie (Jeff Pike had me beat in that regard … he had Modern Times at #29 and City Lights at #1). I didn’t feel the same need to make room for Buster Keaton, because he was always going to be there … the only question was which one I would pick (Steamboat Bill, Jr., #27). Chaplin has always been #2 to Keaton in my pantheon. This isn’t fair to Chaplin, who made great films, himself (I could just as easily have selected The Great Dictator). But Chaplin’s sentimentality often gets the best of me. Having said that, the emotional pull of his best movies is often the main reason people respond to them. As Jeff wrote about the ending to City Lights, “At a stroke it opens up the scope wide for everything that movies can do: the reality of human kindness and pathos, cynicism disarmed, and the simple and persuasive case, I say again, for optimism and hope.” One reason I like Modern Times, though, is that the sentiment is less obvious, as Chaplin offers a brilliant, visual, physical, and funny critique of mechanized society and social unrest. There is a place for kindness, of course … as the Little Tramp walks away for the last time, he has a companion in the irresistible (to me, anyway) Paulette Goddard. Meanwhile, there is the ingenious scene where Chaplin speaks on screen for the first time. I’d explain it, but it’s worth the surprise if you’ve never seen it. All I can say is, I find it extremely pleasurable in repeated viewings. #43 on the TSPDT list. 10/10.

Night Tide (Curtis Harrington, 1961). The background behind Night Tide is interesting. Harrington began his career making avant-garde shorts, influenced by Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger. Night Tide was his feature-film directorial debut. The film cost $75,000, yet somehow David Raksin was brought in to do the music. Raksin’s career went all the way back to Modern Times with Chaplin; he had picked up his second Oscar nomination just two years earlier. The movie marked the first leading role for Dennis Hopper. The flute player in the jazz club is Paul Horn, who later gained fame for his album recorded inside the Taj Mahal (and who did the music for Clutch Cargo … I could go on, I better stop). The movie was made for American International via Filmgroup, the distribution company set up by Roger Corman and his brother. (Corman liked Harrington’s work enough to hire him to turn footage from some Soviet Union science-fiction movies into Queen of Blood and Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet.) Night Tide was marketed as a horror film that played the drive-in circuit paired with AIP’s The Raven. I came across it while looking through old program notes from the local Creature Features show I grew up with … on November 26, 1966 it was shown alongside How to Make a Monster. OK, enough already. Is Night Tide any good? Yes, it is. It is atmospheric, and shows the influence of Val Lewton on Harrington. The young Hopper is appealingly naïve, and the acting in general is underplayed more than the usual for horror movies. (Special shout out to Luana Anders.) I suppose it matters what expectations you bring to the film … it’s more commercial than Maya Deren, more subtle and arty than the usual Roger Corman, so fans of both might be disappointed. I felt it more than earned a 7/10.

Eat the Document (Bob Dylan, 1972). There is a lot to contest just in the few words that precede this sentence. Dylan is listed as director, and I suppose it’s his film, but it’s unclear if anyone actually directed it. And 1972 is the official release date, but it documents Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe. The story seems to be that D.A. Pennebaker was in charge of shooting the footage, no one was really the director, and after Dylan’s famous motorcycle accident, he decided to edit it himself, a process which led Pennebaker to note, “You gotta know some of the rules and he didn’t know any of the rules”. If that sounds enticing, it’s worth noting that there is a difference between breaking rules you know exist, and ignoring rules because you don’t know them. The former is rebellious, the latter is willfully primitive. There’s something to be said for both approaches, but the truth is, Eat the Document would be unwatchable without the lure of its star at a crucial point in his career. Pennebaker also has a rarely-seen version called Something Is Happening (I’m not sure anyone has seen it as a complete work), that reportedly has more music and a more coherent structure. 5/10.

these are different times

Early this morning, I sent out the following tweet:

“These are different times: I'm watching Man City-Man U live in HD on Telemundo, Andres Cantor at the mic.”

There are a lot of markers packed into that sentence, to demonstrate how times have changed. I’m watching the top Premier League matchup of the week on television … live … in hi-def … in Spanish … with Andres Cantor … while on Twitter.

There was a time when I would never see Premier League matches live on TV, much less in HD, much less with Spanish-language commentating. (Further note on that: Cantor was joined by Sammy Sadovnik, another favorite of mine. And the English-language play-by-play guy, Arlo White, is also very good. And that’s another sign of changing times: good English-language soccer announcers in the USA.)

Meanwhile, as much of the soccer-fan universe was watching the same match, I noted Simon Gleave tweeting. I knew him from the days when Usenet was a popular place for online communities (another thing that has changed). In 1994, Gleave had put together guides to the World Cup and then the Premier League (“Shaggy’s Guide to the FA Premiership”). I can’t over-emphasize how valuable those guides were, especially for an American like me who had so little contact with soccer once USA ‘94 was over. MLS hadn’t begun yet … European leagues were never on our TV … mostly we got Mexican League matches on the Spanish-language channels.

Gleave has worked for Infostrada Sports for more than a decade as Head of Analysis (I think I’ve got this right), and is one of the most creative soccer analysts out there. I thought I could impress my nephew, who works as an analyst for the Earthquakes, if I found some evidence of me and Gleave from those bygone years.

I found a Usenet thread, Reading’s Goalkeeper, from September of 1994. The first message was from “Shaggy” (Gleave’s pen name in those days), telling us he’d seen a match that weekend, Reading v. Sheffield United, where he had found “a real star of the future”. It was Reading’s goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop. My contribution to the discussion was minimal … I was glad Shaggy had mentioned Hislop’s height, because the English wire services of the day always referred to Hislop as the “giant keeper”.

But this is about how times change. Shaggy may have overstated Hislop’s excellence, but Shaka had a pretty good career. He was in fact named Reading’s Player of the Year in 1994-95. He also played for Newcastle United, West Ham United, and Portsmouth, before finishing his career in MLS. And he made 26 appearances for the Trinidad & Tobago national team. Nowadays, you can find Hislop working as an analyst for ESPN.

In nineteen years, we’ve gone from few matches on U.S. television, information sparsely doled out, hanging out on Usenet, to a zillion matches on U.S. television, information at our fingertips, and Twitter allowing for real-time discussions.

Oh, and that part where I thought I could impress my nephew? When I tagged Simon Gleave in a tweet, he replied, “Are you related to Sean Rubio of San Jose Earthquakes fame?” I tried to impress Sean, and I ended up being the one who was impressed.

(Some things don’t change. I was listening to Cantor today, and I was listening to Cantor in 1994. The only difference is, he changed networks along the way.)