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rome

In the end, its thunder was stolen by Battlestar Galactica. Since that show had its season finale right after Rome's series finale, it was fresher in our minds, and we barely had time to digest Rome before we started in on the other program, which of course wasn't fair to Rome.

Rome was a fine series that never made it into the triumvirate of HBO greatness (you knew I had to use the word "triumvirate"). It was better than the vast majority of shows on television, and yet we're living in a time when such a statement doesn't in itself mean "great." There was terrific acting throughout, with a variety of acting styles, which was nice to see. There was lots of hot fucking, can't go wrong there. Perhaps what Rome did best was force us to enter into the worldview of the characters. These people experienced the world differently from you or I … they believed in their gods, they believe in portents, they believed in dying with honor. They fucked in public, killed regularly, and all of this forced the viewer out of their own world and into the world of Rome, just as effectively as a Battlestar Galactica puts us in outer space. Rome actually had the harder job, since the values of BSG are recognizable as our own values, while the values of Rome are from another time indeed.

If it wasn't as literate as I, Claudius, it was smart enough on its own to reward our attention. It never felt like a history lesson, it was always vital, it could have gone on for years if the money had been there. It could have covered the same ground, but taken more time to do it … sometimes great leaps of chronology were taken, as if "three years later" was the equivalent of a quick trip to 7-11. But it will be fondly remembered, and as the actors show up in other things, we'll be reminded of Rome and say "hey, it's Titus Pullo!"

Grade for series finale: A-

Grade for series: A-


happy birthday Karen!

I can't let the day go without sending out a birthday greeting to my sister-in-law, Karen. You might not know her, but I can tell you this: she is good at more things that I am bad at than just about anyone you'll ever meet. Point being, I suppose, if you need something from me and you know I'm incapable of giving it to you, Karen probably knows what is needed and how to fulfill the need … and she'll make you feel good in the process. She lives somewhere in the Yukon, so I don't know if she'll see this, but if/when she does, Happy Birthday!


battlestar galactica season finale

I was going to make this a dual post and also talk about the SERIES finale of Rome, but it wouldn't be fair to that fine show to make it an addendum, so I'll write about it later. This will be my "just watched it" post … it will largely avoid spoilers and will only mention a couple of things that I feel it is safe to talk about … if you are totally paranoid about spoilers and haven't seen the season finale, you should stop now, but I'm pretty careful in general and you should be OK (there will be another post in a day or two, and it will be clearly marked as Spoiler Central).

Battlestar Galactica is such a frakking gutsy show, which accounts for its more-than-occasional sloppiness … sometimes you think they'll try any damn thing. What's weird is that each season mixes in these amazing, complex (and messy) episodes related to the overall story arc with standalone episodes that scream FILLER, whether they are good ones or bad. The main difference in the end is that the filler episodes never reach the heights, because they're safe. (OK, "Black Market" was so awful it's hard to call it safe.)

And so tonight, we had some questions answered, but of course more questions were added than were answered, and we can't really trust that the answers we did get were correct, so basically we're just gonna have to sit on the edge of our seats until 2008, wondering what the frak will happen next.

The season finale did what all of the best BSG episodes do: combined all of the aspects of the show, political, religious, personal, they were all there. I just want to talk about one thing that made a big impression on me … this next section will be as close as I come to spoilers, if you're worried. It involves a song much beloved by many of us, and how for one episode, at least, Battlestar Galactica took me back to my more psychedelic moments in a way I haven't experienced since I read all of Philip K. Dick's books back in the day.

Now, there is more to say about the song than I'll mention here, because I'm trying to avoid major spoilers, but I'm just sticking to how it was used, in an artistic sense. Last week's episode (Part One of tonight's Part Two) included some odd scenes where a few people kept hearing a song that no one else could hear. It was cool and spooky, and I looked forward to seeing how it played out, if indeed it was going to play out. And play out it does, but that's for another post. But here's the thing …

Little by little during tonight's episode, while so much else is going on plotwise, those people keep hearing that song. And we in the audience find ourselves straining to hear what the actors are humming, because we're hooked on the mystery too: what IS that song? And then, one by one, they start singing the first line of the lyrics. The melody still doesn't ring a bell, but the words do … doesn't make much sense, so you figure it's just a wink-wink coincidence, but in any event, you're right there with the characters, trying to remember the song, and then as they strive to figure it out, it comes to you, that's like the beginning of a song you actually know, and it seems funny.

Well, to say much more would be spoilerish, so I'll stick to my own reaction. As the actual song becomes more clear, as the characters make interesting discoveries about the song, I was so caught up in the audacious nature of what I was seeing that I couldn't keep the world's biggest grin off of my face. Damn, I was thinking, these guys are so cool it's unbelievable! And as the true meaning of the song is revealed, to the characters and to us in the audience, something about the implications for future plot turns overwhelmed me … audacious doesn't get it, if this was Lost I'd say they've painted themselves into a corner, but I trust Ron Moore, he knows what he's doing, and the whole cosmic enormity of it (and I use the word "cosmic" advisedly, in the "there was a time when I took acid and thought cosmic ideas, and those days are gone, aren't they, hey, what are these feelings being dredged up" way) meant that that huge grin turned rapidly into tears pouring down my face. I haven't felt that much at one with the universe since I sat on the beach at Capitola back in 1971 while on acid and communed with the ocean waves.

And this was far from the biggest plot revelation of the night, but it had such an impact on me, I had to write about it now while it was still fresh. My apologies if I got too spoilerish.

Grade for season finale: A+

Grade for season: if Battlestar Galactica was one of my students, I'd look at their grades over the semester (A, B+, A-, B-, A+) and say to myself what the frak, they aren't consistent but it's pretty obvious they can produce work on an "A" level, and I'd give them a final grade of A. Which would be a slight case of grade inflation, but not the most egregious. This season of Battlestar Galactica has been even more erratic than the other ones, but the best episodes were so great, I'm gonna give the season as a whole an "A".

Oh, and Rome went out with class, as well. More on that later.


push forward

You know, you really have two choices here. I mean, either you push forward with the things that you were doing yesterday or you start dying. That seems to be your only two choices. If I had given up everything that my life was about – first of all, I'd let cancer win before it needed to. You know, maybe eventually it will win. But I'd let it win before I needed to.

And I'd just basically start dying. I don't want to do that. I want to live. And I want to do the work that I want next year to look like last year and... and the year after that and the year after that. And the only way to do that is to say I'm going to keep on with my life.

-- Elizabeth Edwards


facegen

I'm not sure I need to explain my pathetic life at the moment as I try to get to the bottom of the game Out of the Park 2007. But there is one particular aspect of the game that might be worth a blog post. It's called FaceGen.

FaceGen is not specific to OOTP 2007 … it's an application with plenty of uses, not just for games. It's a tool for creating realistic-looking human faces. How is it used in OOTP? Well, if you decide to create a fictional baseball universe, you'll have thousands of fictional players populating that universe. It has always taken a certain amount of imagination to picture in your mind the happenings in the game … it wasn't any different in 1960 when the game was played on a tabletop with a spinner and charts. What FaceGen does is pretty much exactly what its name says: it generates a unique face for every fictional player.

How it decides on the face is interesting. It takes into account the player's height, weight, body fat, and age. The player's face ages as the player gets older. If the player goes from one team to another, his picture reflects this with new cap and uniform. Some players have beards or mustaches … some are clean shaven. You can set the game up so a particular team doesn't allow facial hair … you can set the game up so every human in the game has facial hair.

Here's the thing: you can set the player as any one of the following (or let the program choose at random, according to percentages you establish): African, Asian, East Indian, Caucasian, or Hispanic. To a certain extent, the game knows what ethnicity to give a player … if he's from the Dominican Republic, he's gonna be Hispanic, if he's from Japan (or Korea or China, for that matter), he'll be Asian.

But as far as I can tell, the only way it knows if the player is "African" or "Caucasian" is randomly according to the percentage parameters that have been set. A player whose name is Yoshi Hirota will be assigned an Asian ethnicity … Esteban Rubio would be Hispanic … but what about, say, Bob Smith or Kwame Jackson? There's no reason, within the game, for Smith to be a white guy and Jackson a black guy. But when one of those kinds of players shows up on my screen, and they have the "wrong" ethnicity, I find myself obliged to "fix" it. "Kwame" will always be a black guy, even if I have to go into the editor and change it myself … and "Bob Smith" will always be a white guy, if for no other reason than that my father-in-law, most definitely a white guy, is named Bob Smith (as was Wolfman Jack, one of the blackest white guys of all time … he couldn't just be Bob Smith, he had to be Wolfman Jack).

I have no idea what this all means. Well, it means I should do something with my life. But beyond that, what does it mean, that I am convinced that "Bob Smith" is a white guy?


friday random ten, summer of love edition

Yes, we've made it to 1967!

1. Love, "¡Que Vida!" Forever Changes is quite rightly remembered not only as a classic album from 1967, but as a classic album, period. But what are blogs but a chance to personalize history? At the time, the Love albums I played obsessively were their first two, the second of which, Da Capo, included this sweet-sounding piece of psychedelic pop with lyrics that weren't quite as sweet as the music might suggest: "Do you want my vision? It's dark there, they say."

2. Jefferson Airplane, "Wild Tyme." Shuffle play is having fun avoiding the "classics" in favor of other stuff. Early in 1967, the Airplane came out with one of the most memorable albums of the day, Surrealistic Pillow, which took the new San Francisco Sound to #3 on the charts and included two hit singles. Their response was to release After Bathing at Baxter's later in the year. Baxter's was psychedelic; it was not pop. Needless to say, it didn't make the top ten … the only single from the album didn't crack the Top 40.

3. Laura Nyro, "Wedding Bell Blues." It wasn't exactly Tupac vs. Biggie, but there was a difference between the music coming out of the coasts at this time. Laura Nyro was pure Bronx with Tin Pan Alley roots. Her first album went largely unheard, but those who heard it mattered, and they started recording cover versions of the songs. It's hard to believe at this point that an album with songs like "And When I Die," "Stoney End," and "Wedding Bell Blues" was ignored on release, but it was. Nyro appeared at Monterey, and legend has always held that she bombed … East Coast/West Coast, I guess … Nyro was unknown at the time, she was anything but psychedelic, and the legend grew tentacles over time … she was booed off the stage, she had zero stage presence, she was so unnerved that it affected her entire career (Nyro's first retirement came when she was 24). Revisionists have hopefully put this particular legend to rest … her outtakes in the Monterey Pop DVD box set show someone engaging well with an appreciative audience.

4. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Foxey Lady." When you think of the Summer of Love, of Monterey, of 1967, of psychedelic music, you think of Jimi. Probably the greatest musician in the history of rock and roll. The video in the link, from Monterey, has, for YouTube, extraordinary audio and esp. video.

5. Booker T. & the MG's, "Hip Hug-Her." Speaking of great musicians, these guys played Monterey just as this song was hitting the charts, doing their own set before backing Otis Redding in his earth-shaking performance.

6. Nico, "Little Sister." The East Coast shows up again, and seems out of place again. Actually, Nico was German, but her association with the Velvet Underground most certainly placed her in the East Coast school of the Summer of Love. Her deadpan vocals are memorable, as is Chelsea Girls, the album from which this song is taken. Chelsea Girls is a schizophrenic album, featuring several songs by not only her Velvet compatriots Lou Reed and John Cale but also by a teenaged Jackson Browne, who had a huge crush on Nico at the time. One person described it as the "bride of Dracula singing at a hootenanny."

7. Otis Redding, "Shake." Shuffle play has to get its act together … Otis should have followed Booker T. Live in Europe will always be my favorite Otis album, because it was my first. The greatest soul singer of them all, and yes, I know I say that every time Otis turns up on these lists. He won't turn up on many more of them … his plane crash came at the end of '67. And I know I say this every time, too, but he was 26 fucking years old when he died. Damn. (The quality of the video in the link, also from Monterey, is the opposite of the Jimi video … horrible audio and video … but Otis is so dynamic he conquers all.)

8. The Mamas & the Papas, "Creeque Alley." One of my all-time favorite Mamas and Papas songs. Recently I said to Robin that once all of us baby boomers die out, the words "Creeque Alley" will become completely inscrutable. I hadn't counted on the Internet. Monterey dominates this Summer of Love random ten … six of the artists performed there, and "John and Mitchie" were among those who planned the festival. (Look for a brief shot of Ralph J. Gleason in the video.)

9. The Chambers Brothers, "I Can't Stand It." History has apparently decided that the Chambers Brothers only recorded one song in their career. History is wrong.

10. Van Morrison, "T.B. Sheets." As great as Them was, as delightful as "Brown-Eyed Girl" was, nothing prepared the world for Astral Weeks, one of the best albums ever made. Nothing, perhaps, except for "T.B. Sheets." Van turns a visit to his tubercular girl friend into a bluesy trip into the existential void. The video is OK … you get to see Van getta drinka watta … but the most remarkable thing about it is the realization that Van was still singing the song as late as 1999. One could endlessly quote lyrics … "open up the window and let me breathe" … "I can almost smell your T.B. sheets" … but this gets to the dark nub of it all (even though it's only through Van's singing and the backup musicians that the true import can be found):

I gotta go, I gotta go

And you said, "Please stay, I wanna, I wanna, I want a drink of water, I want a drink of water

Go in the kitchen get me a drink of water"

I said, "I gotta go, I gotta go, baby"


i don’t need a goal, I don’t need to get laid, just let me live forever and I’ll have it made

The poll is over. First off, a quick note for those of you who let me know how much you like it when I do polls: I got 19 votes for this poll, the lowest number for any poll I've run. Most people ignore them. Or my readership has dropped even lower than it used to be, which is sad but certainly possible.

On to the results! Of the 19 respondents, 8 said they would first read the article about slowing the aging process, 6 wanted to read about having better sex, and 5 said they would read the article about setting life-changing goals.

The conclusions are obvious. The people who read this blog have spoken! We don't give a shit if nothing happens in our life, as long as it's a long life. Even if our sex life sux, at least we'll be around to be miserable about it. Even if we have no ambition, it won't matter, because the people with ambitions will all be dead and we'll still be sitting here, writing blog entries and thinking about Out of the Park Baseball.


will my 15 minutes ever end?

Jillian just informed me that I had a letter printed in the Sunday Datebook. I had no idea!

The context: Neva Chonin wrote a column about Children of Men in the Sunday paper of January 21. Here come some spoilers, so you might skip this if you intend to see Children of Men any time soon. Chonin notes that the futuristic world of the film is "blighted by global infertility," and expresses puzzlement at a change that was made between book and movie. In the movie, women are the infertile ones, while in the book it's the men shooting blanks. She wonders why this change was made, and considers the possibility that male sterility was "too controversial for a mainstream feature." She expands on this, asking us to "imagine a movie about men becoming sterile, in which men are only background figures, save for one frightened teenage sperm bank battled over by competing female cadres. Yeah, right. Straight to DVD it would go, filed away in the 'midnight movie' section."

Which led to me dropping Neva an email. In it, I wrote "Excellent point. It's nowhere near in the same class as Children of Men ... OK, it's silly to even mention the two films in the same email. But Hell Comes to Frogtown with Rowdy Roddy Piper has the basic plot you describe: one fertile man after the apocalypse."

Well, last Sunday, that email made it into the Datebook, as follows:

Editor -- It's nowhere near in the same class as "Children of Men" -- OK, it's silly to even mention the two films in the same e-mail -- but "Hell Comes to Frogtown" with Roddy Piper has the basic plot Neva Chonin describes in her Jan. 21 column: one fertile man after the apocalypse.

Steven Rubio

Berkeley

The changes are harmless … they used quotation marks instead of italics for the movie titles (guess I need to quit insisting on italics from my students), removed "Rowdy" from Mr. Piper's name, clarified the context since they printed the letter two months after it was written, and made it look like I wrote to the Editor when in fact I emailed Neva. That's the best part … I emailed Neva Chonin, which means she had to forward it to somebody, which means she liked it. Which makes my day, me being pathetic and all.

 


scalping, or, shall i look a gift horse in the face?

I have a policy about scalping. I don't do it.

The price per seat for my Giants tickets are $18. If you were to buy them through normal channels … you can't, of course, but if you could … they are $20 Mon-Thurs, $26 Fri-Sun and holidays, and $32 for the Dodgers, A's, and Yankees.

I sell some of my tix in March, to people who have bought from me in the past. I charge them $36/pair, what I paid for them. I'm not looking to make a profit, just to get my money back. This means my tickets are a bargain, since they would cost at least $20 otherwise.

When I don't have any friends, family, or acquaintances who want to buy them, I sometimes sell them via the "Double Play Window" on the Giants website. It's easy, and it's also easy, in an "I'm already here" fashion, to donate my extras that way to my friend Zoe's charity. Easy, yes, but there are charges … I forget the amount, but the Giants add a service charge of a couple of bucks.

This year, the New York Yankees are coming to China Basin for three games. I'll just have returned from Europe the night of the first game, so that's out, and I'll be burned out the next day, so I won't be using those, either. Neal and I are going to the third game on Sunday. The Yankees have not played meaningful games in San Francisco since 1962, so this is a big event.

So, I have two tickets to two Yankee games that I need to get rid of. I could give them or sell them to friends or family, but I'd have to do a lottery or something, because those would be v.popular and I'd have way more applicants than available tickets. In the meantime, I went to the Double Play Window to see how it looked. Today is the first day we can sell our tickets in that manner, and I wondered how much people were asking for their tickets. I'm thinking, as always, that I'd sell mine for $36/pair, if I sold them.

I found someone selling two tickets in my section and row … their seats are basically the same as mine. The asking price? $495.

I don't suppose they'll get $495 for those seats. But I wouldn't be surprised if they get half as much, and $250 for something that cost you $36 is a pretty good payoff.

It goes without saying that if I put my tix on the Double Play Window right now and set the price as $36, they would be gone in the proverbial New York minute. And I bet if I put them on sale right now for $199/pair, they'd be gone in less than half an hour.

But I don't scalp.

Funny how ethics are easy when you're talking about a couple of bucks, but much harder when you're talking about hundreds of dollars. Especially since we're going to Europe, and that costs a lot of money, money we don't necessarily have.