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March 2009
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May 2009

bad citizen

Am I a bad citizen because I don't blame Fox for showing their regular schedule rather than the President's press conference? There were many ways to watch the press conference, or to catch up with it later ... it's not as if showing Lie to Me meant that Americans were denied their opportunity to watch Obama in action.

I'd say more, but I have to go watch Lie to Me ...

have we finally found an american fanta de limón?

diet sunkist lemonade I've been drinking this stuff pretty much non-stop for a couple of weeks now, and it's good enough to warrant a post. Long-time readers know of my/our obsession with Fanta de limón, known in England as Lemon Fanta or Fanta Lemon or something like that, and, sadly, known in the U.S. as "huh?" To the best of my knowledge, Fanta de limón is not available anywhere in the States, and no one knows the reason. The local Spanish-food import store has Kas, a close second in my estimation, at around $2/can.

Well, something new has shown up on the shelves of our grocery store ... new to us, I believe it's been available elsewhere over the years. It's Sunkist Sparkling Lemonade (and a Diet version, as well!). Now, I won't know for sure until I taste Fanta in Spain this June, but if memory serves, this Sunkist stuff is the closest thing I've ever tasted to our beloved original. (And if you think I'm exaggerating about Fanta, go visit Google, and I'll see you here when you return. Fanta de limón is arguably the thing Americans miss most when they return home from Spain.)

There are caveats. Well, only one, really ... these drinks have caffeine, about 42mg per can, which is slightly more than standard cola drinks, about 2/3 of what you'll get in Mountain Dew, and less than half of what you'd get in a Starbuck's Tall Caffe Mocha.

Anyway, if you happen to see this post via the wonders of Google, and you aren't aware of Sunkist Sparkling Lemonade and/or Diet Sunkist Sparkling Lemonade, you owe it to yourself to give it a try if you find it in your neighborhood. (I tried a bottle of the non-Diet version, and it was equally good ... well, even better, of course, but if you don't want the sugar, Diet is the obvious choice.)

what i watched last week

Bolt. I'm not sure why I keep watching these animated movies. I don't usually hate them, but neither do I care about them one way or another. Finding Nemo is the exception that proves the rule, I guess. 6/10.

Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood's reputation as a director took a giant leap when he won the Oscar for this film ... up to that point, Eastwood, in his 60s, had directed more than a dozen movies while working as an actor for almost 40 years, without ever receiving an Oscar nomination for anything. Like all of his best movies, Eastwood serves the script, lets the actors take care of business, and, in this case, inserts his own iconic presence into the mix. The problem with this kind of directing is that it falters when the script and/or the actors do not take care of business. Eastwood reminds us of the directors of the studio era, doing a workmanlike job and nothing more. Sometimes you get Unforgiven, other times you get Absolute Power. Ultimately, he'll be remembered for the highlights, the low lights will be forgotten, the Oscars for directing will get people's attention, and he'll be just as he is now: a decent director, only as good as his material, who is overrated because sometimes the material is very good. He's Don Siegel with a couple of Oscars. It must be stated, though, that what Eastwood does is harder than he makes it look. As a director, and as an actor, he understands what Harry Callahan says in Magnum Force: a man's got to know his limitations. #209 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the Top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

friday random ten, 1974 edition

1. Al Green, "Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)." Sometimes, people are ubiquitous. Al Green cranked out hit after hit in the first half of the 70s, great songs all of them. He was so good, when he put out a Greatest Hits album in 1975 (one of the best albums ever made, BTW), this fine Top Ten track didn't even make the album.

2. Bob Marley & the Wailers, "No Woman, No Cry." Speaking of ubiquitous ... and still enormously popular. The video has gotten more than 15 million views.

3. David Bowie, "Rebel Rebel." Punk rock was waiting, just around the corner.

4. Freddy Fender, "Before the Next Teardrop Falls." The underrated Fender's greatest ballad.

5. ABBA, "Waterloo." Since I got a full season package to the San Francisco Giants when they opened their new ball park in 2000, I've sat in the general vicinity of the same people, something that doesn't happen when you sit in a different place for every game. Over time, we get to know each other's quirks. Among other things, I am known for adopting certain players as the object of my ire ... guys like Neifi Perez or Pedro Feliz. It's gotten so that each year on Opening Day, someone always asks me who my "new guy" will be. If I ever finally decide to retire my endlessly boring rants against the Carpenters, I think ABBA will be the Pedro Feliz to Richard and Karen's Neifi Perez.

6. Labelle, "Lady Marmalade." Hard to find a video of the original, so you get the Moulin Rouge version. Labelle were the glam rockers of R&B.

7. Electric Light Orchestra, "Can't Get It Out of My Head." They sounded most like the Beatles on songs such as this one, where Jeff Lynne's vocals approximated the sound of a John Lennon ballad.

8. The Sweet, "Ballroom Blitz." Bowie, the Sweet, even Labelle ... Glam Rock may not have lasted very long, but it was all over the place for a bit ... ubiquitous, since that seems to be the word of the day.

9. Kraftwerk, "Autobahn." Meanwhile, this odd song ended up being more a harbinger of the future than all of the other songs on this list put together.

10. Roxy Music, "The Thrill of It All." I've never quite "gotten" Roxy Music, although I like a lot of their music, especially Country Life. But I feel like I'm missing something ... I know there's more than I've taken in. Which is what separates them from, oh, ABBA, about whom I'm pretty sure I'm not missing anything at all.

teaching and learning

My dissertation director, Mitch Breitwieser, just received a Distinguished Teaching Award at Cal. This quote, from his "Statement of Teaching Philosophy," reminds me of the time when, in one of my many moments of insecurity, I asked Mitch at what point one finally got over the feeling that one was a poser, about to get caught. He replied that he didn't know, because he hadn't gotten there yet, himself.

A teacher’s conclusions can seem to have arrived effortlessly, but such facility can reinforce students’ feelings that, because they are struggling, there must be some personal deficiency, and such feelings reduce the chance that the intellectual problem will be solved, because academic success depends upon properly understanding the encounter with difficulty. If it is seen as an opportunity for intellectual experiment, students are liable to become invigorated and adventurous. But seeing it as the consequence of personal inadequacy dispirits students, leading many to quit, or to content themselves with the modest efforts that they come to accept as their best endeavor. Such outcomes are particularly tempting at Berkeley, where the institutional reputation can make even the hardiest egotists suspect that they snuck in when someone was looking the other way. Letting one’s own ideation show during class helps students to engage creatively with their own hard, but bracing, tasks.

i wanna be sedated

As the latest Bruce Springsteen tour rolls on, it's becoming more clear that what we saw at the first show, in San Jose, was closer to the rehearsal shows of the week before than the more "polished" shows that followed. Nothing wrong with that ... as I said at the time, when you've seen Bruce as many times as we have, it's always nice to get a new perspective, even if the result isn't the all-time best (and all of the people I talked to who were seeing Bruce for the first time thought it was a terrific show). Still, reading the subsequent set lists (an unavoidable problem for us fanatics), it's clear that Bruce and the band (and, of course, the crowds) are having the time of their lives.

Most aging rockers end up doing what amounts to oldies shows, nostalgic trips back for the geezers in the audience. Bruce has avoided this in the past, largely because his albums continue to be interesting and relevant, if not classic. But the current "Working on a Dream" tour seems to be sliding into that oldies format ... he only plays 3 or 4 songs a night from the new album. So, how does he avoid becoming just another old guy with a big back catalog?

It doesn't hurt that he's the greatest live rocker of the last 40 years. Also, as his songs became more "adult" and serious, he lost some of the goofiness that made his early concerts so endearing. Now, he seems to have rediscovered the goof. Who knows the reason, but it began showing up on the last tour, when he started taking requests from fans who scrawled the titles of their favorites on signs they brought into the pit in front of the stage. You never knew what they'd play from one show to the next. Sure, at times he probably chose signs for songs the band had practiced or played a thousand times, but sometimes he'd pick obscurities they hadn't gone near in decades. Giving up even a little bit of control was unusual for Bruce, but it seems to be liberating for him.

And so, he kicked off the tour in San Jose by choosing "Growin' Up" and "Thunder Road" from the signs ... not that he hasn't played those in the past, but the impulse, to play it by ear on occasion, was fun (not to mention, he threw in "Good Rockin' Tonight" all on his own). The next show on the tour, signs elicited performances of "Downbound Train," "Because the Night," and "Rosalita." Next concert, "Sherry Darling" was the sign-related tune. And on and on they go ... "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," "Cadillac Ranch," "The E Street Shuffle," "Prove It All Night," some rarities, some highlights of tours past, all added on the fly to the nightly set lists.

Last week in Los Angeles, Bruce (and the crowd) took it to another level. First, there were the guest appearances ... Tom Morello did a reprieve of his astounding spot on "Ghost of Tom Joad" from last year's tour, Social Distortion's Mike Ness showed up, and Max's son Jay took over on drums for a few songs. Meanwhile, the fans looked outside of Bruce's own songs for sign requests, asking for (and getting) "Raise Your Hand."

On to Boston, where he just played two shows. The first night, a sign convinced Bruce to play ZZ Top's "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" for the first time in 25 years. Last night, the Dropkick Murphys were there, and one of their members came on stage and proposed marriage to his girlfriend. She said yes, and the band played "So Young and in Love."

The first request to be played last night? Check out this raw video for the answer:

At this point, it would seem Bruce has stared nostalgia in the face and punched it in the nose. Here's hoping he keeps punching ... and that he comes back to the Bay Area real soon.

what would [fill in name of your favorite mentor] do?

OK, most of this is just me being lame. I thought I had jury duty tomorrow, and earlier today I checked to see if they'd posted the instructions, hoping of course that they would tell me I didn't need to show up. When I looked at my paperwork, I realized I was supposed to go today. Well, too late for that. I read the "I fucked up" instructions and called them on the phone as directed. After being on hold for 20 minutes, I got a man who said I could reschedule for tomorrow at 8:30. Since I expected to go then anyway, I said fine.

Something occurred to me later in the day, but I didn't want to sit on hold for another 20 minutes, so I kept my thoughts to myself. I shouldn't have. Just after 5:00, I went online to see what the reporting instructions were:

The following notice is for jurors summoned for 04/22/2009.

No jurors are needed for the 8:30 AM roll call.

Further instructions said to call between 11 and 12 tomorrow to see if you'd be needed.

So, legal experts ... am I supposed to show up tomorrow at 8:30, or not? The guy on the phone didn't say anything other than "we'll reschedule you for 8:30 tomorrow." I was too lazy to call back and ask if I was part of the next day's pool, or in some special "I fucked up" category. And now I know that you don't need to show up for 8:30 roll call if you were summoned for 4/22.

What should I do? I'm leaning towards staying home in the morning and calling at 11:00.