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August 2009

hung

Some television series grab you from the first episode, while with others, you know before the end of the pilot that you’ll never watch again. (Hello to The Philanthropist. Goodbye, Philanthropist.) Hung lies in that middle ground where enough intriguing elements exist to encourage extended viewing, but you’ll watch knowing that the show could go either way. Hung has two charming performances by Thomas Jane (as the title character) and Jane Adams (as his pimp). After two episodes, it appears to be balancing the audacious nature of its setup (Jane has a big dick and needs money) with just enough sheepish aw-shucks acting to make it seem as if we’re watching a Jimmy Stewart comedy from the 40s. There is room for improvement, but as I said about Nurse Jackie last week, that’s part of the fun of a new series. I’d say Hung has as good a chance of lasting success as Jackie.


the giants, 2009 edition, halfway report

Time for an All-Star Break look at the Giants, who, as fans are well aware, are leading in the NL Wild Card race at the moment.

First question is the most obvious: do they belong at the top of that list? Probably not. They are two games ahead of Colorado, and that could easily change over the second half of the season. There are other teams poised to make a run … none of them are clearly better than the Giants, but there are enough of them that it’s an issue. Clay Davenport gives them a 27% chance of winning the wild card (and a 2% chance of winning the division), which isn’t great but is a lot higher than 0%.

What are they doing right, according to the variety of stats available at the Prospectus web site? They’re doing a good job of running the bases. Their defense is pretty good.

Hitting, position by position? Bengie Molina isn’t hitting as well as last year. Travis Ishikawa isn’t much compared to other first-basemen. None of the second-basemen have hit so far. Pablo Sandoval is the best-hitting 3B in the league. Edgar Renteria isn’t hitting. The various leftfielders are a mediocre bunch at best. Aaron Rowand is average, as is Randy Winn. Juan Uribe is hitting as well as anyone can with an OBP of .328, and may be the solution at second.

So, you’ve got good defense, smart baserunning, no offense to speak of outside of the Panda. Which leaves the pitching, which everyone expected would be good. Lincecum and Cain are a great one-two tandem, but even in the playoffs, they’ll need at least one more starting pitcher. The Big Unit won his 300th, Barry Zito shows occasional signs of being almost useful, Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter, but I don’t think any of those guys have demonstrated that they will be lights out come October. The bullpen is upside down … the closer, Brian Wilson, struggles, while the unsung filler material (Justin Miller, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Medders, even Bobby Howry) keep the team in games. Even Wilson’s done well enough … the bullpen is very strong overall.

So, two questions: is this team good enough to get into the post-season, and can they succeed if they are still playing in October? I think they still need some help on offense. I don’t think their chances are good enough to warrant trading any of their top prospects for a bat. Sanchez’ no-hitter is a bit of a problem, actually … if he’d made a couple of solid 7-inning starts, his trade value would have gone up, but the no-hitter, while it might be good for his trade value, makes him harder to let go … can you really trade a guy so soon after such a performance? So I don’t know how they’re gonna get much to help the offense, which means the pitching will have to continue to carry them, and ultimately the bullpen will come back to earth at least a little, and the weaknesses of the rotation once you get past the big two will become more obvious. It’s been a good first half of the season, and these guys are really fun to watch, which matters. But I’d say that one-in-four chance of making the post-season sounds about right.


what i watched last week

Two Lovers. I watch a lot of movies that are recommended to me by artificial intelligence programs which purport to know my taste in movies. Often, those recommendations puzzle me. For instance, I didn’t understand why I would be expected to like a romance starring Joaquin Phoenix. But Two Lovers is a romantic drama rather than a romantic comedy, with a bipolar gentleman (played by Phoenix) at its core. Yes, that is my kind of movie. It’s very low-key, with strong acting and muted direction and storytelling. I think critics praised it in part because it goes against the grain of mainstream movies today, and I don’t want to get carried away in the same manner. But the film deserves credit for successfully moving outside of our expectations, a melodrama without hysterics. 7/10.

Fires on the Plain. A superb movie, one of my favorites, yet I’ve only seen it twice, because its intensity is hard to take. It’s not the kind of movie you show to your friends. Deals with Japanese soldiers in the Philippines at the end of WWII, as they die from bullets and bombs and starvation. Roy Batty in Blade Runner says he’s seen things you people wouldn't believe … once you’ve seen Fires on the Plain, you’ll be saying the same thing. Nowhere to be found on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time, one of the real oversights of that project. 10/10.

Last Year at Marienbad. I hadn’t seen this in almost 40 years … that’s about the right length between viewings, I think. In its impact on cinema, it reminds me of Blade Runner … it’s extremely influential, you can see elements of this movie all over the place, and since it’s close to 50 years old, I suppose there are movies that were influenced by movies that were influenced by Marienbad. Even though as you watch it, you see hints of other movies (I was reminded of the 1962 version of Carnival of Souls), Last Year at Marienbad remains a fairly unique experience: an Oscar-nominated avant-garde feature film that fiddles around with time and meaning to such an extreme extent that no one to this day can tell you what it’s “really” about (the filmmakers claim it’s about whatever you say it’s about). Kael filed it under the genre “Come-Dressed-As-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties” … I think it might actually be a comedy, albeit one that isn’t particularly funny. The circular structure makes room for the movie to go on forever … it could just as easily be 94 hours long as 94 minutes. Of course, the reverse is also true … it could have been a 9-minute short and gotten its point across, whatever that point might be. Like Blade Runner, it’s gorgeous … I call them coffee-table movies, you could make a book filled with stills from the movie and it would be a pleasure to look at, but it’s not a picture, it’s a moving picture, and I’m not usually in the mood to watch still pictures for 94 minutes. As a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, it deserves at least one viewing. If nothing else, you’ll want to play the matchstick game. #89 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the 1000 greatest movies of all time … for my own opinion on that ranking, see Fires on the Plain above. In my younger days, I probably would have given this 10 out of 10 … I remember being pretty enthralled by it the first time I saw it. Now? 6/10.


jonathan sanchez

Tonight I attended my first no-hitter in 50+ years of going to baseball games.

In my crankier moods, and they are frequent when I’m watching the Giants, I’ve berated fans for giving out standing ovations too easily. A pitcher gets pulled in the sixth inning and he hasn’t stunk up the place, people give him a standing O. I always take that to its logical conclusion: if you give someone a standing ovation for a middling performance, what do you do when greatness occurs, throw yourself off the upper deck?

Tonight, Jonathan Sanchez earned his standing ovation.

How goofy was this? After 8 innings, I texted my wife with an update. You need to understand, my wife doesn’t like baseball. She never goes with me to games, and about the only time she ever comments on the sport is when she passes by the teevee and sees someone with long hair … she inevitably says he needs a haircut. But I was on the verge of seeing something historic, and I knew that would matter to her, even though the actual event wasn’t of interest. Funny thing is, I assumed she wouldn’t even know who Jonathan Sanchez was … I’m not sure she knows who Tim Lincecum is … so I didn’t mention his name to her, but afterwards, when I sent one last text saying I’d just seen my first no-hitter, she replied by asking if the pitcher was our daughter-in-law’s favorite. Sanchez is indeed Sonia’s fave, but how my wife knew that was a mystery.

My brother was at the game with me, and he was feeling a bit down when he got to the park. As the Giants built up their big lead, it became evident that the only story left was the no-hitter, and my brother informed me that the minute Sanchez gave up a hit, he was going to leave so he could drown his sorrows at a karaoke bar. Well, I don’t suppose he’s sorry that he had to stick around for the final out.

Here’s a picture I took with the Pre as the team rushed the field after the game. There’s no zoom function, so it’s very much an upper-deck kind of photo, but it’s better than nothing and proves I was there:

sanchez no-hitter


friday random ten, 1985 edition

1. Tears for Fears, “Shout.” This is one of the times when my tastes fell a bit out of fashion. Synth Pop didn’t do much for me, with certain exceptions. But when I hear songs like this, I am immediately transported to the time in which the music was popular.

2. Joan Armatrading, “Temptation.” I have to believe she’s embarrassed by the video.

3. Katrina & the Waves, “Walking on Sunshine.” Still gets played at ballgames.

4. Madonna, “Crazy for You.” The previous year, everyone was wondering whether Madonna or Cyndi Lauper would have the bigger career.

5. Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere.” Their last great album, and this song seems perfectly titled in retrospect.

6. The Dead Milkmen, “Bitchin’ Camaro.” Talk about taking me back to another time …

7. New Order, “Love Vigilantes.” The synth band I liked. Make that loved.

8. Eurythmics, “There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart).” I enjoy listening to Annie Lennox sing, but she doesn’t sound human.

9. Pet Shop Boys, “West End Girls.” So, did you know in 1985 that the Pet Shop Boys would have a bigger career than Tears for Fears? (Did they?)

10. Artists United Against Apartheid, “Sun City.” This ain’t “We Are the World.”

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]


the pre saga continues

Today was the first time I took my Pre to the Giants game, which prompts me to offer a few “I’ve had it a week” thoughts. It’s more fragile than I’d like, although Robin doesn’t agree about this. It feels solid until you pull out the keyboard, then it seems a bit flimsy. Works fine, though. The absence of applications is problematic, given that the iPhone has so many. On the other hand, the basic stuff works OK (email, calendar, chat, twitter) and the couple of more-than-basics are nice (Pandora, MLB Mobile). It’s pretty and elegant and makes my old Treo look like a block of cement. Multi-tasking is very useful, although as Apple is quick to point out, it’s a drain on the battery. Basically, the Pre has the usual 1.0 faults, and it is already indispensible to me.

As an example of what it could do, there was a kid sitting in front to me at the game (sanfrandan’s son), and he was keeping score. He and his dad went to get something to eat, and when they came back, the kid wanted to know what had happened so he could enter it into his scorecard. I called up MLB Mobile, went to the play-by-play page for the game we were attending, and told him what he needed to know. Not really a Pre thing as much as it was an MLB Mobile thing, but cool in any event.

There is one thing about “cloud computing,” though. If you don’t have access to the cloud, you don’t have anything at all. I was listening to Pandora on BART, and when we went underground, Pandora disappeared, as well. I just switched to listening to tunes I’d loaded onto the Pre, but it was a reminder that the Cloud isn’t everywhere just yet.


nurse jackie

Continuing my attempt to catch up on all the TV I missed while on vacation, we watched the first four episodes of Nurse Jackie tonight. I don’t have much to say, which makes this post rather pointless. The show has potential, Edie Falco is always worth watching, it feels like a dozen other shows but manages a few quirks of its own, and we’re giving it a chance, which is enough for the beginning of a series. It will have to get a lot better to become a must-watch favorite, but it will have to get a lot worse for us to quit watching. It’s the pleasure of discovering a new show, when you can’t really tell where it’s headed.


what i watched last week

Knocked Up. I’ve liked Judd Apatow’s work in the past. The comedy here is uncomfortable in good ways. Apatow’s stock company does an excellent job. And yet this was my least-favorite Apatow creation to date. He shows the good and bad sides of his beloved slackers, but they are ultimately lovable, while the female characters never quite make it that far. It’s casual pacing is itself slacker-like … Apatow is willing to let scenes play out without forcing them … but the result is a movie that is too long (heck with Booty Call, it’s half-an-hour longer than Juno, to which is was compared, and which I liked a lot better). 6/10.


nerja today … well, last month

Nerja Today is a good English-language web site to keep up with the goings on in Nerja, or just to enjoy memories of recent visits. One of things they do is post short videos of Nerja life. Here are a few that bring back our time in June, and other visits.

Plaza de la Ermita is a place where Robin and I kicked it in the past, although this time I was the only one who stopped by. At the beginning you’ll see Hostal la Ermita, where we stayed in 2000 and 2003:

We walked this street every day … among other things, it has a gazillion restaurants. The second one, Sevillanos, is a place where we ate with Katie and her friends and family:

This is the bar next to our apartment. I was headed there to watch USA-Spain, but it was closed for a holiday:

Here is Burriana Beach, where Ayo (and others) makes his paella:

And finally, the view from the Balcón:

If you wonder what our days are like in Nerja, these videos give a good idea … if only there was one of Robin eating an ice cream cone …


eating chili

We celebrated the 4th of July with our daughter Sara, at her urban farm in Rancho Cordova, just outside of Sacramento. Earlier in the year for her birthday, we had bought Sara a pig, which she named Chili, in part to remind her what the animal’s ultimate fate would be. Here’s what Chili looked like awhile back:

sara and her pig

Yesterday morning, a large crew from the farm, along with some much-welcomed guidance from a few friends (notably Mundo, who provided just the right amount of mentoring), slaughtered Chili and quickly processed the remains:

sara and chili

When Robin and I arrived in the early afternoon, most of the work had been done … Mundo and his son Ray were cutting the last parts into pieces for carnitas. Mundo brought a carnitas pot his mother had given him 25 years ago, and folks proceeded to cook up what became a delicious batch of one of my favorite dishes:

starting the carnitas

There were also chicharrones, loins … well, basically, everything. We were lucky to take home some leftover carnitas and a frozen loin.

Meanwhile, there was other fun going on. Sara’s farm is by a river:

boating

A farmer’s work is never done, and so the sheep had to be corralled into their pen:

sheep

The deer get to play wherever they want:

bambi

Before the eating began, everyone formed a circle and Sara said a few words about her pig and all that had happened that day, thanking everyone who had helped with Chili over the months she was on the farm. Later, I talked to some of the farm folks who had been closely associated with Chili, and they marveled not only at how good the food was, but also at how amazing the process was, from morning kill to evening meal. They had great respect for Mundo’s expertise, felt they had learned something important, and also knew that what they had done was … well, Sara used the word “humane,” and I can’t think of a better word … what’s the animal equivalent of “humane”? I thought about how meat is usually processed in this country … the thing that really hit home for me is that as I stood where the food was being served, I could see where Chili had lived, maybe a hundred yards away. No wrapping it up, freezing it, transporting it across the country … it was ecological the way meat rarely is.

Honestly, I’m not one to get too emotional about my meat … Chili tasted good, that’s mostly what mattered to me. But it was also good to see what an impact she had on Sara and her friends and workmates. Even if I didn’t make a spiritual connection, I appreciated that connection existed for many, and I was glad to be there.

There was a carnival right next to the farm, and so just before 10:00 we got to watch some fireworks, which capped off a memorable 4th of July, especially since Sara and I have shared many fireworks nights at Giants games over the years:

fireworks