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things we take for granted

Ten years ago today, we got broadband in our house. It was a big deal at the time … finally, we had a fast connection to the Internet. Understand, by that point we had already been online for more than 15 years, ever since we first hooked up a 300-baud modem to our VIC-20 in the early 80s. But speed? That was something you enjoyed when you happened to be at a computer on campus. I can’t remember any longer what speed our last standard modem was … 9600? 56k?

Now, of course, I take broadband for granted. I contemplate paying even more money to Comcast for their super-fast speeds (I’ve held out so far). Honestly, I wouldn’t say broadband was a life-changing event in our computing lives … that category is reserved for 1) our first computer, which introduced us to the world of home computing; 2) our first modem soon after that, which introduced us to online computing; 3) our first home wireless network, which introduced us to all-over-the-house computing; and 4) our first Treo, which introduced us to phone/internet computing. Perhaps it is the fact that broadband wasn’t life-changing that I take it for granted. One day it just was there, and I’ve forgotten everything that came before that time.

How far have we come? Check this commercial out, from 1982:

what i watched last week

The Reader. I admire Meryl Streep, but I like Kate Winslet. Winslet is Streep’s equal as an actress, and she doesn’t spend much screen time reminding us of how hard she’s working. She’s the best thing about The Reader, which kept my attention with its “shocking” revelations, but which doesn’t seem like much after the fact. 6/10. Here’s a clip that shows Winslet was thinking ahead when she decided to make this movie.


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. His last great movie. There, I said it. For me, he only made two great ones, this and Paths of Glory. Everything that came afterwards had something of interest, but fell short, which isn’t a crime, but he’s honored as one of the cinema’s great talents, and I just don’t see it. I’m more in agreement with Andrew Sarris (“His faults have been rationalized as virtues.”). #39 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. The same web site lists Kubrick as the fifth-best director of all time, one spot ahead of Jean Renoir, which is silly. 10/10.


1982 was one of the most fun seasons ever to be a Giants fan. This says something about the team’s fortunes over the years … fans of most teams get to enjoy watching their team win the World Series, while Giants fans must settle for something less. But 1982 was indeed fun. The Giants had started poorly but slowly climbed back into the race. In August, they won ten games in a row, the last one on a walk-off 12th-inning home run by Reggie Smith, who provided a lot of those moments that season. In early September, they went on a 15-and-4 run that took them to a three-game series with the first-place Dodgers … the Giants won all three games, each by a single run, and entered the last week of the season a game out of first place. They held out until the last weekend, and on the final day of the regular season, Joe Morgan hit the homer that knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs. I was working in the factory in 1982, and I can remember how those of us working swing shift kept each other updated on the games as they were played, using signs, helpful security guards, and anything else we could muster.

That team had hitters sublime (Morgan, Jack Clark) and ridiculous (Johnnie LeMaster, Johnnie LeMaster). They had an All-Star closer (Greg Minton) and a Hall-of-Fame manager (Frank Robinson, not in the Hall because of his managing). In all honesty, though, the team wasn’t very good. They allowed more runs than they scored, and it took four years before they managed another winning season, suggesting the ‘82 Giants had more than their share of good luck. Maybe that’s part of what made them so much fun … they kept surprising you, kept overachieving.

The 2009 Giants remind me of the ‘82 edition. They aren’t particularly good … they have wonderful pitching, but their offense amounts to Pablo Sandoval and a bunch of junk. But after the sweep of the Rockies this weekend, the Giants are tied for the wild card lead with one month to go. And they are fun. I loved watching Barry Bonds for all those years, and that was fun, too, but it was a different kind of fun, more “holy shit” than “great googly moogly.” This team has its own kind of fun, embodied by Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda. He is one of the most animated players I’ve ever seen in more than 50 years of watching baseball … perhaps it’s appropriate that his nickname comes from an animated character. He chews gum in the field and blows bubbles as he picks groundballs off the infield grass. He’s a mass of tics at the plate, and when he doesn’t like how a swing felt, he’ll step out of the box and hit himself in the helmet with his bat. And, even though he plays with such joyousness, he’s even better when he’s in the dugout. No one enjoys his teammate’s success more than the Panda. He jumps, he slaps people, he shouts, he grins … no, he smiles, it’s way too big to call it a grin. The guy is just plain infectious, and it’s safe to say I am usually immune to that kind of infection. But I’ve got Panda Fever just like all of the other Giants fans.

It’s nice to have late-season games matter again, and this is going down as another highlight on the list of fun seasons. They are still unlikely to make the playoffs … the most recent odds at the Prospectus has them about 9-2 to make the postseason, with the Rockies about 3 1/2 times more likely to play on. But those 9-2 odds are a lot better than I would have expected. It’s fun.

friday random ten, 1992 edition

1. Iris DeMent, “Let the Mystery Be.” Please make another album.

2. 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up? OK, I cheated the random and made sure this showed up, so I could link to a video of Pink singing it … I’m going to see Pink next month, consider this a preview.

3. R.E.M., “Everybody Hurts.” Sometimes when I hear this song I want to kill myself. Sometimes I want to live.

4. En Vogue, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel.” A cover of a song from Sparkle, and one of the group’s finest moments.

5. Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day.” I’d have eaten the hog, myself.

6. Tom Waits, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” Me either.

7. Body Count, “Cop Killer.” Made before Ice-T started playing a cop on teevee.

8. Mary J. Blige, “Real Love.” I predict she will enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility.

9. PJ Harvey, “Sheela-Na-Gig.” She might too, but it’s less likely.

10. Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride.” Rollin’ in my 6-4.

welcome to the boomtown

I’m in my fourth day of unemployment, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to what’s going on in my state:

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau of UC Berkeley … said the school currently expects to lay off about 300 nonfaculty employees, and will reduce faculty positions by 100 through attrition. Employees at all 10 UC campuses will have their pay cut between 4 and 10 percent, depending on income level.

"Everyone is really angry and demoralized because we're doing more and being paid less," said one veteran English professor who declined to give his name for fear of reprisal. "And then we're given a little pious lollipop stuck in our mouth about how Berkeley can still be a great school."

The school has also cut 8 percent of courses. But the impact appeared minimal Wednesday compared with the opening-day havoc at San Francisco State University a day earlier, where 10 percent of courses were cut and hundreds of students were reduced to pleading - often unsuccessfully - to get into required courses.

When an English professor is worried about opening his mouth, you know it’s bad.

All that money makes such a succulent sound:

ellie greenwich, r.i.p.

Ann Powers has a good obit in the LA Times:

Their quality has to do with Greenwich's gift for capturing the frisson of a decision almost made, a change that hasn't quite come, and which could still go either way. The voices for which she wrote, young and nearly always female, had a natural waver. They belonged to the kids who would change everything: multicultural girls such as Barbara Alston and Dolores "La La" Brooks of the Crystals, Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes and Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las, girls who aspired to certain feminine ideals but also wished for a certain freedom promised by the changing attitudes of their time.

Here’s one of Greenwich’s greatest songs:

america the beautiful

Glenn Greenwald on the release of the Inspector General Torture Report:

To those blithely dismissing all of this as things that don't seem particularly bothersome …

The fact that we are not really bothered any more by taking helpless detainees in our custody and (a) threatening to blow their brains out, torture them with drills, rape their mothers, and murder their children; (b) choking them until they pass out; (c) pouring water down their throats to drown them; (d) hanging them by their arms until their shoulders are dislocated; (e) blowing smoke in their face until they vomit; (f) putting them in diapers, dousing them with cold water, and leaving them on a concrete floor to induce hypothermia; and (g) beating them with the butt of a rifle -- all things that we have always condemend [sic] as "torture" and which our laws explicitly criminalize as felonies ("torture means. . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering . . .") -- reveals better than all the words in the world could how degraded, barbaric and depraved a society becomes when it lifts the taboo on torturing captives….

Americans who want to justify or endorse the torture we engaged in should be required to know what was actually done -- not hide behind the comforting myth that "all we did was pour some water down the noses of 3 bad guys"

nurse jackie season finale

Nurse Jackie draws comparisons to House: drama set in a hospital, titular character a brilliant mess who provides a nice star turn for Edie Falco/Hugh Laurie. I prefer House, because how many drug-addict atheists are the lead characters on a network TV show? But really, Jackie is far more messed up than House, and Nurse Jackie is a better, if more erratic, show. House is very formulaic, which means it rarely sucks but, outside of Hugh Laurie’s work, it rarely rises above its genre. Nurse Jackie overreaches, but Edie Falco is terrific, and some of her fellow actors do good work. Some others, though, are awful. Anna Deavere Smith has done some fine acting, but not here. She mugs shamelessly, with the full encouragement of the series’ show runners, and it stops the show in its tracks every time. (In fairness, I should note that my wife enjoys Smith’s scenes v.much, so perhaps I’m alone on this one.)

So Nurse Jackie isn’t up in the pantheon yet, but it has promise, and it has Edie Falco. You know I’m going to give every possible chance to a series where the heroine is a drug addict with a husband, two kids, and a boyfriend on the side who is the hospital pharmacist who supplies her with drugs. Grade for Season One: B+.

ah, the memories

I did something today I hadn’t done in more than 25 years. I filed for unemployment.

When I was a steelworker, I would usually get laid off during the winter. The more seniority I got, the less time I’d spend on the dole, which was kinda sad, because as part of our union contract with the company, we got supplementary unemployment benefits. The result was that I made almost as much when I wasn’t working as I did when I was working … and I don’t like to work.

I’ve been “out of work” a couple of times since my steelworker days, but never in a way that made me consider unemployment. I spent several years as a student, of course, and then I was a graduate student instructor, and then I entered my Adjunct Faculty period. Starting around 2000, I’d fade in and out of jobs … when I left Cal in 2000, thinking I would start my early retirement, I got asked to teach a semester at San Francisco State. After that, my sister got me online classes at American River College, and I taught them regularly, except for the year I returned to Cal as a Mass Comm professor/advisor, and one other semester when I taught at SF State again. I taught summer school at ARC as well, except when we took vacations in Spain.

But … well, I imagine you’ve heard, there’s an economic crisis, it has hit California especially hard, and there are severe cuts in the education budget. Online classes are popular these days, but they also have a higher drop rate than other classes … I’d start with 28 students per class and end up with 13, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because I was a bad teacher, everyone had the same experience. So those were among the first classes to get cut in the English Department, leaving me without a job or classes to attend or any of those things people to, for the first time since 1984.

I am not particularly worried. I don’t mind not working, and at least now, knock wood, we don’t need the money (I don’t make much anyway, having worked only part-time in those 25 years except for the one year in Mass Comm). I’m not saying I’m retired, because if ARC called and asked me to teach in the spring, I’d do it, and perhaps I’ll even get ambitious and actively seek work. But it’s too early for that, since for now, I still consider myself an employee at ARC who is laid off, rather than a guy with no employer.

I waited until today to apply because this is the beginning of the new semester. I couldn’t file in the spring because I was still working, and I couldn’t file in the summer because I was out of the country part of the time and thus was unavailable even if they had a job for me. But starting today, I am officially unemployed.

what i watched last week

Land of the Dead. George A. Romero returns to the genre he invented. Unfortunately, the movie is a bit tired, and the ever-present social satire is too obvious this time around. If we hadn’t seen better zombie movies made by Romero’s fans over the past several years, Land of the Dead might be more interesting. But this one isn’t up to the standards of Romero’s own Dawn of the Dead … nor is it up to the standard of 28 Days/Weeks Later, or even the Dawn of the Dead remake. Worth 97 minutes of your time, but disappointing.

Tarnation. Remarkable autobiographical documentary made for a couple of hundred dollars (at least until they had to pay for music rights). Director Jonathan Caouette uses some distancing methods (flashy graphics, narration that is written rather than spoken), because without them, the film would be too raw to watch … not raw in a technical sense but in an emotional sense. Caouette puts himself on the screen seemingly without filters, using footage he’s been shooting since he was 11 years old. The movie gets a bit more troublesome, though, when he does the same with his family members, most notably his schizophrenic mother. It’s not clear how much these other people approve of having their lives exposed on the big screen. The result is a piercing reality, but with disturbing undertones that aren’t necessarily the same undertones that Caouette intended. #162 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God. All of the elements come together in this obsessive masterpiece. Klaus Kinski inhabits the 16th century madman as if he was born 400 years ago. Werner Herzog creates the atmosphere necessary to draw out Kinski’s madness. All of it done dirt cheap in the Peruvian jungle. Apocalypse Now is the most obvious example of this film’s influence. But Kinski isn’t Martin Sheen … he’s Francis Ford Coppola, Herzog is Eleanor, and Aguirre, the Wrath of God foreshadows Hearts of Darkness. #91 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.