May, 2006

May 06

Television Thoughts

Obviously, blogging seems to be a nervous twitch for me when I’m in an audience — I have a hard time focusing 100% on presentations, but find doing actual work-related…um…work to be too distracting for me to get anything out of the presentations. So I’m blogging for a bit. TV thougths:

– Survivor finale last night was boring boring boring. Aras is the worst winner ever: I’m #2! But worth a million bucks now. Shane was a funny guy. Crazy, but funny. I’ll probably keep watching, but it’s getting a little tired.

– The West Wing finale was pretty lame, I thought. Some nice moments, but mostly the echoes of the great moments of the series, no great moments themselves. “Bartlett for America” remembered the start of the first campaign. President giving the Constitution to Charlie remembered the Thanksgiving episode when he gave him his family’s carving knife. But it did remind me that deep down inside, I want to believe in our government and leaders. I want someone in the Oval Office (and Sacramento, and over on Olive Ave in Sunnyvale, for that matter) who I can be inspired by, who can govern, who makes me proud to be American. Maybe that’s a remnant of another time, but it’s what I’d like.

– Lost is awesome. What a great show. I don’t know who that Alvo Hansar dude is, but he had a bunch of cool stuff back in 1980.

– Thief was a good show. Sadly, gone. But means that Rescue Me is about to start, and that’s definitely good.

– (I know this is radio, but “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” was super-funny this week, with Tom Hanks telling them to Go to Hell. (they were making jokes that he’s the nicest guy in Hollywood.) But my favorite part was when they were recounting that W said last week that the high point, for him, of his presidency was catching a 7 1/2 pound fish of some sort or other. Roy Blount, Jr said: “You know, I think he’s right.”

– We’re 3 episodes behind on Big Love. That’s not a bad sign — sometimes happens to us with HBO shows. Can’t decide if I like it or not yet, but it’s creepy.

– The season finale of The Office was pitch perfect. But a painful break point. I was really skeptical about the US version, but not anymore. It’s terrific.

– I find myself wanting to watch The Colbert Report more than The Daily Show. Sort of shocking. I thought Colbert was going to get boring quickly, but it hasn’t. Weird. I’m pretty sure it’s the most respected news source in America today. Books didn’t tell me that — that’s what my gut tells me.

– Sopranos is good. Lots of foreshadowing. But I’m really geared up about Deadwood coming back. They say it could be the last season, which would be both a bummer, and potentially great, since it would give them crazy creative freedom. Sort of like The Wire, except that that ended up not being the last season. I’m both scared & excited for The Wire to return. not sure what to expect.

– Last, I could not possibly have any higher expectations for Studio 60, the new show from Aaron Sorkin. They got maxed out last night when I found out Brad Whitford will be on the show. How did Josh go from the White House to an improv show in LA? Did he get fired as the President’s Chief of Staff? Maybe we’ll find out next season, until he’s eventually replaced with Josh Malina. (sort of an Aaron Sorkin in joke.)

And that’ll wrap it up from day 1 of my OpenAjax get-together experience. I’m going to endeavor to pay more attention tomorrow, so less blogging. Probably enough for a while, anyway.

May 06

It’s raining men.

This industry get-together about AJAX that I’m attending is almost completely male. Not a huge surprise, I suppose, but out of 40-50 people in the room, there are exactly 2 women. 4% seems even lower than normal. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, really, but just another reminder that our education system is a bit screwed up in this regard. Other problems exist as well (software executive ranks are almost exclusively male; venture capitalists are almost all male), but our education system is, I think, where we need to continue to focus on fixing the problem.

May 06

Dogs of God, by James Reston

Wow. Let me just say this: Spain in the 1400s really sucked. A lot. Unless you were Catholic, I suppose, in which case you got a bunch of free stuff, gold & buildings from all of the Moors, Jews and other miscellaneous heretics who were expelled or, um, expelled with extreme prejudice. In the States, we have a bit of a fascination with our own history (“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” You know the story.)

Anyway, with the stories of discovery of America, we tend to focus on things on our side of the world, and if we’re lucky, occasionally even recognizes the fact that there were folks here before Europeans “found” the place. Everyone knows, of course, that Columbus first found the continent in 1492, and was backed by the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. But there was a lot of other stuff that was happening in Europe at the time, and Spain was ground zero. A war of succession had happened before the two married and joined Aragon & Castile. Crazy divorces & new churches getting started in England. A horribly corrupt papacy by Rodrigo Borgia.

And, of course, the campaign by the Spanish against the Moorish society living in Spain, of which, mostly, Boabdil the Unfortunate was the leader. [That’s a tough name to give a kid. Boabdil would be hard enough, without his parents tacking “the Unfortunate” on there. “Sam the Unfortunate” would have been tough for our kiddo. My favorite monarch name since “Ethelred the Unready.” I bet he got beat up a lot in school.]

Of course, the Spanish won. But told the Moors they could stay. They were busy giving the Jews a choice to either convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. Or torturing other Spaniards to give the dirt on folks who weren’t acting Catholic enough. The confiscated property of the departed Jews is generally considered to have been the funding that allowed Columbus’ voyage. So they mostly moved all the Jews out. Oh, right — then they decided they didn’t actually want Moors, either, so went back on their promises to that population.

I liked this book — it helped me to connect some of the big picture historical events in my mind. Maybe it’s obvious to others, but it wasn’t clear to me that the Spanish Inquisition was contemporaneous with Columbus’ discovery of America, or that it really enabled that discovery. I didn’t like it as much as his previous book, Warriors of God, about Richard the Lionheart & the Third Crusade, but still worth reading.

May 06

A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore

So another zany supernatural book by Christopher Moore. Not bad, although I found myself reading it wishing it were a Christopher Buckley (Thank You For Smoking, Little Green Men, No Way to Treat a First Lady, etc.) book. This one was fine — the Grim Reaper is always funny — but not as interesting & innovative & clever as Lamb or The Stupidest Angel.

May 06

A Crack in the Edge of the World, by Simon Winchester

Fantastic book, as usual, from Winchester. 3 main story lines: (1) how plate tectonics work, with particular attention on our lovely left coast, (2) the history of San Francisco, and (3) a recounting of the events of April 18, 1906 (great picture of City Hall at that link).

And forgive me for the long excerpt, but here’s my favorite bit, relevant today for so many different reasons:

Seldom does an entire and very large urban community fall victim to utter disaster. Most great catastrophes tend to be relatively local — an explosion will devastate an awesome number of city blocks here, a fire will wreck a neighborhood there, a flood will inundate the lower-lying parts of a town, terrorists will wreak mayhem in a crowded urban quarter. But once in a mercifully rare while there are those events that enfold and ruin in full the complex engine work that is an established, fully developed urban society. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are among the most obvious. The Great Fire of London in 1666. The Black Death. The wartime destruction of Berlin and Dresden. the volcanic ruin of Santorini, of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and Merinique’s St. Piere. The huge eatrhquakes in Lisbon and Tangshan — and then, in 1906, in San Francisco.

the biggest of these cities survived. The smaller communities — Pompeii and St. Pierre, for example — lost their raison d’etre once their buildings were gone, once their monuments were buried and their byways obliterated. but the world’s big cities generally exist for reasons that go far beyond the accumulation of buildings that is their outward manifestation. Their presence in the place they occupy is invariably due to come combination of geography – they lie by a river crossing, in a bay of refuge, at the mouth of a mountain pass — and of climate, together with some vague and indefinable organic reason that persuades humankind to settle there.

Trials of any kind — war, pestilence, natural or human violence, with wholesale death or total physical destruction, or both, being the harshest of all — may slow that growth or cause some other setback; but such things are just setbacks, and before long the original reasons for a city’s existence reassert themselves. Life returns, buildings and roads are rebuilt, new monuments spring up or old ones are found and dusted off, and before long the city returns to its old self, ready to see what more fate can hurl at it, to challenge and strengthen and temper its will to survive. It may not always entirely regain its predisaster status — San Francisco had to cede much to Los Angeles, for example. But generally, so far as their respective quiddities are concerned, great cities always recover.

…So whether it is Manhattan, Falluja, Warsaw, Coventry, or Hiroshima, it seems true that though cities may on occasion lose their heart, they seldom also lose their soul; and San Francisco was no exception. All that its shattered, wearied, and suddenly impoverished citizens needed was leadership, someone to take charge, someone to lift the demoralizing burdens of wreck and ruin from their shoulders and show them the possibilities of remaking the place that they had called their home.