Tuesday, July 25, 2023


We’ve seen a lot of movies in the past couple of weeks.

That’s a relative term, of course. Some people see movies all the time, even in this more or less post-pandemic age. A true cinephile would be vacuuming up the films, greeting the theater staff on a first name basis, and going about their day without a worry in the world about getting enough roughage in their diet though the salt and butter-like oil can’t be good in those quantities.

I’m not one of those people.

I didn’t go to movies much at all for about a decade, a practice that the pandemic only made worse. I still don’t watch much scripted television. But I’ve been slowly getting to see more movies, and that’s probably good. For one thing, Kim loves movies and now I can go with her again. And there are some good movies about.

I’ve already noted in this space that we saw Asteroid City a couple of weeks ago, and now I know what a Wes Anderson movie is. Apparently I’ve seen three of them now, also including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and, while flying over the Atlantic a few years ago, Isle of Dogs. They were all fun, though the last one is very much not a kids’ movie.

But this summer is the summer of Barbenheimer, and there was no way we could miss it.

For those of you living under rocks or reading this in whatever post-apocalyptic future awaits us, the two big blockbuster movies coming out this summer both came out on the same day. One was Oppenheimer – a three-hour Oscar-bait Serious Movie about the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, generally acknowledged as the Father of the Atomic Bomb and a central figure in the course that I teach on that subject. The other was Barbie – a somewhat shorter, much more colorful and rather pointed cultural satire based on the doll of the same name.

These two things are, on the surface, so unlike each other that an entire cottage industry of memes forcibly yoking them together under the heading of Barbenheimer appeared full-formed on the internet a few months ago, and people started planning their double-feature day around them. Which one to see first? How much space between them? How much alcohol would be involved?

We didn’t do the double-feature, since that would be a full day. But we have now seen them both.

They’re both very much worth watching.

We saw Oppenheimer last night, and it was marvelous. Christopher Nolan, the director, was smart enough to center the film around Oppenheimer’s 1954 hearing before the Atomic Energy Commission where he was stripped of his security clearance as a petty act of vengeance for opposing the development of the hydrogen bomb (and I think that nearly seven decades is enough time that I don’t need to worry about spoiling that plot point – it’s a given from the get go, anyway). The movie bounces back and forth between that and Oppenheimer’s life in physics on the one hand, and the 1959 Senate hearing to confirm Lewis Strauss (pronounced “Straws”) as Eisenhower’s Secretary of Commerce on the other. Strauss, of course, was the Chair of the AEC in 1954. Circles in circles. The Trinity test and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are therefore not the focal points or the big triumphant/tragic conclusions, but instead the hinges upon which the rest of the film swings.

It might have been better if they’d introduced more of the characters – you kind of have to know who some of these people are in advance, really. Richard Feynman, for example – one of the more colorful Manhattan Project physicists and a future Nobel Laureate – appears three times and is never acknowledged, let alone identified, so you just have to know “Oh, that’s him!” But the movie was well done and thoughtful, and it leaves you with questions to think about.

Today we saw Barbie, which was – as Lauren said – “unexpectedly philosophical and meaningful, and expectedly pink.” It starts in the brightly colored world of Barbieland, where something is clearly not right, and this leads Barbie and Ken (“just Ken”) to venture into the Real World to try to fix it. Complications, as they say, ensue, and those complications lead them back to Barbieland and some rather pointed commentary on patriarchy, relationships, power, and what it means to be human.

I was impressed that the corporate types at Mattel were okay with being portrayed the way they were in this movie, to be honest. It speaks well of them.

I can also see why all the Fragile Dudebros are so up in arms about this movie, and you’ll excuse me while I laugh myself into a stupor at their expense over that fact. This film has a take-no-prisoners view of gender relationships and social structures, and while it definitely has some funny bits to it there is a core of steel underneath them that those suffering from toxic masculinity aren’t going to welcome. Meh. Also, for all that it stars a toy that six-year-old girls play with it’s not really a movie for them, though it is a movie that perhaps tween and teenaged girls should see for both the nostalgia and the message. So should all of the boys and men in their lives.

I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s fun, thoughtful, and interesting and there’s one really great line that got everyone in the theater laughing, and you can’t ask for much more than that really.

The credits were rather sly. All of the male actors in Barbieland were simply listed as “Ken” while all of the women were listed as “Barbie.” Not “President Barbie,” “Writer Barbie,” “Physicist Barbie,” and so on – “Barbie.” And just “Ken.” You have to appreciate the attention to detail there.

But I think I’ve had enough popcorn to last me for a while.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The World Cup (Again)

It’s time once again for the Women’s World Cup, and I’m here for it.

It has been a long sports drought here in Baja Canada since the Stanley Cup Finals ended back in June. The Premier League ended in May. Hockey won’t start up again until October. I’ve been checking in on the Phillies in the standings but haven’t watched an entire Major League Baseball game in years. Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen our local minor league team in action – they got a new stadium that is shiny and fairly luxurious for a minor league baseball team but has none of the ramshackle charm of the old place, and they changed their name to Something Really Stupid But Marketable as a way to sell merch and pay for it and a lot of the incentive went away.

Plus, I enjoy watching women’s soccer. They tend to think more about their game than the men do, and it’s a more interesting game to follow that way.

This time around they’re down in Australia and New Zealand, which means that the time zones are just spaced out enough for me to watch some of the games live if I’m around later in the evening. And there’s always the replays. It’s new to me, so why not.

It’s also technically winter there, and it is a bit jarring to see them bundled up when the entire northern hemisphere is hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalks.

Of course, as with the recent Men’s World Cup, the official broadcaster here in the US is a network that I refuse to give money to, so the only way I can watch the games is on Telemundo which means that all of the announcing is in Spanish – a language I do not speak well enough to get directions to a bus stop, let alone follow a major sporting event. I recognize a few words here and there – “pelota,” which means “ball,” comes up a lot, for example – but mostly I just listen to the pitch of the announcers’ voices and as it rises I know that something important is developing. Eventually they’ll do that five-minute long “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!!!!” thing that has become standard among all Spanish-language soccer broadcasters now and I know someone scored.

I hope Andrés Cantor gets royalties for that.

So far I’ve managed to see two games, neither of which were close but both were entertaining.

The US women beat Vietnam 3-0 in a game that should have been about 10-0 but the Americans were disjointed and a bit sloppy – which will not be good against better competition – and the Vietnamese clearly decided that their only chance was to be as chippy as they could get away with, which in their defense was a fairly astute decision. Had they managed a shot on goal during the game, perhaps things would have been, well, not different, but closer. This game I saw live.

And on replay I saw the Japanese women beat Zambia 5-0 in a game that probably could also have been 10-0. The Japanese actually scored two more goals and were awarded two penalty shots ("Penal! Penal! Penal!  Penal!"), but the goals and one penalty were disallowed for offsides, and as for the last penalty, well. With fifteen seconds left in extra time in a 4-0 game the Zambian goalie managed to get red carded. The substitute saved the penalty shot but was called for encroachment, and then Japanese finally scored.

Oddly enough, both games were still fun to watch. The better teams weren’t that much better even though they should have been, and the losing teams fought to the end. As a Philadelphia Flyers fan that’s really all I need.

Rah teams!

Sunday, July 16, 2023

News and Updates

1. We’re in Round 3 of Canadian Wildfire Summer here in Wisconsin and once again the air has been filmy and tasting of metal. Meanwhile most of southern Europe is going to be in the 40s C this week (over 100F for my fellow Americans) – Sicily may reach 50C which is 122F and would be an all-time European record – and the three hottest days ever recorded on Earth all happened last week. You know, folks, I think it’s time for all the climate change deniers to shut up and go home.

2. I have spent the last couple of weeks putting together primary source document packets for my Western Civ II class discussions, and let me tell you that when you look for documents on colonialism you find yourself on all sorts of websites that require a thorough eye-bleaching when you’re done. Don’t even get me started on the documents for the assignment on Fascism.

3. Today’s game: How Many Watchlists Has The Historian Gotten Himself Onto This Time?

4. We went to see the new Wes Anderson movie (Asteroid City) this week and now I know what a Wes Anderson movie is. Apparently this is a piece of cultural lore that is supposed to come preloaded these days. It seems to involve an all-star cast, a carefully studied stillness, a sense of humor as dry as the desert this movie was set in, and a saturated color palette. It was a good movie.

5. My next home project is to replace the switch for the kitchen light, since it now flops about uselessly and that’s my job around here and there can be only one. Despite three decades of working in theatrical lighting, I’m not that great with electricity – all my lighting expertise is predicated on having power to start with – so if it all goes pear-shaped I won’t be surprised. But I may end up with a working light out of the deal, so there’s that.

6. Aaaaaaaand it did not turn out well. Not only does the light switch still not work, but a) neither does the other switch on the same circuit now, and b) it turns out that the kitchen light is on the same breaker as my office, two rooms away, which means that my computer had a hard crash and took the better part of half an hour to reboot. At least this time it didn’t wipe my backup drive. Now you know why I like to pay professionals to maintain my home.

7. While on the subject of computers, I probably need to upgrade pretty much everything electronic in my life, as all of those things are coming to the end of (or have already past and are living on borrowed time and patchwork) their useful lifespans. Upgrading electronic things is expensive, however, so this may not happen on any particular schedule.

8. Sometimes you just know a picture is going to turn out well.

9. I am actively trying to avoid paying attention to the news these days, as there is very little win for me otherwise. I should get back to it at some point, but every time I turn over that rock the same vermin scuttle out from underneath and it is disheartening to realize that they haven’t been removed from civilization – preferably on a rail – and stashed somewhere without communication equipment or transportation back. Someday.

10. We made paella last night, and it was tasty, though Oliver did warn us that most paella recipes are designed to feed an entire Spanish family so we will have all sorts of leftovers. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Threading The Needle

No I’m not joining Threads.

It’s bad enough I’m enmeshed in the Zuckerverse as far as Facebook and Instagram – I don’t need another way for him to steal even more of my information and sell it to whatever right-wing cause he’s decided to support this week. I’ve seen the list of personal data this program demands. My own mother didn’t know half that stuff about me and I’ll be damned if I provide it to a guy who looks like he got a B- in Human Studies on his home planet and is here as an exchange student.

Plus, from what I can figure out, the service is just poorly designed. There’s no way to view anything chronologically – you’re stuck with whatever the Algorithm says you can see, peasant, so stop complaining. There’s no desktop app. You have to sign up for this through Instagram, and if you decide you don’t like it you can’t delete it without deleting your entire Instagram profile – which is, admittedly, not a huge thing since I have made exactly zero posts on my Instagram account, though I would have to painstakingly recreate the odd mix of vintage photography, memes, British Bake Off, friends, family, and musicians that I follow and that would be a nuisance and I have enough nuisances in my life as it is.

I didn’t sign up for Mastodon, BlueSky, Pickwick, Bumbershoot, Lollobrigida, Fermat, CarrotCake, Semaphore, Bullfrog, or whatever other thing was supposed to be the next alternative to Twitter either. They all seemed like too much trouble.

Nor did I ever sign up for Twitter, to be fair. It always struck me as a cesspool, though many of the funny memes I see on Instagram originated on Twitter so there’s that. Watching Elmo disprove in real time the entire idea that the rich are somehow smarter or more capable than the rest of us has had its grim satisfaction but when it finally does implode for good it will leave a gap. A lot of people put a lot of effort into making it a place of value and it is a shame to see it destroyed in the name of simpleminded greed but if there is a better metaphor for the current United States I haven’t seen it.

The fact that Elmo has now sued the Zuckerdroid for copyright infringement? plagiarism? stealing workers? something? because half the people he summarily fired went to the other guy and slapped this thing together in half an hour is just gravy, really.

So I’ll sit on the sidelines and watch two socially awkward right-wing billionaires bash each other over the head in the business arena and hope that their ridiculous posturing about bashing each other over the head in an actual cage match turns out to be real and not just minor-league dick waggling.

I want Marquess of Thunderdome Rules, if it happens.

So if you want to find me on social media, you’ll just have to look where I already am. I’m the guy with the hat unless the temperature is above 40F, in which case I’m the guy without the hat.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Entirely Human Generated

This blog is entirely the creation of a human.

We here at 4 Quarters, 10 Dimes will never stoop to using AI content generators to bring you the vaguely insightful commentary, weird inside jokes (often with a total audience of one), and more or less amusing anecdotes that you have come to rely on in this space, though apparently the royal we is not out of bounds. No artificial neural network scraping data from an infinite number of previously unplagiarized websites can possibly replicate the look and feel of this blog, nor for the sake of the future of humanity would we want it to do so as that’s how you get the robot uprising.

Of course, the robots will be programmed by the same people who brought you Windows 11 and Duo, so perhaps it wasn’t that big of a concern anyway.

No, this is 100% human-generated prose, with all of the idiosyncrasies and typos that come with that. It is lovingly handcrafted by a rather sedentary historian tapping feverishly away on a keyboard desperately in need of a thorough de-crumbing as a way to avoid more pressing work, with each word carefully chosen at the peak of ripeness and flavor for your reading pleasure.

All rights reserved and most lefts as well. Close cover before striking. Operators were standing by but are now on break so press three to have your call forwarded to an unknown recipient. Three is a magic number, after all. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, for you should be bright enough to figure that out by now. You can’t have too much garlic but a little curry goes a long way. Darn, that’s the end.


Just for shits and giggles, as me dear departed grandmother used to say, I did actually run this through five different online AI detectors. Four of them agreed with me, but the fifth declaratively announced that this was an AI generated post, which is pretty amazing for something that I literally just wrote myself.

Perhaps I am a replicant and nobody bothered to tell me? It would explain a lot, now that I think of it.

And yet I persevere, writing down the stories as I can.

All those moments would have been lost in time, like tears in the rain, had they not been recorded, after all.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The Fourth, Once Again

It’s American Independence Day, for those of you who live in other places where you’re not being inundated with fireworks, beer commercials, people wearing the American flag on their butts, and/or factory-produced country music, although sometimes we switch it up and play classic rock, because that’s how we roll here in the Land of the Free.

It’s been kind of hard to get into the spirit of the thing this year, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, here in Our Little Town the powers that be decided that Tuesday was a stupid day to be shooting off fireworks so they scheduled all the festivities for this past Saturday.

On the one hand, this does make a certain amount of sense in that it gives both people and town an extra day to recover before the work week officially commences, even if the work week is only one day until the actual holiday – or, better, an extra several days to recover since most Americans didn’t bother showing up to work on Monday whether they were off or not.

On the other hand, we’ve already done our celebrating. We had our usual cookout for family and friends – burgers, dogs, chips, “salads” of many kinds none of which contained lettuce, and various flavorful beverages – and when the time came we wandered down to the river to watch the fireworks arc gracefully over the cardiac and neonatal wards of the hospital as they always do here in Our Little Town. We’re kind of Darwinian that way. We had a lovely time, and by Sunday morning most of the cordite haze of both official and unofficial fireworks had drifted off toward Illinois though we were under air quality warnings the whole time so it was hard to tell. So today kind of feels anticlimactic.

For another thing, it’s hard to be a thinking American these days.

The right-wing extremists masquerading as conservatives in this country are flexing their power across the nation, banning books and threatening entire groups of Americans with everything from second-class citizenship through actual elimination for the crime of not living up to their alt-white standards. American women have effectively been reduced to breeding stock by the Supreme Court, which also took the time to rule on an imaginary case (seriously – I’m not making that up) in order to allow bigots to cloak their hatred in religion and reintroduce segregation in the marketplace. This it must be said marks a certain amount of consistency, given their earlier ruling that race no longer matters, citizens, and therefore we should allow colleges to be all white now! Meanwhile der Sturmtrumper and his minions, cronies, lackeys, enablers, and imitators are openly threatening violence if the law is actually applied to them, the GOP-led House is planning to blackmail the US into recreating the ancien regime with themselves as aristocracy, and you can’t even put on a high school play these days without some bullshit right-wing astroturf organization clutching its pearls and hyperventilating.

Yeah, it can be hard.

But there’s more than 330 million of us, and the simple fact is that the right-wing extremists are outnumbered. They know it. We know it. They know we know it. That’s why they’re as desperate as they are to ram through their cruel and immoral policies while they can.

They will lose. The arc of history bends toward justice, though slowly, with great effort, and often with significant casualties that could have been avoided had people not been such assholes to begin with, but it gets there nonetheless. This too shall pass. The kids are all right.

And there is much to celebrate when you get down to it. The US is a great country, with great flaws and great virtues, and you can’t just focus on the flaws. You have to see the virtues too.

As Anthony Bourdain once said, “The fact that the United States of America is the birthplace of the blues, jazz, rock-and-roll, and Muhammad Ali is argument enough for me that we are a place worthy of pride.”

Happy American Independence Day, to all those who celebrate it.