Thursday, July 24, 2008

Musing: A Darker Knight

No spoilers!

Yesterday I saw The Dark Knight. Frickin' sweet, dude. It was ten times better than Batman Begins, which I enjoyed but didn't love. First off, Chicago looks fantastic in it. In Batman Begins, the city was basically a nameless backdrop. They made much better use of the city this time around--if you know Chicago, you can actually recognize most of the locations, and they look completely bad-ass. Lower Wacker (or Gotham's Lower 5th Avenue) gets its best film usage since the Blues Brothers. LaSalle looks like a gothic urban canyon (and if you look close, you can see the word "Chicago" on a sign in the background of one shot). Navy Pier looks like a seaport, and the best "Chicago shot" of the movie is an aerial of Upper Wacker, packed with traffic, including the southern ends of several of the river bridges. I feel sorry for people who love Chicago but no longer live here--seeing this movie is going to make them ache with nostalgia. (One thing they may not miss though is our traffic. At one point in a chase scene, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon yells at the officer driving his car, "Mount the curb!" because the street is packed with cars. I whispered to Marissa, "Ah, now it looks like Chicago.")

Marissa thought, and I agree, that another reason why Chicago works so much better in this movie than the last one is that you care more about the city this time around. In an effort to make things really dark, Batman Begins made Gotham into a place where all the citizens were creepy and evil (that is, when they showed the citizens at all), and consequently you had a hard time drumming up much sympathy for them. This time around, the plot draws in many more "normal citizens" and "non-hero cops" and the city feels more alive with innocents caught up in the action.

The performances are also quite good. I've had a little issue with Christian Bale as Batman since the last movie: he has sort of a weird mouth, and when he's dressed up as the Caped Crusader, that's the only part you see, so your eye is constantly drawn to his mouth and you get distracted wondering why it makes weird shapes when he talks. But, minor quibbles aside, he does a nice job as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Dropping Katie Holmes like a hot rock was a great idea--Maggie Gyllenhaal blows her away as Rachel Dawes. And Aaron Eckhart is a nice addition in this installment as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Cillian Murphy is brought back to play Scarecrow in exactly one scene. That character was completely underused in Batman Begins, and apparently the filmmakers intend to keep it that way.

Be honest, it just looks weird.

But of course, the performance everyone is talking about is Heath Ledger as the Joker. And everyone who's talking about it is right: he's really good. He has a completely original take on the role, so much so that it takes you several scenes to flush out your preconceptions and see where he's going with it. And even then, you can't look away when he's in the frame. I'm not sure if his recent death may have something to do with the fascination you can't help but feel toward his character, but you literally have a hard time not paying rapt attention to his every little twitch and tic. In one scene, he's shown walking in the foreground while a complex of buildings explodes and burns in the background. It's a testament to how engaging his performance is that you ignore the pyrotechnics behind him because you don't want to miss it if he does something interesting.

His job was made easier, though, by the fact that the Joker is way cool in this franchise. Gone is the whole Joker-creation story that every other previous version of Batman has been saddled with, where he falls in a vat of nastiness that turns his skin white, his hair green, and slaps a permanent smile on his face. This Joker looks like a clown because he chooses to wear makeup, which is infinitely creepier. He has no goals except disruption, chaos, and terror. As Alfred says, he just wants to watch the world burn. That's pretty dark. And that's where I've been getting to with this post.

Cesar Romero... eat your heart out.

I see a lot in common between this new Batman franchise and the revitalization of the James Bond franchise that began with last year's Casino Royale. They both took a popular movie series that had become cheesy and too cute for its own good and kicked it in the ass by making it more visceral, more grounded in reality, and way, way darker. In the opening sequence of Casino Royale, when Daniel Craig was beating the piss out of some dude in a physical, brutal scene set in a tight bathroom, I remember thinking, "Roger Moore never could have done that.... I'm really going to like this movie." I got the same feeling during one of the Joker's first scenes, when he performs a little magic trick involving a pencil and some dude's head. I'm not sure Jack Nicholson couldn't have gotten that nasty. Cesar Romero might wet his pants watching that scene.

So why did everybody love that last James Bond movie and this new, really dark Batman? I think there's two reasons. First, in order to continue to affect an audience, the ante has to be upped. Now that we've seen Jason Bourne kick and punch like a badass, who wants to see James Bond played with a wink and a smile? Who wants to see Batman and his nemeses prancing around in brightly colored tights (which is one reason the Spiderman movies suck)? That explains the turn toward more visceral, realistic filmmaking.

But why so dark? Here's my opinion: just like James Bond movies have to be more physical to compete with other action movies' abilities to affect an audience, fantasy movies like Batman have to compete with... the news. Let's face it, these days it seems like everything's going to hell in a handbasket. War, shitty economy, you name it, we've got it. A new NBC/Wall St. Journal poll, finds that just 13% of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction (a new low, woohoo!). Now that we all know we live in a world where our safety is threatened by terrorism, we want a Joker who's not playing around. You want to scare us? Make him a psychotic, schizoid terrorist! Not just creepy... an actual TERRORIST! These feel like dark days, and it would be jarringly incongruous to go to a movie that's supposed to be about criminals and justice and have to look at... oh I don't know, Chris O'Donnell wearing spandex. Escapism be damned--art imitates life.

So dark is in. I loved Casino Royale and I can't wait for Quantum of Solace (even though that title is shit). It really is a shame that Heath Ledger won't be around to reprise his role in the next Batman movie (I'm pretty sure they intended him to), because he was perfect for the tone. But hopefully, the Batman gang will keep up the good work. Even without Heath, I'm sure the next one will be good, too... that is, as long as they (please, GOD!) do not even think about bringing in Robin. Or Chris O'Donnell. Or especially spandex.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Musing: A Big Donut For Neighborhood Preservation

A couple days ago, I saw the latest play at the Steppenwolf Theatre here in Chicago. It's called Superior Donuts, and it's by Tracy Letts. You may know him if you follow arts news at all. He wrote August:Osage County for Steppenwolf last year, which was moved to Broadway, won Tony awards for everyone involved (including the audience members), and scored the author a Pulitzer Prize. And, yes. It was that good. After I saw it last year, I started telling everyone that I thought it was the best new American play of the last two decades, despite the fact that I'd seen only a small fraction of the plays produced in America since 1988.

So, Superior Donuts isn't as good as August, of course. But that's not stopping it from playing to packed houses of people who don't want to miss Tracy Letts's latest, or from playing to houses full of Broadway producers in its opening week. It's a wholly different animal from August, which was a massive, epic family drama that was probably so cathartic for the writer that he won't be able to produce something like it again until he reaches retirement age, if ever. Superior Donuts is much smaller in its scale and focus. It's also very funny (it's sort of a black comedy/drama), very touching, and very good in its own way. But the really cool thing about it is that it is set in Chicago, and more than that, is uniquely of Chicago. The city is not just a setting or a backdrop, it makes up the themes behind the action. The play could not have been set anywhere else.

Very briefly, the play is about the owner of the last independent donut shop in Uptown--played by Michael McKean, who you might know from the Christopher Guest movies, or Lavergne & Shirley if you're really old--who is forced to face up to some of the failings of his character when a black kid from the neighborhood comes to work for him. As I said, it deals with several Chicago-centric themes (like ethnic tensions) to a lesser extent, but the main theme, and the one I found most interesting, is the passing of the neighborhood era in Chicago.

Chicago gets a zero for preserving neighborhood character. In other news, I like chocolate covered cake donuts with sprinkles.

In an interview between the director and the playwright that I read in the program, both noted how Chicago was the only American city they knew of in which people strongly identified themselves by their ethnicity. It might be a part of who you are if you live in another city, but only here do people routinely ask questions like, "Where are you from?" and think of themselves as Polish or German or whatever, even if their family has been American for two generations. Chicago used to be distinctly organized into ethnic neighborhoods, which formed strong social networks based on common backgrounds. My dad, for instance, grew up in Greektown and knew most of the other Greeks because that was his neighborhood. Still, to this day, he knows a lot of the Greek families in Chicagoland, because they all grew up together. Of course, the majority of the neighborhood was bulldozed to make way for UIC's campus, which turned Greektown into a strip where all the Greek restaurants are, instead of a neighborhood where all the Greek people live.

In Superior Donuts, the store owner is Polish. He gives free coffee and donuts to the Russian video store owner next door and the old alcoholic woman who comes in every day. He knows the two beat cops that stop in for their morning coffee, and they know him and everyone else who frequents the place. They ALL know each other, and they help each other out when they can, because they're part of a distinct neighborhood. Uptown is one of the last places on the North Side where you find that type of neighborhood character. But everything changes, of course--Superior Donuts is getting killed by the Starbucks that opened across the street.

Nowadays, North Side neighborhood distinctions in Chicago mostly matter for real estate listings. What was once an immigrant city is no longer working class. I live near Old Town, which is a pretty historic area in Chicago, the site of some major events in its history, like the riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. When I go to sell my place, though, my realtor will probably call my location Lincoln Park, because it might up the sales price a bit. It's pretty ironic that Old Town is also the birthplace of Crate & Barrel. I'm not trying to say that I'm opposed to gentrification or anything. (That would be awfully hypocritical--I'm about as yuppie as you can get). But I do get a little sad thinking about how Chicago used to be, and how homogenized it's become. My dad can tell you about the family of some Greek guy we might happen to run into at a restaurant in the suburbs. Me, I hardly know the people who live in my building. I get my groceries from Whole Foods (before they closed it down for a rodent infestation... hear about that one?), I get my coffee from Peet's, I get my furniture from Crate & Barrel. Just like everyone else. And I can't remember ever eating a donut that didn't come from Dunkin Donuts. That's modern urban living for you.

In other news, my fascination with reality competition TV continues (why and when did this happen to me?). My latest fixation is "So You Think You Can Dance". Seen it? I recommend it. The talent level is very high, and unlike on Idol, very few of the contestants are irritating. And there's a lot of hot girls (they're fricking dancers!). Aside from one of the judges, Mary Murphy, who is completely insufferable, the show is really entertaining. My male and female favorites are, coincidentally, a dance couple on the show: Chelsea and Mark. Maybe I'll go into why, if I feel like it in a later post.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I'm still alive, I'm pretty good at picking reality tv winners, and I am not safe from disease.

Ho-ho! Guess who's back! While reading Marty's blog today, I noticed on his cool little blog update widget that Tom had a newish blog post up. Which caused me to think, "Well shit. If Tom's finally writing in his blog again..." and here I am.

In the months that have passed since I last posted, several notable things have happened. Also, these two completely irrelevant things happened: one, Stephanie Izard won Top Chef, and two, David Cook won American Idol. The astute Wintery Mix reader (and if you're a Wintery Mix reader you can, by default, consider yourself the most astute Wintery Mix reader) may notice that I nailed that shiznitz, right from the start. I've got tennis elbow from patting myself on the back so often through the spring and early summer.

I'm most pleased about Stephanie winning Top Chef. She seems cool as hell, she's from Chicago, and it sure seems like she's got no plans to leave. The word here is that she's got a new restaurant in the works, the investors all lined up, and all she needs is to find an ideal space. Personally, I can't wait to try it. I hope it's awesome and we can add it to the list of kick-ass restaurants in Chicago. Really, we're turning into a dining Mecca over here. And personally, I've had some great meals lately. You can read all about them in my Yelp reviews.

Anyway, since I'm writing a blog post, I feel like I really ought to come up with a topic to write about... you know, another one of those random subjects that I find interesting despite the fact that no one else agrees. So here it is: I was listening to this program called Radio Times yesterday. It's on Philadelphia's public radio station and I get it on one of Sirius's NPR channels. The hour I heard was an interview with Dr. Robert Weinberg, who is an epidemiologist, or an oncologist... or whatever. He's into cancer, anyway. He also co-wrote an article in Newsweek recently that talked about what scientists know these days about what causes different types of cancers. The one bomb he dropped that really perked my ears up was his claim that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that eating organic food is any better for your health than eating meat and vegetables produced traditionally. Needless to say, the phone lines lit up and he was reiterating himself to every other caller for the rest of the program.

This guy's point was that it doesn't matter what you shoot an animal up with--by the time it gets to your mouth, the chemicals present in non-organic meat and dairy are present in such small quantities (when compared to the enzymes and hormones your body naturally produces) that they're a non-factor in causing diseases. He said, "The dose determines the poison," (or words to that effect) and ran off a few examples of other substances you ingest that would be deadly at larger quantities, like table salt or the fluoride they put in our drinking water.

"Up yours, Organic Cow! Suck on that!... Farmer Bob, I'm ready for my midday injection."

To that, I say: "Kiss my ass". I'm just not ready to believe that eating stuff pumped full of antibiotics, growth hormones, preservatives and pesticides isn't going to cause some kind of harmful effects in the long run. So Dr. Weinberg can keep his Aldi brand burgers, I'm still (usually) overpaying for my organic meat, dairy and produce. Athough I don't think Dr. Weinstein is eating too many burgers. He also took potshots at pretty much the entire Western diet, quoting studies about the lower instances of cancers in non-Western countries and the dangers of eating a high-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-calorie diet. Oh, and just in time for the holiday, he says grilling your meat will kill you. And so will eating red meat in general. Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Musing: Game On!

Check out the cover story of the March issue of WIRED. You can read it online for free... which is interesting, isn't it? They just give away the intellectual property... for free! Another good example of this is in my last post, where you can click on a link and read a big NYT Sunday Times Magazine piece... for FREE!! They used to make you pay to read the opinion pages, but now they let you access all of the newspaper's content at no charge (except the daily crosswords... unfortunately for me, you still have to pay a subscription to get those).

Anyway, it's a pretty interesting article (I'm talking about the WIRED piece again). The gist is that, in any business that takes place online, the price of everything trends toward $0.00. Take the price of digital storage as a for instance. It used to be that you had to pay for an email account (like the original version of AOL). Soon, they started giving them away with the price of your internet access. Then, free email accounts popped up all over the place, like Yahoo! and GMail... free, but you still had to pay if you wanted increased email storage. Now, not only can you get unlimited email storage from both of those companies, Google even gives you a free virtual portable hard drive. (It's called GSpace. Check it out--it plugs right into your browser. Sexy!) This is all possible because the price of digital storage has declined so much that, spread over the cost of all of a website's users, it becomes negligible. So you get it for... say it with me...

FREE!... right?

Wrong. You just don't pay any money for it. Instead, you pay with your time and your attention. Google may be subtle, but it rakes in untold billions from the ad revenue it generates. Today's digital business model is structured so that you don't pay for the content and services you use, advertisers pay for it for you in order to get their ads in front of you. That's not the only way to make money, of course. There's also the business model in which you give a product away, but make users pay if they want a better or deeper version of the content. A good example of this is the sweet music player and file manager I use for my sweet music collection. It's called Media Monkey. It's awesome! I love it! So I upgraded my free download version of it to Media Monkey Pro, which cost me around $20. In this model, 99% of the people using a product get it for free, and the company who makes it is happy to give it away. Because there's that last 1%, like me, who choose to pay cash money for it, and that 1% pays for the rest. That business model has nothing to do with the Google/Yahoo! model except for one important similarity: FREEEEE!!!!

Which brings me to one of my favorite pastimes (NERD ALERT!!): video games. There's a company called WildTangent that makes a new application called Orb. Basically, using Orb, you can stream and play games on your computer for free. The tab will be picked up by advertisers who will show you their ads in unobtrusive ways during loading screens. Or you can pay money to skip the ads entirely. Here's a quote from the company's founder, Alex St. John (I read this in PC Gamer... DOUBLE NERD ALERT!):

"Every consumer PC shipping this year--including the laptops--will have superior graphics capabilities to the Wii, and most will match or exceed an Xbox 360. That'll be 36 million consumer PCs--more than all consoles sold in the United States combined--going into people's living rooms in one year, and they'll be connected to the Internet with superior media capabilities. And every one of them will have a nice, big, high-res screen."

"Welcome back, Professor. Let's play... Global Thermonuclear War."

Which means that, if you're reading this, you already have a high-powered gaming machine, and now you can get your games for free. Is this the future of gaming? I think it's the future of ALL digital entertainment. The music industry got burned when it tried to stop piracy, and it sure looks like the film industry didn't learn from their mistake--acquiring video content still, for the most part, means buying a DVD with the latest anti-piracy protections embedded into it... or going to a website like Project Free TV and downloading free versions of the same content that have been uploaded by pirates immediately after they got done bypassing the latest anti-piracy protections. In WebTangent's model, consumers get what they want at the price they want (free!), and game developers get their product out to as many consumers as possible. And of course, they don't lose their profits to piracy, because what's the point of pirating something if the producers are already giving it away?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I wanted to save America, but someone got there first

Back when I was writing in my blog more regularly, I had this idea for a post I was going to write. The basic gist of it was going to be that through embracing environmentalism, a variety of the problems our country currently faces could be solved. While doing a little reading to compose my thoughts, I discovered a big piece that Tom Friedman of the New York Times had in the Sunday Magazine a whole year ago. Tom, obviously, made all of the points I was going to make (and more!) far more eloquently than I ever could, which really took all the wind out of my sails and I never wrote the post.

Home sweet home.

Today being Earth Day and all, this seems like an apropos time to look back on what I was going to say. If you've got the time to do a little reading, here's the link:

The Power of Green, by Thomas L. Friedman

It's not a short article, but it's dead-on. If you don't have the time, the gist of it is this: if America embraces the green movement we can go a long way toward mitigating global warming, but you don't have to be a greenie liberal to think this is a good idea. If American scientists and entrepreneurs were inspired and challenged in the way that we were during the 1960s space race, we would also solve the biggest threat to American security: our reliance on foreign oil. And a sweet little side effect would be the benefit to our economy of being the world leader in alternative energy technologies, which promises to be a massive industry in this century, thereby replacing many of the manufacturing jobs that have been shifting overseas for years, along with several other huge economic benefits.

That pretty much sucks as a synopsis. Please read the article.

And have a happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Opinion: Pick your horse

A few weeks back in the Tribune, television critic Maureen Ryan did an American Idol article in which she gave her opinion of each contestant and their chances of winning. As usual, Ms. Ryan was dead wrong about pretty much everything. In general, I'd rate her opinions at about the same level as I'd rate "weather predictor" Tom Skilling's: ground level and getting lower. In fact, I'd put her second on my list of "People the Chicago Tribune Should Fire Today," right behind technology "writer" Eric Gwynn.

Anyway, I'll take a crack at rating the six remaining contestants myself. I wish I had written this post a week earlier, before Kristy got eliminated, so that I could use the nickname I've given her, Kristy Lee Cock (so named for her mannish lunges). But there, I've managed to work it in anyway. Without further ado, here's what George thinks about the top 6:

Syesha Mercado Syesha's an odd bird-- she actually has a really pleasant voice at times, and she has a little bit of power when she needs it. But her pitch can be all over the place during some performances and no matter how hard she tries, she still ends up mostly forgettable.
Can she win? No way, Jose. Syesha ain't got the skillz. But she is the last "minority" (read: black) contestant, so don't be surprised if she hangs around another couple weeks.

David Archuleta Oh, David. Why does the Idol viewing world love you so? It causes me physical pain to admit this, but... yes, David Archuleta does have a nice voice. However, any talent he might have is completely overshadowed by his nausea-inducing personality. His "aw shucks" routine was irritating from the get-go, and soon grew to be unbearable. Now, the only way I can make it though his performances is by doing my impression of him for Marissa--it seems to release the pressure valve a little so I don't start throwing my shoes at the tv. (My favorite impression material is from his post-performance conversation with Ryan after singing "Another Day in Paradise": "Well, I just thought it was really meaningful because, you know, a lot of people don't have homes..."
Can he win?
Sadly, yes. As much as I hate him, that's how much your average teenage girl seems to love him. And if he does... I might leave the country to protect my ears from the horror of his 10-emotional-ballads-in-a-row debut album.

Brooke White Say what you will about Brooke White, you'll never sway my devotion to her! I don't care that you think she's boring! I don't care how many cracks you make about her troubles picking good songs, not to mention making it through a performance with her shoes still on! I don't care that she appears to be somewhat manic depressive! I love her anyway!
Can she win? Sadly, no. In an interesting paradox, although Brooke just doesn't have the pipes to survive once the bigger voices start blowing the roof off the place, she can probably sell more albums as a solo artist than any of the other contestants. There's a market out there for her singer-songwritery vibe, and it's the kind of market that really doesn't care who wins American Idol. Which means that she doesn't really have to win.

Carly Smithson Carly was the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing when the finals began, and for a good reason: she's the best singer in a singing competition. But she's proven to have two serious issues: one, she can't pick a song to save her life. You'd think that a great singer would be able to find a song every week that showcases her voice properly. You'd be wrong. Two, just because she has vocal power, doesn't mean she needs to try to prove it every week. I half-expect one of her internal organs to come flying out of her mouth in the middle of one of her performances. She's as hard-working as Michael Bolton, and she's got the scrunched-up, angry-face to prove it. And by the way, they're not doing her any favors by showing us shots of her husband in the audience so often. This guy looks like he'd be at home biting the head off a chicken in a travelling carnival. Seriously.
Can she win? If she gets out of her own way, Carly can still win. Maybe as the coaching gets better week to week, she'll start getting better advice on how to present her talent better. But I doubt it. I think Carly's going down in the next couple weeks. It's a shame, really.

Jason Castro In the interest of full disclosure, I have to reveal that Jason is Marissa's favorite. She, like many female Idol viewers, thinks he's quite dreamy. So if I say anything too bad about Jason, I'm likely to cause repercussions at home that just wouldn't be worth the trouble. I can say, honestly, that Jason has a pleasant voice, and a light, laid-back style that's refreshing to hear between the power performances. But he's got to have just the right song for it to work, and that just doesn't happen very often.
Can he win? Nope. I'd say that, behind David Archuleta, Jason Castro has the biggest number of screaming-meemie teenage fans, and they're a powerful voting block. But unless he pulls out another perfect song every week (like he did with Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" and whoever's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") he's going to get dropped. Who knows though... maybe there's a market out there for him.

David Cook Not only is David Cook an outstanding singer, he's got two other things going for him. One, he's the right kind of singer at the right time. The typical schlock R&B style that Idol tends to promote is wearing very thin seven seasons into the show. Although there's always been the "rocker" contestant, they've never had much of a shot. Now, post-Daughtry, there's a much better chance that a contestant who owns a pair of testicles can actually win. Secondly, David is not just a good singer, he's a good musician. His performances are fun to watch because he's so adept at taking a tired old song and turning it into something new. (Lionel Richie? Are you kidding me?) It also helps that that "something new" is always something alternative rock.
Can he win? He's got the pipes, he's got the musicianship, he's got the fan base... he can absolutely win it. But should he? Remember that Daughtry got bounced in the final four, put out a solo album and is now one of the best selling rock acts around. What would have happened if he'd have actually won? Would he still have the credibility to be a mainstream rock artist and not a teenie bopper phenomenon? Look at Kelly Clarkson's rough ride trying to be taken seriously as a musical artist and not just a talent show-winning singer. What will be interesting to speculate about is whether David Cook can sell more albums as an American Idol winner or as a loser.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How I became Comcast's #1 customer

Although no living, breathing people actually read my blog, it does not go unnoticed by the tireless automated bots trolling through the internet. As proof, I offer my recent experience with Comcast, in which I went from an average, angry customer to priority numero uno.

In the previous post, I laid out the troubles I'd been having with Comcast while I waited for a service appointment. My anger deepened later that afternoon, when I continued to have all the same problems, even after the repairman spent about 30 minutes in my place cleaning out and tightening all the connections and pulling out my ceiling speaker to change a splitter. Soon after I called to schedule another appointment for the following day, I noticed that someone had commented on the blog post. (Go ahead and read it now. I'll wait). Amazingly, that comment was actually left by a Comcast employee, and not someone trying to get my email address in order to send me even more solicitations for penis enlargement. "Mark C." called me that very evening even though I hadn't given him my phone number... that's when I started to think the guy might actually be for real.

From that moment on, I was receiving phone calls at a rate of at least two per day from Comcast employees, following up on my situation. I had calls from Mark, who's in customer care out on the east coast, John, who is a regional VP for the Chicagoland area, and Felicia, who's been keeping me posted on all the progress. They've all given me their direct extensions. Two days after my blog post, they had a line crew in our alley replacing the drop from the pole to our building. This appears to have completely solved the problems with my reception. In fact, we had a condo board meeting yesterday, where I learned that all the Comcast users in my building were having similar issues, and this has probably solved the problem for everyone. Not only that, but during that first phone call from Mark C., he also managed to speed up my internet connection. ("While I've got you on the phone...") Amazing.

I've changed my tune on Comcast. Throw "The Hammer" in jail.

So as I promised Mark C., here for public consumption is the blog post in which I eat crow. Comcast does NOT suck. Their customer care employees are extremely friendly, and can fix the shit out of a problem when they put their mind to it. [I've been holding off on writing this post for a couple of days, just to make sure there's been a real improvement. But so far so good, and I'm guardedly optimistic that all my cable television worries have been solved. But I'll still be hanging on to all the direct extension phone numbers they gave me.]

The moral of the story, as I see it, is that I ought to be writing in my blog WAY more often, and complaining my ass off about EVERYTHING. You never know who's listening.