Streaming video rant follows.
A little over a year ago we invested in a Roku box. We upgraded our in-house wireless network and signed up for increased download rates from Comcast, our high-speed internet service provider. And we subscribed to two streaming services, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Over the past year Amazon Prime streaming has lived up to its promise, always delivering a high quality picture and never hesitating or reloading. Netflix streaming? It’s been shit from the beginning, though I don’t think Netflix is to blame for it. I’ve come close to canceling several times, but rumors of some sort of deal between Netflix and Comcast kept me on the hook. Then, a few days ago, Netflix and Comcast announced their deal: Netflix would pay Comcast to stop throttling its stream. One of the news articles I read last week said the deal was done and higher streaming rates were already in effect, so it was with great anticipation I sat down to watch a Netflix streaming episode of MST3K on our big flat screen HD TV Friday night.
Sadly, nothing had changed. As usual, the show downloaded at “four dot” quality, not HD but still pretty good. Then, before Joel even got to Robot Roll Call, less than two minutes in, the screen went black. After a short pause the download bar reappeared. A long two minutes dragged by as MST3K slowly reloaded from scratch, this time at “two dot” quality. When the show started running again the image quality was severely degraded: it was like watching a kinescope of a TV show from the 1960s, fuzzy, grainy, impossible to make out detail. Almost as bad as the inset graphic above, which was what Americans settled for before the Civil War, indoor plumbing, and automobiles.
Yes, before you ask, we’ve contacted Comcast. Over and over. We’ve had technicians come to the house. And before you helpfully tell us to check our equipment and connections, please go back and read the part where I said Amazon Prime, streaming through the same equipment and connections, works flawlessly. The problem is not at our end.
Canceling Comcast is not a viable option. It has the local monopoly on broadband internet service and we need the connection. So I canceled Netflix streaming, even though Comcast, not Netflix, seems to be the villain. For now we’ll make do with Amazon Prime and cable TV. If Comcast ever actually stops throttling Netflix … because despite what we read in the news it’s clearly still doing it … I’m sure we’ll hear about it, and should that time come we can resubscribe.
From all I’ve read, and I have been researching our options, satellite and local ISPs won’t cut it: they don’t deliver the download rates you need for streaming video. That’s the real issue here, access to reliable high speed broadband internet, like people have in other countries. That’s what we’re paying Comcast for, but it’s not what we’re getting.
C’mon, Google Fiber! You can’t get here fast enough!
Update (3/3/14): I posted a link to this post on Twitter yesterday and within an hour received a DM from a Netflix employee who explained that the added bandwidth Netflix negotiated with Comcast hadn’t been implemented in my part of the country until sometime Saturday. He promised that if I renewed and checked out Netflix streaming again I’d definitely see an improvement.
I did renew, and so far things look good. After restarting the wireless connection to our Roku, I started a movie my daughter had put on our watch list.* It downloaded at four dots and ran without hesitation or reloading for half an hour before I had to turn it off so Donna could watch the Oscars. The Netflix streaming renewal is month by month, so if the problems come back I’m only out $8 … but as I said so far it looks good.
Thanks, Netflix guy, for responding to me on Twitter! And let me note, for the record, that I’ve heard nothing from Comcast.
* The movie Polly added to our Netflix watch list is Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. It’s supposed to be a zombie movie, but it seems like thinly-disguised Japanese fetish porn to me, and awakened embarrassing memories of the time Polly talked us into playing a Blockbuster DVD while Dad’s second wife Lois was visiting. I can’t remember the name of the movie, but it was pretty much naked people humping … softcore, not XXX but close enough. I hit eject after five minutes and the three of us sat there red-faced while Polly obliviously asked “Why’d you turn the movie off?”
Never change, Polly. On second thought …
I was at Anytime Fitness this morning and as always the wall-mounted flat screen TVs were set to Fox “News,” which is busy trying to conflate Secretary of Defense Hagel’s proposed military budget with total disarmament and the end of American military superiority. Army to be reduced to pre-WWII troop levels! An entire class of attack planes to be scrapped! Obama doesn’t support the troops!
Actually, the Pentagon is trying to comply with sequester budget caps imposed by Congress, and in fact Hagel’s asking for more than that. Under the sequester, the total defense budget was supposed to be cut by $31 billion in 2014, with another $45 billion cut in 2015. The military is actually asking for $496 billion for FY2015, almost exactly the same level of spending as the FY2014 budget it’s working under now. And you can be assured it will fight future programmed cuts under the sequester. So in fact, the military budget is not going down but rather staying about the same.
Army to be reduced to pre-WWII troop levels! Just to show you how sensationalistic and misleading this claim is, the Army had more than 8 million men and women in uniform during WWII. Before the war, in 1940, that number was 269,023. Since the start of the “global war on terror” and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army troop strength has varied between 480,801 (in 2001) and 565,463 (in 2011).
The US Army today employs 520,000 troops and had been planning, even before yesterday’s budget proposal, to cut those numbers down to 490,000 in FY2015. The new budget proposes cutting back to 450,000 troops, 40,000 fewer than previously planned. Since we are no longer in Iraq, and will be withdrawing from Afghanistan later this year, the reduction is not all that alarming. In 1999, by comparison, Army strength was less than 480,000, so in fact 450,000 sounds about right. Many would argue peacetime Army troop levels should be half that … cut back to real pre-WWII levels.
An entire class of attack planes to be scrapped! Um, we’re talking about one airplane, the A-10. The USAF currently operates around 300 A-10s. Prior plans called for the A-10 fleet to be retired and replaced by the F-35 by 2028. The budget proposal moves this up to 2020, and Secretary of Defense Hagel says this’ll free up 3.5 billion dollars for the F-35 program. The A-10 has many defenders, and arguably the F-35 will not be as capable in the close air support mission as the Warthog, but I personally don’t see how this train can be stopped without also stopping the sequester.
Obama doesn’t support the troops! That’s Dick Cheney, who yesterday declared that Obama would “rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.” Excuse me, it’s not Obama, it’s the sequester, and that came from Republicans in Congress, not the White House. The very same Republicans who are now lining up behind Dick Cheney to take cheap shots at the President for military cuts they themselves imposed.
In any case, supporting the troops is largely what the proposed cuts are about, since the intent is to free up money for pay, medical care, and retirement. What Republicans … and especially Dick “Halliburton” Cheney … mean when they say “support the troops” is “support the defense contractors.”
Our media is spamming us with alarmist sensationalism. Military budget cuts have already been mandated by Congress; the military is fighting for a larger pot of money than it’s actually supposed to get under the sequester; troop strength is staying at adequate levels; the USAF is trading one airplane for another; Dick Cheney is full of crap.
Speaking of spam, here’s an email I quit reading after the very first line, when I noticed the “patriot” who sent it forgot to capitalize America:
Sensationalistic news and bot-generated spam. It’s all bullshit. But I repeat myself.
You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.
The current textbooks being used in public schools today, that your children are reading, memorizing and being tested on, are inaccurate, revisionist, anti-American, racist, climate change propaganda based on fake science, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, pro-Islam, Marxist, globalist, pro-Socialism/Communism, pro-homosexuality, pro-abortion, and sexually explicit.
In previous YCRT! posts I’ve tried to trace the connection between right-wing politics, Christianist activism, and the current wave of book bannings and challenges in the public schools. The quotation above is from an op-ed by Victoria Jackson. It’s a glimpse into the brains of those who want to purge the school system of any sort of actual teaching.
Amusingly, Jackson’s false claim that the books she’s targeting are actually being used as textbooks in Tennessee elementary school classrooms energized the trolls. Schools have been besieged with calls from outraged parents, and Amazon customer reviews of the books in question have been swamped with angry comments.
Wonkette published a great rejoinder, including a detailed summary of the misleading claims and outright lies contained in Jackson’s op-ed, which should remind us to take everything book banners say with a grain of salt.
Meanwhile, in other book, television, and movie censorship news:
YCRT! Banned Book Review:
I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1)
The narrator of I Hunt Killers is the 17-year-old son of “America’s most wanted serial killer,” now locked away in prison (or is he?). The son, Jasper Dent, grew up under his father’s murderous tutelage, not exactly an accomplice but certainly a witness to the aftermath of his dad’s 24 increasingly sadistic killings. He helped arrange his dad’s trophies — locks of hair and personal items belonging to the victims — and even watched as his dad killed his beloved pet dog in order to help Jasper get over his squeamishness about killing. Jasper goes over and over these killings in his mind, describing awful details like the injection of liquid drain cleaner into still-living captives. Jasper also agonizes, over and over, about whether he himself is doomed to become a serial killer, given his background and education.
Over and over is the operative phrase here: repetition is the most-used item in Lyga’s writerly toolbox. Not a chapter goes by without Jasper asking himself the same questions or restating the reasons he might be a twisted psychopath like his father.
I was unable to swallow some of the premises Lyga relies on to make his story work: one, that local police would allow a 17-year-old boy to assist in active murder investigations; two, that the same cops would not have immediately made Jasper Dent their prime suspect; three, that townspeople would not have burned the boy’s house down and run him out of town.
As with much YA fiction, the young protagonist has sex on the brain, but there’s no actual sex in the book. Jasper’s a virgin and determined to stay that way, at least until he figures out whether he’s a serial killer or not. He’s afraid that if he finds joy in sex he’ll quickly find joy in killing, as his father did.
The story has two main lines: one, the hunt for a new serial killer who is apparently copying Jasper’s father’s old killings; two, Jasper’s mental issues. I was disappointed that Lyga left both lines unresolved; clearly he’s shooting for a franchise, with numerous sequels, and we’ll have to read Jasper Dent #2 or possibly even Jasper Dent #5 before we find out whether the killings end or whether Jasper ever gets his stuff together. Because of this, I Hunt Killers does not seem a stand-alone book to me; it’s more like a chapter in a longer, as yet unpublished novel.
I Hunt Killers first came to my attention while gathering material for a previous YCRT! post. In November 2013, parents in a Lexington, Kentucky school district challenged the inclusion of I Hunt Killers on a high school reading list, saying it is too violent. A local newspaper summarizes the challenge by quoting one of the parents:
“The back of the book is described as deliciously demented and a twisted tale from a teenaged psychopath and it’s all about killing,” said Kassie Bennet. She was shocked when it was in her 15 year old’s back pack for a school assignment.
“If my child picked up the book out of the library, then your child has the ability to do it too,” said Bennet. I Hunt Killers was on the Henry Clay High School reading list, along with dozens of other books. Bennett’s son chose it from the school library, but she wants to know why it was even an option.
I read the ebook version of I Hunt Killers and thus can’t confirm the “deliciously demented” or “teenaged psychopath” blurbs on the book jacket, but I can vouch for the subject matter, and yes, it’s pretty much all about killing. The challenge in Lexington, as far as I can determine, is ongoing. For now the book remains on the reading list, but parents are still trying to have it removed.
I understand where the Kentucky parents are coming from: there’s very little that’s positive in this book. Oh, to be sure, Jasper doesn’t want to be a serial killer. He wants to do right, and at the end of the book he resolves to become a hunter of serial killers. That, I suppose, is good, but it’s not much. Really this book is about killing people in horrible ways, and Lyga lingers over gory descriptions of killing after killing. If Nancy Grace were a YA novel, this is the YA novel she’d be.
While there’s little of value in I Hunt Killers, I can’t accept the book banners’ argument that the book is too dark for teen readers, or that it’ll influence them in negative ways. I hope the school district keeps to First Amendment principles and leaves it on the reading list.
Overall, I found this YA novel repetitive, unrealistic, nastily obsessed with death and mutilation, and lacking an ending. I’m really only interested in it because it’s the subject of a ongoing book banning attempt, and while I’ll follow the progress of the challenge in the news, I probably won’t follow the ongoing saga of Jasper Dent, hunter of killers.
“Remember the couple from England who were here last month? I took them on a hike to the ruins of the Japanese internment camp on Mount Lemmon.”
“There was a Japanese internment camp on Mount Lemmon?”
That’s how the conversation went, me being the dummy who didn’t know about the camp. I’ve lived at the foot of Mount Lemmon since 1998, have driven the Catalina Highway to the top at least a hundred times, and had never heard of any such camp. But the minute my friend mentioned it, things began to click. Yes, the highway had been built with convict labor, overseen by an Army general named Hitchcock. Ipso facto, there must have been a prison camp on the mountain. To be sure, there are dirt roads branching off the highway, one named Soldier Camp Trail, one named Prison Camp Trail. There’s a General Hitchcock Campground. And there’s a sign for the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area. Gordon Hirabayashi? Sounds vaguely Japanese, right?
I did some digging. There were two Japanese internment camps in Arizona, one near Poston on the western side of the state, and one near Sacaton, halfway between Casa Grande and Phoenix. Approximately 31,000 Americans of Japanese descent were imprisoned in the Arizona camps during World War II. There wasn’t one anywhere near Tucson, though.
Kids of my generation didn’t learn about the mass internment of Japanese Americans during WWII until we were in college, if then. It was almost as if our teachers were ashamed to tell us what their generation had done. Concentration camps in America? Yes, we had ‘em.
Here’s the quick & dirty (click here if you want to learn more): in 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of WWII, President Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the internment of people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast. Some were first generation Japanese immigrants, not yet American citizens, but most were American citizens, second- and third-generation descendants who had lived here all their lives. Approximately 110,000 people of Japanese descent were rounded up, forced to sell their property and possessions at short notice, and transported to wartime relocation camps in the western US. Americans of German descent, I was shocked to learn, were not given similar treatment.
If the prison camp on Mount Lemmon wasn’t a Japanese internment camp, what was it? It was a federal minimum-security prison, built in 1939. Convicts housed in the camp, which was named the Catalina Federal Honor Camp, were the laborers who built the Catalina Highway, a 26-mile road from northeastern Tucson to the top of Mount Lemon. In the 1960s the facility was transferred to the state of Arizona, renamed the Catalina Honor Camp, and was used to house juvenile offenders until the 1970s, when it was decommissioned and razed.
The old prison camp, now the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area
Though the Catalina Federal Honor Camp was not one of the Japanese internment camps set up under Roosevelt’s executive order, it did house some Japanese American prisoners during WWII, and that’s the connection with the man named Gordon Hirabayashi. Hirabayashi was a second-generation American citizen of Japanese descent who protested the wartime internment of Japanese Americans and was arrested for it. He was imprisoned in the camp along with 45 other Japanese Americans who were convicted of resisting the wartime draft. Hmmm … being interned for being part Japanese and then arrested for resisting the draft seems like double jeopardy to me, but what do I know?
Hirabayashi’s case went all the way to the top, and in 1943 the Supreme Court ruled against him, finding the wartime internment of Japanese Americans legal. His wartime conviction was finally overturned in 1987, and in 1999 the old prison camp was renamed in his honor.
Once I’d satisfied my curiosity about the history and purpose of the prison camp on Mount Lemmon, there was just one thing left to do: hop on the motorcycle and take a look at it myself. Here are some photos of the remains of the prison camp, along with one of me bundled up for my February ride up the mountain, taken at Geology Point, a couple of thousand feet above the prison camp site (click on the thumbnails to see the large originals on Flickr):