Six Hours and Counting
Be safe out there. See you Tuesday.
the ride with this blog is worth the fall
...New York Times columnist Frank Rich momentarily called a cease-fire. Brokeback Mountain was a heartland hit, he told anxious liberals. It represented “a rebuke and antidote” to President George W. Bush’s support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The movie, which he acknowledged has “no overt politics,” was “not leading a revolution but ratifying one.” After all, it was even doing well in Plano, Texas.Postrel goes on to describe Plano pretty accurately:
Nonsense, replied Los Angeles-based blogger Mickey Kaus, of Slate. Plano is no indicator. It’s not the land of pickups and gun racks; it’s just a bunch of yuppies. Kaus, an iconoclastic Democrat, quoted a reader who wrote, “Plano, TX is NOT the heartland. It’s a ritzy, upscale, SUV-choked, conspicuous-consumption-driven Dallas exurb populated by more east-coast ‘expatriates’ than native Texans.” In other words, this suburb isn’t Middle America. It’s an affluent island of educated blue in a sea of ignorant red. It’s a bunch of people who think more or less like Kaus and Rich. ... “What is Plano really like?” suddenly became a hotly debated question in the political blogosphere. The answer matters not because online pundits are considering relocating but because Plano has come to symbolize the fast-growing territories of Red America. As Plano goes, perhaps, so goes the nation. It’s the quintessential “boomburg” and the new Peoria: the touchstone Middle American town, a bellwether for retailers and culture watchers alike.
It allows residents to live a scaled-up, globalized version of the family-centered life of the postwar suburbs, a twenty-first-century Wonder Years. While you can find a $7 million estate in Plano, you can also buy a perfectly reasonable vintage ranch house, possibly with a pool, for less than $200,000. From that address, you can send your kids to excellent public schools. By contrast, on Kaus’s modest street in Venice, a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow was recently on the market for $754,000, making it one of the cheapest houses in the area (and the schools are lousy).But I think Washington Post style writer Hank Stuever, who Postrel quotes, got it closest to right with the fewest words when he wrote that Plano "(embodies) everything both dreamily enviable and vaguely unnerving about modern paradise.”
The economics of Plano change the sociology and the politics. Plano is more conservative than Silicon Valley at least in part because its cheap real estate and good public schools support a more traditional lifestyle. Many families don’t need a second income to live a comfortable middle-class life. Mothers can stay at home or work, often part-time, for personal fulfillment and luxuries like family vacations. These educated women also provide a safety net in hard times, like the tech crash. You don’t have to be work-obsessed to live in Plano, and at least in some circles, a work-oriented life seems rather eccentric.
Most Planoites would never ostracize the irreligious, if only because that wouldn’t be polite. But they also don’t really understand resolutely secular people—just as the New York Times has trouble grasping that smart, good-hearted, well-educated people can be conservative Christians. Cosmopolitanism, in both varieties, has its limits.
Even in his earliest, wildest days, when his determination to kill an audience was such that he would swing from the rafters, cut flying splits from atop a grand piano, and even leap from a theatre balcony into the orchestra pit, his outrageousness was carefully calculated to convey that, while he cannot be contained, he is always in control. In contrast to the appearance of effortlessness that so many performers strive for in their quest to exhibit mastery, James Brown makes the display of effort one of the most striking features of his art.
The quiet doesn't last for long as Daffy launches into a wild, short version of La Cucaracha. This short segment has a plain background, suggesting it was cartooned separately and inserted tentatively, possibly due to some slight innuendos Daffy makes about a girl named "Cucaracha", parodying Lucky Strike cigarette ads: "so round, so firm, so fully packed, so easy on the draw!"... In perhaps the most outrageous double-take in animation history, Daffy turns into a giant eyeball - complete with lashes and blood vessels - when first coming face-to-face with the Wolf before also screaming, and running for his life.(Via Pajiba)
OK, I think this wraps things up. Many thanks to all who participated. In addition to some very high-quality writing, you turned me on to several great things I hadn't known of before, including Jay Dee's Donuts, the song "Mardy Bum" by Arctic Monkeys (I'd previously dismissed them, but this song is incredibly catchy), and the comic strip site written about below by Ms. Larson.
And now a word from my friends in the Lone Star State:Casino Royale
(Sorry, but thanks to the geniuses at NBC, who evidently don't want word getting out that SNL is still occasionally funny, the video has been removed from YouTube.)
We're nearing the finish line (appropriate, given one of the answers below). There's a special all-Texas friend edition to come, as well as perhaps a few stragglers. But for now:
T-Rac is played by Pete Nelson, director of mascot operations for the Titans. As T-Rac, he wears a raccoon costume.
"It was the duty of the mascot to perform his job in a manner that would not cause injury to the opposing players," the complaint said.
More of your recommendations -- not all of them from 2006, but all of them loved...
More of the things you loved, with many more to follow...
Over the past couple of weeks, I've asked several friends, colleagues, and members of the Witness Protection Program to come forward and share something they loved in 2006. I've genuinely enjoyed compiling their answers (and hope that more are forthcoming), and I think you'll enjoy reading them. Because I was lucky to get a bunch, I'm going to post them five or six at a time, starting with these below. More to follow...
The opening credits of Casino Royale
The movie itself is spectacular, but the opening credits to Casino Royale are, in three words, Uh, May and Zing. Daniel Kleinman, the title designer, gives a virtual "big up" to the father of film titles, Saul Bass, in a sequence that makes me want to buy a gun and shoot someone, if only to see their body shatter into a hundred little diamond shapes.
Dying to Say This to You – The Sounds
This is pretty fantastic if you're in the mood for something hyper-poppy. And it mysteriously has the girl from Misshapes on the cover which is: a) not necessarily a good thing and b) odd because The Sounds are Swedish, and that girl shows no signs of being Swedish. Anyway, I have found myself listening to, say, The Killers on my way to work and wishing that – just for the duration of a few songs, at least – there was a female vocalist. So I spin my thumb in circles until I hit The Sounds (their old album is also excellent) and it's always a good decision. Plus, they're made from bits of real Swede, so you know they're good.
The Devil Wears Prada
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
Streep was Streep, but I will longer remember the performances of Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt. The soundtrack, pacing, and shots of the league leaders in the world's great cities, New York and Paris, make it watchable on a regular basis (I know I am a little weird). Having worked for a slave driver with a touch of charisma also personalizes it a bit for me. Light fare for the serious-minded, but a major treat for someone who shies away from "deep thinking."
Ford's mouthpiece, Frank Bascombe, is at his introspective best as he chews on everything from strip malls in New Jersey to the sobering reality that his future is, in large part, behind him. There is plenty of deep thinking at work here, but also a large supply of laughs as Ford/Bascombe casts a savage eye on current mores.
–Jake Williams (aka Dad)
A perfectly-placed phrase
Well, this has been hard. While I didn't entirely sleep through 2006 (I read Pessl, saw The Queen, and even caught an episode of "Ice-T's Rap School"), nothing really stuck. I'm sure the fault was mine. How about my favorite sentence I read this year? Actually, we could boil it down to a favorite perfectly-placed phrase: "ugly fruit." It's from Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett (2003), describing a real putz of a villain: "there is something particularly repulsive to me about the way his hands swell, wristless, painful, at the ends of his short arms, like ugly fruit."
Donuts – J Dilla
The impact of Donuts was compounded by the fact that its producer, 32-year-old James Yancey (aka Jay Dee aka J Dilla) passed away literally within hours of its release, a victim of complications associated with lupus and an incurable blood disease. In his dozen or so years of service to the hip-hop community, the Detroit native was probably more prolific than any other beat maker, and arguably more revolutionary, continually breaking hip-hop's unspoken rules about how drums should sound, what to sample, and the way to put it all together. Donuts represents Jay Dee's most experimental work; it's more like listening to his subconscious mind – the thousands of sound clips running through his head and the patterns into which he incorporated them – than listening to any kind of hip-hop record that came before it. Sadly, we won't have that experience again, but the extraordinary vision Jay Dee expressed in his short career – nowhere more evident than here – should inspire listeners and musicians for years to come.
–Strath Shepard (Visionaire)
A dance performance
Emily Haines, lead singer of Metric, released a solo record called Knives Don't Have Your Back (Domino). This and Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood were the two best things I've heard all year. Forget Fiona Apple's return to form, forget Regina Spektor, even Nellie McKay. Haines is a girl at the piano who does not trade on cutesy or verbose quirk. These songs are not Performances – you don't get the sense that she's pulling herself up straight on the piano bench and clearing her throat before letting her freak flag fly. She's impressionistic, wry, bitchy, sorrowful, yearning; all the songs sound and feel effortless. Her record marries Sylvia Plath's craftsmanship and confessionalism to John Lennon's easy, wandering piano balladry. Cat Power fans will appreciate!
Also, "Dogs," a dance by Sarah Michelson that premiered at BAM. Michelson is a British choreographer who my dance writer friend introduced me to; this piece fused tropes of classical ballet to op-art to feminism to drawing room comedy. It was operatic and beautiful while being aware of where we get our ideas of both – and being aware of the fact that maybe it's too late for all that now, but she's going to try to do something approximating that anyway. Michelson grew up on a council estate going to clubs, so there's a real dry wit in her work, and a love of spectacle. Costumes and set design matter, and so do jokes. This was one of the best things I've seen – better than most movies and rock shows and even plays – this year.
–The Humorless Feminist
After years of hearing thousands of petitions offered to the Lord, I cannot recall a single answered prayer.
How would you know, asks the believer, since God's ways are inscrutable to us? But prayer is one of those cases where an inscrutability argument will not work, because one knows what one has oneself requested, and therefore what has been denied. If you pray for a member of your congregation to get better and she dies, your prayer was not answered. To retort that God's mysterious way of answering your prayer--"but God needed her by his side in heaven, that's why he let her die"--might involve not really answering your prayer at all is essentially to nullify prayer, to kill it. I knew that at fifteen. Years later I read Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, with its extraordinary image of the futility of prayer: a bee, inside a room, mistaking the floral wallpaper for the real thing and briefly attempting to extract its illusory pollen.
The model is Bertrand Russell's "celestial teapot," gleefully quoted by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. If, says Russell, I told you that a celestial teapot was orbiting the sun but that you could not see it, nobody would be able to disprove me; "but if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense." God is like the teapot, we are supposed to infer. Dawkins uses Russell to argue that we cannot prove God's non-existence, but then we cannot prove anything's non-existence. "What matters," writes Dawkins, "is not whether God is disprovable (he isn't), but whether his existence is probable.... Some undisprovable things are sensibly judged far less probable than other undisprovable things."
I agree with (Richard) Dawkins's conclusion, and consider God highly improbable, but I dislike the way he gets there. It seems to occur neither to him nor to Russell that belief in God is not like belief in a teapot. The referent--the content of the belief--matters here. God may be just as undisprovable as the teapot, but belief in God is a good deal more reasonable than belief in the teapot, precisely because God cannot be reified, cannot be turned into a mere thing, and thus entices our approximations. There is a reason, after all, that no one has ever worshiped a teapot: it does not allow enough room to pour the fluid of our incomprehension into it.
Interestingly, Dawkins himself seems to agree with this complaint. In a recent conversation in Time with the geneticist Francis Collins (who is a believing Christian), a conversation in which both men spoke eloquently, Dawkins was pushed by Collins to admit that, in Dawkins's words, "there could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible beyond our understanding." That's God, said Collins. Yes, but it could be any of billions of Gods, replied Dawkins: "the chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small." In other words, the God of a particular scripture and tradition is a parochial and inherently improbable notion. But the idea of some kind of creator, said Dawkins, "does seem to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect." To which one should add: by definition, then, this "grand and big" idea is not analogically disproved by referring to celestial teapots or vacuum cleaners, which lack the necessary bigness and grandeur.
(Harris') brand of public atheism is very good at the necessary disrespecting of religion, and it has a properly hygienic function. But how worthy of respect is it itself? The problem is that its bright certainty about the utter silliness of religion leads very quickly away from philosophy and argument. There is a dismaying gap, in these books, between the righteous anger of the critique of the many absurdities of religious belief and the attempts to account for why people have believed this apparent nonsense for so many centuries. I would rather that these writers refrained from speculation altogether than plunge into their flimsy anthropological kit bag. It is peculiar indeed to read (Richard) Dawkins's eloquent pages on evolution, and on how evolution may in the end solve the question of who created us, and then to find that very evolutionary theory being applied in the most hypothetical, rampantly unscientific ways to the question of why we have believed in God for so long.