Wednesday, December 30, 2009

AP Headline of the Day

Man Kills Dog, Streaks, Pours Coffee on Head

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Programming Note

I know what you're thinking. Even by my increasingly prolific standards, the blog has really been burning lately.

Well, 'tis the season. And I'm on Martha's Vineyard for the week to ring in the new year with a group of friends. Posting will therefore be light, but not nonexistent. I hope you're all enjoying the holidays.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gallery 33

Photo by Wally Skalij for the Los Angeles Times. "A group of young men watch the Station fire from a hill overlooking Tujunga. The fire, which began Aug. 26 near the Angeles Crest Highway, killed two firefighters and burned more than 160,000 acres. The cause of the blaze, which burned 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest, was arson, officials said."

(Via Hermenautic Circle Blog)


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Art of Abandonment

My good friend Jon Fasman recently filed a beautiful report for The Economist from Detroit. Amid a lot of sadness, he found some odd and inspiring things being done. But the city is so blighted that it's begun to seem unreal:
Head up Woodward Avenue from McDougall-Hunt and you pass through Midtown, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the city’s main public library. The two institutions are majestic and columned, with the ersatz Roman look that Americans bestow on important civic buildings. The streets have some life, but less than they should; the massive structures and broad streets dwarf strollers. This is an insidious effect of the population decline: after a few days you realize that the city never looks full, and although that can seem a blessing it also makes the city feel like a film set, a representation of the thing rather than the thing itself.

Just west of Woodward and about two miles farther north is the Boston-Edison district, with some 900 homes spread across 36 blocks. In the early 20th century Detroit’s car and steel barons lived there, as did Carl Levin and Sander Levin, who now serve in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively; Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown; and Joe Louis, a heavyweight boxing champion. The houses are stately and grand: not prefabricated but solidly constructed and rich in architectural detail.

Abandonment and neglect have started to spread even in this once-exclusive neighborhood: weeds crack the steps of a broad stone staircase into constellations of sharp polygons; a balcony railing on a second-story window has rusted and sproinged out of its concrete bedding, hanging crazily as if frozen in mid-escape; farther on weeds have taken root in a gutter, causing it to sag beneath the level of the roof and droop perilously above a four-columned front porch and an ornately carved front door.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Political Silence

A commenter on the post below left a polite request for political discussion. ("You were a strong and vocal supporter of the Obama campaign and there were vigorous debates on a variety of topics. Now that the President has been in office for almost a year and his agenda is actually taking shape with real and actual consequences, there is a complete lack of comment or discussion.")

I'll do my best to compose some thoughts about this in the next week or two. As for the silence, there are a few reasons for it, none of them conspiratorial (or particularly flattering to me). The primary reason is simply that the blog as a whole has suffered from my attention to other projects. The rate of posting has slowed in general, as has the rate of posts that are primarily made up of my own original thoughts and writing. So that's one thing. Another is that, like many people, I get caught up in the uncertainty of an election cycle in a way that I don't get caught up in the day to day workings of government. Or, put a way that's slightly more generous to myself, and that better explains the blog's emphasis: I like sharing what I think about an election, whereas in my everyday life (and in my usual role as a blogger) I'm not a particularly activist person. My politics tend toward the middle of the road, and toward the analysis of both sides of an argument, which doesn't always make for exciting posts.

But there are probably two other things that help to explain the fall-off in politics around here: 1. I like Obama. And by that, I don't mean I like everything he does or I believe that I know the beneficent consequences that all of his proposed policies will have. But I identify with him, in the way that other people identify with George Bush or Hillary Clinton. (Does anyone identify with someone like Al Gore? Didn't think so.) This means, among other things, that I sense my lack of objectivity about him. I'm rooting for him. 2. I don't think he's The Answer. (With apologies to Allen Iverson, I don't think he is either.) The fact that I liked him -- and that I did/do strongly believe he was the best choice in '08 -- sometimes made it hard for me to convince certain blog readers that I didn't buy into the more messianic elements of his supporters. I'm a pretty cynical person, though I try not to lead with that, and I don't think I react to politics much differently than I did pre-Obama. And I still believe that a president -- I would say the same about Bush, et al. -- is not a one-stop shop for political analysis. There's Lieberman, Pelosi, Reid, the Republicans, the press, the public....

I do have thoughts about all those things (including Obama), and like I said, I'll try to put them together in some coherent (or semi-coherent) fashion before too long.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tiger: "No, Really Ron, That's OK"

Oh, wow. My friend Jon sends along this incredible document: An open letter of support for Tiger Woods . . . from Ron Artest.

In case you don't know, Artest, an NBA star, is 49 kinds of entertaining crazy. It's safe to say that Tiger can file such a letter from Artest under Even More Trouble.

In the letter, Artest talks about the difficulty of staying true to his wife, who he's been with since they were 14! (Second-best moment in the letter: "I still cope with the fact that there are so many women out there and I choose to stay loyal to my wife.") In addition to actually straying from her (he has a child with another woman), he has also, like Jimmy Carter, lusted quite a bit in his heart. (Best moment in the letter—or maybe any letter, ever—by far: "I cannot sit here and say the thought to have many women has never crossed my mind. If I were Jesus I could.")

Meanwhile, the month's most predictable headline.

You're Out Of My Heart and I'm Out Of My Mind

Ella Fitzgerald singing "Round Midnight" with Oscar Peterson on the piano. If you haven't started playing the clip yet, I have no earthly idea what you're waiting for. Enjoy:

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From Baltimore to Brooklyn

Should you trust my continual promises of increased blogging? Probably not. Do I blame you? Certainly not. Am I the abusive partner in an Ike/Tina-like situation that's developed here? Let's not go too far.

I spent the past 24 hours in Baltimore (where I couldn't help myself from making almost nonstop Wire references, annoying my two fellow travelers), and now I'm back home in Brooklyn. What I can promise is a song by the end of the day, and a post about a movie by the end of the week. If there's more than that, let's consider it a bonus.

For now, your Mind-Blowing Astronomical Story of the Day: Here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eugene Gets His Climate Change On

My friend Eugene has been reporting from Copenhagen for Grist, an environmental news site. His latest dispatch:

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm Just Thankful to Be Facing the Day

It's been kind of a bummer of a week for various reasons, so to try to start the weekend with some pep (and to make up for this week's song being so late), here's two takes on "Trains to Brazil" by Guillemots, a song that almost always puts me in a good mood. Well, the usual rollicking version does. That version is heard in the first clip below, performed at the 2006 Mercury Prize ceremony, with the band dressed like it just stepped out of Alice in Wonderland. The second clip is a stripped-down affair from Rotterdam in the same year. Enjoy:


Might a Public Option Cover Tetris?

A preview of the New York Times Magazine's annual "Year in Ideas" issue is up, and it includes this piece about playing Tetris as a possible "vaccine" for post-traumatic stress disorder.

As a one-time Tetris addict, this fascinates me. I'm currently an online Scrabble addict, as I've also discussed before, and though I wouldn't say I have PTSD, this latest addiction does date to a period when I was going through a very hard time. It sounds reasonable to me that the game soothes me in some way, through some almost paradoxical combination of distraction and intense concentration.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


The 50 best protest signs of the year. . . . Thoughts from a Vassar grad selling calendars at the mall. (“The mall has a rigid caste system and we kiosk denizens are at the bottom. It's the lack of walls, I think.”) . . . If you haven’t watched this video yet, you should. It’s incredible. It’s so clear that it looks fake. Oh, also, it’s gross. Really gross. . . . 25 of the finalists for National Geographic’s 2009 International Photography Contest. . . . 50 of the most interesting articles on Wikipedia. . . . If I weren’t 35, and increasingly grumpy and lame, I guess these are the records I would have been listening to this year. . . . Andrew Sullivan sums up his discontent with the American right. . . . If you’re feeling bad about your love life, allow me to introduce this dude.

Lane's 2009

Anthony Lane has written about his favorite movies of 2009, even though he acknowledges that it's a bit premature: "Foolish is the soul who would lay money on the candidates for Best Picture before Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel has even been released."

Find out which movie caused Lane to write: "I don’t know one human being who did not come out of this movie with the feeling that life seemed more possible—more likely to surprise and nourish us, even in our sloughs and setbacks—than it did at the start of the day."

The Movie List: Patience, Young Jedis

My friend Dez has been asking aloud for my list of favorite movies on his blog (and in my comments sections, and in his other outlets, like the op-ed page of the Albuquerque Journal and the 3 a.m. slot on the satellite radio station Fox News Talk). I've promised to rank my favorite 100, as Dez did his favorite 50 over the summer. I can only plead excessive preparation. And procrastination.

I've been carefully going through lists of movies to make a list of everything I've seen, and I've also wanted to watch a few things again -- and a few things for the first time -- to make the list as up to date as possible. I'm also planning for the list to be an excuse for all kinds of posts around here, to liven things up (I know it's been quiet), and I imagine the whole thing will start sometime very soon after New Year's.

For now, some of the following posts this week will involve movies, because they have been on my mind.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Oh, man, Chinese TV news is way better than our TV news:

(Via Pajiba)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

“We have nothing to fear from love and commitment.”

“Turn on the television. We have a wedding channel on cable TV devoted to the behavior of people on the way to the altar. They spend billions of dollars, behave in the most appalling way, all in an effort to be princess for a day. You don't have cable television? Put on network TV. We're giving away husbands on a game show. You can watch The Bachelor, where thirty desperate women will compete to marry a 40-year-old man who has never been able to maintain a decent relationship in his life.” --Diane Savino, New York State Senator

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

To Believe In This Living Is Just a Hard Way to Go

For Wednesday, this is Bonnie Raitt singing John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery." Not sure when it's from, but it's a while ago. Enjoy:


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thou Shalt Mock

I'm still catching up with other work after the holiday (I hope you all had a good one), but more soon: including posts about Hitchcock's The Birds, H. L. Mencken and current conservatism, gays in the military . . . even the return of Five Songs, one of everyone's favorite features.

For now, though, I wanted to share this hilarious photo that Andrew Sullivan posted under the headline "Sometimes, It Just Takes Some Humor":

(More about the moment here.)