Thursday, June 29, 2006

Closing Shop for the Holiday

Two friends have generously offered me a role in their holiday weekend upstate, so I depart tomorrow and come back Tuesday. I'm leaving the blog here, though, so try to get along without me. I know it will be tough.

Hard times build character, think of it that way.

See you in a few days...

Allen's Stand-Up, Written Down

I highly suggest buying this, if you don't have it already. In the meantime, this site has transcriptions of Woody Allen's stand-up material from the 1960s. Two samples:
I used to go to New York University a long time ago, which is in Greenwich Village, that's where I started, and I was, ah, in love in my freshman year, but I did not marry the first girl that I fell in love with, because there was a tremendous religious conflict, at the time. She was an atheist, and I was an agnostic, y'know. We didn't know which religion not to bring the children up in.

I wanted to discuss my marriage, 'cause that's important. My marriage, or as it was known, "The Oxbow Incident." I had a rough marriage. Well, my wife was an immature woman and, ah, that's all I can say, she...See if this is not immature to you: I would be home in the bathroom, taking a bath, and my wife would walk right in, whenever she felt like, and sink my boats.
My favorite bit is "The Moose," which I read years before I ever heard it. Go and enjoy.

(Via Maud Newton)

Five Songs, Chapter Ten

"Everyone's Starting Over" by the Diggs

This is a Brooklyn band I recently discovered, and I’m hoping to see them play in a couple of weeks. Thus far, they sound like a solid, straightforward rock band. Some songs clearly betray a UK/shoegazey influence -- not unlike Longwave, another current New York band -- but this song is pretty much a rave, and it has a great, simple lyric at its center: “I won’t give you false hope, but everyone’s starting over.”

"He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot" by Grandaddy

I guess these guys broke up recently. I was never that familiar with them, but I love this song. It's nearly nine minutes long (good bang for your buck on iTunes, if nothing else), and its epic pretensions have as much to do with structure as length. It starts slow, picks up a bit, then picks up another bit. Then it nearly stops, then picks up a bit, then turns into what sounds like a group of Gregorian monks chanting while someone plays Nintendo in the background. (OK, I’m not selling this.) With repeated references to "2000 man" and a poor man's OK Computer sound, it's a bit dated in its millennial menace, but just go with it.

“Still D.R.E.” by Dr. Dre

Not because I listen to a ton of hip-hop (could you have guessed that it’s not generally mopey enough for me?), or because it’s a good song, which it is, but because Dre sets a very high bar for cool when he makes the following line sound legitimately tough: “Still rock my khakis with a cuff and a crease.”

“I Wanna Stay Home” by Jellyfish

I like this song, but I only think to mention it here because I heard it the other night when I stumbled across Career Opportunities on one of my eight hundred HBO channels. I didn’t watch for long -- I don’t really want to watch it, and if I ever do there’s no rush, since it’s on one of those HBOs almost every night -- but the use of this song caused me to do a double-take. I remembered it from late high school, which would have been the early 90s. And it turns out the movie was released in 1991. Wow. You know how some people argue things like, “the 1960s really ended in 1972, with Watergate”? Well, I've always found that kind of argument silly, but carbon-dating Career Opportunities made me realize that the 80s didn’t really end in the 80s.

“Untitled” by R.E.M.

This is the first R.E.M. song I’ve listed in this recurring feature, which could mislead you into thinking they occupy some normal space in my music collection and psyche. Don’t be misled. This is the last song on Green, and it’s so catchy and loosely structured that you could probably play it on a loop for a solid three and a half hours before I complained, or even realized what was going on.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Archive of the Day

From Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940-1985 (specifically, from a letter to Judy Egerton on May 25, 1958):
I've been living pretty peacefully at Hull since last seeing you, watching the girders rise on the site of my library, about half as fast as they ought to, and trying to dodge as many university functions as seems decent, and playing some rather clumsy LP recordings of the readings I did for the British Council, finding a certain guilty pleasure in listening to the sound of my own voice. (The BC in familiar cheeseparing fashion used an old tape, so that behind my reading can occasionally be heard the ghost of a string orchestra, appropriate or not as the case may be.) It occurs to me that the apparatus for the creation and maintenance of celebrities is vastly in excess of material fit to be celebrated. But if the apparatus were not to be used, then countless fellows would be out of a job & might have to do some real work for a change, so of course the messy farce goes on. This is the explanation of a great deal of life as we know it.

Props to Detroit

I'd like to take a baseball-geek moment to applaud the Detroit Tigers. You'll often hear fans of all sports say that it's "good for that sport" for certain franchises to be competitive. In hockey, you might hear it about the Oilers, Canadiens, and Islanders. In football, the Cowboys, 49ers, and Steelers. In basketball, the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks. The sentiment normally adheres to teams that have rich histories and strong fan bases. I think the Tigers qualify on both counts.

They started the year 5-0, but then lost 7 of 9, which seemed to portend another tough season while their young players matured. They bounced back, but when they lost 8 of 10 ending in early June, surely a slide was imminent. Nope. Since then, they're 16-3, and 53-25 on the year, staying ahead of the red-hot and defending-champ White Sox.

Three years ago, they won 43 games. All season.

What I love most about their success this year is the holes it shoots in the rampant, ridiculous notion that money determines everything in baseball. The Tigers have some terrific young pitchers, some key veterans, and a feisty, experienced manager. Put those together, and they're having a magical year. Meanwhile, my Yankees, the poster children for theories of money-makes-right, are losing creaky players to injuries almost every day and saddled with an old, overpaid pitching staff. And if the Tigers and White Sox keep up their pace -- mark my words -- the Yanks won't make the playoffs.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Animal Husband(ry)

How many years ago did feminism, as a movement, really come into full bloom? Regardless, it's refreshing to know that it's still considered good practice to treat men like animals (quite literally) in organs as esteemed as the New York Times:
I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock.


I've never come within a country mile of having a book published, but I still believe this guy is on to something:
“I know well enough by now that when (the novel) comes out, the world won't stop. People won’t fall down in a dead faint, though I’d like it very much if they did.” A brief pause. “You know, I’m disgusted with myself for wanting that.”

At Some Point, I Don't Think This is About Baseball Anymore

This video of a minor league manager losing his marbles has to be one of the funniest things I've ever seen.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't Fence Me In

I'm proud that my blog is read by family, friends, and maybe on occasion a coterie of National Security Agency officials. And while I'd love to be read regularly by thousands, I think that would entail narrowing the scope of the blog considerably, whereas now I'm free to cover just about anything, a fact that you faithful few learn in new and taxing ways every day.

Little Red Boat explains our self-defining pain, in her usual humorous way, here.

Calling All Third Persons

After my very recent post about songwriters, Nick thought it would be fun to come up with a list of the best songs written from the third person. And he's right, it would be. If it was easier.

After thinking about this for most of the day, the only purely third-person pop/rock song I can come up with is "Jack and Diane." There are several great narrative songs I can think of that clearly don't reflect the songwriter as the "I" or "me" -- Springsteen's one of the best at this, and his "Atlantic City" and "Highway Patrolman" are terrific examples -- but they're still written from the first person.

So, I'll open this up a bit. If you've got any third-person songs you love, please share them in the comments. Otherwise, I'll accept great story songs of any type.


Celebration Suggestions?

I'm rapidly approaching my 500th post. And despite what the naysayers predicted, I've done it without contracting scurvy.

I'd like to make that post something a bit different. I'm drawing blanks, but you guys know how to party. Any suggestions for how to mark the occasion? (And "Stop. Please, just stop." doesn't count.)

Good News for Geeks

The next Postal Service album looms.

"Wasting" and "Time" are 8,458 and 66, Respectively

I’m legitimately sorry for what I’m about to inflict on you -- namely, many hours tied up in a pretty simple web site. E.J. over at the Olive Reader -- my sister blog, in the way that nations have sister nations (we swap exchange students and stuff) -- posted today about Word Count, a site that lists, in easily searchable fashion, the 86,800 most frequently used words in the English language. In order.

“The” is first, and so on.

Pessimism is 20,386. Optimism is 7,960. That’s refreshing.

Peanut is 24,806. Butter is 4,091. I would have thought they’d be closer together.

This blog’s title, represented by the rank of each word, is represented thus:
5, 419, 96, 2, 109, 1716
Just for the exercise, I wanted to try to make a sentence (or two or three) out of 40 words -- the 20 most common and the 20 least common. So I set down the top 20: the, of, and, to, a, in, that, it, is, was, I, for, on, you, he, be, with, as, by, at.

Lots of ballast there.

Then I set down the last 20: conquistador, recrossed, workless, carniola, tangency, multilingualism, lauro, golgotha, homemakers, savills, tella, blick, inro, historiarum, moyne, criers, allocatively, chalkis, sibomana, tarrow.

Ruh-roh. At least 10 of those words look like Jupiterese to me.

And now I know what you’re thinking: What the hell is wrong with me, that I would be looking up these ridiculous things and creating these pointless exercises I'll never finish? Well, go to the site and then see how superior you are. I dare you.


Moral Claims

Andrew Sullivan has some eloquent thoughts on nepotism today, as part of his praise for the generosity of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett:
I know it's only natural to want to hand over all your wealth to your children, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it as such. But it is not the only moral claim; and those who elevate the biological family to supreme status in our society seem to me to be missing something important. Take care of them, of course. But keep them in their place. Along with the rather base impulse to benefit one's own genetic material, there is also philia -- the love based on choice and acceptance of another free human being -- and agape -- the love for all as one loves oneself. These two other forms of love and giving are clearly morally superior to "family values." They certainly were to Jesus, whose disdain for the biological, nuclear family is one of the great themes of the Gospels.
Read the whole thing.

Menand on Leary, Condensed

Louis Menand's review of the biography Timothy Leary in last week's New Yorker is worth reading in its entirety, but you may not have time (or the magazine), so I thought I'd pull out some choice bits for you. I think what I look for most in an essay about a subject I'm not particularly interested in (and Leary certainly qualifies) is a judicious selection of quotes and anecdotes peppered throughout. On this count, Menand's piece is a big winner.

Why am I not interested in Leary? Well, I sympathize with Menand's take early on in the review:
Leary belonged to what we reverently refer to as the Greatest Generation, that cohort of Americans who eluded most of the deprivations of the Depression, grew fat in the affluence of the postwar years, and then preached hedonism and truancy to the baby-boom generation, which has taken the blame ever since.
Plus, I'm stuffy and old-fashioned in certain ways, including my distaste for the philosophy of drug-use-as-portal-to-enlightenment. I'm not saying the experience is completely hollow, but when people preach too fervently for it, I see them as no better or more convincing than an evangelical who's traded in God for fungi. (Also, I have some silly notions of purity, and I don't like the idea of drugs as a shortcut -- I remember feeling offended that it took smoking pot for the characters in The Breakfast Club to open up to each other.)

OK, before this is hardly "condensed," on to the choice bits. (These are better if you're high. Just kidding.)

Tom Wolfe after trying LSD for the sake of an article: “I had the feeling that I had entered into the sheen of this nubby twist carpet -- a really wretched carpet, made of Acrilan -- and somehow this represented the people of America, in their democratic glory.”

Menand himself on Leary and Richard Alpert, both of whom left (or were fired from) Harvard: “They became famous as the two Harvard professors -- geniuses? rogues? who knew? -- who had been fired for being too far-out. A large and undiscriminating audience for things far-out was just around the historical corner, and it was an audience for whom being kicked out of Harvard was evidence of righteousness.”

An ex-wife on Leary’s eerily frozen smile: “the smile of the ego actually eating the personality.”

Barney Rosset, founder of Grove Press, after taking hallucinogens: “I pay my psychiatrist fifty dollars an hour to keep this from happening to me.”

And finally, Arthur Koestler after a trip: “I solved the secret of the universe last night, but this morning I forgot what it was.”

Hodgman, Who's Hesitant to Endorse Homicide

McSweeney's dips into its archives today for a column by John Hodgman, of World Domination fame. I think I can call him an acquaintance, in the sense that he would say hello to me if we found ourselves in the same bodega, though I'm not sure if all those clever Mac ads are going to his head. (He's the PC.) Good-natured guy, so probably not.

In any case, he answers questions from readers in the McSweeney's piece, and I got a good laugh out of this exchange:
Sarah asks: I recently joined a writers' group. Twelve aspiring novelists, short story writers, and essayists meet biweekly to discuss our works in progress. During our meetings, I tend to shut myself off from the rest of the group and fester in a homicidal rage during which I imagine using my pen to stab each of my peers in the jugular. In the movie "Casino," Joe Pesci uses a pen successfully to do just that. Is my aggression a worn out cliche produced by viewing too many Scorsese movies? Which pens work best for you?

John Kellogg Hodgman, Former Professional Literary Agent: Writers groups are a wonderful way for a writer to meet and learn from his fellow artists, determine that he is smarter than them, form silent alliances against one or two especially hated colleagues, seek to become the most popular in the group, nurse a silent crush on another, prettier writer, and have his work reviewed by a collection of bitter amateurs who wish him only the worst. But I have also wondered: why should someone join an informal writing workshop when they could instead pay perfectly good money for the exact same experience at any one of hundreds of university creative writing programs across the country? But that is my question. To yours, I have no answer, as I advocate murder only rarely.

He Gets Paid to Do This?

The Humorless Feminist linked to this feature in the Guardian, in which the writer solicits song suggestions from readers on a particular theme each week, and then writes an entertaining column summarizing the results. Two things spring to mind: How am I only learning of this now? And why can't I have a job like this one? Given that there's an archive of the enterprise stretching back almost a year, I'm likely to experience a lull in productivity for a while.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Stories for the Wobbly Hearted

I work in the east 50s in midtown Manhattan, which I guess is a pretty cool place for craning-necked tourists, but aside from nearby Rockefeller Center, there’s not much to recommend it when you’re there for thousands of consecutive days. It’s certainly not the type of area where you expect to find a quirky off-Broadway theater, but it turns out 59e59 is just such a place, on 59th St. (duh) between Madison and Park.

Last night, I went there to see a one-man show by Daniel Kitson called Stories for the Wobbly Hearted. Kitson’s a 29-year-old British stand-up comedian who’s also known there for his theatrical work, and this is his U.S. debut.

He looks a bit like several musicians, notably Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy), Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), and Doug Martsch (Built to Spill), which is funny in and of itself but also because it makes you realize just how much a certain group of lumberjack-like indie rockers resemble each other. And in fact, when you enter the theater -- which is tiny, and sits about 50 people -- Iron & Wine songs are playing. I love that music, but its presence in the space, which was decorated to resemble a modest sitting room, led me to believe I was in for a very, very precious evening -- and the person who accompanied me felt it was just that in the end, perhaps minus one “very,” and despite enjoying it. I didn’t have quite the same reaction. Kitson’s themes are a bit on the overly delicate side, but his material is very carefully, even lovingly written and his delivery is a manic, headlong rush to the finish line.

The set-up couldn’t be more basic. Kitson sits in a leather chair, surrounded by lamps and televisions. Over the course of about an hour, he tells five stories that deal, in one way or another, with human loneliness and our attempts to find connection with other people. The first concerns a man who decides to watch exactly five minutes of each of his hundreds of cable channels in order, and the last -- probably the best -- describes an ecstatically happy couple who met at a nightclub and continue to frequent it, despite the fact that they each, unbeknownst to the other, despise it. Though the happiness of that final couple was an anomaly in the show, I commented afterwards that I wanted the overall effect to be a bit more depressing than it was, but I’m a freak.

There were several memorable, aphoristic lines, though I don't actually remember as many as I'd like because of Kitson’s rapid-fire speech. They were nice while they hung in the air, though.

All in all, I would definitely recommend catching this. Trouble is, it’s only up through Wednesday. So go get ‘em...

(Thanks to my friend Eugene for pointing me to it.)

Visual Aid

For a friend, this is the best mixmaster I could find online (I've seen much better):

The Solipsism of Songwriting

If you're still wondering if the average musician is an egomaniac, in my iTunes library I have 198 songs whose titles begin with the words “I’m,” “I’ve,” “I’ll” and “I.” Most of them are pretty straightforward -- "I Can't Make You Love Me," "I Don't Want to Get Over You," "I Have My Reasons" -- but then there's "I Love That Party with the Monkey Kitty." Oooo-kay.

Granted, I currently have 5,372 songs on there, so maybe 198 doesn't seem so much, but those are just the song titles that start with those words. Granted, also, that there are over 100 songs that start with some variation of "you," but a closer look reveals titles like "You Belong to Me," "You Don't Know Me," "You Know Where to Find Me," and "You Will Miss Me When I Burn," all of which seem to lean back toward the "I" category, no?

The reason I know this is not because I've become an obsessive shut-in with absolutely nothing better to do (though that stage isn't far off, I think), but because in order to approach my music selection with a fresh eye, I've reordered the alphabetical listing from artists to individual songs.

Hmm, I thought that would make it sound less geeky somehow. Oh well.


Fun with Tenses

Cognitive scientists are reporting about an indigenous South American population that formulates past and future in the opposite way as everyone else on the planet -- with the past ahead and the future behind:
The Aymara, especially the elderly who didn't command a grammatically correct Spanish, indicated space behind themselves when speaking of the future -– by thumbing or waving over their shoulders –- and indicated space in front of themselves when speaking of the past –- by sweeping forward with their hands and arms, close to their bodies for now or the near past and farther out, to the full extent of the arm, for ancient times. In other words, they used gestures identical to the familiar ones –- only exactly in reverse.
I find something about this quite poignant, but I'm way, way too tired to parse it. At the very least, it seems like a good starting point for a Charlie Kaufman script.

(Via Cognitive Daily)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

" our work interrupts our work."

A very funny (and all too true) piece by Tim Dowling in the Guardian about the culture of distraction. I found it via Norm Geras, who accurately calls the column "a phenomenology of now." You have to read it all, but I was taken aback by this one fact, which, given my relationship to the phone and e-mails at work, suggests that my IQ might be steadily receding toward the single digits:
Another study produced by the Institute of Psychiatry last year found that constant disruption from emails and phone calls had a greater effect on IQ than smoking marijuana.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Sun Stays in the Picture

Over at FrinkTank -- which resembles nothing so much as an academic blog that's been hijacked by Andrew Dice Clay, and I mean that as a compliment -- they're very excited about Sunshine, a blockbuster movie due in 2007. Here's the plot:
The Sun is dying, and mankind is dying with it. Our last hope: a spaceship and a crew of eight men and women. They carry a device which will breathe new life into the star. But deep into their voyage, out of radio contact with Earth, their mission is starting to unravel. Soon the crew are fighting not only for their lives, but their sanity.
Of course they are.

The fact is, this sounds a lot like several nerve-rattlingly terrible movies from the past decade or so, but it's being put together by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, who teamed up to make 28 Days Later, an incredibly cool zombie movie set in post-apocalyptic London. So there's hope. And the Frinkies, like me, warmly embrace the absurdity of the premise:
The best part, that only makes me love the concept more, is that such a scenario is utterly ludicrous. El Sol ain’t like a big f***in’ briquette that you just squirt more lighter fluid on once it starts to die down. Not to mention, if it WERE dying down, the first thing it’d do is swell up to red-giant size and nuke-ify all the planets inside the asteroid belt. Thirdly, that won’t happen for another 4 billion years.
Here's the high-quality official site for the movie, which includes facts like this one:
The Sun contains more than 99.8% of the total mass of the Solar System.
In other words, the Sun is one bad dude. Which reminds me in a roundabout way of the first verse of "It Don't Matter to the Sun," a song that's been covered by everyone from Garth Brooks to Rosie Thomas. (Um, I recommend her version over his.)
It don't matter to the sun
If you go or if you stay
I know the sun is gonna rise
Shine down on another day
There will still be a tomorrow
Even if you choose to leave
'Cause it don't matter to the sun
It matters to me

Maintaining a Vow, Barely

I’ve made promises –- to myself, to my readers, and to various human rights commissions –- to never post fiction of mine on this blog. Well, not to get all lawyerly on you, but I never promised that it wouldn’t appear on someone else’s blog. Norm Geras is soliciting short-short stories of 250 words or less, and he was kind enough to post my submission, which is a highly condensed piece of a larger thing I've been not working on.

Enjoy, if that’s the appropriate word.


This has to be a joke, right?

Late-Night Thoughts About '08

I haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, the new documentary that focuses on Al Gore's campaign to educate people about global warming. (For now, I'm just glad it led to one of the funniest New Yorker cartoons I've ever seen, in which two eskimos in the middle of a vast arctic plain gaze at a figure walking toward them in the distance. The figure is dressed in casual business wear and holds an easel and instructive materials over his right shoulder. One eskimo to the other: "It's Al Gore.")

Though I haven't seen the movie, I feel I've experienced something much more profound, which is my friend Ray recommending it to me through Netflix, with this comment:
The scariest horror film ever made. We're f***ed. And we deserve it. I have a new respect for Al Gore.
I can't tell you how these few brief sentences have shaken me. It's not an exaggeration to say that I've spent the past several days unsuccessfully attempting to reconcile them with the world I had known previous to reading them -- a world in which Ray respecting Al Gore was as likely as Michael Moore respecting Kenneth Lay.

My take on global warming has always been twofold... 1. It's almost certainly happening, and we almost certainly play a part. 2. Given the extreme (much more extreme) swings in the planet's temperature that occurred well before we -- much less Hondas -- ever existed, I'm not convinced that eliminating even all human pollution would keep us from either melting or freezing instantaneously sometime in the near future. Doesn't mean we shouldn't eliminate it, of course. In short, my take on it has mirrored my take on most immense issues: We should act on what we know, but we shouldn't assume we know it all. (This tidy formulation ignores another reaction of mine when listening to scientists talk about analyzing a bubble of air that's been trapped in a standard-sized ice cube for eight billion years and using the results to draw a picture of what Earth was like back then, which is to chortle and wonder if priests and scientists and everyone in between have lost their ever-loving minds, but that's an ignorant reaction, and I know it. I still have it, though.)

All of this is prelude to this piece on The Stranger's blog, which, like so many blog postings these days, gets excited about the prospect of a Gore nomination in 2008. It quotes Martin Peretz in The New Republic:
The first pragmatic reason to be for Gore, then, is that he is electable. He won once. He can win again. This is not simply a slogan; it is a serious thought.
Peretz then takes issue with the Supreme Court's activism in giving the presidency to Bush, which, no matter what you think of its truth, is so tired and pointless that I can't bear to reproduce it here. Then he continues:
Imagine what would be the outcome of a rematch. My guess is that if there were a poll asking voters whom they had voted for in 2000, Gore would win by a landslide. I know people who are actually ashamed of having cast their ballots for George Bush. But Gore will not be running against Bush.
That last sentence is a rather large qualifier. In all their frothing desire to reverse the last two presidential elections, many pundits are losing sight of the fact that Bush can't be beaten because Bush won't be running. It's enough to deflate any old-fashioned revenge fantasy. I feel their pain.

Esquire recently ran the results of a more revealing poll that included this question:
Whom did you vote for in the 2004 presidential election? And if the election were held again today?

George W. Bush
2004 - 49%
Today - 34%

John Kerry
2004 - 35%
Today - 23%

2004 - 5%
Today - 35%
Granted, the poll obviously skewed conservative if the respondents voted 49-35 for Bush in '04. But still, Kerry dropped 12 percentage points from his initial total, and it seems that many people are hoping to vote for this "Other" fellow (or gal) in two years. I, for one, can't blame them. The somewhat inexact lesson being something along the lines of: retroactive anger doesn't make an original loser more electable. As I've said before, I don't think Gore should run. I don't think Hillary should run. Their problems would include, but not be limited to:

1. They would not be campaigning against Bush. They would be campaigning against, presumably, a fairly clean-slate conservative in a fairly conservative country.

2. Lots of people unreservedly and irrationally despise them.

To me, those are insurmountable problems. But hey, if Ray is respecting Al Gore these days, I suppose all bets are off.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Cross-Country Diary From a Guest

I’m always looking for ways to keep the blog fresh. (Not that it’s getting stale or anything; um, er...) So here, for the first time, is a post by someone else. This is from my friend Clare, who works for The Menil Collection, a terrific museum in Houston. Recently, the museum needed a courier to accompany some sculptures and drawings by Calder from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. For Clare, this meant flying to California, meeting up with the drivers, and traveling non-stop –- sleeping on the truck, and living under the condition that at least one person had to be inside the truck with the art at all times. In general, Clare writes incredibly funny, dry, smart e-mails, so I asked if I could share this particular account with the crowd. Enjoy.
We drove from San Francisco to Minneapolis and, including loading and unloading the truck, the trip was 51 hours. It was a little longer than it should have been because we broke down in the Sierras (on Donner Pass, actually) soon after starting out and lost quite a few hours fixing the truck. Then we headed toward Reno, where I got to spend quite a bit of time in a truck stop, which was one of the more depressing places I've ever been. It included, naturally, a casino. At least there were slot machines and poker machines and one guy dealing blackjack. And smoking indoors in public places is apparently still legal in Nevada. So there are all these massively overweight and gray-faced people, men and women, smoking and drinking 42 oz cokes and eating truck stop food and gambling. It was kind of gross.

I did get a magnet, though, that says "Reno." That was our first stop and I decided I'd get a magnet in every state, thinking that would be fun, but I was foiled –- the only other state that had magnets in the truck stop was Wyoming.

The truckers were a man and wife team, both quite bitter in their own way. When the husband (I can't even remember their names anymore, god...) had gone to get parts for the truck and the wife and I were on the side of the road, she turned to me and said, "I take it you’re not married." I confirmed that I never had been, and she said, "Don't." Awkward. They had two small dogs. Pomeranians. Yes, in the truck with them. At one point I was in the bunk and I woke up and sat up and one of the dogs crawled out from under my pillow.

The coolest sight was when I woke up outside Salt Lake at 5 in the morning and the sun was rising over the mountains and reflecting off of the lake. I fell asleep again before I saw anything of the city, though. I had some sort of motion-induced narcolepsy. Iowa and Minneapolis are both very pretty, really green and lots of old farm houses and such. Nebraska and the part of Wyoming we went through were pretty boring, but I've seen the mountains in Wyoming before and they're quite stunning. California, of course, is gorgeous.

Minneapolis was really nice, but by the end of the ride I felt pretty awful. I was so stiff from sitting still and/or sleeping that I could hardly walk and my stomach had gotten all messed up eating weird, junky truck-stop food. So, I won't be signing up for any more two-day trips. But I got to see the Walker, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts -- which was our drop-off point -- has a really great collection as well. And Prince is from there, so I'm willing to believe that Minneapolis has some super funky hip side, but it was not evident -– mostly Borders and Target and Banana Republic where I was.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

AP Headline of the Day

Bear Eats Oatmeal in Woman's Kitchen

Book Club: Vol. One, Chapter Three

You probably forgot we were doing this, this being an occasional discussion of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, a book I was reading. (Shameful truth be told, the past tense doesn't apply. I'm still 15 pages from the finish line. This is because my job entails reading more than humanly possible. It's fun, during those brief periods when your eyes stop bleeding and your head stops throbbing.)

I saw this article over the weekend. It concerns the successful separation of 10-month-old conjoined twins. Here's one of the doctors:
"Our expectation is that they will recover from this completely and will go on to lead very, very normal lives," Dr. Stein said.
And here's the reaction of the girls' mother:
When Ms. Fierros was asked at the briefing what she wished (for) her children, she wiped away tears and answered in Spanish, "to see our daughters run, go to a normal school, to prepare themselves for life, to enjoy everything that life has to offer."
A touching sentiment, no doubt. But according to Gilbert, those are wishes that might be held more deeply by the mother than the children. This is from a provocative section on conjoined twins in Stumbling on Happiness:
As a prominent medical historian wrote: "Many singletons, especially surgeons, find it inconceivable that life is worth living as a conjoined twin, inconceivable that one would not be willing to risk all -- mobility, reproductive ability, the life of one or both twins -- to try for separation." In other words, not only does everyone know that conjoined twins will be dramatically less happy than normal people, but everyone also knows that conjoined lives are so utterly worthless that dangerous separation surgeries are an ethical imperative. And yet, standing against the backdrop of our certainty about these matters are the twins themselves. When we ask Lori and Reba how they feel about their situation, they tell us that they wouldn't have it any other way. In an exhaustive search of the medical literature, the same medical historian found the "desire to remain together to be so widespread among communicating conjoined twins as to be practically universal."
There's further exploration of these findings in the book. Like I said, provocative.


Ray Redux

Due to the much appreciated thoughtfulness of a friend, I'm now in possession of something I didn't even know was being planned -- Ray LaMontagne's second album, Till the Sun Turns Black, which will be released August 29. You can't even pre-order it on Amazon, people. You need to find friends as in-the-know and as generous as mine, stat.

As long as I've been a music geek, I've been especially geeky about release dates, because the one thing I love almost as much as music is anticipation. I admit that even at my advanced age, I semi-frequently visit the web sites of bands I love to see when something new is coming out. (I'll spare you the maniacal feats of reconnaissance that I executed when I was younger.) To sum up, it's hard to catch me unawares, which means that when the LaMontagne CD was handed to me, I nearly went apoplectic (though, in fairness, this could also be chalked up to lack of exercise).

The longer the anticipation, of course, the more likely the build-up of expectations that are unreasonable, and my impressions upon first listen often suffer as a result. (This phenomenon also adversely affected my experience with, among other things, college and working.) So it's nice to have LaMontagne fall into my lap like this, along with a chance to judge it fairly. So far, it sounds even quieter than his debut, but no less soulful and moving. I've only been through it one and a half times. More reaction TK, as they say in my biz.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Brief Note About the Year in Sports

It's been a pretty good one, no?

Hockey, for those who still care -- hi, loyal readers in Alberta -- had a seventh game in the finals tonight. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is always great, but this year it outdid itself, despite an anticlimactic Final Four (which is not that rare, really). College football had that most elusive of results -- an agreed-upon champion, when Texas beat USC in a classic Rose Bowl. The NBA playoffs have been, by far, the most entertaining I can recall. The World Cup is here, and it only comes around once every four years (also allowing Deadspin to link to a classic Simpsons clip). The only thing that really stunk thus far in 2006 was the Super Bowl. If baseball can step up with a dramatic October, this stands to go down as one of the better years for sports in recent memory.

Soliciting Suggestions

I have 40 downloads on emusic burning a hole in my pocket. The site only features records from independent labels. If you know anything I should be listening to these days, please let me know.

Father's Day

Well, the day to formally honor our dads officially ended about 50 minutes ago, but I don't have the ability to say much, because my father instilled in me a deep love of sports, and I've had the wind knocked out of me by the Mavericks' loss tonight. Luckily, the Humorless Feminist is on the case, and more eloquent than I would be anyway.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pretty Fluff

Nacho Libre is not a particularly good movie. It's better than The Break-Up, but so is contracting cholera. Jack Black is a genius of some type, though, and his physical insanity is worth several good laughs, especially during the first few wrestling scenes, during which I laughed out loud.

For such a silly exercise, the movie is strangely beautiful. Its locations and color schemes and soundtrack create a pleasing aesthetic experience, and as I've said a thousand times before, I think we have Wes Anderson to both thank and blame for this. (His influence is in almost every frame, not to mention the use of music and the pseudo-emotional-heaviness wafting through the entire hollow escapade.) We seem to have lost a certain kind of absurd comedy plainly packaged -- Caddyshack and Stripes come to mind -- and this development is a mixed bag. It means we have much more attractive fluff, but that very attractiveness raises our expectations of the material, which rarely rises to meet the sophistication of the bells and whistles. Even Anderson, whose first two movies were brilliant, reached the level of well-decorated pointlessness with The Life Aquatic.

Meanwhile, Jack Black is interviewed in today's New York Times Magazine, and I got a kick out of this exchange:
And how did you end up as the lead singer in a comedy band, after studying Shakespeare and Brecht and serious drama at U.C.L.A.?

Comedy seemed a lot less pretentious to me. There is something about acting, about believing it is real, about Strasberg and "Feel the coffee cup, feel the coffee cup, it's real." It's all just so touchy-feely.


Friday, June 16, 2006

And 101 Dalmatians Was Really About Korea

Very little irritates me more than the strained application of political explanations to every last product or phenomenon on the planet. Cars, the new movie about talking cartoon automobiles, has everyone referencing some very non-cartoony global issues. Here's Anthony Lane in this week's New Yorker:
The animation of the inanimate has been a staple from the dancing brooms of “Fantasia” right up to the talking clock in “Beauty and the Beast” and the remote-control car in “Toy Story.” ... Now, in “Cars,” we have the rise of the machines, and it comes at a peculiar time. With the price of oil gurgling upward, and even the President conceding that the nation’s fuel consumption could use a trim, Pixar has produced a hymn to the ecstasy of driving. The entire film dreams woozily of a chrome-bright past, and especially of the glory days of Route 66...
Is a dreamy paean to the ecstasy of driving ever really untimely? That notion shocks me. (Forget about the fact that current disillusionment would make such backward-gazing wooziness more explicable, not less; less "peculiar," not more. It pains me to point out uncharacteristic sloppiness from Lane, who I unrepentantly worship.)

Granted, I live in New York, and so don't have to worry on a practical level about the price of gas, but I constantly miss driving. And when I was in Texas last month, I happily fed my credit card to the pump in order to buy my time on the highway. Just in the past week, in discussions completely unrelated to computer-drawn cars that break out into songs penned by Randy Newman, I've had two Manhattanites tell me how much they, too, miss getting behind the wheel. The point is, I don't know anyone who confuses their political thoughts or frustrations about petroleum prices with their occasional overwhelming desire to roll down a window and listen to their car stereo.

Much more politically absurd and strident (surprise) is Charles Mudede at The Stranger (Seattle's alternative weekly). After quoting someone else's analysis of Cars' relatively lackluster opening at the box office, which cited, among other sensible reasons, "a glut of computer animated films this year," Mudede writes:
The length? Too much competition? Creative exhaustion? How about this, guru: A whole lot of us are (in) no mood to celebrate —- to laugh at, to laugh with -— the very machines that have turned Iraq into a death factory. Disney should have stuck with cute toys and lovable animals -— cars can never be anything but political.
After reading that, I think the more apt conclusion would be that Charles Mudede can never be anything but political. He must be fun at parties. ("I would partake, but guacamole can never be anything but political.") A Stranger reader responding to the piece beat me to my comment, and put it more succinctly than I would have:
My God, you hippies come unglued for the most ridiculous reasons. How about this theory: what if the movie just sucks? Naw, what was I thinking. It must be a massive geopolitical entertainment revolt centered around the war.
But now I'm reading that the movie might not suck as much as I feared. I think I have to see it -- not only to give it a chance after loving every other Pixar movie, but also to counteract Mudede's overly earnest boycott. Come to think of it, maybe everything is politically motivated.


"Could you one time kick it?!"

I saw Nacho Libre today, and it put me in mind of the perfect way to kick-start your weekend: The Tenacious D episode entitled "The Search for Inspirado." If you're not a fan of vulgar language or alternative comedy -- Mom, this means you -- please don't follow the link. For the rest of you, enjoy. My favorite scenes start at 4:19 -- "put some stank on it" -- and 6:11, when Jack asks Kyle to "kick it with a tasty groove" and then launches into a tirade that is an almost frighteningly accurate imitation of the proprietor of Bad Movie Club during certain days in college. Yes, I feared for my life from time to time.

Missed Tunes

It was a busy week for live music in these parts, though I didn't see/hear any of it.

For two nights at Carnegie Hall, Rufus Wainwright, for the first time I've heard of, covered an entire concert, a legendary show by Judy Garland at the same venue. As the Times wrote:
It doesn't matter that Mr. Wainwright sounds nothing like Garland or that his voice...isn't half as good an instrument as Garland's. The spirit was there. At the very least, his loving song-by-song re-creation of Garland's brilliant concert of April 23, 1961, which became "Judy at Carnegie Hall," the most beloved of all prerock concert albums, was a fabulous stunt. Not even Madonna, pop music's ultimate provocateur, has attempted anything so ambitious.
I love several of Wainwright's songs -- I think people will be listening to "Foolish Love" a hundred years from now -- but I do tend to listen to him in bits and pieces, because his distinctly beautiful voice can be grating in large doses. Still, I would've liked to have been at Carnegie for one of those nights.

Then, last night, Celebrate Brooklyn, an annual series of summer concerts, kicked off one block from my apartment at the Prospect Park Bandshell with a show by Maceo Parker. And, um, Prince showed up. I was probably watching the fourth quarter of the Mavs-Heat game while he was shredding up the street. Lame.

Getting to the Point About Homesickness

It struck me a couple of years ago -- after four years here, because I’m a bit slow -- that I couldn’t be the only one among my friends who occasionally considered his long-term geographical future. It wasn’t possible that everyone else was planning to stay in New York for the rest of their lives. It also figured that unlike me, and my impractical daydreams of living in any number of places with which I have no real connection, from Saratoga to Chicago to Vancouver, my more reasonable friends would probably move, if they ever felt compelled to, somewhere within shouting distance of wherever home was before they were lured away by New York. I remember thinking to myself: We have all flocked here, and someday a reverse migration will occur.

In the coming months, three couples I know will be leaving Brooklyn for Seattle, Hawaii, and Normal, Illinois, respectively. So it begins.

When I lived in Texas, I strongly related to the New York area as home, and I always felt it pulling me back. I felt in some very real way that I had been displaced. Now, when I miss Texas, it’s small moments that come to mind, never a larger sense that I should return, though I know from having done it once that I could adjust to living there. I can honestly say that I never miss Long Island, my first home, on a deep level, because I left there when I was 14, and thoughts of going back on a full-time basis feel like regression. (It’s been a relief to realize that as intensely nostalgic as I can be, I stop short of seeking actual backward movement.)

This is what I wanted to say when I recently wrote about homesickness, but I didn’t have the time, or I didn’t think I could articulate it. Maybe I still can’t, but here goes: I don’t feel homesick for anywhere right now. So when I feel general wanderlust -- or, more importantly, when I feel a specific need to focus on a place that could be restorative and sensible -- I come up blank. So I’ll stick with the Chicagos and Vancouvers of the world. They’ll do for fantasy, but I can’t fool myself into thinking they would be home.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Archive of the Day

From The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:
The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in Modern Art, the notion that the public scorns, ignores, fails to comprehend, allows to wither, crushes the spirit of, or commits any other crime against Art or any individual artist is merely a romantic fiction, a bittersweet Trilby sentiment. The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened. The public that buys books in hardcover and paperback by the millions, the public that buys records by the billions and fills stadiums for concerts, the public that spends $100 million on a single movie -- this public affects the taste, theory, and artistic outlook in literature, music, and drama, even though courtly elites hang on somewhat desperately in each field. The same has never been true in art. The public whose glorious numbers are recorded in the annual reports of the museums, all those students and bus tours and moms and dads and random intellectuals . . . are merely tourists, autograph seekers, gawkers, parade watchers, so far as the game of Success in Art is concerned. The public is presented with a fait accompli and the aforementioned printed announcement, usually in the form of a story or a spread of color pictures in the back pages of Time. An announcement, as I say. Not even the most powerful organs of the press, including Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, can discover a new artist or certify his worth and make it stick. They can only bring you the news, tell you which artists the beau hamlet, Cultureburg, has discovered and certified. They can only bring you the scores.


For those who don't think the art world has lost its mind, please read this.

(Via The Comish)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

AP Having a Silly Name for Your Band Seems Like a Particularly Bad Move Because of a Headline Like This Headline of the Day

Korn Lead Singer Has a Blood Disorder


Basketball Instead of Sleep

A bit under the weather, I shouldn't be staying up late. Alas, the NBA Finals have me not only up, but saying silly things to the television. There's one second left, Mavericks down by two, taking the ball out of bounds. Here's the briefest live blog ever:

:01 -- Nowitzki lobs to Howard. Blocked. Game over.

Dammit. I hate those lob plays. Oh, well, it's a series now. I still think Dallas is in good shape. As for my shape, tomorrow, on less sleep, probably not so great. At least I don't have to guard Shaq at work in the morning, unless my job description has very radically changed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reports of the Death of My Enthusiasm for Music Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (By Me)

I don't know why I lie.

When I wrote about Hotel Lights the other day, I said "I haven't discovered many bands in the past year or so that I would heartily recommend." In fact, there are at least five. (So maybe I'm saved on a technicality. Five doesn't feel like "many," but it's something.) There's the Guillemots; there's Band of Horses (I'm liking their debut, Everything All the Time, more and more, which is the opposite of what I expected to happen); Hudson Bell (I already wrote about him here), The Weepies; and Joanna Newsom (an acquired taste, for sure; don't just go listening to her without some preparation. Perhaps we should talk.)

Actually, Say I Am You, the most recent record by The Weepies, is outstanding. It's the kind of music that could be (and has been) used on the soundtrack of really bad television shows like "Grey's Anatomy," but don't hold that against it. (Anyway, I've come to peace with the fact that a lot of music I like has been used for nefarious purposes by people my age who create horrendous programs and then score them with good songs. Sure, it makes me wonder how they could have such decent taste in music and such a tin ear for dialogue, but life's too short to get hung up on it.)

Arrival of Back-Up

I kid you not -- this review of the novel mentioned below came across my desk (or my screen, rather) about ten minutes after my previous posting.

It says, among other things:
...a stellar read. (Charles') messed-up, seriously melancholy, punk-rock romantic narrator, Vim Sweeney, is the true-blue modern incarnation of Holden Caulfield.

A Book to Buy (and Read, Of Course)

This is how being a book editor works, as far as I can tell after five years: First, publishing systematically destroys your love of reading, and you resent this. Then, you come to understand it as the evolutionary strategy that it is. See, once you feel like you couldn't be more tired of reading manuscripts, you really know when you've got something good. If, in your jaded state, you come across a set of loose pages that actually make you laugh out loud or marvel at sentences or get choked up (if you're a sissy), you've got a winner.

I'm happy to say that a winner goes on sale today -- Grab On to Me Tightly As If I Knew the Way by Bryan Charles. If you're the lazy type who needs a ton of references to get a feel for something, all of these things are either mentioned in the book or give (in my humble opinion) some indication of whether or not it's for you: Holden Caulfield, Pavement, Nick Hornby, The Simpsons, Dinosaur Jr., Chuck Klosterman. (Such references are broad and silly by nature, and the author might kill me for making them without his input, but there you have it.) Basically, if you have ever enjoyed pop culture on a spiritual level, ever started (or thought about starting) a band, ever lost your virginity, ever worked a dead-end job, ever tried to figure out your parents, or ever felt clenched with frustration and doubt about what comes next in life, I think you'll enjoy this.

Plus, it has an incredibly cool cover, if I do say so myself, and it's only a little more than $10, which is what most of you spend on, say, bottled water in a week or vodka in an hour. Buy it here.

Thus ends the latest promotional moment on the blog.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Five Songs, Chapter Nine

"Until the Day Burns Down" by Chamberlain

A friend and I were discussing emo music the other night, and whether we like anything that would be classified as that. (Full confession, no pun intended -- part of the reason we were discussing it is because I admitted to owning two Dashboard Confessional albums. The fact that this wasn't a conversation stopper is a testament to the friend's equanimity.) Anyway, in my collection, besides Rainer Maria, The Get Up Kids, and The Promise Ring, Chamberlain might be the only band that really qualifies. But the album this song comes from, The Moon My Saddle, was a step away from their earlier, more clearly emo sound. It's actually a pretty strange record, combining a sort of Springsteen-esque highway-hungry yearning with the tortured romantic poetics of the genre in question. This song's a stab at an epic, and its lyrics, as delivered by singer David Moore, are actually pretty affecting. (Oh, also, there's a reasonable chance that my mother is going to ask me to define "emo music" after reading this. Any tips on how to do this in an efficient manner would be appreciated.)

"As Victims Would" by Will Johnson

A spare, beautifully delivered song by the lead singer of Centro-matic, from his solo album, Vultures Await. (I'm getting to the point, like with this song, where I'm wondering if I've repeated songs in these posts, but I don't have time to go back and check.)

"Sixteen, Maybe Less" by Calexico/Iron & Wine

My favorite song off In the Reins, the seven-song album these two released together last fall. I've also finally been spending some time with Calexico's own new record, Garden Ruin, and it's excellent.

"I Wanted to Tell You" by Matthew Sweet

I think I read somewhere that they're reissuing Girlfriend with a second disc of demos, live performances, etc. It must be to mark the album's 15-year anniversary. I am a thousand years old.

"Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd

Your classic for the day. Now shut up and eat your vegetables.


Music Recommendation: Hotel Lights

Darren Jessee was the drummer for Ben Folds Five, co-wrote several songs for them, and now leads this band, Hotel Lights. It's quiet-but-melodic fare, with traces of Will Oldham but a bit more ornamental than his stuff. And if you don't like Ben Folds (though I do), that doesn't matter, because it doesn't sound like him.

I liked the record (self-titled) the first time I heard it, but it's also really grown on me in a pleasing way, and almost nothing does that these days. By the third or fourth time through, the songs will really burrow their way into your head. My favorite track is probably "What You Meant," but there are lots of standouts -- "You Come and Go," "Miles Behind Me," and "Motionless" being tops among them.

I haven't discovered many bands in the past year or so that I would heartily recommend, but I think this is one of them.


A Movie to Avoid at All Costs

Here's the problem with bad movies these days -- they're not even reliable time-wasters. You can't just stroll into a cut-rate comedy and expect to have your brain pleasingly numbed for 85 minutes. Take The Break-Up. Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, Chicago setting, some improv moments, generic romantic plot -- what could go catastrophically wrong? Almost everything. The script is truly awful on line-by-line and larger-structure levels, there is anti-chemistry between the leads, and the whole thing feels like it lasts about five hours.

A couple of friends and I created this blog space a few months ago in hopes of eventually getting people we know to contribute reviews of things they really don't like. To save everyone time. It's the type of place where, eventually, The Break-Up will find the home it deserves.

Reason #479 That I'm Glad I Live in New York

Because even in a city as beautiful and vibrant as Seattle, they freak out when a late-night pizza joint opens.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Tip O' the Batting Helmet

This is very late in coming, but I just realized that I never blogged a thank-you to the very kind Will over at Deadspin for not only linking to our baseball blog when I sent it to him, but for immortalizing my hand on our favorite sports site. On the off chance you're reading this: Thanks, Will.

Dave Disses Dallas

Dave Barry has a highly objective analysis of the NBA Finals between Miami and Dallas, and he has some harsh (but funny, and often true) words for my former residence:
For now we should all salute both of these fine cities, which have so many reasons to be proud. Miami, of course, has its spectacular natural beauty, its exploding cultural scene, its vibrant nightlife, its sizzling Latin-Caribbean energy, its booming economy. Dallas, for its part, has a total of five Neiman Marcuses.

Both cities attract millions of visitors each year. They come to Miami to swim, dive, fish, boat, golf, shop, dine, enjoy the exciting club scene or simply ''kick back'' on the beach. They go to Dallas mainly to change planes...

I'm not saying that these two cities are unblemished paradises. Both have drawbacks: Miami is vulnerable to hurricanes, whereas Dallas is completely surrounded by Texas.
(Via A Glass of Chianti)

Archive of the Day

From The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy:
To see God everywhere is to see Him nowhere. We go from day to day, one day much like the next, and then on a certain day all unannounced we come upon a man or we see this man who is perhaps already known to us and is a man like all men but who makes a certain gesture of himself that is like the piling of one's goods upon an altar and in this gesture we recognize that which is buried in our hearts and is never truly lost to us nor ever can be and it is this moment, you see. This same moment. It is this which we long for and are afraid to seek and which alone can save us.

The Apocalypse, With Laughs

Here's a funny little pick-me-up (if nuclear holocaust can be defined that way) for a Friday afternoon. I especially like the meteor-evasion moment.

(Via Little Red Boat)

A Note on Timing

Yes, that last post was put up at 1:31. For two reasons:

1. I've had a touch of insomnia this week. (Which is indistinguishable, to the naked eye, from the many, many nights when I stay up until the same hour just because. But trust me, this time it's insomnia.)

2. When I first tried to post it, more than an hour ago, I got this message from Blogger:
Down for Maintenance
We are migrating databases to make Blogger stronger and better.
Stay tuned, we will be back shortly!
The site was back shortly, but I was still angry (though I know it's stupid of me to be angry at a mechanism that allows me to blog when it's down for an hour when I'm the type of person who, left to his own devices, can barely operate an old-fashioned television.)

Also, I respect the fact that Blogger is willing to ignore the facts when it has something to say, like the fact that migrate is not a transitive verb.

Nodding in the Direction of Solemnity Lest the Blog Become Entirely About Pixar Movies and Songs That I Like

I don’t want to ignore the news of the day, which was the killing of Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It’s just that writing about the war seems to require: a) the space to deal with pretty complex issues, and b) some shred of knowledge that makes what you are saying worthwhile. Mostly, I feel that I have neither. (I could create a., I suppose, but without b., that would seem more like a punishment to my reader(s) than a boon.)

Even a little knowledge might be acceptable if it was yoked to a strong opinion, but I don’t have one. Like most observers, I’m bone-tired of the war. Unlike most people who live near me, I hesitantly supported it at the start. And like most sentient creatures, I’ve been disappointed/baffled/angered by how the administration has handled many elements of it. I think both sides of whatever argument remains have gotten to the point where they’re mostly trying to score rhetorical points against their opposition, which means no one is saying anything of substance. When something like today’s news happens, everyone can feint in the direction of substantive discussion again, but it’s impossible to gauge the meaning of such events on the fly. As the Times reports:
American officials themselves offered an immediate warning against overstating the impact that the death of Mr. Zarqawi, the most wanted insurgent in Iraq, would have on prospects that American and Iraqi forces can gain the upper hand in the conflict.
Andrew Sullivan, from whom I get a lot of my war news, stays in form and doesn't shy away from the moment’s lack of clarity:
Perhaps the biggest reason to rejoice at his demise is not that he represented the core of the Sunni insurgency, but that his strategy of fomenting sectarian mayhem helped unleash the most destructive force in the nascent state. Maybe his removal will help abate that force. Or maybe it now has a momentum all its own. We'll see.

AP Yeah, For Him Headline of the Day

Pitt Says Baby's Birth 'Truly Peaceful'

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pixar Stumbles

I'm not going to lie: I love Pixar movies. Both Toy Story stories, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc.: I didn't think there was a dud in the bunch. That's why I was disappointed when I saw the ads for Cars, which made it look lifeless (and the brevity of those ads suggested they weren't exactly hiding a lot of good stuff). Well, one review isn't the final word, but the Times isn't impressed:
...both in its ingratiating vibe and bland execution, "Cars" is nothing if not totally, disappointingly new-age Disney, the story of a little cherry-red race car, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), who can win the race of (his) life only after he learns the value of friendship and the curvy appeal of Porsche Carrera (Bonnie Hunt).
Too bad. Nice to see Bonnie Hunt playing a romantic lead, though, even if Hollywood has to anthropomorphize her before realizing she's attractive as a human being.

All the Cookware News That's Fit to Print

Either it's a slow news week or people really like cooking. Maybe both, I guess. This is the headline for the story that's been "most e-mailed" from the New York Times site for the past couple of days:
In Search of a Pan That Lets Cooks Forget About Teflon

Another Crush Bites the Dust

OK, it's not like a crush on Kate Beckinsale depends on respecting her work -- her beauty and her charming accent have survived some truly terrible movies. But when I realized tonight that she's starring opposite of Adam Sandler in the forthcoming "Click," the disrespect reached a new level. If you've been lucky enough to avoid the ads, here's how IMDB describes the movie, which really looks like it might be the worst of all-time:
"Click" focuses on a workaholic architect who finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life. Complications arise when the remote starts to overrule his choices.
One day, I will be back in Dallas for a Bad Movie Club festival, so Jason, do me a favor and add this to the list, if you think we can stomach it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Something to Read While I'm Relatively Silent

I've added Critical Mass to the blogroll. I linked to it recently because they're getting interesting responses from authors about their choices for the Times fiction poll, and the whole site is chock full of goodness. So head over and catch up with them, and forgive me for a couple of light nights. More soon.

AP Certainly In My Household Headline of the Day

Survey: iPods More Popular Than Beer

Monday, June 05, 2006


Nora Ephron had a funny, touching piece in The New Yorker last week about moving from a longtime Upper West Side residence that she never imagined leaving.

Since I've never been short on solipsism, this made me think about a couple of things, including the fate of myself and my friends in this real estate market. My sense is that many of us would love to make New York a long-term home, but it's hard to imagine there was an era in which anyone but the very rich created affordable, unchanging places for themselves here.

That's the usual NY preoccupation, though. This paragraph struck a deeper chord:
Many years ago, when I was in analysis, my therapist used to say, "Love is homesickness." What she meant was that you tend to fall in love with someone who reminds you of one of your parents. This, of course, is one of those things that analysts always say, even though it isn't really true. Just about anyone on the planet is capable of reminding you of something about one of your parents, even if it's only a dimple. But I don't mean to digress. The point I want to make is that love may or may not be homesickness, but homesickness is definitely love.


“Dennis Quaid. Close.”

This behind-the-scenes clip of Siskel and Ebert, via The Stranger, is priceless.

The video is composed of three different scenes, and I know 12 minutes is a lot to ask, but watch the whole thing. When have I let you down?

In the second and third clips, it seems like they're essentially getting along, if in a heated, brotherly way. But in the first, Ebert just comes across as pure evil.

Stick around for the third installment, in which Siskel very earnestly encourages all of us to overthrow the WASPs who run the country. I never knew he was such a rabble-rouser.

The clips will disabuse you (as if you need it) of the notion that TV work is glamorous. It will also prove that anyone you've ever known, met, or brushed against on the street is funnier than these guys.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Archive of the Day

The latest blogger to be interviewed over at normblog named this her favorite poem, and I love it, so here you go:
A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts
by Wallace Stevens

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Why I Should Read the Paper Rather than Watch TV Over Saturday Breakfast

In third grade, my friend Josh and I had a weekly meeting (in art class, I think) during which we feverishly recapped the most recent adventures on The A-Team. Thanks to a channel called "Sleuth TV," which I didn't know I had until this morning, I caught the beginning of an old episode. The built-in guide on the screen (the future is here!) described it thus:
A gang of toughs jeopardizes the team's reputation by posing as the four and terrorizing rodeo performers and spectators.
In the first few minutes, one of the phonies throws a rodeo worker to the ground. A pretty blonde rodeo woman comes to her colleague's aid, and kneeling next to him, looks up at the impostor and says, "I thought the A-Team was supposed to help people!"

Just thought I'd share that. Oh, and I felt bad for George Peppard in a way I didn't know to in the third grade, his having been in Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961 and then, in 1983, chewing on a cigar and feeding lines to Mr. T.

This Will Teach You to Trust Me

I lied! I'm going to write about the New York Times fiction poll forever, and there's nothing you or anyone else can do to stop me. Over at Critical Mass, the blog maintained by the National Book Critics Circle board of directors, they're revealing the choices of individual authors, and even getting feedback from those authors. Mary Karr -- whose The Liars' Club has to be one of the best American works of nonfiction written in the past quarter century, for my money -- here showcases some pretty strong opinions, including this one:
About the list, I'm always astonished by the devotion to Updike. I think it's just from seeing his name in the New Yorker so relentlessly. I mean, no writer I know really values those books except the first one, "Rabbit Run," which I think is terrific. After that it became dilution.
She also writes about the book she chose -- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which she's read once a year for more than a decade:
I find it terrifying, and even though most of the characters are pretty despicable, I love them -- I can't live without the characters. It's like having a crush on somebody and stalking them. Like you're standing outside the window of that book with your boombox on your shoulder waiting, playing love songs and hoping they'll come out again.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Nothing to See Here, People. Move On.

(From top, Empire State Building, Metropolitan Museum of Art, United Nations)

As many of you probably know, the Department of Homeland Security recently decreased New York's anti-terror funds by 40 percent. What you may not have known is that one reason for the cutback was that the department didn't feel New York had any "national monuments or icons" worth protecting. Indiana was given $12 million to protect the world's largest ball of paint in Alexandria (no joke), but the Empire State Building, the United Nations, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, the New York Public Library, Yankee Stadium, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and any number of high-profile bodegas evidently don't qualify as iconic.

The DHS isn't all about ignoring us, though. The original ABC report says:
The formula did note a commuter population of more than 16 million around the city twice struck by fundamentalist terrorists and twice more targeted in plots halted in pre-operational stages. It noted the more than eight million residents and the largest rail ridership in the nation -- more than five million. It is those commuters and rail riders who are expected to suffer most from the cuts since mass transit is listed on most DHS alerts as the top terror target.
From one of sixteen million: thanks, guys.

Mayor Bloomberg dares to suggest this isn't about protecting the ball of paint:
I think the facts are clear. What they've really done is taken what was supposed to be threat-based and just started to distribute it as normal pork.
Or, as a commenter over at The Stranger put it:
using "homeland security" to dole out cash to battleground house and senate races. despicable.
(Via The Stranger, via Modern Art Notes, via Daily Kos (the link to follow for the ball of paint and other jaw-droppers))


Seventh-Inning Stretch (and Mass Baptism)

Just about a year ago, my friend Jon and I were at a minor-league baseball game in Hagerstown, Maryland. It's a pretty-but-strange little colonial town, with a charming, down-at-the-heels baseball "stadium." Early on, we learned that it was Faith Night at the park, or, as we renamed it, "Get Out Before They Find Out Jon's a Jew Night." The faithful flourishes included Bible-based trivia questions between innings. (One other flourish, presumably not part of the faith package, was a kissing contest during which three couples mauled each other along the first-base line in an attempt to draw the loudest response from the crowd. The American spirit: It contains multitudes.)

The New York Times
has this piece about the increasing number of similar promotional nights around the country. The photo accompanying the article is of two people dressed as vegetables throwing out a first pitch. Turns out they're from VeggieTales, an animated group of talking vegetables who apparently espouse Judeo-Christian values "in a manner more closely resembling John Cleese than John Bunyan." (L.A. Times.) I found descriptions of the veggie characters, including one "Frankencelery," online. I think this will be more rewarding if you're high, but here goes:
Frankencelery is really just an actor named Phil Winklestein from Toledo. Junior saw him in the scary movie, "Frankencelery." Junior was afraid, but Phil introduced himself, and he and Bob and Larry helped Junior to learn that God is bigger than any "boogie man." Phil also has done several parts as extras. He also performed a quartet with the Scallions in the Silly Song "The Yodeling Veterinarian of the Alps."
Sounds like more fun than Sunday school, anyway.

The Times piece also revealed that one minor league indoor football team (minor league indoor football fever -- catch it!) gave away bobblehead dolls of Moses before a recent game. Needless to say, I had to find out what one of those might look like. Thank you, Internet:

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AP Answer to a Question No One Asked Headline of the Day

Anna Nicole Smith: 'Yes, I Am Pregnant'

Archive of the Day

Sorry to quote from the same book twice in one week, but I finished Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? tonight, and good lord. This is towards the end, when Berie (narrating) is sharing a waterbed with her old friend Sils during the weekend of their ten-year high school reunion. Generally, they've grown apart. Specifically, Berie has just come back to bed from taking a shower in the middle of the night.
She gave a lazy laugh. "You should invite me to where you live someday and see all the wacky things I'm going to do."

"I will," I said. "I will." Though I already imagined that by the time I got back to my new job and life, with all its distractions and busynesses, that I wouldn't know how. Or why. Despite all my curatorial impulses and training, my priestly harborings and professional, courtly suit of the past, I never knew what to do with all those years of one's life: trot around in them forever like old boots -- or sever them, let them fly free?

Of course, one couldn't really do either. But there was always the trying, and pretending. And then there was finally someplace in between, where one lived.

I curled next to Sils and closed my eyes. I slept the light, watery sleep of a sick person who has already slept off the day and then awakened to night, not knowing what to do.

Chilling News for 2024

I've seen the future.

I was just watching Tom Cruise during a repeat of his appearance on Letterman to promote the latest Mission Impossible. (That's one of those clear cases of diminishing returns on a title, no? I mean, how many entries in the series before audiences start to suspect that, though very difficult, impossible might not be the right word for these missions.)

Yes, he's bizarre. Yes, the tabloids are at least as bizarre. (Trust me, this isn't going to turn into a defense of Cruise, but I find it odd that we barely register the insanity of the media covering these things when the celebrity seems freakish enough. If the debate is about what's weirder -- (a) a world-famous movie star Scientologist who acts in an increasingly automated fashion as his childlike-bride-to-be allegedly checks into some kind of birthing chamber with a policy of enforced silence, or (b) gossip blogs that exist mostly to send us to highly detailed and opinionated articles about (a) -- well, I'm happy to call that tussle a draw.)

I'm really keeping myself from my point here, which is this: I think Tom Cruise is going to run for president someday, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he wins. His oddity -- with the arguably notable exception of the Oprah couch-hopping thing -- seems to stem from a surplus of image-control. Isn't that true of a lot of politicians? He frequently seems too friendly, too happy to be on the show, too earnestly invested in sharing the surface details of his life with millions as if they were the most private confessions. Does this not make him the perfect keynote speaker at a national political convention?

If and when he does run, he may have to throw over Heezelmop 48-7 (or whoever) for Jesus during a prime-time debate, but other than that, given the nexus between politics and entertainment in this country, President Cruise strikes me as a perfectly reasonable possibility. I don't want it to happen, I just want credit for predicting it when it does.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

How True

The first sentence in the synopsis of a novel that I received today via mass e-mail:
When your mother kills your father and his girlfriend by running them over in her Cadillac, it affects you for the rest of your life.

Two Music Notes

First, details on the upcoming Mountain Goats record.

Second, since I already linked to a version by Ray LaMontagne a while back, here, via My Old Kentucky Blog, is a cover of "Crazy," the Gnarls Barkley song, by Nelly Furtado. (I realize that I'm several months behind on this song, but bear with me. I'm not sick of it yet, and Furtado's take on it is actually decent.)