Friday, March 30, 2007

Sad, Sad Snowman

Now that it seems like the first stage of New York spring is really in effect, when the bitter cold and occasional snow gets replaced by more bearable cold and occasional rain, I figure this is my last chance to post a recent photo I took. Is this not the most pathetic remnant of a snowman you've ever seen?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Real Age

Jane Galt takes her lead from the creator of Dilbert and asks, "How old are you really?" Or, as one of her commenters smartly puts it:
It's not "what was your favorite age?" or "when were you happiest?" It's "at what point were your actual age and psychological age the same? (or at what point will they be?)" That could even be a point when you were (or will be) unhappy, if you're fundamentally an unhappy kind of person.
So, not when you were happiest. OK. Because I'm pretty sure that's when I was two. I don't remember much of it -- not a shred, honestly -- but I see two-year-olds now, being pushed around in strollers and gleefully thrown into the air and generally allowed (even encouraged) to do all kinds of ridiculous things, unburdened by both memory and aspiration, and I envy that set-up. I envy it bad.

But adhering to the rules above, I'd say my real age is 28. (I'm 33 according to pesky old "reality.") I was always a bit cranky for my age as a teenager and early-20-something, less in a Statler and Waldorf kind of way (though that, too) and more in a "People, do we really need to contract alcohol poisoning to express ourselves? You're all idiots" kind of way. That wasn't satisfying crankiness; it was uncomfortable. I wanted to get older. I was also a late bloomer, in many respects, not least of which: self-confidence (that's still touch-and-go, actually, but it's better), dealing with formless anxiety (um, ditto), and leaving the cocoon of home (though, after seven years in New York, a cocoon sounds pretty good right about now).

By the time I was 28, I had struck out for NY and gained confidence. I had learned that, while the alcohol-poisoners often were idiots, alcohol could be my friend. I had outgrown my shameful early-adolescent love for, say, Bon Jovi, but hadn't yet outgrown the entire experiential category of truly loving something like a band. I expected more of myself than I previously had, but didn't so harshly blame myself for not achieving it yet. I loved where I was, but felt like I could up and leave at any time and it wouldn't feel like flailing. Or failing.

I felt less tired.

Basically, it seemed the ideal age at which to harbor a lingering deep sentimentality, to push myself while also being at peace with myself, and to be cynical and hopeful in equal measure. All things I like. And I'm pretty sure that no future age will be able to compete, not because I expect a lot of unhappiness, but because it seems like things can only get more complicated, and not necessarily in a good way. Also, as I get older, the shallow energy-burning of my peers that once bothered me has been replaced by an opposite problem -- that is, people who, having organized their lives around conventional goals and achievements, find it weird to feel (or at least are less comfortable to acknowledge) broad emotional restlessness, something I might always feel. My inability to find deep satisfaction in those things is my problem, not theirs, but it still makes me wish we could all remain in our mid-20s, remain somehow content and dissatisfied at all times.

And, let's face it, it's not like tooth-rattling thoughts of mortality are going to be less frequent from here on out, and I'm the type who was worrying about that stuff at 19.

So, for me it's 28. And this post has gone on much longer than I imagined it would.

Anyone else want to share?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Australian Toad the Size of a Small Dog

A Wednesday Song, Not in the Form I Would Ideally Like

OK, I've really got to get to work. "Work" in this case meaning "studying up on players for my fantasy baseball draft tomorrow night." But first, I'll keep up this fledgling tradition of a Wednesday song. (A tradition, by the way, which I stole. Subconsciously, but it's still theft. Any jury would convict me.) I try to find live performances for this stolen feature, because almost all videos are lame. (Looking back, it's incredible to me that my generation spent so much time taking them seriously.) But I can't find a good live one quickly tonight, and these baseball players aren't going to study themselves, capiche? So, here's one of my favorite songs from a couple of years ago, "Mind Blindness" by Dirty on Purpose:

Archive of the Day

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I was inspired to post today's archive when I saw it on the subway, as part of the MTA's "Poetry in Motion" campaign. All I can say is that I like the poem, and all I can promise you is that most of the poetry I read is not posted in subway cars.
A Little Tooth by Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

The Host

It seems like a crappy horror movie is released every other day. With the exception of 28 Days Later, which was mostly terrifying (and the sequel looks worth a viewing, too), most decent entries in the genre these days are of the twisted scary-funny model that's probably been around a lot longer than Scream, but not in such a mainstream way. This model may have reached its peak with Shaun of the Dead. The Host is also very good, though its laughs are often so oddball that they stem more from strangeness than humor.

Because I pride myself on having plugged-in readers (except for three of you, and you know who you are -- good lord, you three, get a clue), I'll assume you know most everything about this movie already. You've probably seen it four times. You might have a bed sheet with the monster on it.

The monster is the problem for me. (Well, the monster and the editing. The Host would be even stronger minus about 20 minutes.) There's a moment very early on that's one of the coolest and creepiest I've seen in a while, as a group of South Koreans (the movie is set in Seoul) watch from a distance as the titular beast hangs from the underside of a bridge and then slowly drops into the river. Eventually, we see the monster -- repeatedly -- up close. And it's well made -- it looks real, but only in the way that Nerf products are real. Despite all the advances in technology, monsters and otherworldly villains and deep space seem to be getting harder to believe. Think of Star Wars -- yes, the first movie, which had all the visual sophistication of an Atari 2600 game, looked silly. But I honestly think it looked better than the perfect but completely sterile backdrops of The Phantom Menace. I guess I'm more distracted by excess perfection than excess crudity. After all, the world is far more crude than perfect, so why that shouldn't be reflected on the screen?

That very brief scene on the bridge is terrific. And there are many beautifully framed moments throughout, and the closing shot is gorgeous, and overall I'd recommend that you see it (for the fifth time; and buy the matching pillowcase). But after the creature disappears from sight, it next shows up bounding along the banks of the river in all its glory (very close behind the people pictured above, as you may have guessed), looking like the love child of Godzilla and Jar Jar Binks. I liked the view better from afar.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nirvana? Just a Band.

It's been getting sporty in here. Apologies. My younger sister even recently admitted that she skips the sports posts altogether! Heresy!!

But I don't want this to turn into a sports blog, partly because that would narrow the scope, which is widely understood to be one way to greatly increase traffic, and I wouldn't want a great increase in traffic.

By way of preface, I recently signed up for daily e-mails from the site Very Short List. They write "to you" about one thing per day -- a movie, an album, another web site -- and the e-mails are very well designed. What they're alerting me to is often something I've heard of (Children of Men, for instance), but deleting e-mails all day is what I do, so one more isn't really a problem. And sometimes VSL comes up with something surprising and entertaining. Like today.

I hadn't heard of British hip-hop group Dan Le Sac VS Scroobius Pip. And given that mouthful of a really terrible name, I wasn't sure how to feel about being forced to hear about them. (Oh, and in case it's not clear yet: Mom and Dad, you can skip this post.)

The video for "Thou Shalt Not Kill," though, is a blast. As the site explains:
Pip’s a white, motormouthed Brit with the beard of an Old Testament prophet. He resembles the stereotypical rapper only in his absolute, contemptuous self-assurance. He spouts strong opinions, and like a clever blog, his rants are both spot-on and very funny.
My favorite line from the song is, "Thou shalt not judge a book by its cover, thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover," but there's a lot of competition.

Before I keep babbling, watch it:

Actually, the pedophile bit is probably my favorite -- "some people are just nice." Awesome. "Thou shalt not fall in love so easily" is pretty good, too, especially given what it follows. Not that anyone's gone into the woods and taken drugs with my best friend to cheat on me. Not that I know of, anyway.

Figuring that this song said nothing about whether this band was just funny or actually talented, I looked at their MySpace page. (Yes, I'm 33 years old.) I don't know, the other songs sounded clever to me, too, and I listened to them before I had the three glasses of wine that preceded this post.

The band also seems funny outside of its music. One line in the song goes, "Thou shalt not read NME." (NME is a British music magazine.) On the MySpace blog is the following:
NME got in touch with us and we were a touch dubious!

They were, however, very grown up about us slagging them off and wanted to offer a chance to justify and explain our "Thou shalt not read NME" line.

We agreed to do 10 commandments for readers of the music press which should be run in next week's NME (giving us the chance to change the ways of those that do read NME and follow everything they say).

Now, there's a good chance they will just slag us off but, from the chat, they seemed quite understanding of my gripes with the mag (and many sections of the music press in general) and were very cool about it all.

Let's see how that goes come next week then....

Hey Man, Nice Shot

So, the Tar Heels lost in shameful fashion on Sunday. But last night, a former Heel, Rasheed Wallace, was responsible for one of the craziest moments you'll ever see -- and not the usual 'Sheed crazy, where he has an emotional meltdown after a routine foul call. This is the good kind of crazy. A second or two left in the game, your team's down three, the other team has the ball on their end of the court. This is why the word "hopeless" exists. But check this out:

The Pistons went on to win in overtime. One of the announcers says he practices those shots, which sounds like a lame way to justify incredible luck, but the site Need4Sheed links to a video that says otherwise.

(Via Deadspin)

Apathy, Ignorance, or Both?

Eighteen percent of Americans polled have "never heard of" Karl Rove or Alberto Gonzales.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Muttering to Myself

I try not to use the blog as an imaginary conversational partner, because that is not only incredibly pathetic but might even be the first (or hundredth) step on the road to dementia. But here I am:

The game's far from over, but Kansas is currently trailing UCLA by six points in the West region's final. Kansas is the 1 seed, but they're playing in San Jose, California. How does this make sense? Shouldn't a top seed be given preferential treatment assuming the tournament goes according to plan? The top two seeds are in the final, which I would describe as "according to plan," but they're playing much closer to the 2 seed's home. I really don't care, because I don't root for either team, but couldn't this have been solved by just swapping 2 seeds -- by, say, having put UCLA in the East and Georgetown, another 2 seed, in the West?

Oden and Tex

So, the Ohio State Buckeyes are first into the Final Four. Good for them. I still think Greg Oden makes Tim Duncan look like Jim Carrey. The guy never changes expression. He's a force, but seemingly a very dull one. This post on True Hoop, a blog that recently found cover under the ESPN umbrella, helps to humanize Oden a bit by quoting a piece in the Washington Post:
At Lawrence North (High School), (Oden) took calculus as a senior and other college-level math courses for two years and earned a 3.8 grade-point average.

Oden still keeps in contact with (math teacher) McCord. When Oden called her two weeks ago, he talked about how much he liked his History of Rock & Roll class and told her a funny story about one of his friends. They never mentioned basketball.

"If you take basketball away from him, I don't think he's going to lay down and die on us," Keefer said. "He wants to be an accountant."
Hmm, actually, I'm not sure if wanting to be an accountant makes him more interesting or more dull. In any case, it seems that everyone who knows him says he's very likable.

But what's really been bothering me has been my inability to figure out who Oden reminds me of, physically. His 19-year-old face looks like the visage of someone who's lived for 1,400 years. More specifically, though, something about the combination of his deeply furrowed forehead, his recessed eyes, his boxer's nose, and his perpetual look of disinterest recalled someone else. And then yesterday, it dawned on me. He looks like Randall "Tex" Cobb, who played the bounty hunter in Raising Arizona. I couldn't find two pictures that really do the similarity justice, but I'll let you decide. Oden's first, then Cobb:

(PS -- I just did some research to see if I was the only crazy one to think of this. Turns out, I'm not. Scroll down on this page for the same comparison. Of course, this only means I'm not alone. It says nothing about whether I'm crazy.)

An Uplifting Obit

My friend JF sent me this obit of Graham Mason, a journalist. I don't know why the British have such a gift for writing about the deceased, but they do. Mason died in 2001, the obituary is dated September 2002, and I'm alerting you to it in 2007. Forget the weird chronology. Just enjoy the piece, which includes gems like this one:
Unlike his friend Jeffrey Bernard, though, Graham Mason did not make himself the hero of his own tragedy. His speciality was the extreme. In one drinking binge he went for nine days without food. At the height of his consumption, before he was frightened by epileptic fits into cutting back, he was managing two bottles of vodka a day. His face became in his own description that of a "rotten choirboy". At lunchtime he would walk through the door of the Coach and Horses still trembling with hangover, his nose and ears blue whatever the weather. On one cold day he complained of the noise that the snow made as it landed on his bald head.


Bud Selig Update

The Scientific Plausibility of the Soul

I'm in the process of pruning my latest post about religion into something less long-winded. For now, here is a long-winded but worthwhile post from Andrew Sullivan. It's really an e-mail exchange between Sam Harris, Sullivan's spirited opponent in an ongoing debate about faith, and Stuart Hameroff, a professor at the University of Arizona. As Sullivan might say, here's the money quote, from Hameroff:
But let's talk about faith vs reason. In my article in press in Cognitive Science...I argue that the faith of neuroscientists (based on brain=mind=computer) that conventional neurocomputation accounts for consciousness is illogical and refuted by evidence. Reason is NOT on the side of the neuroscientists.

Friday, March 23, 2007


To keep the blogroll in fighting shape, I've sadly taken down a few close friends who haven't updated in two months or more. If you're one of these friends and you begin posting again, please let me know and you'll be reinstated lickity split.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Congressman Defends Iraq-Detroit Analogy

Kids' Rights

Jane Galt has a spirited post about education, which has generated 130 comments. It's all worth looking through. Here are the two key passages of the post itself:
Disadvantaged kids can be taught to read, write, and perform basic mathematical operations, and they can be taught to behave if their parents have neglected that task. In our system, however, any school that manages to do so achieves this feat only through heroic efforts to overcome the institutional barriers put in the way. For various reasons, this is not happening. I have a novel approach to solving this problem: I propose we . . . pay schools on the basis of their ability to educate these children. I plan to call this system something nifty and new-economy, like . . . a market. That has an edgy, new-millennial kind of feel, doesn't it?


Then there's the taxation is theft crowd. I'm sorry if my nom de blog fooled you, but I'm not that sort of libertarian. Children are a perennial problem for libertarians, but what it boils down to is this: children (and to my mind, the severely disabled), have positive rights. They have a right to be fed, educated, clothed, sheltered, and given medical care on someone else's dime. And if their parents abdicate this responsibility, then it passes onto the community, including the state, even if none of us asked said parent to reproduce. So arguing that educating poor children is immoral . . . well, I hardly know what to say, except remind me not to get into a lifeboat with you.

Proof of My Intractable Ignorance About the Causes Everyone Holds Most Dear, Take Two

I was going to lead off this post by noting that the past 10 days have been completely void of comments, except those attracted by my recent ramblings about global warming, including one missive that inspired the new (and probably long-lasting) subtitle for the blog.

But then, a few comments that involve people dreaming about me oddly attached themselves to an AP headline post. And after I gently chided Chuck Klosterman, an anonymous reader awakened my inner debate geek something fierce (you wouldn't like me when I'm nerdy) and repeatedly prodded me to greater heights of impassioned geekery.

So, what initially was going to be a calculated attempt to toss some more chum overboard now feels like just another humdrum opportunity to throttle me. Via Andrew Sullivan (naturally), here's another take on the global warming problem -- see, I think it's a problem! -- this one from Robert Samuelson. As I think you can tell from his photo, Samuelson is serious about global warming -- and everything else:

He begins by bemoaning the fact that the conventional wisdom neatly posits the conflict as "smart and caring people against the stupid and selfish." Then he writes:
Most of the many reports on global warming have a different plot. Despite variations, these studies reach similar conclusions. Regardless of how serious the threat, the available technologies promise at best a holding action against greenhouse gas emissions. Even massive gains in renewables (solar, wind, biomass) and more efficient vehicles and appliances would merely stabilize annual emissions near present levels by 2050. The reason: Economic growth, especially in poor countries, will sharply increase energy use and emissions.
He then opines at wonky length about coal, which is worth reading, but I'll skip ahead to his conclusion:
What's most popular and acceptable (say, more solar) may be the least consequential in its effects; and what's most consequential in its effects (a hefty energy tax) may be the least popular and acceptable.

The actual politics of global warming defy Hollywood's stereotypes. It's not saints versus sinners. The lifestyles that produce greenhouse gases are deeply ingrained in modern economies and societies. Without major changes in technology, the consequences may be unalterable. Those who believe that addressing global warming is a moral imperative face an equivalent moral imperative to be candid about the costs, difficulties and uncertainties.
I suppose Samuelson is on the conservative side of things, but he's making a point that's important, not because it denies the problem of global warming, but because it recognizes what potential solutions would really look like. More people are being born every day. Certain societies are getting wealthier every day. It should be expected that they will be seeking some of the stuff that the planet's well-off enjoy. These are not small factors in the face of pieties.

Arson Report/Great Name Report

So, a gay club in my former neck of the woods (or, about 30 miles northwest of my former neck of the woods) was burned down. Seems an obvious candidate for a "hate crime" (that phrase has always seemed well-meaning but ultimately pointless to me -- if a person beats up someone of the same ethnicity or sexual orientation, is it a "love crime"?), but the owner of the place said she's never had problems. Anyway, that's all for the cops to determine. I just wanted to point out the incredible name of the establishment: Mable Peabody's Beauty Parlor and Chainsaw Repair.

Can anybody top that? (Fictional names won't count.)

(Via The Stranger)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wednesday. You Know What That Means.

See? I have lots to post tonight, but not the time to do it. Damn Wednesdays. So here's a song. You might think the video's cheesy, and yeah, I guess it is. But I like it:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Study Casts Doubt on Duct Tape Wart Cure

Chuck's Blind Spot

Chuck Klosterman continues his somewhat bizarre transformation into Malcolm Gladwell with this piece in a recent issue of the awkwardly named ESPN The Magazine. (This post brought to you by A Special Way of Being Afraid The Blog.)

Klosterman is pondering the presumably widespread use of steroids in the NFL, and the impact this might have on how fans view the game. He begins on a roll, describing linebacker Shawne Merriman:
You do not need Mel Kiper's hard drive to deduce what these numbers mean: As an outside linebacker, Shawne Merriman is almost as big as the best offensive tackle who ever played and almost as fast as the best wide receiver who ever played. He is a rhinoceros who moves like a deer. Common sense suggests this combination should not be possible. It isn't.
But he then proceeds to a false analogy, noting that the Beatles recorded their most groundbreaking and influential work after they had been introduced to any number of recreational drugs, but no one judges their art by their drug use. Here's Klosterman extending the argument:
My point is not that all drugs are the same, nor that drugs are awesome, nor that the Beatles needed LSD to become the geniuses they already were. My point is that sports are unique in the way they're retrospectively colored by the specter of drug use. East Germany was an Olympic force during the 1970s and '80s; today, you can't mention the East Germans' dominance without noting that they were pumped full of Ivan Drago-esque chemicals. This relationship changes the meaning of their achievements. You simply don't see this in other idioms. Nobody looks back at Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and says, "I guess that music is okay, but it doesn't really count. Those guys were probably high in the studio."
Now, if you're like me, you feel like you're watching someone confidently signal for a lane change with a 32-wheeler smack dab in their blind spot. So when Klosterman brings up an "easy rebuttal" to his theory, it provides momentary, false hope that the accident can be avoided:
Now, the easy rebuttal to this argument is contextual, because it's not as if Roger Waters was shooting up with testosterone in order to strum his bass-guitar strings harder. Unlike songwriting or stock trading, football is mostly physical; it seems like there needs to be a different scale -- an uncrossable line -- for what endangers competitive integrity.
This is ridiculous. It's true that the rebuttal would be contextual, but not because playing a bass guitar isn't as violent an activity as an open-field tackle. Put simply, bands might "compete," in some loose sense, to produce great albums, but producing great albums is not a zero-sum game. Revolver and Wish You Were Here can both be great albums, but two football teams cannot win the same game. Thus, if one of those teams is doped up and the other isn't, there's a competitive imbalance of a completely different kind, not degree, from whatever "edge" the Beatles gained from licking some poisonous toad. It's quite possible, philosophically, to imagine fans having no qualms about performance enhancers, as long as all players were allowed to use them and had equal access to them. Klosterman's column is entertaining as far as it goes, but given the fact that it ignores the very nature of the problem, that's not very far.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ladies' Night

I'm lucky to live about two short blocks from one of my favorite music venues in the city, and certainly my favorite in Brooklyn. But I hadn't been in a long time, so Saturday night I went over to see Jennifer O'Connor and Maria Taylor.

O'Connor released one of the best records of last year, and her short set was terrific. It helped that she sang the two songs I most wanted to hear -- "Exeter, Rhode Island" and "Sister," the latter of which would make my short list of the best songs from the past five years or so.

Here she is:

Unlike O'Connor, who I unreservedly recommend, I had complicated feelings about Maria Taylor going in, which only became more complicated after watching her play. Taylor's got a truly gorgeous voice, which she put to use in the band Azure Ray, and she's the girlfriend of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, who I flat-out dislike on just about every possible level. She recently released her second solo record, Lynn Teeter Flower, and I've been listening to it a lot. Though her songs are spare, driven by the admirably subtle use of her pipes, she was backed by five musicians:

The songs sounded really good, but the aesthetic was troublesome. Taylor is very pretty, in a young Anjelica Houston kind of way, and she understands this. She sported a denim miniskirt and boots, and she had enough make-up on to be seen from space. Her brother played guitar, and her sister, Kate, played keyboards. Kate, who was "turning 22 at midnight," is impossibly cute, the kind of girl who could really drive a wedge between Dawson and Pacey. The Taylor sisters, who probably weigh 150 pounds combined, often coyly looked at the ground or stared off in a synchronized, dewey-eyed way, as if they could see the horizon past the club's walls. Like this:

And that's fine. I don't hold people's beauty against them, really, but I'm not crazy about performers who make it feel as though they're accompanied on stage by their beauty, like it's the seventh band member. In short, and unsurprisingly from someone who's attracted to Oberst, I got the sense that there was a serious need for getting over of self.

Maybe the simple fact is that Taylor is too eager to please (or be loved, or something; I'm not Freud) to be cool, in the good way. In fact, if she were ten years older, she'd be Sarah McLachlan. But I like McLachlan OK, and Taylor's cute, gauzy vibe isn't enough to get in the way of some excellent songs (check out "Clean Getaway" and "Small Part of Me," off the new album). The fact is, I'm a sucker for voices like hers -- the really, really pretty kind -- which makes it easier to overlook small sins of performance.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Endy's Grab

I'm trying to stick to my goal of posting classic baseball moments leading up to Opening Day, though it hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be to find vintage clips on YouTube. While I continue fishing for good oldies, here's a much more recent moment. It would've helped its legacy if the Mets had won, but this catch by Endy Chavez in Game 7 of last year's NLCS is the best big-moment defensive play I've ever seen:


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Xavier Lets It Slip Away

After two days of relative quiet and normalcy in the NCAA tournament, today's Xavier-Ohio State game was something to see. I had Ohio State beating them in five of the six brackets I filled out, but I was still disappointed to see it happen. I hate when an underdog like Xavier thoroughly outplays a team for most of the second half and then coughs it all up in the final three minutes. Ohio State's top attraction, freshman Greg Oden, couldn't look more bored. This makes me feel bad for him when things aren't going well -- it's like he's going to be blamed for something that he doesn't even care much about it -- but it makes it hard to root for him when things are going well. Winning a game like that should produce some display of emotion. I think even Tim Duncan would've pumped a fist at some point. But Oden really looks comatose out there. The Buckeyes' guards were much more active and enthusiastic, and it looks they'll have to carry this team as far as it will go.

On a related note, CBS announcer Gus Johnson has to be the worst play-by-play guy in the business. He kept screaming things like "cold-blooded player" with many minutes to go in the game. He famously lost his marbles during the moment below in last year's Gonzaga-UCLA contest (an admittedly dramatic game), but overall he's dialed up way too high for my taste. Other than his presence, today's Xavier-Ohio State tilt was a dandy. I'm expecting the same from Louisville and Texas A&M in a few minutes...

Hanson-D'Souza: Steel Cage Match

Here is Victor Davis Hanson systematically dismantling Dinesh D'Souza, if you have any interest in such things. Two moments I liked in particular:
In this regard, remember the constant qualifiers in D’Souza’s book such as “Yes,” “Although,” “But” and “I am not objecting to,” as in the following: “Although 9/11 is routinely described as a terrorist attack, can anyone seriously maintain that the Pentagon was not a military target?”

Or: “So I am not objecting to the characterization of 9/11 as terrorism.”

Or: “Yes, there were civilians on the planes but the purpose of hijacking planes was not to kill civilians on board but to use the winged juggernauts as flaming projectiles to destroy the intended symbolic targets.”

That list of exculpation could be expanded, but what we see in these asides is an insidious effort somehow to downplay the savagery of al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks—as if they were not really aimed at butchering innocents in airliners, ordinary people at work, and civilian and military officials in a peacetime Pentagon, but rather legitimate collective cries of the heart from conservative Muslims forced to watch one too many Sean Penn movies or read one too many novels of the “insurgent” Kurt Vonnegut.
In this regard, (D'Souza) sums up:
We must give up on leftists in America and Europe who will never join our side and instead find common cause with the traditional Muslims who share many of our values and can actually help us defeat radical Islam.
What does “give up on” really mean? I am no big fan of a Russ Feingold or a Howard Dean, but as fellow Americans I find more resonance with them than with conservative Muslims abroad who, at least currently, do not approve of religious tolerance, or an equality of women, or freedom of speech and expression. Personally in this war I prefer to make “common cause” with the atheist leftist Christopher Hitchens or Al Gore’s former running mate, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, or a liberal Tom Lantos (also named as a “domestic insurgent” on the D’Souza list) than with someone abroad who embraces sharia law.
(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Capote Redux

I watched Infamous tonight, the movie that told almost the same exact story as Capote, though in a slightly different tone. To get us started, I direct you to this sharp, insightful review by Jeremy Fox.

Fox thought Capote was "outstanding," which is maybe the only place I disagree with him. I thought that movie was overly dour, too interested in its own grimness, especially given the real Capote's wit and practiced effervescence. I thought Infamous captured more of that, though Fox is right that, "We’re too convincingly told not to take (Capote) seriously, so that when we’re supposed to see him as a tragic figure, the pathos just isn’t there."

Still, Toby Jones (above) is ten times more naturally evocative of the writer's aura than Philip Seymour Hoffman. I thought Hoffman deserved the Oscar that year, but since then I've come to think that the effort of that performance was easier to respect than to love or even fully believe. Fox also writes (I know, I linked to the full review, so I should just let you read it) -- "(Infamous director Douglas McGrath's) understanding of Capote’s ability to win people’s confidence is perhaps richer than that shown in the earlier film, and this is an essential point about the man..."

Perhaps I put more weight on getting that one essential thing right than Fox does. And it's gotten right here partly because, more than Hoffman, who is talented in all kinds of ways, Jones has an easy and convincing charm. Like Fox, who rightfully criticizes Infamous for its staged "interviews" with certain characters and for its casting of Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee (ahem), I believe Capote was a tighter, better movie. But I don't think either one is perfect, and I think the perfect one would star Toby Jones.

Who Needs a Vacation, Anyway?

Apologies for the blurry shot, but this was the arrivals board at the airport today:

That third column, the one in yellow, says "canceled" from top to bottom, and the departures board didn't look much different. After a week of very spring-like weather, today winter returned with a vengeance, as if to say, "Easy now, there's a reason they're playing baseball in Florida and Arizona for the next few weeks." Oh, right.

So, after six incredibly pleasant hours at the airport, my flight, one of the only four or five that, for some mystifying reason, they left open as "possible" for much of the day, was officially called off. An announcement followed that, due to the flurry of cancellations, all flights to Dallas were booked through Monday.

I miss a friend's wedding because of this turn of events, which is very disappointing. Funny -- I hate to fly even when I never leave the ground. The day's only saving grace was the half hour of Ms. Pac Man I squeezed in at the terminal, wowing a few adolescent onlookers who were waiting to leave for Chicago. I note this only because I thought this post needed a label...


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Freedom of Commenting

If you're interested in sharing your thoughts about global warming, there's a spirited, busier-than-usual comment thread going on over here. I thought my initial post was fairly innocuous, by the standards of the 'sphere. Guess not.

(And yes, I think I can call it "spirited" even when five of the 16 comments are by me. And no, I never use the word 'sphere with a straight face.)

Coming Attractions

I'm not sure you need to be a big basketball fan to take this advice, or even a little one -- it's possible that all you need to have done is seen a single exciting play in passing once and said "hmm" -- but you might want to clear your schedule for early June if the NBA's Western Conference finals end up being a rematch of last year's Dallas-Phoenix series. Because based on tonight's game, that could be really, really fun, and even more intense than fun.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Another Wednesday Song

See? Wednesday again, and again it's a light blogging night -- mostly because I need to fill out several entries for NCAA tournament pools before it's too late. This frequent midweek slump is the reason why, in case you've forgotten, I'm going to post a song (preferably a live performance) every Wednesday. This week's entry is Ray LaMontagne singing a subdued version of "Trouble." Fair warning: Just after the two-minute mark, the camera gets what can only be called too close to LaMontagne's face, but less than a minute later, it begins retreating again. Also, the spotlights behind him create the illusion that he's singing from heaven, or the set of a Gap commercial. Enjoy:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Trucker Wants Name to Be Ynot Bubba

H is for HUMANS who made things too warm

To keep the attention of those readers who might disdain college basketball but have a jones for the potential extinction of humankind, let's switch gears. I was interested to see this piece in the Times today about scientists who are trying to temper some of Al Gore's rhetoric about global warming, though they believe his broader concern is warranted.
Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for "getting the message out," Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were "overselling our certainty about knowing the future."
That "natural variation" remark grabbed my interest, because I've always wondered about the role it plays, which would seem potentially significant and almost impossible to untangle from our own influence. The article picks up the same thread later on:
"Hardly a week goes by," Dr. Peiser said, "without a new research paper that questions part or even some basics of climate change theory," including some reports that offer alternatives to human activity for global warming.

Geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms.

“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,” Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. "Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change."

In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore’s claim that "our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this" threatened change.

Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to "20 times greater than the warming in the past century."

Getting personal, he mocked Mr. Gore’s assertion that scientists agreed on global warming except those industry had corrupted. "I've never been paid a nickel by an oil company," Dr. Easterbrook told the group. "And I'm not a Republican."
This has always been my feeling about this issue: The planet might be clearly warming. And we clearly play a role. But when the "medieval warm period," which ended around 1600, is described as "20 times greater" than the current warming problem, it becomes pretty clear that nature is capable of wild swings that have little or nothing to do with us. In a best-case scenario (read: impossible scenario) in which we eliminated human pollution entirely, there still might come a time when we started baking like pigs in a blanket. That's not a more comforting thought, of course, and I still don't think it means we should be stinking up the place, but a little open-mindedness when it comes to fatalism might be a good thing. As Edward Gorey knew, there are many ways for us to perish -- let's not be rash about which one we choose to envision.

Tourney Time, Part Three

Dan Kois wrote an obituary on Slate for the bracketmaster, "the harried, Sharpie-stained guy who organized your office pool, collected the brackets, and handed out the prize money. He gave his heart, his soul, and four to six hours of each day to college basketball. And now he's obsolete."

Not so fast.

It's true that computerized brackets have put a dent in the population of bracketmasters, but I know at least one who soldiers on: my dad. Dad still marks the hundreds of sheets by hand, though that might change in the near future, now that he's significantly less technology-phobic. Seven years ago, he was quoted extensively in a New York Times article about office pools:
When his previous employer moved him from New York to Dallas 12 years ago, he said, "Everyone identified me as the sports fan, and, as many colleagues remained in New York, they wanted to know whether the tradition would be maintained."

They did not have to worry. ...the office pool he organizes around March Madness gives him a chance to renew old contacts.

Before the Final Four games on April 1, Mr. Williams will work out all the possibilities and advise the front-runners of their chances of winning.

So, does he face an emotional letdown when the madness is over? Not really. He and other regulars in the N.C.A.A. pool are already preparing for the draft next month for fantasy, or Rotisserie, baseball.
Seven years later, I'm filling out my NCAA brackets and (very slowly) getting ready for the baseball draft on March 29. The only competition that's even close for my favorite time of year is late August through the baseball playoffs.

Tourney Time, Part Two

(This video has, tragically, been taken down off YouTube. I imagine the parents didn't realize that thousands of people would be watching it and making snarky comments about their son. This is really too bad, as the kid is adorable, and the clip is truly one of the funniest things I've ever seen.)

This, via Deadspin, is the funniest thing I've seen in a while. Honestly, I've watched it a half dozen times now, and I'm laughing harder every time. It's a little boy being told by his mother, a North Carolina fan, that her beloved Tar Heels beat the North Carolina State Wolfpack -- the favorite team of his father, and clearly the kid takes after Dad. I don't know what's funnier/sadder -- trying to determine the odds of this kid making it to his 19th birthday without appearing on COPS, or trying to figure out the very miniscule ways that my reaction will be different from his if and when the Heels are eliminated from the upcoming tournament.

Turn up the volume so you can hear the parents, who are easy to understand. The kid's mostly talking gibberish, but stick around for the end, when he clearly reminds his mother that the Wolfpack "killed the Tar Heels" in a previous game this year, and raises his finger -- I've said this a million times before, but children are hilarious. Enjoy:

Tourney Time, Part One

I've always not-so-secretly wanted to let my sports geek run free around here, despite all my prattling on about songs and movies and books and God and whatnot. And there's no moment like the present to let him out of his cage for a little yard time. Sports certainly won't dominate this site for the next month, but with the NCAA tournament starting and baseball on the horizon, it will be claiming its fair share of the spotlight -- the 30-watt spotlight that is this blog, anyway.

First, I draw your attention to an article on ESPN today about the college hoops oddsmakers:
With less than 40 minutes until the brackets are made public...I was expecting the biting of nails and cigarettes smoked to the filter. Instead, Harper, Seba, Sinisi, O'Brien and White casually jot down stats or notes from their computer screens or shuffle through their stacks of team evaluation sheets. Each oddsmaker has his own system of making the numbers.

"You got to remember," Coach said, "we do this every day. It's pretty dull."
Not to me.

If, like most people, you have no idea how to judge 8-9 and 7-10 games between teams you haven't seen all year, the pointspread isn't the worst place to start your investigation. It's a useful factor to consider in every game, actually -- for instance, fifth-seeded Virginia Tech, which won a few big games, is only a 2 1/2-point favorite over Illinois, one of the last teams to make the cut this year.

If you're like me, your head's about to explode from analyzing the bracket as is. I apologize if this post hastens that explosion.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Commence Madness

It's that time of year, when for at least a couple of days toggling between gossip blogs is usurped as the number-one time-waster at work. The next three days should be spent furiously filling out tournament brackets for as many as pools as you can afford to enter. Looking at the matchups, I'm happy that UNC is a top seed, but significantly less than happy that they might have to play Michigan State, Texas, and Georgetown before getting to the Final Four. Good lord.

I want the Heels with my heart, but here are my initial Final Four predictions from the old noggin: Florida, Kansas, Texas, and Texas A&M.

As always, this is gonna be fun.

Judging a Book By Its Title

Norm Geras links to this article about the competition for Oddest Book Title of the Year. The prize has been awarded since 1978, and past winners include Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978), Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002), and my favorite, Bombproof your Horse (2004).

This year's favorite is probably The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, but Norm has a few thoughts about another contender.

Recent Mascot News

Because I've made my insane fascination with mascots perfectly clear on the blog, and because my friends are very generous, I'm now regularly sent e-mails with links and stories about our costumed brethren. From the long-lost Dezmond, once a commenter of extraordinary, entertaining, and demented regularity, comes word about the Indiana Pacers' mascot being sued:
After taking part in the free-throw contest, the lawsuit states that Jackson began to leave the basketball court but was tackled from behind by the team's mascot, "Boomer," a 6-foot-tall blue cat with gold whiskers.
Then my friend Jason W., the wisest of men, sent me two video links. The first is something I saw on Deadspin a while back and meant to post then. It's only a representation of a mascot, but its quick downfall is quite entertaining. This video begins with all the background you need to enjoy it:

There are echoes of recent history in that clip, so one can only hope that Columbus is not soon torn asunder by civil war.

Finally, Jason also sent along word of the Oakland A's mascot, Stompers, who's evidently quite the dancer. Here he is outside the stadium with some fans:

This link features that video as well as another, more extended and impressive dance at a club. More importantly, though, the story describes Stompers as "getting hyphy" with the fans. So I followed the linked phrase over to the Urban Dictionary, which was worth the time:
Main Entry: hyphy
Pronunciation: "HIGH-fee"
Function: adjective

Etymology: San Francisco Bay Area, shortened perhaps from English dialect "hyperactive"; other sources cite a combination of "hype" and "fly." Popularized by E-40 and the Federation's song "Hyphy" (2004); first known use on record by Keak Da Sneak in 1998 (on "Cool," from his LP Sneakacidle).
1 : dangerous and irrational: CRAZY;
2 : amusingly eccentric; without inhibition: GOOFY
I'd love to know how long it would take after reading that for Samuel Johnson's head to explode from incomprehension. An entry further down on the page offers this slight variation, which I think I prefer: "1. Go stupid, dummy, retarted."

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Fervor and Spectacle and Genes

At this point, it might be wise for me to scrap my long-delayed post about the Andrew Sullivan-Sam Harris religion debate, but introducing wisdom to the blog at this late date seems silly, so I'm going to cart it out sometime before I leave for a week in Texas on Friday morning. In the meantime, PZ Myers over at Pharyngula reacts to a recent New York Times piece about the evolutionary-biology view of religion, and I think his take is a good one. Remember while reading the excerpt below that, while Myers is definitely an enthusiastic atheist, he's not saying (as far as I can tell) that Civil War reenactments have the same degree of meaning as religion does to the larger culture, but just that it has the same likelihood of being an inextricable part of our DNA:
Many people assign a high personal value to religious belief, so they find the idea that it is an accidental by-product objectionable, and embrace the idea that it has some specific purpose ("purposelessness" is a kind of dirty word to a lot of people, for some reason). So let's strip that loaded term "religion" out of the equation, and put in something equivalent that won't have quite the resonance to most of us.

Say, "Civil War reenactments".

It's pretty much the same phenomenon as religion. Groups get together and follow repeated behavioral scripts; they argue in great detail and with great heat over fine points; many have much of their identity tied up in the philosophical underpinnings of the practice; people invest significant amounts of money and time in the practice; and to outsiders, the whole thing looks rather ridiculous, even when we can appreciate the fervor and the spectacle.

And yet, I haven't seen anyone try to argue that Civil War re-enactors must have had a historical selective advantage, or that there must be a Civil War reenactment gene, or that something so costly must have a hard-wired biological basis. We're reasonably comfortable with saying it has a cultural source, that there's a biological substrate that drives people to be social and associate in community activities, but that the specific patterns in which this drive expresses itself, whether it is in parading in wheatfields with old rifles loaded with blanks, or in standing up and sitting down in pews while someone hectors you about hellfire, are not derivable from your genes. Well, actually, some people do try to argue that the latter pattern of religious custom is built into your biology -- I find them about as credible as I would someone who claims the Confederate battle flag is etched onto their cortex.

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The Ultimate Gift

Along with the rest of the staff, I continue picking through the remains of the winter movie season over at Pajiba:
There is no way that mere words on a page (or screen) could properly describe the experience of sitting through this movie — the spiritless acting, the hackneyed script, the unrelenting barrage of insults to one’s intelligence.
At least we sprung forward today. That means there should at least be some decent popcorn spectacles soon, and then some actual good movies again in the fall.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

In Nelson Voice: Ha Ha!

I know this is inviting cosmic retribution when Carolina next takes the court, but insert the sound of my gleeful evil cackle here.


I'll write at greater length about this over on the work blog, but I attended the National Book Critics Circle awards ceremony tonight. John Leonard was given a lifetime achievement award, and delivered a funny, generous, moving speech about the books that have given him something to write about all these years.

Richard Ford was in the room, as was Dave Eggers. I was kind of hoping Cormac McCarthy would be there, but I guess that's a little like hoping Salinger will show up. I could have attended a drinks party afterward for the not-entirely-unreasonable (in New York) price of $45, but I felt like the ceremony -- more entertaining than I had imagined it would be -- was enough. Besides, I had already met Ford a few years back in our offices, where I stopped him to say I was a big fan. He shook my hand, fixed me with eyes that are truly startling (these puppies aren't Photoshopped; he always looks like he's on the verge of turning into the Incredible Hulk, if the Hulk's alter ego was a stylistic chronicler of middle-age wisdom and disappointment), and asked, "What's your name?" That was a good moment.

Tonight, all the winners gave gracious, clever speeches, but my favorite was by the youthful Troy Jollimore (great name), who won the poetry award for his first book, Tom Thomson in Purgatory. He was self-effacing, very funny, and seemed quite the Everyman. I pictured him living with his wife in the attic of his parents' house, maybe writing a column for the local newspaper. Uh, not close. This is from his bio:
Professor Jollimore’s areas of research interest include meta-ethics, normative ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of literature and film. He has taught courses on all of these topics, as well as on epistemology, ancient philosophy, the history of modern philosophy, and biomedical ethics.
Right. Anyway, I told him afterwards that I liked his speech best. He seemed both genuinely appreciative and completely ready to label me nuts, a combination I like.

Inspired by Tonight's TV Watching

One question and one observation.

First, is there anyone out there who thinks Carlos Mencia is funny. If so, why?

Secondly, even given the profound stupidity of TV, I can't believe what NBC is trying with its new Jeff Goldblum series, "Raines." The ad shows him trying to solve murders with the help of the victims. But wait! Before you mention how incredibly similar this sounds to another terrible TV show (or another), you have to listen closely to Goldblum's voiceover during the ad: "They're not ghosts. They're just figments of my imagination." Oh. That's so different. Innovative, even.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Wednesday Song

The middle of the week can be tough for blogging. I'm a working man, and all that. So I think it's time for a new feature, just to keep you regularly fed. Even if it's a Wednesday when I happen to have the time and energy to post a few things, I'll also include a song. We'll start with a real classic. I have no idea where this is from, and you have to forgive it the slightly warped piano sound (it's an old clip), but it's a young Tom Waits singing one of my very, very favorites, "San Diego Serenade." Enjoy:

Wait a second. This is the first time I've ever seen this on YouTube, but it says "embedding disabled by request." Whatever -- you'll just have to follow this link. That's not very difficult, and even if it were, this is worth it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Do Unto Others' Books As You Would Have Them Do Unto Yours

I got a kick out of this essay in the New York Times Book Review about the rough treatment of books. Aside from underlining passages in most of what I read up until I was 26 or so, I've always treated books so gingerly that it borders on the pathological. There have been a few times when people simply didn't believe I had read a book in my library, because it still looked like it had just arrived from the press. I have one friend (hi, SLD) who would borrow books from me, and I would sternly advise her as to how I expected them to be treated while in her care. Despite my clearly (and annoyingly) stated desires, the books often returned with folded pages, marginalia, and contorted spines. I believe one of them had been dropped in the bath. She's a terrific reader in all the ways one can be, so in that case I think my exasperation was also fueled by some sense of inferiority -- that my soft handling of books was part of a deeper problem of not fully wrestling with them. I've become less protective over the years, partly because I think some level of wear and tear is proof of having properly used a book and partly because semi-frequent moves have meant packing and nicking things no matter how hard I tried to avoid it.

I didn't mean to ramble like that. You should read the short essay I linked to above. It includes good stuff like this:
The most rococo act of book abuse is something I have performed only once — and it is a great deal more difficult than countless movies would have one believe. To excavate a hiding place for valuables within the pages of a thick book takes a sharp scalpel, a strong arm and a surprising amount of patience. I had hoped to cut a hole with the exact outline of the object to be hidden — not, sadly, a revolver, but something equally asymmetrical. However, slicing page after page with uniform precision proved beyond me, and all I could manage to gouge was a rather forlorn rectangle.

AP Headline of the Day

Man Brandishing Torch Robs Alaska Bank

Today in Awful Parenting

When I'm trolling through the wires for the AP headlines that keep you entertained -- and thus distracted from the real work I'm doing behind the scenes to achieve global domination -- I often come across incredibly depressing news. This is because, and I hate to be blunt, most people are stupid or evil. Many are both.

I normally spare you the most distressing material, because that's not what I'm all about. My optimism is a real but incredibly fragile and therefore precious thing, like a praying mantis or Mary-Kate Olsen, and I like to protect it as much as possible, which sometimes means consciously not thinking about the aforementioned stupid, evil hordes. But a trio of stories right within inches of each other today screamed out to be noticed. Here is the lead paragraph of each one. I warned you, this isn't uplifting stuff (particularly the last one):
A woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to swinging her 4-week-old son like a bat to hit her boyfriend during a fight, fracturing the infant's skull in the process.

Police say a man repeatedly stabbed his teenage wife, then gave the knife to his toddler son and told him: "Now you stab Mommy."

"I've got her, and you're not going to get her." Beth Johnson heard those words from her ex-husband Monday, shortly before he crashed his rented single-engine plane into his former mother-in-law's southern Indiana home, killing himself and the couple's 8-year-old daughter.
The only consolation in any of those stories was in the second one, when we learn that the toddler refrained from stabbing mommy. Good kid.

Dan Savage has written eloquently about the insanity of believing that having parents of both genders is inherently preferable to being raised by a same-sex couple. He even has a regular feature on The Stranger's blog in which he highlights stories just like those above, pointing out how silly it is to block same-sex couples from adopting in a world where children have to be taken away from so many cave people.

But that's not the point of this post. The point is, I'm not in a position of any power whatsoever, and I know this is a fascistic notion to the core, but doesn't some rudimentary test of parenting skills (or, you know, just non-homicidal impulses) seem like a good idea before we let people breed? Isn't all the inevitable deepening of the coastal shelf bad enough? Can't we try to screen out...well, the three guys mentioned above, for starters?

I got lucky. My parents are awesome, and not just because they've never commanded me to stab someone. I mean, they're awesome even compared to other good parents. But today's headlines remind me of the sentiment expressed by Keanu Reeves' character in Parenthood:
You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car -- hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.

Monday, March 05, 2007

July 24, 1983

As the baseball season approaches, I'm going to post classic moments from time to time, to get us all in the mood. (I might dim the lighting at some point, too, and throw on a Marvin Gaye record. Get ready.)

I'll kick it off with the "pine tar incident," which I was thrilled to find in full, in which George Brett of the Royals has a two-run homer nullified because he used too much pine tar on his bat. It was an insane call, even if it was technically right, because that just never happens. One of the many reasons I like baseball more than football (though I like football, which I have to say partly so that my football-playing friends, of whom I have surprisingly many, won't pulverize me) is the certainty that an unfolding play is going to stand. Yes, balls and strikes are subjective, much like spotting the football after a play is subjective, and I'm fine with both. But every year, there are dozens of exciting plays (many of them touchdowns) called back because of highly subjective decisions by the refs. This is the only really similar moment I can remember in baseball -- it happened nearly a quarter of a century ago, and it almost led Brett to commit homicide, as you'll see.

The clip contains a lot of Proustian details for me, seeing as how I was watching this game (and many others) on TV on Long Island at the time. Yankees manager Billy Martin makes an appearance, as do two great closers -- Rich "Goose" Gossage, who serves up the pitch to Brett, and later, in a cameo milling around the field, Dan "Quiz" Quisenberry, one of those relief pitchers from that era who looked like he could double as a high school physics teacher. (The most obvious other example of this species being Kent Tekulve.) On another anachronistic note, Quisenberry wrote three books of poetry. Sadly, he died in 1998, at 45, of cancer.

I also love the fact that one of the announcers says, "Bobby, let me say this to you. The fact that they tried to take the bat away and secrete the bat lends credence to the umpire's call in my estimation." You don't hear this often, but I miss 1983. Enjoy:


Archive of the Day

These are the lyrics to a song called "The Gulf of Araby" by the Irish singer Katell Keineg. She gets credit for writing it, and her rendition is beautiful, but I would more highly recommend Natalie Merchant's version, which appeared on a live album of hers. It's less spare than Keineg's version, but Merchant's voice is also less melodramatic on the choruses, which makes them even more powerful, in my opinion. When she sings, "two neighbors who are proud of their massacres," you figure this song would have moved people a thousand years ago, and sadly, will probably move them a thousand years from now, if we're still around:
If you could fill a veil with shells
from Klinney's shore
and sweet-talk in a tongue that is no more
If wishful thoughts could bridge
the gulf of Araby between
what is, what is, what is and what can never be

If you could hold the frozen flow
of New Hope Creek
and hide out from the world
they said you might meet
If you could unlearn all the words
that you never wanted heard
If you could stall the southern wind
that's whistling in your ears
you could take what is, what is, what is
to what can never be

One man of 70 whispers, "free at last"
Two neighbors who are proud of their massacres
Three tyrants torn away in a winter's month
Four prisoners framed by a dirty judge
Five burned with tires
Six men still inside
and seven more days
to shake at the great divide
the gulf of Araby

Well, we would plow and part the earth to bring you home
we would harvest every miracle ever known
And if they laid out all the things
that these ten years were to bring
we would gladly give them up
to bring you back to us

There is nothing we would not give
to kiss you and to believe we could take
what is, what is, what is to what can never be

One man of 70 whispers, "not free yet"
Two neighbors who make up knee deep in their dead
Three tyrants grab the reigns in the summer's heat
Four prisoners lost in the fallacy
Five on my life
Six I'm dead inside
and seven more days to shake at the great divide
the gulf of Araby

Don't Ask, Because the Answer is Really, Really Stupid

Watch this clip (after a short ad, of course) of a gay Marine describing his experience telling his fellow soldiers about his sexual orientation: "I told tons of people. Everybody was, just, you know, respectful and just like ordinary."

Oh, this soldier also stepped on a land mine. So why does the military insist that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a useful policy? (Leaving aside sane, mature,'s clearly none of those.) An older military representative is given admittedly short shrift at the end of the clip to explain his side, but what he's saying would seem to be contradicted by the Marine's earlier testimony, not to mention, you know, by common sense and decency.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Irrational About Indiana

Gloriously, it's almost time to fill out the brackets. Will Leitch of Deadspin had a piece in yesterday's New York Times about NCAA tournament pools. It includes this funny/probably useful tip on how to pick the winners, which includes the latest subtitle for this blog, seen above:
Stop watching games. The worst handicapper is one with a human bias. And the most prevalent bias is the fallacy that having watched a team all season confers an advantage. If you’ve been following Indiana all year, you are no longer rational about Indiana — or any of its opponents. And you can’t dispassionately rank Indiana against teams you haven’t seen, either. The trick: ignore basketball altogether. “The best handicappers are people who don’t watch games at all,” Carlin says. “The brain is one of the least effective predictive machines we have.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Listening Advice

The shuffle function is not the way to go if you want variety when listening to iTunes (or your iPod). For some reason, it never quite gets the balance of genres right. It also repeats artists way too often. So here's what you do: Arrange the music alphabetically by song title. Click on any song, sit back, and enjoy.

I have no idea why, but I find myself skipping past tracks far less often using this method.

You're welcome.

Good night.


Recent Viewings

I haven't written much about them, but I've been spending a lot of time watching movies the past couple of weeks. I think the Pajiba gig has gotten me in the habit. In the theater, I've caught Pan's Labyrinth, which I did post about, The Lives of Others (highly recommended) and Music and Lyrics. I wouldn't recommend the latter, but it did serve its purpose on a Saturday night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, with nothing else to do but eat at Pizza Hut beforehand. (Plus, it was the late show and we were the only two people in the theater, which is fun and never happens in New York.) I like Hugh Grant (though I can tell you after seeing this movie that he looks incredibly strange shirtless) and I like Drew Barrymore after the first five minutes of everything she's in, during which time her adorableness doesn't trump her frequent awkwardness as an actor. So it had them going for it. Also, despite the fact that it wasn't particularly funny and the chemistry between the leads was pretty dim, it seemed to understand pop music in a way that I wasn't expecting. Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne wrote some of the original songs, and they're catchy -- only bad in the way that a lot of pop music actually is these days. It's the kind of movie you could fall asleep to at 3 a.m., which I understand is not high praise.

On DVD, I've seen All the Real Girls, Mutual Appreciation, and California Split. The first was written and directed by David Gordon Green, and I liked his debut, George Washington, several years ago. (It wasn't about the president. At all.) Girls is about two North Carolinians falling in love, one a virgin and the other the small town's Lothario. The leads are good, and Green has a great eye, but I did think it lost a lot of its power after the central relationship hits a bump in the road. Also, as much as I mostly enjoyed it, it's hard to disagree with a commenter on IMDb who argues that Green's work often comes off as "Hallmark cards for rural retards." Fair enough.

Mutual Appreciation is the second effort from Andrew Bujalski, the writer and director of Funny Ha Ha, which I briefly wrote about here. He's been compared to John Cassavetes, which should give you a good idea of whether you'd love or hate him. Both of his movies had a funny way of producing a mixed reaction in me up until the last 15 minutes or so, when I found myself responding to the unlikely emotional crescendos he orchestrates. Appreciation might have been a bit tougher for me to (forgive me) appreciate as cinema vérité because what it's being vérité about is a species of aimless, self-involved Brooklyn hipster all too common in my life. Hell, if you had handed me a camera, I could have gotten you this raw footage in a week or two. My complicated, self-loathing feelings about where I am and what I'm doing aside, I'd recommend the movie.

California Split, from 1974, was directed by Robert Altman, and stars George Segal and Elliott Gould as two gamblers who meet up and eventually turn their luck around. I liked it quite a bit, but since I a) popped it out of the computer about 15 minutes ago, and b) eventually want to write about it for another, longer project, I'll move on.

I'm a bit long-winded, but this will probably be the last post for a couple of days, so I suppose that's OK. (Ed. Note: It will be the penultimate post. I just thought of a brief, lame thought that I'll post next.) Last but not least, I got to a Broadway show, Translations, set in the 19th century in an Ireland village, about English efforts to properly map (and rename) the country's places. I found it moving despite a few flaws. But let's cut to the chase: Sitting a few rows in front of us were Rachel Weisz and her husband, director Darren Aronofsky. Weisz was stunning in a way that bordered on otherworldly. She was dressed down, but there was something about her face that was out of a fairy tale.

Aronofsky looked schlubby. Ain't that always the way.

If You've Seen It Once...

The ever-watchful Comish sent me an article today that isn't from the AP (it's from Lodi, California) and doesn't have a great headline, but it has one hell of a lede:
A jazz musician was injured Friday after jumping from a burning motor home driven by a one-time roller skating stripper from Lodi.

AP Headline and Story of the Day

Swiss Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein

The story's great, too, so I have to provide a couple of excerpts:
ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) -- What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.

According to Swiss daily Blick, the 170 infantry soldiers wandered 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across an unmarked border into the tiny principality early Thursday before realizing their mistake and turning back.

Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.
(A belated tip of the cap to PF for passing this one along.)

Wild Hogs

My latest for Pajiba, or, Telling You to Avoid Something You'd Probably Never See Anyway:
If you’ve given up hope on the human project, Wild Hogs is the movie for you...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Britney and Uncle Jimmy

Forget Overheard in New York. How about Overheard in Michigan? This is priceless.

American Music

Along with a handful of friends, I've been having a roundtable e-mail discussion about the best and most influential American rock bands. It's not a pretty picture. I think of the group, I'm the least concerned with a band's influence as a factor in judging their greatness, but giving it weight rightfully leads to a lot of talk about the Velvet Underground and Talking Heads and Big Star.

What initially astonished me was just how dominant the UK was in producing great/influential bands. The big three -- the Beatles, the Stones, the Who -- are obvious, but just behind them is a virtual avalanche: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Police, U2, The Kinks, The Cure, Fleetwood Mac, The Smiths, Radiohead, etc. It's an incredibly impressive list, all the more so when you turn your attention to American bands. In my unsurprising opinion, the hands-down winner is REM, but I do say that with a straight face as well as a full heart. Despite some evidence to the contrary over the years, I can separate my personal opinions (I really like Journey's Greatest Hits) from more objective considerations (Journey is decidedly not one of the greatest or most influential American bands).

So, there's REM. And in my opinion, Uncle Tupelo's four very good records, and their unique blending of punk and country, and their influence on a great many bands that followed make them a solid choice. But when you go back to the most fertile time in rock, when many of the aforementioned Brits were storming our shores, we were a sad bunch. My friends are throwing around names like The Doors and The Byrds and CCR, all bands that had some very fine moments, but come on. No one seems to be as dispirited as I am by the names we're coming up with. Also mentioned: The Beach Boys, the Allman Brothers, the Ramones. And of course, we've mentioned some more recent bands, like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the Beastie Boys.

I got less depressed about my nationality, though, when I realized two things: 1) The great music that gave birth to rock was definitely ours: Louis, Stevie, Aretha, on and on. And 2) when you move the focus from bands to individual artists, the U.S. starts redressing the balance. Yes, there's Elvis Costello and Van Morrison (and surely more that I'm forgetting), but they're up against Dylan, Springsteen, Paul Simon, Prince. This might say something about American individualism, but I'll spare all of us an amateurish unpacking.

Anyone care to defend another American band, or any of those listed above?

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