Friday, June 26, 2009

Please Help

I really hope someone can help me with this, because it is driving me insane. I've become a big Kinks fan over the past couple of years, and I recently started playing "Days" a lot. Great song. But I feel almost certain that I know it from somewhere else. The only covers mentioned prominently online are by Elvis Costello and Kirsty MacColl, and those aren't the answer.

My brain is hurting because of this. If you know of any place I may have heard it -- Maybe as part of another live song by someone else, threaded in? Or maybe a cover that's more obscure, though I doubt it? -- please let me know.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

King O' Pop, 1958-2009

When I was 11 years old, I was preparing to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church on Long Island. I vividly remember wearing to my confirmation lessons, on more than one occasion, a more or less homemade T-shirt -- white with red rings around the sleeves and collar, and an ironed-on image of the Thriller cover smack dab in the middle of the chest. You have no idea how proud I was of this shirt, or how cool I thought it made me.

It would be another 15 years or so before I would fully appreciate Off the Wall, Michael Jackson’s previous album, or some of the best Jackson 5 material, like “ABC” and “The Love You Save.” In the mid-'80s, it was enough to know Thriller, and that every new Jackson video was an event. While artists like Hall & Oates were releasing videos filmed in someone’s basement -- with a black sheet pinned up in the background for some sad stab at formality or professionalism -- Jackson was churning out montages of him dancing up a storm in 24-hour diners and pool halls and on electric sidewalks and in zombie-filled graveyards. He still holds the record for Most Rousing Blatantly Lip-Synched Performance, his “Billie Jean” during the Motown anniversary event. I still vividly recall watching it at the time and realizing with a rush that this was superstardom.

Of course, Jackson spent almost every minute of the years after that proving why superstardom might not be the healthiest state of existence. It was like he set out to take the Freak Show Crown from Howard Hughes and didn’t know when to stop. One minute he was a charismatic showman, and the next he couldn’t appear in public unless he was dancing with an umbrella and a penguin on top of a limo while wearing a hazmat suit. Because of his obvious fragility -- mental, emotional, physical, you name it -- I’ve been saying for years that he seemed doomed to an early death. It’s almost weird that he made it all the way to 50. In ways that were both cultivated and tragically ingrained, he seemed more and more childish as he aged. It was impossible to imagine him as an old man.

Just today, I was walking up Broadway with a friend of mine, near Union Square. A store promoting New Jersey getaways (don’t laugh; there are nice beaches there) had hired two people to stand outside and hand out flyers. One of them was an orange-hued woman with long legs balanced on roller skates, wearing a tank top and short shorts. The other was a man dressed as Michael Jackson -- black hat, curly hair spilling out of it, black mask over his nose and mouth, buckles running up the length of his black pants. Jackson looked that way and acted so strangely for so long that we’re also doomed . . . to remember him that way. But he was a cute kid. And a hell of a talent before he seemingly lost his mind. His life turned into a cautionary tale -- or not even that, since who needs to be cautioned not to sell hundreds of millions of records, turn their house into an amusement park and start dancing with penguins? No, it turned into a grand oddity. One that held little pleasure for his fans and not much peace for him.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do Not Deny Me

A Home So Much Better

For Wednesday, here's a curiosity. It's the Happy Goodmans singing "I Don't Want to Get Adjusted." I'm posting it mostly to recommend a version of this same song by Iris DeMent. She sings it in her lovely, sad way, which makes the lines "I've got a home so much better / I'm gonna go there sooner or later / and I don't wanna get adjusted to this world" more complex and moving. The Goodmans, by contrast, well, I'll just let you see and hear for yourself. Enjoy:

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A Puzzle

The Wednesday song will be posted in a little while. For now, a Wednesday puzzle. (This will not be a weekly feature.) Here's the question:

At a party with 100 guests, everyone shakes hands with everyone else. How many handshakes take place?

The answer can be found at the bottom of this column. I'm happy to say that I got it right, though of course I have no way of proving that.

(Via Norm Geras)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I think I may have found the perfect 12-word summary of the 21st century. It came in the form of a sub-headline on Yahoo. Here it is:
Jon and Kate Gosselin say their show will continue despite their separation.
(P.S.: Over at Pajiba, Dustin efficiently dismantles the couple's ridiculous justifications.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Commencement Speech Nation

It will take someone smarter than me -- or at least someone more interested in making faux-profound statements about cultural trends -- to figure out why commencement speeches are all the rage, but they are.

The precursor to all this seems to have been the speech falsely attributed to Kurt Vonnegut that made the rounds back in the late '90s. Then Conan O'Brien's 2000 address at Harvard got passed around on the web. (It included many great lines, including: "I wrote a thesis: Literary Progeria in the works of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. Let's just say that, during my discussions with Pauly Shore, it doesn't come up much.") And now in stores, in addition to the book of David Foster Wallace's commencement address (more on that at another time, possibly), there's a book based on a talk to grads by Ann Patchett.

So before this one picks up an unstoppable head of steam, I thought I'd share it: It's Paul Tudor Jones, a billionaire and philanthropist, addressing a group of ninth-graders earlier this month. (Let's not get started on ninth-graders having a graduation ceremony. Barack Obama addressed this kind of thing on the campaign trail, and I think he said something like, paraphrasing, "Great, you finished ninth grade. Now go get ready for 10th.") Anyway, Jones' approach still makes for a fun read, and it does seem possible that pitching these speeches to younger students makes them more useful and universal somehow (the speeches, not the students). This one takes failure as its subject, and here it is:

Paul Tudor Jones - Failure Speech June 2009

(Via The Browser)

Diamond-Inspired Design

Thanks to my friend Miles, I discovered Flip Flop Fly Ball, a site that combines "a love of baseball plus a love of infographics." Two examples of the beautiful work there below. Click to enlarge:


How the Desk Felt

My mother recently dug up this incredibly brief piece of writing that I did in school soon after turning 9 years old. To anyone who knows my habit of alphabetizing CDs or rearranging books or doing the dishes as if my life depended on not missing a spot, this will be particularly funny. I suppose we were assigned to write something from the perspective of an inanimate object. I give you "How My Desk Would Feel." Enjoy:
Hi, I’m John’s desk and I feel great. Everything’s in place and everything’s neat. I like desk’s [sic] like that, clean and neat. I’ve been a desk for 7 years and not once have I seen a neater desk than John’s. Every morning I don’t like when John puts books on me. When John gets back from lunch he usually kicks me or hits me a couple of times but I know he doesn’t mean it, he doesn’t even know I’m alive.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Stars at Night . . .

My friend Matt, aka "The Comish," sent me this video, saying it was the kind of thing I might post on my blog. Indeed it is. This is a time-lapse video of a star-watching party, apparently held in Texas. Watch till the end. And have a good weekend.

A Fascinating Life

Over at The Second Pass, Maud Newton reviews a new biography of Jean Rhys:
The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys, a brief biography by Lilian Pizzichini, reads more like a novel than a nonfiction study, and this is no accident. A foreword characterizes the book as “an attempt to recapture her life.” Passages from Rhys’ unfinished autobiography, Smile, Please, are liberally quoted and paraphrased. Conjecture as to her emotional state abounds. At times the clumsy armchair psychoanalysis weighs down the story, giving it the exaggerated sentimentality and cheap pathos of a romance novel, but the material itself is inherently fascinating.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Sudden Change

I don't only wonder about traffic jams. I also wonder about language. In the article linked to in the post below, we find the following quote:
"You're stuck in traffic until all of the sudden it just clears," says Morris.
Forgive me if I've brought this up before, because I stopped checking such things a while back. But: Huh? I've known a few of my friends to use "all of the sudden." And there's no real pattern: Northerners, southerners, etc.

The proper phrase has always been "all of a sudden." I guess if "the sudden" keeps catching on, it might battle for supremacy. I have no idea where it came from, though.

Jam On It

Just a few weeks ago, driving home on the Jersey Turnpike, also known as Satan's Roadway, I got stuck in a traffic jam. It lasted for a while, and when it finally broke up, it was clear that there was no accident or construction to blame. It just . . . happened. And in my best observational stand-up comedian accent, I turned to my fellow travelers and asked, "What is the deal with traffic jams like that one?"

Now I know. Sort of:
Key to the new study is the realization that the mathematics of such jams, which the researchers call “jamitons,” are strikingly similar to the equations that describe detonation waves produced by explosions, said Aslan Kasimov, lecturer in MITs Department of Mathematics.
Hmm. Tell me more:
These phantom jams can form when there is a heavy volume of cars on the road. In that high density of traffic, small disturbances (a driver hitting the brake too hard, or getting too close to another car) can quickly become amplified into a full-blown, self-sustaining traffic jam. A team of MIT mathematicians has developed a model that describes how and under what conditions such jams form, which could help road designers minimize the odds of their formation.
Nice to know that an end to this long national nightmare might be in sight.

(Via The Browser)


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Take What Is to What Can Never Be

I posted Natalie Merchant's version of this song before, but for Wednesday here's the original. This is "Gulf of Araby" by Katell Keinig. Her vocals on the recorded version are a little too theatrically sensitive, but I think this live version is mostly lovely and controlled. You'll want to skip past the fluffy intro by Glen Hansard. Go to the 1:10 mark or so and you're pretty safe. Enjoy:


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tell Me When This Stops Shocking You

Here's the deal: Just about anyone who's anyone in baseball over the past 15 years (at least) has played dirty. In a piece written by someone named, of all things, Mike Schmidt, the Times reveals that Sammy Sosa tested positive for something in 2003.

His name was on the same list as A-Rod's, and it was a list of 104 names. That's an average of more than three players per team. On one test. This is why I have a hard time getting worked up about the players' guilt, have an easier time getting worked up about the ineffectiveness of Commissioner Selig and his cohorts, and think the entire idea of banning someone like Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds from the Hall of Fame is totally absurd. (If you want to keep McGwire out, do it because he was a one-dimensional, career-.263 hitter, not because of the 'roids.)

The Co-Opted Candidate

While watching and reading coverage of the extraordinary events in Iran, I've been wondering just how reformist a candidate Mousavi could possibly be, figuring the answer is something like "not terribly much." That's why I found this post by Matt Steinglass of interest (all emphasis mine):
Iran has an electoral system that is similar in some respects to China’s or Vietnam’s. Elections are held periodically, but the lists of candidates are carefully vetted by the real controlling power structure — in Vietnam or China’s case, the Communist Party; in Iran’s case, the clergy — to ensure ideological compliance and loyalty. Mousavi passed through this system of ideological control; he’s no radical reformer. But what’s happened is that simply by representing an alternative, Mousavi became a vehicle for the expression of the hopes of people who are far more radical in their reformist hopes than anyone in the dominant power structure. Even though the players in the Iranian elections were all screened for their personal views, the simple fact of an election became a forum in which radical and unacceptable political views could express themselves and ultimately co-opt one of the candidates.
This is what makes me think the situation is as revolutionary as it appears -- it's not that the people are fighting so hard only because of a specific candidate; some significant portion seem to be fighting hard for themselves, with the candidate as an excuse.

On the New Yorker's web site, Laura Secor addresses a possible Mousavi reign:
Who knows what sort of president Mousavi would have been, or could yet be? He is an entirely different kind of animal from reformist politicians of the past; he is identified not with students and intellectuals but with the hardscrabble war years and the defense of the poor. But as one analyst explained to me, the problem he faces is that he is perhaps the only person on the Iranian political scene whose public stature is equal to Khamenei’s. He was a favorite son of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the nineteen-eighties. Many Khomeinists in the power structure respect and support him; within the Revolutionary Guards, as well as within the upper clergy, he has a constituency. Traditional, religious people are among his supporters, too. On the morning of June 12th, he may have been the uncharismatic compromise candidate for the anyone-but-Ahmadinejad crowd. But to other voters he was then, and he has increasingly become, something else: the vehicle both for the memory of the utopia that never came, and for the hopes of a younger generation that imagines he shares its vision of the future.
Again, that sounds like what the people are calling for and what Mousavi represents are only partially aligned. But as Secor writes earlier in the same piece:
Many of the protesters of recent days are not calling for an end to the Islamic Republic. They are calling for their votes to be counted. More nights like last night, however, when some seven protesters were allegedly shot, could swiftly change that.
(Both posts via, who else?)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Finally the Tables Are Starting to Turn

This past weekend, Andrew Sullivan was all over the fallout of the Iranian election. By my count, he had 60 posts about it on Saturday alone. (This was in addition to posts about other subjects.) The posts varied in length and substance, of course, but the sheer volume and scope of them (many featured the thoughts of readers in Iran) was pretty stunning. He's kept it up since. There was something particularly striking about his output on Saturday because the weekend, in traditional media, is not a strenuous time. One of Sullivan’s readers wrote in to say:
I turned on CNN, and they were going three rounds about some idiot Republican operative in South Carolina who called Michelle Obama an ape. Nothing on Iran.

MSNBC was in the middle of one of its hour-long crime documentaries.

FNC was showing a pre-taped piece on Bernie Madoff.

And I realize that it's the weekend and they usually take the weekend off, but over at NRO [National Review’s blog], the only thing they've managed to post about Iran today is a link to Daniel Pipes' piece cheering on an Ahmadinejad victory because otherwise his dream of a massive Israeli air assault would be dashed. That's it...a staff of 10+ regular bloggers, and all they can come up with in the midst of an Iranian revolution is a single piece cheering for the status quo?
Any thinking person knows that cable news has been a wasteland for years, but it does seem that an event like the one happening now in Iran exposes new information about the media. It's not that all traditional outlets are asleep at the wheel (Sullivan praised the New York Times -- well, The Lede, a Times blog). But a lot of them are. And even the ones that aren't strain or fail to incorporate the technology that makes continual updates from the ground in Tehran so captivating (and informative).

On a related note, there's a terrific collection of photos from the story here. The one thing that struck me hardest, given the important issue of liberating Middle Eastern women, was a visual gender divide. In several of the pictures featuring protesters, there are clearly visible women, some of them, admirably, pretty old to be takin' it to the streets.

In contrast, the caption of the photo below, taken by Damir Sagolj for Reuters, reads: “Supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wave Iranian and religious flags during a victory celebration in central Tehran June 14, 2009.” A question: Do you see many women in this photo? Do you see a single woman in this photo? I don’t. (Click to enlarge.)

Simmons Talks NBA

The New Yorker's web site recently posted a good interview with Bill Simmons, ESPN's "Sports Guy." It covers the NBA's statistical revolution, lessons from this year's playoffs, the effect of no college on the basketball and social skills of current players, and Simmons' forthcoming book, which promises to be an entertaining doorstop:
I try to answer every question you ever had about the league -- which guys mattered (and didn’t), which teams mattered (and didn’t), how the league came to be, what were the big misconceptions about the past six decades, what were the great “What ifs,” etc. etc. -- and most important, if there’s a common thread that ties these questions together and makes the sport easier to understand and evaluate. In my opinion, there is. It’s a secret that I learned at a topless pool in Las Vegas from an NBA Hall of Famer. That’s all I will say. (How that’s for a teaser?) I guess the heart of the book is me figuring out the best 100 players ever and ranking them, but I didn’t do it in some arbitrary way, I did it in a way that makes sense and ties into the rest of the book.

An Essay and Toys

I just published on The Second Pass a terrific essay about the love of movies by Andy Miller, a British writer I admire a great deal. Go read it. It's illustrated by a photo of Lego Star Wars stormtroopers by Mike Stimpson. The shot is just one of a larger, brilliant set by Stimpson. Check these out (the American Beauty homage is too good):

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sports Memo

Just three sports notes before I forget. (If you don’t care about sports, skip to the funny Daily Show clip in the post below this one.)

1) Terrible loss for the Orlando Magic last night. Die-hard Magic fans -- if any existed -- would have to be heartbroken. I like this Orlando team. They keep the floor pretty wide open, shoot lots of jumpers, don’t depend on just muscling to the hoop and getting foul calls, etc. But there’s no question that this is more an issue of rooting against L.A. When I was a kid, it was Boston-L.A. in the finals seemingly every year. And I was an L.A. fan (on Long Island). I liked Magic, Byron Scott, James Worthy. But I couldn’t hate this current Lakers team more. Kobe is insufferable for all the obvious reasons. And for some reason, I have come to loathe Pau Gasol. He’s just ugly to watch on every level, I don’t care how effective he is. And he and Lamar Odom put on a three-act play of disgruntlement every time they’re called for a foul, no matter how obvious.

Last night was just an inexcusable collapse by Orlando, missing tons of free throws down the stretch, and inexplicably letting Fisher get an open look at a three-pointer down by three with four seconds left! When are teams going to learn to foul before the team can shoot the three?? This is infuriating.

2) I’ll always be a Yankees fan first and foremost, but I do like to see that the Texas Rangers are having a good year. Last night, they won 1-0. I was immediately struck by that score. Anyone familiar with baseball in Arlington knows that the average game is something like five hours long with a final score of 9-7. Rangers pitching usually stinks, the team's bats are normally potent, and the stadium plays like a shoebox. But I didn’t realize how rare last night was. Turns out, it was the fourth time the Rangers had won a home game 1-0 in sixteen years.

3) I got to the Mets’ new stadium earlier this week for the first time. (Forgot to bring my camera, like an idiot.) I met three others there about an hour before the first pitch so we could walk around. We all mentioned how pitcher-friendly the dimensions seemed, like 415 feet to right-center. We proceeded to watch the teams combine for seven home runs. It was a well-played back-and-forth game, and the number of Phillies fans who made the trip provided an extra intensity. The sight lines from our seats in upper right field were nothing to write home about -- a significant chunk of the right-field corner was invisible to us, and if the people a row in front leaned forward at all, the line between the mound and the plate was obscured. But otherwise, a vast aesthetic improvement over Shea (not tough to do, granted), and I look forward to going back.

"This dyin' trade is all he knows."

The Daily Show visited the New York Times. Results below. I don't think it can be put more succinctly than how Andrew Sullivan put it: "Good God, what was Keller thinking?" But, not to spoil all the fun, there is something to the idea that the Huffington Post doesn't have a Baghdad bureau.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
End Times
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

Thursday, June 11, 2009

AP Headline of the Day

Convict Stages Son's Bar Mitzvah in NYC Jail

In a Ballpark Far, Far Away

My friend PF passed this along. Has to be a strong candidate for Photo of the Year:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My God! What Have I Done?

For Wednesday, Talking Heads -- and their elastic leader David Byrne -- doing "Once In A Lifetime." Enjoy:


Editor Colbert

The Stephen Colbert-edited Newsweek is on stands, and if the comedian's hilarious editor's letter is any indication of the issue's quality, I'll have to pick it up. Andrew Sullivan asked today, "Why are the comedians the only ones with the balls large enough to make sense?" (You should also watch the funny Colbert clip he links to.) Here's a piece of Colbert's letter, which is brief and should be read in its entirety:
I took advantage of my powerful new perch and published all my letters to the editor that NEWSWEEK had rejected, provided my Conventional Wisdom, took a red pencil to Meacham's editorial foofaraw and took the bias out of the columnist bios. Most important, I sent NEWSWEEK's reporters to find out whatever happened to Iraq. Unfortunately, this meant cutting the cover story they had planned: "Hey, Have You Heard About This Thing Called 'Twitter?' "

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


QuizLaw has been running a series of bad lawyer ads. These are very much worth your time, in ascending order of craziness: One, two, three. (I guess the order of the last two is debatable. Style craziness goes to the middle guy. But for content, I'll take the third.) . . . Andrew Sullivan pointed out the online magazine Obit, devoted, of course, to people’s passing, and including things like a weekly roundup of notable deaths. . . . An appreciation of the great Richard Pryor. . . . To mark Conan O’Brien’s start at The Tonight Show, The New Republic posts five of his best politically inspired moments. . . . Doug Martsch briefly talks to Pitchfork about the upcoming Built to Spill record. (“There might be some things that were influenced by soul music, but it all just sounds like Built to Spill guitar music.”) . . . Question of the day: If you needed a heart, would you take a murderer’s?

Monday, June 08, 2009

"Don't forget to follow your dreams, unless your dreams are stupid."

My comedian friend Eugene Mirman recently gave a commencement speech at his old high school. I fully expect this class to be fully unemployed for decades to come. No, seriously, Eugene gives them lots of good advice, especially about Ayn Rand.

(Via Bill)

Friday, June 05, 2009


If you're interested in commenting on how my crystal ball might need a new set of batteries, please do in the original post below, where a conversation might break out about just how bad Orlando looked tonight, just how good Kobe looked tonight, and whether or not this completely dashes any hopes the Magic have of pulling this off.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Believing in Magic

Pardon the headline, which probably appeared in about 800 Florida newspapers this morning.

I think the Orlando Magic are going to win this series. I hope they win, but I also think they will.

I heard a preview of the series this morning on the one sports-talk radio show I can stand. The hosts talked about wanting Orlando to win but not believing they can, making several arguments along the lines of “no one expected them to be here,” and “they don’t have the same level of talent,” and “Kobe has a lot to prove, wants to win a championship without Shaq, and will simply will the Lakers to the title.”

My preview will be a quick response to each of these arguments:

It’s true that Orlando wasn’t the most popular choice to be in the finals, but I like to reserve the phrase “no one expected them to be here” for teams that no one expected to be somewhere. For instance, if the Philadelphia 76ers had made this year’s finals? Then the phrase would apply. But the Magic won 59 games this year, only six less than the Lakers and five more than any team other than L.A. in the deep West. Fifty-nine wins is a great year. Since 1999, only six teams have won more than 61 in a season.

Talent. Here’s where I strongly disagree, because of both talent and match-up -- the latter of which, as the Cavs could tell you, counts for a lot. Dwight Howard is a monster. The Lakers don’t have anyone down low who can dominate like he can. They’ll have their hands full. And while the Magic don’t have much more than him inside, they have a lot outside -- and, even more importantly, it’s big. Rashard Lewis is 6-10. So is Hedo Turkoglu. Mickael Pietrus (I love watching him play) is 6-6. Courtney Lee is 6-5. All of those guys can kill you from the outside. Who’s 6-1 Derek Fisher going to guard? I think the Lakers’ formidable size -- Bynum, Gasol, Odom -- isn’t built to handle the multiple-threat perimeter game of the Magic, especially when they have to devote resources to Howard in the paint. The radio guys also mentioned being scared by teams that live or die by the three-pointer. It’s true that can be dangerous, but much more so if you depend on just one or two guys who could get cold. The Magic have five or six guys out there, and there’s no reason they can’t just ride whoever is hot. It might be everybody, as it seemed to be against the Cavs. The Magic went 2-0 against the Lakers in the regular season. And if not for LeBron’s miracle shot in Game 2 of the conference finals, they would have swept the 66-win Cavs. And there wasn’t a moment in that series where I thought Orlando was in trouble. Not a moment.

The last story line is the one that will be milked most by the media: Kobe’s quest to add a ring without Shaq’s help. Kobe is a tremendous player, but what I find mystifying is this argument that he will simply not allow the Lakers to lose the series because of what’s at stake for his legacy. Was he not concerned about that when the Lakers lost to Boston last year in six? Win or lose, the story will be crammed into a Kobe-shaped hole, but it will take more than Kobe for L.A. to win this.

I say Magic in six. I’ve been wrong before.

A Plug

Over at The Second Pass, I review Colm Tóibín's new novel:
It’s a small miracle — and a happy one — that Colm Tóibín named a novel Brooklyn before one of the countless young writers who have colonized the borough over the past decade. (Actually, it was a photo finish. Joanna Smith Rakoff had been calling her novel Brooklyn, but changed it to A Fortunate Age after Tóibín planted his flag.) So instead of the story we may have gotten — and have gotten, with different titles — about pharmaceutical-induced contentment, precocious magical realism or a group photo of millennial ennui, Tóibín reclaims the borough from the hipsters and gives it back to the aspiring immigrants.

Mixed Nuts

I'm a Pixar fan, as you know. (This post is not about Pixar or movies. It's about crazy New Yorkers, but bear with this preface, please.) Last night, I tried to see Up. An afternoon attempt last weekend failed, because it was sold out. I figured a late weeknight at Union Square would be pretty safe. But the 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30 shows were sold out. So I went to the Strand for a minute or two instead, and on my way out I picked up the latest Brooklyn Rail, a local alternative paper about arts and politics, for something to read on the train home.

One of the articles was a "person on the street" piece about Mayor Bloomberg seeking a third term. It opens with a monologue by Efrain Irrizarry, who was met selling anti-Bloomberg T-shirts outside Yankee Stadium. I'll let Efrain take it from here. (For the record, Bloomberg has two daughters, named Georgina and Emma.)
"Just make him stop speakin’ Spanish. That’s all I’m sayin’. We can’t go on like this son. Wit’ this guy speakin’ Spanish everyday in his press conferences man. Givin’ directions about Swine Flu in Spanish. C’mon man. That shit is dangerous. Confusin’ people son. You got kids showin’ up at school when it’s closed, stayin’ home when it’s open. . . . He can’t even read Spanish out loud from a scrip. The paper said he’s been wit’ a private tutor since he got elected. A private tutor for seven years and he can’t even read Spanish out loud. It said the tutor’s Colombian. I think Bloomberg needs to check that guy’s passport. The dude might be a Russian tryin’ to catch a fast buck. He’s teachin’ Bloomberg Russian. . . . And now the richest man in New York City can’t read. It’s gotta stop. I can’t listen to it any more. That shit is torture. Forget water-boarding. Bloomberg speakin’ Spanish. That’s torture. . . . Just spit on his name. That’s all he cares about anyway. He loves his name. He named his kids Bloomberg. . . . First name. Right. That’s what I’m sayin’. Middle name too. The kid’s name is Bloomberg Bloomberg Bloomberg. Both kids man. They all live up in a big house in Manhattan. On the top floor it’s Mike Bloomberg, then on the third floor it’s Bloomberg Bloomberg Bloomberg, on the second floor it’s the other Bloomberg Bloomberg Bloomberg, on the ground floor it’s the butlers and the maids, and then in the basement it’s Giuliani and Bush. And the Spanish tutor. The Russian Spanish tutor lives in the basement too. They all just sit around countin’ money, and watchin’ water-boarding DVDs."
I think there should be a law that requires that guy to be a source in every piece of journalism published. As the piece goes on to quote other people at length, it turns into a kind of taxonomy of New Yorkers. Here's a much more irritating type.
Later that afternoon, in Lower Manhattan, bartender Sarah Reilly, 39, expresses similar concerns regarding the upcoming four years. "The city just feels lame," she explains as she fills a pint glass. "I guess it’s just gonna get lamer. I’ve been here since I was seventeen, and I’ve never seen it so boring. Half the girls in my band left three years ago. We were called Super Chic. We rocked. We used to rehearse at the drummer’s apartment in Bushwick. Her name was Luanne. But then these yuppies bought the building next door and started calling 311 every time we rehearsed. They said we were making too much noise. What are we supposed to do, whisper?"
Yes, I'm sure the band was awesome. A profound loss for the city. Come back, Luanne -- come back! And Sarah, don’t think of not making a terrible racket as whispering. Think of it as respecting your neighbors.

Anyway, between Efrain and Sarah you get a sense of the best and worst of this place.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Man Who Gets Drunk Next to You

I found The Proclaimers annoying until I realized it was their song ("Over and Done With") brilliantly used in Bottle Rocket, when Dignan steals the white car. I still only know about two and a half of their songs, but now I have a soft spot for 'em. For Wednesday, this is them opening a set in Edinburgh with "500 Miles." The size and enthusiasm of the crowd was a factor in choosing this. It's kind of dreary here today, and this is a spirit-lifter. Enjoy:



In the annals of great surname combining, this has to be one of the best.

Taking Sonia Seriously

Last time I posted about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, I ruffled some feathers. That wasn't my intention. I still think that when she said her background would allow her to reach a "better" decision than a white male, she misspoke (I hope). A "different" decision would have made more sense, though it still wouldn't have been the most strictly logical thing anyone has ever said. But it was one line from one speech, with a kernel of truth somewhere in it, and I don't consider it a case against her at all. I tend to have a lot of respect for Supreme Court justices, and that cuts across ideological lines. I thought Roberts and Alito deserved confirmation, given all the facts on the table. The president gets to nominate the justices, that's the rule, and I think reflexively battling every nomination based on affiliation just perpetuates the ugly process and ends up hurting "your" president's picks down the road. (Harriet Miers was a different case, of course; one of the times when Bush truly lived up -- or down -- to his caricature. "Hey, there's a friendly lady down the hall. Why not?" Harry Reid also supported the Miers nomination, which is no great surprise. If Reid were president, satirists wouldn't have time for any other targets.)

In this week's New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin addresses the Sotomayor nomination in a brief piece, which starts:
In making nominations to the Supreme Court, Presidents care about diversity, which is a relatively new term for an idea that is nearly as old as the Court itself. In the early days of the republic, when regional disputes were the foremost conflict of the era, nominees were generally defined by their home turfs. So Presidents came to honor an informal tradition of preserving a New England seat, a Virginia seat, a Pennsylvania seat, and a New York seat on the Court. In the nineteenth century, as a torrent of European immigrants transformed American society, religious differences took on a new significance, and Presidents used Supreme Court appointments to recognize the new arrivals’ growing power. In 1836, Andrew Jackson made Roger B. Taney the first occupant of what became known as the Catholic seat on the Court, and that tradition carried forward intermittently for more than a century, with Edward White, Joseph McKenna, Pierce Butler, Frank Murphy, and William J. Brennan, Jr., occupying the chair. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis D. Brandeis, establishing the Jewish seat, which later went, with brief overlapping periods, to Benjamin N. Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, and Abe Fortas.
I think the Supreme Court -- especially compared to the elected branches of government -- is intellectually serious, and that the effort to paint its potential justices into an ideological corner is normally futile. There are enough signs that Sotomayor isn't an easily pigeonholed judge. (Toobin: "...she rejected claims by an abortion-rights group that the Bush Administration had violated the First Amendment by withholding aid from foreign groups that promote abortion.") We'll see if her nomination hearings unearth anything worth giving real pause.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Angry Gorillas and Democratic Fame

Andrew O’Hagan begins a recent short piece in the London Review of Books with this:
Was there a time when people didn’t know what other people were thinking? I can vouch for the fact that there was: it lasted, roughly speaking, from the dawn of man until the launch of YouTube.
He goes on to make a few good points, but I think he contradicts his final argument. Comparing it to traditional TV, which still sets its programming from the top down, O’Hagan makes the obvious point that YouTube puts the means of production in the hands of a much greater number of people. He then lists a few talents who have used clips on YouTube to gain some kind of traction for a career. Then near the end, he writes:
And that’s the golden ticket: from YouTube fame to ‘mainstream success’. There are plenty of goofs on YouTube getting hundreds of thousands of hits for doing variably talented stuff, but the big league is still the big league. . . . The only people making money out of [YouTube’s] success are the three billionaire clever-clogs who invented it, but it would be nice, in a No Logo kind of way, to imagine that YouTube might represent a democratisation of the fame process. But I doubt it does.
Wait a second. He was the one who had just listed people who became recognized for their work through YouTube. And then there are people like Susan Boyle, who became a star through TV, but became a mammoth star (and will presumably earn a lot more money) because of YouTube. The fact that it makes the fame process more democratic seems beyond dispute.

The truly terrible or talentless on YouTube send their clips to a few friends and no one feels inspired to pass it on. Millions of these clips sit out there with 15 views, 32 views, 140 views. But when something hits a nerve, it blows up. This is what’s been happening with “Auto-Tune the News,” a hilarious series of clips by The Gregory Brothers. (For certain of my readers, i.e., my parents: Auto-Tune is a tech tool used by music producers to artificially correct the pitch in a singer’s voice. But it’s also used very widely, especially in hip-hop, to just add random distortion to the vocals, as it does to Katie Couric et al. below. Its most prominent early use for distortion was on Cher’s hit “Believe.”)

Just Auto-Tuning the voices of news anchors would be pretty funny itself. The original content they add raises it to another level of creative brilliance. In the first video below, the split-screen with Sean Hannity and his guest (“I’m an angry gorilla, I heard you needed me.”) is a more concise (and accurate) parody of cable news than anything else I’ve seen. If I were a producer for Conan O’Brien or Jon Stewart, I’d throw some money at these guys to make these for me. Almost 1.5 million people have viewed the first of these (the second one is newer, but I'm sure it will get there). Democracy!