Saturday, July 28, 2007

Next Week: Can O.J. Simpson Beat His Murder Charges?

Months after it expanded the veterinary definition of "stable" to include a condition more commonly known as "dead," Parade Magazine once again shows the journalistic chops that you would expect from any publication that includes Bill O'Reilly on the masthead:
Q. In June, Lindsay Lohan signed on for extended care at Promises, a luxury rehab center in Malibu. Isn’t that really just an extended vacation?
—N.B., Washington, D.C.

A. No. Lohan, 21—who abused alcohol, pills and cocaine—seems committed to finally getting clean.
And the punch line, for anyone who has been living in a monastery this past week.

How the Other 1% Lives

Some people read F. Scott Fitzgerald when they want a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy. Others watch Entourage or Sex and the City. As for me, I like to turn to the Real Estate section of the New York Times, where I came across this article. The groundbreaking thesis? When most people are faced with a large expense, such as a down payment on an apartment in New York City, they tend to make efforts to save as much money as possible.

The people profiled in the article are not really the ultra-wealthy; the salary figures that the writer quotes show that most of them only make about twice the median household income for the United States. The heroic measures taken by these modern-day Scrooges in order to scrimp every penny include cooking their own meals, taking advantage of happy hours and drink specials at bars, shopping the sale racks at Urban Outfitters, and being deprived of new $300 Gucci shoes (which was too much to ask of one man, who bought them despite the fact that they didn't fit).

I was also amused by this description of a 31-year-old woman :
She also wanted an apartment large enough to fit her lunchbox collection, her Spiderman collection and her collection of Jack Skellington dolls in coffins from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Because really, what's the point of owning your apartment if it doesn't look like it was decorated by Tom Hanks in Big?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Amusing Things I Heard on the Radio Today

1. Michaela Majoun encountering the word "Illadelph" for the first time and struggling to pronounce it.

2. This song:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Thurston!

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth turned 49 today. That makes him almost twice as old as me, although he looks young enough to still get carded. He has somehow remained perpetually cool through the decades, along with his wife/bassist Kim Gordon. Their daughter Coco is therefore genetically predisposed to be the coolest person in the history of the universe.

As a bonus, here is Sonic Youth's take on The Simpsons' theme song, from an episode that originally aired when I was too young to understand who Sonic Youth was and why it was neat that they were appearing on The Simpsons.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bush Administration Fun Facts

Karl Rove
According to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Karl Rove, a vile smear artist for whom "turd blossom" is an affectionate nickname, is not such a hit with the ladies. According to Moby, however, Karl Rove actually has a sense of humor!

You know, there's something a little off about the fact that Mr. Rove couldn't get a date with a red-blooded Texas Republican gal like Ms. Spellings, but he's able to charm a liberal vegan techno artist guy from New York City. Not that I want to spread innuendo or anything; that sort of thing seems like it would be Karl's department.

Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State Rice has said before that she would someday like to be commissioner of the NFL. Most people would probably hesitate to join an organization whose recent headlines involve the phrase "federal dogfighting charges," but that might qualify as a step up for Ms. Rice these days.

A few months ago, she decided to write an opinion piece about Lebanon. She enlisted John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems as a co-author, and they wrote about public/private partnerships and how they might be of use in rebuilding Lebanon after last summer's war. No one would publish it.

Think about that. Every one of the major newspapers approached refused to publish an essay by the secretary of state. Price Floyd, who was the State Department's director of media affairs until recently, recalls that it was sent to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and perhaps other papers before the department finally tried a foreign publication, the Financial Times of London, which also turned it down.

As a last-ditch strategy, the State Department briefly considered translating the article into Arabic and trying a Lebanese paper. But finally they just gave up. "I kept hearing the same thing: 'There's no news in this.' " Floyd said. The piece, he said, was littered with glowing references to President Bush's wise leadership. "It read like a campaign document."

Plan B: submitting the op-ed (one line at a time) to Pluggers or They'll Do It Every Time.

Dick Cheney
Not surprising: Dick Cheney doesn't keep up with pop culture. Also not surprising, but considerably more disturbing: a man who walked up to the Vice President in a public place and criticized his Iraq policy was promptly arrested for assault (how this story is only now making the rounds is beyond me).

The remarkable thing about Cheney is that he makes you look back fondly on the days when he spent his time telling his enemies to go fuck themselves and shooting his friends in the face. The more I reflect on the guy, the less I want to know just what he keeps in those man-sized safes of his.

Today in squid news

Voracious Jumbo Squid Invade California
MONTEREY, Calif. -- Jumbo squid that can grow up to 7 feet long and weigh more than 110 pounds are invading central California waters and preying on local anchovy, hake and other commercial fish populations, according to a study published Tuesday.
. . .
The jumbo squid used to be found only in the Pacific Ocean's warmest stretches near the equator. In the last 16 years, it has expanded its territory throughout California waters, and squid have even been found in the icy waters off Alaska, Zeidberg said.
The article mentions that the squids would likely avoid coming near humans. If that weren't the case, this would be the stuff of an eco-conscious SciFi Channel original movie.

And we had to walk 10 miles in the snow to the video store!

You kids today, you don't know how easy you got it! Why, when I was in school and didn't feel like reading a thick novel the day before it was due, we had to choose whether to watch the movie or read the Cliff's Notes. And if we wanted to be thorough and do both, we had to go to two stores! Or at least two sections of the same store . . . but the kids these days are spoiled, I tells ya! I blame the rap music.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

XPoNential Music Festival - Saturday

I spent most of my second day at Wiggins Park hanging around the Marina Stage, partly so I could catch some of the lesser-known acts and partly because the lineup on the main stage had very little to appeal to me. For the second day in a row, I arrived too late to see the buzzed-about local band I was hoping to catch, in this case Bucks County's Illinois. By the time I got there, the tour van was already packing up to haul ass to Lollapalooza. Good luck, fellas!

Brett Dennen
What would happen if Ron Weasley dropped out of Hogwarts, started listening to a lot of Jack Johnson, and put together a band? He might look and sound a lot like Brett Dennen, the latest in a long line of generic post-jam-band funky guitar-playing white boys. His opening song, "She's Mine," is essentially Bob Dylan's "I Want You" on Valium, and nothing he played after that changed my opinion of him. Judging by the goofily dancing people in front of the stage, though, I would say that mine was the minority opinion.

Kim Richey
It's hard for me to find a critical word about Kim Richey's breezy country songs. Nothing she sang is likely to stick with me very long, but it was a wholly pleasant way to spend a half-hour.

Fionn Regan
"There's my helicopter; I've got to go" cracked Fionn Regan as he wrapped up his final song just as a low-flying chopper happened to be passing overhead. He may not be at that level of fame yet, but he was just shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, where he'll be competing against such unknown artists as Amy Winehouse and the Arctic Monkeys. The event program bragged that Fionn had been compared to Bob Dylan, which is always hyperbole, even though he seemed to be dressing the part. His finger-picking style of guitar playing is really closer to Nick Drake or, dare I say it, Richard Thompson. His album The End of History may be named after a Francis Fukuyama book, and he may give lyrical shout-outs to The Adventures of Augie March, but he clearly has a sense of humor too, as evidenced by the music videos on his website.

Ryan Shaw
I only caught a little bit of Ryan Shaw's set. He's got a dynamite voice, but I wish he'd tone down the implicit comparisons of himself to Al Green and Sam Cooke (he opened his set with "A Change is Gonna Come"). Leave the cover songs and imitation to the American Idols, Ryan.

Jesca Hoop
Jesca Hoop, the much blogged-about, former Waits family nanny had the most unusual set of the festival, for a few reasons. For one thing, she wasn't backed by a traditional rhythm section but rather by a drum machine and electric piano, while she played a funky looking guitar that sounded like a Japanese koto. The set was also remarkable for the way it seemed to be heading. In the middle of her first song, Jesca turned to the soundboard and said "I'm sorry, we have to stop," apparently because of sound trouble. She reconsidered and kept playing, but the problems seemed to leave her flustered and she was having trouble keeping her concentration. I got the sickening feeling that I was about to witness a train wreck. She put down her guitar after a couple of songs, and when she just started singing, the difference was enormous. The Joanna Newsom-style warble she had been using vanished in favor of something much fuller and stronger. I had her pegged as an electro-folk musician, but she's much closer to a cabaret singer, as she gestured, struck poses, and emoted through the majority of her set. She remarked at one point that she and her band were at the end of a month-long tour and she was really looking forward to going home, so I'll write off her erratic performance to fatigue. Here's hoping that once she rests up she'll be able to hit the road again without the technical difficulties.

What Happened Next...
So I decided to skip Los Lonely Boys. I know it's unfair to judge a band based on their hit single, but I feel I'm justified in this case. So, I headed to the food court area and was sitting on a bench eating a gyro and drinking a beer when, about 30 feet to my right, this happened. Considering how crowded the place was, it's really a miracle that more people weren't hurt. The whole scene was surreal, as people scrambled around to make sure there were no major injuries and others tried to upright a generator that was leaking gasoline, and all the while Los Lonely Boys played on in the background.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
The owl statues perched on the amplifiers couldn't help but call to mind one of Ms. Potter's more famous namesakes. "It's kind of a big week for Potters, isn't it?" she quipped. "Tell Harry to watch his back." A bit of an unlikely boast, but probably no harder to believe than seeing a twenty-three year old white girl from Vermont belting out songs like a Delta bluesman. Anyone who plays a flying-V guitar can't be accused of being a subtle performer, and as the utterly crushworthy Grace switched between guitar and Hammond organ, she vamped across the stage, hitting her hips with a tambourine, swinging a microphone Rogert Daltrey-style, arching her back until she was looking behind her, and closing her set with a four-person drum solo before returning for an encore with "Come Together." J.K. Rowling's wizard may have commanded the headlines on Saturday, but for an hour that night, there was only one Potter on this audience's mind.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

XPoNenetial Music Festival - Friday

It's strange that while the Northeastern section of the country has many top-class symphonies, museums, and other cultural institutions, it is sorely lacking in big, outdoor, multi-day music festivals. This is especially frustrating since some cities get two such things each summer (Chicago, I'm looking in your direction). Since I'm too cheap and lazy to fly out to Manchester or Indio (and because I suffer from a rare allergy to both hippies and hipsters), I guess I have to settle for WXPN's XPoNential Music Festival, a.k.a. the festival that changes its name more often than Diddy.

Friday's lineup was heavier on the rock than previous years, due to WXPN's partnership with Y-Rock. Due to traffic (since when is the Schuylkill congested?) and getting lost in Camden for a while (which is not a fun thing to do), I missed the first couple of performers. So sorry A-Sides: I had to content myself with listening to your set on the radio. They did set up the theme of the day, however, by remarking about their technical difficulties between songs. At one point, it sounded like they were picking up a police scanner frequency, although that could have been my radio. They also said that their long-awaited album Silver Storms will finally be released in August, which sort of makes it the SMiLE of Philly-area indie-rock. I also missed second-stagers Eastern Conference Champions, whose name makes them sound like a third-rate emo band. This is apparently not true, so my apologies to them for my prejudice.

Sam Roberts Band

I finally arrive at the stage towards the end of their set, so I can't really comment on it. I saw about ten minutes or so, but I think that was entirely taken up by an extended guitar solo. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, though.

G. Love
So Bob Mould was originally scheduled to perform today, but he broke his ankle and had to cancel. The station was teasing that a "special guest" would be appearing in his place, but I was suspicious; how special could the guest be if they could convince him to appear with only a day's notice?

Well, G. Love was apparently in the studio until he drove across the bridge to perform a (very brief) set. You know, about ten years ago people might have been excited to see G. Love without needing to keep us guessing about a mystery guest. (Then again, the crowd seemed genuinely psyched to see him, and some were even bragging about the fact they had tickets to an upcoming show of his, so what do I know?)

Bitter Bitter Weeks
Well, I was interested in seeing these guys, since I've heard good things about them, but was left underwhelmed. I'll try to give a listen to their album before making up my mind. Their between-songs banter was cute, though.

The Switches

I'd never heard of these guys before they took the stage. I had no idea the lead singer was British until he introduced himself a couple of songs into their set (I'm not sure if his nationality is any excuse for that getup he's wearing). Their energetic rock was not exactly moving the crowd, although that's probably more because it was 6 PM and everyone was lounging on the grass, so it's not really their fault.


The antipenultimate slot on the main stage kind of sucks, since the sun is setting behind the band and you're forced to balance your desire to see the show with your desire to find some shade. Cracker's set was heavy on new material (they played "Low" really early) as the crowd shouted out requests that were destined not to be played. The young fans seemed to give it their seal of approval, though:
Cracker was the only band of the day to play an encore.

Incidentally, if Cracker plays a Camper Van Beethoven song, is that technically a cover? David Lowery's project-juggling confuses me.

Fountains of Wayne
Partway through the Fountains of Wayne performance, Adam Schlesinger thanked the crowd for picking his band over the John Mayer concert taking place next door, but anyone who would consider that a dilemma is not someone I'd like to meet. These guys are worth seeing for their on-stage banter alone, with the irresistably hooky power pop as a bonus. I've loved this band since I first heard "Radiation Vibe," and I've stuck with them through obscurity, unexpected ubiquity, and their current status of "just right" (I guess).

During Cracker's set, I saw Jody and Chris hanging around near the stage. I had no intention of barging up and saying anything, so I just attempted to take a discreet picture, after which I felt really creepy.
So much for my career as a paparazzi.

Earl Greyhound
[Note: My camera sucks when it starts to get dark]

Earl Greyhound won the following awards:
  • Most awesome hair
  • Most giant kick drum
  • Most justification for me wearing my earplugs
  • Most sheer face-rocking-off power
  • Most sheer ass-rocking-off power
  • Most disappointment upon announcing they only had time for one more song
  • Most excitement by me to see these guys perform a full set in the near future
The Fratellis
I must say I was surprised by the number and ardor of fans who were waiting to see these guys; I was under the impression that the kids today all listen to My Chemical Fall Out at the Disco. Costello Music has been kicking around on my iPod (how's that for synergy?) for a while now, and while I could only hum a handful of songs if you asked me to, I tend to enjoy them. The band is really tight live, but I guess you'd have to be if your songs included as many tempo changes as theirs do.

The best recommendation I can give for these guys, though, is that by the end of the set even I was engaged in a stiff-limbed approximation of dancing. I'm hopeful that the Fratellis will be able to make a name for themselves without being known as "Those Guys Who Had That One Song in a Commercial."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Philosophical Quandary On My Lunch Break

When does a salad cease to be a salad?

I'm not a nutritionist, but I would say that when cheeseburgers are an ingredient, then you've stretched the definition of "salad" about as far as you can.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Preparing For the Inevitable Disappointment of The Simpsons Movie

If you've got some time, be sure to check out this great and detailed oral history of The Simpsons from Vanity Fair. It features anecdotes from, among many others, Conan O'Brien (who also has a typically entertaining interview), Pixar's Brad Bird, and evil billionaire/Mr. Burns-lookalike Rupert Murdoch (notably absent are Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon, the show's three executive producers). Read the whole thing for such tidbits as the secret subplot of Rocky III that only Mr. T knows about and the time Hank Azaria discovered that Mick Jagger is kind of a dick.

Oh, and pay no attention to the accompanying list of the Ten Best Episodes. Any such list that contains no mention of "Last Exit to Springfield" is nothing but lies and deceit. To wit:

I rest my case.

Duh Duh-Duh Duh Duh Daa, Da-Da Duh Daaaa....

In a textbook case of burying the lede, this Slate piece devotes a mere paragraph to the real story:

In the reality genre, [NBC co-chairman Ben] Silverman appears to be moving ahead with a new version of the old syndicated show, American Gladiators (which apparently rolls along nicely in repeats on ESPN Classic).

Great news! I think Laser could really use the work.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What I've Read - The Spy Who Loved Me

One of the many benefits of summer is that you are allowed -- nay, expected -- to read trashy genre fiction. People who spend the rest of the year reading books approved by the Pulitzer committee, Michiko Kakutani, or Oprah are now free to spend their days immersed in thrillers, mysteries, romances, and other assorted mass-market paperbacks. With that in mind, I just finished reading The Spy Who Loved Me. I've seen a good number of the James Bond movies, but never read any of Ian Fleming's novels, so I picked a title mostly at random and set out to read it without any preconceptions.

Boy, was I surprised. For one thing, James Bond doesn't show up until the last third of the book. The whole novel is told from the point of view of Vivienne Michel, who could best be described as the "Bond Girl" of the story. What's more, the first hundred pages or so contain nothing but backstory, filling us in on how our narrator got her heart broken a couple of times before buying a Vespa and going on a road trip through America, picking up some temporary work at a motel along the way. When the plot finally does kick in, Bond shows up by pure chance. Once he does, though, the action picks up. The day gets saved, the girl gets bedded, the end.

So, not really what I was expecting, which is actually good. The Bond movies are possibly the most formulaic film franchise in history, so it was great to read a book that was obviously going out of its way to dispense with that formula. One of my favorite moments is when Bond is telling Vivienne about the mission he just finished, a violent affair involving a Russian defector, an ex-Gestapo assassin and the ever-present SCEPTRE. In short, it's much closer to your typical Bond plot, but it's related in a single chapter over coffee, with Bond repeatedly interrupting himself to make sure Vivienne isn't bored hearing it. Fleming's writing does just what it should: moves you along through the plot without needing to call attention to itself. And refreshingly, the book was free of gratuitous gadgetry, ridiculous character names, and awful post-mortem puns.

While I was reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder how it was ever adapted into a movie. You have a hero who's absent through much of the book, a heroine with a rich and detailed non-spy backstory, and a plot that does not involve the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Then, I got my answer:
The only common story elements between the novel and the film are its title and two henchman Jaws and Sandor who are loosely inspired by the book's villains Horror and Sluggsy. The film is considered as the first Bond film whose story is completely original.
Apparently Fleming wasn't pleased with the final result of his book and wouldn't allow the plot to be carried over to the film. It was probably a wise decision for the franchise. After all, more people are interested in seeing Hamlet than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Happy Bastille Day!

Celebrate by storming a prison, beheading some royalty, and eating some cake.

That's my understanding of how the holiday works, at least.

Blanchett as Dylan, Cross as Ginsburg

A clip from the upcoming Bob Dylan sorta-biopic I'm Not There, directed by Todd Haynes.

That's Cate Blanchett as Dylan and David Cross as Allen Ginsburg.

I first heard about this project a couple of years ago, and I was ambivalent at first; the use of multiple actors to play the Dylan character seemed like the height of artsy self-indulgence. Then I saw pictures of Blanchett in costume and it whetted my curiosity. Now I'm really interested to see how this turns out. This clip gets my hopes up; it really mimics the style of Don't Look Back, and Blanchett's seems to do a good job of playing a man.

I'm Not There will be released in September.

(via Ain't It Cool News)

Somebody Get These Two a Sitcom!

From an article about a contest to win an eco-friendly wedding at Isaiah Zagar's Magic Garden:

When Jerue came across an ad for the contest on the Internet early last week, he turned to his girlfriend.

"You're not going to believe this. What do you think I'm looking at?"

"Porn?" she replied.

"No. Try again."

She shrugged. "I'm out of ideas."

I know who I'm rooting for!

Lucy van Pelt: Inventor of the Blog

Funny how this 47-year-old comic strip is still pretty much on the money. Just replace "political cartooning" with "blogging."

On that note, welcome to my new blog! Hopefully I can live up to the rigorous standards set by the young lady pictured above.