Friday, August 31, 2007

Miscellaneous News

  • The Burning Man Festival was almost ruined when someone burned the man ahead of schedule. It seems to me that an event based around principles like "radical self-expression" and "immediacy," this guy was just carrying those ideals to their extremes. Plus, it's hard to not admire someone whose mug shot looks like this.
  • And finally, I like what I've heard of St. Vincent (her version of "These Days" is characteristically lovely), and I've heard only good things about her debut Marry Me, but what's likely to push me into fandom is the awesome origin of her album title:
My favorite TV show right now and for all time is "Arrested Development". It's the best thing that ever happened to television. I named my album after it.

Pitchfork: I can't believe I never got that reference; "Arrested Development" is possibly my favorite show as well.

[laughs] And you know what? I only named it Marry Me because I thought Babysit Me was a little too awkward.

Atrios . . . I'm Coming to Get Youuuuuuuu!

It seems like every time I got into Philly to play quizzo, there's always a team there named Eschaton. On of these days I'm hoping it will really be Duncan Black, and I can defeat him to gain his bloggy power.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Faux News Channel

I'm no fan of Katie Couric, but this move by Fox News is just pathetic:
On Your World With Neil Cavuto, guest host Dagen McDowell featured Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, who characterized Couric’s trip as “a clear act of desperation” by a single mother whose “priorities [are] so determined by her ambition rather than her children’s welfare.” Crouse pointedly accused Couric of being a bad mother for going to cover Iraq
It's funny, but it seems like only yesterday that a person could stroll freely through Bagdad and buy some rugs without the fear of orphaning one's children.

Y'know, Fox, I believe that there are soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq who also happen to be parents. I suppose that they're just being self-aggrandizing too, right?

Foot-Tapping While Gay

I must have been drunk with schadenfreude the other day, but now that I look at the situation it really does seem bizarre that Sen. Larry Craig could be arrested for nothing more serious than tapping his foot in a toilet stall. It's reasonable to have laws against sex in a public restroom, and I'm willing to believe that Craig's gestures towards the undercover cop were a well-known code to initiate a hookup, but with no offer of money and no actual lewd behavior, it just shows how ridiculous these sorts of laws are. Sure, he was almost certainly propositioning the cop, but how can we be sure that the sexual encounter was to take place in that very bathroom, and not in, say, a motel? By way of contrast, I wonder if there are undercover cops patrolling the airport bar, looking out for telltale signs of lewd conduct such as men purchasing drinks for women and polite laughter. After all, these sorts of things could very well be prelude to a quick (heterosexual) fuck in the men's room.

None of this makes me particularly sympathetic to Craig, of course. As Amanda Marcotte points out, it's hard to feel sorry for someone caught in the same sort of draconian anti-gay laws he championed. In an ideal world, this situation would cause the GOP to take a long look at the laws and work to have them repealed, since they are so broadly written that even an (ahem) innocent man could run afoul of them. Instead, though, it looks like they'll be throwing the senator under the train. Oh, well. Maybe they'll see the light by the time the next GOP sex scandal rolls around. We probably won't have to wait long to find out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

C.B.G.B. V.I.P., R.I.P.

Legendary New York rock club CBGB was laid to rest last year, and now the club's founder Hilly Kristal has passed away at the age of 75. It's an odd coincidence that, in the past few weeks, we've lost Kristal, Tony Wilson, and Tom Snyder, three unlikely but hugely important figures in the post-punk era.

Godspeed, Hilly, and thanks for being flexible with that whole "country, bluegrass, blues" bit.

Nerd Catastrophe!

I was at work today, taking a short break to scan through my various RSS feeds on Google Reader, when I accidentally clicked the "Mark All As Read" button, causing a weeks worth of blog posts and news items to vanish down the memory hole (or at least preventing me from reading them in chronological order). In reality, this is hardly a big deal; I was a week behind anyway, so clearing out the backlog and starting over was probably the only way I would have ever gotten caught up. And I guess that if I wanted to, I could easily go to the actual websites to get my news, comics, and amusing photos of cats.

Still, as I realized what I had done, I imagined myself as Rip Van Winkle, stumbling down the mountain with no idea of how much the world had changed in the fields of political resignations, glibertarian bloggers, and embarrassing beauty pageant videos.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And When I Woke Up, My Pillow Was Gone

A strange dream I had the other night: In the wake of a scandal (somehow involving a Mexican restaurant), John Edwards offers me a job as his campaign manager. After some thought, I decline due to the fact that I have absolutely no relevant experience. Edwards responds by announcing his withdrawal from the race.

If I may play Freud for a moment, I'd say the business about the campaign manager is a reflection of my own indecision over whether to apply for a promotion at work and my fear that I would be unprepared for any new responsibilities. The Mexican restaurant scandal is either a metaphor for the immigration issue in the coming election, or nostalgia for the recently-closed Mexican restaurant where I would frequently eat lunch.

The fact that I'm having dreams about presidential candidates this early in the electoral cycle triggered in me the same response I have the first time I see a campaign ad on TV: "Oh, great...I've got to listen to these guys for the next year." I'm uneasy with the idea that every time I fall asleep I might be chased by Joe Biden or Fred Thompson. Unless I dream about riding bumper cars with Barack Obama; that seems like it would be kind of fun.

Swirling Guitars

It's all quiet on the Neutral Milk Hotel reunion front, but it looks like another rock-snob favorite might be set to make a return.

OK, so I only bought Loveless because I thought it might impress the cute girl at the Tower Records register, and whenever I listen to it I wish someone would turn the vocals up. If this rumor pans out, though, I'll have plenty of time to convince myself that this is the most exciting thing ever.

So Tell Me Why Can't This Just Stop?

My brain has been waging psychological warfare on, well, another part of my brain, I guess. As a result, the solo from the following song has playing on repeat in my head for the past several days:

I'm hoping this is like The Ring and if I infect someone else with it I'll be freed from the curse.

Monday, August 27, 2007

An Open Letter to Republican Politicians

OK, we get it: you guys understand the definition of hypocrisy. But still, I think you were clear enough the first time a family-values conservative was caught cruising the local glory hole and propositioning an undercover cop. Repeating the whole stunt with Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is just redundant. Even Alan Ball must be slapping his forehead at the obviousness of it all by now.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Thought Experiment

Imagine if someone offered you $75 million dollars to do something. Now imagine that you so objected to doing it that you turned them down. If you were this dead-set against doing whatever this person wanted you to do, could you ever imagine changing your mind, for any sum of money or any other reason?

No? OK, then lets just come to terms with the fact that we'll never have a Smiths reunion ever? (And sheesh, $75 million was only for half of the Smiths! Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce must feel even more overlooked than usual.)

As for me, I'm taking all of my Smiths-reunion-hope and transferring it to Neutral Milk Hotel. Bring on the poorly-sourced rumors! I promise I'll believe every word!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

They Tried to Make Me Go to Winehouse...

The Way It Usually Works: a concert I want to see is coming up, but I dilly dally and don't buy tickets, it sells out, and I sulk.

The Way It Worked This Time: I dilly dally and don't buy tickets, and the troubled performer cancels her tour. A victory for procrastination!

Get well soon, Amy. If only everyone on the face of the earth had seen this coming...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Let's Hope There's Still a Democracy Around Then

I wouldn't really call myself an optimist, but that's really the only explanation for the fact that I've been carrying my copy of The Rise of American Democracy around with me for the past month or so, with the goal of reading it a little at a time on my lunch break. In that time, I've made it through a total of 20 pages. At this rate, I can expect to be finished at some point in 2012.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Newsweek, at War with Itself

All last week, I kept meaning to write a post on the spat between Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson and the magazine for which he writes, but I put it off. Eventually, Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler posted his analysis of Samuelson’s column, which would irk me if not for the fact that Somerby is a much better writer than I am, and he saved me some work.

To summarize, Newsweek’s cover story two weeks ago was about the global warming denial machine. Samuelson then complained that the story was simplistic, since it reduced the issue to an "us vs. them" conflict, and because current proposals to combat global warming are unlikely to be effective.

Samuelson writes, "Global warming has clearly occurred; the hard question is what to do about it." True enough. But the Newsweek story to which he objects so much was focused on the fact that there are a number of groups that exist to cast doubt on that statement which he so heartily endorses. This is not the last instance of shaky logic in the column. Later, Samuelson cites polls showing that the number of people who are concerned about global warming has only increased 2% in the past 18 years. Bizarrely, he does not see this as evidence of a mythical denial machine.

As for the second point, he may be right that global warming will be impossible to counteract, but it hardly matters since the point of the original article was not to propose any kind of action. In fact, as Somerby pointed out, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham went out of his way to point out that the magazine wasn’t endorsing we actually do anything about this problem, and by the way, they think Al Gore is a big fat phony too.

Meacham addresses Samuelson’s column in his editor’s letter, and basically points out that the whole argument is a non sequitor. So if the editor of the magazine acknowledges that his columnist is spouting nonsense, why did the column make it to print? The obvious answer is for the sake of “balance:” both Meacham and Samuelson close with the usual boilerplate about dissent being essential to a free society (regardless of whether that dissent has any internal logic or basis in fact).

I can’t help but wonder if any regular columnist for a major publication has ever had a column turned down by his or her editor. A few weeks ago, Samuelson’s column was on the subject of (I kid you not) commas, and how people don’t use them as much anymore, and how isn’t that, like, a symptom of our fast-paced society? He closed the column with (what else?) a line of commas. It was an utterly vapid piece which was the symptom of a man with nothing worthwhile to say that week, but what was Newsweek going to do? Put his picture at the top of a blank page? In cases like that, it’s mostly harmless, but when editors see fit to print essays that they themselves acknowledge are bunk, it’s a sad testament to current journalistic standards.

Monday, August 20, 2007


The question is, do I have a TV-crush on Kristen Bell, or on Veronica Mars? I guess I'll find out this fall, when Ms. Bell joins the cast of Heroes. Instead of talking in hyper-witty high school noir-speak, though, she'll have exposition-heavy, plodding lines in which the word "hero" is certain to appear roughly once per scene. At least she'll be able to reminisce with Milo Vertimiglia about the times when they were on exceptionally well-written shows.

While I'm on the subject of verbose television, I've been watching the first season of The West Wing and, as I was cuing up the DVD to the point where I had last left, I wondered if perhaps the fast-forward on my new laptop* was working properly. A few seconds later, I realized that I was fast-forwarding, and the characters were speaking slightly faster than usual. It's an easy joke, but seriously, take any Aaron Sorkin show, play it at double speed, and you've got an instant parody.

*Did I mention that I got a new laptop? Well, I got a new laptop.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rolling Stone Continues to Make Me Glad I Let My Subscription Expire

Above: Teen heartthrob Zac Efron reaches the climax of his campfire story, in which it is revealed that the murderer's disembodied hand is about to choke him!

Happy Birthday, Dear CD

The compact disc turns 25 years old today. Finally, those little shiny rings of plastic are old enough to run for Congress.

I'm only slightly older than CDs, and it is therefore fitting that I've always been partial to the format. I'm part of an increasingly rare breed: it seems like these days all of the cool kids are either into vinyl or MP3s.

Anyway, I think that one of the most important consequences of the compact disc was making music geekery more accessible. I have a fairly modest CD collection, but I shudder to think of the space that would be consumed if I owned all of my albums on LP. The CD provided fans with a format that did away with the many shortcomings of cassettes and was small enough that you didn't have to devote a room of your house to storing your records.

Of course, it's practically inevitable that one day, a single hard drive will be able to hold the entirety of recorded music, and I'll just be another geezer complaining about those kids with their 20 yottabite iPods, and their metal-punk-hip-hop.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fighting Them Over There...

Take a moment to read this post by Tom Tomorrow.

Q: What Would It Take To Get Me Interested In a Jurassic Park Sequel?

A: This certainly helps.

I remember reading a review of this script a couple of years ago, and the idea of a dinosaur Delta force was just too brilliant/stupid for me to resist. I always assumed that any idea that bizarre would be scrapped by the studio, but apparently there may still be hope. The involvment of The Departed's William Monahan raises the possibility the the dinosaurs will also be incredibly profane, or maybe that one of them will be deep undercover in human society.

Today In Squid News


According to NBC News' Brian Williams, squid is "a fantastic word." Also, squids live underwater, and they have eight arms and two tentacles. Stay tuned for more details.

I'm a little peeved that Kermit the Frog didn't get a chance to cover this story. The guy's been paying his dues on the fairy tale/nursery rhyme beat for decades, but they give the anchor's chair to this Williams guy? Shameful.

Political News Round-Up

  • After yet another Republican finds himself embroiled in oral sex-related charges, I think it's clear who's to blame: The Clenis. If it hadn't been for Clinton, these conservatives would all be blissfully unaware of the existence of so-called "blow jobs."
  • Laura and Jenna Bush are apparently writing a children's book about "a child who does not like reading." I can't seem to think of a snide comment to be made about that bit of news.
  • With Tom Tancredo's (R-CO) insane foreign policy taking up the news, it's important to remember that his domestic policy is pretty much insane as well. I'll give him points for consistency, at least.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Funny Papers

There are many reasons why The Comics Curmudgeon is consistently hilarious, but I can't resist laughing whenever I see the words "Big Daddy Keane."

Along with the Nietzche Family Circus and the occasional Amazon review, it proves that The Family Circus can be quite amusing, so long as you don't read the actual comic strip.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Eating for Him

When I'm at a restaurant, I'll order my meal based on a variety of factors: what looks tasty, what I can afford, what's not likely to leave vast amounts of grease and/or sauce all over my face and hands. I may (repeat, may) consider the nutritional value of what I'm about to ingest. Also, I tend to stay away from the children's menu these days.

But I had the good fortune to be born with a Y-chromosome. The New York Times informs me that, if I were a woman, ordering dinner would be transformed into an intense psychological game in which I had to determine what the guy sitting across from me wanted to see me eat. Salads are girly! Get a steak or a burger instead! But not an expensive burger; only he's allowed to eat that!

I could go on about the article's suggestion that "being yourself" involves putting on a show for a man, or how the writer goes out of his way to point out how thin the women interviewed are, or the lazy "interview a few people and toss in some vague statistics" trendspotting format, or the fact that one of the subjects says that her love for meat sends a message that she is "unneurotic" when she clearly devotes a great deal of mental energy to what guys think about her dietary habits.

Instead, I'll just offer the obvious advice: ladies, if he doesn't call you back because he didn't like what you ordered for dinner, he wasn't that much of a catch anyway.

Hold Up...

You mean to tell me that there is an annual World Series of Birdwatching? And that it's held in Cape May? And birdwatching is apparently a $2 billion a year industry in New Jersey alone? Christopher Guest, I am begging you to make a movie about this.

Incidentally, I think I just stumbled upon that mysterious link between the Jersey Shore and the Korean DMZ: rare birds!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Good News, Bad News

When I went over to The A.V. Club's newswire today, I was confronted by a pair of music-related stories about notable departures. First, the good news: 50 Cent says he'll retire as a solo artist if his album is outsold by Kanye West's new album when the two are released on September 11. If anyone is on the fence about buying Kanye's CD, this should be all it takes to get you to the record store a month from now.

As for the bad news, Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson has died at the age of 57. I'm not about to prove my rock snob bona fides here; my only knowledge of Wilson's career comes from 24 Hour Party People. It doesn't take a music historian, though, to see the enormous debt that modern-day indie and alternative music owes to Joy Division, and anyone involved in their short career deserves more recognition than he's likely to get.

I Am Naive: A One-Act Play

Susie Madrak:

So Rush Holt claims the reason the Dems voted for the FISA bill is because they were threatened in the following manner: “If you go home and something happens, we’re going to say it was your fault.”

. . .

It just makes me wonder: Do the Republicans want something to happen?

Me: Well, Susie, that's certainly an inflammatory question. Maybe I'm naive, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could be ghoulish enough to want another terrorist attack. Surely, though, this is only the sort of thing I would hear from a lowly blogger, and not a scholar or commentator.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a scholar and commentator:

Here is my nightmare. The Cheneyites succeed in creating a situation in which Bush does decide to bomb Iran. Iran retaliates, as they openly threaten to do, with terrorist attacks against us on U.S. soil. That tilts the election. I can imagine a Karl Rove political calculation that would buttress a Cheney-Addington national security calculation, probably with Eliot Abrams' support.

Me: Hold on, Anne-Marie; I'm no fan of Cheney or his minions, but I refuse to believe that anyone could be soulless enough to provoke terror attacks in order to ensure some short-term political gain. Now, I may be naive, but...

Stu Bykofsky: "To save America, we need another 9/11."

Me: Well, hold on . . . I'm sure he's just using some kind of metaphor, right?

Stu Bykofsky:

America's fabric is pulling apart like a cheap sweater.

What would sew us back together?

Another 9/11 attack.

Me: [Staring, mouth agape]

Stu Bykofsky:

Is there any doubt they are planning to hit us again?

If it is to be, then let it be. It will take another attack on the homeland to quell the chattering of chipmunks and to restore America's righteous rage and singular purpose to prevail.

Me: But . . . did he . . . how is this even . . . [dies of shattered illusions]


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Virtual Vacation!

I'm not what you would call a beach person. It's been almost ten years since I've spent a week down the Jersey shore, five years since I went on a vacation near any beach, and two years since I spent so much as a day within view of a shoreline. I'm Ezra Klein's worst nightmare: someone who gets a decent amount of vacation each year but never bothers to take any of it.

The other night, though, I spent a lot of time gobbling up information about my old familial shore destination of Wildwood Crest on Google Maps and Wikipedia. I'm not entirely sure what brought this on; earlier that evening, I had been reading up on the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and anyone who can find a connection between those two locations deserves some sort of prize. Among the things I learned: children's author and illustrator Aliki was born there, the two islands in Sunset Lake that I always wanted to visit have actual names (Shaw Island and Ephraim Island), and the concrete ship wrecked off of Cape May Point is slowly eroding and one day will cease to exist.

I hate to be nostalgic, but for a few hours I couldn't help but be reminded of when I was young and staring eagerly out of the car windows, counting down the landmarks that told me we were getting closer to the shore, a place that seemed so exotic that I assumed the people there spoke a different language.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Quote of the Day: Wishful Thinking Division

From Slate's "Today's Papers", on the Senate giving in to the White House on the warrantless wiretapping program:
The good news for the Dems is that the changes will expire in six months, giving them half a year to grow a spine.

Somehow, I'm less than optimistic.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Beyond Doonesbury and Mallard Fillmore

I spend in inordinate amount of time thinking about the comics pages, and sometimes it's obvious where the characters fall in the political spectrum. The party affiliations of the 'toons in Get Fuzzy are often incorporated into the strips (to the extent that a talking dog and cat can join a political party, at least). Other times it's a tad more cryptic; it's safe to say, however, that the cavemen in B.C. are solid Republicans. (And don't tell me that there was no Republican Party back in the time of cavemen. There was no Jesus then either, but that doesn't stop them from talking about him every chance they get.)

Sometimes, though, you have to dig deeper to find the political messages hidden in the funnies. Take Archie, for instance, a wholesome American lad whose comics are, against all logic, still being published (I always got Archie confused with Bazooka Joe, but I guess that's another story). Anyway, when Archie's not getting into (presumably?) funny situations, he enjoys pushing creationism and echoing the talking points of powerful corporate lobbies. Pretty soon he and the gang will be breaking into the Riverdale Democratic Committee and planting bugs -- if Jughead doesn't eat them first!

Then there's Spider-Man, fighting against criminals and misinformation about sex, as in this comic sponsored by Planned Parenthood. It shouldn't come as any surprise that Spider-Man seems to be a Democrat, I suppose. I mean, he lives in liberal New York City, is a member of the liberal media, and was driven to superheroics out of liberal guilt for his uncle's death. The details of the story are a bit dated: today, the hot-button issue is abstinence-only sex education, not brainwashing teens into getting knocked up so as to provide a steady source of child labor for a distant planet (although you never can be sure with this administration . . . ).

So to recap, the best comics-based propaganda the Right can muster is Archie, while the Left has a web-slinging crimefighter who stars in blockbuster movies. If I were Mel Martinez, I'd be on the phone day and night trying to get Garfield on my side.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Oh, Shit....Oh, Shit

If, some years ago, I had met a time traveler who warned me that in the summer of 2007 I would be bizarrely fascinated by the works of R. Kelly, I would probably have laughed and asked if this future-person had drunk a bit too much space beer. And yet, this is the best thing I've seen all week:

At this point, I have no idea whether R. Kelly was born completely lacking in self-awareness or if he's in on the joke with the rest of us. I'm really excited to see how that poorly-greenscreened helicopter chase works into the action. (Also, I never realized that the cop is played by Omar Little).

It's strange that, while Kelly's music videos are essentially parodies of themselves, there are still some good satires out there. Via Stereogum, here's "Same Dude," a faithful (though lower-budget) take-off on the current Kelly/Usher hit:

Also, there's the oldie-but-goodie "Trapped in the Closet" study guide.

When the whole "Closet" saga began, I came up with the idea of some theater group staging the whole thing as a play, keeping faithful to the original text. As for "Same Girl," just add a laugh track and that could be a sitcom pilot. Here is a good model to follow for upcoming scripts.

Finally, I'm a little confused by the twist at the end of "Same Girl." It seems to me that the girls are either twins who are identical in every way (including their workplace, love of Waffle House, tattoos, and address) or they are deliberately misleading our heroes into thinking there is only one of them. Frankly, Kells, neither of these possibilities is very believable. These kinds of plot holes are the reason that no one cares about M. Night Shyamalan movies anymore. Some free advice: hire Christopher Nolan to co-write your next song, and a few months from now you could be onstage accepting a Best Screenplay Oscar.