Sunday, December 30, 2007

Why Am I Not a Campaign Consultant?

I'm sure that Rudy Giuliani thought he was doing something really clever when he pulled a Yakov Smirnoff and started referring to the War on Terror® as the "Terrorists' War on Us." I'm not sure he anticipated the awkward phrasing that would result, such as when he says things like, "We must redouble our efforts to win the terrorists' war on us."

Would you care to rephrase that, Rudy? Because it sure sounds like you're saying that we should be working extra hard to make sure the terrorists are victorious in their war against us. That may well be how you feel, but I always heard that the Democrats were the ones rooting for the other side.

Friday, December 28, 2007

An Open Letter to Whomever Is In Charge

Well, I've almost made it through what is certainly the most annoying week of the year: the seven days between Christmas and New Years Day. Let's be honest -- nobody is paying attention to work this week. There is no other point on the calendar where two major holidays fall so closely together, and as soon as you're starting to recover from the first, you're hit by the second. It's especially bad when they fall in the middle of the work week and you're left with a bizarrely shaped week that leaves you disoriented as to what day it is and whether you have to get up the next morning or not. Someone really needs to follow the lead of the nation's educators and declare the whole week an extended holiday.

Oh, and one more gripe about this week: everyone knows schools are closed. Yet some schools still flash their school zone speed limit signs at the beginning and end of the school day. Of course, there are no children in danger of being run over, so these flashing signs accomplish nothing but present an ethical dilemma. Does a law need to be obeyed even when the situation that made the law necessary does not exist? Fuck if I know, since I'm still half asleep and pissed off that I have to go to work the day after Christmas.

Ah, but there has been one bright spot in my more-annoying-than-usual commute: the posters for There Will Be Blood that seem to be in every bus shelter that I pass. I am, it's safe to say, more than a little excited to see that movie, especially since the critics with whom I most frequently agree are practically orgasmic over it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Things About Christmas I Don't Hate

By the time December 25 rolls around, I've been subjected to over a month of giant inflatable lawn decorations, 24-hour holiday music radio stations, and awful Lexus commercials (honestly, how fucking rich do you have to be if your first reaction upon learning that your spouse has spent $30,000 on your Christmas present is anything but "How the hell could you spend that much money without letting me know about it?"); it's almost enough to make me want to march down to my local ACLU and enlist in the War on Christmas. Still, I always seem to get into the spirit of the season at the last minute. On that note, here is a list of my favorite pieces of seasonally appropriate pop culture ephemera:

A Charlie Brown Christmas - I tried to watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special earlier this year, but I couldn't make it through more than a few minutes before I turned it off. The animation was too smooth, the voice acting too professional, and the Vince Guaraldi score too much a product of the era. If only reminded me what a huge gap exists between the great original Christmas special and all of the other Peanuts animated specials (with the exception of the very good It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). The soundtrack is nearly flawless (probably the only Christmas album I'd gladly listen on in August), but the raggedness of the rest of the show is most of its charm. Many lines of dialogue are obviously edited together from multiple takes with the child actors, the animation is frequently stiff (do any of those kids know more than two dance moves?), and why does Linus seem to have the whole Bible memorized? The special is a lot like the ratty tree that Charlie Brown picks out; it's hardly flashy but thanks to a little love, it's close to perfect.

Patton Oswalt's "Christmas Memory"
- "The Chipmunk Song" is possibly the most irritating thing ever recorded, partly because whenever I am forced to hear it, I reflexively sing "I still want a hula hoop" in a bad falsetto. On his album "Feelin' Kinda Patton," Patton Oswalt has a hilarious bit about the terrifying sound of a chipmunks album played back extremely slowly.

The Pogues - Fairytale of New York

I was first drawn to this song because of it seemed to be the polar opposite of every other Christmas song, from its Celtic sound to its seedy setting to its brutal lines like, "You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot / Happy Christmas my arse / I pray God it's our last." But, strangely, by the time the instrumental coda fades out, it's achieved the sort of genuine uplift associated with the best holiday music.

(For another look at Christmas behind bars, check out "Christmas in Prison" by John Prine, covered here by the Mountain Goats.)

Other Non-Canonical Christmas Songs - Perhaps I'm just a contrarian, but I have a soft spot for songs that avoid the nostalgia of most holiday songs (have you ever been on an actual sleigh ride? Or seen someone peddling chestnuts roasted on an open fire?). So forget talking snowmen or winter wonderlands; I'd rather hear about violent, disaffected youth, finding Santa's wallet in a park, and the secret that the Man's been covering up for centuries.

The Strangest Christmas Duet Ever - Man, don't you hate it when you're about to sit down to a nice family dinner when your cousin Ziggy, the androgynous glam rocker from Mars, shows up uninvited and proceeds to harass your guests? Maybe you can try asking him to sings some Christmas carols with Grandpa; that might keep him occupied for a little while.

Pottersville! - It's a Wonderful Life is, of course, the quintessential Christmas movie, even though Christmas is only incidental to the plot. I have little interest in the interminable set-up, though, in which the audience is forced to relive all of Jimmy Stewart's wonderful, tedious life, and the big finale is just too pat for my tastes (despite what you may have heard, I do not get choked up every time I watch the closing scene . . . or overhear it when the movie is playing in another room . . . or merely think about it). For my money, the best part of the movie is when George Bailey visits the nightmarish alternate-reality of Pottersville. So many great lines are packed into this section of the film. Most of them come from Nick, the tough-talking bartender who, suspicious of Clarence the Angel's girly drink choice, threatens, "Hey look, mister - we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint 'atmosphere'. Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?" When Clarence commits another faux pas, it's Nick's time to shine: "That's it. Out you two pixies go, through the door or out the window!" I am eternally hopeful that someday I will be able to work that line into a conversation, as I have spent the past several years perfecting my Nick impression. Another hilarious line comes after George asks where he could find his wife. But the George-less universe has not been kind to poor Mary, and Clarence tries to avoid revealing the awful answer until finally he blurts out that she is . . . closing up the library! And he says it in the same horrified tone of voice that you or I might use to say, "She's turning tricks down at the shipyard to buy cheap heroin!" or "She's kidnapping infants to sell on the black market!" And on top of it all is the fact that Pottersville seems like a much cooler town than boring ol' Bedford Falls. I mean, it's a shame about George Bailey never being born and all, but isn't that a small price to pay for a happening nightlife, wisecracking bartenders, and the lovely Donna Reed working at the library?

Christmas at the Zoo

Wayne Coyne seems to be a big fan of Christmas, as evidenced by the dancing Santas that join the Flaming Lips onstage or his long-in-production film Christmas on Mars (which apparently is finished and scheduled to premiere at South by Southwest next year? Cool!). Musically, there's this song from Clouds Taste Metallic, which tells the story of someone who decides to spend Christmas Eve liberating zoo animals, but the animals tell him they're not especially interested in liberation. This being a Flaming Lips song, psychedelic drugs may have been involved.

Awful Christmas Specials
- Earlier this month, I downloaded a copy of the Star Wars Holiday Special, but I still haven't watched it. This is partly out of fear that it can't possibly measure up to its so-bad-it's-good reputation. How bad is it supposed to be? So bad that George Lucas refused to allow it to be aired more than once or released on video (and this is the same George Lucas who had not problem with releasing Episodes I, II, or III). In the same vein, I'd love to get a copy of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, the last of the Rankin & Bass stop-motion specials, which features Santa kicking ass against a bunch of Tolkeinesque monsters.

Six to Eight Black Men
- David Sedaris has enough great Christmas essays that he could fill a book with them (and he has). My favorite, though, is "Six to Eight Black Men," an examination of the foreign holiday traditions that seem bizarre to Americans. For the full effect, be sure to listen to the essay read in Sedaris's inimitable voice.

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) & 2000 Miles

No smartass commentary here, I'm afraid; just two fairly mainstream, contempoarary Christmas songs that I really love.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reviewing Unseen Movies

It looks like Charlie Wilson's War is being promoted as a lighthearted romp about how grand it was to fund the Mujahideen. I'm thinking that might not be the best lesson to draw from that particular moment in history.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Music Notes

So I know who Robert Christgau is and why he's a big deal in rock critic circles, but I never really read much of his writing. The first paragraph of his first entry in Slate's annual Music Club, though, has pretty much made me a fan:
Let's get this party started quickly. Journey sucks. They sucked in 1981, they'll suck in 2033, and they suck now. Who gives a fuck what Tony Soprano thinks?

Truer words were never spoken.

I'm in awe of Christgau's best-of-the-year list; the dude is 65 years old. I hope that when I'm old enough to start getting a social security check I'm still hip enough to keep my ears open to the likes of M.I.A., Against Me!, and Hyphy Hitz (not that I'm even that hip now, but you get the idea).


I've been so caught up in the gossipy tales of the crazy cop-punching news anchor and the pregnant teenage D-list younger sister of an even more fucked up C-lister that I've been mostly oblivious to all of the other notable personalities who are assaulting police officers and getting knocked up. Well, not so much the first one. But I just learned that Lily Allen is expecting, news which gave me the same sinking feeling you get when you find out that the person you had a crush on all through high school is now happily married. Oh, Lily! I knew I should have asked you to the prom!

Also, a woman who used to be a staffer for John Edwards is pregnant. This apparently has the makings of a HUGE STORY, if you tell it while winking your eye and nodding suggestively at the proper moments.


Since I seem to have abandoned writing about anything that relates to music, I may as well share my immense joy that Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg's long-awaited tome, is actually going to be released soon. The fine folks at Sadly, No! have gotten their hands on a leaked copy of the work. Their conclusion:
Is there even a word for this? Reading this book is like watching a flaming piano fall out of an airplane and land in a puppy farm.

Oh boy! It's even better than I was expecting!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why the Parker Brothers Deserve the Medal of Honor

I always assumed that Monopoly was only useful for passing the time on a rainy afternoon or teaching children about the fun of mortgages and foreclosures. Turns out it can also come in handy for helping soldiers escape from POW camps.

It's a shame that all of the extra sets were destroyed in the name of national security; this would be one special-edition game that would actually be cool to own.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Teh Dictionary Get Pwned

Merriam-Webster's choice for word of the year is "w00t." Yes, spelled with two zeroes (although not necessarily followed by a string of exclamation points and 1s).

Monday, December 10, 2007

My Weekend: A Summary

The Best Thing I Read: Brad at Sadly, No!, laying on the romantic talk PR-style.

The Most Disheartening Thing I Read: This ubiquitous article on waterboarding, which is giving me a serious case of voter's remorse.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's Grammy Season! (I Guess)

So when I went online today and saw a headline about the Grammy nominations being announced, my first reaction was, "Oh, so they're having the Grammys again this year?" There are many reasons why the annual music awards hover somewhere between an afterthought and a joke. The deadline for eligibility is at the end of September, meaning that most of the high-profile fall releases won't have a chance to be nominated until a year from now. The ceremony is filled with god-awful banter between award presenters who seem to be matched up by pulling names out of a hat (I recall one year when, after a terrible one-liner fell flat, Macy Gray [I think] said something to the effect of "Sorry, folks, we don't write this stuff."). And while there are over 100 categories, all but a dozen or so are handed out at a sparsely attended, untelevised ceremony ahead of time.

On the other hand, with so many categories, there's usually something amusing/interesting/infuriating/baffling to be found amidst all of the polka albums and rap-sung collaborations. Some of the highlights this year:

  • The nominees for Album of the Year are pretty much what you'd expect: perennial bridesmaid Kanye West, the increasingly sad Amy Winehouse, token country artist Vince Gill, token rock act Foo Fighters (I almost forgot that they put out a CD this year; this band has completely fallen off my radar), and Herbie Hancock. Wait, Herbie Hancock? How'd he wind up on this list? I'm going to go out on a limb right now and say that Hancock will win this one, making him the Steely Dan to Kanye's Eminem.
  • This year continues the proud tradition of nominating non-new artists for Best New Artist. Hey, has anyone heard of this Feist person?
  • You should note that a vocal album must contain at least 51% playing time of vocal tracks, whereas an instrumental album must contain at least 51% playing time of instrumental tracks. There must be some poor sap in a basement office who has to listen to every new release with a stopwatch in his hand.
  • The lines between Rock and Alternative Rock are never clearly drawn, and this year Wilco was nominated for best Rock album with Sky Blue Sky, the least rocking album of their career.
  • Jay-Z got a bunch of of nominations for last year's letdown of a comeback, Kingdom Come. That would be be embarrassing enough by itself, but then Jay went and released the much more highly-praised American Gangster, which is, of course, too recent to have been nominated. If middling Jay-Z is worth a nomination, then back-on-his-game Jay-Z should be a lock to win next year, assuming logic prevails (it probably won't).
  • The Spoken Word category, which should just go ahead and change its name to Best Audiobook, is once again heavy on the politicos: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter are all nominated. So remember: if you want to win a Grammy but have no musical talent, just run for public office and you can get a statuette for sitting down in a studio and reading from your book.
  • Was "Falling Slowly" really composed for the soundtrack to Once? The song appears on
    the Frames' album The Cost, but I guess that's not indicative of anything, as the nomination criteria for these types of awards are always insanely complicated. Then again, I'd prefer to believe that the nominating committee just got it wrong.
  • I'm always interested in the awards for packaging and liner notes. In theory, you could put out an album that consisted of a nicely-designed sleeve and a blank CD and still win a Grammy for it. Bright Eyes seems to put a lot of thought into their album artwork, so it was nice to see a nomination for Cassadega, and the White Stripes are probably the first band to get a nomination for a flash drive.
  • I'm fairly sure that the category for Best Surround Sound Album exists solely to let the Flaming Lips accumulate trophies.
  • The nominees for Short Form Music Video mostly consist of clips that were heavily embedded in various blogs over the past year ("1234," "D.A.N.C.E."), but also include "Gone Daddy Gone" by Gnarls Barkley. To refresh your memory, that was the one where they were all cartoon fleas. Yeah, that one.
That's about all I have to say right now. Be sure to tune into the broadcast on February 10th to see Kanye throw another fit.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ad Hominem

I'm not so sure that Cedric Daniels of the Baltimore Police should be flaunting his Cadillac like that. People might start talking about his bad old days in the Eastern district.

In related news, while searching for a video of that commercial, I was pleased to learn that Lance Reddick will be joining the cast of Lost next season, since I'm all in favor of actors from The Wire continuing to find high-profile work. Still, I can't help but notice that, along with Harold Perrineau and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Reddick is that third Lost cast member to have been featured on Oz. That means the show is three for three on adult male black actors who have previously had recurring roles on a show about a prison. That seems to say something about the American criminal justice system, the types of roles available to black performers, or both.

Or who knows; maybe the two shows' casting directors are just good friends.

O Brave New World That Has Such Beverages In't!

When I was younger, there were two main varieties of milk: regular and chocolate. Somewhere along the line, strawberry milk was unveiled, and I figured I had seen the limits of what milk-flavoring technology could accomplish (those bottled Starbucks drinks occupy a gray area between milk and coffee).

But science marches onward, and I have recently discovered the existence of root beer milk. Weird. And yet strangely enticing. The same dairy also makes orange creme milk, which seems like a good way to recreate that time you woke up and were really tired or really hung over and poured orange juice on your Chex.

Unfortunately, these strange concoctions only seem to be available in Missouri and Kansas. Overall, I think it's one of the more tempting reasons to take a vacation to the heartland.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

News I May Have Missed

Apparently, at some point yesterday I stumbled into a sound-proof chamber and avoided hearing anything about the hostage situation at a Hillary Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire. I only found out about it late last night, long after it had been peacefully resolved. Also fortunate: I missed having to sit through a live feed of the typically moronic statements that must have been uttered on a fairly regular basis during the crisis.

Also, Evel Kneivel died yesterday. I missed that news as well.

My posting this week has been non-existent, but I'm afraid I can't blame that on my visit to a sensory deprivation chamber. The fact is that I have several posts on the mental back-burner, on topics such as TV shows, commercials, and amusing videos (which, I now realize, is really just one topic). I have been stymied, though, by my inability to figure out how to rip video clips from DVDs and upload them to YouTube. We're dealing with cutting-edge stuff here.