Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nazis and Dragons and Congressional Candidates, Oh My!

Sometimes I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of April that I completely forget Hitler's birthday. Tony Zirkle, Republican congressional candidate in Indiana, clearly has no such problem.

Ordinarily, a politician giving a speech in front of a giant portrait of Hitler, surrounded by people wearing swastika armbands, would be hard to beat for news value. The real fun here, though, is that Zirkle is now spinning like he was caught in a sex sting. So far, his excuses have been:

  • They're not Nazis, they're just regular old National Socialists!
  • He doesn't "know enough about the group" to judge them. I always thought that there were two kinds of people in the world: on the one side, there is a relatively small handful of fascist, hateful loons who are in favor of Nazism, and on the other side are the non-crazy, non-racist reasonable people who take the anti-Nazi stance. Zirkle is apparently in the lonely position of still waiting for all the facts to come in before he makes up his mind.
  • "I'll speak before any group that invites me." After all, it's just rude to turn down speaking engagements! They may be hate groups, but they still need to obey common courtesy. Still, it's hard to doubt Zirkle's word here, since he added, "I've spoken on an African-American radio station in Atlanta." Kudos, sir! That's sort of like Jesse Owens running in the Berlin Olympics, except with the roles reversed, and nothing else in common either.
  • He was only trying to warn people about the great porn dragon. Say that out loud: Great Porn Dragon. It's beautiful, isn't it? I'm going ahead and calling that the phrase of the year. (This is not to be confused, of course, with dragon porn.)
Still, even with all of the jaw-droppingly bizarre twists to this story, my favorite detail is the "Happy Birthday" banner that the Nazis must have picked up at Party City before their little shindig. You're quite a ways from the grandeur of the Third Reich, fellas. I'm sure Adolf would have appreciated the thought, though.

Fun Fact

Steve Miller wrote (but never recorded or released) a song called "The Upper Darby Shuffle."

Bonus Hometown Fun Fact: I'm rewatching the first season of 30 Rock, and in one of the episodes Tina Fey drops a Todd Rundgren reference. If they'd only added a Jim Croce song, it would have hit the famous alumni trifecta.

(Yes, I do tend to get a giddy thrill when I see local references in the national media. I'm kind of a hick that way.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Think Maybe You Could Kinda Sorta Use an Editor, Perhaps

This Wikipedia page contains one of the most needlessly elongated sentences I have ever seen:
According to authoritative sources, many people have said that vodka has in many cases been known to also frequently be the drink of choice for alcoholics in the majority of some of the parts of Central and Eastern Europe, mainly due to its relatively high alcohol content, relatively low price, and the relative unavailability of neutral grain spirits throughout regions included within these areas.
I would suggest that you do a shot for every unnecessary clause, but I don't want to be responsible for any alcohol poisoning.

I'll be generous and assume that the person who wrote this is either a non-native speaker of English (maybe from some parts, regions, or areas of Central or Eastern Europe?) or that they were relatively drunk at the time.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mazel Tov to Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson . . .

. . . who apparently got married a couple of weeks ago. If I'd known, I would have brought the happy couple a gift.*

Bonus weird fact: Reed and Anderson's dog is named Lolabelle.

*Hey! Unintentional Velvet Underground reference!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

. . . And Ben Stein Makes Five

I don't think anyone had high hopes for the Townhall-column-committed-to-celluloid Expelled, but the pro-creationist documentary is the fifth film of the year to receive an F from the A.V. Club.

Lost Is Back Tonight

Start getting caught up:

There; that should cover it all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Sentence I Never Expected to Write

Last night, Stephen Colbert made a joke on national TV about the Swedish Cabin.

Obama Endorsed by International Fratboy Union

What, no popped collars?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Today, as you may have heard, was the Pennsylvania primary, the most important event in the current presidential campaign a day which probably won't change much about the current race. It was also the first time I ever voted in a presidential primary. I learned that not only do I get to pick my favorite candidate, but I also get to pick the people who get to go to Denver this summer and vote for that candidate. It would have been a difficult choice, had the ballot not conveniently contained the precise number of delegates that I would have needed to pick.

Most exciting of all, though, I got to write in a candidate! Apparently, the candidate for State House didn't file her paperwork on time or something, making it necessary to write her name on the ballot. I admit I haven't researched this candidate very closely, but the fact that she was not able to make herself a candidate by conventional means does not inspire tremendous confidence. Meanwhile, the incumbent Representative decided to take advantage of the power vacuum by appealing to Democrats to write his name in as the Democratic candidate, thus increasing his chance of reelection from "practically guaranteed" to "completely guaranteed."

Once I arrived at my polling place, I discovered that volunteers from both parties were handing out pre-inked rubber stamps with the candidates' names on them (that's right: the first competitive Pennsylvania primary of my life, and I'm still just rubber-stamping things). So I picked up one stamp from the Democratic volunteer (a kid with long hair and a Fidel Castro hat) and one from the Republican volunteer (a middle-aged white guy in a suit), and went inside, confident that my vote would not be disqualified due to misspelling, poor penmanship, or a last minute temptation to cast a vote for Lincoln's Ghost.

So I exercised my civic duty, and Pennsylvania has ceded its title of Most Important State in the Union to Indiana and North Carolina (seriously?). I'll miss the daily mailers from the SEIU and the frequent, pre-recorded phone calls from my BFFs Michelle and Bill. Perhaps the only consolation is that I'll get to go through the whole thing again in just a few short months.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Things I Learn From Wikipedia

There is a Japanese baseball team called the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Their mascot is named Slyly.

He is a bizarro version of the Phillies Phanatic with blue fur and two tongues.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lou Reed: Still Taking No Prisoners

Silly me. About halfway through Lou Reed's set last night at the Electric Factory, and I thought he had mellowed. There he was, introducing himself with a lighthearted "Hello Cleveland," introducing a couple of his songs as being from the movie Juno (only true for one of them), and jokingly dismissing a request for "Venus in Furs" by saying "That's not one of my songs!" and asking the band if he had in fact written it. Despite the signs posted around the venue informing us of the artist's request that we keep our voices down during the performance, there was scarcely a hint of the smug asshole phase of Reed's career.

When Reed brought down the volume a little, though, suddenly I was surrounded by the low roar of hundreds of conversations. It was certainly annoying, and I wasn't the only one who thought so. In the middle of "Talking Book," with Laurie Anderson joining the band onstage, Reed stopped the music and asked, "Would you like me to finish the song, or would you like keep talking?" The audience roared with approval.

I'm always baffled when people spend good money on tickets to rock shows and then proceed to treat the performer as background music for their conversations. The Electric Factory is a music venue; it's not some local bar where you weren't expecting a band to be. Lou Reed wasn't the opening act or anything. And c'mon . . . it's Lou Reed! Are you just there to hear the hits?

As for the performance as a whole, I enjoyed it, but feel too ignorant to discuss it further (I know Reed mostly from the Velvet Underground, and a few of his better-known solo songs). I was quite amused, though, that with his large glasses, sleeveless shirt, and prominent belly, he looked less like the Rock n Roll Animal of his use and more like a suburban dad who had spent the day working on his lawn.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Danny Federici, 1950-2008

I know I tend to be pretty irreverent with the celebrity death news around here, but this truly does suck: Danny Federici, keyboardist for the E-Street Band, has passed away after a battle with melanoma. As far as I'm concerned, The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, and Darkness on the Edge of Town is one of the most amazing streaks of albums in modern popular music history, and they certainly would be less memorable without Federici's accordion, glockenspiel, and his absolutely transcendent organ fills and solos. The loss is made even sadder because, after leaving Springsteen's tour to undergo treatment last year, he appeared onstage at a concert in Indianapolis less than a month ago, leading me, to think that he was all but recovered.

Video of his final performance is at, and more information at the Backstreets fan site.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Line of the Week

"I wanna rent a van and drive across country with you guys!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What I've Seen: No Country for Old Men / Lost Highway

This is probably something that I should have an opinion on, but I have to admit that I still don't know quite how I feel about the Coen brothers. It's never felt like a chore to watch one of their movies, but at the end I typically feel like I missed something, either because of some unclear plot point or, more often, the many strange lines, motifs and images that feel like they were supposed to add up to more than I was able to understand.

This isn't so much a knock on the movies themselves; Raising Arizona, The Big Lewbowski, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? are some of my favorites because there's so much going on in them that rewards multiple viewings. The problem for me is the dramas. Fargo was great, but it's almost impossible for me to watch because of the sick feeling I get in my stomach as William H. Macy's character gets in more and more over his head. The Man Who Wasn't There gives me the same problem, and even the comparatively lighter Barton Fink and Miller's Crossing aren't exactly delightful. I have a feeling that these could become some of my favorite films, if only I had the guts to watch them a few more times.

And so it is with No Country for Old Men, which despite being very effective and compulsively watchable (and kind of confounding), still left me feeling like it was a little overrated. Yet there were things in it that I'm sure would impress me more and more on subsequent viewings. The cinematography of the great Roger Deakins, for example, or the way sound effects largely took the place of a traditional score, or the recurring shots of boots.

One thing that I certainly could certainly respect was the way that the filmmakers constantly upended the elements of a conventional thriller. It spends much of its running time setting up various conflicts that go unresolved and showdowns that never occur. A tense scene that is interrupted by a false scare just as quickly is punctured by the real scare. Anton Chigurh, the villain, is a killer who lives by a code, but it's a code that makes him more terrifying, not more sympathetic.

The most daring part of all is when a scene that would seem to be the climax of the film is excluded completely; we see the run-up and the aftermath, but the key event itself is left out. I'm guessing that this is the point when a good portion of the film's audience became either lost or fed up. Up until then, the Coens certainly don't shy away from violence, and are busy racking up probably the highest body count of their careers. The only act of violence that takes place afterwards, though, is only hinted at, to the point that whether it even happened at all could be a matter of debate.

Joel and Ethan Coen seem to take a profound joy in fucking with their audience; even the end credits seem a bit askew. While it's not my favorite film of theirs, it seems fitting that this and not Fargo won the Best Picture Oscar. Like their best work, it leaves you thinking, "Well, that was different..."


As a bonus, here's a haiku summarizing my reaction to Lost Highway:
David Lynch's films
Tend to be pretty fucked up
(Seriously -- huh?)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What I've Read: Novels in Three Lines

It didn't seem to get as much attention as Not Quite What I Was Planning, the recent collection of six-word memoirs, but Luc Sante's translation of Novels in Three Lines is one of the strangest and most interesting things I've read in quite some time. The book is a collection of short news pieces written by anarchist and critic Felix Feneon and published in a Paris newspaper around the turn of the century (sort of a Gallic precursor to "No blood in ants").

On a purely historic level, the book is interesting as a portrait of what was in the papers at the time, with stories about labor strikes and anarchist bombings mixed in among crime reports and obituaries. And a good many of those daily occurrences are interesting in their own right; Feneon clearly was a fan of stories about strange coincidences and ironic outcomes. But most of the appeal comes from Feneon's incredible writing style. Each story is, of course, very brief, but he somehow manages to find room in almost all of them for at least one memorable detail, strange turn of phrase, or instance of dark humor.

Whereas a typical news story begins with a description of what happened and then proceeds to build details around it, Feneon tends to take the opposite approach. He starts by setting a scene or introducing someone in a way that makes them seem like a character with whom we should already be familiar. It's only at the very end that he tells the reader what happened that was newsworthy. I was frequently reminded of the famous first sentence of Kafka's Metamorphosis in the way that they key detail is held until the end of the sentence for maximum impact. Indeed, many of the news items contained in the book would make for great opening lines of novels; others are so delightfully macabre that they wouldn't seem out of place underneath an Edward Gorey illustration.

I'd quote some examples, but there are too many great lines to choose from, and I fear that taking them out of context would dilute their impact (also, I've already returned the book to the library). I highly recommend it to fans of haiku, limericks, and other literary small plates.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

There's No Such Thing as Scotchtoberfest

In observation of Wear a Kilt to Work Day (what, it wasn't on your calendar?), I wore a kilt to work today. I did this for several reasons, like to celebrate my non-existent Scottish heritage, to raise money for charity, and in the hopes that I might get a free bottle of whisky (nope). Mostly, though, I saw it as a day when I wouldn't have to worry about finding a clean pair of pants to wear.

Aside from gaining enormous respect for anyone who has to use a bathroom while wearing a skirt, I did learn one useful piece of information: part of the whole kilt ensemble is a little knife that you hide in your sock. Just something to keep in mind the next time you're tempted to laugh at a man wearing a kilt.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fool's Roundup

Hoax #1: R.E.M. release a new album, and it's getting really good reviews. Sorry, nation's rock critics, but it's 2008, not 1988. Those guys aren't due for a revival until 2012.

Hoax #2: Noted writer/director/sleazy guy Woody Allen has sued American Apparel, the sleazy clothing company with the sleazy CEO, for using his image in one of their sleazy ads. I find all this doubtful: if Mr. Allen's so protective of his image, why hasn't he sued about half of his films? [rimshot]

Hoax #3: Oh noes! Scott Weiland was kicked out of Velvet Revolver because of his "erratic behavior and personal problems." I'm suspicious, though: why would you hire Scott Weiland to be in your band if you didn't want erratic behavior and personal problems? Isn't that like the frog getting mad when the scorpion stings him halfway across the river? And without Weiland, wouldn't Velvet Revolver have to change their name to "The Guys From Guns N' Roses Who Aren't Axl"?

Hoax #4: No matter how humiliatingly you may have gotten pranked today, at least it probably wasn't as mean as these two practical jokers who, in order to cover up a robbery, allegedly posted a Craigslist ad inviting people to come over to their victim's house and help themselves to anything they wanted, including the guy's horse.

For all your other April Fool's needs, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive list of pranks, including Google's new time-travel capabilities, YouTube's massive Rickroll, and the mysterious re-moustaching of Alex Trebek.