Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Year In Books

I probably read more for pleasure this year than any other year of my life. I recommended a lot of books this year, so I won't re-recommend any of them here, but, if you have read any of these books, I would love to hear your thoughts on them.

The best of the best:

Fiction
Gilead, by Maryanne Robinson
Lush Life, by Richard Price
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles
Straight Man, by Richard Russo
How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely

Non-Fiction
The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, and Shakespeare Wrote For Money, by Nick Hornby
Lost in the Meritocracy, by Walter Kirn
Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

The Best Books You've Probably Never Heard Of:
The Remainder, by Tom McCarthy
How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely
The Tourists, by Jeffrey Hobbs

The complete list:
Gilead, by Maryanne Robinson
Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Areas of My Expertise, by John Hodgman
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
Chronicles: Volume 1, by Bob Dylan
The Tourists, by Jeffrey Hobbs
The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby
Shakespeare Wrote For Money, by Nick Hornby
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, by Nick Hornby
The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell
Buffalo Lockjaw, by Greg Ames
Novel About My Wife, by Emily Perkins
Maps and Legends, by Michael Chabon
Lush Life, by Richard Price
Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher
Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles
Clockers, by Richard Price
A Meaningful Life, by L.J. Davis
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, by Jonathan Mahler
The Woman Chaser, by Charles Williford
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida
This Song Is You, by Arthur Phillips
Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami
The Big Rewind, by Nathan Rabin
The Remainder, by Tom McCarthy
Old School, by Tobias Wolff
How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
My Custom Van, by Michael Ian Black
Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon
I Drink For A Reason, by David Cross
Straight Man, by Richard Russo
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Prospect Park West, by Amy Sohn
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons
Lost In the Meritocracy, by Walter Kirn
Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On Karen O and Rock Stardom

Loading up the retro shuffle that Jake bought me for Christmas, I rediscovered the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 2003 album Fever To Tell. Other than The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the first 'indie' rock band I really got into, and I still have fond memories of playing it over and over on a long car trip that spring. Once I had played it out, I put it back into my cd wallet and more or less let it sit there until last week.

I wouldn't say that Fever To Tell is a great album - too many of its songs don't do enough for me to call it 'great' - but its highs are as high as almost any album that came out this decade. The critical and commercial success of "Maps" was such that few would consider it anything other than a modern standard, and "Y Control" is as good of a dance-rock song as anything released by The Killers, Bloc Party, or Phoenix. There were plenty of albums with ten songs as good as Fever To Tell's, but very few with two songs as good as those.

Listening to the album again after all of these years, the main thing that jumped out at me was that it just bleeds "rock star" - that "it" factor which, to paraphrase the great Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's expression about pornography, is impossible to define, but I know it when I see it. Most of the leading singers in the indie rock movement go out of their away to avoid the trappings of rock stardom, acting like just a member of the band, and keeping their partying low-key and their love affairs out of the spotlight. They produce serious, artistic albums, albums for your consideration. But every time Karen O opens her mouth, she evokes booze, sex, small, sweaty night clubs, and the mystique of Robert Plant and Janis Joplin. A little mystique goes a long way. There are a lot of great musicians in indie rock; what it needs is a few good rock stars. Karen O, Jack White, Jenny Lewis, and Julian Casablancas are among the only ones we've got, and from time to time we need to close the Pitchfork window and let them rock us.

Also, in case you haven't seen it, "Y Control" has one of the more memorable music videos I've ever seen. Thank you, Spike Jonze.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Who Knew?

Last week, I blogged about Julian Casablancas' appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The main point of my post was that Casablancas and The Roots sounded great playing together, even if it sounded as if the song was written five minutes before they went onstage. At the time, I honestly thought it was a casual one-off thing, never to be heard again. Needless to say, I was surprised to find that Casablancas has previously released the song as a single, complete with retro 1950's-ish cover art. I'm a little embarassed - I expect myself to be on top of things like that - but really, who knew?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

CSD Book Club Selection - Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin

The new Common Sense Dancing Long Book Club selection is Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. Discussion of the book will begin on February 1st.

Winter's Tale was published in 1983, and in 2005 the New York Times voted it one of the 25 best American works of fiction of the past 25 years. The original review from the Times can be found here. A couple of years ago, Paste Magazine critic David Langness, wrote about reading it in one sitting, crying for 15 minutes afterward, then re-opening it and starting again. So, we're hoping it will be a little more easily accessible than our current selection, Moby Dick.

Winter's Tale is structured differently than Moby Dick, and, to make it work, the weekly discussions will cover different numbers of pages. Our preliminary schedule for the first four weeks:

Week 1: Prologue through "Pearly Soames" (39 pages)
Week 2: "Peter Lake Hangs from a Star" through "Beverly" (60 pages)
Week 3: "A Goddess in the Bath" through "Lake of the Coheeries" (57 pages)
Week 4: "The Hospital in Printing House Square" through the end of book one (43 pages)

We will try to get the discussion threads up on Mondays, though we may need to stay flexible as real-world stuff gets in the way. Please share your thoughts and comments as we read along!

ADDED - Discussion of A Winter's Tale will begin on February 1st. I somehow forgot to include that in the original post.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Emo Thoughts

Little things keep happening to remind me of how things change as you get older. Today is the last day of my Christmas visit home. Today is my fifth day away from New York City. It feels as if I have been away for an indulgently long period of time, and yet, I only took two days off from work. The other three days were a national holiday (a real national holiday, not one of those like Columbus Day when a lot of people go to work anyway), and a two-day weekend. Its funny how, once you get into the habit of working long week days and sunday afternoons, a couple of days off feels like an unimaginable luxury. Tomorrow I will be back at work, and probably put in a pretty long day, and before too long this vacation will seem like a distant memory.

Related to the first story, I am beginning to realize that it is important to get some physical distance from your office from time to time. When I am at home, and the office is a relatively short commute away, it always feels as if I could go to the office if I choose to, and, because of that, it is sometimes hard to relax because you know that there is always more work you could be doing, if you were only at the office. Being hundreds of miles away, you don't really have a choice other than to make the most of your time away and wait until you get back to the city to get back to work. A change of scenery is good for you in more ways than one.

Growing up, I knew that I lived in a nice single-family house, and had parents that loved me, but I didn't appreciate how lucky I was in the big scheme of things. I have become more and more appreciative over the years, as I have learned more and more about the world around me, and been exposed to more people with backgrounds different than mine. Having spent the past few years in a series of small New York apartments, and having spent the past few days in spacious north Buffalo houses, I amazed by several things - by the space and quiet I took for granted growing up, for the large meals we always shared with our extended family at the holidays, and for the way that our parents were somehow able to manage the demands of raising children with those of demanding jobs that paid them the salaries it took to live lifestyles like our own. I'm at the beginning of my professional career, working a public interest job in an expensive city, and I find it amazing that for more than twenty years I took for granted the accomplishments of people like my parents and my friends' parents, who have led good and charitable lives while balancing so many competing demands. Being an adult is hard, and my parents have pulled it off with extraordinary grace. This holiday season, I am thankful for that.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Kind of Rocks

Albert Hammond's surprise appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon earlier this week provided one of the cooler Christmas-related moments on network television in recent memory. Yes, it sounds as if they wrote this song about five minutes before they went on stage, but Julian Casablancas and The Roots sound really great together, and the entire experiment reinforces the message that the difference between a Christmas carol and a Christmas rock song is a bitchin' rhythm section. I love the way that ?uestlove's drum kicks in from off-screen before you know the Roots are even involved, and as the camera pans to the main stage you can all but hear the audience thinking "wait, who does that sound like . . . that's the guy from The Strokes!" Its not the most ambitious Christmas special I've seen, but a surprisingly effective one nonetheless.

Five Holiday Wishes

Without really intending to do so, I have turned this blog into a Steve Martin tribute site over the past couple of weeks. Really, its a coincidence - I just happened to read this month, which happened to coincide with Christmas, which Steve Martin seems to have a particular talent for exploiting for laughs. His "Holiday Wish" sketch from 1986 is a short-list Christmas classic, but because of NBC's byzantine office politics, was difficult to find for many years. (Lorne Michaels left Saturday Night Live for the 1985-86 season and, though he eventually returned, has always gone out of his way to avoid excluding skits from that season in SNL's various "best of" collections.) Thanks to the miracle of Hulu, it is now online and available to be viewed at any time, without Lorne Michaels' gatekeeping.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Funniest Christmas Song Ever?

Steve Martin, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel teamed up to create one of the weirdest and most hilarious Christmas recordings we've ever heard. The disc jockey gets a few of the details wrong - Simon and Martin were never on the same episode of Saturday Night Live, and this rehearsal never led to the obscure, CSD-favorite "Christmas Wishes," bit that Steve Martin recorded and that NBC, for some reason, refuses to re-broadcast. Even if this recording was never made at NBC, Simon and Martin are good friends, and have probably had access to their fair share of empty recording studios over the past thirty years. Probably nobody except for the principals knows where or when this was recorded, but we wish it received a little more radio play around this time of year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week 10

I overshot a little bit last week; the meeting with the Samuel Enderby happened in this week's reading, though I blogged about it last week. I'll admit it - the novel is dragging on, chapters are blending into one another. This week's reading contained more soliloquies, as well as the chapters on the carpenter and the blacksmith which, let's face it, sort of state the obvious. Besides the meeting with the Samuel Enderby, the most significant thing to happen in this week's reading is that Queequeg became deathly ill with a fever, so ill in fact that the ship's carpenter made him a wooden coffin. After days of illness, Queequeg arises from the coffin one day in good health, ready to hunt whales as if nothing happened. The coffin stays aboard, though, and becomes Queequeg's sea chest. As with some of the novel's earlier instances of foreshadowing, its clear that this coffin is going to play a significant role in the story before the novel is through - at this point, it screams "Chekovian gun!" How it will be significant, of course, remains to be seen.

What were your thoughts on this week's reading? I found some of this week's chapters to be among the most stylistically interesting, with the exception, of course, of the chapter of soliloqies.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Wild and Crazy Guy

Steve Martin's Born Standing Up is not the memoir I expected it to be. Its not even an autobiography. Rather, Martin makes it clear that this is a biography, because it details the life of somebody he used to know - Steve Martin, the stand-up comedian.

The book details Martin's long apprenticeship in comedy, as he goes from performing in a magic shop at Disneyland in grade school, to performing at dinner theaters, small night clubs, headlining small night clubs, opening for bigger acts, and finally becoming a headliner in his own right. The anecdotes of day-to-day life as a working comedian are entertaining, but what's most interesting is the way that Martin, while still in college, decided to become an avant garde comedian, even if, at the time, he didn't really know what it meant to be avant garde. He just decided that he didn't want to be like everybody else, then set out to make himself different, even if that meant a fifteen year process of trial and error.

Originally, Martin gave himself until his thirtieth birthday to make a success of himself in comedy. When his thirtiest birthday arrived, he almost gave up performing for a more conventional career. But he had already appeared on the Tonight Show a few times, and he decided to stick it out. When one of his subsequent appearances on the Tonight Show, in which he did a speeded-up impression of a Vegas night lounge singer ("Frank Sinatra personal friend of mine Sammy Davis Jr. personal friend of mine Steve Martin I'm a personal friend of mine too and now a little dancin'"), the cameras caught Johnny Carson in the background, doubled over in laughter. A shot of Johnny Carson in hysterics was the best endorsement a comedian could get in 1974, and it elevated Martin's career to new heights. Before long, he was playing the Nassau Coliseum and other 20,000 seat-plus venues; venues so large that fans in the back row could not see the balloon animals and sight gags that were such a beloved part of Martin's show.

By 1978, he was booked solid for the next two years, and his punchlines had become so popular that the fans would shout them out at his live shows like Springsteen fans singing along to "The River." Unfortunately for Martin, sing-alongs work better at stadium rock shows than they do for stand-up comedy. He was so popular, and so beloved, that people would laugh in anticipation of his jokes, so that Martin couldn't tell if he was actually being funny, or if fans were just laughing at the memories of his previous performances. He checked into a hospital after having a panic attack, and a nurse asked him to sign his EKG. People he had known for years asked him for autographs. People would laugh when he asked what time a movie started, or ordered food at a restaurant. In 1981, Martin walked away from stand-up comedy, and hasn't gone back.

By the time I was old enough to be conscious of stand-up comedy, Martin had long since retired. Its easy to forget that, before he made L.A. Story and Parenthood, let along Cheaper by the Donzen and Sgt. Bilo, Martin was the most popular stand-up comedian of all-time, and that his stand-up album A Wild and Crazy Guy once reached the mind-blowing position of #2 on the Billboard charts. Martin has made a lot of terrible movies in the past 28 years, but he's still one of my favorite funny people, with his occasional Saturday Night Live and Academy Award hosting gigs, well-written comic novels and New Yorker pieces, and his universal high regard as a renaissance man - he's widely read in philosophy and is one of the most distinguished private art collectors in the United States. Roger Ebert wrote that, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, he wanted to talk to Steve Martin, because he knew that Martin would have something insightful to say about them. We see more of the learned, philosophical Martin in Born Standing Up than we do of the Martin who once routinely filled the Nassau Coliseum, but its still a funny, engaging book, and a must-read for anybody with a serious interest in comedy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week 9

As much as I enjoy posting to this blog, real life takes priority. This week is one of those weeks. I do not intend to give this week's reading less than its due, but there were a few more well-written passages about whaling that were only tangentially related to the plot of the book, and an interesting 'gam' with the Samuel Enderby, a British ship whose captain had lost his arm to Moby Dick, much like the Pequod's Ahab had lost his leg. However, the captain of the Samuel Enderby does not share Ahab's thirst for vengence, and Ahab's madness is highlighted in our eyes by his comparison to the other captain, who, to a neutral observed, had every bit as much of a right to want revenge. Again, a bad sign for the Pequod and its crew. My guess is that Moby Dick is soon to make an appearance - the plot seems to have been building up to it for some time now.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Three Best Songs With Which To End A Mix Tape

On Monday night, I went to Union Hall in Brooklyn to see the Onion AV Club staff read from their new book, Inventory. Among the presenters were Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson, Josh Modell, Amelie Gilette, Sean O'Neal, and Andy Battaglia, and they were all funny and cool and riffy. You can see how much they love music, movies, books, and television and the way those things connect to form what we call "pop culture."

Inventory, as you may have guessed, is a book of pop-culture lists, such as "16 films featuring manic pixie dream girls" "10 great songs nearly ruined by saxaphone." All of this talk of making lists has inspired me to make one of my own: the best songs with which to end a mix tape. The list is a work in progress, but these, I think, are the top three:

1) "If You Want Me To Stay," by Sly and the Family Stone
2) "Let Her Dance," by the Bobby Fuller Four
3) "Mr. November," by The National

What are your favorites mix tape songs, and which ones end it on a high note?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Takes after the Old Testament



How often have I been treated by him in a similar manner.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Weeks 7 & 8

Once again, I am impressed with the quality of Melville's writing, but wish he spent more of it describing action - a plot of any kind, instead of describing whales, the jawbones of whales, the legends surrouding whales, etc. I am consistently impressed with the quality of his writing, but, to quote an old friend, who became mired down in an unabridged copy of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, I am badly in need of some bridges.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's Your Favorite Iconic Music Video Hook?

Much like we tend to remember pop songs by their hooks, we tend to remember music videos for a single shot that captures the essence of the video. Some friends and I discussed our favorite music video moments the other day, and these are the ones we came up with. Which of these are your favorite, and what are the ones we left out?

Guns N' Roses, "November Rain" - Slash storms out of the church and rips a mournful guitar solo:


Dr. Dre, "Ain't Nuthin' But a G Thang" - The D.O.C opens up a refrigerator full of forties:


Daft Punk, "Around the World" - Entire video.

Madonna, "Like A Prayer" - Black Jesus sheds a single tear of blood:


Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" - Ninjas doing ballet, gay swimmers being doused in water, leather jacket greasers dancing on the stairs of a British boarding schools, and all of the other crazy non-sensical shit that happens in that video:


Laura Braningan, "Self Control" - The futuristic dystopia that spontaneously turns into a dance party on what appears to be a gymnastics mat


The Thermals, "Pillar of Salt" - Random breakdancer guy and the nun outfits

The Saddest Movie Scene Of the Decade

Or, maybe, just the best. I've watched the "life" montage from Up! three times, including once in the movie theater, and it has made me cry every time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Moments In Ownage

Compiled by Onion AV Club commenter-turned-contributer Zodiac Motherfucker, Great Momemnts in Ownage is a great way to kill time, if you don't mind killing a few brain cells every time you click on a video. There are about thirty of them in the series so far.

Monday, November 30, 2009

CSD Book Club Update

This week's discussion of Moby Dick is being adjourned - once again, real life intervened. Next week, we will discuss both this week's and next week's reading.

There's no clear consensus as to what book people would prefer to read for the next long book club. The debate at this point appears to be between Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale (great reputation, few of our readers have already read it), and one of two Stephen King's Under the Dome (current and well-reviewed, only available in cumbersome hardcover) and The Stand (topically current book with 'modern classic' status.)

If you have a preference one way or another, please leave a comment in this thread. Happy reading!

emo afternoon thought

Your significant other's extended family shall now be included with Bears, hipsters, and snakes on my list of "things that are just as afraid of you as you are of them." Recognizing this improves one's relationship to all list members.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Wild and Crazy Guy

The other day, I picked up a copy of Steve Martin's A Wild and Crazy Guy at a record store. Its awesome. To a modern ear, most stand-up comedy from the 1970's and late 1960's is astonishingly straight-forward; today's stand-up comedy, by comparison, slips its jokes in under several layers of ironic distance. Steve Martin broke ground in this regard; his comedy wasn't so much a series of jokes but rather an extended performance-art riff on what makes people laugh and the corny comedic cliches that people have shoved down our throats since the 1950's. Nobody transitioned so smoothly from snarky funny to sincerely funny to comedy intentionally-so-bad-its-funny and back again. He was the best.

Note: This video isn't from A Wild and Crazy Guy, but it is a) on YouTube, b)embeddable and c)of the same vintage as A Wild and Crazy Guy. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Its Good To Be Home

Apologies for the scant posting - Jake and I have been back at our parents' house for the past few days, and sharing an old computer with a slow connection four ways isn't conducive to rapid-fire blogging. We'll try to pick things up early next week.

It is good to be home. Everybody assumes their childhood is a typical one; it isn't until later in life that you realize how many people grew up differently than you did, and when you return to your hometown after several years of living somewhere else, you see it through new eyes. I am thankful for the love of my family, and this Thanksgiving I am particularly thankful for having grown up in such a nice, spacious house, where I always had my own room, and in which I could always find a quiet corner to read, or just to be alone with my thoughts. Those things are difficult to come by in New York City. Growing up, we always had a refrigerator full of food, and by that I mean 'real' food, not 'food products' and frozen dinners. I assumed that most families had two or three vegetables with dinner every night; now that I cook for myself, I wonder how my parents found the time and energy to prepare them.

Being home is good for some other stuff, too. In my opinion, Buffalo has better junk food than any city I have ever visited. Pizzerias, submarine sandwich shops, chicken wing purveyors and sweet shops exist in numbers inconceivable to a person accustomed to a more fashionable and health-conscious city like New York or Seattle. Living here would be bad for my heart, liver, and insulin levels, but it is a fun place to visit around the holidays.

Similarly, record stores, used book stores, and vintage/thrift shops thrive here; people in this economically depressed city are always looking to save money, so the market for second-hand goods is thriving, and rents are low enough that businesses like that can afford plenty of space in semi-bustling parts of the city. It is a great city in which to browse. After an hour of flipping through the used cd bins, I emerged from Record Theatre with The Walkmen's Bows & Arrows, Panic! at the Disco's A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, The National's eponymous 2003 debut, and Steve Martin's classic stand-up album A Wild and Crazy Guy. Used record shops can rarely afford rent in New York City, and those that can are limited to the most heavily artist-populated neighborhoods and are picked clean on a daily basis. Sometimes its good to live in the cultural mainstream - the vanguard moves too fast sometimes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week 6 - Chapters 54-63

This week's reading alternated between beautifully written and, frankly, rather suspenseful chapters about the hunt for Moby Dick, and dull, rambling, plot-less chapters which describes whales to the reader and attempt to convey exactly how large and dangerous they can be.

I'm perfectly willing to grant Melville a little leeway here - when Moby Dick was published, a significant percentage of America's population was involved in maritime industries, but if you weren't, how would you ever know what a whale looked liked, or how one behaved, in the era before television, and National Geographic? But even so, a couple of chapters seems as if it should have been enough. Do we really need the chapter-long analysis of different famous paintings of whales, with detailed summaries of the accuracies and inaccuracies of each? Or the analyses of the liteary and artistic representations of whales in American, British, and French cultures? If Monty Python made a movie adaptation of Moby Dick, this section of the novel is where they would randomly cut away to a group of pissed off-looking sailors, pirates, and perhaps even the White Whale himself shouting "Get on with it!"

The same goes for the chapter about brit.

Then, I got to thinking about the 'hysterical realist' novels by contemporary authors I enjoy so much. Salman Rushdie, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, etc. all use a similar technique - how many characters in their novels work in a bizarre or obscure occupation, which requires ten pages of non-fictionesque prose just to supply the reader with the appropriate context? What Melville is doing is substantively similar, he just goes on a little too long, and his writing, though stylish enough, is sufficiently dated that these descriptive sections drag on, and don't snap along like, say, the section on Infinite Jest that is entirely about the exercises tennis players use to stay sharp between matches.

Laying the Eggs of Doubt

I shared my scattered thoughts on Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma about a week and a half ago, and, since then, I have moved on to his more recent book In Defense of Food. The Omnivore's Dilemma was more descriptive than proscriptive; it is a natural history of the foods we eat, and ends with Pollan encouraging us to make ethical decisions about what we eat, whether it be plant or animal. In Defense of Food (subtitle: An Eater's Manifesto) is more proscriptive than descriptive, and criticizes different aspects of America's government, industry, and consumer culture for conspiring to fill our supermarkets with "food products" (i.e. Twinkies, low-carb pasta, genetically altered foods, reconstituted foods, etc) instead of "food": produce, meat, and whole foods like breads and pastas made from natural ingredients.

Pollan's best argument, in my opinion, is that food has changed more in the 20th century than it did in the previous several hundred years, if not longer. Cultural norms and taboos developed around the world, guiding people in their eating choices. Many of these cultural practices were surprisingly sophisticated - Japanese put wasabi on sushi because Wasabi is an anti-microbial; Mexicans eat corn with beans and lime because that combination forms complete proteins from the incomplete proteins of its component parts, making a meal of beans, corn and lime as efficient a protein source as eating meat. The animal fats (butter, lard, tallow) which hold together many ethnic cuisines are not as unhealthy as once thought; in fact, animal proteins, like margarine and hydrogenated oils, which were meant to take the place of dangerous animal fats, are actually worse for our health. In other words, "food" is good for us, and traditional eating habits are, counterintuitively, healthier and more sophisticated that our eating habits are today, influenced as they are by decades of shoddy, controversial, or corporate-funded science.

Science breaks down food into its component nutrients, and encourages us to eat more of them - more vitamins, more fatty acid, more protein, less fat, etc. However, most attempts to feed people with nutrients instead of food fail; for example babies reared on formula generally struggle in comparison to babies fed on breast milk, though science has for decades continued to add nutrients to formula to make it more similar to breast milk. The natural food is healthier than the scientifically designed food product, no matter how much is invested in formulating the food product. However, science and advertising have successfully persuaded Americans to buy food based on its component nutrients, instead of its properties as a whole food (think of what you look for on a package of food in the supermarket) and, as a result, we as a nation are susecptible to fad diet and new food products.

So far, so good. Pollan's advice, when taken at face value, is difficult to argue with. For the past couple of weeks, I have been shopping at farmer's markets and cooking more of my meals from scratch. I feel healthier. I do. I have also spent a significant amount of time and money on food. For instance, I just bought a dozen free range eggs at a farmer's market, and made an omlette from them. The eggs were beautiful - the yolks are dark orange, like the color of the University of Texas' jerseys, and so firm that you can reach into the pan, grab them with your fingers, and flip them over repeatedly without them breaking. When you crack one of these eggs into the pan, the whites plop into the pan and just sit there - they don't run themselves thin over the entire bottom of the pan, the way that eggs from factory farms do. Perhaps not surprisingly, my omlette was 'eggier' than anything I had eaten in a while - the egg flavor held its own with the cheese and ham, instead of the egg merely being a form of conveyance. But, they cost $4.50 a dozen. That's not expensive enough to break the bank for most people, but it is expensive enough to make them a once-in-a-while treat. If I have to cook something for a dinner party, I'll probably buy the eggs from the farmer's market, but I won't pay $2.00 per dozen above super market price on a regular basis. (Farmer's market vegetables are less expensive relative to those found in supermarkets.)

Also, I am single, and cooking is labor-intensive when it feeds only one person. What do you pack for lunch? Can you take a break from your busy work day to eat something fresh? For that matter, can you find the time in your work day to eat at a table? Even if we all lament the fact that 20% of American meals are consumed in the car, can we realistically change our culture enough to find time to eat sit-down meals on, say, a busy weekday? I routinely get home from work after 8pm. Who wants to cook from scratch at that hour? A generation or two ago, most women stayed home all day, and could cook meals from scratch - if not the 'wife' of a family, then perhaps a grandmother in a three-generation household. For single people, or for families where both parents work outside of the home, Pollan's recommendations - and, for that matter, the recommendations of most food writers - are difficult to follow.

You Are Not Allowed To Pay Us Back In Clunkers

This season of Saturday Night Live has been pretty disappointing, but last night's episode was pretty funny. Weird, but funny. The cold open, press conference in which the Chinese Premier lectures President Obama on how the United States spends its federal budget, and turns it into a running joke that I kept expecting to run out of steam, but which never did. The rest of the episode was pretty hit-and-miss -it was good to see another installment of Andy Samberg's 'Mellow Show', but the homoerotic digital short idea is pretty played out at this point. I won't dwell too much on the skits that fell flat; even in its prime, Saturday Night Live was wildly uneven, and had almost as many failed skits as funny ones. What makes an episode of Saturday Night Live memorable is how funny its funniest skits are (does anybody remember any of the other skits from the "Dick In A Box" episode?), not how consistently funny it is, and the funniest skits last night were the funniest I've seen all season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Its Like I've Got A Fever

Reigning Sound is coming to Brooklyn tomorrow and Buffalo on Saturday. A disproportionate number of this blog's readers live in one of those two cities. Do yourselves a favor and check them out. Click here to buy tickets to the Brooklyn show.

Me and My Uncle...West Texas Bound

Dream trip: Fall 2010

Fly to Austin/San Antonio Friday night after work.
Sat AM: Snow's BBQ Lexington, TX
Sat PM: UT football game
Sunday: Austin and travel
Monday-weds: Big Bend National Park See Pyrrhuloxia, vermillion flycatcher, elf owl, and varied bunting
Thursday-mid friday: Marfa, TX see Chinati Foundation Donald Judd installations
Friday night: Odessa, TX. High school football game
sat: return to Austin/San antonio
Sunday: Depart

maybe some day. all i need is a partner who like barbecue, football, birds, and minimalism. because the trip doesn't seem to be quite worth the time and money without all the elements.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Will Make You Believe Me?

Neko Case performed at the Beacon Theater on Monday night, and it was a fantastic show. As much as I love her recordings, her voice really needs to be heard in person to be full appreciated; she's a virtuoso. It is entirely possible that nobody in indie rock is as good at playing their instrument as Neko Case is at singing. As always, her band - the same four guys who backed her on the album, and at her Nokia Theater concert in April - were tight, and jokey in an old-pro sort of way. She played some deep cuts, including "Star Witness," a personal favorite of mine, and she looked absolutely gorgeous in a shiny red dress, like a 1930's torch singer. You should check her out, but if you don't get the chance, you can always enjoy her on YouTube:


Also of note - earlier in the day, she performed "Red Tide" on Late Nite with Jimmy Fallon.


All of this talk about Neko Case has gotten me thinking. What would be a more awkward place to run into one of your bros than a Neko Case concert? A stationary store? A screening of Twilight? Bed, Bath & Beyond? An Indigo Girls concert?

Reigning Sound Will Rock You If Give Them The Chance

Reigning Sound is on an independent label, but they're not "indie" rock. They're a 1970's-style garage rock band from Tennessee, made up of dudes in their late 40's, who had long careers in music before forming in 2001. On Friday night, they're playing at Southpaw, five blocks from CSD's Brooklyn headquarters, and at Mohawk Place in Buffalo on Saturday. If you're within shouting distance of either of these concerts this weekend, I recommend that you check them out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Looting GreenPoint Mortgage

I am considering looting GreenPoint Mortgage.

In case you forgot, I work in a big subruban office park. It was supposed to be torn down in 2008 and rebuilt as a luxury office park, so the tenants were largely cleared out. but then financing and commercial real estate tightened up, so it just sits there at about 10% occupancy with two of the three buildings shuttered.

In our building is a large office that once belonged to famed subprime lender GreenPoint. They moved out in 2007 and the office was locked and untouched. it has been unlocked for the last 3 days, and I am considering looting it. In addition to a lot of terrible corporate art, there is a tolerable mountain landscape photograph. there is also a microwave and about 30 reams of legal sized copy paper. I have no idea who owns these things--the building management company or GreenPoint, but given that they have sat for 2 years, whoever owns these things does not value them.

I feel apprehensive, but I am not sure why. Is it stealing? Am I afraid of breaking the rigid norms of corporate culture? If I hang the print in my office, could something bad happen?

This also feels very symbolic--the act of looting a defunct subprime lender. Is this an act of renewal, of appropriating the mortgage crisis and making something good of it. Am I another vulture picking the the economic hulks for something I can make a buck on? Am I badly overthinking this and looking for larger meaning where there is none? (Probably)

I feel like I am in a Douglas Coupland novel. and I really should have read "Then we came to the end" to know how to behave with regard to the etiquette of drones taking corporate property during a business failure. But I haven't gotten around to reading it.

In my plan, I sell the microwave on CL, give away the paper, and keep the print.

Should I do it?

Hate Will Set You Free

I hate the New England Patriots. I hate how the referees protect Brady and never call Moss for offensive pass interference. I hate how Wes Welker's talks trash non-stop, and how his jersey is disproportionately popular because white people think he's scrapy and over-achieving. I hate Bill Belichek's smug demeanor and bad sportsmanship, and how he illegally used a camera to spy on opposing teams. I also hate his wardrobe of gray hooded sweatshirts, which is a deliberate fashion choice intended to say "I work so hard studying film that I don't have time to dress like an adult." I hate how Bill Belichek refuses to make eye contact or say anything to opposing coaches when he engages in the league-mandated handshake after games. I hate how the NFL chose not to punish the Patriots for Spygate, but will fine the Titans' owner for flicking someone the bird. I hated how they ran up the score against inferior teams, yet took no apparent joy in winning. I hate pretty boy Tom Brady and the bullshit hooded sweatshirt-under-sportcoat fashion trend he helped popularize. I hated how Willie McGinest used to fake injuries to stop the clock, and I hate how broadcasters never called him out on it. I hated Rodney Harrison's blatant cheap-shots, and how the Patriots' secondary got away with defensive pass interference penalties so often that the NFL made defensive pass interference a "special point of emphasis."

I love the fact that 'defensive genius' Bill Belichek did not trust his defense enough to punt the ball on 4th-and-2 deep in his own end, which would have forced the Colts to go 70 yards for a touchdown in two minutes against a nickel defense. And I REALLY love the fact that the Colts are 5-1 against the Patriots since the league placed extra emphasis on defensive pass interference.

No offense intended, Paul.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Feedback Wanted

The CSD staff is debating what book to select for our next long book club. Some early suggestions have been:

Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin
The Stand or Under the Dome, by Stephen King
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

If you have any suggestions, or would like to vote for any of the books already listed, drop a comment and let us know!

Autumn of Dick - A Bye Week

A couple of the people reading along with our long book club, Autumn of Dick, have told me that they are behind on their reading this week, which is good, because so am I. So, rather than half-ass it or wait for a couple of days until we've all caught up, let's just take this week off and come back next week. Deal? Allright, good talk - see you out there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where Lazy YouTube Dumps Meet Gushing Fanboy-dom

Another repost, but Radiohead's webcast is just so awesome, and the "Ceremony" cover I posted a couple of weeks ago generated a lot of positive feedback, so The Smiths' classic "The Headmaster Ritual." Not only is it fantastically good, but you get the feeling that Radiohead could have kept playing and blown through another couple of hours of songs by The Smiths and their contemporaries without missing a beat. Radiohead is the best.

You are not the cosmos

I like N+1 generally. it is smart (or at least complicated) and mildly topical, if self-involved. But that self-involvement has reached new and terrifying heights. On the n+1 website, which contains about 10 articles there are TWO articles intellectualizing Brooklyn gentrification. There are certainly some interesting ideas here, and the imagination of the "real" past and the post-lapsarian present is a useful idea in America generally. And calling out your fellow Brooklynites on thier various levels of self-delusion and hypocrisy as they promote a culture of authenticity probably feels incredibly necessary. But you have to look a little more broadly. This is why the rest of the country thinks you are self-involved navel-gazers.


discussion of brooklyn gentrification fiction with a focus on amy sohn and an indictment of jonathan letham

Discussion of gentrification using the wire and SATC

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yo, JOE!



Some delightful cameos in this lovingly crafted piece of art. I hate it when I see something awesome on the internet and see hundreds of thousands of hits already awaiting me. Well, I'm late to the party on this one, but am posting anyways since GI Joe had a special place in the childhood of Wade, Paul and I, and perhaps you as well.

We almost lost our fathers in a raging Canadian thunderstorm, thanks to GI Joe, and their own incompetence. At the tail end of a summer barbecue, young Wade was excited to unleash the GI Joe parachute pack. He had dutifully clipped his flag points from the boxes and waited 6-8 weeks--a significant portion of his life at that point. His patience was rewarded, as the nice people from Hasbro sent him a backpack accessory that would allow our Joes to parachute away from danger in any missions our imaginations could cook up. Sadly, Wade and I lacked the arm strength to lift a Joe high enough for the parachute to fully deploy--we needed fully developed arm muscles, or at least someone man enough to sport a Burt Reynolds mustache. Wade's dad fit both those criteria, and was fresh off of Red Sox Fantasy Baseball Camp; surely he could throw our toy far enough. Keep in mind this fantasy baseball was back in the mid-1980s and actually involved dressing up in uniforms and living out Kinsella-esque fantasies rather than letting computers juggle the stats of juice pigs. Confusing the two fantasy baseballs would be a faux-pas likened to mixing up a Civil War reenactor vs. a Dungeons & Dragons player.

So after eagerly waiting 6-8 weeks for the parachute pack to work its magic, on the first throw from Wade's dad, it promptly got caught up in the huge oak tree. Throwing other projectiles up couldn't untangle it. Wade's father and my father agreed: with the thunderstorm rolling in fast, they would need to use the aluminum ladder and metal rake to get the action figure out of the tree. While balancing precariously above us, Wade's dad jabbed at the tangled strings while my father held the ladder steady. The rain started to fall, and the sky grumbled and flashed as if filled with a formation of Cobra Rattlers firing their ordinance. Finally, the womenfolk pulled rank, "FRANK GET DOWN FROM THERE RIGHT NOW! YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET ELECTROCUTED IN A THUNDERSTORM OVER A GODDAMN GI JOE!"

The next morning we retrieved the long-awaited, once-used parachute--tattered, ripped and ruined--from the ground.

That summer also saw the collection-devastating Desert Mission, where Cobra forces dastardly buried many of our Joes in the sand, never to be recovered even though we swear they were "right around here somewhere". On this Veterans' Day, we remember and honor our fallen comrades fighting for freedom wherever there's trouble over land, sea and air in both plastic and corporeal forms.

Paul Newman Is Going To Have My Legs Broken

Today I went out of his way to buy organic and no-hormone-added groceries on the way home from the gym, then ate a chocolate chip cookie after lunch without really thinking about it. Somewhere, Michael Pollan shed a single tear.

I've been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, and it is a fascinating book. It is less of a polemic than Fast Food Nation or other books of that sort; it is written from the point of view of a person who really enjoys food, and doesn't want to eat any junk - sort of like how book and film critics who most people would view as being overly critical really just love the media they review and are disappointed when new books or movies don't live up to their high standards.

Pollan's books leaves me of two mind, as I expected it would. On the one hand, the statistics he includes are staggering - one in five meals eaten in America is consumed in an automobile, "food products" like Twinkies and Powerbars disproportionately outnumber "food" like produce and fresh grains and meats in most supermarkets, and ingredient lists on packages of food include increasingly long lists of substances derived from corn and soybeans. There's no actual cane sugar in a can of Coca Cola anymore, but there are several different sweeteners, all of which are derived from corn. At the same time, the proposed remedies all include spending a lot of time and money - buying organic products, eating meat from animals that have been fed natural diets (grass for cows, algae and small fish for salmon and tuna, etc) instead of animal by-products and corn and soy derivatives, cooking from scratch more often and eating meals at tables instead of heating up frozen or canned food and eating on the run. I'd like to buy an enormous freezer, buy a whole skinned and gutted cow from a butcher shop, and carve it myself into its various cuts, which I can then cook slowly and flavorfully and serve with sides of organic brussel sprouts and portabello mushrooms, but, frankly, I work twelve hours a day for very little money, and I just don't have the time or the money to do much more than throw a chicken breast on a the Foreman grill and pour some Frank's red-hot sauce on it. And in none of my small New York apartments have I had the space in my apartment to store that much fresh food in a way that will keep it from spoiling or being ruined by pests.

Eating well is a challenge. Michael Pollan's book has prepared me to meet that challege, but until I win the lottery and/or sign a $10 million per year contract to play centerfield for the Boston Red Sox, it is going to be a challenge I will struggle to overcome.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Call me Herzog

Dear Senator Kerry,

I am writing to express my disappointment at the extension of the homeowner tax credit and my hope that you will work to let the extension expire at its current date of May 2010.

The current version of credit, with provisions to increase the household income ceiling to $250k and the provision to extend the credit to current homeowners does not benefit our society, only real estate brokers, who, I believe, are not a professional class undervalued by society and in need of federal subsidy.

While it can be argued that home ownership strengthens communities (but probably not as much as we think), these new credits do not increase ownership. They simply transfer wealth regressively from renters to current home owners (and increasingly wealthy ones at that).

The goal of having the government artificially re-inflate the housing bubble is not a noble or sustainable one. And while i support the federal government's right to intervene in markets, this seems to be a case where it is clearly inappropriate.

If you can explain to me how this credit benefits our society at large, I am certainly willing to listen. Otherwise, I entreat you to represent your constituents, and let this obvious boondoggle die.

Sincerely,
8yearoldsdude

Autumn Of Dick - Week 5

Autumn of Dick is going up a little late this week. These weren't the most exciting chapters in the book, though, thankfully, there wasn't a chapter as tedious as last week's 'The Whiteness of the Whale.' Nonetheless, the chapters in which Melville brings up descriptions of encounters with sea monsters from the Bible and ancient history, and speculates on the reasons why each of these historical or literary sea monsters was probably actually a sperm whale. Needless to say, those chapters don't exactly fly by.

The big development this week was that the Pequod spots a school of whales, its first since setting sail. Ahab had previously taken a gold doubloon and nailed it to the mast, as a reward to the first man who spots a whale. Once the school of whales is spotted, five Asian men emerge from Captain Ahab's quarters to try to harpoon the whales. Ahab sneaked them on board without letting Starbuck, Bildad or Peleg know, and their emergence, dark and wraith-like, spooks everybody on the ship. Clearly, these are the shadowy characters who Ishmael and Queequeg thought they saw through the fog, boarding the Pequod on Christmas Eve. The evidence that Ahab is dangerous and obsessed, concerned with vengence moreso than the safety of his crew, or maintaining traditional lines of authority aboard the ship.

What do you think of the novel so far, and the direction in which it is headed? I think that chapters where something actually happens are fascinating - compelling characters, lots of nautical detail, lots of different types of conflicts, and an impressive narrative drive. But so many chapters are so dry and digressive that the book too frequently loses its momentum. Your thoughts?

As Long As We're At It, O.J. Simpson Is A Free Agent, Let's Offer Him A Contract Too

Forgive me, Darryl, for I have sinned . . .

There are now widespread rumors throughout the NFL that my beloved Buffalo Bills may trade for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. If they do so, they would start an offense putting both Michael Vick and Terrell Owens on the field at the same time. If this happens, I may just throw in the towel and start cheering for the New York Giants.

I'm a loyal guy, and, despite their decade of losing teams, the Buffalo Bills have brought me a lot of joy over the course of my lifetime. There are a lot of reasons why we cheer for certain professional sports teams instead of others, but regardless of what geographic, racial, socio-economic, and personnel issues are in play, the bottom line is that we root for teams that we find likeable and fun to watch. With Michael Vick and Terrell Owens, the Bills would be neither of those two things, even if they succeed in winning a few more games than they would with the double non-threat of Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick at quaterback.

I will now go say four Hail Marys, two Our Fathers, and watch the second half of the Oilers comeback game on VHS tape three times before going to bed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ten Best Internet Memes of the Decade

Its difficult to argue with Paste Magazine's list of the ten best internet memes of the decade. My love of Rick Rolling is well known; I may have made it #1 on my list, if only because "Lazy Sunday" would probably split the vote with "Dick In A Box." To be certain, "Lazy Sunday" made "Dick In A Box" possible, but "Dick In A Box" is the biggest viral video of all time, and it seems silly to leave it off of the list.

Paste Magazine's List of the Top Ten Internet Memes of the Decade

The Jill and Kevin wedding dance video is a personal favorite of mine; not only is the dance itself a lot of fun, but Jill and Kevin and their wholesome midwestern adorableness brings back all sorts of sentimental memories that I didn't really know that I had, and Paste's color commentary (It's the coolest nuptial ceremony since Slash stormed out of the church in the "November Rain" video and ripped a mournful guitar solo" is a homerun.

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Oldie But Goodie

A friend sent this to me the other day, and though it has been years since it first aired, it still absolutely killed me. One of the best things the Daily Show has every done, and a reminder that, though we at CSD headquarters love The Colbert Report, (and realize that, by the fall of 2005, Stephen Colbert had become too big of a star to continue to play second fiddle to Jon Stewart for much longer) the sort of chemistry that Stewart and Colbert had between them comes along only a couple of times in a generation, and it was a shame to break it up.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

evening strategy thoughts

In my travels as new england brewer/patriot, I need to acquire unpasteurized cider for fermenting. It is pretty hard to find. I found a lovely man named Phil who sold me cider. I needed 6 gallons but only had enough money for 3. his response was to hand me an envelope with those free return-address tickers on them and say "mail me the rest. I've only had one envelope not come back" I am convinced that life as a consultant has ruined me because rather than thinking "what a nice man," my first thought was "what a great business strategy." Not only did he upsell me the extra 3 gallons, and I of course paid him, I told everyone about it. I am even going to rep him on my website.
Money is a terrible lens through which to view behavior.

There is a lot of talk about large market and small market baseball teams, but many of the big market teams split their market with another team: Yanks/mets, Cubs/white sox, Dodgers/Angels. I would love to see a normalized statistic about regional GNP per team. Are the Red Sox actually the owners of the best market by this statistic? Or do media revenue not scale linearly with population?

Hipster Hate

So I've been frustrated trying to get from West LA to Hollywood in under 90 minutes during rush hour over multiple times in the past few weeks. Might as well take it out on the hipsters.

Where the Dirty Hipsters Are


Hipster Olympics

I Think We Can Make It

I know I've posted this before, but I can't stop listening to it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked is Nick Hornby's sixth novel, and one of his most accomplished. Over the past fifteen years, Hornby has become familiar without becoming boring, not swining for the fences but hitting a frozen rope back up the middle every time he swings the bat. In Juliet, Naked, he explores some familiar themes - our emotional attachment to music, obsession, the influence of popular culture on generation X (and on generation X's ability to love), but with a longer perspective than his earlier novels, and an emotional intelligence that has few rivals.

Duncan and Annie have lived together for 15 years in a sleepy seaside town in the north of England. Duncan, a fortyish academic, moderates a website devoted to the music of Tucker Crowe, an American rock musician best known for Juliet, a break-up album often compared to Bob Dylan's Blood On the Tracks. Crowe quit recording in the mid-eighties, apparently after having an epiphany of some kind, and has not been heard from since. Annie is a fan of Crowe's music, too, but no more than that. As they approach middle age, Duncan's obsession with Crowe - including a bookshelf of bootlegged live performances - seems increasingly pathetic to her, as does the fact that they've lived together for fifteen years without marrying or having children.

Then Duncan, in his capacity as the Crowe website moderator, receives a cd in the mail from Crowe's record label, entitled Juliet, Naked - an acoustic album of rough cuts, before Crowe and his band had polished them into the album's studio cuts. Predictably, Duncan loves it, but to Annie it sounds like a rough first draft. Even if those tracks eventually became something great, how can a rough draft be better than a finished product that professional musicians spent months to produce? The elegant, unstated answer is being one of the first people to receive an unreleased cd from a musician with a cult following is one of the few opportunities he's ever had to feel cool, to feel in the loop. Duncan posts a rave review on the website. Annie posts a much more nuanced, critical one. Then, our of nowhere, Tucker Crowe e-mails Annie and tells her that he agrees with her review, and compliments her on her insights.

Annie and Crowe begin an extended electronic correspondence, and, yes, a love triangle eventually forms, but every time the novel seems to be in danger of becoming a predictable romantic comedy, Hornby throws a curveball and takes the story in another direction altogether. It is a testamant to Hornby's ability as a novelist that none of those changes feel forced, or overly manipulative.

Late in the novel, Hornby describes Gooleness, the town in which Duncan and Annie live, as being the sort of town that people visit because their "parents had misremembered a vacation from their youth or because they had failed to spot the romanticism and poetic license in Bruce Springsteen’s early albums.” That sentence is perhaps the perfect distillation of Hornby's style. The same can be said of Juliet, Naked as a novel.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week Four Open Thread

We're reading chapters 33-42 of Moby Dick this week. I will post my thoughts in the comments thread sometime tomorrow evening, but in the meantime I wanted to let all of you take the lead this week.

Feeling A Little Ceremonious This Morning

Radiohead isn't webcasting as often as it used to, but of all the bands on the interweb, Radiohead is still the best and most innovative. The idea of webcasting casual, tossed-off-but-nonetheless-amazing cover songs from their basement is awesome and should be imitated by other bands. Who wouldn't love to see The Strokes covering The Velvet Underground, or Arcade Fire covering The Talking Heads?

We've posted this video before, but its been a couple of years, and its just too good not to re-post from time to time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Weekend Links, Thursday Edition

We haven't done a weekend links in a while. Here are some stories that have captured our attention lately:

Jonathan Demme - director of The Silence of the Lambs and Rachel Getting Married - plans to make an animated feature-length movie adaptation of David Eggers' Zeitoun.

The Onion A.V. Club is profiled by the Chicago Tribune as it releases Inventory.

The Wall Street Journal reviews Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball. Who would have expected the WSJ, of all papers, to be the first to review it?

The New Yorker has published a new short story by Jonathan Lethem.

And finally, just because its awesome:
The Thermals - "I Called Out Your Name"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

emo evening thoughts

I knew I was in trouble when I went to a website advertising "weddings on a dime" and the subheading was "customized to fit you $20k budget". This is one screwed up social convention. Zounds, I do not need a carriage, or a tent, or an army of waiters. I just need a half-way decent hall, some tables and chairs, and the right to bring in my own booze and food. you'd think I was an alien.

walking around head of the charles and reading the rowing jackets was like seeing a who's who of expensive suburbs across the country.

Paul Revere was not a particularly important patriot. Or not singularly important. He was one of 30 riders to Lexington and Concord. and was discharged from the revolutionary army for cowardice. He was prosperous in later life, and his family seems to have fought some kind of PR battle in the 1800s to get him into the national cannon. [ed. note:never walk the freedom trail with too critical an eye]

Monday, October 26, 2009

It Never Gets Old

Moe vs. the Lie Detector

In which I review Julie and Julia in four words

Less Julie More Julia


oh who am I kidding. just a few more words.

any time there is a dinner on a new york rooftop strung with white lights and good, creative friends creating warmth and community, bad things are in store. that is the single worst film cliche around these days.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Straight Man, by Richard Russo

The Campus Novel is a favorite genre of mine. In its own way, its themes and cliches are as familiar as those of the vampire story, or the buddy movie, or the underdog sports movie. The protagonist is almost always a middle-aged man. He is a beloved professor who is good at his job, but not as good as he could be. Aside from a new notable exceptions, he is disappointed in the abilities of the students enrolled in his classes. He is a little too clever for his own good, and he usually undergoes some sort of mid-life crisis that makes him re-evaluate his priorities, and realize that, all things considered, he has a pretty nice life. Richard Russo's novels have a similar set of themes, and even similar characters, so perhaps only makes sense that Russo, no stranger to small college English departments, would write one of his own.

The Onion AV Club uses the term "mountaintop" to describe a book or an album that is similar in style to the artist's previous work, but the best piece of work we can expect that style to produce. Straight Man may be Richard Russo's mountaintop novel, and it may be the Campus Novel's mountaintop as well, alongside Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. It doesn't break any new ground, but the characters are so well drawn, the campus so thoroughly imagined, and Russo does such a good job of raising the stakes for his characters, though their world seems so small, that it is really difficult to imagine this particular type of story being told any better.

Henry Devereaux, Jr. chairs an English department full of lazy professors who care more about 'winning' petty conflicts with their colleagues than they do about teaching undergraduates, and who are all paranoid about losing their jobs - fears they only have because none of them have published anything worthwhile in ten years. He is a little too clever for his own good, and has an unhealthy habit of provoking everybody who he meets, merely for the sake of provoking them - an instinct that goes from harmless to harmful when the state government announces that it is going to be making cuts in higher education. His daughter and her husband are having marital difficulties. He is half in love with half of the women on campus, including a bitchy colleague, the daughter of another colleague, and his perpetually put-upon secretary. He suffers from male urinary disorder, the cause of which may be more psychological than physiological. He should really defer to his wife's good judgment more often. You don't have to be a long-time reader of Russo to know that, when his wife goes away for a week to visit her troubled father, trouble begins to brew.

If any of this is beginning to sound familiar, it is because . . . it is. But Russo's greatest strength as a novelist is his emotional intelligence, and, here, his ability to make real human beings out of all of these familiar types makes these old conflicts so much more interesting than they really have a right to be. Russo's campus has a lived-in feel; it is a campus on which students come and go, but a small number of tenured faculty never leave, comfortable as they are in their undemanding jobs. There is a certain sort of over-educated person who, in the absence of anything to legitimately worry about, will create something to worry about, and it is no coincidence that a great number of these people end up in academia. Sometimes they end up on small campuses in rural Pennsylvania, and have a man like Henry Devereaux as their department chair. They become cliches - a wimpy male professor nicknamed Orshee because he chimes in with "or she" every time anybody uses a male pronoun; a failed poet who doesn't quite have the looks to make it through life on the kindness of strangers, a post-modernist who refuses to teach any texts other than television sitcoms - but they all feel plausible. Russo gets the little details right, and, in the process, pulls off a couple of fantastic comic set pieces.

Straight Man isn't a perfect novel - the ending too quickly wraps up too many strands of the plot, and an attempt at a big punchline to a novel-length running joke falls a little flat - but is is an excellent one. Russo's characters are good company. If they remind you a little too much of the characters from his other novels, that's okay - those characters were good company, too.

"Sometimes Shit Just Goes Bad"


Japanese People Are Weird - Watch more Funny Videos
The title of this video is "Japanese People Are Weird," but really, everybody in this video is pretty weird, and only a fraction of them are Japanese. Apparently, somebody scoured the internet for weird photographs, assembled them into a four and a half-minute slide show, and wrote a song to accompany them. The idea is so funny, and so simple, that its sort of amazing that nobody thought of it before now.

A lot of these photographs are just disgusting, but some of them have so many weird things happening in the background that it hurts the brain to even attempt to figure out when or where that sort of scene ever could have occurred. Consider the scene at 4:02, with an enormous obese man, wearing ladies underwear and a blonde wig, is loaded into an ambulance while two people dressed as Oompa Loompas look on in terror, a man in a business suit looks on, confused, and two people in bunny suits console each other by hugging. What the hell had just happened?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week 3 - Chapters 20-32

I'll say this much about Herman Melville - the man knew how to foreshadow. This week's reading begins with Ishmael and Queequeg noting what appear to be last-minute preparations aboard the Pequod, and waking up early the next morning to board the ship, knowing they may not return to land for two or three years. They wake up early to a very foggy day and, approaching the boat, see what appears to be the hazy outline of a group of sailors boarding the Pequod. And yet, when Ishmael and Queequeg board the Pequod, these sailors are nowhere to be seen, and indeed the entire ship is still and quiet, its sailors still sleeping below the deck. Its an eerie scene, and one, the reader must assume, portends bad things.

Ishmael and Queequeg meet Starbuck, the ship's first mate, a soft-spoken Quaker who oozes competence out of every pore. "I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale" Starbuck says, suggesting his wisdom and "appropriate fear" of the challenges that lay before the crew of the Pequod. Stubb and Flask, the ship's second and third mates, each seem like reliable sailors.

For the first couple of days out of port, the ship's captain, Ahab, is nowhere to be seen, and Starbuck runs things while Ahab lingers in his cabin. His entrance, when it finally occurs, is one of the more memorable entrances I've read - his build is imposing, and he has a white, lightning-shaped scar that runs down his face and, it is implied, the entire length of his body. Ishmael knows that Ahab lost a leg in a whale attack, but is startled to see Ahab limp around on a prosthetic limb made out of 'ivory' taken from a whale's jaw. So far, pretty bad-ass. But some things about Ahab don't quite seem right. Ahab laments the fact that smoking his pipe - once a favorite past-time of his - no longer brings him any pleasure, and, descending a ladder to his cabin at the end of the day, Ahab states that it feels to him as if he is descending into his tomb.

Then, the narrative takes a sideways turn, as Melville begins a series of non-fictional descriptions of the important of sperm whale oil, the whaling industry in general, and the attributes of the various different types of whales. This break delays the seemingly obvious conflict between Starbuck - the cautious sailor who values the safety of his crew and seeks a profitable voyage, and Ahab, who no longer enjoys life's simple pleasures, sees death on the horizon, and, though it hasn't been fully explained quite yet, seeks revenge on the whale that seperated his leg from his body. This week's reading ends as trouble is beginning to brew.

Random thoughts:

-At first, I disliked the way in which the non-fiction chapters slowed Melville's impressive narrative momentum. But, the more I thought about it, the more I figured that, in the days before television and National Geographic, the common person - even the common educated person - may not have known very much about whales, for instance their size, or the value of their oil, or the fact that they are mammals instead of fish. These chapters may very well have been necessary in the 1850's. Today, they annoy us like an extra long commercial break in the middle of an otherwise gripping television show.

-The founders of Starbucks originally wanted to name their company Pequod's, but then decided that nobody would want to drink a beverage from a company that sounded too much like "pee." Its hard to say that they made the wrong decision, but at the same time . . . come on. Besides, Peet's coffee is one of the most beloved brands in the country!

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We all feel like this from time to time.


Thanks to Matt Ufford.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This One's For The Ladies

CSD is an equal-opportunity blog, and the ladies in our readership have had just as long of a week as the dudes, and also deserve a love song sung to them by a hot redhead. So here you go.

Let's Face It

Its Friday, you've worked hard all week, and you deserve a couple of love songs from a hot emo redhead.

Jenny Lewis - Trying My Best To Love You and Silver Living

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stuff That Exists

Apparently Terrell Owens has a brand of honey and nut flavored o-shaped wheat cereal that is sold in the Buffalo area and may or may not be an illegal imitation of General Mills' Honey Nut Cheerios. Who knew that these existed? Is Terrell Owens really that popular? Doesn't everybody - even the most ardent admirers of his football-playing ability - admit that he's sort of a jackass? Why would his endorsement make you want to buy a breakfast cereal? He's a far cry from Doug Flutie, whose boy-next-door good looks, telegenic family and all-around good guy-ness helped his sugar-frosted corn flakes (which just so happened to bear a resemblance to Frosted Flakes) sold like gangbusters throughout upstate New York in the late 90's. WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO?


Flutie Flakes (1998)

Terrell Owens' T.O.'s


The more I think about it, the more I believe that it may have been funnier to post only a photo of the cereal box, with no commentary. Would that have been ironic? What does "ironic" even mean anymore? Somebody make me stop talking before one of my loyal readers commits suicide out of sheer boredom.

in which you are suprised at how childish I am and how strongly I dislike the yankees

I really dislike the yankees. It is the organizing principle of my baseball life. It may in fact created the liberal framework through which I view all sports.

Now, the roots of Washington sports fans hating new york run very deep. Douglass Wallop's mid-century novel--The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant (upon which the musical Damn Yankees is based)--is all about the depths of the desire of Washington baseball fans to finally best the overlord yankees.

All of this became real for me in 1996 American League Championship Series. With the Orioles leading late in the game, Derek Jeter hit a fly ball to right field. Baltimore Orioles' (Washington had no team so our allegiances shifted 90 mi north)outfielder Tony Tarasco camped underneath it to make the catch. Unexpectedly, A 12 year old boy reached out of the outfield stands of Yankee Stadium and caught the ball.

Now this is not the most scandalous thing in the world, it happens enough that there is a rule for it. When a fan reaches into the field of play and touches a ball, it is ruled spectator interference and in this case the batter would be called out. This is actually more invasive than steve bartman who did not reach into the field of play, but simply refused to yield to Moises Alou's attempt to reach into the stands. but in any event, it is a routine call.

However, the correct call was not made. The fly ball was ruled a home run, the momentum swung to the Yankees who eventually won the game and ultimately the series. And the world rejoiced--or at least the media. Rather than heralding this as an unfortunate tragedy (that a game was decided by invasive fans and umpire error), the boy was cheered as a hero by a new york-centric media and Orioles fans were left with nothing but a bitter sense that the world was focused on New York and we were merely foils to the various forms of their glory.

The fact that this happened in 1996, I was a young teenager, still sensitive to unfairness and still developing a sense of how the wider world worked. Although I admit that it seems childish to carry such vivid memories of this, it was quite instructive that the wealthier, more important team not only received the call but had its unfair advantage whitewashed into an act of heroism and humor. Once one sees this, one looks for it everywhere.

When Michael Jordan threw Bryon Russell to the ground with his left hand in the waning seconds of the 1998 NBA finals, I did not see an act of last second heroism, but rather Jordan, the dominant, favored overdog, being rewarded for the taking advantage of his privilege and then having that unfairness papered over as an act of greatness and glory.

This is where things get murky. I am tempted to try to extrapolate this lesson into something about my political views--why I am outraged about the unlimited upside, socialized downside of wall st. (which happens to be located in new york). That I am, hopefully, sensitive to injustice masquerading as success. but that feels a little foolish if not hypocritical-especially when I could well be considered a bit of a Yankee on social grounds myself. So let's leave that part on the cutting room floor and return to the singular joys of watching the Yankees lose. There really is nothing like it.

Washington baseball fandom is difficult. One cannot root for the Angelos-era Orioles, much as one cannot really root for the Snyder-era Redskins. And the Nationals can be rooted for, but not with any real hope of victory.

and so I turn on the TV all summer and into October hoping to watch the yankees lose. I antagonized a New jersey-ite casual fan girlfriend in 2001 to take joy in Luis Gonzalez's flair to help the Diamondbacks (about whom no one can be passionate independently) best Marino Rivera and the Yanks. I stayed up late and crowded into bars full of unlikable red sox fans in 2004 to glory in the defeat of the yankees again (never bothering to watch the actual '04 world series between Sox and Cards). And so it is this year. I will watch attentively, hoping only to see them fail and try again next year with more money.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week 2 - Chapters 10-19

Some thoughts on the next ten chapters of Moby Dick:

-How would you describe the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg in the first couple of chapters of this week's reading? It seems more pronounced than last week, but, on the other hand, its almost entirely asexual. Once again, I wonder if this isn't an inappropriate reading of 21st century mores onto an 1840's text - we know that people in the 1840s did understand the concept of homosexuality as we know it. Men spent a lot of time in close proximity to each other, and men would frequently compliment each other's physiques and muscles in a way that would strike us modern readers as "gay." Ishmael seems to like the fact that Queequeg is a muscular, masculine fellow, but it never gets beyond that.

-Ishmael's approach towards Christianity is far more sophisticated than I would have expected. Both Ishmael's discussion of Queequeg's idolatry (and how a Christian God couldn't possibly feel threatened by something so small and insignificant), and his general live-and-let-live, "Christianity means doing unto others as I would have them do unto me; if people of other religions don't bother me then I have no reason to judge them" attitude seems more modern than I would have expected for a character living in the chapter-and-verse culture of early 19th century New England.

-The voyage to Nantucket is more harrowing than expected, and, upon arriving, Queequeg and Ishmael encounter all sorts of ominous omens, including coffins, tombstones in a chapel, a gallows, and two black cauldrons. Then they find an inn and feast on seafood chowder, and begin to feel cozy, but one can't help but feel as if things are about to go badly, that those spooky omens are foreshadowing something nasty that is about to go down.

-I love how the Pequot is introduced to the readers. The ship hasn't even left port, and yet it already seems like a character in its own right.

-I don't care how juvenile this sounds: Whenever Peleg speaks, the mental image that comes to mind is that of Captain McCallister from The Simpsons.

-Captain Ahab is described as "a grand, ungodly, god-like man . . . doesn't speak much, but, when he does speak, then you may well listen." A man to be recokend with. I can see how so many professors compare him to the Judge from Blood Meridian.