Sunday, May 31, 2009

Conan Takes Over The Tonight Show . . . Tonight

Today is Conan O'Brien's first broadcast as host of the Tonight Show. For people who love Conan and think that Jay Leno is a hack - which is to say right-thinking people everywhere - this is a big day.

Its difficult to explain how corny and insipid Jay Leno is until you spend a week or so with your parents on vacation, with one television set and only basic cable channels to choose from. Its torture - O.J. jokes, intern jokes, puns, dated topical humor - basically, except for his expensive wardrobe and courteous manners, his humor is no different from that of a morning drive-time disc jockey.

Even worse, Leno's interview segments consist almost entirely of personal "What do you do in your spare time?/Do you like to golf"-type questions that blandly promote what the guest is selling, especially if the guest works for NBC or Universal. That sort of promotion is the only reason most celebrities agree to appear on those shows in the first place, but compare Leno's style of interviewing to that of, say, Conan or David Letterman, who make the guests work to get their plug in by way of saying something interesting about their work, how it was made, or what inspired them to make it. Leno's predecessor, the irreplaceable Johnny Carson, excelled at using his guests in comedy bits and at making his guests look hilarious; Leno lacks those skills, and at best does the sort of "scripted joke cue half-assedly disguised as a question"-thing that bothers Jake and I so much. Of course, NBC is rewarding this bad interviewing/crass corporate promotion by giving him a daily, hour-long show in prime time, which is going to cut Conan off at the knees and exhaust audiences that would otherwise tune in to see the Tonight Show.

My question is this: if NBC wants to use its late-night talk shows to promote the rest of its programming, then wouldn't the best way to do that be to make the guests look funny, instead of having them recite lines that some PR specialist wrote for them that involve using the word "special" once every five words? Just thinking out loud here.

Amelie Gilette - who's been on a roll lately - tore Leno a new one on Friday, asking "Does Anybody Remember Leno's 'Most Memorable' Moments?", dismissing Entertainment Weekly's list of the 14 most memorable moments from Leno's tenure on the Tonight Show by saying
To sum up EW's incredibly scientific findings: the best parts about the Tonight Show With Jay Leno had nothing to do with Jay Leno. The best parts were the guests. More specifically, when the guests were either setting things on fire, proposing, drunk, apologizing for picking up hookers, eulogizing Johnny Carson, announcing they want to be governor of California, driving go-carts, or being Obama. Only two of these Leno moments (The Itos, and Roseanne tells Jacko jokes) could be classified as comedy bits, and one of them involved another person telling jokes instead of Jay Leno.

Anyway, be sure to tune into Conan this week and next, because once the inevitable "Conan's ratings are a let-down" stories begin to appear, it won't matter how funny Conan is, how many writers and comedy nerds watch him or how many critics love him, he'll be replaced by somebody boring and unthreatening and more willing to blindly do what NBC wants him to do, and that will make living in America just a little bit less interesting.

Weekend Links - 5/31

An interesting NPR story reminds us that Sonia Sotomayor isn't just Puerto Rican, she is also from the projects in the Bronx, and her nomination to the Supreme Court is a a triumph for projects alumni as much as it is Puerto Ricans and Hispanics.

The Onion reviews three bizarre new brands of liquor, including a discussion of Popsy, a sperm-based liqueur, led by 'noted sperm enthusiasts' Genevieve Koski and Josh Modell.

Every Monday this summer, the Onion A.V. Club will review an episode of Season 1 of The West Wing beginning tomorrow, June 1st.

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane reviews Terminator: Salvation.

A new play called The Rivalry dramatizes the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Paul Smecker and I share an appreciation for the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which rank alongside Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and the Adams-Jefferson correspondence as one of the greatest discussions of what it means to be American. It seems so natural for a play - certainly moreso than Frost-Nixon, which merely reminded everybody of a relatively recent historical event that was already recorded for posterity and available for viewing at most decent public libraries. We at CSD with it a long and profitable run.

And, finally, just because its awesome:
TV On the Radio - "Stork & Owl"

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Its Sad, But This Is Probably The Most Impact I'll Have On the World In My Life"

The wolf t-shirt continues its ascent in the annals of internet culture with this New York Times interview of the designer of the shirt and the writer of its most-read review. As a lover of hilarious bullshit, I support this trend, even if it is already well on its way to being played out.

As much as I love B. Govern's review - and I love it a lot - I think I actually have more respect for 'Overlook1977,' who had the presence of mind to recognize the absurdity in Govern's review, contribute a similar absurdist review of his own ("Unfortunately I already had this exact picture tattooed on my chest, but this shirt is very useful in colder weather") and, one can only presume, started the mass forwarding by sharing the original review with his friends. If B. Govern is the Jesus of the Three Wolves Howling At the Moon Internet Phenomenon, then Overlook1977 is its St. Paul.*

You can buy the shirt here.

*I always knew that thirteen years of Catholic education would prove useful someday.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

this is no, there is no, modern bromance

bogus trend: young people hugging one another.

I was revving up for a really nasty deconstruction of an article that, based absolutely no robust evidence, describes a behaviour that is widely cited as a "gradual evolution" of the social trend of informality started in the 60s. This isn't even a trend insofar as it is not discontinuous nor a rapid apparition of note. The whole thing is just too stupid to get excited about.

Like A Hipster Last Waltz

Elvis Costello sings "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" with Jenny Lewis, Jakob Dylan, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel. In other words, its just like the dream I had two nights ago, except that Jennifer Connelly and Omar Little aren't involved.

To be entirely honest, this isn't all that great of a performance, and everybody involved has sounded better elsewhere. But that's not really the point; after all, the same is true of The Last Waltz. Rather, the point to create the unique type of energy and atmosphere that is created when yo get a bunch of talented people who never perform together in the same place at the same time and turn the microphones on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Because Ninjas Are So 2003

Hear me now and believe me later, but you've got to check out the customer reviews of this "three wolves howling at the moon" t-shirt at Trust me, they are worth your time. You'll spend half the time laughing out loud, and the other half of the time squinting at your computer screen with a look of slightly distressed confusion. If you have time, you may also want to check out the reviews of Tuscan Whole Milk (for $77.)

Other thoughts:

1) Wolves: Because ninjas are so 2003.

2) Customers who viewed this item also viewed Zubaz pants.

3) I love the crossed-out $35.00 above the Amazon price, as if somebody might overpay if they buy this shirt elsewhere.

4) Finally I'll have something new to wear to all of those WWF matches I attend.

but it is a pretty good sport for TV...

I watched a replay of the Men's NCAA lacrosse semifinal between UVa and Cornell.

there is a strange non-westernness to lacrosse (of native american origin). it just looks funny. I am convinced that this is rooted in the sanctioned use of the stick for striking other players as well as controlling the ball. We have a large number of sports in which one receives a tool for striking a small object (tennis, baseball, hockey), but in all of those, using that tool for its obvious dual purpose of striking an opponent is strictly verboten. players are banned for years for striking opponents with baseball bats (Jose Offerman). using a hockey stick as a weapon, a la Donald Brashear, sends a player down in infamy. in lacrosse, it is called good defense. There is an opaque judgment call about whether you have struck your opponent too viciously (and hence receive a penalty), but this puts the striking into the gray area of advantage-taking (like elbows in basketball and things done at the bottom of the pile in football games). no matter how long I watched, it never seemed normal. perhaps this has to do with our western discomfort with ambiguity. which makes it all the more ironic that it is played almost exclusively by those archetypes of western culture--upper-class white people from non-seceeding colonies and california.

I was surprised by the fact that virtually the entire field was white and from long island. and that the top tier of the sport was populated by private colleges from new england. Attempting to address perceived geographic, economic, and racial trends in sports is a fools game. (see the Greek, Jimmy and Irvin, Michael). The stereotyping of lacrosse players falls too quickly into "lacrosse players are preppy douchebags." which is not far at all from "soccer is for hispanics," "basketball is for inner city black kids" and other toxic racializations. that being said, there is a curious effect related to lacrosse and a suite of sports including rowing that have a relatively high cost barrier to entry, require relatively well maintain infrastructure, have no serious professional athletic prospects, and are, perhaps not coincidentally, dominated by private colleges. Put simply, why do these colleges continue to emphasize these sports? Is it because there is a value on being the best at anything, and this is the final outpost of their athletic dominance? Why do those who play and the institutions that foster them see value in winning nationally at what is essentially a regional contest? One could argue that it mirrors the illegitimate "meritocracy" of the high-earning professions to which graduates of these universities often aspire.

I played lacrosse, coached it, and have a deep appreciation for it. I do not post these meditations out of an ignorant desire to stick a finger in the eye of lacrosse.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor

I'm on board with Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to the Supreme Court. The conservative party line, which is already being pounded into everybody's brain via endless repetition by talk show hosts and other regurgitators of Grover Norquist-authored talking points, is that she's not smart enough to have earned an appointment to the Supreme Court on merit. Rather, President Obama appointed her because he needed to appoint a woman, and preferably Hispanic woman, and Sotomayor is merely the most prominent member of that demographic in the appellate judiciary.

I suggested that President Bush should have appointed Sotomayor when he appointed Justice Alito, because at the time I somewhat naively believed that appointing a moderate with a spotless resume would ensure an easy nomination and help his party win points with Hispanics and force the Democrats to spend more money in places with large Hispanic populations, like Florida and California. I mention all of this just to show that I've supported Judge Sotomayor for quite some time. Her resume speaks for itself - Princeton, Yale Law School, the New York County District Attorney's Office, partner in a private law firm specializing in intellectual property law, Federal District Court, Second Circuit Court of Appeals. That resume matches anybody's in the country - anybody's. She had the second-highest overall GPA in her Princeton graduating class. The attacks against her intellect (of all things!) are the worst sort of racist reaction to affirmative action - if she's not white, and she's being appointed to high office, then clearly the reason she's being nominated is because the President wants to show that he stands for diversity and appeal to Hispanics, and not because she's qualified for the job. And the conservative response - that in the age of affirmative action the validity of any accomplishment by any racial minority is immediately cast into doubt, therefore we shouldn't have affirmative action, except in the case of Clarence Thomas, rings false in my ears.

The bottom line is that there is no single set of qualifications required of a Supreme Court Justice. Before being appointed to the judiciary, Justice Scalia was a legal scholar who never tried a case - or even had a client - in his entire career, and he perhaps the most influential jurist on the Court. Chief Justice Roberts was one of the leading appellate attorneys in the country, but had very little judicial experience. Former Chief Justice Earl Warren was an attorney, but had worked in politics for decades - without practicing law - before being appointed Chief Justice. Sandra Day O'Connor was a state legislator in Arizona. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas were law professors. Justice Stevens had a number of jobs in the law, from Supreme Court clerk to private attorney (at the firm that would later become Jenner & Block) to an anti-trust attorney for the Federal government. Its possible to be appointed to the Supreme Court without even being an attorney.

There is no single set of qualifications - Presidents must pick between many different candidates, each of whom is very accomplished in their field, none of whom is objectively the best, but all of whom are objectively qualified, with different specializations. Sotomayor's strength is that she has seen the judicial system at every level - civil and criminal trials as a practicioner, the trial and appellate levels as a Judge - and none of the other short-list candidates can say that. Some of the other short-list candidates were more accomplished than Sotomayor in terms of legal scholarship, or number of scholarly articles published, but knowing how things actually work, instead of how they should or might work in theory, is just as important.

The Limbaugh types are going to dispute her qualifications, but they would have done that regardless of who was nominated. They are going to call her an activist, but the opposite of an activist is a strict constructionalist, and even a strict construcionalist would have to concede that the Constitution gives the President of the United States the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court. And that should be end of the story.

It Was In Your Tone

I love everything about this video. The good people at the Onion have brought its News Network to the point where every line of every skit and every little background detail is its own joke, like The South Park movie, or The Simpsons in its mid-90's heyday.

Nation's Girlfriends Unveil New Economic Plan: 'Let's Move In Together'

liquor in the front...

I saw the video of Lady Gaga's "poker face" on a jetblue flight. I am fairly confident that she is not a transsexual, but she is borrowing so heavily from drag queen aesthetic and culture that one has to at least engage with the overtones. The whole video is made to look like a burlesque done by a campy cher impersonator, from the absurd wig with bangs to the campy pantomime with 3/4 naked men. Straight women acting like gay men acting like straight women. This pop cultural uroburos is almost too much for me. Is pop music at large in on this joke? Do the kids think it is campy or are they being sold this act straight (see what I did there)?

as for women's pop appropriating gay male underground culture, there is some precedent including Beyonce. The dance-style from the "Single Ladies" video, J-setting, is taken from Southern black gay clubs.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Best Advertisement on TV

We just love Dos Equis' 'Most Interesting Man in the World' ad campaign. Its so good in so many ways, but best of all is the elegance of the line "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Don Equis." The most interesting man in the world wouldn't always drink beer, and he certainly wouldn't always drink the same brand of beer - how interesting would that be? The most interesting man in the world just . . . prefers Don Equis. You know, when he's not exploring caves with well-dressed people from all over the world or motorboating with beauty queens.

Also, I can report that this ad is a lot funnier when you're four or five beers into a night of playoff basketball on Paul Smecker's sofa.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Links

The best of what we've read this week:

Heeeeere's Conan - The New York Times Magazine has a lengthy article about Conan's transition from the Late Show to the Tonight Show. It hurts my soul to know that the hackish 'neighborliness' of Jay Leno is actually the trait that NBC most values in him, and how they're doing everything they can to sabotage Conan before his new show gets off the ground. But then NBC is the same boneheaded network that chose Leno over Letterman in 1992, so . . . basically Leno probably has some dirt on Jeffrey Zucker or something.

The Onion A.V. Club gives Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds a disappointed B-, based on its showing at Cannes.

Everything about The Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem depresses me.

Somebody in Hollywood thought that a Cliffhanger remake was a good idea. Meanwhile, studio executives wonder why the movie business isn't doing very well anymore.

We enjoyed the Onion A.V. Club's report from the National Confectioner's Association's trade expo, or, in layman's terms, the big candy convention.

Since we're all preparing to re-read (right?) Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, now seems like as good of a time as any to revisit B.R. Myers' "A Reader's Manifesto."

Finally, just because its awesome:
Bruce Springsteen, "Prove It All Night," Passaic NJ, 1978:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It Is A Romantic Comedy

Hey, remember when it was 2007 and this premise was original?

Our Scalps Hurt From Scratching Our Heads So Much

With the Cleveland Cavaliers trailing by two points and needing a three-point shot to win the game, the Orlando Magic made four killer mistakes:

1) Putting 6'2" Rafer Alston on the inbounder,
2) Having Hedo Turkoglu attempt to guard LeBron James,
3) Not fouling
4) Guarding people closely inside of the 3-point line instead of conceding a 2-point shot (which would still have been difficult and would have only tied the game)

The result, brought to you by Marv Albert:

The Christian Laettner game happened only seventeen years ago, so perhaps its lessons haven't fully sunk in yet, but when there's little time left on the clock and the other team needs a catch-and-shoot to beat the buzzer, the single most important thing you can do is to make the inbounds pass as difficult as possible. If LeBron had to make a difficult catch and turn to face the basket, he would not have had time to get a shot off. Putting your shortest player ten feet off of the ball is just bad coaching.

Furthermore, how do you not overload the 3-point line and challenge the Cavaliers to throw the ball at the rim for a 2-pointer? Wouldn't you rather take your chances with the Cavs attempting a high-risk alley-oop - over Dwight Howard no less, who's on the NBA defensive player of the year and the highest-rising big man in the league - instead of trying to take away the two and giving Lebron a good look at a three-pointer? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Things That Pass For Knowledge I Can't Understand

Wrapped Up in Books, the Onion's book club, recently selected Cormac McCarthy's 1985 novel Blood Meridian as its selection for the month of June.

I was assigned Cormac McCarthy novels in three different college literature courses - and Blood Meridian twice. it probably had something to do with the fact that McCarthy is Harold Bloom's favorite living American novelist and the junior faculty and graduate students all wanted to suck up to him. Anyway, Blood Meridian is really good, and I'm looking forward to re-reading it, in no small part because I get to revisit all of the marginal notations I made when I read it (twice) in college, many of which were penned late at night after two grueling rowing workouts and double-digit cups of coffee.

I mentioned this to Ellen (of Wormbook and Onion A.V. Club fame), who had the brilliant suggestion for a McSweeney's list -- "Incomprehensible Notes From My College Copy of Blood Meridian."

That idea works brilliantly for any number of books that changed our 20-year old lives in college but which we would read with different eyes if we revisited them today. "Incomprehensible Notes From My College Copy of The Crying of Lot 49" and "Incomprehensible Notes From My College Copy of Flight To Canada" may be soon to follow.

Nobody Boddas Me!

Call 1-800-USA-1000 and nobody will bodda you!

Thanks for the words: Tasha Robinson.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Bon Jovi and Marcel Proust and Getting Old

Bon Jovi's "In These Arms" was playing the grocery store the other day. I'm a Bon Jovi fan - who isn't? - though not a particularly avid one, but for some reason I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this album. I was at a stayover party at a friend's house, and we stayed up to watch Saturday Night Live, which was hosted by Danny DeVito, and was one of the better episodes of the Dana Carvey/Mike Myers/Chris Rock/Phil Hartman era. Bon Jovi played a couple of great songs - "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Bed of Roses" - and the next time my father took me shopping I picked up a copy of the album, Keep the Faith. I enjoyed the album, but don't have any particularly fond memories of its songs, though it did take me back to a time and place - seventh grade, the sleepover, etc - in a way that few albums from that era are able to. Bon Jovi's Keep the Faith album is to hair bands what Proust' madelines are to French literature.

When I got home from the supermarket, I googled "In These Arms," and found a video of Bon Jovi performing it in concert in which he introduces the song by saying that he really enjoys singing it and can't believe that its already ten years old. Then I realized that the video I was watching was itself seven years old, making "Keep the Faith" SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD and me an official old man. And it made me want to jump out the window.

"In These Arms"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Truth

In case any of you are wondering why I am so geeked up about Ricky Rubio, this video should provide the answers. He distributes like Steve Nash, defends like Gary Payton and plays with the flair of Manu Ginobili.

The NBA Draft Lottery

Last night, the Los Angeles Clippers won the lottery to determine the #1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, while the Memphis Grizzlies secured the #2 pick and the Oklahoma City Thunder the #3.

The first pick in the draft is going to be the University of Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. It is generally agreed that Ricky Rubio, the teenage point guard prodigy who quarterbacked the Spanish national team to a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics, is the second best player in the draft. UConn's 7'4" center Hasheem Thabeet is considered the third best player.

But there are wrinkles. Oh, there are wrinkles. Griffin's natural position is either power forward or, in the new, running-oriented NBA, an undersized center. Los Angeles already has two all-star centers in Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, and an all-star power forward in Zach Randolph. The textbook move in this sort of a situation is to trade the aging all-star you already have (Randolph) while he still has value and get a good younger player and a draft pick or two in return, thereby deepening your bench while clearing a bunch of playing time for your #1 pick. However, Randolph is famously lazy and overpaid, and the Clippers could get little in return for him in a trade, leaving them with a logjam in the low post.

Oklahoma City has three of the most exciting young players in the NBA in Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant, who already appears to be on the fast track to the hall of fame. Their weaknesses are at center and at point guard - Westbrook, as much as I love him, is an undersized natural 2-guard (like Fat Lever) who was forced to play the point this season because he's short and the Thunder had no other options. The textbook of good basketball says that the ideal sort of player to team with an undersized, high-scoring, penetrating two-guard is a tall guard who can play the point on offense, defend the shooting guard on defense, and make open 3-pointers. Rubio fits that description to a tee. Unfortunately for basketball fans, the Thunder have the third pick and Rubio is the second best player in the draft, which means he might be taken by the . . .

Memphis Grizzlies, who need a distributor to play with the trigger-happy Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. The prospect of Rubio turning every game into an alley-oop-fest with those two running the lanes is enough to make old school basketball fans drool, and since the Grizzlies already employ fellow countryman Marc Gasol, Rubio would likely have an easier time transitioning to the NBA in Memphis than he would on any other lottery team. However, the Grizzlies already have a dynamic young point guard (Mike Conley, the #4 pick in the 2007 draft) who they've invested a lot of money and coach-hours into already, and they're desperate for size up front, which is why pre-draft rumors have it that the Grizzlies are the one lottery team that would even consider taking Thabeet with the #2 pick.

The Thunder have a ton of cap space, and the Tyson Chandler-for-Joe Smith trade, which was cancelled at the last minute this past season, is rumored to still be on the table, in which case I would pass on Thabeet, trade down to around #10, draft Stephon Curry or Johnny Flynn, pick up a good rotation player in the process, then make the Chandler trade, leaving you with a starting five of Chandler, Durant, Green, Westbrook, Curry/Flynn with Nenand Kristic, Nick Collison and the player picked up in the lottery trade off the bench. That's a 45 win lineup.

The Last Time I Checked, Sherlock Holmes Was Not An Action Hero

Or a bare-knuckled cage fighter who waxes his chest! And I've read the collected stories and don't recall him diving out of Parliament and into the Thames River, but its been a few years and I could be mistaken about all of the above.

I love Robert Downey Jr., and Rachel McAdams and Jude Law are both really good in everything they make, but none of that changes the fact that this movie looks like it really sucks.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Who Lives in Brandon Flowers' World?

Sporting an affected air of melancholy, a faux-hawk and feathered shoulder pads straight out of a gay-bar re-enactment of Road Warrior, Brandon Flowers's performace in "The World That We Live In" reaches new heights of camp. That may be saying a lot - after all, this is the band that broke onto the scene in 2004 while wearing eyeliner and sounding like Duran Duran - but the video really needs to be seen to be believed. It makes a mockery of everything about which it feigns earnestness, and every bit of its symbolism - the raven, the black clothes on the white ice, the modern ruins, the lost-looking mournful stares into the middle-distance, the scattered sheet music that actually reads "Romance" across the top - displays a lack of sophisitication that would be apparent to any undergraduate film class, if not to the teenage girls who are likely to run out in waves to buy this record.

"Get Out Da Building!!!"

The Onion A.V. Club is so clever so much of the time that, every once in a while, its refreshing to see them take the gloves off and release a video that points out that most people are basically assholes. There's almost a South Park-like tone to their latest one, which is never a bad thing.

I'm old enough to remember when it was a big deal that my roommate got a digital camera, which was the size and weight of a traditional camera. Of course, when girls came over to our dorm room they always wanted to play with his $500 digital camera - my $150 traditional camera (which ended up being stolen off of my desk) attracted considerably less attention. Not that, as a lonely 19 year old one year removed from the purgatory of Catholic boys school, I was bitter at all. Fortunately, I graduated long before pocket-sized digital cameras and cameraphones became ubiquitous - what kind of 19 year-old asshole thinks they're important enough to justify buying a Blackberry, anyway? Grrrrr.

Anyway, here's the video:

Police Slog Through 40,000 Insipid Party Pics To Find Cause Of Dorm Fire

Monday, May 18, 2009

Troubadours And Drifters

I love Q TV - the Canadian interview program that's part Inside the Actor's Studio and part Austin City Limits. Part-time Canadian and full-time CSD crushee Neko Case sat down to discuss Middle Cyclone, her upbringing and inspiration, etc. And to sing a great acoustic version of "People Got A Lot of Nerve."

Interview (18 minutes long)

"People Got A Lot of Nerve"

More Or Less A Total Ass-Kicking

CSD congratulates Yale Women's Crew on winning the Ivy League and Eastern Association titles and the Willing Trophy for most overall points at the Eastern Sprints this past weekend.

Yale's varsity eight of Christina Person, Berkley Adrio, Taylor Ritzel, Cara Dermody, Tess Gerrand, Maren McCrea, Caroline Nash, Alice Henly and Christine Glandorf edged out Radcliffe by 0.9 seconds and Princeton by 1.5.

Yale's second varsity four and novice eight both won gold medals, and all six Yale entries finished either first or second in their respective divisions.

Special congratulations to head coach (and West Side Rowing Club alum) Will Porter, who over the past ten years has taken Yale from perrenial Ivy League dormat to a two-time defending national champion, and to assistant coach Jamie Snider - one of CSD's favorite people.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Its Definitely The Harvard . . . of Scholastics

The Daily Show has been on a role for the past couple of weeks. I look forward to seeing them reprise this piece in a couple of years when the University of Tampa offers President Obama an honorary degree in 2011.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Arizona State Snubs Obama
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Return of Weekend Links

Noteworthy links and other stuff we've been reading lately:

1) My Slope, Your Slope - Two people, a hipster actress who just moved in and a 63-year old man who's lived in the neighborhood since childhood compare notes on their favorite places in South Slope, Brooklyn. The guy's 'hoochie-mama' line cracks me up every time I think about it. From New York Magazine. The profile of Brighton Beach that ran a couple of weeks later was also a lot of fun.

2) This entire article, but particularly the photographs, cracked me up. Is it just me, or has The Onion been on a roll lately?

3) Scott Tobias officially inducts CSD favorite The Big Lebowski into the new cult canon.

4) Salman Rushdie has a new short story, "In the South," in latest issue of The New Yorker.

5) Anthony Lane on the new Star Trek film.

6) Random Rules with Kathy Foster - The Thermals' bassist sits down with the Onion A.V. Club to discuss what's on her iPod, and, unlike earlier Random Rules columns, you can now stream all of the songs right from the site! Also, the A.V. Club's Josh Modell reviews The Thermals' Now We Can See.

7) A song that's been getting a lot of play around CSD headquarters lately: My Morning Jacket's "Magheeta"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tango Lesson

The Houston Rockets lost Yao Ming to a broken foot before Game four of the western conference semi-finals. To almost everyone's surprise, the Rockets rallied around their fallen big man to win game four in a convincing fashion. Then, with two days to prepare and adjust to Houston's strategy, the Lakers laid a brutal 40-point beatdown on the Lakers on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Last night, the shorthanded Houston Rockets upset the heavily favored Los Angels Lakers in Houston last night, forcing game 7 in Los Angeles for the right to face the Denver Nuggets in the western conference finals. Do you know what that means? It means that in Game 7, its on. Because when one team blows you out and you blow them out right back, its on. Don't you know anything?

Luis Scola led the Rockets with 24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and no turnovers. I've been a fan of Scola since he drank Jermaine O'Neal's milkshake in Argentina's victory over the United States in the 2002 World Championships, and I drove my friends up the wall talking and writing about good he was. Eventually the Spurs - who drafted him in 2002 but were unable to bring him over from Europe for contractual reasons- traded him to the Houston Rockets for cap space, at which point he immediately became a starter on a playoff team and, in the words of Shane Battier, the Rockets' MVP. Forgive me for rambling on about him, but I sort of adopted him seven years ago and enjoying seeing him shine at the NBA level. When friends text you after Rockets games with comments like "Your Luis Scola is one crafty son of a bitch," and "your boy Scola just killed us tonight," it might be time to reassess the life choices you've made and stop spending so much time watching basketball. But that would make life so much less fun.

I'm excited about Game 7. It could go down to the wire. The Lakers could win by twenty-five. Jack Nicholson could have a heart attack in the first row of the stands. Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo will probably exchange a few dozen of the highest high-fives ever recorded. But the Lakers-Rockets and Celtics-Magic serieses are two of the more compelling game 7's we've seen in years.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Haterade Express Thunders On - Breaking Down the Maxim Top 100

Maxim magazine released its "Hot 100" list today. I take pride in the fact that I have never bought an issue of Maxim - its a magazine that frat boys read while waiting to get their hair cut - but its Hot 100 list has always had a special sort of cache. Unfortunately, they screw their list up every year and it takes somebody like me to set the record straight. This is the sort of analysis you just don't get anywhere else.

Scattered thoughts:

-#2: Megan Fox's 2009 is so far above and beyond the competition that its ridiculous; if this was sports she would be the 1996 Chicago Bulls. It was a travesty that she wasn't picked #1.

-#1: Olivia Wilde - Pretty girl, but doesn't belong at the top of a list like this.

-#9: Jordana Brewster - Okay, she was born in Panama, but, for the love of God, she's not a "native." Her grand-father and great-grandfathers were both presidents of Yale; her father is a white Yale graduate finance millionaire from Connecticut who married a Brazillian model who just happened to be in Panama when she gave birth. Brewster is a terrible actress getting by on connections alone and has done nothing since 1997 other than briefly date Derek Jeter and reprise her role as Mia to diminishing returns in the three Fast and the Furious movies, which would be a sad resume even if the original wasn't so shitty to begin with. FAIL.

-#3: Bar Refaeli - Drop-dead gorgeous, but her eyes are so icy and she's so coldy perfect that until I see her expressionless face crack a smile I'm staying away because she's probably a robot from the future.

-#5: Mila Kunis - Perhaps my #2. Exotic brunettes are the new black.

-#9: Rihanna - Forgive me if this doesn't sound very PC, but I used to dislike her because she has a fivehead, and now I dislike her because she wouldn't stand up for herself after Chris Brown kicked her ass.

-#10: Jennifer Love HewiOH my god I just bored myself to sleep. When The Onion runs a video about how you're so desperate for attention that you'll pay a tabloid millions of dollars to print photos of your child, and a lot of people don't think its a joke because you're a C-list celebrity who was briefly popular 12 years ago and hasn't done anything since then, its probably a bad sign for your career, and when you appear in the top of of Maxim's 'hot list,' you're either sleeping with its editor or else your publicist so good at her job that she won't be working for you very much longer.

-#11: Jessica Biel - Now we're talking. #3 in my book.

-#13: Jessica Alba - Its funny how an utter lack of talent can take the shine off one's star, isn't it? Alba or Biel? Is anybody other than Justin Timberlake allowed to have an opinion on the matter?

-#14: Christina Aguleira - As I've said before, I'm still not entirely convinced she isn't a transvestite.
-#16: Gina Carano - Gina Carano isn't pretty. She's just the only person involved in Mixed Martial Arts who doesn't have a penis. Get over it.

#18: Marissa Miller - Should be in the top five, if not the top 3, and of any of the contenders she looks like she's the most likely to stop by the Double Deuce for a beer. One of the few all-American-looking women on a list that emphasizes the exotic.

-#24: Eva Mendes - What can we saw - we are Eva Mendes fans. And she's one of the only women on the list who actually comes across as funny and likeable and cool in interviews. Which is good, because we respect her for her mind.

-#34: Scarlett Johansson - She should be in the top five and if you're not excited about seeing her play the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 then I don't know what to tell you.

-#53: Kim Kardashian - She's not pretty, she's looks like a drag queen doing an impression of Cher, and she's famous for having a big ass and getting fucked on the the internet. Remind me again what the appeal is supposed to be?

-#64: Fergie - Get this space alien off of my computer screen before my face melts like the Nazi scientist at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

-#82: Heidi Montag - This person has been world famous for about three years and I sitll have literally no idea what she does for a living other than get nailed by the douchebag sun of a fomer Olympic decathlete.
countdown to 10 year high school reunion is at 48 hrs. I am apprehensive about it, but more in the way one is apprehensive about a party where one will not know many people rather than a "oh god, now is the time to reflect on all I have not achieved. I am going to feel so overshadowed" sort of way. It is the same mild social anxiety that typified high school. I am not bringing springydog. in part as a self-conscious rejection of the trope of showing off one's partner at reunions, and it part because the trip will be expensive and, I suspect, boring for her.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

this is why I'm old:

I was listening to Jamie Foxx's "Blame It (on the alcohol)" (suprisingly catchy) in a U-Haul over the weekend, and my first thought was "oh no, what kind of message are my teenage cousins receiving about the mechanics of adult sexuality." sigh.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"He Was Truly The Nation's Top Dog"

Pentagon Reports Army Mascot 'Liberty' Killed in Iraq
Thanks to Michelle Obama, there has been a lot of forward and backlash about growing your own vegetables and whether it really saves money. yes there are some capital costs like seeds/seedlings and a shovel, but the opportunity costs are really the make-or-break section of the analysis. It is reasonable to assume that you will spend 100 hrs in your garden in a given summer. Either you like gardening or you don't. and if you don't, it will never feel like the cash conserved (maybe $150/year if you only grow items with high retail prices--my strategy) was worth the trouble. (the payback being ~$1.50/hr). but if you enjoy it, then you receive a double win. you get many hours of physically vigorous, emotionally engaging recreation that are free and displace other weekend activities like urban hanging out which involves shopping and/or purchasing prepared foods.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother Lovers

Justin Timberlake is on the shortlist of all-time great Saturday Night Live hosts, along with Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and Paul Simon, but they're overexposing him to the point where he'll have completely worn out his welcome by the time he's thirty. Having said all of that, people seem to have enjoyed "Mother Lovers," the song he performed with Andy Samberg this past saturday.
I think the caps ruined my weekend. that was just a huge investment in time, money, and beer to emerge with nothing but pent up frustration

also, at 39 years old, is there any chance in the world that Fedorov is not on PEDs? seriously, he and Junior Seau are pretty obvious targets

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Southern Pride, Liberal Guilt

The Drive-By Truckers' Brighter Than Creation's Dark has been in heavy rotation at CSD headquarters for the past few weeks. We admit that we're a little late to the party in regards to these guys, but better late than never - they sound a little bit like The Allman Brothers crossed with early John Mellencamp crossed with Darkness On the Edge of Town, the songwriting and singing is nicely balanced among three fantastic singer/songwriters who each have a unique style, and full-scale southern rock instrumentation including hearty portions of slide guitar, piano and band. Sprinkled throughout their catalogue, like cherries atop hot fudge sundaes - are hilarious and kick-ass song titles like "Daddy Needs A Drink," "Too Much Sex, Too Little Jesus," "You and Your Crystal Meth," "Home Field Advantage" and "Dead, Drunk and Naked."

We'll be posting more of their stuff over the next couple of weeks, but here's a little something to get you started:

"A Ghost To Most"

"Perfect Timing"

Friday, May 8, 2009

I saw "Sugar" the other night. it is a movie about the integration of dominican baseball players into the american minor league system and the cultural friction that ensues. It is by the same people that made "half nelson." I have an undying love on half nelson which meant that I entered the theater with unrealistic expectations.

Sugar is an very good movie, if not quite the great one that half nelson is. The directors use their strength of creating long moments of grimace inducing emotional discomfort brought about by poor impulse control. most interesting, and underdeveloped, in Sugar is the way it explains how Dominican ballplayers who "successfully" integrate into the american system must be, in many ways, happy go lucky clowns to their teammates and the public. (think David Ortiz).

equally amusing and cringe inducing was my attempt to explain to Hilda, the dominican cleaning lady at my office who loves to talk in Spanish about how Miguel Tejada is from her town, that I had seen a fictional movie about dominican baseball. it was a farce of cultural friction in its own right.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sidney Crosby looks like a 14 year old from a Larry Clark photograph with that mustache.

There is something oddly Munich-like about the the caps marching through a litany of old patrick division rivals.

6 unanswered power plays for the Pens. Bettman giveth, but Bettman taketh away.
I am sad about manny. It undermines the whole unencumbered manny aesthetic.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An Important Message From Conan O'Brien

I saw Werner Herzog's "encounters at the end of the world" last night. It is a fairly simple documentary about McMurdo station in Antarctica and its outlying scientific field camps. Herzog is quite aggressive in informing us that he isn't a traditional nature documentarian, but he largely is. He romanticizes the beauty and strangeness of nature and those people who spend their lives supplicant to it. Much of the humor derives from Herzog's abject hatred of the banality of McMurdo itself, his cool dismissiveness of some of McMurdo's kookier non-scientist inhabitants, and his speech pattern that seems to make everything more fun.

Arctic/antarctic documentaries always stir up emotions for me. My blood runs cold. My memory has just been sold. Encounters featured an interview with David Ainley, a close friend of my advisor, and a man I have had intimate dinners with.

It is difficult to watch these pieces because polar cinema is so sentimental and so uniform--typified by its strangeness, its otherworldliness. The productions tell viewers, "you could never survive this life, but it would be amazing." Richard Glen, a prominent citizen in Barrow Alaska, used to joke that the native alaskans knew there was a season between spring whaling and duck hunting, when journalists migrated from the lower 48 to do stories on climate change.

I have been on the receiving end of the TV camera of the journalist visiting the arctic, and i know what a bizarre, contrived experience a visit from these documentarians can be. Herzog, better than most, tells a story about the beauty of the pole tinged with the deep, unsettling weirdness of career polar scientists and their attendants. Instead of reinventing the form of "camera visits arctic scientist," he just deepened the story beyond the breaching whale, whitish-blue ice, and deprivation. He went to a place and got it right.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stuff We're Looking Forward To

1) We love the Onion A.V. Club's head writer Nathan Rabin, whose tumultuous childhood, University of Wisconsin education and stint as a clerk at Four-Star Video Haven all contributed to his becoming one of the most beloved critics since Roger Ebert. His upcoming memoir The Big Rewind promises to be awesome, and essential reading for bookworm hipster douchebags like all of us here at CSD HQ.

2) Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy

ESPN's Bill Simmons is best known for being funny, but he's the most influential writer about the NBA because of his near-encyclopedic knowledge of basketball history and his willingness to bluntly criticize the NBA's poor officiating, the overly-scripted way in which it handles its superstars, its willingness to indulge its players's worst character traits, its mediocre coaching and general managing, and the convenient way in which marketable players and/or large-market franchises all-too-frequently get favorable treatment. We here at CSD headquarters are a little bit worried that, since the book weighs in at 720 pages, Simmons' editors may not have kept his infamous loquaciousness in check as much as they might have, but that won't keep us from reading it anyway.

3) Year One

Jack Black and Michael Cera star in a movie directed by Harold Ramis. Supporting performances from David Cross, Olivia Wilde, Oliver Platt, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hank Azaria, Paul Rudd, Harold Ramis. Produced by Judd Apatow.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lush Life

The Lower East Side is the last neighborhood in Manhattan to gentrify, the last outpost of the Dinkins aministration surviving into Bloomberg's administration. The characters in Richard Price's novel Lush Life, set below Delancey Stret in the fall of 2003, discuss how the neighborhood is changing, and, though none of them like that, none of them would live anywhere else. Price populates this neighborhood with all of the familiar types - wisecracking cops, aging Orthodox Jews, Arab deli owners, hip white gentrifiers, Chinese immigrants, and poor black kids from the projects strung along the East River like a Maginot line. Throughout the novel, each of these groups gets pushed around by the others, and, once in a while, pushes back, often with unpredictable consequences. Readers familiar with HBO's The Wire (to which Price contributed numerous teleplays) will recognize the top-to-bottom view of urban life, and note-perfect ear for dialogue that Price displays in this novel.

Walking home from a night of drinking with two co-workers he's only just met, a white aspiring-actor/fusion restaurant-bartender is shot when he foolishly stands up to a mugger during a robbery attempt. The only eyewitness sober enough to remember anything is Eric Cash, the victim's friend and co-worker, who has a past he's not proud of and conveniently says that two young black kids did it. Well, maybe one of them was hispanic. Cash's checkered past, and the race of the alleged perpetrators cast his credibility into doubt, and Cash's grueling, 70-page interrogation, which breaks Cash as a man but leaves the police no closer to closing the case, is as masterful of a setpiece as you're ever going to read. The reader knows the shooter's identity from the outset; the conflict in this novel comes from watching the police follow dead-end leads while precious time muddies the memories of the witnesses and corrupts the scant physical evidence that exists. Those tensions drive the plot forward, but its the emotional reversals that effect this novel's dozen or so main characters, and not the plot, that make this such compelling reading.

As with The Wire, Price fills the margins of the narrative chock-full of detail, from the way in which the Mayor's office and the honchos as 1 Police Plaza want to keep the murder quiet lest it freeze the gentrification of Manhattan's last slum in its tracks, to the Orthodox rabbi who doubles as the neighborhood's power broker, to the wealthy restauranteur who is as generous to his friends as he is tight-fisted in his business dealings, to the Latinos lining up to see the image of the Virgin Mary in the frost on an Arab Bodega's freezer, to the real estate tycoon who's lived in his rent-controlled building for so long that he only pays $350 a month in rent, to the team of 'quality of life' police officers whose job it is to clean up the neighborhood, one crackpipe, prostitute, and dazzling set piece at a time:

"Restless, they finally pull out to honeycomb the narrow streets for an hour of endless tight right turns: falafel joint, jazzjoint, gyro joint, corner. Schoolyard, creperie, realtor, corner. Tenement, tenement, tenement museum, corner. Pink Pony, Blind Tiger, muffin boutique, corner. Sex shop, tea shop, synagogue, corner. Boulangerie, bar, hat boutique, corner. Iglesia, gelateria, matzo shop, corner. Bollywood, Buddha, botanica, corner. Leather outlet, leather outlet, leather outlet, corner. Bar, school, bar, school, People's Park, corner. Tyson mural, Celia Cruz mural, Lady Di mural, corner. Bling shop, barbershop, car service, corner. And then finally, on a sooty stretch of Eldridge, something with potential: a weary-faced Fujianese in a thin Members Only windbreaker, cigarette hanging, plastic bags dangling from crooked fingers like full waterbuckets, truging up the dark, narrow street followed by a limping black kid half a block behind."

Some critics have written that the novel is a collection of brilliant set pieces tat don't necessarily hang together as well as a number of Price's other novels. They may very well have a point, but when the set pieces are as brilliant as these, and the characters, setting and atmosphere are all so true to life, a little choppiness in the narrative is more than forgivable. If, like me, you are suffering from Wire withdrawal, Price's novel provides much-needed medicine.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Touching From A Distance

The special lady friend and I recently watched Control, the 2007 film about the legendary English post-punk band Joy Division. The movie is difficult to watch - it is shot entirely in black and white, with little background music, a tragic ending, and a lot of mumbled dialogue delivered in an almost indecipherable combination of northern English accents. The plot follows Ian Curtis, Joy Division's lead singer, who grows up in a project in the north of England, gets married as a teenager, apparently to the first woman he ever showed any interest it, works a mind-numbing job at a job placement agency, stumbles across a quality band in search of a lead singer, fights off depression and a scary series of seizures long enough to create two brilliant studio albums that would influence a generation of musicians including U2, the Smiths and Radiohead, has an affair with a French rock journalist, then hangs himself in his wife's kitchen. Absolutely nothing about the movie is uplifting.

Joy Division was always successful with critics, and influential among other bands, but Curtis died - and the band reformed itself as New Order - before it found anything approaching mainstream commercial success. Until the very end, despite his serious medical problems, Curtis worked days at the placement agency while playing rock clubs at night. We know that he was depressed, but why would such a talent, who earnestly dreamed his entire life of escaping the dreariness of his upbringing, commit suicide with the band's second studio album already in the can, and just as his band was about to leave for a two-week tour of the United States that would likely have brought Curtis the success he so badly desired? To its credit the movie doesn't attempt to answer that question, perhaps because there really isn't a good answer.

Curtis didn't die because he lacked the discipline to control his drug habit, or because he had the arrogance to drive drunk. He didn't die in a fluke airplane accident like Buddy Holly or Otis Redding or Stevie Ray Vaughn. If there's one thing that the movie's ending - a rope pulling taught, a fade to black, "Atmosphere" playing in its entirety - its that Curtis' was killed by the very demons that inspired two great albums and five or six of the short-list greatest rock songs ever recorded. He was talented, he was drowning in despair, and one couldn't exist without the other.

All of the music in the band's live performances is played by the actors themselves, and they do an outstanding job. To ask whether they sound like the real thing is to sort of miss the point; the actors sound good enough that after the first couple of seconds you stop being distracted by the ways in which the covers sound different than the original; to allow you to appreciate the scenes on their own terms. In that sense, the actors succeeded enormously.

Take, for instance, the recreation of their September 15, 1979 performance on.

Compare the movie version:

To the real-life version:

The focus of the scene in the movie is to show the band coming together, and to show how Ian Curtis gave so much of himself in his live performances that he unwittingly weakened himself for the seizures and crippling depression that would ultimately contribute to his death by suicide. The music in the movie is convincing enough that we stop caring about how the drumming isn't as relentlessly hard as Stephen Morris', or that the actor's bass lead-in doesn't snap with the menace of Peter Hook's inimitable original. Its just good.

On a personal note, I first heard Joy Division in college, but I was too happy and earnest of a person to really hear them. It wasn't until the late fall of my first year in law school, stranded with a handful of friends in a culture I hated, deeply in debt, with a five-month winter and two and a half more years of soul-crushing law school to look forward to, that Joy Division's blackness and intensity and . . . anger really spoke to me. In many ways, Joy Division is a hard band to like, but an easy band to love - if you're in the right frame of mind. Sooner or later, we all have our dark night of the soul. Some of us have many. Weakened by health problems, too much responsibility and too little sleep, Curtis wasn't able to control his demons, but so long as despair like his gives rise to art as effecting as this, the rest of us have reason to hope.