Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Travelling Companions

You're all going somewhere for the 4th of July. Here are three fantastic books to keep you company while you travel, or sit on the beach:

Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles - I knew going in that this was picked by the Onion A.V. Club as one of the best books of 2008, but even so, I was repeatedly surprised by the fully realized world this little, high-concept novel has up its sleeve. Let's not kid ourselves - at first, the novel's premise sounds a little too self-consciously clever and hipsterish; a novel in the form of a lengthy complaint letter written by a grouchy old poetry translator's to American Airlines for stranding him in O'Hare Airport to his estranged daughter's lesbian wedding sounds like exactly the sort of thing that McSweeney's rejects a dozen times a day. The novel captures a lot of little lifelike details - the forced friendships with your fellow passengers (or, as the narrator would say, "refugees"), the over-sharing that occurs between strangers sharing cigarettes, the way that time seems to stand still when you're delayed, right up until the point you look at the clock and are shocked by how late it is. Mainly, being stranded in the airport gives the narrator the time to re-examine his life, the way he met and separated from the mother of his child, the way his once-promising poetry career gave way to a depressing middle age as a translator of Polish works in translation, how his parents met by accident and how their unusual relationship shaped the person he would grow up to be. A novel that I was initially tempted to write off as too reliant on its premise proved to be one of the more writerly books I've read in recent months. I recommend it highly.

Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst - Who knew that reality television could inspire legitimate literature? Carolyn Parkhurt's Lost and Found follows a group of contestants and their Veronica Corningstone-esque host around the globe as they complete the various stages of a reality television show that bears a great deal of resemblance to The Amazing Race. It goes without saying that, at first, every character seems like a simple stereotype - the emo teenager, the born-again Christian, the 'reformed' lesbian, the brainiac, the former child star, etc. - and ends up proving him or herself to be much more than that. But, as cliche as that sounds, Parkhurst draws every one of her characters with closely observed detail, and, by the middle of the novel, they all feel like real - if mostly pathetic - people. Like all reality shows of this sort, success depends on its casting, and how people with little in common react when forced to spend time around each other under less-than-ideal conditions. Possessing all of the snack-food, guilty-pleasure qualities of the television programs it imitates, Lost and Found makes for a great beach novel.

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher - Her Academy Award monologue jokes notwithstanding, Carrie Fisher has always been an excellent writer, and she shows such a light touch in this memoir that its easy to lose track of how much she has actually lived through - a childhood with two famous, divorced parents whose numerous remarriages left her with a family tree out of a Faulkner novel, becoming world famous as a 19 year-old, marrying, divorcing, and then re-marrying Paul Simon, having her best friend commit suicide while he was staying over at her house for the night, and her decades-long battle with depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Fisher is able to see the absurdity in her life story, and to keep it breezy without making light of the more serious subject matter of suicide and drug addiction. Its really well done, and so light that you can probably finish the entire thing on a single flight or a week's worth of subway rides. I wouldn't but it, but its a solid library rental.

Got Nuffin'

CSD favorite Spoon released an EP today*, and at first listen it is awesome. Here's a video of them playing the title track, "Got Nuffin'." Press play and spoon for awhile.

*Its only three songs, so it probably makes sense to download it from iTunes instead of buying the cd.

Weekend Links (Belated)

Bill Simmons' thirteenth annual NBA draft running diary is, as always, a must-read. Now that Cleveland has already made its all-too-predictable desperation trade, what big moves are left to come this off-season? How long will it take for the Trailblazers to make a godfather offer for Ricky Rubio? One week? Two weeks?

Malcolm Gladwell on the future of print media.

The Onion A.V. Club's "Love At First Video" inventory was excellent. My own personal choices would be Radiohead's 'Creep,' Alicia Keys' 'Fallin',' and Rilo Kiley's 'Portions For Foxes.'

Ellen Wernecke is tackling Infinite Jest this summer, and discusses the long novels she's always wanted to read. What such novels are on your list? Moby Dick and Bleak House are two novels I have wanted to read since college. But when is a good time to tackle a 700 page allegorical novel? Or 1000+ page indictment of 19th Century British probate litigation? On the beach? Seven pages at a time on the subway, for four months? Twenty minutes a night in bed, before you fall asleep? Or attentively reading in a coffee shop, pencil in hand?

And finally, just because its awesome:

We can all agree that this is one of the better musical performances every broadcast on television, right? This is one of those videos that created so many iconic images and widely-imitated moves that it is almost difficult to imagine what pop music looked like before it existed. The impact this must have had in the pre-cable tv days, when most people only got four channels, is difficult to imagine today.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Is This What The Future Sounds Like?

I'm sort of a snob about the music produced by the bands that live in my borough. After a number of strong albums in 2005, Brooklyn bands have produced arguably the two best albums of 2006 (The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls of America and TV On the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain), the best album of 2007 (The National's Boxer), the best album of 2008 (TV On the Radio's Dear Science). That's quite a run. Most of us at CSD headquarters are big fans of those bands, as are many of our friends. Until this past spring, it seemed as if most of our friends were in agreement when it came to new Brooklyn music.

Then, about four weeks ago, the Williamsburg band Grizzly Bear released Veckamist, a critically revered experimental rock album that has garnered a long list of five star and A+ reviews. We took notice, even if they didn't exactly knock our socks off when we saw them open for The National at the Hammerstein Ballroom last October. The ever-trusted Onion A.V. Club that Veckatimest sounds "thrillingly and reassuringly like the future" and "mind-blowingly beautiful music that you can play over and over again and never get sick of," and there is a legitimate buzz among the type of people whose opinions about music we respect and admire.

Grizzly Bear is, for me, a good example of the question posed by 8yearoldsdude in his most recent post. Am I more likely to buy an album by Grizzly Bear - whose music, in admittedly small doeses, I have not cared for - because my cool friends are listening to it. If a friend and I like the same ten albums, should I necessarily take his word on the eleventh? If I spend money on their album, would that make me a mindless automaton who follows the pack, or would it signify that I'm open-minded and willing to try new things, particularly if that new thing is by all accounts a challenging and experimental piece of art that seems opaque at first but grows on you over time? If the album was recommended to me by friends who were less 'cool,' or whose taste in music was not generally in agreement with mine, would I be less inclined to check it out? Is the tail wagging the dog? Does the fact that I am writing so much about this mean that I represent everything insipid about Generation Y? If the alternative is to wait in long lines to see Transformers 2 - which had people lined up around the block at the Court Street multiplex this morning - like every other tasteless person in America, is that such a bad thing?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This Summer's New Music

CSD headquarters is abuzz over the upcoming release of The Drive-By Truckers' Live From Austin City Limits cd/dvd set, which hits stores on July 7th. Actually, fans of college radio are eagerly anticipating several albums due out in the next few weeks, which include new studio albums by Wilco, Dinosaur Jr., Regina Spektor, Sunset Rubdown, and a solo record by the Truckers' Patterson Hood. To whet your appetite until then, check out these sweet bootleg live tracks from the Drive-By Truckers:

Monday, June 22, 2009

The a**hole who breaks any of the previous rules loses his title of Charolastra

I went to see Rudo y Cursi on saturday night. It isn't a great movie. It is predictable and the changes are a bit unearned. but it is great fun to see gael garcia bernal and diego luna together again. The movie is about two brothers who are plucked from a banana plantation in mexico to become big city soccer stars, and the troubles and rivalries that result from this parallel dislocation. It is fun because it is about soccer and it's in spanish and the two of them are so great together on screen.

(speaking of soccer: Italy, your tears are so sweet and delicious. Particularly you, Giusseppi Rossi. Give Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski my best wishes when you see them.) .

I was struck by how similar my reaction to Rudo y cursi was to the Dana Stevens movie review I read 6 weeks ago. This is not the first time this has happened to me, and it often makes me want to stop reading movie reviews. Einstein has a quotation that a colleague in Canada had in her carrel that says "theory dictates what we see." It is possible that the review was simply very good and described the movie accurately. but I can't help but feel that context colors my experience of middle brow popular culture in a lot of ways. (e.g., I am more likely to like a band if I hear it at the house of someone I deem "cool" than someone whose taste I deem suspect). The whole thing makes me want to turn off the cultural commentary apparatus and consume media entirely in a vacuum. but that probably won't happen.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Weekend Links

Across the Great Divide - The New York Times Magazine has a good photo essay on one of the cooler-looking public works projects in quite some times.

Three of the Onion A.V. Club's most senior critics - Tasha Robinson, Nathan Rabin, and Scott Tobias - discuss Woody Allen's new movie Whatever Works. The rest of the staff joins them to discuss "The Best Music of 2009 So Far."

CSD favorite Roger Angell on the joy of rereading, from The New Yorker.

Bill Simmons' recent article about Kobe Bryant is really well-observed. On a related note, ESPN's cross-corporation marketing is one of my short-list pet peeves, and, since ESPN is owned by ABC which is owned by Disney, its whole "look who showed up at Disney Land" pieces on Kobe Bryant is disgusting to me. Remember when ESPN was a hip underdog who got to the top by being better than everybody else? That sure seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

Finally, just because its awesome - Jenny Lewis (and friends) sing "Acid Tongue":

Friday, June 19, 2009

Scattered Thoughts For A Friday Night

1) Whatever Works, the new Woody Allen movie starring Larry David, is playing at three theaters in Manhattan, but none in Brooklyn. That the two leading practicioners of Brooklyn Jewish comedy (the comedy of Jerry Seinfeld and Mel Brooks was less distinctly Jewish) could collaborate on a comedy about New York City and not have it open in a single theater in Kings County is depressing and aggravating in equal measures; I can imagine how Larry David, or rather the public figure "Larry David" would react to this. I would love to see this movie widely distributed in Brooklyn, but, failing that, it would be outstanding if it opened at only one theater in Brooklyn, an old-fashioned single-screen theater in Midwood or Sheepshead Bay. That would make my year.

2) Borders - long one of my favorite stores - is going out of business. The handwriting is on the wall - an increased focus on children's books and best-sellers, larger numbers of books on the clearance tables, and random and never-ending campaign of coupons mailed and e-mailed to its regular customers, and a close friend in the publishing industry tells me that Borders has been cutting back the size of its new book orders for almost a year, in an attempt to reduce inventory. We at CSD will mourn Borders' closing, when it eventually happens, because Borders is, quite simply, the classiest media retail chain going. Its extensive sections devoted to history and the social sciences, its selection of small-press books, its comprehensive periodicals section (which pressured Barnes & Noble into imitating it), the Kurosawa, Truffaut, and SCTV in its DVD section . . . we could go on and on. Its the tops, and it still bears the markings of the local favorite bookstore that it was, all those years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I went to their store on Broadway in the financial district today, and they had seven cashiers working and a quick-moving line of 25 or so people. If only more branches did that kind of business.

3) Its Friday night, which means its time for a good getting-ready-to-go-out anthem. The Onion A.V. Club has an interesting article about the best music of 2009 so far, and nominates this song as the getting-ready-to-go-out song for the summer.

New York, London, Paris, Munich, Everybody Talk About Pop Music

I have noticed a new and annoying trend--pop songs with samples that are so long that the chorus of the new song is essentially just the old song. Flo-Rida's "Sugar" doesn't so much sample Eiffel 65's "Blue" as play it. Flo-Rida is guilty again on "Right Round" when he takes the chorus in almost whole cloth from Dead or Alive's song of the same name (repurposing the lyrics slightly to make them more sexually explicit). Kristina DeBarge's "Goodbye" again takes nearly the entire chorus from the tiresome sports-arena classic, Steam's "Kiss it goodbye."

I have always thought of sampling as short (usually under 12 notes). One took a particularly funky (but unidentifiable) piece of an old song and blew it up by repetition to make a new beat. For this, we wove doctrines about modernity and the shortcomings of copyright law and "fair use." But this new trend seems more insidious as it cashes in directly on the recognizable catchiness and fame of the previous song. (Think of it as Family Guy humor. taking something we know and presenting it to us slightly out of context so that we can delight that we know it and that it is "random".) It seems to me that Vanilla Ice was mocked for stealing too much of "Under Pressure" to make "Ice Ice Baby." Now the practice is celebrated.

This makes me suspect that I am shading into "get off my lawn" territory. I am open the criticism of pulling the ladder up behind me--that I didn't recognize the beat samples on, say, "the chronic" because i was too young and inexperienced to know much about Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, etc. at that time. Perhaps then, those with more years under their belts felt the exact same way as I do now, and I have shielded myself in the mists of nostalgia.

but I object to this current usage nonetheless. "Fair Use" is meant to facilitate creativity. not bear us, like boats against the current, ceaselessly back into the past.

Coming Soon To A Coffeeshop You

I am going on the record with this prediction: you will hear Phoenix's "1901" approximately 100 times by the end of the summer. Every year, there's one song that the coffee shops and grad student bars play until they wear it out; few are as catchy as this one.

P.S. I sort of dig the fact that their music video looks like it is straight out of 1987.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

gold dust woman

So, I always have to play on everyone else's turf. Talking music with brooklyn residents or literature and social policy with career non-scientists is an uphill battle. So I come to talk about birds.

This is a Prothonotary Warbler. I saw my first one the other weekend while in a river nature preserve. They are awesome. They generally live around forested streams, nest in abandoned woodpecker holes, and eat insects and snails (check of the sharp, slightly wide bill of insect-nabbing). (N.b. "bill" is ornithologist-speak for "beak")
1. Their name is pronounce "pro-THON-o-terry". and it derives from important figures in the catholic church--the prothonotarii--who wore golden robes. The word means "first scribes".
2. Warblers make bird-nerds excited. New World Warblers are widely considered to be the most fun birds to see by US bird-watchers. this is because they are a challenge: they are small and secretive; they are migratory which narrows their availability; and they are relatively hard to tell apart from one another.

All collecting subcultures worth their salt revere the obscure and nuanced.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Is Having Doubts About Student Loan Forgiveness Like Hating Puppies?

The economic situation being what it currently is, there have been opinions suggesting that the United States evaluate its higher educational policies; namely, that student loans be, in whole or in part, forgiven, and/or the cost of attending college and graduate programs (as experienced by consumers) be significantly lowered. Most people in my cohort react to these proposals with enthusiastic support; in fact a fellow CSDer (jokingly, to his credit) compared opposing such measures with "hating puppies." I think, however, that we should be honest about adopting such measures really means. I think that I tend to support them; however, I think the discussion should be an honest one, and I have decided to jot down some notes to that effect.

However you spin it, to this extremely amateur economist, student loan forgiveness, or greater financial aid, has the effect of a progressive tax. (We will ignore the voluminous debate on the meaning of the word "progressive" in the tax context; here it means "those with a higher income will pay a larger percentage of that income than those with a lower income." While we're at it please don't bug me that wealth also matters here; obviously I agree, and let's agree that "progressive" also means that having wealth will also result in paying more, which payments will be distributed to those with less income and less wealth. Whew. Economics.) No matter how you structure a forgiveness program, those with more income or wealth will be kicking it over to those with less. This is on top of our already progressive regular taxation system.

What would the more affluent be getting for their buck? They would be getting a few things. One, they'd be getting a more meritocratic society on an INTRA-generational level. It is important to note that they'd be a getting a somewhat less meritocratic society on a MULTI-generational level. This is because the efforts of one generation to give their children advantages would be dampened by the redistributive scheme described above. Let's be honest about this tradeoff. For every Child A to whom you give hope of going to better college, you take away the same amount of hope from the parents of Child B who worked very hard to give Child B a leg up over Child A. This in turn disincentivizes the parents of Child B from trying to make more money than the parents of Child A, or from trying to compensate for making less money by causing Child B to excel at school more than Child A. Maybe that's a tradeoff we as a society like, and maybe it's not, but it's still a tradeoff.

Another positive aspect of this redistributive scheme is purported to be that we can have more educated people work at less remunerative jobs (without being crushed by a terrifying debt load.) In my opinion this is really where the rubber meets the road on this issue, both in terms of policy and in terms of emotional (and therefore political) response. Is this really true? It is easy to accept being taxed for roads. It is easy to accept being taxed for public services and the salaries of (competent and necessary) public employees. It is easy to accept being taxed for the salaries of scientific researchers. However, it can be argued that a large percentage of the work force is overeducated, or, it seems to me, more commonly, mis-educated, for their jobs.

This debate can be recast as follows. Which salaries does the market underprice, and which salaries does it price correctly? With respect to those salaries which are priced correctly, the argument for the backhanded subsidy of loan forgiveness is hard to sustain. A recent blog post led as follows:

"Last week, the son of a barber, the first son in his family to go to college, and a former teenage mother (that's me) walked into a bar. All of us went to private schools in the '90s (Williams, Wesleyan and Penn). To get to those schools, all us loaded up on A.P. classes and SAT prep and chased after awards at public schools in unfancy districts. During college, we all worked the maximum twenty hours a week, while our parents paid what the school deemed a "reasonable" percentage of our tuition. After college, we all worked (mostly) full-time (lucky us! we had two recessions!): one ran a non-profit for inner-city schools, another became a computer programmer, and another became a journalist (me, again). And now in our thirties, not a single one of us has managed to pay off our student loans. " -- Amy Benfer, Salon.

The writer assumes that this outcome is iniquitous, but worse, bad for society. But this is not so clear. The hard question here is whether the market's decision to not compensate those three people for their expensive educations with appropriately high salaries is indeed a choice that is bad for society. And if the answer is yes, is the correct way to subsidize that choice through student loan or tuition reductions? Again, I don't know what the answer is, but it seems to me like the right question to ask.

There are certainly other considerations to this discussion, (the most important to me one being that loan forgiveness should be part of a safety net which includes medical insurance, etc.) How about it?


Grizzly Bear's new album is entitled Veckatimist. A lot of critics we really respect have been raving about it, including The Austin Chronicle, Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly, and the normally-difficult-to-impress The Onion A.V. Club, which gave it a full "A" and described it as 'an early contender for Album of the Year.'

Jake Taylor and I saw Grizzly Bear play at the Hammerstein Ballroom last October, as part of a bill that included the comedians from Stella and big-time CSD favorites The National. To put it mildly, neither of us was terribly impressed by Grizzly Bear. Jake put it rather less midly, leaning over to me at one point to whisper "I think my eardrums are bleeding."

I don't know what to think of Grizzly Bear, and I haven't heard Veckatimist in its entirety yet. I've never listened to a band I didn't like just because its what the cool kids were listening to, but, at the same time, some of my favorite albums are acquired tastes, most significantly Radiohead's OK Computer, which I found off-putting at first, but stuck with because of its overwhelmingly favorable press and because I liked The Bends so much, and now consider to be one of my favorite records. Perhaps the same will be true of Grizzly Bear.

Readers, what are your thoughts on Grizzly Bear?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Excellent Discussions of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian

"Wrapped Up In Books," the Onion A.V. Club's book club (try saying that five times, quickly) is really on a roll this month, with excellent discussions of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian - a CSD favorite of long standing - here, here, here, here and here, a group chat here, and a fantastic interview with Yale professor, literary giant, and early Blood Meridian champion Harold Bloom. Well played, my friends.

Bonus Round
Yale professor Amy Hungerford discusses Blood Meridian in two lectures, Part 1 and Part 2.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Weekend Links

1) The Onion A.V. Club asks, which fictional world would you most like to live in? For me, it is the Brooklyn of Moonstruck, or the Lower East Side of Flight of the Conchords: brownstone buildings, friendly neighbors, people who whistle while they work, love in the air, stoops populated with charmingly eccentric ethnics of all backgrounds, and the occasional impromptu musical number.

2) The Economist has a devastating critique of General Motors, Detroitasaurus Wrecks.

3) A Teriffically Bad Idea: Ten cafes, Ten macchiators, One Morning - You may want to try this if you're a hipster with too much time on their hands, and a caffeine habit stronger than ours. You may not want to try this if you're a normal person who works for a living and has to wake up in the morning and/or has to pee a lot when they drink ten cups of coffee in a row.

4) The New York Times' article on interested parties' differing reactions to the new Bruno movie both whets my appetite and drives home the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen is actuall kind of a dick.

5) Kenny Rankin, whose songwriting talent one-of-a-kind voice made him a regular guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and influenced a generation of singer-songwriters died this week at the age of 69. Rankin's best-known song is probably 'peaceful,' brought to us today by the wonder that is YouTube.

Forget About It

Its a warm, rainy, sticky day in Brooklyn, which only sucks because that more or less describes seven of the past eight weekends. Fortunately, the walk home from the gym today was enlivened by the following:

1) A used condom lying in the middle of the 6th Avenue sidewalk.

2) A sketchy-looking sidewalk sale overseen by a couple of Hispanic guys on 9th Street, all of whose merchandise was unopened and in its original packaging. Normally, this would have led me to believe that said merchandise recently 'fell off of a truck' somewhere on Long Island, except that this sidewalk sale contained an extensive colelction Willow action figures. By my calendar, those toys are twenty-one years old. Is Willow popular with kids these days? If so, wouldn't that be weird, since it wasn't even that popular when it was released in 1988. Is it particularly popular amongst New York Hispanics or something, and the rest of us have no idea about it? Wouldn't it be weird if Puerto Rican immigrants considered Willow to be a cult classic, the way CSD considers Dark City and Road House?

3) A guy trying to parrallel park next to an intersection, a driver who waited too long to go around said parralel parker, a guy running a red light and a car jumping a green light on a side street combined to create what was almost the single stupidest four-car accident in the history of Kings County, resulting in a simply bitchin' middle-finger and f-bomb exchange the likes of which I have never seen before in my life. As if on cue, a young mother walking with her daughter said "No, honey, they weren't pointing . . . do mommy a favor and pretend you didn't see that."

I fucking love living in Brooklyn.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Scattered Thoughts on Sports

Dwight Howard's lack of touch around the basket is driving me to distraction. He shoots his jump-hooks out of the palm of his hand, instead of rolling them off of his fingertips, the way that every coach he's had since middle school has taught him to. It pisses me off and it stands out like a sore thumb compared to the highly polished post play of Pau Gasol, who I've loved for years and who, I hope, is finally getting long-overdue recognition as one of the elite basketball players in the world. Of course, Gasol has never grabbed 11 rebounds in a quarter, which Dwight Howard did tonight. Sometimes I hate sports.

In unrelated sports news, the Red Sox scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat the Yankees, thus completing their third sweep of the Yankees this season. David Ortiz, beleaguered Red Sox designated hitter and CSD favorite, hit homeruns in two of the three games. Sometimes, I love sports.

The Return of Conando!

Conan reaches out to his Mexican viewers. Hey, they account for a large percentage of L.A's tv market!

I know that a lot of you will probably consider this sketch to be childish and overly broad. I would say to you that anybody who feels that way hasn't spent 20 minutes in a Brooklyn laundromat.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I want to ride it where I like (but i won't in the name of social harmony)

this is the second day in a row someone has given me the finger while I was biking to work in an appropriate and respectful manner. I believe this hatred stems not from pure massholery, but from misunderstanding of why bicyclists behave the way they do.

according to traffic law, bicycles are cars. we should be cruising right in the middle of a travel lane at 12-18 mph, and cars are free to pass if they can. everyone knows this is an untenable solution--both because it would result in multiple thromboses from car commuters and because it is really inefficient. we can't go 60, so it seems unjust to slow you down. Hence cyclists have moved to the far right 1.5 feet of the road in an act of semi-heroic Pareto optimization. our being over there allows cars to go faster, rather than impedes it.

cyclists have extracted a few concessions from the social contract in exchage for forfeiting our legal right to behave like cars. All non-interstates have a de facto third lane. it is about 1.5 feet wide and at the far right of the road. if you want to come in there, you have to look and signal. It also means that cyclists can "jaywalk" if there are no cars coming.

Things cyclists cannot do (and cars should be more than happy to scream and give these guys the bird): break traffic laws while slowing down cars that have the right of way (this includes running lights and going the wrong way on one way streets. you can do it, but only if it isn't inconveniencing a car). traveling without lights or reflective clothing at dusk or night. biking on the sidewalk. travel two abreast if there is traffic behind (the cyclists are out of their "lane" at the far right). wear full-body spandex if they are heinous fat guys. In these cases, cyclists are being assholes.

Clarifying this gray area will make us all a lot happier.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Scrooging It in June

My pet peeve this time of year are questions such as "Do you have any exciting trips planned for the summer?" Now, I know this is probably just innocuous smalltalk, but it seems like the only two socially acceptable responses to this question are to either brag or lie, and I don't like that particular poo-poo platter of pretension. If you have a trip planned, you brag about it. If you don't, you lie about why not, because it's never for a nice reason. It's because you are worried about money, yearly billables, you are too neurotic to plan one, or your woman done left you, taking your truck and your dog with her. And you sure as hell can't say "I will be sitting at homewith the shades drawn drinking Brooklyns and not bathing." You have to call it something cute like "Staycation" and pretend you are going to "See the Cloisters and the Kew Gardens like I always have wanted to but never have the time." Bah Humbug.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Apparently, 'Air Sex' Is A Thing

Apparently 'Air Sex' is a new competitive bar game along the lines of competitive air guitar, which was briefly popular a couple of years ago. Yes, it is exactly what you think it is and yes, that is creepy.

Scattered thoughts:

1) The little 'tips' section at the end of the Decider article weirded out, but anybody who needs to be to be told not to use "Let's Get It On" or "Let's Talk About Sex" has no business entering a competition like this.

2) The world championships are weird enough, but let's hope - I mean really hope - that this doesn't catch on. An Air Sex contest in Appleton, Wisconsin may actually cause people in the audience to go blind.

3) I get the feeling that most of these contests will be sausagefests. But I could be wrong.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Weekend Links

"Good Neighbors" - Long-time Common Sense Dancing favorite Jonathan Franzen has a new short story in the latest issue of The New Yorker.

The Ultimate Guide to NFL Defense - Jene Bremel's long-but-comprehensive guide for people who have never played the sport competitively. Thanks to Arsenio Billingham for the tip.

This Boston.com article about the sudden popularity of men's book clubs raises as many questions as it answers. Thanks to Ellen at Wormbook for the find.

The Onion A.V. Club's "Crosstalk" about Conan O'Brien's first episode of Late Night hit all of the highlights and rightly dubs Conan's mad dash from New York to L.A. an instant classic.

McSweeney's Internet Tendency's collection of Comments Written By Actual Students Extracted From Workshopped Manuscripts At A Major State University more or less tells you why I avoided creative writing courses in college.

And, finally, just because its awesome:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Few Recent Signs Of The Coming Apocalypse

1) The tramp-stamp, liquor, and narcissistic tirade-filled 22nd season of MTV's The Real World, which tests the limits of the definition of the world 'real' and features assholes with names like 'Emilee' and 'Bronne,' 'Jonna,' and, believe it or not, 'Ayiiia.'

2) The phenomenon of 'flash-mobbing.' I am very glad that none of my friends think that this is cool. As one of the comments asks, twenty years from now, will hipsters flash-mob people while Jonas Brothers music plays in the background?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Now Playing At CSD Headquaters: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

The French rock band Phoenix's new album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, arrived at Common Sense Dancing headquarters about ten days ago and has been in non-stop rotation almost ever since.

Long-time readers of this blog will probably say "this sort of euro pop-techno band isn't their style," and for the most part they would be correct, but The Postal Service got stuck in our head in the summer of 2004 and didn't get out for over a year, and Phoenix is well on its way to joining them there. Its catchy in the best sense of the word. Here's their first video:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kicking and Screaming

I watched Noah Bambach's Kicking and Screaming last weekend. It wasn't the first time I had seen it, but it was the first time I had seen it since I lived through the awkward stage of post-college aimlessness that the movie captures and, in some ways, validates. The years between the end of college and the beginning of your career aren't easy, filled, as they are, with an uneasy mix of unemployment, small bank balances, low-paying entry level work, roommates, and going to graduate programs in places you'd otherwise never choose to live.

It is shot in natural (or at least natural-looking) light and acted in a subdued, plain-spoken way, the movie has a comfortable, lived-in quality that is enormously appealing. Many movies of this sort end in big speeches, and that scene in this movie feels like a forced conclusion, but it manages to feel organic and in character, and, most refreshing of all, the speech is in favor of pursuing a whim, instead of the sort of the 'I should have grown up and gotten serious long ago' speech that I expected.

The movie is full of little touches that reminded me of friends of mine. When a character tells a joke that he thought was funny but that failed to get a reaction from his girlfriend, he repeats it. Grover (Josh Hamilton) falls for a classmate of his (Olivia D'Abo), not because she's pretty, though she is, and not because she's funny, though she is, but because her fiction-writing seminar insights into his writing nail him so perfectly. Its a movie about little things - how friends grow up at different speeds,how college prepares you for graduate school better than the real world, how college students are nostalgia for their experiences even as they experience them, despite the fact that they're miserable most of the time, probably because their parents have convinced them that college will be the time of their lives. It is also a movie about how affectations become habits - a character goes to a college bar instead of the usual fratty undergrad bar, discovers that he likes the bartender, and keeps going back until he and all of his friends are regulars. Another character starts smoking to give him another way to relate to his girlfriend, then she graduates and moves away, sticking him with a two-pack-a-day habit. A recent graduate orders scotch instead of beer to differentiate himself from the undergrads, and before long his entire circle is drinking it.

I recognized characters in this movie. They're a half-generation older than me, but they say the same things, make similar references, speak in a similar tone. But even if none of that was true, Grover's line about Park Slope being "Division I Brooklyn" would have won me over. It isn't a perfect movie - too little happens, and its not ambitious enough - but, if you share the sensibility of this blog, you will enjoy it.

working the system

finally, I can put the fact that this blog's readership is 80% lawyers to use:

I just received a smartphone from work. It is secondhand and has a big star-crack in the screen. and I am amazed it somehow has my email in there. but that's not what I come to talk about.

I have recently been irked by the fact that I plunk down $40/mo for a personal cellphone. and I now have a "company" phone which seems like it could be a solution. How can I best maximize this perk/curse for my financial gain without creating long-term problems.

Should I attempt to switch my personal number to the company phone so that they can essentially pay my bill? (this could be problematic if I ever quit. it could also be problematic about keeping peronal/work life separate)

Should I switch my personal phone to some kind of minimal plan and just make most of my calls from company phone? (this means I still have to carry two phones)

oh great lawyers, and other smarties, how should I deal with this new toy/yoke? Any tips about how to not become a smartphone douchebag/ work slave will also be appreciated.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

viva la restructurazacion?

I admit it. I spend a lot of time commenting on Deadspin. it makes me a dork, I know. but it serves as a necessarily outlet for intellectual allusion, creativity and crudeness in a world of office workers that allows for the possibility of none of those. The fact that Deadspin fills a very specific gap in my work life makes me all the more confused about the recent desire to "scare" the commenters "straight" by threatening to "kill" them or "destar" them.

(Primer for those of you with social skills and lives, Deadspin is an alternative sports blog with a very developed culture of appending "humorous" comments. One must audition for an account to comment. A killed commenter is one whose commenting privileges have been revoked. Starring and destarring is a process too childish and stupid to get into. )

I am well aware that delving too deeply into the emotions of something this stupid is dangerous territory, so I will try to keep this at the level of business analysis. but forgive me if it devolves.

I am more than willing to allow the site owners to do whatever they please to make money. They don't charge me, and hence, I don't have any rights. That is fine.

As rational actors, Denton and co. want to maximize pageviews in the long term. Which brings us to the difficult question of how to do that, and where do the majority of the views come from. If the majority of the views come from the dedicated commenters, then pissing them off makes no sense. The last thing on earth I need is more fear that something I type into a keyboard between 9am and 10pm will be met with negative feedback and consequences. DS is supposed to be an escape from work. So the current regime drives my usage down.

Therefore, we will have to assume that the commenters don't represent the bulk of the page views. If not, then what drives non-commenter traffic to a site and what drives viewers away from that site? And how do you make your site "sticky" (best/worst internet buzzword)? When you are entirely ad-driven, mastering the seeming random subtelties of the diversion-seeking patterns of millions becomes you business. and that is a tough bronco to ride.

I have to assume Gawker's antagonizingof a stable community that adds value to the site would be a negative, unless pageviews are dropping. If pageviews are dropping, there might be some movement within Gawker to shake things up, possibly returning to the "old" way with fewer commenters as recipe for success. I have heard other opinions that the whole thing is manufactured drama to get people active again (and writing linked articles just like this one). Wise and worldly readers (TM Suburbdad), can you help me understand the business case for these decisions?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sorry, its Tuesday

Jake and I spent last weekend in the Berkshires, at Arsenio Billingham's wedding, which for the record was really tasteful and touching and just plain cool in a lot of different ways. We're working on a couple of what Ben Fong Torres would call "think pieces" that should be pretty cool.

But in the meantime, check out the hilariously straight-faced subtitling on this version of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Conan's Cold Open

Open Thread: Conan's First Tonight Show Broadcast

All of us at Common Sense Dancing headquarters are thrilled to have Conan O'Brien - and a funny Tonight Show - back in our lives. Please use this thread to discuss Conan's first broadcast as host of The Tonight Show.

Some initial thoughts:

1) When the show opened with Conan brushing his teeth, I briefly worried that the skit would be a little too 'sketchy' (instead of something that would have more potential staying power) but those concerns went straight out the window once Conan broke into his that Chariots of Fire-esque. By the time he took the shortcut through Wrigley Field, I had laughed myself out of breath. Just a great way to start off the first show.

2) The Victorian doll shop joke and the keys on the Manhattan windowsill jokes both totally killed.

3) I had not realized that Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg Seven was moving to Los Angeles with Conan; I let out a little whoop when the announcer introduced them. I realize that some concessions to the earlier showtime will have to be made, but I really hope they keep the Max Weinberg-as-homicidal-sex-pervert jokes in this new incarnation of the show.

4) Andy Richter's back!!! He looked a little awkward standing behind that wooden podium during the monologue, but once he gets back onto the sidekick's couch I'm sure he'll bring the lunacy.

5) Great guests.

6) One of the underrated aspects of Conan's stint on The Late Show was his taste in musical guests. He had a number of excellent acts, like Regina Spektor, the White Stripes, and She and Him on well before they had achieved mainstream success. Will he still be able to score acts like that in Los Angeles, whose independent music scene pales in comparison to New York's? Pearl Jam is a great start, but then Pearl Jam is world famous. So far removed from any of the big indie music scenes, will his producers still be able to find promising new bands to feature?

Monday, June 1, 2009

New Song by The National

Last week on Q TV, The National debuted a song from the album they're working on. Consider it 'eagerly anticipated' in our eyes.