Thursday, October 29, 2009

Weekend Links, Thursday Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

emo evening thoughts

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

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

It Never Gets Old

Moe vs. the Lie Detector

In which I review Julie and Julia in four words

Less Julie More Julia

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

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Straight Man, by Richard Russo

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

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

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

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

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

"Sometimes Shit Just Goes Bad"

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week 3 - Chapters 20-32

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

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

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

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

Random thoughts:

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

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

Facebook Abuse

We all feel like this from time to time.

Thanks to Matt Ufford.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This One's For The Ladies

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

Let's Face It

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stuff That Exists

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

Flutie Flakes (1998)

Terrell Owens' T.O.'s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Autumn of Dick - Week 2 - Chapters 10-19

Some thoughts on the next ten chapters of Moby Dick:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The National - Live At La Guinguette

I orginally posted this particular version of "About Today" a couple of years ago, and I have no particular reason for posting it again, except that it is awesome and this song has been stuck in my head lately. It is the third part of a three-part "Live at La Guinguette" video series, recorded in 2006, during their first European tour. The first two parts, "Abel" and "Baby We'll Be Fine" are just as good.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stuff That Makes You Smack Your Forehead, Saturday Morning Edition

(1)Fillipa Hamilton was recently fired by Ralph Lauren for becoming too fat. She is 5'10", weighs 120 pounds, and wears size 4 clothes. She is gorgeous. If that makes a model too fat to work, then let the record reflect that Wade Garrett loves fatties.

(2), Wal-Mart, Target, and other large retailers are currently in a price war over new hardcover books written by best-selling authors like John Grisham and Stephen King. Amazon is currently selling Stephen King's new novel, Under the Dome, for $9.00 in hardcover, and Wal-Mart is selling it for $8.99, or 83/100ths of a cent per page. Technically, Wal-Mart's price is lower, but it still eight dollars and ninety-nine cents more than anybody should ever give to Wal-Mart. Still, that is $26 (or 74%) off the cover price, which sort of makes anybody who has bought a hardcover novel in the past fifteen years feel like a total dick. But an 1,100 page novel (and a potential CSD long book club selection??) for less than the price of a movie ticket just reinforces our opinion that books are the best thing ever.

(3)Senator Al Franken recently proposed an amendment to a spending bill that would prohibit the federal government from awarding any contracts to companies that make their employees contract away their right to sue their employer for damages if they are raped by co-workers on the job. That clause, included in the fine print of Kellogg, Brown & Root contracts, has prohibitted a young woman employed by KBR in Iraq from suing after she was gang-raped by a number of her co-workers. Sure, she can still sue her co-workers, but her co-workers don't have any money, and KBR has a lot of money. Such an amendment would seem like a slam-dunk, and yet it was opposed by thirty Republican senators. Senator Sessions, who lead the opposition to the amendment, said on the Senate floor that it is not the government's place to interfere in private contracts. Mr. Sessions, the 14th Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statistics! Senator Sessions, a lawyer who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi for twelve years, ought to know that the Supreme Court's Lochner era ended in the 1930's and that, while the government is generally prohibitted from interfering in private contracts, the federal government can choose to spend its own money any way that it wants, and can attach as many strings as it wants to the money it chooses to spend. Senator Sessions' attempt to disguise his blatant neo-conservative pandering to government contractors in a half-assed legal language the Supreme Court overturned more than seventy-five years ago is as bizarre as it is reprehensible.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Friday, October 16, 2009

This Makes Me Feel Better About The World

Tina Fey and David Letterman together is the Reese's peanut butter cup of the tv world. Yes, is is the right conjugation of "to be" for that sentence.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Deep Thoughts With Wade Garrett

When I'm at the office late, I like to take off my wing tips and put on a pair of white sneakers, though I'm still wearing a suit and tie. I hope the effect is more "Wille Brown" or even "Mr. Rogers" than it is "No Jacket Required."

RANDOMLY DEPRESSING UPDATE: No Jacket Required is ranked #1,021 on's sales list. Think about that - in the year 2009, there are only 1,020 albums more popular than No Jacket Required. Its more popular than Boxer, Acid Tongue, or Dear Science.

emo evening thoughts

I object to the name Redskins on moral grounds. but there isn't a lot I can do to influence Dan Snyder economically. And ceasing to root for ones childhood football team seems like the self-conscious action of college freshman. I had an anti-redskins bumper sticker on my old truck. but then I had to get a different car.

I posted a yelp review of my dentist. I noted that she sometimes creates unintentionally philosophical aphorisms due to her imperfect English. I then became self-conscious that she would find the review and edited that part out.

I can't tell if Yelp is a beautiful outgrowth of consumer advocacy or one more obnoxious brick in the yuppie-foodie industrial complex.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My favorite birds--Sulidae edition

Hi all,

time for another installment of "my favorite birds" (this segment is also known by its alternative title "I am not enjoying my job that much").

Northern Gannets are gorgeous birds. The color balance of the cream body feathers, the rusty-orange crest, and the aquamarine eye ring creates a beautiful whole. They are long and graceful soaring fliers (they have a lot in common with albatross in that regard). they have always been a favorite bird of mine.

Northern Gannet's live in the north oceans and are part of the Genus Sula that includes Boobies and Gannets (including the famous Galapagos denizen the Blue-footed Booby). (I am not dignifying your Booby jokes). These birds share a common shape and physiology. They are "plunge divers" which means that they dive into the water from a substantial height and are able to make a move underwater to grab fish. This is a different strategy from the Alcids (e.g., Puffins) that can swim underwater for prolonged periods and from dippers/skimmers that do not reach as deep into the water column.

Northern Gannets nest together in colonies on remote rock outcroppings. This is for the simple reason that bird eggs are tasty, therefore, parent birds have to nest somewhere that land-based predators--fox, rats, snakes, bear--can't get them. This limits their nesting ground habitats to land without mammalian predators--at-sea outcroppings or very steep cliffs.

If you ever get a chance to visit a seabird colony (there is a gorgeous one in newfoundland) you should take it. It is a singular experience.

Stay tuned for eventual further installments of avian ecological arcana

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Emo evening thoughts

It is pay day on Thursday. I look forward to pay day so much, it makes me wonder if I still have a soul.

My uncle and cousin stayed with me to visit colleges. They are really nice, but sweet fancy moses is it tiring to have guest you aren't totally comfortable leaving alone to fend for themselves

I am part of an internet music exchange via Dropbox, and I feel very guilty about stealing money from undermonetized artists.

I think Lady Gaga might be a genius. Seriously. She might be the new Madonna.

ok, back to work

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Autumn Of Dick - Week 1 - Chapters 1-9

Nine chapters into Moby Dick, Melville is still setting the scene. The narrator, Ishmael, has grown bored in Manhattan, and relocated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the hopes of finding some excitement on a maritime expedition of some kind. When he arrives, the town is salty and quiet, and Ishmael looks for an inn in which to spend the night. Passing on the first two places he finds, because they are too nice and expensive-looking, he stumbles into a sketchy inn with no vacancies, but where the inn keeper allows him to share a bed with a then-absent, unnamed mariner. The mariner - who we come to know as Queequeg - returns to the inn very late at night and is understandably shocked to find another man sleeping in his bed. Queequeg's physique, tattoos, and creole dialect, as well as the disturbing shrunken heads he carries, startle Ismael. The inn keeper introduces them, both men realize they have nothing to be afraid of, and doze off. Ishmael wakes up to find that he has never slept sounder in his life, and also that Queequeg's arm is thrown over him in an intimate fashion. Surely these details will prove significant down the road, but how so? I've read enough books to tell that Melville is foreshadowing all sorts of terrible things, but he's not giving anything away. I'm hooked.

Scattered thoughts:

-Isn't it funny to think that, in the 1840's, somebody might have left Manhattan and moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts in search of a good time?

-In the first couple of chapters, Ishmael tells the reader that he is bored, and is looking for an adventure, and believes that he might find one of the sees. To a modern reader - if not to Melville's contemporaries - this practically screams "Warning!!! Be careful what you wish for, you just might get more than you bargained for!" It strikes us as a rather obvious bit of foreshadowing. Would readers in the 1840s have recognized it as such, or has it only become cliche in the intervening 150+ years? Do any of you have an opinion about this?

-I love Melville's style, heavy as it is on allegory, symbolism, and foreshadowing. Its clear that William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy read this novel closely - the parralels to McCarthy's Blood Meridian are striking. What do you think of the writing style? Heavy in a good way, or just . . . heavy?

Dear Ralph Wilson . . .

The list of great NFL headcoaches not currently employed by an NFL team includes Tony Dungy, Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, and Jon Gruden.

I'm just sayin'.

Added: As long as I'm just sayin' things, I would like to point out that Jeff Garcia is better than at least eight quarterbacks currently starting for NFL teams, and yet he remains a free agent. Who said the NFL was all about winning? If you can save your owner a million dollars by refusing to sign a better player in a season in which you've already determined you're not going to make the playoffs, why wouldn't you do that? Who cares if the team loses two or three extra games? Think of all of the high draft picks we'll get, to use on players like Erik Flowers, JP Losman and Mike Williams!

This Is Like Pulling Teeth

It is halftime in Orchard Park, and the Buffalo Bills trail the Cleveland Browns 3-0 in a football game so poorly played that the NFL should feel a moral obligation to provide the fans with refunds. Buffalo Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens has four catches - a season high - for forty-four yards. Going into today's game, Owens had eight catches for 158 yards and a touchdown.

There is little controversy in saying that Terrell Owens is one of the twenty or so greatest wide receivers ever to play football. There is little controversy in saying that, as a football player, he is aging and on the downside of his career, and that, as a human being, he is shady, selfish, and untrustworthy. However, there is also little controversy in saying that, despite all he is one of the best-conditioned athletes in the NFL, and still one of the ten best receivers in the league.

The two best football players on the Buffalo Bills are Terrell Owens and fellow wide receiver Lee Evans (who, going into today's game, has 10 receptions for 148 yards). Why is it not Buffalo's gameplan to get the ball to their two best players at all costs? Even if it means throwing three interceptions per game, or exposing Trent Edwards to an extra sack or two, why are the Bills not throwing in the direction of Owens and Evans twenty times a game? So far, Dick Jauron is the only head coach whose offensive game plan is more predictable than his predecessor, Mike Mularkey's. And to think, we could have had Marvin Lewis or John Fox.

Update: The game is over. The Bills lost 6-3 on late fourth-quarter field goal. The game was so poorly played that, at halftime, the CBS broadcasters were making jokes like "Seriously, are these two professional teams?" I continue to wonder why I do this to myself year after year.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Overly Detailed Explanations Of The Obvious

I love just about everything David Cross has ever done. Unfortunately, his recent book I Drink For A Reason is directionless, poorly edited, and feels too much like a first draft of something potentially much better. Cross has always had a tendency to beat up easy targets, but the sort of screeds and revenge fantasies he writes about Catholic priests, morning zoo crew disc jockeys, Larry the Cable Guy, Jim Belushi, homeschoolers, and President Bush are more facile than they are cutting. Similarly, several of his 'essays' are more accurately described as rebuttals to people who have criticized him in various ways over the past few years. He has a few bizarre running jokes that never really pay off, and the book's highlights - a free list of character quirks for use by aspiring indie filmmakers, a list of music to listen to while writing about other music - feel buried between loose, baggy essays. Most importantly, his book is just not very funny. We all drink for a reason; some of us just need a better reason that the decades-old scandals of child-molesting Catholic priests, or Jim Belushi's continued popularity.

By comparison, Michael Ian Black's recent My Custom Van: And 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face is far superior. Black's trademark blend of surrealism, wordplay, over-explanation and non-sequiteurs translates far more easily to the page than I would ever have expected, and his essays have a consistently rewarding build-up, build-up, funny-but-predictably punchline, unpredictable-and-hilarious punchline structure that killed me every time. For fans of alternative comedy who need something to read on the subway and/or the toilet, Black's book is far superior.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Teddy bears are underweighted in your portfolio

I love antiques roadshow.

This is for many reasons. The proximate cause is probably that I have super-cheapskate cable, so it is often the best thing on. It strikes a totally different tone than regular TV. Everyone is earnest and weird-looking, and sincere. and you get tiny 2-minute material culture history lessons which are delightful. and you can being to imagine foggy unspecific ancestors playing with that Stieff rod-bear or drinking from that impossibly baroque decanter set.

the one thing I do not like about the show is the big reveal of the monetary value of the antique. Oh, it is often fun to see the faces of particular owners light up in surprise, but the thing I often wonder about is the effect of inflation. The screen shows a big sparkling number, usually with four or low five digits. What I want to know is, "is that a good deal?"

More often than not, someone bought the antique from a dealer a few hundred dollars in ~30 years ago and it is now worth a few thousand dollars. I wish the roadshow had two normalizing statistics--original price of object adjusted for inflation and owner's purchase price adjusted for inflation. That way we could see if the original buyer got a good deal either at the time of purchase or now.

Perhaps I am being a wet blanket, and one is suppose to regard antique purchases as depreciating decorations, and the fact that they retain value is the equivalent of found money. but I contend that often these are bought as investments, and I am curious to see how it performed.

As my last several posts have shown, I fret about money a lot. It is kindof a bummer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stupid capitalism

I hate my landlord, and I think it is capitalism's fault.

I live in an owner-occupied free-standing multi-family house. The owner and his family live on the top two floors, and we live on the bottom floor. We pay slightly below market rate for rent (we shopped around extensively and then bargained), but it still constitutes ~70% of the owner's mortgage payment (assuming standard borrowing rates and comparable pricing to neighbors)

It drives me nuts to see him every day. I feel as if he is free-riding on me. He gets equity in the house, and I pay for it. Now I know all the reasons why this arrangement is so: I am paying for the flexibility of leaving, the rent must account for bad tenants and/or damage, they would pay for any potential problems which have as of yet not occurred, but it makes for a terribly awkward social relationship.

We are nominally supposed to be friends (they are plenty nice people), but every time I see him I think about how he is taking advantage of me.

Would this be easier if I were paying a big corporation to get fat doing the same thing? My landlord is a hardworking blue-collar dude (industrial air conditioners), I should be happy for his enterprising nature. but the fact that there is a face not too much older than my own, profiting so directly from me, is difficult.


OK Freakonomicists,

Why is brown rice more expensive than white rice? As far as I know, white rice is just brown rice with the hull milled off. Therefore, the act of processing makes it cheaper. This would be like gasoline being cheaper than crude oil. The "scale of demand drives down price" argument doesn't work because they are the same thing at different levels of refinement. Shouldn't demand for either type of rice affect the total demand (and price) for rice? The only reason I can think of is that you can sell lower-quality rice as white rice because you mill off the part that wold be visibly imperfect. Either that or rice producers have figured out what the economist loves to make me feel bad about--that consumers of eco-preferable products (hi!) are price-inelastic morons.

any thoughts?

Monday, October 5, 2009

On Packers and Public Radio

One of my roommates works for NPR producer, and does not know very much about football. I tried to explain the appeal of tonight's Monday Night Football game, and the importance of Brett Favre starting for Minnesota against the Green Bay Packers, but the circumstances are so specific that it is difficult to analogize it to anything else in our common frame of reference.

Eventually, I came up with the following: Imagine that Terry Gross retired from Fresh Air, on the heels of her best season of interviews in ten years. Then, a couple of weeks after retiring, she announces she's signed a contract to host a morning "zoo crew" shock jock morning drive-time program on a classic rock FM station in Dallas, Texas. That is how betrayed Packers fans feel right now.

Tonight's game had a great atmosphere, but the game has been disappointing - the play on the field isn't really reflected in the relatively close score. The Vikings' defense has been so dominant that they've done just about everything short of actually having sex with Aaron Rodgers in the Packers' backfield. The Vikings' offense has looked somewhat out of synch, and yet every so often they string a couple of big plays together and hang a touchdown on the scoreboard before the Packers can get their feet back under them. Bernard Berrian has been a deadly NFL deep threat while playing with the likes of Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson; for all of the shortcomings Favre the player has at this stage of his career, he still throws as good of a deep ball as anybody in the NFL, and I figured it was only a matter of time until Berrian started scoring 40-yard touchdowns. He had one tonight, and I'm sure more are to come in the following weeks. It looks like the Vikings will win twelve games if Favre can give the Vikings a "C" at the quarterback position. They've got the best running back in the NFL, an intimidating offensive line anchored by future first-ballot hall of famer Steven Hutchinson, a physical defense with a consistent pass rush and 700 pounds of run-stuffing defensive tackles, and a kick returner who is going to win a game or two for them single-handedly. They are an imposing team.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And He Helps Your Fantasy Team, Too!

Friend of the blog Sean Ryan - Kansas City Chiefs tight end, former Boston College Eagle, and all-around cool guy - caught five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown in today's game against the New York Giants. Congratulations, Sean!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Feelin' Kind of Patton

Patton Oswalt's new stand-up comedy CD, My Weakness Is Strong, has been playing on a near-loop around Common Sense Dancing headquarters for the past few weeks. My Weakness suffers in comparison to its predecessor, Werewolves and Lollipops - one of the short-list funniest stand-up albums ever recorded - but holds its own compared to, well, just about anything else. On My Weakness, Oswalt's humor is less gonzo, and more reflective and observational, but what hasn't changed is Oswalt's gift for killer one-liners which, with their evocative punch, rival the very best song lyrics. When a miscommunication results in a realtor taking Oswalt and his wife to a house in the throes of an orgy, he ends up "standing in a fogbank of twat juice." When he attempts to be cool at a party, the result is a "vagina-drying moments of failure." Of course, Oswalt discusses more than just vaginas - President Obama, Halloween, air travel, house shopping, childbirth, how the year 2009 would blow the minds of people living as recently as ten years ago - and brings a sophisticated-but-sincere sensibility to bear on all of it. Its a great cd.

Unfortunately, very few of the bits from Oswalt's new album are available online. Instead, check out these clips (which are a couple of years old) of Oswalt performing at the Sound Fix Lounge in Williamsburg.

About Today

Its been a long week and I haven't posted about The Nation in a while. Here's some real red meat - The National rocking it at this past summer's Pitchfork Music Festival. For the life of me, I will never be able to understand how songs as great as these have only two or three hundred hits, while silly videos of babies talking gibberish or cats falling off of couches routinely become internet sensations.
The National - "About Today"

The National - "Apartment Story"

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Autumn Of Dick Starts Today

The Common Sense Dancing book club begins today with Autumn Of Dick, in which we will read Moby Dick over a 12-week time period, from now until the end of the year. It should be fun! Look for open discussion threads in this space every Sunday.