Monday, May 31, 2010

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis may be the greatest non-fiction storyteller of his generation. His new book, The Big Short, takes its place alongside Liar's Poker, The New New Thing, Moneyball, and The Blind Side as a classic of its genre, and a masterful showing of how a dedicated outsider can triumph over the groupthink-prone majority.

The credit crisis that shocked the global economy in 2007 and 2008 was drive by mortgage-backed securities. Enormously simplified, a mortgage-backed security is a fund created by a bank, which has accumulated large numbers of mortgage loans, then divided them up, and sold the rights to percentages of the pool of money that came in from the mortgage payments every month. The greater the risk that these mortgages would default, the greater the interest rate, and, therefore, the greater the profits that the bank - and the fund's investors - would realize if they mortgages were paid off. The profitability of these investment vehicles was premised on two things - that most of the loans would be paid off, and that, with the real estate market rising through the roof, the banks being able to foreclose the houses and make a profit by selling them for more than the amount of the mortgage. Unfortunately, just about everybody in the world of finance both overestimated the percentage of mortgages that would be paid off, and assumed that the value of real estate in Florida, California, and the rest of the sunbelt would continue to rise.

These two mistaken assumptions led to an enormous boom in the "sub-prime" mortgage market. Basically, a sub-prime mortgage is one that is made to a person considered to be somewhat of a credit risk. For obvious reasons, these loans are more common in good financial times than in bad. But by the early 00's, outdated models were being used to justify the extension of $500,000 mortgage loans to migrant workers earning $14,000 per year, or to immigrants who barely spoke English. One of the investors profiled in the book decides to begin to short the housing market when his secretary tells him that she and her husband just took out a mortgage on their fifth Queens townhouse. The majority of bankers, however, had become so good at disguising the risk from consumers that they ended up disguising the risk from themselves.

The housing, subprime mortgage, and subprime mortgage-backed securities markets all suffered from groupthink. The more subprime mortgages that were extended, and the more securities that were created out of them, the higher the stakes supported by a foundation of half-truths and wishful thinking. Eventually, it reached a point where the consequences of a burst bubble were so enormous that financiers literally couldn't fathom the consequences. When one "short" investor tells a "long" investor that he thinks that subprime-backed securities have lost about 30 percent of their face value, the long investor didn't believe him, and said "if these [lose] 8 pecent, there'll be, like, a million homeless people." You can imagine the shock when everybody eventually realized they were worth even less than that.

Lewis profiles three groups of investors - one led by the hilariously profane Steve Eisman, another by Michael Burry, an idiosyncratic doctor with Asperger's Syndrome, and a third, "garage band" hedge fund founded by inexperienced investors Jamie Mai and Charlie Ledley in a friend's garage with just $100,000 - who, for a variety of different reasons, were immune to the group think, and realized how much money people were going to lose when the sub-prime loans inevitably went bad. They were able to buy Credit Default Swaps, which were, for all intents and purposes, bond insurance. You can buy credit default swaps without owning the underlying securities. Analogizing these investors' actions to the real world, this would be like buying billions of dollars of flood insurance on the entire city of New Orleans in the summer of 2005, without having to buy any of the underlying houses, which, in the event of a flood, would cause you a loss, or that you would need to rebuild.

Every investment-banker-as-douchebag stereotype is validated in this book. The book prompts the reader to consider what purpose Wall Street brokerages serve in today's economy - do they have any redeeming societal value, now that they are so far removed from their original purpose of spreading risk and raising capital, what do they do, other than provide people with Ivy League MBAs an opportunity to earn billions of dollars in fees from the rest of us? Along the way, Lewis shows us investment bankers acting their worst. When, for instance, a group of assholes from a once-enormous, now-defunct investment bank take Mai and Ledley to a shooting gallery in Las Vegas, then never talk to them, merely so they can bill the trip to their bank, or when Bear Stearns refuses to take their calls, and makes fun of the name of Mai and Ledley's hedge fund, while, for pennies on the dollar, selling them credit default swaps that would net the outsiders tens of millions of dollars while bankrupting several of Wall Street's largest firms, the sense of schadenfreude is overwhelming.

Weekend Links - Memorial Day Weekend Edition

The AV Club was on fire again this week, with a fantastic Inventory of "impulse buy" books worth keeping, interesting discussions of Margurite Duras' Destroy, She Said for their book club, Wrapped Up in Books, and daily dispatches from the Cannes Film Festival.

Kissing Suzy Kolber's tirade against the "Prada-wearing wrinklesluts" of the Sex and the City franchise is the new gold standard of hating.

"No Secrets" - The New Yorker discusses WikiLeaks.

2 Birds, 1 Blog is a very funny new(ish) site. Thanks to blogmigo Ellen Wenecke for the link.

Spanx introduced a line of menswear a couple of months ago, and, according to the New York Times, it is catching on in a way that is entirely unacceptable to me. Also, short-shorts are making a comeback. Just kill me now.

This one goes back a few years, but Matt Damon's Matthew McConaughey impression, and David Letterman's reaction to it, are both first rate. (Thanks to Jake Taylor for calling this to my attention.)

New York Magazine covers the Book Expo, where Jon Stewart keeps it real.

And, finally, Band of Horses performed on David Letterman recently:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Yeah, Yale!

Earlier this afternoon, the Yale Women's Crew won its third national championship in four years. Our congratulations go out to Taylor Ritzel (stroke), Tess Gerrand (7), Alice Henly (6), Maren McCrea (5), Caroline Nash (4), Catherine Hart (3), Stephanie Madner (2), Dara Dickson (bow), and Mia Kanak (cox), who won the grand final in a time of 6:24.76. Along the way, the Yale women set the course record in yesterday's semi-final, earning the top seed for this afternoon's grand final.

Our congratulations also go out to the coaching staff of Will Porter (WSRC alum and 2010 New England Coach of the year), Kate Maloney, and St. Catherine's own Jamie Snider.

I doubt that anybody from the Yale's athletic department reads this blog, but, if they do, let the recent success of Yale Women's Crew show that great things are possible when you have the resources of a world-class university, state-of-the-art boathouse and training facilities, decades upon decades of rowing tradition, and a coach who isn't a fucking incompetent asshole who shuffles the lineups every day and sticks national team-caliber oarsmen in the third varsity boat out of spite.

In other rowing-related news, the Yale heavyweight men were swept by Harvard in the 158th Yale-Harvard boatrace.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Arcade Fire Releases Two New Songs

Arcade Fire, one of our favorite bands, has released two new songs off of their upcoming, as-yet-untitled album.

"The Suburbs"

"The Month of May"

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Following Things Are Awesome

1) The New York Times ran an interesting article - "The Afterlife of Steig Larsson," - about the literary estate of the hottest Swedish import since ABBA.

2) David Cross - a CSD favorite of long standing - has released a new stand-up comedy album, entitled Bigger and Blackerer.

3) The Harvard Sailing Team hands down the best sketch comedy troupe named after Harvard to have nothing to do with Harvard. Thanks to Ivette for the link.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The New Pornographers - "Crash Years"

The New Pornographers were on Late Night with Jimmy Fallong last week, and played "Crash Years," from their new album, Together. They sounded great, and it was good to see the entire lineup, including Neko Case and Miranda Brown of Crooked Fingers, who played on the album and is touring with them this summer.

I love the music on Fallon's show. Not only is his house band the best in the history of late-night televison; he books great musical acts, even relatively obscure ones, and his show has such a good reputation indie rock circles that some bands, such as The National and Vampire Weekend, occasionally show up to play even if they do not have a new record to promote. Also - and I don't know how he does this - but he always fills the seats behind and on either side of the stage with enthusiastic fans of the band, so there's always a lot of singing and clapping along. I wish that all late night shows took their music this seriously.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend Links

The AV Club's running feature, "A Very Special Episode," discusses Mystery Science Theater 3000, which Jake Taylor, the Inspector and I used to watch back when Comedy Central was still called The Comedy Channel.

The Daily Show's coverage of the transition between governments in Great Britain - cheekily entitled "Clustershag to 10 Downing," was fantastic. Also, I would totally buy tickets to that one-man show.

Adam Gopnik searches for Jesus in the Gospels. (From The New Yorker)

A website called Shivspix has a jaw-dropping slideshow of the US women's national rowing team, replete with bulging muscles, tan line, and garden hose-like veins. These women are diesel. Sometimes I miss rowing.

Dorothy Kamenshek, on whom Geena Davis' character in A League of Their Own was loosely based, died this week at the age of 84. Amazingly, she was one of six women on the Rockford Peaches to be called "Dottie." Just as amazingly, she hit .316 and stole 109 bases(!!!) in 1946, all while wearing a skirt. Her NY Times obituary can be found here.

The Yale Women's Crew was featured on a local news broadcast on News 8 in New Haven this week. Will Porter hasn't aged a day since I met him 12 years ago. Yale, winners of the 2007 and 2008 national championships, is currently ranked #1 in the New England region, and race in the finals this afternoon.

The London 2012 Summer Olympics have unveiled the worst mascots of all-time.

Ellen from Wormbook reached into the way-back machine and found this 2005 review of concerts by The National and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! in the NY Times archives.

Its Funny Because Its True

"He belonged to that class of men - vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, clever - who were unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women. Or he believed he was, and thinking seemed to make it so. And it helped that some women believed he was a genius in need of rescue."

-- Ian McEwan, Solar

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tastes Like Home

Beenee and I ate at Bonnie's Grill, on Park Slope's Fifth Avenue, on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, Leanne Shear (a former high school classmate of Beenee) wrote a nice little article for the NY Times' City Room blog about Buffalonian ex-patriates in New York City, in which Bonnie's Grill is prominently featured.

There are a couple of other Buffalo places around the city - Kelly's Sports Bar, on Avenue A and 1st Street in Manhattan, shows all of the Sabres' games, and is a particular favorite of mine, because the owners are super nice and, let's face it, when you live outside of the western New York area, Sabres regular-season games are not easy to find on television. McFadden's on 2nd Avenue at 42nd Street is famous for the enormous crowds it packs in to watch Bills' games, but is is expensive and can get so crowded with young people and impromptu reunions that it smacks of the night before Thanksgiving, which is not a good thing. Still, its nice to know that these places exist - you occasionally see a friend from home, but, more importantly, they provide everybody with a go-to place to eat comfort food and catch up with friends from home.

If you do not live in the city in which you were raised, where do you go to get a taste of home?

Friday, May 21, 2010

The National crush "Afraid of Everyone"

Last Thursday, The National and Sufjan Stevens performed "Afraid of Everyone" on The Late Show with David Letterman. Everybody sounded fantastic - has anybody sounded better on late-night television in recent years? Letterman, who is notoriously difficult to impress, clearly loves the band - I haven't seen him react that way since TV On the Radio played "Wolf Like Me" four years ago. Just an awesome performance. The Nationa is on as long of a winning streak as anyone - three great studio albums, well-received contributions to two or three charitable contributions, and great shows at high-profile gigs like Glastonbury and the Pitchfork Music Festival. I know I post a lot of their videos in this space, but, they are the best working band in the country right now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hypocritical Douchebag Resigns

Republican Mark Souder, representative from Indiana, resigned on Tuesday after details of his affair with a former staffer named Tracy Jackson became public. This wouldn't bother me so much if he wasn't a Christian moralist.

However, my favorite detail in the whole scandal is that Tracy Jackson once interviewed him on public television about the importance of abstinence. As a general proposition, if somebody criticizes gay marriage, that person is probably a closet homosexual; if they criticize illegal drug use, they probably have a secret prescription drug addiction, and if they lecture people about the importance of abstinence they probably have at least once mistress.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


The New York Times ran an interesting slide show last week, of Chinese signs and their unusual, and often hilariously bad, English translations. It proved to be so popular that the Times solicited its readers to submit further examples from other countries. The results are in, and some of them are gut-bustingly hilarious.

The best example from my own life was posted in an elevator I rode in Jilin, China. The sign read:

(keep watch phone)

When we finally stopped laughing, our interpreter told us that the sign basically meant "treat the elevator as you would your own home." We all took photos of it; I may or may not be visibly in the reflection in the mirror.

Most of the signs in this feature are self-explanatory, but some of them cannot be deciphered. Its worth nothing that, when you come across these signs, you are invariably in a disorienting context (a feeling nailed by Lost In Translation), which only heightens the absurdity.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Video from The National*

"Bloodbuzz, Ohio" is the first video off of High Violet.

Blogmigo Ellen Wernecke suggested I name this post "Common Sense Dancing to The National." I'm not sure what to make of Matt Berninger's dancing, but I enjoy the video's low-tech, 1980's look and - though opinions about this may differ - I like how the video doesn't go out of its way to make him look cool. He looks depressed and serious and artistic. All of which he is, and all of which are reasons why we love The National.

Monday, May 17, 2010

incredibly uninteresting insight gleaned from not having cable

Deadliest Catch is modern Moby Dick. Alaska Crabbing is modern whaling. High danger, high monetary reward, archetypal masculinity, high uncertainty. the major new wrinkle is the introduction of regulation. whaling was completely unfettered (the danger came from needing to pursue whales wherever they could be found) whereas crabbing is tightly regulated and circumscribed (much of the danger comes overworking the crew because of the tight time frames in which crabbing is allowed). This reflects a fundamental shift in americanness, from Turnerian frontier to a monitored fishing wilderness, from laissez faire entrepreneurship to the need to fight and maneuver around a system of rules.

and yes, this insight would be way more intellectually exciting if both activities did not involve catching deep sea animals for money using boats.

PBS is showing a special on whaling, and something called MyTV shows Deadliest Catch.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Weekend Links

There have been a lot of stories about interior design and building renovation this week. New York Magazine's annual home design issue was as fascinating as ever, and included pics of a "new old" brownstone in Park Slope. The NY Times profiled a Park Slope couple that renovated their townhouse in the style of a 19th Century English manor. Even behind-the-architectural-cutting-edge Buffalo, NY is getting in on the act.

The Onion Sports Network's sources have overheard some grumbling about David Ortiz, who, the last we checked, is paid $13 million to do nothing but hit.

The AV Club interviews Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National. follows the bitchy war of words that is taking place between the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane discusses Iron Man 2 and The Duel.

A Buffalo-area woman named Luann Haley told President Obama, in front of television cameras, that he was a hottie with a smokin' little body. We loves us some President Obama, but really, her opinion of his body is probably influenced by the fact that she's surrounded by fat Cheektowaga people.

The National, live from BAM

Last night, The National played a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, all of whose proceeds went to benefit the Red Hot organization, which funds AIDS research. The show sold out in a matter of minutes, but, fortunately for the rest of us, legendary documentary film maker D.A. Pennebaker filmed the concert and streamed it live on YouTube. (Presumably, a DVD release will follow). The show was excellent, and I'll be posting songs from it over the next couple of days. Let's start with two crowd favorites from The Boxer, "Slow Show" and "Squalor Victoria"

"Slow Show"

"Squalor Victoria"

Friday, May 14, 2010

Supreme Court Gay Conspiracy Theories Have Jumped The Shark

There are a lot of rumors that Elena Kagan, President Obama's nominee to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, is gay. Presumably, these rumors began because she has short hair and has never married. A lot of articles about her, including one in the New York Times, have run photos of her that seem to highlight, for lack of a better way of putting it, her lesbianish qualities. This photograph of her playing softball, for instance.

Some might say that the softball photo (and others, for instance of her sporting terrible hair and baggy sweaters) are entirely judgment-neutral, and that I am paranoid or a secret homophobe or something of the sort for reading into those photos the publisher's attempt to imply that Kagan is a lesbian. I can't help it, it just jumps out at me - out of ALL of the photographs of Elena Kagan, they choose one of her playing softball, a sport that has a reputation as being particularly popular among lesbians? To me, that could only have been intentional - a clear attempt to cater to those people who suspected Elena Kagan of being a lesbian. My suspicion that newspapers intended to create a controversy over Kagan's sexuality in an attempt to manufacture a "story" they then write numerous follow-up articles about is supported by the way that those same newspapers reported on John Roberts' nomination as Chief Justice in 2005.

John Roberts did not get married until he was 41 years old, and he and his wife adopted their children. His lengthy bachelorhood and the lack of "proof" that he and his wife had consummated their marriage were cited, by some, as evidence that John Roberts was gay. The New York Times, in a profile of Roberts that did not explicitly discuss his sexuality, but which did go out of its way to highlight his single years and the relatively late age at which he got married, ran these two photos of Roberts, among others.

That photo - of a bunch of dudes, and a moustache, and a pie hanging out together on Martha's Vineyard - seen together with this photo of Roberts rocking a sweet pair of plaid trousers in the late-60's, were red meat to the Roberts-is-a-secret-homosexual set. For a group of ostensibly liberal people, that was certainly not very progressive of them, and, again, Roberts had fifty-five years' worth of photographs, so why would the Times deliberately choose those two photographs in particular? What are plaid pants supposed to signify?*

So, please - do not ready anything into Elena Kagan's unmarried status. The law is her husband, and has been good to her. Please do not read anything into the fact that Roberts did not get married until he was in his forties, and most definitely do not read anything into the fact that his children are adopted. Evaluate them on their credentials (not to Kagan supporters - that includes her experience in the "real" world), and not on any unconfirmed suspicions about their sexuality. Elena Kagan and Chief Justice Roberts are two of the most accomplished lawyers of their generation, and that wouldn't change, even if people's suspicions of them were true.

*No, really, I'm asking. My dad, um . . . Floyd . . . Garrett, wants to know.

I Don't Know What To Make Of This

The 'worst wedding DJ ever' video has been getting sent around the internet like crazy the past couple of days. It already has more than a million hits.

Its funny, but something about it doesn't sit right with me. It doesn't look doctored, and yet . . . it doesn't look like as if it really happened. Most guys don't fondle women's breasts in public in an attempt to be cool. Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" clearly isn't actually playing in the banquet hall, and its really, really weird that the woman doesn't react at all to the DJ playing her boobs like drums.

What do you think? Unintentional comedy? Weird scene, somehow taken out of context? Something else entirely?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Weekend Links - Special Thursday Edition

We normal drop out links posts on Sundays, but these two links just couldn't wait until the weekend.

Nick Hornby's "Stuff I've Been Reading" column returns to The Believer. High Fidelity is one of the most-played movies at CSD headquarters, and Hornby's writing is a major influence on my writing in general and his "Stuff I've Been Reading" column on this blog in particular. He's the tops.

The Black Keys' new album Brothers is streaming at NPR Music's homepage. NPR Music has been coming through like a champ these past few weeks - pre-release streaming The White Stripes, Broken Social Scene, the New Pornographers and the Black Keys, four of our favorite bands. Keep up the good work, guys!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The National - "England"

One of the stand-out tracks from their just-released album, High Violet:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HIGH VIOLET Goes On Sale Today

The National's new album High Violet is released in stores today. It is really good. In its review, the AV Club gives High Violet an "A," refers to The National as "Brooklyn's Finest" and concludes by saying "The National has graduated from being a critic's band. Now it belongs to everyone." Pitchfork calls its songs "triumphs of form."

Here is a video of The National performing "Terrible Love" at the Bell House in March.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Weekend Links

Good News/Bad News - Amelie Gillette, beloved AV Club contributor, all-around superbabe and genius behind The Hater, The Hatecast, and The Tolerability Index, is leaving The Onion to join the writing staff of The Office. Its too bad that she has to leave one of our favorite institutions, but, if she has to leave, its nice that she is going to one of our other favorite institutions.

Buffalo native, SJCI alum, Park Slope resident, and all-around cool guy Greg Ames' novel Buffalo Lockjaw was recently voted the best novel of 2009 in The Believer magazine's reader's poll.

On, Tim Kurkjian has an interesting profile of the Atlanta Braves' firey closer Billy Wagner.

Long-time friend of the blog Ivan Drago has started his own blog, The SKOHRboard. This officially upgrades him from 'friend of the blog' to 'blogmigo.'

The baby from the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind is now grown-up and an artist in his own right.

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane discusses Charles Dickens and Britain's hung Parliament.

Two lawyers recognize Justin Beiber on a flight out of D.C., but fail to recognize retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. A sign that the decline of civilized society?

On second thought, this is a more foreboding sign of the apocalypse: the leading baby names for the year 2009 all come from the Twilight series of novels. The urge to kill is rising. Who's having these babies? Are they the morons whose mothers named them 'Ariel' and 'Belle' when Disney had its little renaissance twenty years ago?

Sage Mother's Day Advice From Dad

Dear Wade and Jake:

I know you are both extremely busy right now, but PLEASE DO NOT FORGET MOTHER'S DAY! Obviously, at least a card should arrive by no later than Saturday. a call on Sunday should also be deemed necessary. A gift (not necessarily expensive) delivered by each of you the next time you see mom would also be appropriate.

If you are inclined to feel demeaned or upset by this reminder, please excuse it as the product of a sick mind, or at least a mind conditioned by many years of experience, both as a lawyer and husband, to try to head off potential problems and chances to get people pissed off before they arise.

love, Dad

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Everything Is Wrong With Jason Mulgrew

Jason Mulgrew refers to himself as an internet quasi-celebrity. I would describe him as more of a "cult celebrity." Although his autobiographical blog is one of the most popular comedy sites on the internet, he's little-known outside of the blogosphere. Those who do read him love him. A woman I work with wants to marry him, and she's never even met him.

His new memoir, Everything Is Wrong With Me, differs from his blog, in that the book is about his childhood, and the blog is about struggling with jobs and women, and trying to make a go of things in New York City. I've been reviewing a lot of books lately, but I'm not going to review this one, even though I highly recommend it, because . . . its not the sort of book you review. People who have read Mulgrew's blog are going to read his book, and they will love it. On the other hand, if you haven't read his blog, it will be hard to talk you into reading it - there isn't a way to summarize it that makes it sound more interesting than any number of other books, except that it is fucking hilarious, and anybody who has grown up in an industrial, blue-collar city - Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and the like - will recognize their friends and neighbors amongst Mulgrew's cast of South Philadelphia longshoremen and their progeny. Its a hell of a lot of fun.

Perhaps the best way to get you to read it is to show you this video of Mulgrew telling a joke. If you laugh, you will enjoy Everything Is Wrong With Me. If you snarf your drink, you will love Everything Is Wrong With Me.

But Does He Put Vagisil On the Ball?

Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher Jamie Moyer threw a complete game 2-hitter tonight against the Atlanta Braves. Moyer is 47 years old, in his 23rd Major League season, and once pitched against Tony Perez. Jake's teammate Eddie Harris would be jealous.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Machete owns

If there is anything cooler than Danny Trejo slashing the fuck out of people with a machete and hooking up with Jessica Alba, I don't know what it is. I remember seeing Machete previewed when Grindhouse, but never thought that actual movie would end up looking this cool. If the trailer doesn't sell you, perhaps this will: Danny Trejo recently sat for an interview with the AV Club in which he discusses his roles, from Heat to Anchorman to Baywatch.

I Love Baseball

The following things are all amazing and true:

1) Broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell died today, at the age of 92. He was the play-by-play broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers for 42 years. Before landing on the Tigers, he broadcast games for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and Baltimore Orioles. As the Giants' broadcaster, he called the 1951 National League playoff between the Dodgers and the Giants, in which Bobby Thompson hit "the shot heard 'round the world."

2) Jamie Moyer won a game against the New York Mets on Sunday night. He has been in the Major Leagues since 1986, and once pitched against hall of famer Tony Perez

3) After 25 games, Atlanta Braves' rookie outfielder Jason Heyward is on pace to hit 55 home runs and drive in 155 runs. He strikes out a lot, but is also on track to draw more than 100 walks this season. He is 20 years' old, 6'4" and built like a power foward. I'm sure he will slow down eventually, as teams better learn how to pitch him, but he is already having on the greatest rookie seasons in memory.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Weekend Links

This week's installment of Weekend Links has a new format. Let us know what you think. Also, check out the new product links on the right-hand side of the page.

NPR's "First Listen" series has been on fire lately; this week they are streaming Broken Social Scene's Forgiveness Rock Record and The Fall's Your Future Our Clutter.

Debate, British Style - The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg discusses how the British political discourse is superior to the American.

The AV Club interviewed Michael Caine this week.

Wormbook has a funny video of Bill Murray reading poetry to the construction workers who built New York City's Poet's House.

Now that the High School Musical generation is approaching college age, more and more universities are using music videos to attract students. Notre Dame's (apparently)Fred Durst-inspired "We Are ND" video inspired me to use some language that would definitely have gotten me thrown out of Catholic school. Everyday Should Be Saturday has the takedown here. Full disclosure: my alma mater's "That's Why I Chose Yale" gives new credence to its nickname, "The Gay Ivy."

Matt & Kim and MGMT played Yale's Spring Fling this year. Remember when Spring Fling stuck us with the likes of The Indigo Girls, Ben Harper, Wyclef Jean, Rusted Root and Live? So do I. Also of note: the AV Club reviews MGMT's new album, Congratulations.

And, finally, just because its awesome (and because MGMT has been on our minds lately):

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Heights, by Peter Hedges

Its entirely possible that, as a reader, I am stuck in a rut. The Heights, the new novel by Peter Hedges, author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, is humorous and engaging, and a gently insightful satire of Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood near and dear to CSD's heart. Unfortunately, very little of it will surprise you, if you've read Election, Little Children, Prospect Park West, This Song Is You, or anything written by Nick Hornby. The Heights is better than many of those books, but it has so much in common with them that much of its punch is pre-empted.

Tim and Kate are a happily married couple, squeaking by on Tim's teacher's salary in Brooklyn Heights. When a wealthy and elegant couple moves in nearby, Tim develops a little crush on the wife, which is a coincidence, because Kate develops a girl-crush on her, and falls in love with their five-story brownstone house. The book has a lot of loving little digs at the neighborhood - the over-protective parents at the playground, the coffee shop and pub culture, the way that Tim 'dresses up' for a chidlren's playdate with Anna by washing his jeans and wearing his cool pair of Converse All-Stars. Residents of Brooklyn may not recognize themselves, but they will recognize their neighbors.

Its really too bad that this novel has so much in common with previous entries in the genre, many of which are inferior. Kate has a former lover who is now a movie star, just like a character in Prospect Park West. Tim is a teacher, and washes his privates before a potentially adulterous date, just like the main character in Election. The neighborhood moms get together and gossip at Connecticut Muffin, just like Prospect Park West. Tim is the only stay-at-home dad at the playground, uncomfortable around the large numbers of moms, a scenario familiar to anybody who has read Little Children. The long-anticipated affair never comes off, like many of those books. There are other examples as well. Hedges isn't cribbing, but I'm beginning to think that hip, 40year-old novelists in literary neighborhoods only have so much ground to cover, and, by the spring of 2010, it has all been covered. Its too bad, because The Heights is otherwise a very good novel. Its worth a read, but a bit of a letdown after Gilbert Grape.