Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The first of my coworkers just left the office with the words, "See you next year!"

I'm kinda surprised it took until 2:30pm for this to happen.
TNR's &c. has more fascinating electoral analysis today, under the eye-catching title "How Dean Wins While Getting Obliterated in the South." Here is some smart stuff:

When analysts look at George W. Bush's
yawning advantage in the South, the reason
they tend to conclude that Democrats are
screwed come November 2004 is not that
Democrats need many Southern states to win
the election (or even any, with the possible
exception of Florida). It's that Democrats need
to at least put up enough of a fight to make
Bush spend time and money there--the thinking
being that otherwise he'll be able to take these
states for granted and park himself and his
$200 million in Florida and the Midwestern swing
states from August straight through to November.
But what they ignore is that a Democrat--
particularly one who excites culturally liberal blue-
state voters will enjoy a similar advantage:
Because the blue states have by and large gotten
bluer since 2004, a Democrat will more or less be
able to take many of these states for granted,
similarly parking himself and his $100 million (at
least if his name rhymes with Boward Bean)--not
to mention the couple-hundred million dollars
liberal 527s are going to spend on his behalf--in the
Midwest and Florida and go blow for blow with Bush.
My thumbs hurt from playing The Simpsons Road Rage.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Boy, you want to talk about lists, here they all are, from many publications, on many subjects.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

New reviews up on the Alive web site of the Tupac Resurrection sndtrk & Ice Cube's latest project, Westside Connection. Still no top-ten lists, though...maybe next week!

I am in Illinois having a nice Xmas, eating chocolate things & reading books & showing people episodes of Space Ghost from the DVD Laura got me. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The new Alive doesn't have the Top Ten lists; that must be coming in next week's issue. My review of Slipstream is up, though. I liked them okay, but I thought they were a little quaint. Here, I'm going to quote myself:

Slipstream's problem is the problem with a
lot of garagey psychedelic groups: There's
something missing from the repertoire of a
band that can jam forever on Pink Floyd's
back-catalog but don’t seem to have heard
On the Corner or Maggot Brain.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Spent a couple hours last night watching the just-released DVDs of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which I received as an early Christmas present from my lovely girlfriend. The Onion AV Club described it this way:

The elements that conventional talk shows
try desperately to avoid--awkward silences,
anxious exchanges, dead time, weird vibes,
hostility between the host and his guests--
make up Space Ghost's basic building blocks.
Year-end list mania! This morning has the usual excellent, intriguing lists from the Onion AV Club (I favor Andy Battaglia's & Nathan Rabin's, but they're all good), and a grab-bag of more and less interesting selections by Pitchfork (enough with the album-cover lists already!), the first of their three-day end-of-year-list extravangza.
Say it ain't so, Jack White.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Here's a fantastic memoir piece by George Saunders in the New Yorker. Wow, what a great piece this is.
Hey, flat cornfields are rural beauty, not "lonely and desolate"!
From yesterday's NYT, Kelefa Sanneh's great article on Dizzee Rascal, the pioneering British rapper who doesn't sound like American rappers.
It remains to be seen whether the capture of Saddam will reduce attacks on American forces, but we can certainly hope that it will. It is certainly good news. From the lead article in this morning's Slate:

The violence...is likely to intensify in the coming
days or weeks; the insurgents will be under
great pressure to reassert their own presence.
The American response to this escalation could
determine the degree to which the optimistic
scenario unfolds. If U.S. commanders step up Iron
Hammer--bombing buildings and razor-fencing
villages--they may alienate more and more Iraqis
and, in fact, inspire an anti-occupation movement
that swells in strength by explicitly having no
alignment with Saddam. If the commanders keep
their counterattacks more precise and discriminate--
relying more on ground troops and intelligence,
while also continuing to help with civilian projects
(now is the time to pour in money)--they might truly
build on whatever momentum or legitimacy is sparked
by the taking of Saddam.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Review of a CD I didn't like very much by Lyrical, a rapper from Cleveland, in the new Alive.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Former KGB head Vladimir Putin further consolidated his power in Russia this week, winning a two-thirds parliamentary majority for his United Russia party (or "non-party," in the words of this Moscow Times editorial, one with no "program to speak of, aside from its slavish devotion to a president"), leading to not-unrealistic speculation that sometime in the next few years he'll abolish term limits on himself and continue Russia's backslide into authoritarianism.

In July Putin's ex-KGB siloviki had Russia's richest businessman thrown into jail after Khordorkovsky started funding opposition parties and didn't deny that he might someday run for president. The businessman in question is a guy named Khordorkovsky, a crook himself, one of the infamous oligarchs who continue to starve the Russian people with their Kenneth-Lay-by-way-of-Tony-Soprano ethics. There's no good guy in the scenario--the Russian public hates the oligarchs, and Khordorkovsky's jailing actually scored political points for Putin--but put mildly, Putin's methods don't bode well. Meanwhile, human rights abuses in Chechnya are ongoing, throughout Russia there's no such thing as free expression, and there is virtually no check on Putin's executive power.

Slate's Kim Iskyan has had a couple of good articles on this subject; here is the most essential on the subject.
The Onion AV Club has its annual "Least Essential Albums" feature up this week, and it is hilarious as always. Categories include "Least Essential Album by a Pro Wrestler" and the ever-popular "Least Essential Album with 'Essential' in the Title" (which this year goes to "The Essential Stabbing Westward").

Monday, December 08, 2003

Here's a good find: the featured short story on McSweeney's today is a fragmenty thing by Charles Baxter called "Seven Failures by Lunchtime."

And a little oral history of the new one-billion-page William Vollmann book here.
Oh, yes, and one other thing happened this weekend: my hard drive may or may not have crashed. Today after work I will attempt to rescue it by reinstalling Windows & doing all the shit you do when it seems like you're having hard drive troubles... Computers are like cars...if my computer were a car, it would be one I got used and have since added many thousands of miles to. We'll see what happens. Everything important is backed up.
Eventful weekend! Saw Soul Position, ate jambalaya, wrote a CD review, watched the great first three hours of Angels in America and unexpectedly hosted a friend last night. I haven't been blogging much lately, but perhaps things'll pick up.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Check out my interview with Soul Position, which is the cover story of this week's Alive. I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. See also my review of the new CD from Biz Markie.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Let's take some standard boilerplate on hip-hop & imagine it had been written about guitar-based rock music: "Contrary to death metal's endless blabbing about Satan-worshipping, Coldplay's love songs are a refreshing change-of-pace." Or, "While mainstream rockers keep rehashing the same old love songs, the Strokes' stand out by..."

See the problem here? These are meaningless statements--they're either apple/orange comparisons or they make a straw man out of unnamed "mainstream" artists.

Yet literally hundreds of journalists routinely write about independent hip-hop the way this unnamed journalist did: "Boston's Akrobatik is part of new breed of hip-hop emcees positioned as polar opposites to mainstream rap's braggadocio and endless blabbing about the bling-bling."

To hold a C-grade underground emcee like Akrobatik as superior to all of mainstream rap boggles the mind, first of all. But besides never-to-be-discounted journalistic laziness, I think the reason statements like this pervade writing on hip-hop is that a lot of rock critics still can't quite bring themselves to treat it as a real art form. If rappers are praised, it is as an exception to the rule, which is that rap is shallow, materialistic, facelessly generic pop music.

This week, the same anonymous journalist (okay, it was my editor, but don't tell him I used him as an unfavorable example) lamented that, according to Amazon.com, customers who purchased Outkast's great new 2xCD also bought Ludacris's Chicken 'n' Beer. (Never mind that the connection is totally natural, as Ludacris has a great guest spot on Speakerboxxx.) Writes my editor, this "show[s] that fans of this album are also putting their bling-bling towards sub-par albums relishing in just that."

So let's take Ludacris as an example. On his latest single, "Stand Up," he raps: "My diamonds are reckless/ feels like a midget is hanging from my necklace." Yes, this couplet does refer to expensive jewelry. But can anyone take this line as anything other than a comical exaggeration? Rap is about status, and one of rap's favorite tropes is the gaudy nouveau-riche lifestyles of successful artists. To miss the comic elements of these stories and their cariacatured artificiality is to misunderstand everything about them. Sure, Ludacris (along with many others) raps about money/guns/hoes, but only inasmuch as they puff up his own cartoonish image and provide fodder for funny similes like the above. Treating comic-book stars like Ludacris as if their writing were sober realism is what we might call the O'Reilly Fallacy.

Obviously, there's plenty of tired mainstream schtick and plenty of facelessly generic, gangsta-sheened emcees (Fabolous, let's say). Few are as clever as Ludacris, and even too much Ludacris can be too much. But rap music deserves to be attacked by people who have made some effort to get to know its genres and conventions, not by lazy journalists using boilerplate language to attack a rap straw man: doing so only gives credence to Bill O'Reilly's idea of what rap music is.

In other words, is Coldplay really a refreshing alternative to death metal? Or are they just two different genres, with different sets of rules governing what makes for a good record?
Smart Politics. Dean attacks Bush from the right on defense. Here's a column by Josh Marshall from a couple of weeks ago; it doesn't mention Dean by name but includes this prescription:

The Democrats can play defense and
complain that the president is questioning
their patriotism, or they can take the
offense and show that he has failed by
the very standards he sets for himself.

A Democrat who can do the latter will
be a formidable challenger.

Now Dean is doing precisely this, saying that the president has "made us weaker," that he lacks the "backbone to stand up to the Saudis," etc. Here's a piece in Slate with some good quotations that strays from the subject.

Monday, December 01, 2003

As promised, here's my review of The Black Album.
I had a good, busy weekend of eating turkey both baked and fried and finishing up a piece on Soul Position that is going to be the cover story of this week's Alive.

Here are a couple of good Kelefa Sanneh pieces, a Jay-Z review (it's a few days old, so look quick before it becomes pay-to-read) and something on Missy Elliott. If the Alive ever posts its Thanksgiving day issue, I'll link to my own Jay-Z review.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving. I'll be eating lasagna and apple cobbler...turkey-day doesn't come until Saturday for us. But lasagna and apple cobbler are pretty good, too, and we've got the parade on and holiday cheer is being spread throughout the apartment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

MFA here I come. My grad school applications have been submitted! I am so ahead of the game: the earliest due-date I had to meet was 12/15, and others are due by the end of the year. I imagine that admissions people everywhere are salivating over me right now, and any minute will be clambering over each other to offer me extravagant fellowships and benefits-packages. (I mailed them out yesterday, so by the end of the week isn't too soon to expect to hear back, is it?)

My Nike endorsement deal is still in the works, however.
Slate article on LeBron James: "His vision and his sense of the game's rhythms...are exquisitely mature and damned near flawless."

Really the only reason it's too bad LeBron went straight to the pros from high school is that pro basketball isn't as much fun to watch as college basketball. But then, he did make $100 million from the move, so who can fault him? And he sure is fun to watch, even on the weak Cavaliers.
Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 90s Redux list has its third and final installment today. Lists are fun, and some things about this list I like a lot, e.g. their inclusion of Bonnie Prince Billy's I See a Darkness in the top ten and their #1 pick, which I won't spoil. I would've ranked A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory considerably higher (ditto the Beasties' Check Your Head), and the exclusion of The Roots' Things Fall Apart, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, the Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star album and Mos Def's Black on Both Sides seem like serious mistakes in a list that is so heavy on releases by, say, the Jesus Lizard. But, whatever, lists are fun and this is a fun list, casting an admirably wide net across the decade's music from an independent-minded perspective.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Last night on HBO I watched the documentary "Born Rich," made by Jamie Johnson, 24 year old heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. Johnson interviews other super-rich kids in his age-group, which is also my age-group. Let me tell you something: the children of the super-rich sure are obnoxious! But the documentary is good not just because Johnson displays a canny sense of humor toward his subjects' self-absorption but because it's able to represent a spectrum of responses to privilege.

Besides the candid, likeable Johnson, coming off best by far is Vanderbilt/Whitney heir Josiah Hornblower, who is both self-aware and considerate and who works a $50,000-per-year job in spite of the million or so dollars he makes in interest every year. He describes the two years he took off from college, during which he did getting-his-hands-dirty work (e.g. for an oil rig), as "the most important years of my life," teaching him that "working hard makes me feel good."

Most of the interview subjects are quite articulate, and if they're not always especially self-aware, neither would be their middle- or working-class counterparts, were they put in front of a camera and asked questions about the class system. They're shallow and absurd and they lack empathy...but one of the great things about "Born Rich" is that their personalities are also recognizable as non-exotic types, the sort of kids any of us would've known in high school.

There are plenty of opportunities for derisive snorts, though, as there should be. Cody Franchetti, European "textile heir," expresses irritation that people he meets in the U.S. always ask him what he "does." (His reply: "I'm rich.") Asked to name a meaningful activity, he cites going to the tailor.

Another striking aspect is how isolated these kids' social lives are. Even the down-to-earth Josiah Hornblower admits that he wouldn't feel comfortable dating outside of his class, imagining the awkwardness of bringing someone to his house for the first time, or having his parents ask, "So, where do you summer?" Obviously, this social isolation is very much the design of these kids' lives. But it still isn't enviable.

Then this afternoon in my junk-email box I got a piece of spam with the title, "Paris Hilton is unreal." And you know, she kind of is.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

You'll be glad to know that they've caught the "Naked Photographer," the guy who has been going around Columbus flashing women & taking a picture of their reaction to him.

And get this: the guy, Stephen P. Linnen, is deputy legal counsel for the Ohio House Republican caucus.

Now, I'm not saying that all Republicans go around flashing women & snapping their photos. But...well, we don't know how high up this goes, now do we? Was Linnen acting on the orders from his House Republican superiors? Say, orders that came from Tim Grendell? Could there be a massive underground organization of Republican flashers/photographers in which Linnen was only a minor cog? Did Linnen use film or cameras--or, for that matter, trenchcoats--paid for with taxpayer money?

All important questions, I'm sure you'd agree. Here's a link to the story, though the Dispatch requires a subscription so I'm not sure it will work.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Friday, November 21, 2003

There may be a worse writer/director than Neil LaBute, but I can't think of one. He is bad in so many ways and at so many things. Possession is terrible literary adaptation, Your Friends and Neighbors is terrible domestic drama, In the Company of Men is terrible indie dating-movie. I think he's done others, but I haven't seen them and won't (unless of course I'm paid to). This week's award for most pretentious bullshit goes to his journal in Slate. Here's a mere sampling of the self-importance:

In my own work, I have always strived to
give an honest finish to a given story. Not
happy, not sad, not surprising. Just honest.
Now, many times said stories have ended in
ways that were unconventional -- that is,
outside of the tidy confines of what I was
taught as a child or in the classroom. But I am
only interested in my work concluding
in a way that is true to the characters and the
tale, without concern for the needs or wishes
of the audience. Just because my readers or
viewers may have been raised on stories that
have convenient conclusions—endings that
allow them to fall asleep easily or get back
to the ordeal of living—I feel no desire or
requirement to do the same in my own work.

What a prick! Does he sound like a high school sophomore or what? (Other pearls include "I'm kind of fascinated by this whole Internet thing...I can't help feeling that it casts a certain shadow over us, a darkness..." and "If you want to write, do it.")
Interesting, entertaining interview with Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA in the Onion AV Club. The Wu's best days are behind them, and so is RZA's moment as one of rap's most influential and consistent producers. But, bad rap records aside, he hasn't fallen off artistically: his atmospheric, tension-filled compositions provided the score of one of my favorite movies, Ghost Dog, and more recently for Kill Bill.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The new Alive is up, with my review of the new Diverse CD and a preview of an upcoming Bugz in the Attic show. See also, Stephen Slaybaugh's piece on the Rapture.
Kelefa Sanneh writes about The Source's new Eminem-related scandal, which comes from an unearthed decade-old freestyle in which Eminem tosses off some ill-considered racial insults at a black ex-girlfriend (e.g. "Black girls are dumb," "Black girls only want your money"). Eminem has issued a statement calling the lyrics "foolishness" and "stupidity." Truthfully, no one who hears the recording can miss how terrible it is as rap music, let alone as race-baiting. Recorded when Eminem was a teenager, not only are his style and voice unrecognizable, the rhymes are terrible and the insults aren't even cutting--seriously, "Black girls are dumb"?

But, okay, it's a stupid thing to say, a stupid thing for Eminem to have ever recorded. It's hardly the first stupid thing he's said on record, though. As former poet-laureate Robert Pinsky said about anti-semitic Newark poet/provocateur Amiri Baraka, "Poets are people; their works are human works. We all likely know, or can easily imagine, people capable of saying stupid, vicious things who also sometimes say beautiful or wise things."

Eminem doesn't specialize in beautiful or wise, of course (actually, neither does Baraka), but the spirit of the point stands.

Also complicating matters, the co-founder of The Source is a failed rapper named Benzino, who earlier this year released a couple of mix-tape battles aimed at Eminem which themselves were attacks based largely on race, not only calling him Vanilla Ice but also "the rap Hitler, the culture-stealer," etc. Benzino also argued that hip-hop should only tell the stories of urban drug dealers ("What you know about cutting up rocks?"). (Eminem's response: "If you was really selling coke/ well then what the fuck'd you stop for, dummy?/ If you slew some crack/ you'd make a lot more money than you do from rap.")

Whatever you think about Eminem, his effect on hip-hop music has been to dramatically expand the types of stories that can be told through rap. (Sanneh notes that Eminem's "persona comes straight out of rock 'n' roll: the sullen loner, the paranoid rebel.") While a lot of the best rap ever recorded has been about urban drug-dealing, The Source's editorial attacks on Eminem represented the worst type of hip-hop establishment conservatism, and certainly undermines their case now. Race is certainly one of the factors at work here, but it is far from the only one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

An article in Slate about Adbusters' stupid new anti-Nike shoe-brand poses these questions:

[I]s the sales pitch based on the shoe's
merits, or does it just suggest that
wearing Black Spots will broadcast a
facile message about how anticorporate
(and therefore cool) you are? And if it's
the latter, then isn't that precisely as
vacuous as the ideology of the swoosh,
which assumes that there is no better
way to express ourselves than through
the logos we choose (or reject)?

The answer to the second question, by the way, is that the anti-brand is actually more vacuous than the brand, by anti-virtue of snobbish self-righteousness.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A gaggle of articles on the new, highly anticipated Jay-Z record. Here's one in Pitchfork, here's one in Slate, here's one (a good one) in the NYT. I am on my way to the Alive office to pick up my own copy, so my comments will be forthcoming.

Monday, November 17, 2003

"We're trying to get away from just being a pot magazine," Norman Mailer's son, who is also the new editor of High Times magazine, tells the NYT. The story also features these words from Norman himself:

"I used to be a heavy marijuana smoker
in the 50's," he said. "I loved it, but one
paid a heavy price for it. It could leave you
good for nothing for two days afterwards."
Finally, he gave it up, he said. "Not a stick
of pot in 10 years."
From the Bartleby the Scrivener Department:

Today in my grad school application process I called an officer of admissions to determine whether I needed to have a transcript sent from the Irish university at which I did a semester of study-abroad.
"We prefer that you do," I was told.
"Prefer?" I asked. But was it a requirement?
Long pause.
"It's up to you."
"It's up to me?" I said.
"We prefer that you do."
[And so on.]

Ah, admissions office! Ah, humanity!
One of the bad things about my job is the fact that, rather than having separate offices or even cubicles, we work in a single room, with desks/workspaces set up in the corners, surrounded by file cabinets & work-stuff but all three of us basically in one common area. One of the good things about my job, though, is that my boss and coworkers are often absent, as they are today and were all of last week. This means I am in the office by myself again today, which is especially nice because I am on a down-cycle & don't have much urgent work to do. Instead, I'm doing work on grad school applications (today I requested GRE transcripts to one school & college transcripts to three), web-surfing, radio-listening, etc.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

So my parents visited this weekend. Items were bought, coffee was had, foods were eaten. We watched the second half of the OSU game on TV while Laura and her father watched the game at the stadium. This morning we ate breakfast together before they headed back to Illinois. Very nice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

It's nice to see Ice-T back on his feet again, apparently recovered from the burst dot-com bubble. I just saw him on Conan hawking a clothing line (IceWear), a malt liquor (Royal Ice) and an energy drink called, prepare yourself, Liquid Ice.
"[R]eaders familiar with Wallace may not be surprised to learn that he fetishizes technical terms to the point of becoming irritating and inconsiderate."
--from Salon's review of David Foster Wallace's new book about math.
There are many types of political discourse, and reasoned argument is only one of them. Much of our political understanding comes straight from the gut, from our response to personalities. Successful politics combines a whole bunch of modes, and it is better for Democrats to shout back when shouted at than to refuse to get their hands dirty with the "lower" forms of argument. In spite of all this, today Nicholas Kristof scolds:

Liberals have now become as intemperate
as conservatives, and the result --
everybody shouting at everybody else --
corrodes the body politic and is
counterproductive for Democrats themselves.

Oh, dear! "Corrodes the body politic"!

The World's Smallest Countries!, from Andorra (180 sq. miles) to Tuvalu (9 sq. miles) to Vatican City, which is only 0.2 sq. miles, but doesn't really count as a country, if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

As a college-educated urban liberal, I guess I am a member of the "Starbucks ghetto" that is still the large part of Howard Dean's constituency. Today Josh Marshall and Atrios both express doubts about a Dean candidacy, many of which I share. Nevertheless, in my judgement, Dean is the best candidate for the Democratic nomination. Here we go:

1.) The quality of the campaign. Not only has Dean shown remarkable fundraising capability, but the organization and energy of his campaign is unmatched by any other Democratic candidate. Actually, not just unmatched--it is not even approached. (Gephardt, at least, has campaigned hard in Iowa, but recent rumblings notwithstanding, I don't think anybody sees Gephardt getting the nomination...and with yesterday's big union endorsements of Dean, Gephardt shrinks considerably.) My gut tells me that the organization and execution of campaigning has a nuts-and-bolts importance that can't easily be made up for by biography (i.e. a military record, a Southern birthplace).

2.) Dean isn't McGovern. Only by Fox News or WSJ-editorial-page standards is Dean a radical left-winger. As &c. has pointed out repeatedly, Dean's fiery, Bush-bashing way of energizing the base will be relatively easy to moderate, as we're already seeing. He' been cast as far-left because of his style, but his more moderate substance will likely swing swing voters. A gun-friendly fiscal moderate, Dean has always been a lot closer to Bill Clinton than to Dennis Kucinich. In fact, in some ways Dean is borrowing a page from George W. Bush's 2000 campaign--form an early, emotional bond with the activist base, who will then stick with you come general elections, when, inevitably, you have to maneuver toward the center.

3.) The Democratic party establishment doesn't like Dean. Duly noted, but I see no evidence that the Democratic party establishment has the clearest perspective on the subject. The past years (even during Clinton's presidency) have seen a stunning slide of Democratic seats in Congress, and most recently the loss of three governorships (Mississippi, Kentucky, and California, which I know is a special case...). I think it's time to recognize that in the absence of Clinton's charisma and passion, the New Dem strategy just leaves us with Joe Lieberman--not good enough morally, not good enough politically. Not only do I not want to see Democrats retreat ever further rightward (true, I don't, but I'm no Naderite--I'm a practical man!), but there is evidence all around that it isn't even an effective political strategy. Clinton's centrism was good for the party...but I think party officials still view it as a Magical Formula for Success, when in fact it was the winning strategy of one extraordinarily effective politician at one particular moment in history. The "stick with what works" strategy doesn't work, because what works is always changing. John Edwards is to Bill Clinton as Collective Soul were to Pearl Jam, as "Bachelorettes in Alaska" was to "The Bachelor."

Of course I have reservations, too. I admit it, I wish Dean weren't from the Northeast...and I worry that I lack a political understanding of the South. I live in Columbus, Ohio, a gay-friendly northern city...am I underestimating the political liability Dean's civil union legislation will be to rural Southern voters? It's possible. On the other hand, there has clearly been a sea-change on gay rights in this country--the summer's Supreme Court decision, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, etc. It seems equally possible to me that the "Stop Dean" people exaggerate the political damage Dean's gay-friendly stances will do. Quite apart from the fact that Dean is right and Republicans are wrong on this issue, this (like the party's radical anti-choice agenda) seems like something that could blow up in Republicans' faces, alienating moderates. I just don't think gay-bashing has the political clout it had just a few years ago.

Is this wishful thinking on my part? I guess we'll see!

Monday, November 10, 2003

Last week's Onion AV Club has a totally awesome interview with Ira Glass of This American Life that I just got around to reading today. Before getting to radio, he talks TV--Smallville, reality shows, TiVo. ("Before I started watching reality television, I'd never believed that nice-looking people are stupider than the rest of us.") And here's what he says about writing:

It's like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics,
that anything that's written or anything that's
created wants to be mediocre. The natural state
of all writing is mediocrity. It's all tending toward
mediocrity in the same way that all atoms are
sort of dissipating out toward the expanse of the
universe. Everything wants to be mediocre, so
what it takes to make anything more than
mediocre is such a fucking act of will.
Here's an article in the New York Observer on Letterman's kid. Not much new in it, but it's a nice piece and includes the Top Ten List, "Reasons I'm Excited to Be a Father."

Further down the column, David Cross on his new boss Rupert Murdoch:

He's my favorite billionaire. We
definitely hang around, and he
gets my jokes and stuff. And I
tolerate the anti-Semitism for
the sake of the relationship.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

"The Best Novelists, the Worst Movie Adaptations." NYT article on why Bellow, Roth and Updike books don't make good movies. I was surprised to learn that there was a Rabbit, Run movie...made in 1970, it wasn't released in the US and has never come out on video or DVD. Shrug. Also, apparently there's a movie of Roth's American Pastoral coming out next year.

Letter-writer to Salon:

[A]nyone who grew up in Texas will
tell you Bush is no cowboy. Texans
have a name for men like him, who
have never done the work of a cowboy
but try to cash in on cowboy cachet by
wearing western shirts and boots, and
smearing cow paddies on their pickups.
The name for these men, an artifact left
over from the fencing wars between
cattlemen and sheep farmers before the
days of political correctness, was "goat
ropers."

Ice Cube with what I think is a sensible policy: "I don't feel comfortable until the check clears."

Friday, November 07, 2003

Right-wingers have lately been claiming that the Bush administration never said Iraq was an "imminent threat," a claim Josh Marshall describes as "sort of like [saying] 'I didn’t accuse you of eating the cake. All I said was that you sliced it up and put it in your mouth.'" Today Marshall's Talking Points Memo announces the winners of its "Imminent Threat" contest, which should put to rest the right's disingenuous arguments on this subject. Should but won't.

I will go ahead and spoil it for you by posting the winning quotation, which is from the President's speech on Oct. 7, 2002, in Cincinnati, Ohio:

Iraq could decide on any given day to provide
a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist
group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists
could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America
without leaving any fingerprints.

But he never said "imminent threat"!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Dean gives a straight-talking apology in today's NYT article:

"When people get in my face, I tend to
get in theirs," Dr. Dean said in the interview
at The Times. "Al Sharpton was in my face
last night and I was not going to step one
step, half a step, backwards, and I don't care
who's in my face.

"I tend to be reflective rather later than
sooner," he added. ..."[T]he things that make
me a strong candidate are also my Achille's heel."

He said in several interviews that Mr. Edwards'
suggestion at the debate that he was being
patronizing to the South had played a
"significant role" in his decision that he had to
speak out further and clarify his views. "I
came to the conclusion that he actually had
been really wounded, that he felt the patronizing
personally," he said at The New York Times.

I am on Dean's side on this one. He doesn't support the Confederate flag and neither do I. But guys with Confederate flag stickers on their trucks do exist, and Republicans have used race and racism over and over again for the sake of votes. Since no one thinks Dean was announcing some intention to race-bait like Karl Rove, what exactly is the problem here? Dean is right to claim that he speaks about race more frankly than any other candidate:

"The irony of this Confederate flag thing...is that
there has been nobody who has been more
outspoken about race on this campaign trail than
me," Dr. Dean said. "I talk about affirmative action.
I talk about it in ways that nobody else talks
about it. I talk about institutional racism.

"Every election in the South is about race and a
good many in the North are about race as well," he
said, "and until we openly discuss the problems in
this country they are not going to go way."
So I finally saw Kill Bill Vol. 1 last night, and I kinda don't know what to say, except that I almost didn't make it to the end because I didn't care for the gore. I am glad I stayed, though, or I would have missed Lucy Liu's scenes, plus the great, rather lengthy animated chapter about her character, "The Origin of Oren-Ishii."

Not for nothin', but Tarantino's best film so far wasn't Pulp Fiction, it was Jackie Brown, where his narrative was the most straightforward. Kill Bill is certainly the opposite of that: compositional extravagance always trumps realism. Check out all the blood-spewing limblessness! Marvel at the nonlinear narrative structure!

It is a technical marvel, and it is exhilirating. It does have some awesome fighting. Like Pulp Fiction, it deftly manipulates a catalog of B-movie types and techniques in more- and less-ironic ways. Tarantino sure does micromanage (intertitles, effects, wire-fu, stylized gore and grossness, animation...), but often he is virtuosic enough to get away with it. His sense of humor, and of cool, keeps him from becoming Oliver Stone.

But how much detachment are we supposed to have from these images? It's not clear to me. I squirmed and looked away from the screen many times, then the over-the-top artificiality of the closing Tokyo fight scenes made me think maybe I shouldn't have been taking all this movie-violence stuff so seriously. Incorporating a broad array of the tones and styles of on-screen violence may well be a part of Tarantino's point--but even if so, this doesn't illuminate the question of the audience's relationship to the movie's characters.

What can you tell from only the first half of a movie, though? We'll see how it turns out when Vol. 2 is released, whenever that is, February or March or something.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Wesley Clark at Rock the Vote: "I don't care what people say. Outkast isn't breaking up; Big Boi and Andre 3000 just cut separate records."

Ah, Wes, if only that were true!
Howard Dean was so right to say "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Here is Dean using the same example months ago:

I intend to talk about race during this election
in the South. The Republicans have been talking
about it since 1968 in order to divide us, and I'm
going to bring us together. Because you know
what? White folks in the South who drive pickup
trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back
ought to be voting with us because their kids don't
have health insurance either, and their kids need
better schools, too.

Kerry and Gephardt and Sharpton and Edwards can criticize Dean all they want for holding such wild, outlandish views (imagine! Dean welcomes and reaches out for the votes of working-class white Southerners!), but it just makes them look prissy and P.C. Meanwhile, Dean shows his political skill once again, emerging unscathed from another pseudo-scandal. Here's Salon's piece, from which I got the above quote.
The Onion AV Club is pitch-perfect on the Strokes' new disc:

"Every song had to be a step forward," Julian
Casablancas has said of the mindset behind his
band's second album, Room On Fire. Seldom has
the word "step" sounded so much like hyperbole.

Further down the page, The AV Club reviews Matthew Dear's new LP on Ann Arbor's excellent Ghostly International label, which Pitchfork also reviews today and which yours truly reviewed a few weeks ago.
Letterman on his new son: "I could never imagine ever being a part of something that turned out this beautiful."

Snarling irony!

On last night's show, Dave talked about his trip with his girlfriend to the hospital, shared weight/length stats, thanked the hospital staff and showed pictures of Harry Joseph Letterman. Needless to say, it was touching and sincere, as well as funny and unschmaltzy. A great show and a rare window into Dave's personal life, one that did not bear out his still-persistent reputation as some kind of arch cynic.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

First, an edifying statement of truisms:

a.) Arnold Schwarzenegger is an asshole.
b.) Jay Leno is not funny, and is an asshole.
c.) Jay Leno is a bootlicker who openly kisses up to anyone in a position of power, e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Soon after the California recall election, David Letterman took the unusual (but warranted!) step of pointing out these truths on the air.

(And this after Jay’s had made comments about wanting to reconcile--he just didn't see the big deal, he said, about his stealing Dave’s job.)

Now Jay’s producers are getting pissy: see this NYT article for some of their chest-beating. And, true, Leno’s ratings are consistently better. Speculating on the cause of Leno’s ratings-dominance, Andrew Sullivan states the obvious before veering off the track:

Leno is a conservative voice in an unsettled time.
His hackneyed humor and old-as-the-hills jokes,
and non-confrontational suck-ups with Hollywood-
approved celebs are more comforting than Letterman's
snarling irony. More to the point: IRONY IS DEAD. It
died years ago - even before 9/11. Letterman, much
as I admire him, is a relic. It's over, Dave. Over.

"Irony is dead" is itself a hackneyed and old-as-the-hills pronouncement, but I actually sort of agree in spirit. But the Letterman show hasn’t relied on irony--snarling or otherwise--for many years. (To his credit, Sullivan admits that he hasn’t watched The Late Show in years, so how could he know?) The Letterman show has developed an internally consistent logic, and zips along at a breakneck pace with weird, hilarious mini-bits like "Will It Float?" and "The George W. Bush Joke That Isn’t Really a Joke." Dave’s on-air interactions with audience, regulars (Biff Henderson, Rupert of the Hello Deli) and celebrity guests are a little weird, but also basically warm and genial. The show's jokes are still anti-jokes, based on disappointed expectations, which I guess is "irony" in some sense. But they bear no apparent snark.

Meanwhile, in between stunt-appearances and promotions, Leno keeps kicking out hacky, self-satisfied, mean-spirited crap.

I defer to Letterman’s producer, Rob Burnett:

"There are two parts of the so-called late-night
war," Mr. Burnett said. "One is: who's the best.
That part of the war is over. Dave won."

Monday, November 03, 2003

A great piece on our least judicious Supreme Court judge and his decision to recuse himself in the "under God" case. Dahlia Lithwick has a grudging respect for Scalia's hardheadedness (he "is intellectually honest enough to know that he slipped...by discussing a case that would come before the court"), and also has a little fun with him:

In effect, says Scalia, his only job as a
judge is to get out of the Framers' way
as they rule the land. By casting himself,
rather ghoulishly, as crypt-keeper rather
than as judge, Scalia can render his
personal morality and preferences
immaterial. He can make all the speeches
he wants without compromising his
neutrality, simply by acting as the constitutional
Ouija board he was meant to be.

Tongue-in-cheek or no, I believe this is a fair characterization of Scalia, and his sanctimonious self-importance. In Lawrence v. Texas (the one from the beginning of the summer that finally and forcefully declared sodomy laws unconstitutional), he criticized the court for taking a side in the "culture war." As if he--with his identification with the most reactionary, reductionist elements of the religious right, his sarcastic tone on the bench, his apoplectic dissents--weren't taking a side!
K Street really got good last night, with an exciting episode where James Carville gets questioned by gov't lawyers about his firm's shady dealings with the "Center for Middle East Progress," suspected of being terrorist front. (One thing that should be very clear by now is the distinction between James Carville and the show's "James Carville" character.)

The Soderbergh-/Clooney-produced show's use of digital video has been dumbly dismissed as "edgier-than-thou," as if it were trying to be Kids or something. But handheld-cam shakiness is actually used sparingly, with most interior scenes shot from one or two fixed perspectives. Static as they are, they are also often kind of drably well-composed.

K Street's weaknesses: the senator-cameos almost never fail to be boring and blustery, and at times it has strained for a plot. But last night's episode was as good as any since the killer season-opener!

For more drably well-composed DV weirdness, I give my highest recommendation to Soderbergh's Schizopolis, which has a fancy new deluxe DVD out. Rather than viewing it as a self-indulgent, weird-for-the-sake-of-weird mess (which, okay, looked at from one perspective, it is!), remember that it's funny--weird-funny. I love this movie. But then I have odd tastes.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Laura Miller says a lot of sensible and interesting things about Toni Morrison in her NYT review of Love, despite her CRAZY, RIDICULOUS assertion that Morrison's "Jazz wilts on the page."

Friday, October 31, 2003

Test the gender of your writing with the Gender Genie. Using a mysterious algorithm, it tells you the gender of the writer of a piece of fiction or nonfiction. You get a "female score" and a "male score" based on "feminine keywords" (e.g. with, if, not and where) and "male keywords" (e.g. around, what, more and are). Whatever.

My fiction came out with a much higher male score than female. My nonfiction was also male, but the score was closer.

I tried several random passages from Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," all of which came out female, which I'm sure would displease Papa. Random passage from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar did test female, but narrowly, at 636 to 602.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

&c is on a roll, with a string of great posts from the past few days about Sharpton, Bush, Dean and Iowa.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Onion AV Club interviews Will Ferrell, who is uncharacteristically straight with them and seems like a nice guy. Did you know he runs marathons?

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Hard Stuff.
An awesome story on physics, on the anthropic principle, a topic that was previously surveyed by Jim Holt in this Slate article.

Holt's New Yorker review of David Foster Wallace's new book about infinity is worth reading despite some icy condescension:

Wallace's enthusiasm for the theory of infinity
is evident on every page (not least in his
conviction that [Georg] Cantor is "the most
important mathematician of the nineteenth
century," a view that few mathematicians or
intellectual historians would agree with).

Holt gives an interesting survey of the math, picks a few knits and pronounces that "a book that prizes difficulty but not rigor is probably not meant for those in search of mathematical illumination; what it offers, in the end, is a purely literary experience."

Which actually doesn't sound so bad to me.
Say it ain't so, Puffy.
Doctors allowed to recommend marijuana, sort of. From the NYT:

"This decision says that it's fine and
appropriate to talk with patients about
medical marijuana, and I can even say,
'I think you can benefit from it,' " said Dr.
Steve O'Brien.

However, "If, in making the
recommendation," the court wrote, "the
physician intends for the patient to use
it as the means for obtaining marijuana,
as a prescription is used as a means for
a patient to obtain a controlled substance,
then a physician would be guilty of aiding
and abetting the violation of federal law..."

To someone this distinction makes sense.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Crack TV writer Virginia Heffernan has a long profile of Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey in the New Yorker. Here's one of many interesting passages:

The cast members of "Saturday Night Live" are
recruited from standup acts and from three comedy
farm teams that tend to define the comedians they
produce. The writer-performers from Second City
(Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner,
Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Horatio Sanz) are known
for their aesthetic perfectionism. "They’re tangled up
in their own integrity," as Fey puts it. The performers
who come from the Groundlings, an improv troupe in
Los Angeles (Laraine Newman, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell,
Julia Sweeney, Maya Rudolph, Chris Kattan), create
vivid and eccentric characters. The writers who worked
at the Harvard Lampoon (Dennis McNicholas, Michael
Schur, Conan O’Brien) tend to emphasize the
conceptual premise of a sketch. While each of the
fifteen performers on "S.N.L." is expected to write (or
risk getting no parts), some take to it more naturally
than others. Fey characterizes certain kinds of Groundlings
jokes, and especially Harvard Lampoon humor, as
peculiarly male, founded in boyhood fantasies. "She’s
Chicago," Jimmy Fallon explains. "Dennis is Harvard. She’d
do more jokes about having sex with a hobo, and he’d do
more jokes about robots and sharks."

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Steve Johnson contributes a giddily enthusiastic review of Amazon's new "Search Inside the Book" feature in Slate, spinning out some pretty cool possibilities for the future of research and claiming that the feature "will probably turn out to be one of those transformative Web moments when a tool suddenly appears and six months later you can't imagine life without it."

I've been playing with it a little this afternoon and it is pretty cool. For example, I was trying to remember a passage in Kurt Vonnegut's Palm Sunday that talked about the intelligence of writers. I remembered he said they were average. So knowing the book it came from and using a search as simple as "Vonnegut average," there it was. Here's the passage:

I would add that novelists are not only
unusually depressed, by and large, but have,
on the average, about the same IQs as the
cosmetic consultants at Bloomingdale's
department store. Our power is patience.
We have discovered that writing allows even
a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if
only that person will write the same thought
over and over again, improving it just a little
bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp
with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it
takes is time.

A week ago I would've had to flip through the whole book, looking for a marking or hoping the passage would just leap out at me! O brave new world!
Frank Rich on Bush:

[T]his administration doesn't realize that
trying to control the news is always a loser.
Most of the press was as slow to challenge
Joe McCarthy, the Robert McNamara
Pentagon and the Nixon administration as
it has been to challenge the wartime Bush
White House. But in America, at least, history
always catches up with those who try to
falsify it in real time. That's what L.B.J. and
Nixon both learned the hard way.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Better still, see this week's Alive, which has a good article about that ukulele guy, a review of Bob Dylan's movie and my interview with Aesop Rock.
And see Pitchfork's review of Aesop Rock's Bazooka Tooth.
Pitchfork on Kid Koala's new CD:

In many ways, Some of My Best Friends Are DJs
is little more than a brief comedy album, filled with
strange samples of eccentric characters
pontificating on their record collections and audio
systems. You can either accept this as a sort of
endearing (or perhaps sort of affably lazy) quality
that shows he's in the game for fun, or you can
wish he would stop jerking us around and fulfill
his artistic potential.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Frank Gehry's weird, cool new building and accompanying write-up in Slate.

I once stumbled into Bilbao, Spain, more or less by throwing a dart at a map, and got to spend a whole day in Gehry's massively awesome and bizarre Guggenheim museum there by sheer dumb luck.
R.I.P. Elliott Smith.

I saw Elliott Smith on tour supporting Figure 8, his lushest, most ambitious album if not his best. He closed the show with a cover of "Don't Fear the Reaper," which I mention not to make any dumb comment about its theme but because, damn, that's an ambitious song to cover!, and far-removed from the bare acoustic-guitar-and-vocals songs he's known for. I believe that album & that tour may have been Elliott Smith at his healthiest.

But he had been losing the battle with addiction ever since, and now he joins the long, sad list of rock-star suicides.
Mickey Kaus, commenting on the fact that Al Sharpton removed criticism of hip-hop from a stump-speech to an audience of white college students, is typically grouchy:

Why not criticize hip-hop before a white crowd? Is
Sharpton perversely refusing to pander to whites
while speaking hard truths to blacks? Or, given hip-
hop's heavily white audience, is he actually
pandering to a white U. Va crowd that probably
could use hearing his criticism?

Of course it's obviously closer to the latter--college kids don't want to hear attacks on artists they like and identify with. Scolding them for liking hip-hop is what their parents do!

When Sharpton does attack hip-hop it is in predictable preacher-talk--rap music "spew[s] hedonism, misogyny, and self-hate," "glorif[ies] the prison culture, the pimp culture, and drug culture. ...Not only is this message immoral, but it is also flawed." What hip-hop really does is dramatize those cultures, but never mind. Sharpton's criticism of hip-hop would simply come off differently to a black audience, who might well see gangsta narratives, religious narratives and political stump-speeches as different sides of the same die.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

From a press release by the Libertarian Party:

The entire nation owes radio broadcaster Rush
Limbaugh a debt of gratitude, Libertarians say,
because his ordeal has exposed every drug
warrior in America as a rank hypocrite.
NYT review of new Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee's new novel, Elizabeth Costello, which I am looking forward to. Its protagonist is a character from Coetzee's brilliant, intense novella/essay "The Lives of Animals."

Monday, October 20, 2003

Interesting interview with Jonathan Lethem on the Powell's website. I'm excited about Fortress of Solitude.
This morning's This Modern World cartoon is a good one.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The NY Observer has a profile of the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Robert Smigel. Smigel is head writer for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, which is always hilarious, and he contributes the almost-always-unfunny TV Funhouse cartoons to Saturday Night Live. And Triumph apparently has a CD coming out.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Rock historian Alex Abramovich asks what School of Rock says about the state of rock in Slate and reaches this surprising conclusion:

If School of Rock gives us any indication of
what rock might look like in another 50 years--
and of what it's beginning to look like today--
it's this: Wholly absorbed into the nation's
bloodstream, rock continues to be played
and appreciated by certain segments of the
population, works its way into the American
curriculum, and loses its sense of engagement
with the culture at large.

Rock goes the way of jazz: after becoming highbrow and "acceptable," it is suffocated by moderation or meanders off into the bloodless, intellectual territory of experimentalism. Speaking as someone who feels no great stake in the future of rock music, this strikes me as one possible direction but by no means the only one.

For the past few years I have been baffled by the glowing reception critics have given to so-so garage-rock revivalists; in my view it reflects critical anxiety about the increasing commercial and artistic dominance of hip-hop. In many a critic's mind--including Abramovich, in fact--hip-hop is seen as some sort of opposition. Critics who still follow the boring old messianism-of-punk script believe that the new Sex Pistols or Ramones would sound just like the old Sex Pistols or Ramones.

While there is nothing wrong with groups who restrict themselves to a specific set of influences and at least several of the neogarage groups are great, the critical script that hails anything that seems "stripped down to basic rock elements" as an exciting new development is one that's about twenty-five-years out of date. It's a backward-looking view, and there's no good reason for it when we have Grandaddy, Radiohead, the Flaming Lips, Bjork, the Postal Service, the Notwist...all kinds of artists who are experimenting with new textures and sounds while keeping hold of the emotional connection rock music can offer. The Roots and Outkast and the Neptunes are engaged in blurring the same lines from the hip-hop side of the fence, to equally exciting results.

Here is another way that the cultural institution of rock music can avoid dying the slow death of respectability: by embracing hip-hop, by respecting it, by opening its fucking borders. The separation of rock and hip-hop has always been an artificial one based on an almost wholly imaginary color-line, when the simple fact is that both genres have always been much more integrated than anyone acknowledges. Abramovich describes one of rock music's possible fates. Will the people who write the story of rock music be able to grasp the alternative?

Friday, October 17, 2003

My review of the new Soul Position CD in this week's Alive. Not, however, my preview of tonight's Go Evol Shiki! show/Night of the Living Dead screening. I am excited about the show all the same.
Michael Kinsley on Bush:

"I glance at the headlines, just to get
kind of a flavor," [Bush] told Brit Hume
of Fox News last month. But, "I rarely
read the stories" because "a lot of times
there's opinions mixed in with news."
Instead, "I get briefed by [White House
Chief of Staff] Andy Card and Condi [Rice,
the national security adviser] in the
morning."

...It's an interesting epistemological
question how our president knows what
he thinks he knows and why he thinks it
is less distorted than what the rest of us
know or think we know. Every president
lives in a cocoon of advisers who filter
reality for him, but it's stunning that this
president actually seems to prefer getting
his take on reality that way.

Tim Noah responds to Tom Wolfe.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

So the GRE test has been taken; I am happy. Also very tired.
Blogger Atrios comes up with this hilarious actual quote from a story in the Philadephia Inquirer:

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he
"didn't want to see any stories" quoting
unnamed administration officials in the media
anymore, and that if he did, there would be
consequences, said a senior administration
official who asked that his name not be used.
King Kaufman and Mickey Kaus think that Cubs fans are secretly happy to not be going to the World Series, since it allows us to preserve the lovable-loser mythology. They are so wrong.
Fuck.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Slate's Will Saletan has a funny, smart piece on Dean. And it is true: first, centrist Dems argued that he was too liberal and couldn't win; these days the other candidates are coming at him with weak, ill-considered attacks on him from the left. Right now it looks like &c. was way out in front on this one: Dean's forceful, charismatic style has energized the Democratic party's left-base, but his moderate record may well allow him to capture swing-voters better than anyone at first realized. This is put into relief by the attacks he's now enduring from ultralefty populist Dennis Kucinich, whose sole redeeming characteristic may be to remind us what an actual way-too-liberal candidate looks like. But, as Saletan points out, Dean is now being attacked from the left by Kerry and Gephardt, too, somewhat desperately.

Insert disclaimers here about how it's still early, Clark's still kinda untested, etc. Still, the more one looks at Dean's candidacy, the better it looks.
Pitchfork reviews Matmos' new album, The Civil War. Matmos makes electronic concept-albums; its last, A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, was built from recordings made during nose-jobs, liposuction and other surgical procedures. This one is made of British and American folk melodies from our Civil War and theirs. Both records are great and not nearly as gimmicky as they sound; though they can indeed be a tad distanced at times, Matmos is actively working to bridge the intellectual and the emotional in its music.

And if you don't care for chopped up Civil War music, there's always the playful funk of Matmos-side-project Soft Pink Truth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

A real heartbreaker of a game tonight sends the Cubs-Marlins series to Game 7. Mark Prior was indeed unhittable for seven innings...but then, in a weird eighth inning, fan-interference and an error by shortstop Alex Gonzales led to a stunning, devastating EIGHT-RUN inning for the Marlins.

This was a rough night. You must understand: the Cubs have never been to the World Series in my lifetime--or in my father's lifetime, to give you some sense of perspective. Today when they were so close and then everything fell apart, I actually broke a (plastic) glass in my living room out of despair.

No matter. Tomorrow is game seven. Kerry Wood pitches. The Cubs will win.

Meanwhile, I take more GRE practice tests. Tomorrow is my day of rest before the BIG DAY, Thursday, when I finally get the damn test over with.

Monday, October 13, 2003

The CD of GRE practice tests seems to be decreasing my verbal scores. This is disconcerting.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

This week’s dumbest statement about hip-hop comes from the always-irritating Sasha Frere-Jones in his review of the new Outkast 2-discer in Slate, where he lays this one on us:

Hip-hop beats have become oddly jingoistic,
rejecting sounds and samples that refer to
anything outside hip-hop itself.

Which is absurd on its face, right? Timbaland’s Eastern-flavored beats for Missy and others have been universally loved and have turned into a fad in hip-hop; lately you can’t switch on the radio without hearing somebody flowing over a sitar sample. (Meanwhile, Timbaland has moved on to using country and bluegrass samples for Bubba Sparxxx.) Or e.g. the Neptunes, who draw from maybe the broadest musical palette of any artist currently working in any genre. This is not even to discuss the artistic accomplishments of the Roots, Common, Mos Def, RZA...for Christ’s sake, Puff Daddy (arguably the worst hip-hop producer of all time) looped Sting and Led Zeppelin songs, not exactly rap mainstays.

But for Frere-Jones and for critics in general, there is "good" hip-hop and "bad" hip-hop, and it's no big surprise that the rap music that gets the critical okay tends to be the rap that behaves most like rock music. In other words, Outkast's use of guitars makes them highbrow, while the Neptunes' or Jazzy Phe's mostly synthetic output is easily dismissed. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

(Hey, I love Outkast too, it isn't that!)
Tom Wolfe does his overheated anti-Modern thing about some piece of New York architecture that I personally could give a shit about. Wolfe can still be quite funny, you know, if a little predictable at this point.

By 1945 the architects [...] were converts, one
and all. [...] All buildings, great and small, must
be made bourgeois-proof in the name of the
Working Class . . . meaning no precious materials,
such as marble — and white marble was the
worst — only glass, steel, concrete and plaster . . .
no applied decorations, such as crown (monarchy!)
moldings . . . and no 'pretty' colors, only white,
black and gray.

(Added ellipses bracketed, the rest are Tom's own.) In some places the piece is also informative-in-spite-of-itself, which I'm sure is the point. The first of two installments.
Ain't no thang. Mark Prior is unbeatable. Come Tuesday night, the Cubs will be going to the World Series. Too bad it didn't happen tonight. But it ain't no thang.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Good ol' Paul Krugman is right as usual about the right's recent whining about "civility." (Bill O'Reilly recently did some of this whining on Fresh Air, complaining that Al Franken was "vicious," just before he shouted at Terry Gross, called the interview a "hatchet job," slurred NPR and walked out of the interview. Ah, civility...) Quoth Krugman: "There is no way to be both polite and honest about what has happened in these past three years."
MoveOn.org's new piece of online activism amuses me. Since we all know that George W. Bush is absolutely determined to get to the bottom of the case, why not aid his search by signing an affadavit swearing that you didn't leak the name of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame? (You didn't, did you?) Help our president narrow down the list of possible suspects here.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

My interview with Kid Koala is in the new Alive. The man has some interesting things to say about turntablism:

[H]ere I am 50 years later picking
up this record again, not really for
the same reasons, but in a way
I’m documenting the fact that it
exists. I don’t know. From an
anthropological perspective, it’s
interesting to me. It’s like audio-
voyeurism.

The whole thing is here.

And less interestingly, my review of slam-poet Ursula Rucker's new CD.
Cubs 12, Marlins 3. This is more like it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

An extremely serious allegation against Howard Dean! Dean denies charges and let's hope he's telling the truth.
Josh Marshall on Joe Allbaugh, Bush-cabinet-member-turned-Iraq-entrepreneur:

So let’s see what we have here. The
president’s right-hand man quits his
government job just before the bombs
start falling. He sets up shop in the
offices of one of the biggest GOP
lobbyists in town. And he starts selling
his services to clients who want a piece
of the big Iraqi reconstruction contracts
pie — the pie his old bosses are in
charge of slicing up.

Does that sound right to you? Do you
think he might be trading a bit on his
closeness to Bush?

Say what you will about the
administration’s post-war planning.
Allbaugh’s seems to have been right on
the mark.
Listen: It is a BAD IDEA to keep tigers as pets. In Harlem, in Las Vegas, pretty much anywhere. This story still tugs at the heartstrings, though.

And here's yet another lesson in big-predator behavior. Do you think David Quammen is getting good publicity out of these incidents?
The Bush/Cheney '04 campaign now has a blog. It's...well, with items like "Tax Cuts Key to Economic Recovery" and "Huge Crowd of Keystone State Supporters Rally" I guess it's pretty much what you'd expect. Which is to say not exactly penetrating analysis.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

propinquity: nearness of blood; nearness of place or time

abrogate: to abolish by authoritative action; to treat as nonexistent

obloquy: a strongly condemnatory utterance

...And my GRE study continues...and continues, and...
Caught this exchange between Conan O'Brien and "Arnold Schwarzenegger":

Conan: You said you admired Hitler?
"Schwarzenegger": Yeah, I said it. But you say crazy things when you're in an orgy! It was the 70s!

Monday, October 06, 2003

Powell's interviews Charles Baxter.
Is Howard Dean electable? A piece of electoral-college analysis today from TNR's anonymous blogger of &c. The point is that while Dean's fiery personality has energized the Democratic base, his more moderate policy views could position him well in pivotal electoral states like West Virginia, where his more-or-less anti-gun-control views would get him voters Gore didn't get. And what's more,

it doesn't seem like much of a stretch
to think Dean would hold his own in the
states Gore won. After all, the winning
margin in many of the states Gore carried
only narrowly--Oregon, Washington,
Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, even Florida--
was depressed because of defections to
Nader or broader liberal dissatisfaction
with Gore. Dean's aggressive criticism of
the president should only help him here.

Right-wingers enjoy comparing Dean to George McGovern, who, in spite of being right about nearly everything, was so liberal that he lost 49 states to Nixon in 1972. Wesley Clark's still-promising candidacy is widely perceived as a centrist reaction to the Dean insurgency. It's too early to tell--and like many, I am of two minds about this--but the most apt comparison to Dean may yet turn out to be not George McGovern but Bill Clinton.
Ever wonder how the Catholic church picks Popes? The cardinals write their votes on slips of paper and deposit them in a chalice. Just like Survivor.
Hey, the Cubs win! You might not realize it but this is some truly exciting shit.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

As Greil Marcus wanes his way into irrelevance and Sasha Frere-Jones continues to devote inordinate energy to bitching about Radiohead, Kelefa Sanneh has quietly become one of the very best music critics currently working, and--not coincidentally--the best writer on hip-hop music. Here's a great article from the NYT about Outkast and Erykah Badu called "When Weird Works."

And while we're on the subject of Outkast and their awesome new double-disc, here is what the always perceptive Onion AV Club said about Speakerboxxx/The Love Below:

[I]t doesn't seem like much of a stretch
to call OutKast's Andre 3000 and Big Boi
the Lennon and McCartney of hip-hop.
Like The Beatles' icons, the two markedly
different artists complement each other
perfectly, and OutKast has similarly evolved
in quantum leaps, becoming commercially
successful without sacrificing artiness,
eccentricity, or its urge to constantly
reinvent itself. If Stankonia was the duo's
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is its White
Album, a wildly ambitious attempt to reconcile
its members' solo impulses with OutKast's
identity as a group.

Amen.
Cubs first-baseman Randall Simon swings at absolutely everything.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

An interesting observation on the Kay Report from The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook:

But if most of the Iraq atomic weapons
program stopped in 1998, as Kay
concludes, then Clinton administration
policy on Iraq was far more effective
than once assumed; then the WMD case
for invasion this year was even weaker
than now assumed; and then the case
for airstrikes to halt the North Korean
nuclear-weapons program may be
stronger than now assumed.
Cubs win! Mark Prior pitches a complete game two-hitter. Next year is this year.

Friday, October 03, 2003

What Plamegate turns out to be is a chapter in the war between the neocons and the CIA. (The neocons' view being that the CIA were, like, total wussies in the run-up to the war on Iraq. Hence the leak from the neocon White House naming Joseph Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.) Josh Marshall is typically brilliant here:

One of the failings of ideologues is their inability
to see that everyone else isn't necessarily an
ideologue like them. So when the analysts at
Langley didn't find evidence to support the White
House's brainstorms, the folks at the White House
assumed that the analysts were just Saddam-
hugging ideologues rather than trained
professionals --- albeit with their own very real
biases and assumptions --- who were in most
cases acting on their own inability to find any
evidence to substantiate what the White House
was so desperate to prove.

And as we know now, the neocons were simply wrong about most--nearly all, actually, but not quite--of their assumptions. Read Marshall's entire piece here.

Slate's Jack Shafer is arguably the smartest media critic working today. He is also the only writer I've seen who takes a clear-headed, smartly skeptical view of leaks and leakers. Rather than SUPER SECRET SCANDALS REVEALED--which is the way leaks are sold by newspapers & accepted by the general reader (myself included, pre-Shafer)--leaks are usually calculated to serve somebody's agenda. Any leak should lead to the question: who does this benefit? Which of course makes crystal-clear sense, once you think about it. Shafer's cogent analysis of Plamegate is here.
In Praise of Bias. Yesterday Terry Gross interviewed tax-cutaholic Grover Norquist, who gave a typically dissembling, disingenuous performance. Among many ridiculous tidbits, his most ridiculous was comparing the estate tax to the Holocaust. (Any tax that applies to the super-rich is discrimination against a minority--a "class minority," in Norquist's ridiculous-on-its-face term--and is thus morally wrong.) Gross rightly called him out on this one.

Of course Norquist is transparently pro-privilege, period; likewise the Bush tax cuts that Norquist is so proud to have been a part of. And I certainly hope that anyone who heard his whining and dissembling on Fresh Air won't take him seriously. But here's the thing: the whole reason he appeared on Fresh Air was because about a month ago Terry ran an incisive, interesting interview with NY Times columnist Paul Krugman. In terms of intellectual firepower, Grover Norquist is to Paul Krugman as a BB gun is to a bazooka. Why should Fresh Air feel obligated to provide equal time to this dude? Not only is Krugman genuine and eloquent where Norquist is grandstanding and blustery, but Krugman is interesting where Norquist is boring. If being free of "bias" means giving the stage to any asshole with a think-tank, I say we need more liberal bias in the media!
A short Salon piece on Coetzee.
I was happy to learn that J.M. Coetzee had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is incredible. Among the interesting things I learned in the subsequent coverage: how to pronounce his name. I'd been saying COAT-zee, but it turns out it's cut-SEE-uh.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Montreal is the new Seattle.

Monday, September 29, 2003

If you have a bohemian neighborhood full of people
drinking bad beer and wearing ugly T-shirts and
trucker hats and dressing the exact same way as
Justin Timberlake, it's real and it's ironic, and it's
cool and it's uncool at the same time


Sorry, no. All irony is partly for-real, all of it. There is no big mystery about this. Irony--in this sense, the hipsters-in-trucker-hats sense, which is something different from some other uses of the word irony--is a tool that we use when we're embarrassed to admit the for-real side of what we're feeling. I am tired of arch, cynical ironists trying to claim that what they're really doing is something complicated, some sophisticated "both"! That's what hipster-irony is, dumbass, and it's almost always ugly, condescending bullshit.
When would you guess that the British began drinking tea? Since forever? Nope. Since the 1650s, when the Dutch East India Company first imported it. And at first it was strictly an amusement for the privileged class. Samuel Pepys, in his diary entry for Tuesday, Sept. 25, 1660, writes: "I did send away for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before..."

Pepys' diary, the 17th century's best blog!

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Cubs lose! But still win! To the Braves, we Cubs fans say: Bring 'em on!
Monkeys have better judgement of values. Since the Columbus Dispatch requires subscription, here is the full text of a letter from today's paper:

I find it interesting to connect the dots.

On Sept. 18, The Dispatch carried an article from The Dallas Morning News about how monkeys have a sense of fairness about equal pay for equal work. They refused to work as hard when they saw another monkey paid more (given a grape) for the same work than they were paid (a piece of cucumber). They really got mad when some monkeys were given a grape for no work at all.

The Sept. 19 newspaper announced that the richest in our society got even richer this year (Bill Gates increased his fortune by $3 billion). A brief in the Business section mentioned that American workers, even in an age of fewer jobs, were less satisfied than ever at those jobs.

Maybe the monkeys know more than we do. Maybe our dissatisfaction has something to do with a subconscious feeling of a lack of fairness in America’s workplace. More tax cuts for the rich, anyone?

ANN TWIGGS

Columbus
More condescending coverage of K Street. The astute Frank Rich falls into the old authenticity trap, writing of James Carville and George Stephanopolous that:

Their bright career arcs are the representative
examples that illuminate a decade in which the
already blurry lines between spin and news,
fiction and nonfiction, and newsmakers and
journalists have all but disappeared.

But what if those "already blurry lines" were themselves basically artificial creations? Why is it offensive for a sincere Democrat like James Carville to offer a hilarious, perceptive line to fellow Democrat Howard Dean? Because it was done on camera? Isn't it a good thing in a democracy when the political process--which includes consultations, collaboration, and often calculated judgements--is documented and made public? My impression here is that journalists are defensive of the carefully cultivated authenticity-signals of their own profession. (You know exactly what I mean, and if you don't, simply watch any episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for pitch-perfect skewering of journalistic "seriousness.")

To be fair, Rich makes some of these points, albeit in a half-hearted way. And I second his call for a DVD rerelease of The War Room. What a great movie!, and in no small way a forerunner of K Street.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

NYT has a great profile of William T. Vollman. Vollman belongs in ranks with the best literary journalists ever, but his sprawling, rambling prose can make David Foster Wallace look like a model of narrative economy. Rising Up and Rising Down, Vollmann's massive, seven-volume treatise on violence will be published in October by McSweeney's, in Dave Eggers' most audacious money-blowing scheme yet. But he'll get my hundred bucks! I'd better start saving up.

Friday, September 26, 2003

I'll tell you what show I'm excited about: K Street, the new real-time political drama by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. It's been getting a lot of familiar criticism: its use of digital video is “hipper-than-thou,” it’s too scattered, it’s annoying that some things on it are real and some are fictional. It’s boring.

Only it isn’t boring. It’s finely textured, with Altmanesque improvised dialogue, background noise, characters who occasionally ramble, people talking all at once. But K Street's first two episodes have been exciting because they have allowed ideas to become plot points. It is in this sense that the show is part-drama-part-politics: not because of the weird intersection of the real and the invented, but because alongside its compelling fictional characters (including the slightly fictionalized, highly charismatic James Carville and Mary Matalin) the show features ideas that are genuinely interesting.

So far a total of one hour’s worth of the series has aired, and already journalists are affecting a distanced, condescending attitude toward it, instead of calling it what it is: a bundle of potential, a fascinating experiment that may or may not work, an exciting show off to an extremely promising start.
Andrew Sullivan has been repeating over and over that Wesley Clark is a Rhodes scholar, as if that were some kind of slur. (Yeah, you know, I heard he also got a purple heart!) From a letter Sullivan printed today (many other examples abound from the past week or two):

As for Clark's debate appearance,
and saying the right things on the
deficit, etc., that's what Rhodes
Scholars, like Bill C., do the best!

Way to stick it to him. But, um, didn't Bill C. actually balance the budget?