Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Fourth Hand by John Irving

The Fourth Hand The Fourth Hand by John Irving

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
First book I've read by this guy. It is funny and stuff, but I guess I did not connect with the characters or the story all that much. I feel like that's somewhat intentional? The voice of the narrator is always intruding, half-bemused, in a way that lets us know not to take any of this too seriously. Which to me at least had the effect of sort of lowering the stakes in a way that was not necessarily desirable.

My other impression was that as a media satire, the book's 1999 vision of cable news as "the disaster channel" is pretty far-removed from the all-partisan-all-the-time cable environment of today. That's not really the book's fault, necessarily. But it does have less bite today.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Unified Theory of Ke$ha

What you have to understand about Ke$ha is this:

a.) Ke$ha is incredibly popular. Her song has been No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for weeks. As I type this, she is #3 on iTunes.

b.) Ke$ha is omnipresent. "TiK ToK" was played on the radio 11,224 times last week -- the most of any artist ever. She was just on Jimmy Fallon. She is going to be a presenter at the Grammys. Like it or not, we live in a world where Ke$ha is an enormous celebrity.

c.) Ke$ha's rap skills are not tight. Her voice is incredibly annoying. Her lyrics make no sense. And yet, the lines do kind of stick with you. They do.

d.) Ke$ha once appeared on "The Simple Life" as one of the hicks that Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie went around insulting. Later, she vomited in Paris Hilton's closet. I learn this from Wikipedia. Also, she considers herself "the antithesis of (Paris Hilton)." That's obviously an insane thing to say -- really? the antithesis of Paris Hilton is a mega-popular blonde pop rapper? -- but it does tell you an awful lot about Ke$ha's cultural positioning, especially as regards social class.

e.) In some sense, Ke$ha is out-Gagaing Lady Gaga. The two artists have exactly the same narrative: Girl obsessed with fame confronts a grotesque celebrity culture, etc. etc. But Lady Gaga's game is to put a bit of performative intellectual distance between herself and her Gaga-ness. Ke$ha has zero intellectual distance. She is just doing the thing Lady Gaga is performing or sort of enacting.

But also:

f.) This is why Lady Gaga will have a longer shelf-life than Ke$ha.


g.) It is very, very difficult to see what Ke$ha's second act is.

And those are the things you have to understand about Ke$ha.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spoon on Conan

doing the best song off the new Spoon album, which I think is good but not as good as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Perils of ping-pong

Democrats are making it clear that a Coakley loss in Massachusetts will not derail health care reform -- the House will just "ping pong" the Senate bill. I think this is probably true. White House and Democratic leadership have shown a willingness to expend a tremendous amount of political capital on the bill, and at the end of the day Speaker Pelosi can probably muster the votes for passage.

The "we'll play ping-pong" message coming out of Washington today could demoralize Mass. Republicans, who were fired up by the idea that a win for Brown would kill the whole enterprise. And I assume this is part of the reason that we're hearing about it now -- as an attempt to tamp down at least some portion of Republican enthusiasm.

Just asking: Couldn't it also give Massachusetts Democrats less reason to turn out tomorrow? By all accounts, nobody is excited about Coakley. And if health care reform isn't truly in peril, why not sit this one out?

UPDATE [1/18 8:16pm] ... Why it is probably over for Coakley: Nate Silver says so. And why it might not be over for Coakley: Nate Silver says so.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

"A movie whose human sympathy is enormous"

Hey look, NYT columnist Ross Douthat agrees with me about the best movie of the aughts. It's The New World, which Douthat sort of interestingly calls "the anti-Avatar."

Monday, January 04, 2010

So are they or aren't they?

The problem with the he-said-she-said style of reporting. This just landed in my inbox, from NBC's First Read:
Are health insurance mandates constitutional? NBC's Doug Adams rounded up opinions from conservative legal scholars (who say they aren't) and liberal scholars (who say they are).
Great, very helpful. There is some more information at the link, but not much, really.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Best book of the decade

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, published in English translation in 2007. Easily, easily the greatest work of literature I've read in the last 10 years. I haven't read 2666 yet but I kind of can't imagine it's better.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Blogging up a storm

Uncharacteristically heavy blogging lately. Here's your guide to getting to where you want to go:

New Year's Resolutions, 2009

One decade ago, on NYE 1999, as the clock struck 12 a.m. I was running down the street at full speed with my friends Mike Perillo, Bob Alstrum-Acevedo and Bryan Preston. I am scheduling this post in advance, and I am hoping to be doing exactly the same thing, with new friends.

10. Learn a lot about tax policy, in reasonably fine detail
9. Read more books
8. Drink less alcohol
7. Get more freelance work
6. Make more audio stories**
5. Take more and better photographs**
4. Use more pretentious French, German and Latin phrases in everyday speech. I already use some, but I believe I could use more.
3. Lose weight**
2. Wear a tie underneath sweaters
1. Write a novel. (Seriously.)

These are not all of them. I have some other resolutions I can't tell you about.

** Denotes also a resolution in 2009.