Friday, August 19, 2011

The end of AMillionMonkeys?

I think I am done blogging here. I think I am going to post exclusively over at the Tumblr for now. If you don't hear from me again here, that is where I'll be.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In which Rep. Sean Duffy is a bit player in a magazine story

Rep. Sean Duffy appears in this NYT Magazine profile of GOP whip Kevin McCarthy but I'm not sure how interesting it is to WI-7 folks. For instance it is not surprising that Duffy got leadership blessing to vote against defunding NPR. Here's something sort of interesting:
Sean Duffy spoke with McCarthy constantly throughout the campaign. So did a South Dakota farmer named Kristi Noem — though she received what she calls "good messaging advice" covertly, as Noem's entire campaign was based on her wholesale rejection of Beltway orthodoxy.
I suppose it shouldn't be shocking that Duffy got messaging advice during the campaign. But note the distinction there between Noem, who had to at least pretend that she wasn't communicating with party leaders, and Duffy who didn't. It does underline the point that Duffy is very much a team player, in-with-GOP-leadership kind of representative. I suppose your feelings about that will depend on your feelings about GOP leadership.

A more philosophical question is do you prefer for your representative to be someone who pretends to be independent but really isn't or someone who doesn't especially pretend.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Best singles of 2011 so far

I feel like this list is really incomplete, still. What am I missing, please?


15. "The Show Goes On," Lupe Fiasco
14. "Just a Kiss," Lady Antebellum
13. "Helplessness Blues," Fleet Foxes
12. "Blow," Ke$ha
11. "Getting Ready for Christmas Day," Paul Simon
10. "Born This Way," Lady Gaga
9. "Trouble on My Mind," Pusha-T feat. Tyler, the Creator
8. "Remind Me," Brad Paisley feat. Carrie Underwood
7. “E.T.,” Katy Perry
6. "Gucci Gucci," Kreayshawn
5. "I Hate Myself," Lil B
4. "Calgary," Bon Iver
3. "Rolling in the Deep," Adele
2. "Yonkers," Tyler the Creator
1. "Till the World Ends," Britney Spears. (See my review here. Extraordinary for its total hypnotic emptiness.)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Best music of 2011 so far

This week I listened to the Sound Opinions episode where they did their mid-year thing, so I guess why not, I can offer mine. This all can change a lot between now and December of course but just for fun.


10. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
Haven't really listened to it much yet but it seems pleasant enough. 

9. Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972
Epic ambient. 

8. Adele, 21

7. Brad Paisley, This is Country Music

6. Beyonce, 4

5. Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

4. Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What
What a nice surprise! Really sincere and pretty and catchy. Kind of laid back and genuine, comfortable in its own skin. 

3. Lil B, I'm Gay (I'm Happy)

2. Bon Iver, Bon Iver

1. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
Telling an English story, interpolating found melodies. Very slept-on album in my opinion, perhaps because critics all want a primal scream from Polly Jean all the time. But this is a pretty, complete sort of record, and I've been surprised by how many times I have gone back to it.


Radiohead, King of Limbs
I get that Radiohead is trying to get away from album-as-event, but this is pretty slight.

Tyler, the Creator, Goblin
I can see why Odd Future's punk/teenager rap thing seems interesting to a lot of people, and it was to me too for a couple of weeks. But really, this record is mostly bad and weirdly (or maybe, given its teenagerishness, not weirdly) self-serious. Yes, I know there are punchlines. That's not what I mean. Tyler has a good sound but he really needs to develop a sense of irony.

I am going to try to do singles tomorrow.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Anarchist by John Smolens

The Anarchist: A NovelThe Anarchist: A Novel by John Smolens

Pretty silly. I am sort of interested in the politics of the time (early 1900s) and thought it might be fun to read a novel about it. It was a little, small bit of fun, was all. Sort of a clumsy potboiler overall.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The Adventures of Augie MarchThe Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

Possibly I am a philistine but I read 20 percent of this one and I am putting it down. It has no plot! The sort of this-then-this-then-this picaresque is an intentional structure, I know, but that doesn't make it much more fun to read. The milieu of hardscrabble Great Depression Chicago is certainly appealing but this work isn't for me, not right now at least.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Best nonfiction

I always enjoy lists and I am a major fan of some of the books on the Guardian's "100 greatest non-fiction books" list -- Nabokov's Speak, Memory, Roland Barthes' Mythologies, Susan Sontag's On Camp. But like all non-bylined lists of this sort, it is also heavy on "important" doorstops like Critique of Pure Reason and Leviathan that are not really for actual reading by any actual human.

I prefer lists that don't pretend to take a view from nowhere. So just for fun and in no particular order here is a list of some of my own personal favorite nonfiction books. No claim that these are the best of all time or that this is comprehensive. But I liked them.

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Nonfiction Books:


Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson
A true investigation into what aesthetic taste is and how taste gets made. So smart and so honest and so useful. If it doesn't change the way you think about music and art, read it again.

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century by Greil Marcus
Cultural history from French Situationism to punk rock.

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
Terrific, rigorous hip-hop history. Pitch-perfect until he hits the '90s!


The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The story of the financial collapse through the eyes of those who saw it coming.

Boss by Mike Royko
The greatest newspaper columnist of all time chronicles Richard J. Daley.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Working poor in practice.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Children by Philip Gourevitch
Terrible, terrible.

Them by Jon Ronson
Travels with crazies. Hilarious, sympathetic portraits of some very unsympathetic souls.


Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
Best memoir ever.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Does this count as nonfiction?

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Not every essay in here is a winner -- "E Unibus Pluram: Television and American Fiction" is completely insufferable -- but the title essay is terrific, lots of fun and smart. The first essay "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," which is set in central Illinois, still makes me nostalgic for home.

Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Read this probably 15 years ago and I still remember its description of kitchen work and soup-kitchen hopping.

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel
Best oral history.

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cape Town to Cairo by Paul Theroux
Travels in Africa and some worthwhile thoughts on the aid industrial complex.


Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
This was the most moving, most deeply felt piece of philosophical writing I read in college. Really great as a literary work and really great and influential as a piece of philosophy.

Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" doesn't hold up well at all but the essays are terrific and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" is basically a masterpiece.

What are your picks? Please add in comments!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Complaining about parenting is some sort of new trend

Hey I never got one of these:
Apparently, dadchelor parties are a thing. They’re pretty much like bachelor parties, except the person getting rowdy is about to be father, not a groom. A dude who recently attended one of these soirees called it a "farewell from the inner circle." They can also be called daddymoons and man-showers, and according to The Huffington Post, they’re becoming increasingly popular.
Actually that is a trend that I will believe when I see something other than some thinly sourced trend story about it, like for instance when I hear about one actual person doing it.

But here is a bona fide trend that really is sweeping the nation and with which I have actual first-hand experience: The trend of talking about this mock children's book Go the F--k to Sleep, which I certainly agree seems quite funny. People are posting it on Facebook, this Tom Scocca piece in New York Magazine considers its deep meaning and so does this Slate Culture Gabfest and so on.

I am not sure if Go the F--k to Sleep represents anything in particular about our culture's changing attitudes about parenting itself, but I do feel like there is something going on right now where openly complaining about how hard it is to be a parent is some sort of new frontier in anti-PC taboo-breaking.

I think of the comedy of Louis C.K., like this famous -- and actually groundbreaking and completely hilarious -- bit about how his 4-year-old daughter is an asshole:

No less a mainstream comedic voice than Tina Fey recently got in on the action, too, explaining that toddlers are total d-bags.

Really it is not so different from Bill Cosby calling his kids "brain damaged" or whatever, but it seems like a) there is a sharper edge on it in all of these examples and b) we are just seeing more of this sort of thing in general.

I like that the culture is now able to express some of the frustrations of parenting, but I am less sure that something like Go the F--k to Sleep is shattering any actual taboo. Maybe there was once a time -- probably before two-working-parent households were the norm -- when the culture thought only unrealistic happy thoughts about parenting and expressing negative feelings was truly something that just wasn't done. But this is not that time. In fact I wonder if the pendulum hasn't swung a bit far in the other direction, to the point that it's now more socially acceptable to talk about the frustrations and difficulties of parenting and it's somehow lame to talk about its joys.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Robert Mentzer (not me) getting married

An update to my essay about Robert Mentzers Around the World. I sent a link to the Robert Mentzer from Lebanon, Penn., and he wrote back in a Facebook message after he read the essay:
He is flattering me, I believe. Really nice guy. Enjoy married life, Robert Mentzer!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2666 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pretty massive and magnificent. Better than Savage Detectives? Not to me, although to be fair maybe it is sort of ridiculous to talk like that. 2666 is a weird, multifaceted universe unto itself. It has its own rules and its own gravity, and the sentences! Oh, man. What a work. It is weird and disjointed and sometimes drawn-out and repetitive but boy does it move, hopping from scholars' love triangle to police procedural and on and on, and every single character is fully human even if only sketched in a phrase or two. Very immersive experience, you just have to give yourself up to it and let the sentences flow around you.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

White rappers. Discuss.

Bit of an odd argument by Jon Caramanica in the NYT today that white rappers in 2011 are proving themselves authentic by acting as super-traditional historians of the form:
[W]hite rappers are commonplace, if not ubiquitous or especially influential. And a recent crop of albums and mixtapes by white rappers shows a new strategy. Where in the past, the way to avoid ruffling feathers was to lay no claim to hip-hop’s center, now it’s by looking backward, studying up and making unimpeachable choices. Who can argue with the path already taken?
Caramanica's chief examples to bolster this argument are a) NYC mixtape rapper Action Bronson, b) SNL joke-rappers the Lonely Island, and c) the Beastie Boys.

I see a small problem with calling the Beastie Boys neotraditionalists, which is that they are actual old-school rappers. Also I don't get what Lonely Island is doing in the piece at all. They are super-funny, but the way they are funny is by being basically pitch-perfect mimics of contemporary rap tropes. That seems nothing like what Caramanica is talking about at all. It sort of seems like the opposite.

And in fact, I can name two dozen indie rappers who are a) black and b) defined by their neotraditionalism. Action Bronson is not strange in this respect! The zealously formalist underground rapper is pretty much its own subgenre at this point, and it ain't racially coded.

Here is the bit of Caramanica's piece that seems exactly right:
Eminem was probably the last true foreigner, arriving at a moment when mainstream acceptance of hip-hop was on the rise, following a decade of Dr. Dre and Puff Daddy, Biggie Smalls and 2Pac. He was articulating the outsider experience just as a whole new wave of fans — white fans — were experiencing it themselves for the first time.

But Eminem’s success meant that they didn’t have to be outsiders anymore — they could listen in, and also participate at the highest levels. And it wouldn’t be disingenuous: hip-hop has been around long enough that most young people don’t know a life without it. Their connection to the music, even if it’s just via consumption, is sincere and unavoidable.

Eminem’s success obviated the need for new Eminems.
That's an interesting point! Maybe the better conclusion to draw from it, though, is that these days white rappers are just less weird all around. They exist in the underground, in the mainstream and in the genre-of-one that is the Lonely Island. And some are good (Yelawolf) and some are terrible (Asher Roth) and pretty much that is it.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Pale King is brilliant and annoying

An odd thing about The Pale King that I guess speaks well of it is the fact that, when I came to the end, I found the ending to be something of a letdown. But what else would it be? It's an unfinished novel -- "An Unfinished Novel" is the subtitle! Maybe I expected it to seem finished, or at least unfinished in a satisfying way. But it doesn't, so. Just so you know.

The Pale King, which is David Foster Wallace's final, unfinished novel, comprises a main narrative involving the IRS interspersed with smaller, semi-unrelated or totally unrelated short stories. One of these mini-stories quite near the beginning of the book, is sort of a perfect distillation of some major Wallace themes, about a middle-school boy who is so considerate and so well-adjusted and so good that everyone loathes him, and then feels guilty and confused about their loathing, which in turn drives them all even more insane around him. It is a perfect little piece. It is also something like 10 pages out of more than 500. If you are undecided about this book or about Wallace, I would advise you to go to Barnes & Noble and read that story, which is chapter 5, and maybe just leave it at that.

The thing about reading David Foster Wallace in general and certainly The Pale King in particular is that, not to put too fine a point on it, there are a lot of unnecessary words and pointless digressions. Part of the point of his prose style is to flatten consciousness out in this way that allows for endless recursive self-awareness. It is prose cubism, dramatizing the way we are all always experiencing a near-infinite number of things at once -- external stimuli like sights and smells, awareness of our bodies i.e. hunger or feeling warm, consciousness, consciousness-of-consciousness, memories, etc. etc. He's not wrong! But actually reading all of it can be, well, kind of annoying and tedious.

At times! Not all the time! Still, it is not a great situation when there are long sections of this book that you really don't actually need to read. And I don't think we can pin that on the unfinished manuscript's editor, Michael Pietsch, because the fact is that it is a problem in most of DFW's writing***.

This Slate write-up is a good one, and nails a) the quantum leap between Girl With Curious Hair and Infinite Jest and b) the reason Wallace is so appealing to lit nerds, which is that he is both totally native to the world of hyper-educated academia and also sort of impatient and dissatisfied with it. He's got the cred, and he also captures that feeling that there must be more than this. Not coincidentally, the fact that he's native to the world of graduate-school seminars is also why he inspires real hatred from some people, possibly/probably/obviously a function of intellectual status-anxiety. Luckily it is not necessary to be either a fanboy or a hater. You can be an admirer with reservations, which is what I advise.

But seriously. You try reading the first couple of pages of The Pale King and not having your knees buckle. Here is the way the novel opens:
Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb's-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spinecabbage, goldenrod ... all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother's soft hand on your cheek.
I mean, damn. (By the way, notice the echoes of the opening lines of Finnegan's Wake there. Pretty.) And that is just part of what you get with a work by Wallace: You argue with it and feel infuriated even as you also fall under its spell. It's writing that can repel you and then also make you feel very special and cared for. Undeniable and also kind of maddening.

Background: Here is me, soon after his death, on my relationship with David Foster Wallace. Here is a longish review of Consider the Lobster I wrote in 2006 for Stop Smiling.

*** This is kind of an aside, but I think there is a sly joke in the fact that, with only a couple of exceptions, the only sections of the book that have footnotes are those written in the voice of an author-stand-in character named David Wallace, who claims repeatedly to be speaking as the "real" Wallace, but isn't. Putting footnotes throughout these sections and only these sections is sort of a funny way to indirectly poke fun at his own reputation.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Golden Age of Television lasted from 2003-2006

I know every age is a golden age and every golden age is also a time of terrible, debased junk, but I have been watching The Killing and Game of Thrones and Mad Men, and I can tell you that they are fine/good but they're just not exciting the way premium TV used to be. Sorry to Justified and Dexter and Modern Family, but they simply aren't as good as the best shows on TV used to be.

So when was the Golden Age of Television? Let's take a look***:
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
  • Futurama (original run) (1999-2003)
  • Angel (1999-2004)
  • The West Wing (1999-2006)
  • The Sopranos (1999-2007)
  • The Wire (2002-2008)
  • Arrested Development (2003-2006)
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
  • Veronica Mars (2004-2007)
  • Deadwood (2004-2006)
  • Lost (2004-2010)
  • The Office (2005-present)
  • Heroes (2006-2010)
  • Mad Men (2007-present)
What this data doesn't capture, of course, is that not every one of these shows was amazing for the entire length of its run. It's not really clear, for example, how many seasons of The Office really count as classic, for example. Obviously only the first season of Heroes was any good. Others like The West Wing and The Sopranos started to get a little questionable in their late seasons. Even The Wire, painful as it is to admit, had a weak final season.

So I would offer that the sweet spot here is from about 2003 until about 2006, maybe 2007. After that these shows were either no longer on the air or else noticeably grasping at straws.

Why am I wrong?

*** Not on this list: The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien, all of which were making terrific television at the same time period. For that matter, there were also a number of great reality shows on at the same time. It's just easier for our purposes if we stick with scripted shows.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf HallWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Very brilliant and very long. The Thomas More plot is sort of oddly submerged for much of the book but the novel ends on Thomas More, making you wonder if that was the point of the whole thing. Also, this business of always referring to Cromwell as "he" forces the reader to constantly second-guess who exactly is speaking. Also, why is this book named for Jane Seymour's Wolf Hall?

Quibbles. It is as sharp as a novel can be. It throws you into its world and holds you there -- no winking at the present day, no sly reveals of the many massive historical ironies we all know are in store for Thomas Cromwell, the main character, who is followed from childhood.

The novel positions itself at the moment of a great shift (the great shift?) in European institutional powers, namely Henry VIII's split with the Catholic Church. Cromwell is the bureaucratic operator most responsible for making it happen -- a canny, self-preserving social climber, yes, but also a real reformer with clear eye for making changes happen. In that respect, More is a foil for Cromwell: More is the self-righteous ideologue, Cromwell the ultra-pragmatist. That both would eventually come to the same end is sort of a grim comment on the nature of power.

And while Wolf Hall invites you to read it as the anti-A Man for All Seasons, to me is feels a bit like a 16th-century The Wire -- a granular portrait of big, creaking institutions, corrupt and massively powerful compared to the puny individuals they chew through.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The latest of the books I have read into Laura's belly, to the evident delight of the baby, who squirms and kicks throughout reading time. He is right about this one: It is really good. I had not read it since high school, and it is fairly magnificent. It is also about a time in America when James Gatz from North Dakota could turn himself into the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby, a possibility that has come to seem remote to us today. Although, as American Lit. students will recall, even Gatsby did not ever quite succeed in turning himself into Gatsby. Thumbs up to this book from me and the baby, and from Laura, too, although she slept through a lot of it.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Inside Job burns with righteous moral fury

Probably the most devastating segment in Inside Job comes in the last third when it discusses the lucrative off-the-books consulting careers enjoyed by many (most?) major academic economists. Economists from top schools are paid not just for speaking engagements but actually to write (or sign their name to) actual economic studies pointing to a client's desired result, and they never even disclose it because there's no rule at Harvard or Princeton or wherever that says they need to.

In an interview with John Campbell, chairman of the Harvard Economics Department, filmmaker Charles Ferguson uses this analogy:
Ferguson: A medical researcher writes an article, saying 'To treat this disease, you should prescribe this drug. Turns out, doctor makes 80 percent of personal income from the manufacturer of this drug. Does that bother you?

Campbell: I think it's certainly important to disclose the, um. The, um. Well, I think that's also a little different from cases that we're talking about here because, um. Um.

So I am late to seeing Inside Job, but I am guessing that I am not the only one who waited for it to come to Netflix, so a few thoughts:
  • The film is suffused with righteous moral fury, but also intellectual rigor. It's the best kind of polemic, and seriously I do hope Michael Moore and Davis Guggenheim were taking notes.

  • Part of the reason that the exchange above, like the entire segment on the corruption of academic economics departments, is so effective is because it really does present some new information. Somehow cornering a big-time financial services lobbyist with questions about CEO pay and lobbying dollars spent, which the film also does, is just not as effective. Maybe it's not as shocking or satisfying because Crooked Lobbyist is a character out of central casting, and besides, the lobbying guy knows exactly what he's doing in the film: He's there to provide slick, weaselly answers to pointed questions about his clients. The academic guys, by contrast, are so arrogant as to actually be shocked that they're even being questioned in this way.

  • It seems like most of the movie is made out of airplane shots of the outside of buildings, and yet it is still visually pretty great. I think they must've shot their Manhattan cityscapes early in the morning or right at dusk, because the light is terrific.

  • I think the film's argument is correct and well-constructed. The housing bubble was driven by Wall Street instruments and the crash was the result of a completely deregulated industry grown to monstrous proportions. But still this one, nagging thing: Ordinary people benefited from the housing bubble, and while it was going on they loved the housing bubble. Remember home equity loans? Remember the concept of home-as-retirement-fund? Remember the television program "Flip This House"?

    Ferguson talks to exactly one homeowner, a Latina woman whose family was taken advantage of by rapacious, criminal predatory lenders. But there were hundreds of thousands of others who bought into the bogus idea that housing prices always go up and benefited from it.***
It is satisfying to see some of the people who were directly responsible for the bad economic theory that set the table for the crisis cornered on film. And it's telling to see the names of many, many others flashed across the screen with the perfunctory "declined to be interviewed for this film."

Of the questions that arise out of the 2008 collapse, here are some: Should more people have seen the 2008 collapse coming? Are we likely to see another cycle of bubble and collapse? Is last year's financial reform law likely to prevent the next crisis? With the swollen size of the financial services industry, is the government structurally likely to successfully recognize and head off such an event?

Inside Job asks these questions, or at least touches on them. But it seems to me that its main question is a somewhat simpler one. It is: Would the world be a better, fairer place if there were more accountability for the crooked Wall Street CEOs and the hack economists and the macho Type A traders and the government toadies who all, all together, failed us on an unprecedented scale? And the answer is, Yes, absolutely it would.

*** There is a Republican story about the financial collapse that blames it all on Jimmy Carter's Community Reinvestment Act and/or Fannie and Freddie. It is a false, pernicious, ridiculous story. And yet. Acknowledging the truth that derivatives run amok caused the financial crisis shouldn't mean denying that there was a sense in which even ordinary homeowners were in some ways complicit in creating the bubble. A bubble is a kind of mass delusion, and requires the participation of masses.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

15 Songs About Parenting

God willing, in a few months Laura and I will have a baby, a son. Today I came across the great Randy Newman song "Memo to My Son" and got to thinking about what were some other great songs about being a parent. Through a combination of Googling and also thinking about my own favorites, here is the playlist I came up with.

Lou Reed, "Beginning of a Great Adventure"
I love this one. Probably captures most closely the way I am feeling right at this moment -- anxious, excited, bemused, talking to myself a lot.

David Bowie, "Kooks"
So good.

Slick Rick, "It's a Boy"
Possibly my favorite new discovery of the day. Great music video includes a Lil Slick Rick, Lil Flavor Flav, Lil Kool Moe Dee and others! Rick the Ruler's take on parenting: "Hope I don't spoil a n**** rotten."

Talking Heads, "Stay Up Late"
Technically about being a sibling to a baby, I know. But so good that we're going to allow it.

Randy Newman, "Memo to My Son"
Wry, warm. Terrific.

Brad Paisley, "Anything Like Me"
About finding out that you are having a son. Ending of the song is a killer.

Loudon Wainwright III, "Daughter"
You remember this from the closing credits of "Knocked Up." Well, it's pretty great.

Harry Belafonte, "Turn Around"

Wu-Tang Clan, "Better Tomorrow"
Admittedly only partly about parenting. But the chorus -- "You can party your life away, smoke your life away/ but your seed grow up the same way" -- is definitely a way of thinking about how to be a parent.

Drive-By Truckers, "Outfit"

Lee Ann Womack, "I Hope You Dance"

Cat Stevens, "Father and Son"

The Coup, "Me and Jesus the Pimp in '79 Grenada Last Night"
Not a fathering manual, this one. Maybe this is a good example of what you should not do as a father. Less depressing: "Wear Clean Draws" by The Coup.

John Lennon, "Beautiful Boy"

Sade, "Babyfather"
Pretty gorgeous song with a terrific video.

Honorable mentions:
Tupac, "Letter 2 My Unborn" (good, but like everything Tupac did, it is really all about him); The Beatles, "Hey Jude" (seems parental, but too oblique -- a song Paul wrote for John's son); Paul Simon, "Graceland" (involves a father-son road trip, though its real theme seems to be lost love); several Eminem songs.

Extra credit: 3 Songs About Pregnancy
R. Kelly, "Having a Baby"
Safe to say no one but Kells could pull off the gonzo playacting of an entire pregnancy in an R&B song, culminating in shouts of "Push! Push!" Good God.

R. Kelly feat. The Dream, Tyrese and Robin Thicke, "Pregnant"
Basically just biting a Tracy Morgan joke, but funny anyway.

Ghostface Killah feat. Raheem DeVaughan, "Baby"

Leave your own favorite parenthood songs in the comments, though if anyone says "Cat's in the Cradle" you are totally fired.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish

How to Write a SentenceHow to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish

As a style guide, I'm not sure how much use it is. (I'm not sure it's not of use, either.) As a compendium of great sentences, it is a good time. My favorite unit of writing is the sentence, too, so I did enjoy these.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Valerie Strauss is not an expert on documentary films

Whoops. In a rush to gloat over the exclusion of Waiting for Superman from an Oscar nomination, Washington Post in-house anti-education reform propagandist Valerie Strauss makes a pretty embarrassing error today.

Strauss writes that the pro-reform documentary's Oscar snub was due to the Academy's discomfort with its "fake scenes":
The snub to Davis Guggenheim’s tendentious film was well-deserved, given that classic documentaries are factual and straightforward, and don’t, as did 'Superman,' fake scenes for emotional impact.
Right! We should applaud the academy voters for their rigid adherence to strict "classic documentary" values!

That's a fine way to score points on a political enemy, but anyone with even a passing familiarity with the films that were nominated knows that it makes no sense. I am pretty sure that Exit Through the Gift Shop was not nominated for how "factual and straightforward" it is.

Strauss hates Waiting for Superman. We get it. But her embarrassingly context-free, evidence-free gloating here does not inspire confidence in her ability to make a good-faith argument against the film -- or more to the point, against its message of reform.

P.S. ... On the actual merits of the "fake scenes" issue, you can read this NYT post and decide for yourself how serious an issue it is to you. To me it is not nothing -- I am with the Hoop Dreams producer quoted in the post -- and also not so troubling that I'd toss out the entire film.

P.P.S. ... By the way this response post Strauss links again today, "What Waiting for Superman got wrong, point by point" is breathtaking in its arrogance. I think every one of its points is simply an arguable proposition presented as a factual error. Annoying.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Week at the Airport by Alain de Botton

A Week At The Airport: A Heathrow DiaryA Week At The Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton

Neat little essay and a gorgeous paperback, even if it does not, for me, quite put get to what it is that makes airports the weirdest and most confounding of public spaces. But it's good, though, with neatly drawn scenes and observations about the travelers and the workers who make Heathrow go. And the color photographs set throughout the text are wonderful.

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Resolutions, 2011

10. Get freelance work.***

9. Finish 2666.
This will be easy because it is freaking awesome and I am already 350 pages in. But it is very long, and I’m always reading more than one thing, so I am making it a resolution. Also, I sort of feel like this must be completed before June 17.

8. Make more audio stories.***

7. Continue to write fiction and send stories to literary journals.
I would say “get something published,” but I have been out of the game for a long time. A subcategory of this resolution would be something like “Get familiar with the universe of literary journals, especially online literary journals.”

6. Lose weight.***
This time I have a goal in mind.

5. Find fun and interesting ways to use the Flip camera I got for Christmas.

4. Make my website ( into something other than the frontpage it is now.
The problem is I don't really know what I want it to be. So this one could be a challenge.

3. Write more emails.
I miss email.

2. Floss.

1. Become a father. Be a good husband and father.

***Denotes also a resolution in 2010.