Saturday, April 29, 2006
Click here and listen to Neil Young's new album "Living With War." Right now.
I don't care if you're not a fan. Your last five years of pain have been released. Music has never been so cathartic.
Click the link and turn up your speakers. Loud.
This will keep me up all night.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Scandal-plagued Republican Rep. John Sweeney recently unveiled an excellent new campaign tactic -- getting drunk in a college town and showing up at a frat party.
Maybe I'm jaded by overmanaged politicians, but I find this kindasorta likeable.
I mean, not every day. Not by a president, a defense secretary, or a secretary of state, because those fuckers either have a finger on the button, or could get called in the middle of the night by Vladimir Putin. But by a member of Congress from upstate New York? Once in awhile? Maybe the world would be a better place if Congressmen spent more time drinking with frat boys.
So long as they're not date-raping, fancy, pretty-boy frat boys -- the kind that like SoCo and lime ads and gangbang a Tri Delt only to deny the inherent homoeroticism.
Congressmen should only party with the dirty-cap, beer-pong frat boys who throw shit off the roof and listen to the 2006 equivalent of DMB.
Here's how the incident was reported in Union College's student newspaper, The Concordiensis:
The New York politician was barraged with a multitude of political questions and lighthearted comments from Union students when he arrived at the party. His attitude was described as cordial, and Sweeney was observed joking around with the students, sometimes even using profanity. It was reported that one student approached the Congressman with drug paraphernalia and asked to take a picture. The Congressman refused.Refused? I once refused such an offer from Marc Price, who played Skippy on TV's Family Ties. To this day, it's my deepest regret.
But blogging over at TPM Muckraker, writer Fusty O'Crustyman observes:
A reportedly inebriated Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) took a break from kissing babies last Friday to hug some frat boys. I wonder if they're of drinking age?Clearly, O'Crustyman never went to college. And never enjoyed himself. Ever.
There are too many lame-ass, churchy, bug-up-the-ass Republicans. I want more P.J. O'Rourke and Andy Ferguson Republicans. Dudes with gin blossoms and stories about blacking out in the '70s. Those are people we can work with.
John Sweeney is a dumbass for different reasons. To all of the Fusty O'Crustymans sneering at this -- we've got a war on, assholes, and enough corrupt cronyism to make a member of the Politburo blush. No need to bash on a dude who's hanging out with real people and reliving better days. Hopefully, he remembered to shout, "I am a golden god!" before belly flopping into a kiddie pool filled with beer.
Drink up, John Sweeney. We'll fight it out in the morning over black coffee and fried eggs.
Flop adds: We also discussed possible uses for air horns and wheelchairs at a friend's (purely hypothetical) wedding; discussed the quality of relief pitching in Hillsborough County, Florida; and deplored efforts to make fans sit down and quietly watch sporting events, wherever they may be.
I also just realized that St. Petersburg is in Pinellas County. This shouldn't bug me but it totally does. Please don't tell anyone at EDSBS.
CrimeNotes amends: I believe the airhorn use was targeted toward New Year's parties. The wheelchair routine synchronized to Blondie is for wedding purposes.
I also suspect EDSBS has much bigger fish to fry than our retarded knowledge of Florida counties and their relief pitchers.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
At this time of night, Baby might not like it if you poke, prod or shove him. He'll probably respond with his favorite piece of dialogue from Rainman: "Hot water burns Baby."
Baby doesn't take his cell phone to work. He already struggles to remember his keys, wallet and iPod. Throwing a cell phone into the mix will only mean one thing: a lost cell phone.
Baby doesn't like personal calls at work to begin with. That's why we have e-mail. Baby has to keep his head in the game. One phone call, and a productive afternoon morphs into a free hour at high school. As much as Baby likes to get silly on the weekend, he also needs to be an intense bad-ass at work. Baby will not react well when you call to tell him a funny story or try to get him to go out for a beer after work. His reaction will be similar to a hyena interrupted in the middle of tearing into a wildebeest carcus. That's one fierce Baby!
Speaking of which, Baby almost never drinks on weeknights. Not even two or three. Because he'll still wake up with just a little of that hoppy paste in his mouth, and feel dry enough that he'll want to drink a little extra juice or water before heading out. This will fuck up Baby's entire day. Baby's morning priorities are limited: sleep in as late as possible and still get into work at a reasonable hour. Hence, Baby shaves before bedtime, leaps up at 9 a.m., runs into the shower, pounds some orange juice, brushes his precious baby teeth, and runs out the door. Hopefully, he remembers everything. Maybe he won't. If Baby's too slow, he'll be even grumpier. He'll rub his precious baby eyes and not want to go out in the world at the outrageously early hour of 9:25 a.m. Baby will blame himself, and he'll blame you.
Thanks for the invitation, though. Maybe I'll meet up and guzzle some Sprite.
Monday, April 24, 2006
First, the excellent Dahlia Lithwick at Slate writes about how the Duke lacrosse story has tapped into people's ids and personal agendas. Her attitude about the attorneys' spin is appropriately skeptical:
One might hope that all this evidence, and the unambiguous legal charges, would lead to reasonable legal inferences and unequivocal legal conclusions. But that is where we'd be dead wrong. Because the so-called objective "evidence" currently being meticulously weighed and evaluated by the media is no more "objective" or "conclusive" than the rank speculation by the pundits. Everything we are hearing about the DNA tests and the photos is selective, secondhand, and anecdotal. We are being played by the lawyers, with leaks and well-chosen sound bites.Less convincingly, Slate's Jack Shafer questions whether the Times has been biased against the lacrosse players. Idiotically, he thinks that press coverage should closely mimic the rules of evidence and burdens of proof of a courtroom.
The fairness of a trial-by-newspaper, of course, depends on how closely a news organization apes the practices of official courts. Fairness requires it to consider not only the statements and evidence of the accuser, but that of the accused, no matter how heinous the charge. By that measure, the New York Times has failed the two Duke University lacrosse players who were indicted Tuesday of raping a woman during a party in an off-campus house on March 13.In other Times news: if Flop and I were continuing our beloved (reviled?) scorched-earth policy toward that paper's Styles sections, this week's would have been a killer. First came an appalling story about a new crop of tux-wearing Manhattan male socialites -- sexually ambiguous (or apparently, non-threatening) dudes who take rich ladies to charity benefits. It's a story relevant to fewer than 1,000 people, and wasted the Times's precious column inches with this shit:
Male socialites enjoy playing the same game women traditionally have, seeking the limelight at charity galas, parties for new perfumes and store openings. Some men are even dressed by designers, lent free clothing for their public strut, an ancient measure of whether a socialite has truly arrived.The Russian Revolution happened for less. To the barricades!
On Sunday I also received an outraged e-mail from Flop, who thought it was misogynist that the Styles section featured a piece about ladies who don't like the NFL draft but put up with it. Horrible and stupid, but I experience the same thing whenever a new season of Entourage airs, so I'm not too exercised.
Today, however, the Times's review of a play called The History Boys was sufficiently interesting that I immediately bought two tickets. I'm not much of a theater guy -- once or twice a year, usually when a friend has a spare ticket -- but two-and-a-half hours about academic jealousy and the right approach to teaching history? I'm there. This proves that I'm much more boring sober than drunk.
The Hold Steady's fall release is no longer my most anticipated album of the year: Hello, Neil Young's Living With War. The album will be available for streaming and download in early May, with CD sales breaking shortly thereafter. I'm not unbiased. I follow Neil Young the way a creationist follows a school board meeting. This time, it's extra-special.
On my bookshelf I've got a collection of Rolling Stone articles about Neil. The magazine makes itself required reading with a kick-ass cover story by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. Wilentz puts forth a careful case for why George W. Bush may be the worst president in U.S. history. It will be hard to knock James Buchanan off that hill, but Wilentz (whose recent book The Rise of American Democracy is on my summer reading list) is pretty persuasive:
Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance.In Vanity Fair, Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein lays out the case for why a bi-partisan impeachment proceeding is necessary. Right away:
The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of policy—used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed.
Friday, April 21, 2006
I've had plenty of blog stuff I wanted to post, but time (and a balky laptop) have foiled me. So I present to you a brief look at what I've been up to in the past week.
- My Easter Sunday consisted of 5:30 mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, then a cheesburger and a pint of Harp at Baker Street pub. Was this how a resurrection really feels? I wouldn't know, but it certainly made my day.
- I went to the Mets game on Monday with a friend who is a lifelong fan. In his honor, and because I couldn't find my Indians cap, I sported my Mets one. Put me on the bandwagon with everyone else. I saw Pedro get his 200th win along with 36,000 or so other fans who were as loud and boisterous as I've ever seen fans at Shea. I've never been part of such a happy crowd at any New York sporting event. There's a real optimism amongst the Mets' fan base this year. Also, just tonight Julio Franco, a player whose distinctive batting stance I used to emulate when playing Wiffle Ball in my friends' back yard, became the oldest player to homer in the big leagues. And Kaz Matsui homered in his first at-bat of the season. For the third time in a row. This one was an inside-the-park job. I know the airliners make Crimenotes into an independent, omnidirectional, inscrutable, moss-repellent, roughly spherical object, but how can you not like this team?
- Tuesday and Wednesday were spent doing stuff that's in the part of my life kept separate from the blog, but I can tell you this much -- I wore out the needle on my iPod listening to my favorite new band, The Black Keys. I downloaded their most recent album "Rubber Factory" (they're from Akron, Ohio) on the recommendation of a friend who basically threatened to terminate our friendship of 12-plus years if I didn't buy it. Having listeend to it about 10 times in less than a week, I have to say he'd have been justified. Think the White Stripes with, you know, actual other instruments, plus about 100 percent less preening. It's blues-based rock and/or roll, and I can't get enough. At one point, I was thinking to myself how clear it was that these guys grew up listening to the equivalent of 98.5 WNCX and 97.5 WONE, the two classic rock stations in Cleveland. Then I remembered: They did. And they took all the right lessons to heart, letting the Bad Company and the Eagles and all that other shit go in one ear and out the other. These guys might become to me what The Hold Steady is to C-notes. Or I might choose the path of sanity. It's too soon to tell.
- Speaking of Akron's contributions to my happiness, let's discuss LeBron James and the NBA playoffs. Wait, no. Let's not. I want to savor the anticipation for a while. I'll report back after watching him in action.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
This has some unhealthy results: I wish I had more Republican friends, because most of my political conversations are an echo chamber. Other results of this are much more troublesome: Hello, residential segregation!
But on the day-to-day points I appreciate that it's been more than a decade since I heard someone talk about their outfit, tried to get me to church, or asked what the State Department is.
Not so with blogs. It's easy to stumble across a site that wasn't meant for you, leave an anonymous comment, and generally piss off a bunch of strangers. This has been happening at the apolitical Neil Young site Thrasher's Wheat, where Neil's fans find themselves stuck in the trenches in an invasion of right-wing psychos. Ourselves, we've had comments from an Etros shirt enthusiast, and some random who implied that he wanted to fight me, then shoot me. (That one got deleted before commentor Evil Girl started a brawl in the comments.)
Gawker recently linked to a proudly sophomoric sports-oriented site, The Realests, announcing that one of their gross-out posts sucked. The post won't be mistaken for Becker-Posner, and includes pictures of feces and a used condom. If Flop tried that kind of thing on here, Cole Slaw Blog would confront the biggest schism since the Protestant Reformation. Nothing indicated that the post was intended for Gawker's audience, but there's no reason to think that Gawker linking to it or disapproving was objectionable. Anybody can link to anything. If my posts here were meant for private consumption, I'd write them out in longhand and then burn the paper.
After Gawker linked to the Realests, the fun got started. Appropriately, the Realests took aim at Gawker:
First of all, their comedy is supposed to be biting, but instead just comes off as bitching. The site seems to be run by a brat that wishes she was an heiress and some dude that tried to bring attention on himself by writing "controversial" columns for his school paper.All told, that critique is mild. Certainly less ferocious than Gawker deserves.
What made this episode so interesting were all the comments from people who were outraged (outraged!) that these guys had the nerve to criticize Gawker and its half-baked proprietors. In the grand teleology of outrage inspirations, this is a little like being outraged (outraged!) when a Dixie Chick says something mean about George W. Bush. Compared to Gawker, a site like The Realests doesn't have a lot of power. It's not like a little trash talk is going to destroy the Gawker empire. Presumably, if these guys don't care for Gawker's repetitive, all-hating schtick, they don't want to be linked by Gawker again.
But the level of indignation in the comments left by the Gawkerites was still startling. Borderline Manchurian Candidate.
This leads to an observation: Some number of Gawker's readers have been treated badly for their entire lives. Gawker has empowered their misery. Any criticism of it (no matter how mild) appears to be outrageous, and blows their fucking minds. Craving attention and affirmation, they mistake Gawker's insults as compliments. So what do they do? They go to a site that clearly wasn't intended for Gawker's audience and sputter around in a mess of indignation and contempt.
Don't mistake this post as being about me taking aim at Gawker. Although I regard the site with the blend of exhaustion and contempt that I normally reserve for George W. Bush and Leeza Gibbons, I know that (like Bush and Gibbons) Gawker isn't for me, and is probably unstoppable anyway. I'd rather focus my critical faculties on institutions that matter, like The New York Times, the Supreme Court, and the Duke lacrosse team. If it weren't for the zombie commentors, I never would have brought this up.
There's also a little illustration about what happens when people who aren't meant to be together are forced into proximity. Gawker's world of celebrity cocksucking is as far removed from The Realests as Flop and I are from the line outside Spice Market. I mean, there are reasons why, back in high school, the captain of the wrestling team probably didn't hang with the marching band. That's not a value judgment, it's just a fact. Not many trombone players enjoy the nelson hold.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Why is it my inclination to be so hostile toward the defendants? At first, it was because the allegations were so heinous, and they sounded in character. Most of us who attended universities with majors sports programs at some point brushed up against these kinds of cultures, even if obliquely. The allegations are sort of the worst-case projection of what those kinds of guys are like. A few years back I read a book by Bernard Lefkowitz called Our Guys, which depicted the criminal investigation into a similar incident among wealthy high school athletes. These allegations had (and have) the ring of truth.
They didn't subsequently help their case by behaving in a way that spoke to secrecy and entitlement. Assuming that nothing fishy happened here, and their knee-jerk reaction was to dismiss the allegations as insanity, 48 hours into the case it should have been clear to their parents and attorneys that this wasn't the time for righteous indignation. Somehow, the lawyers representing these guys continue to make press statements that border on inflammatory. Consider the following quote from Collin Finnerty's attorney:
"It's just mind-boggling," Osborn said. "In my 32 years of experience, it's just hard to believe that anything like this [the felony charges] could happen."Here's what a more press-savvy lawyer would have said:
"We are of course disappointed that these felony charges have been brought, and are confident that they are without merit. I look forward to clearing Mr. Finnerty's name and proving that he has no relation to these truly horrifying allegations."See? Much easier, much less inflammatory, as well as clearer, concrete, and unemotional.
Aren't they innocent until proven guilty? Yeah, of course -- although I wish you luck in finding that phrase in the Constitution. Like everyone, I'm just taking in the information and giving it my best guess.
What about the lack of DNA evidence and the receipts and records that establish an alibi? This is all coming from the defense attorneys. These are risky statements. For their clients' sakes, these representations better be ironclad. I've also got to think that unless this DA is completely abusive of his power, he's got evidence that's more solid than what he's showing in the press. It's possible that he's playing to the media and his constituents, but indicting these two guys for political reasons would be the worst kind of evil, as well as potentially ruinous to his career. For pragmatic reasons, I'll guess he's got a trump card.
You just hate rich kids. Oh, hell yes, but I still think they should be treated fairly. It's tough to understand why these guys were indicted if there isn't something solid to back it up.
Yet you like Duke people. I can't think of a single person I know who went there that I dislike. I feel bad for the school. If this happened to my university, I'd be devastated.
Where is this headed? The new O.J. Apparently, everything is a battle in the culture wars. Check out Media Matters to see how this shit's getting handled on right-wing radio. Michael Savage, for example:
The Durham dirt-bag case disgusts me to my core. Here, you have a drunken slut stripping whore accusing men of raping her when there is absolutely no evidence of such a rape other than what comes out of that filthy mouth of hers.Classy.
Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson is pledging to fund the college tuition of the alleged victim. That'll turn out to be a great move if, in the end, she's a liar. But it's been a few years since the Tawana Brawley disaster, so what the hell.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Malachi from Children of the Corn ...
... Flying Tomato Shaun White ...
... and Blue Devil gay-beater and accused rapist Collin Finnerty.
See? Same haircuts and roughly similar facial features. At first I thought they should get together for a sitcom, perhaps playing three half-brothers who find out that they have the same sperm-donor father. They room together as freshmen at U.C.-Davis, and hijinks ensue.
Now I'm thinking they should cut out the middleman and go the reality TV route.
While the Times reports today that Hurricane Katrina evacuees have suffered disproportionate problems with their physical and mental health, a group of so-called "Katrina Kids" performed a crazed hymn praising President Bush and FEMA at the White House Easter Egg Roll last weekend. The lyrics, via Think Progress:
Our country’s stood beside us
People have sent us aid.
Katrina could not stop us, our hopes will never fade.
Congress, Bush and FEMA
People across our land
Together have come to rebuild us and we join them hand-in-hand!
Monday, April 17, 2006
I'll keep it short. A few weeks back, I read a breezy book called The Know It All, by A.J. Jacobs, an autobiographical account about a gregarious and neurotic man's effort to read the Encyclopedia Britannica, and in the process, make sense of his life. It's a truly fun read -- laugh-out-loud funny, much more light and chipper than my usual fare. Read it and you'll feel happy.
Exhausted by A.J. Jacobs's good cheer, I changed directions and read Orhan Pamuk's Snow, a novel about Islamic fundamentalism and state-imposed liberalism in Turkey. It's tremendous. Having read Snow and Marjan Satrapi's Persepolis books, I've concluded that fiction in translation is the only way I'll understand the thinking of people who live in that part of the world.
Keeping with a theme, I then read The End of Faith, Sam Harris's searing indictment of religion -- Islam in particular, but Christianity takes quite the pounding as well. Won't get into the details, but if you want to jump into the void, join the Easter backlash, and do some thinking about the immorality of pacifism and where contemporary standards of tolerance have led us, I highly recommend it.
Less so, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, which makes an argument on behalf of more scientific and empirical inquiry into the biological impulses behind religious belief. I buy the thesis, but in contrast with Harris, Dennett is so concerned about offending the faithful that he never lands the plane. His good arguments get lost in constant hedging and qualification.
In the last couple of weeks I've gone on a book-buying binge. This happens every so often. I buy much more than I'll digest in the near term, knowing I'll get around to reading them eventually. Here's a preliminary summer reading list:
- Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea
- Michael R. Gordon and Bernard Trainer, Cobra II
- Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: The Republican Revolution & the Erosion of American Democracy
- Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire
- Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
- Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
- Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
- Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy
- Sara Vowell, Assassination Vacation
- Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy
An outsider, Tom Townshend, enters the group. Tom Townshend teeters between his distaste for the trappings of privilege and the comfort of hanging out with a group of people who are too nice to resist. He's from the Upper West Side, which is a reason for concern. Claiming to reject debutante balls and everything they symbolize, he politely espouses utopian socialism and the writings of Charles Fourier. Brook Farm, he insists, was not a failure: it merely ceased to exist, and if your definition of failure is ceasing to exist, all people are failures by definition. Gradually, though, he assimilates. The sweetest and kindest of the girls, Audrey Rouget, falls for him, while others question Tom's sincerity. Only the worst kind of hypocrite, they argue, could both despise the debutante season and attend the balls, not to mention the confused status of his relationship with notorious boarding school vixen Serena Slocum.
Metropolitan couldn't have been further removed from my own life, but I loved it. When I read last week that the Criterion Collection had issued a new DVD of the movie, I ran to J&R, and spent a good part of Friday night dreaming at my TV. It's a rare movie that convincingly depicts how friendships develop; here, it comes with a highly specific backdrop (New York's debutante season) that serves as a platform for the universal (what's the tradeoff between sticking to your ideals while seeking happiness?).
I was happy to see how well Metropolitan has aged, and how much of it has stayed with me. Although I've probably seen it 20 times, it had been awhile. Probably four or five years. It was still there, better than ever.
But this time, it was poignant. Though I've recently read on this site about how love multiplies, and I'm about to enter confessional territory, we're not going to be one of those sites about personal lives and emotions, because those things are for girls, and they're boring to boot. And this shouldn't be mistaken as self-pity so much as a rare moment of self-reflection triggered by a charming and sentimental movie. What was so striking about seeing Metropolitan this time was watching it and realizing that what's kept me interested in this movie for so many years wasn't just its hyper-articulate dialogue or the voyeur's peek into a faded world of WASP privilege, but Tom Townshend's endless ambivalence and displacement.
Like Tom, I'm always a half-step of the rhythm, generally slightly befuddled by the things that keep everyone else going. Like Tom, when the conversation turns to salacious gossip or emotional conversation, I'd rather step away from the group and have a conversation about the last book I read. Frequently, my befuddlement at human frailty leads to bruised feelings -- another strand that runs through the movie. I never know when I'm an anthropologist and when I'm a participant.
Sixteen years after falling in love with it, at a time when I lived in the middle of the woods and didn't know what the Upper East Side was, I've now figured out why I love a movie about a bunch of rich kids who go to deb parties and dread a future of downward mobility.
Friday, April 14, 2006
I decided to make my transcontinental trip into a mini-vacation. So I stopped to see a former work friend in Denver on the way to California, then planned time after the wedding to spend with college friends who live in Los Angeles. Everywhere I went, I was with good friends who were in different stages of relationships, but unmistakably part of a couple nonetheless.
In Denver, my friend's new boyfriend let my drunk ass (stupid altitude always gets me) sit on his counter and eat Del Taco, then crash in his spare bedroom. At the wedding reception, my friend's wife entertained the girl I was been talking to while I avoided disaster by retrieving the lost key to the room I was sharing with three other guests. And the next day when I stayed with a college friend in Los Angeles, his girlfriend made up the couch for me with sheets and everything, left me a towel in the bathroom and generally made me feel as if I'd made her day by showing up, unshaven and slightly hung over on a Sunday afternoon.
Now, my friends would have done that for me, too. But that's what was so cool about this. In the first case, I'd met my friend's boyfriend earlier that night. The other two, I've met only a handful of times. And yet, all three treated me like I imagine they'd treat their own best friend, too. And I'm pretty sure that's how my friends treat the close friends of their significant others.
Not to be cheesy, but it was like love multiplied. It's as if I have twice the friends now. I found the whole thing was completely inspiring. My friends, as well as their new boyfriend, live-in girlfriend and wife, all make me want to be a better person.
Virgin territory for a high school movie, but not in film at large. I'm not enough of a movie geek that I've sat down and watched the black-and-white noir classics that are Brick's inspiration. The only film noir I've seen have been homages like The Grifters, L.A. Confidential, and Chinatown. And while Brick is not as great as those movies, the wit and novelty of its high school setting make it as pleasurable.
The plot of the movie unfolds so tightly and convincingly that it wouldn't be right to spoil the fun. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a character named Brendan, who has the hardboiled manners of Chinatown's Jake Gittes and the deductive skills of Encyclopedia Brown. At the start of the movie, his ex-girlfriend Emily finds herself in trouble, and after tapping the advice of his plugged-in sidekick The Brain, Brendan sets to work saving the girl.
This is not as cute as it sounds. I found myself thinking about L.A. Confidential, but also the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple the high school underworld of Twin Peaks. Aside from the hard-boiled, anachronistic, but effective dialogue, the movie doesn't wink. There aren't inside jokes, the cast isn't as pretty as The O.C., and the delivery doesn't come with a whiff of parody.
James Wolcott recently wrote about how audiences and movie reviewers don't often notice high quality performance in movies. People are blinded by celebrity. But this is a movie that wouldn't have been workable without its pitch-perfect performances, particularly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's a long way from Third Rock, but everything about his work here is persuasive. The hard-boiled, slang-filled dialogue rolls off his tongue as smoothly as if he were Humphrey Bogart.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
- How Iran could have nukes in 16 days.
- How puppies are smuggled from Mexico.
- How drivers sometimes don't stop for school buses.
And don't get me started on how media outlets need to apologize for reporting about what and when President Bush knew about the phony bioweapons trailers. Or even about the way the Vice-President's shitty reception at RFK stadium was soft-soaped by the obsequious careerists in the White House press corps.
Enough. Enough of the bullshit. I'm going outside to enjoy a world in which the United States is not (yet) a country that launches nuclear wars. You'll notice I didn't link to any stories. That's part laziness and part because if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you too, gentle reader, need to turn off CNN and start paying attention to the world around you. Of course, most CSB readers are exceedingly well-informed, so I'm not worried about the latter.
Also, I promise tales from my journey out West soon.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Taylor is resigning from his commenting gig, and EDSBS sends him out in style:
To Aaron Taylor fans: A Valediction Against Mourning.
Thy call from television screen
Did rattle the tables and chairs;
The eight-buttoned suits and bald pate sheen
Did afright the eyes and ee-yars.
Thy mouth was ere slight askew;
Comments, cliched and hoary.
Thy waistline, waxing, grew and grew;
Your feature pieces: wan and bore-y.
So lunkheaded Aaron, we bid you well
In life’s great frothing pool;
Should education prove to be hell
You’ve always got law school.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday, "Defiant statements and actions only further isolate the regime from the rest of the world.""This is a regime that needs to be building confidence with the international community," McClellan said. "Instead, they're moving in the wrong direction."
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
In the remainder of my spare time, I've been thinking about Iran. Speaking of which, this post at Billmon's Whiskey Bar is an example of blogging (and writing) at its finest. Every so often I come across a blog post that renews my faith in the ideals of the internet. This is one of those times. (See? Strident!)
Anyway, we're inching into that time of year. As the weather turns, a young man's fancies turn to other things: drinking outside, being drunk outside, walking around drunk, and watching other drunk people. Silly season is around the corner, so enjoy this sobriety while it lasts.
Monday, April 10, 2006
- Lawyers for the Duke lacrosse players say that there's no DNA match with the victim. If these guys turn out to be innocent and the crime never happened, all the better for everyone involved. The episode would still go down as a case study in institutional arrogance and how not to come clean.
- I recently shredded the Times's website redesign. I don't take it back, but some of my bigger gripes have been ironed out. The site has featured better photos, the headline in the lead story has been in a bigger and bolder typeface, and it's doing a better job putting together its multimedia package. Still think it's a jumbled mess, but some of the biggest, most easily remedied headaches have been addressed.
- For the first few months of this site's life, we regularly shredded the hell out of the New York Times styles sections. The problem with this project? Having to read the Times styles sections. Try it. It's made me even more bitter and crotchety -- as if that's even possible. Yet again, we were ahead of the curve where The New Republic is concerned, as the venerable publication currently features a head-to-toe critique of the Times's nosedive into conspicuous consumption. Alex Kuczynski gets plenty of discussion, and it's not pretty.
- You've heard about Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article about a U.S. attack on Iran. Now, go read it. It's chilling. Here's a taste: "A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was 'absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb' if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do 'what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,' and 'that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.'"
- Someday, I'll revisit John Roberts and Sam Alito. But not tonight.
- Why the hell am I so absorbed in the Italian elections?
- And why the hell has The Sopranos been so good this year?
Saturday, April 08, 2006
I don't write about them because I'm trying to prove a point; I write about them because I can't help it.
I also know that when I write about them, I repeat every superlative in the dictionary and compare them to every band in the history of rock. I can't help that, either.
Last night was something like a rapture. It was the fourth time I've seen them, and by far the best. Craig Finn was more sober than in previous appearance. Hate to sound prudish, but it showed, in a good way. The lyrics were totally clear, lucid, and in sync with the band. I love the hard-drinking, unselfconscious bar band persona, but what I saw last night was more poised and professional. It was a show to convert the skeptics. Warsaw was crowded and the front third of the audience was berzerk. Forty-year-olds who looked like they could be your boss slam danced with NYU kids. I didn't see a single dumbass pull out a camera phone or a digital camera. It was the crowd of my dreams.
The Hold Steady came home to New York after a tour of the South and of Australia. Whatever happened in these legs, the band seemed cockier, more polished, and more energized. I may have spent my credibility by repeatedly declaring their greatness, but last night they were even greater.
Sprinkled between the high points from "Separation Sunday" and "Almost Killed Me," they tested out some songs from a planned fall release. Their new songs are, in a word, spectacular. The Book of Revelations undertones from "Separation Sunday" have been traded in for tones that are less fire and brimstone.
I'm going to talk about one song in particular. Somewhere in the ether, there is an ideal platonic Bruce Springsteen song, and somewhere else, there is an ideal platonic Billy Joel song, neither of which exist in real life. On their new album, The Hold Steady will have a song called "Stuck Between Stations" that is those songs -- the Springsteen and Billy Joel that never existed, but should. It's a story about the poet John Berryman. Any song that pays tribute to On the Road, the Golden Gophers, and a celebrated American poet is going to be intriguing; what I can't do justice is the sweep and the sweetness of the sound. You can find an mp3 of "Stuck Between Stations" played acoustically on Bows Plus Arrows. It's a nice version, but it doesn't give you a glimpse of the song's grandeur; it's a pencil sketch of a Rembrandt, but for now, it'll do. I'm giddy right now so I don't trust myself; I want to call it one of the great songs of our lifetime, but in retrospect, I'm sure that judgment will embarrass me.
Here's an interesting post about the group's use of religious themes. As loyal commentor Crunk Raconteur mentioned in response to my previous post, Boston College's alumni magazine printed an excellent article about Craig Finn. (Why can't my alumni magazine be that good?) And their new album is supposed to be out in the fall. You'll be hearing more about this from me, but I'm only doing it out of love.
So: yes. Last night's Hold Steady show at Warsaw was one of the most mindblowing music experiences I've ever had. I have photos, snapped wildly over the flailing hands of everyone around me. Some of them may show the edge of the mosh pit that formed or perhaps some of the crowd-surfing. Mostly they show Craig Finn screaming, jumping up and down, dancing wildly, and generally electrified into the realm of what can only really be called rock ecstasy. There is no way to adequately describe the charisma of Craig Finn. It is awesomely beyond description. It was a joy to watch him, a joy to watch him completely feeling the joy of the audience watching him, just joy all around.
... It was great to be a part of this massive live crowd of people chanting out the lyrics to the Separation Sunday songs; it was equally great to let the raucous semi-coherence of the new material wash over me.
This is less of a write-up than an attempt to commit some of the experience to a lasting medium.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Some video of the group rocking out acoustically is available here.
The L.A. Times ran a lengthy piece about The Hold Steady a few weeks back. Among other things, we learn that Craig Finn, the moving force behind the band, was motivated to start the group after screening The Last Waltz. This thrilled me, as The Last Waltz is one of my favorite movies, and certainly my favorite concert film. Noted Finn:
Just another reason to love these guys.
"My wife took me to see 'The Last Waltz,' " he recalled. "I thought, 'These guys are playing music, they're listening to each other and they're hearing each other and reacting off that, and they're loose and it's cool and they're taking chances.' "It struck Finn and Kubler as an invigorating alternative to what they saw as the sterility of the disco-punk sound that was so big in New York.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
- If you didn't see John Stewart's awesome-ass interview with John McCain, there's some video up at Crooks & Liars.
- Also, enjoy some leaked audio of MSNBC attack poodle Chris Matthews fawning over Tom Delay.
- For some good political bile, a diarist at Daily Kos is wildly displeased with Rep. Cynthia McKinney.
- Apparently, terrorists love The Clash and Zep.
- After all that seriousness, don't you think that this is cute? Supercute? CUTE!
- The football-obsessed Florida alumni who run Every Day Should Be Saturday are pleased that their basketball team won the national championship, but only marginally pleased:
[A]s far as satisfying the bunker-dwelling beast of football lust in your soul, it's like any of the following.
–a hand job when you need sex.
–Rutgers versus West Virginia in local coverage when Texas/Oklahoma is on. (Actually happened in 2005 on ABC in the 404. May God damn you all.)
–Allowing your niece or nephew to pick a song on the radio, landing on "S.O.S." by Rhianna, and finding yourself singing along with a three year-old and a toss-off British pop star.
- MZone, of the Colin Cowherd Controversy, looks at the best in alumni-themed architecture. Here's a teaser:
- Much as I dislike linking to Gawker, they've also noticed the unhappy juxtapositions in the Times's online video tease.
Maybe I've just met the good ones, but Duke is one of those schools -- like Berkeley, Dartmouth, and NYU Law -- that I don't have any connection to but feel warmly about. No fancy reason, they just produced good people who love their schools as much as I love mine.
Nonetheless, today Duke is the most disgusting institution in America. The underlying lacrosse horror is bad enough, but the university administration doesn't give any indication that it knows it's in the center of a race-and-class shitstorm. As with any Washington scandal, it looks like the head honchos are circling the wagons and taking small steps in hopes of placating the critics.
If I were a Duke alumnus, I'd be pissed; if I were a Duke senior, I'd be outraged. And if I lived in the surrounding neighborhoods, I'd be gathering the torches and pitchforks.
Lastly, here's a good rule of thumb. It equally applies to politicians, gang-raping frat guys, and sixth graders. Whenever a person's rallying cry to the public is "Innocent until proven guilty," instead of, "Hey, I'm innocent, and I'll prove it to everyone," it's safe to assume that this person has screwed up.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Mostly, though, it looks like dump.
The problem isn't just that people are resistant to change. The problem is that the Times website has been redesigned by half-blind coked-up teenagers.
Instructions: To fully enjoy this exercise, I recommend opening a new window on your browser, going to nytimes.com, and clicking back and forth as we go along.
The Top of the Page
Such a mess that we need to take this issue by issue.
1.) No lead story. What first jumps out is a scatter of light-blue font. Gone are the big bold black fonts of the old Times site. It takes a couple seconds of scanning the page, skipping over the inevitably boring photo, and squinting at baby-blue typeface to see what story the Times deigns as its lead story. But the lead is in a narrow column with a typeface barely larger than the jumble of headlines underneath it. Thus, the mainstay of any front page -- the big story -- is gone.
2.) The photos suck. In an effort to break up the mess, the Times has slotted a large photo at the top of the page. Your first instinct is to think that this photo is the lead story, but that's not the case. Often, the photo features a middle-aged man standing or sitting. The Times's policy should be to feature an attractive or dramatic photo in this slot, even if the story is some random piece about Cairo or a brushfire in Texas. Sure, it might be bad news judgment, but it's better than seeing a 50-year-old in a suit every time you go to the site.
3.) Blue headlines. This is news, motherfuckers, and news means big black ink, not some pussy Crayola shit.
4.) Too much information. As of this posting, there are 10 stories at the top of the page, and 14 if you count the newly emasculated opinion section. (More on that in a second.) Part of why I go to the Times, as opposed to Raw Story or the Drudge Report, is because they've got some degree of news judgment. I may not always agree with the choices, but when the Times picks four top stories, it means something, and I'll at least skim the headlines. I don't want news to resemble the cereal aisle.
5.) The self-perpetuated irrelevance of the opinion section. I'm a sucker. I signed up for Times Select. Apparently not content to relegate their stable of columnists to a narrow, nerdy elite, the opinion section is exiled to a tiny, 3-point-font corner of the page. The Times online hates its columnists.
Chunk two: white space and video
Scrolling down the page, the tossed salad of text segues into a bunch of white space.
One of the nice things about an online newspaper is getting some original video. I'm all for that. I can't complain too much.
I will, however, note that the current video features a very chipper-looking David Pogue. The teases underneath are jarring. First is a mini-Pogue; second is a lady who looks like a country singer; third is what appears to be a showgirl; and fourth is a close-up on the face of what appears to be an elderly, severely ill, wounded African on the verge of death. I'm not tech-savvy enough to do a screen capture, but the juxtaposition is jarring as hell. The Times is retarded.
There are also some links to major world stories that weren't important enough to make the top of the page, yet deemed sufficiently important to get their own tease. If this was intended to play up these stories, the Times fails. Slivered between Pogue and an ad wherein the Times pimps itself, these stories might as well not be posted.
Chunk three: here comes some ugly
The site is next bisected by an uninterrupted line of images and teases, under the incongruous label "Inside nytimes.com."
I imagine the pitch that accompanied the powerpoint presentation for the phrase "Inside nytimes.com":
Jackass 1: The phrase "Inside nytimes.com" implies the sort of intimacy and physical presence that our readers would associate with a daily newspaper. In this feature, we're not just providing colorful original content, we're inviting the reader to look further and explore.It's garish, and features the kind of bullshit, weirdo stories that contribute to the hate half of my love-hate relationship with the Times. We get 1.) Gorillaz playing at the Apollo without cartoons; 2.) some shit about Barry Bonds and Ann Nicole Smith; 3.) big picture of an ant (okay, that's kind of cool); 4.) a cartoon rendering of Buenos Aires; 5.) large text reading "Synagogues for Hipsters" (earlier in the day, this was the main image on the top of the page, and the only one not to feature middle-aged guys in suits); and 6.) a Pakistani woman who features in one of Kristof's projects.
Jackass 2: That's just we're going for. Excellent work.
So most of this is the kind of stuff I don't want from the Times, and even if I did, it's presented unattractively. It's a blob running the width of the page. The big-font, graphic-intensive barrier makes for an awful transition for the horror to come.
Chunk four: OMG I just got my first-ever migraine
After the breaking-news jumble at the top, this is unequestionably the worst part of the page, and that's saying something.
In teeny-tiny baby blue type, we have no fewer than sixty (60!) headlines. The mind shudders, then shutters. It looks like a phonebook just crapped all over my screen.
The problems with this:
1.) It's just a bunch of uninterrupted text.On the plus side, the Times's "Most Popular" feature has been dropped down to the bottom of the page. This saves me the old annoyance of glancing down and seeing that the most popular story among Times readers is about sneakers and Pilates.
2.) If there's a section you're looking for (say Books, or [God fuckin' help you] Dining and Wine) you squint at the screen as you search through the dense three-column crumble of headlines and section labels.
3.) The font is (again) really really tiny.
4.) The teeny-tiny font is in baby blue. Either I need a new contacts prescription, or the Times wants to give its readers a headache.
5.) In contrast to the preceding segments, there is no white space.
6.) The Times has dumped so much shit here that you have to through down to see all of it.
7.) Very little prioritizing between these featured sections.
Obviously, the redesign blows. It's an aesthetic mess.
The Times appears to be a very confused institution. There are three things about the Times that keep a hater like me reading, and even signing up for their pay service. They are 1.) the brand value associated with the name, 2.) the presumptive respect given to the paper's story placement, and 3.) the columnists.
The Times website seems intent on rendering its columnists irrelevant.
Apparently favoring some kind of imaginary, blog-inspired, egalitarian information-dump to actual news judgment, the Times has buried the lead in every respect.
Also, in the two days since the redesign, I've read the Times's stories much less than usual. Generally I click through two or three of the top stories, check out the columnists, and at least skim the book reviews.
My reading habits haven't changed because of any principle. There's just too much junk to digest. This new site isn't a newspaper, it's a dictionary page crossed with Red Book.
Postscript: This isn't one of those posts about how the Times prefers to cover worthless shit instead of hard news. Still, the story at the top-right of the page -- the spot reserved for the lead in a traditional newspaper -- is currently teased: "'Cross Country,' the best of the new psychic shows, takes the channeling right to people's doorsteps: a psychic reading with home visits." (emphasis added)
No, seriously, my guest post is up over at spinachdip, and if you're not already reading that blog regularly, well, I don't know what to tell you. But definitely check it out today.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Later, in college, it was normal for a group of us to spontaneously drive to Detroit, buy cheap seats in Tiger Stadium, and catch a game. Tiger Stadium was beautiful and empty. The Tigers weren't the pure pitching team that they were in the late '80s, when their starting rotation had the lowest ERA in baseball. By then, they weren't much of a team at all. They were the American League's abcessed tooth: horribly rotted, essentially hopeless, leaving the 17,000 people in Tiger Stadium to resign ourselves to a loss.
I moved on to Boston, where I instantly hated the Red Sox and their fans, all people in a constant state of self-loathing and luxurious despair. Like all of Boston, the Red Sox and their followers obsessed about New York the way Michigan State obsesses about the University of Michigan. (No offense, Geoff and Brian.) Fueled by grievance and insularity, the Boston media and the team's bile-filled followers killed any hope I once had of attaching myself to one of the great traditional teams in all of sports.
By the time I came to New York, the pitching game was dead in baseball. There aren't many 2-1 or 3-2 scores. A lot of time, the final score looks like the tally of a MAC football game. What I like(d) about baseball was the late-inning tension of a well-pitched game. My offensive template is still Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Tom Brookens, not Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. If I wanted loads of offense, I'd be a basketball fan. The rhythm of the game doesn't appeal to me as much.
Even so, I miss baseball, and every season I incorrectly expect that I'll find it again. New York is a great baseball town. Trips to Shea and Yankee Stadium are pretty easy. I like both the Mets and Yankees better than the Sox, but both teams are unloveable. The roaring LaGuardia flights make Shea Stadium a buzzkill, and the team's tradition is only about 16 years older than I am. The Yankees have the history and the cachet, but loving the Yankees is like loving Goldman Sachs. There's only so far you can go with tons of cash and a mercenary attitude. It's too difficult to follow the Tigers from afar, and the organization's willingness to let the team rot killed my passion. Their departure from Tiger Stadium for yet another Camden Yards knock-off was another blow.
Where baseball is concerned, I now understand how it feels to be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.