Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wingmen, take flight

I will not be your wingman.

If you think it's a good idea to place me in that position, you're self-destructive. Five minutes after meeting me, it's obvious that I'd rather enjoy some good-natured chaos than a chat about interests. As a necessary corollary, I'd rather throw the night into disarray than see one of my friends enjoy some lovin'.

Not only will I not help you -- I will intentionally sabotage you for my own enjoyment.

It's not selfishness. I’ll help you move and pick up bar tabs without complaining. But I'm easily bored. Carrying someone else's dead weight so a friend can get laid: that is not interesting. I can't do it, no matter how much I might want to help you, no matter how lonely or horny you are.

My best moment came a few years ago when a benign but conservative roommate was talking to a nice schoolteacher our age. Their chat was taking too long, and I was stuck speaking to the schoolteacher's friend.

"He told you that he's a right-wing Republican, right?" I said loudly.

The schoolteacher immediately lost interest. I was amused. My friend was not. By my rules, that means that I won.

The Washington Post would not agree.

Joining the Times's race to the bottom is The Washington Post, which today published an article with thousands of words about some crazy new "phenomenon" where single guys position themselves as a "wingman."

This article is a classic in a genre perfected by the Times's style writers. The writer can't sound too enthusiastic because that will make the publication read like "Sassy." Instead, we get overwriting in a voice that falls between snark and sociology. The writers attempt to read cultural significance into worthless moments. When written by talented people, this is New Journalism. When written by judgmental, spazzy hacks, it's Fucking Bullshit Journalism.

The genre of Fucking Bullshit Journalism had its War and Peace in a New York Times Styles section article about dudes who jerk each other off in lockerrooms, and its Madame Bovary in that paper's article about rich men who asexually skinnydip together at an exclusive WASP social club.

Today, a Post reporter named Laura Sessions Stepp published this genre's Great Expecations.

Stepp begins by mocking a relatively normal-sounding college guy. Here's how she sets the scene:
The young suitor is neatly dressed all in black, his long-sleeved shirt tucked into pressed cotton trousers. In this casual crowd of colorful polo shirts and frayed jeans, he might as well be wearing a sign that says, "Trying too hard." As he presses his end of the conversation, the beauty nods slightly but her eyes roam the room. He ignores her friend, whose pout grows ever more pronounced. If anyone ever needed a wingman, this guy is it.
Hey, Stepp -- you're an asshole. The guy's in college. Cut him some slack. I don't know what you were doing in college. It apparently didn't involve getting laid or learning how to write. You spent a lot of time with uninterested wingmen and coloring books, and I'm sorry for that. But most 21- or 22-year-old guys -- even the ones getting a lot of action -- don't quite have their act together, and don't need a tool like you ripping on them.

Already, I can tell that your article might as well be wearing a headline that says, "Trying too hard."

Stepp gives a pop-culture history of wingmen. It includes "Top Gun," Coors, and Toby Keith. Next, there is a befuddled, I Am Charlotte Simmons-style explanation of college decadence:
Exams are over, graduation is approaching and each of them has several young women on his year-end wish list. (Some senior women, by the way, keep similar lists.) Once they start work in the real world, clubbing will become an occasional thing as opposed to a four-night-a-week addiction. They may actually have to ask women out on dates, take them to dinner. Wingman skills will still be needed, but not as often. Bummer.
At college, a good wingman has been as important as a popped-collar shirt. This is a generation that, in large part, dismisses the idea of courtship. Many move fast through relationships: face-booking, instant-messaging, text-messaging.
"Bummer."? You Bill and Ted-loving, uncreative freak.

Also, the fact that you think popped-collar shirts are "important" "[a]t college" makes you a moron. A minor fad at best.

Then something interesting happens, even though it's accidental. Like Stepp, the boys she's following have plenty of bad ideas:
Jentz picks up: "Sometimes you're a lawyer. You may only have taken one law class, but what the heck? It adds flavor, gets people excited."

Moniello says his hometown wingman -- good wingman relationships never die -- is as adept as they come. "If I go to the bathroom, he'll make me look like Jesus. . . . The girl I'm after will say something like 'I hear he's a player' and he'll convince her I'm really in love with her."
True, all women consider lawyers highly desireable, but I've never heard about how going to the bathroom makes people look like Jesus. If true, it would not be a good thing. None of my chick friends have expressed a desire to meet, date and hump the Christ.

(Relatedly, I recently argued that no human being could survive being humped by an angel -- that an angel would by definition be so overpowering that coitus with it would destroy the human body. But I digress.)

Next comes an overlong narrative that seems to treat wingmen as a cognizable interest group, with accompanying stories about romantic follies, mistaken identities, and modest hijinks that sound unremarkable to anyone who lived in a freshman dorm.

Stepp then seems to fear that her article will be interpreted as misogynistic. (It's not, it's just retarded.) For cover, she writes about how some girls have wingwomen, and that "girls can give as good as they get."

Then, more rudderless blow-by-blow descriptions of college kids hanging out. Stepp works in some final condescension.
With only minutes to go to last call, Jentz trolls the place with a near-empty beer pitcher in his hand, shirttail out, single and increasingly melancholy. Waclawiczek, shirt tucked in, gelled hair in place, has stationed himself near the door. Moniello, designated wingman, continues to scout the crowd on behalf of his buddies and himself, drawing lots of hugs and kisses but little else.

Even the ablest of wingmen can't guarantee a win.
I'll take her several steps further, and posit that the idea of effective wingmen are worthless.

Here's what's puzzling: There have been multiple nights when I've acted like the anti-wingman, yet between 2 and 4 a.m., I look up to see that Flop is Frenching a girl. Usually that girl is several steps superior to what one would consider his realistic target group.

Not only can someone like Flop entice women without a wingman, but he does so with me crashing around, doing my best to function as a liability. (To be accurate, it's not just me -- pretty much all of our friends fit that description.) And if the Flops of the world can pull it off, I'm sure cool guys who use hair gel and wear shirts with buttons can manage just fine.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

57 guilty pleasures

The flip side to my most recent list of 57. Here are 57 things that I recognize as total nonsense, yet can't resist. Some of them have been known to turn me into an adorable little puppy, while others precipitate a spazfest.

Totally stupid? Yes they are. That's a guilty pleasure.

This is installment 11 in the Lists of 57 Project.
  1. 227 reruns
  2. 311, "Down"
  3. Amen reruns
  4. Bacon
  5. Better than Ezra, "Good"
  6. Barenaked Ladies, "Brian Wilson"
  7. Big Brother
  8. Bon Jovi, "Livin' on a Prayer"
  9. Brady Bunch reruns
  10. Belinda Carlisle
  11. Cereal
  12. Cheetos
  13. Chumbawumba, "Tubthumper"
  14. Children of the Corn
  15. Cinderella, "Somebody Save Me"
  16. Culture Club, "Karma Chamelion"
  17. Cypress Hill, "Insane in the Brain"
  18. Charlie Daniels, "Devil Went Down to Georgia"
  19. John Denver, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"
  20. Dunkin' Donuts
  21. The Dog Whisperer
  22. Eagle Eyed Cherry, "Save Tonight"
  23. Floss
  24. Good Times reruns
  25. The Goonies
  26. The Grateful Dead
  27. Hanson, "MMM-Bop"
  28. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe DVDs
  29. Don Henley, "The End of the Innocence"
  30. Hooting
  31. Hot dogs for dinner
  32. Claire Huxtable
  33. Cliff Huxtable
  34. Billy Idol, "Dancing With Myself"
  35. Jackass
  36. Karaoke
  37. Ted Knight
  38. DJ Kool, "Let Me Clear My Throat"
  39. Leave it to Beaver reruns
  40. Less Than Zero
  41. Marlboro Lights
  42. Monica Lewinsky
  43. The Macarena
  44. The McLoughlin Group
  45. Oasis
  46. OMC, "How Bizarre"
  47. The Real Cancun
  48. The Real World-Road Rules Challenges
  49. Shooting rubber bands at people
  50. Cat Stevens, "Peace Train"
  51. Stomping
  52. Terms of Endearment
  53. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original version)
  54. Three's Company reruns
  55. Too Close For Comfort reruns
  56. Rubbing other people's heads
  57. Viva La Bam

Monday, May 29, 2006

Hey, good lookin'

As you can see, I've been playing with the layout of the site a little bit. That basically consisted of googling for Blogger templates, customizing this one, and learning some very basic code to tweak the design.

My one gripe with this layout is how comments are registered. Notice the number next to the post title? Click there to leave a comment. It took me awhile to figure this out.

Because the number of comments is so prominently displayed, having a big fat zero will make me feel like a failure. So comment away.

I also did this without Flop's approval, so if he objects, we'll be back to the old look soon.

The photo in the banner is one I took over the weekend. It seems like as good a summary for our site as any: everybody's anonymous, New York is in the background, beer bottles rest on the ledge, and you can't tell if people are having a serious conversation or just a good time.

How does it look? Too busy? Font too small? Let me know.

Happy Memorial Day

There was a kick-ass night of drinking, grilling, talking, mocking and listening to tunes.

I need to get myself a rooftop.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs

The Rude Pundit has some quiet, subtle thoughts on a National Review list that believes it has identified 50 "conservative" rock songs. The entire list, with additional analysis, is available here.

This list is stunning, in a deluded, pathetic, completely deranged kind of way. The Napoleon Dynamite-like effort (awkward and earnest and explosively humiliating) recasts some of the canonical songs of the past 50 years (along with a lot of forgettable crap) into celebrations of right-wing mores. Here are some of my favorites:
5. "Wouldn’t It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.
Pro-abstinence and pro-marriage: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do / We could be married / And then we’d be happy."

8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
Violent and vulgar, but also a searing anti-abortion anthem by the quintessential punk band: "It’s not an animal / It’s an abortion."

25. "The Battle of Evermore," by Led Zeppelin.
The lyrics are straight out of Robert Plant’s Middle Earth period — there are lines about "ring wraiths" and "magic runes" — but for a song released in 1971, it’s hard to miss the Cold War metaphor: "The tyrant’s face is red."

28. "Janie’s Got a Gun," by Aerosmith.
How the right to bear arms can protect women from sexual predators: "What did her daddy do? / It’s Janie’s last I.O.U. / She had to take him down easy / And put a bullet in his brain / She said ’cause nobody believes me / The man was such a sleaze / He ain’t never gonna be the same."

48. "Why Don’t You Get a Job," by The Offspring.
The lyrics aren’t exactly Shakespearean, but they’re refreshingly blunt and they capture a motive force behind welfare reform.
The Rude Pundit observes:
Because to come up with fifty songs, the readers and editors of the National Review had to neglect, almost entirely, the politics and lifestyles of nearly every single one of the music acts on the list, like, say U2, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols, just for kicks, or noted cross-dressing androgyne David Bowie. They had to twist the meaning of lyrics so that vague references to "freedom" all of a sudden became calls to a modified libertarianism (you know, no taxes, but also no fucking). And, of course, the mention of every fucking song they could find that seems to oppose abortion or alludes to the fall of Communism or doesn't like taxes. This leads them to have to include the Scorpions, Kid Rock, Rush, Creed, After the Fire, Sammy Hagar, and Jesus Jones in a great huge pile of suck.
There are a lot of games to be had with this. Maybe the Top 50 Conservative Moments in Celebrity Nipple Slippage, or Top 50 Most Conservative Moments in Interracial Porn.

But when you have raw material like this, the digs write themselves. The list is perfect comedy as it is. Click through and see what I mean.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wednesday link-o-rama

  • Somewhere, a bawdy, syphilitic queen is weeping. And the wind cries Mary.
  • Notre Dame fans are illiterate, insecure assholes. [Link corrected. -ed.]
  • Pissed and Petty somehow manages to make poker sound interesting.
  • Gratuitous self-aggrandizement: "CrimeNotes, you are a prophet, my son." (remark addressed to me in the comments on MZone's post about expanding Michigan Stadium)
  • Forget basketball for a second. Who knew that Todd Jones just surpassed Mike Henneman as the Tigers' all-time saves leader? I still have Henneman baseball cards somewhere in my parents' house.
  • Every Day Should Be Saturday captures the essence of Lloyd Carr in a single image.
  • Barely Legal Blog brings back memories of lousy professors who didn't give a shit.
  • Our Baghdad Bureau Chief confirms via e-mail the recent reports that Iraqis love Lionel Richie: "it's totally true — i'm embarrassed to admit that i didn't know that "loving you" song was lionel richie... it's ubiquitous in baghdad..."
  • Requisite serious linkage: there are many interesting articles in the current New York Review of Books.
  • In a hilarious case of mistaken identity, BBC believed that it had booked a technology expert to comment on the British litigation over whether Apple Computer infringed the Beatles' Apple Records trademark. Instead, it booked a cabdriver of the same name. Neither BBC nor their guest realized the mistake until the questioning was underway. The look on the guy's face is priceless ("I'm very surprised to hear this verdict come on me, because I was not expecting that.") but he holds up like a champ.

Monday, May 22, 2006

How do you spell 'relief'? R-O-C-K-N-R-O-L-L

Many things vex me about relief pitching. Why do some teams insist on spending millions on "proven veterans" while others can seemingly get them to propagate like rhizomes in the minors? Why do teams use their best relievers with a three-run lead but not when the score is tied? Why are the Mets cowering from the wrath of Jobu and refusing to put Aaron Heilman in the rotation?

But those questions will be answered at another time. Probably by someone else. I'm here today to address the issue of reliever entrance music. Closers apparently refuse to enter to the sounds of anything that isn't highly commercial, full of detuned guitars and somewhere on the narrow band of the musical spectrum between Metallica and Linkin Park.

The playlist for major league closers makes the music in Duane Reade sound like college radio. This needs to stop. Of course, if I were a major league closer, shit would be all different and stuff.

Here, as promised, is the list of songs I would use as my own, personal entrance music. I'm reasonably sure that none of them overlap with my co-blogger's peerless list of 57 songs worth spending $56.43 on iTunes.

Now who needs to borrow a feeling, bitch?

I've ordered the songs by how good I'd need to be to get away with such radical choices. For example, a closer like Tyler Walker simply can't enter to anything but generic hard rock. But someone as good as Mariano Rivera (before he started sprouting a tiny growth that looks like one of those two-tined seafood forks), can enter to "Baby Elephant Walk," "Lumberjack Song" or even a spoken-word album by Kirk Van Houten.

  • "Out There" Dinosaur Jr. I love watching the umpires during a pitching change. First he scribbles on his lineup card, then he points out the changes to the official scorer. Then he stands there and signals the number of warmup pitches left, looking bored while music blasts and fans shriek when they show up on the video board. I like to think that the ump would at least enjoy the refreshing change of pace from the usual arena rock. Meanwhile, I'd be ready to uncork my sinker, get a three-pitch save and head out on the town.
  • "Connected" Stereo MCs. Impossible not to get pumped listening to this. Impossible. It blows "The Final Countdown" out of the water. (Unless you're a ... magician!) Of course, the only thing I'd be making disappear would be the heart of the order.
  • "My Iron Lung" Radiohead. Dark and forbidding, intimidating and inspiring at the same time. I imagine gray skies and knee-buckling sliders. If I could have entrance music on the road, this would be it. It's like rock and roll for Jedis who have gone to the dark side. And closers who can throw a non-Euclidean curveball.
  • "Godzilla" Blue Oyster Cult. Dude, if I can reduce Tokyo to rubble and send Mothra to a giant 50-watt in the sky, don't you think I can get a ground ball from pinch-hitter Endy Chavez? Of course I can. I'm a giant lizard with 99-mph gas.

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound, he strikes the heart of the Brewers' order down ...

  • The start of the fourth movement in "Symphony No. 9 in E minor" by Antonin Dvorak. No, seriously. Listen. It's badass. Makes Wagner (Richard, not Billy) sound like Paul Simon. No -- Carly Simon. Also, isn't snickering at the pitcher who enters to freaking orchestral arrangements kind of like laughing at a boy named Sue? Why don't you take off that elbow guard and say that to me again?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A bad decision

Setting: Bar on E. 12th St., 3 a.m., at a birthday party for a friend's acquaintance.

Decision: Use a too-short feather boa as a jump rope.

Context: Everybody was dancing silly and I went for a bold new move.

Result: Stumbling over the feather boa, slamming down to the floor face first, and twisting my ankle.

Crowd reaction: Delight.

Morning aftermath: Ow, ow, ow, my ankle hurts. If I had a girlfriend or mom on the premises, I'd probably be on my way to the doctor's office.

Lesson learned
: No guts, no glory, but personal safety should be your highest priority.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Michigan Stadium's ruin or renaissance

The story is familiar.

A president under the influence of a highly motivated, polarizing advisor adopts an ambitious plan. The plan is cloaked in secrecy, but it turns out to be far more ambitious than what anyone expected. Partisans on one side vocally militate on behalf of the president's ambitious agenda, while a ragtag collection of disorganized hippies circulates self-righteous propaganda in opposition. At a deciding moment, some elected Democrats unsuccessfully vote in opposition, but are left frustrated that they can't thwart the inevitable steamroll.

At least we're not declaring war on Indiana.

In a 5-3 vote, the University of Michigan Board of Regents decided in favor of the Athletic Department's massive $226 million expansion of Michigan Stadium, primarily focused on the construction of 83 luxury boxes.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Michigan Stadium seats about 107,500 of my best friends. Despite the crowd size, it feels half as big as Yankee Stadium. It's built into the ground, and the vision lines are more panoramic than vertical. As a result, while you may find yourself far from the action, you're not watching from a crow's nest. It's as intimate as any 100,000+ venue can be.

Change is coming.

As described in a Detroit News article:
[Athletic Director Bill] Martin said the project, which will add 83 private suites in towers running along the east and west sides of Michigan Stadium and at about the height of the current scoreboards, will be completed by the 2010 season. The renovations will add to the current 107,501 capacity of Michigan Stadium and put it at more than 108,000.
Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg:
[P]eople familiar with U-M's planned proposal paint a picture that is ... well ... really large.

How large? Two structures totaling 425,000 square feet. For a comparison: the Palace, with all its atriums and offices, is 570,000 square feet. U-M's proposal is the equivalent of placing a large dormitory on each side of the stadium.

On the west side (where the press box is located), the luxury boxes would be the equivalent of a six-story building stretching from one end zone to the other. On the east side, they would be the equivalent of an eight-story building stretching from one end zone to the other.

Michigan Regent Laurence Deitch, who was one of the three dissenting votes:

"I am disappointed," Deitch said. "Everybody expressed their thoughts, and we live with the majority rule, and at this point, I await the design, which I think will cause significant consternation, because the public has no idea how massive these additions are. I also wonder whether the project can be delivered within the cost projected."

Since I'm given to kneejerk, occasionally irrational opinions, I'm surprised that I'm still ambivalent about this project. On one side, it's a little like Detroit baseball leaving Tiger Stadium -- sad and inevitable. On the other, the program needs money to thrive, and I don't see luxury boxes as dirtying the program's tradition. Class-based arguments don't fly when season tickets already are distributed in lines similar to Medieval primogeniture laws and cost several hundred bucks to boot. Michigan football is many things, but egalitarian is not one of them.

But the following things make me nervous:

Politics. The University of Michigan is in a scary position. It's a great public university in a state that's rapidly turning into the Mississippi of the Midwest. I don't say that to be snotty about my homestate -- I say it out of pain and love. The Big Three automakers are falling apart and smaller manufacturers have been shutting down since I was in elementary school. The state's budget shrinks, and the University of Michigan takes a hit.

It's been taking hits for a few years. It will keep taking hits regardless.

Still, this kind of aggressive move may be very bad PR. For politicians, the school already is a ripe target. It's the only selective school in the state; it's not exactly humble. Many of its homegrown graduates (myself included) leave the state after graduation and don't look back. Its faculty and graduates are more liberal than the state as a whole. If you're an elected official in the state of Michigan, and you're looking for a soft target to cut costs and take potshots at a liberal elite, the University of Michigan is high on your list.

In an economically troubled, increasingly right-wing state, the liberal flagship university launches a massive $200 million-plus expansion of a sports complex, geared toward catering to the comforts of the richest, most elite portion of an alumni that's already better off than the state as a whole.

Never mind that the funding is doesn't come from public coffers and will be financed entirely by the University. Not everyone understands that. (I'll bet that not everyone at the University understands that.) What outsiders will see is a white elephant at an elitist public school, and they'll resent it.

Get ready for a lot of ignorant talk about how the university doesn't need state funding when it spends $220 million on luxury boxes and raises in-state tuition in the same year.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think Michigan occupies the role in its homestate that Ohio State or Alabama occupy in theirs. There are too many public colleges, and for many of us, Ann Arbor is one step in an exit strategy. Its alumni might move to New York or Chicago and donate to the school, but they don't become the state's governors and senators. In terms of athletics, Michigan State's blue-collar, underdog status gets it a lot of affection.

And at heart, Michigan doesn't exactly think of itself as a public school. Too many of its students come from out of state. Its competition for students and professors are Chicago and Cornell and Northwestern, not Michigan State and Wayne State.

All of which is fine, and better than the alternative. And to reiterate, what I'm worrying about isn't right versus wrong as much as what governs perception.

And I worry that the rest of the state will see this and recoil, in ways that have implications beyond what happens on Saturday.


Aesthetics: There's a 50-50 chance that this behemoth construction project will end up looking like dump. Familiar with the campus's tradition of architectual confusion, the MZone offers its rendition of the likely result:

Looks about right to me.


Secrecy: Personally, my biggest criticism is how this has unfolded behind closed doors. If -- as some people optimistically believe -- the final plans aren't as ambitious as we've been told, Bill Martin would do well to show them to the general public. I think he's a competent athletic director and businessman, but politically he's tone deaf, as last fall's SBC sponsorship fiasco illustrated. Mary Sue Coleman doesn't have deep ties to Michigan. I have no reason to question her judgment, but I still wonder if she knows what she's messing with.

Ultimately, there will be plans and announcements, and token input from the public. In the interim, when most of the information and analysis comes from partisans on either side, the only thing to do is hold your breath.

This is fine for now. No need for any premature announcements. But after today's 5-3 vote, Martin needs to go on a PR offensive. The plans as they currently stand should go public, as well as all of the finances.

My hunch is that there would be less skepticism if they'd been more direct in explaining the process. Keeping it a secret makes people suspect the worst.


Ambition: This is a big-time, bet-your-future gamble, and I'm still not sure why Martin and Coleman are making it. A divided vote by the Board of Regents is as rare as Lloyd going for first down on 4th and 1 at the 30.

Things at that university have a tendency to spin out of control, and its football program is the situs for a lot of irrational passion. One of the dirty open secrets about the University is its governance by a board elected statewide. Some of these members fancy themselves as politicians. A divided Board of Regents was ultimately President Duderstadt's undoing, and by not assembling a plan that could garner a unanimous vote, Martin and Coleman have put a lot at risk. My guess is that Coleman cares about this one-tenth as much as she cares about the Life Sciences Institute, and isn't prepared for the whirlwind that could come out of this.

For what? The added revenues would be welcome, not make-or-break. It would, in the alternative, be break if this plan misfires, either by going overbudget or not meeting Martin's projected revenues.

It makes me think a little of Robert Moses. I hope it turns out to be the good Robert Moses, not the bad Robert Moses.

57 songs worth spending $56.43 on iTunes

This list is arbitrary. They're not my 57 favorite songs, and they're not 57 songs that you've never heard of. Most of them fit into three categories: overlooked songs by major artists; slightly obscure songs by current, moderately popular artists; and music from our parents' generation that you don't hear very often. They're mostly loveable, not very complicated, and worth blasting in your car or your headphones, whatever the case may be.

This is installment 10 of my 57 lists of 57 things.
  1. Brendan Benson, Spit It Out
  2. The Black Keys, She Said, She Said
  3. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Promise
  4. Brian Jonestown Massacre, Straight Up and Down
  5. Eric Burdon, San Franciscan Nights
  6. Clarence Carter, Soul Deep
  7. Leonard Cohen, The Future
  8. Dandy Warhols, Solid
  9. Dandy Warhols, The Last High
  10. Dandy Warhols, Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth
  11. Deep Purple, Hush
  12. Detroit Cobras, Just Can't Please You
  13. Donovan, Atlantis
  14. Donovan, Sunshine Superman
  15. Bob Dylan, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol (From Vol. 5 of the Bootleg Series)
  16. Edison Lighthouse, Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)
  17. Tim Fite, No Good Here
  18. The Guess Who, No Sugar Tonight
  19. The Hold Steady, Knuckles
  20. The Hold Steady, Stevie Nix
  21. The Hold Steady, How a Ressurection Really Feels
  22. Joe Tex, S.Y.S.L.J.F.M .
  23. Loving Spoonful, Bald Headed Lena
  24. Magnolia Electric Company, The Dark Don't Hide It
  25. Maktub, Say What You Mean
  26. Stephen Malkmus, Loud Proud Cloud
  27. Stephen Malkmus, Baby Come On
  28. Mamas & The Papas, Twelve Thirty
  29. Manfred Mann, The Mighty Quinn
  30. Marah, Walt Whitman Bridge
  31. Neutral Milk Hotel, Holland 1945
  32. New Pornographers, Graceland
  33. A.C. Newman, Homemade Bombs in the Afternoon
  34. Nic Armstrong & The Thieves, I Can't Stand It
  35. Old 97's, Won't Be Home
  36. Old 97's, Murder (Or a Heart Attack)
  37. The Polyphonic Spree, A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed
  38. Lou Reed, Street Hassle
  39. The Rolling Stones, Mercy Mercy
  40. The Rolling Stones, Good Times
  41. The Rolling Stones, Sister Morphine
  42. rx, Dick is a Killer*
  43. Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Sock it to Me, Baby
  44. Screaming Trees, Nearly Lost You
  45. William Shatner, Common People
  46. Silver Jews, How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down
  47. Nina Simone, To Love Somebody
  48. The Streets, Fit But You Know It
  49. The Streets, Empty Cans
  50. Supergrass, Caught by the Fuzz
  51. Supergrass, La Song
  52. Wings, Band on the Run
  53. Neil Young, I Am the Ocean
  54. Neil Young, Falling From Above
  55. Neil Young, Revolution Blues
  56. Neil Young, Walk On
  57. Warren Zevon, Mohammed's Radio
*Click through the link for free rx downloads.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Flop's been spending the week hanging out with his mom.

I've been drafting some posts, but nothing that's ready to publish yet. (Shocking that my posts aren't just extemporaneous rambles, I know.) I'm also contemplating a bizarre blog side-project, which you'll probably never hear about again.

We've been quiet since Monday, but considering the recent outburst of activity, I hope that's forgiven.

In other news, two of our friends just had a baby, expanding the future Cole Slaw Blog readership by one. Baby's First Cabbage Shredder is already in the mail.

More soon.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dear Network Executives,

I've had enough of your good shows.

It used to be that the only TV I watched came in the form of shitty reality shows that I loved and loathed in secret.

Your highlights used to be Temptation Island ...

... and Paradise Hotel ...

... Joe Millionaire ...

... and retardfests like Big Brother.

HBO was already airing The Sopranos.

There was one good show per week, 13 weeks a year, and the rest was brain candy. I could flip on Temptation Island and promptly tune out.

There was no way of knowing that The Sopranos would beget Six Feet Under in 2001...

... thus raising the grand total of good TV shows to two. But Six Feet Under begat Carnivale ...

... which begat Deadwood ...

... all shows that collectively effed up a year's worth of Sunday nights.

This was all manageable until 24 became channeled Jerry Bruckheimer and Oliver Stone, then became the unofficial survival guide to our long national nightmare ...

... and around that time, ABC unleashed the most challenging network drama since Twin Peaks.

Mondays and Wednesdays were out.

Reality TV classed up. I fell for The Amazing Race ...

... and still become addicted two episodes into every season of Survivor.

But as long as your networks were still airing total fucking horseshit ...

... I was immune to comedy.

Then came the Bluths ...

... and the funny (if neutered) American update of The Office ...

.... when ABC got on the bandwagon with a great little show called Sons and Daughters.

Tivo was only taking me so far. I'm not going to spend the whole weekend watching recordings of your programs. Now, almost every night includes your goddamn "appointment television."

Besides, Tivo has responsibilities on basic cable. It has to keep track of these guys ...

... and this guy ...

... and goddammit, now this guy.

According to an article in today's Times, NBC is going to actually air some interesting programs:
"Kidnapped" will follow the complicated plot behind the kidnapping of the teenage son of a wealthy New York couple, played by Timothy Hutton and Dana Delany. "Heroes" will emulate the ABC hit "Lost," adding a few science-fiction touches. A group of young people discover they have sudden, unusual powers — an office worker can teleport at will to any location; a cop can hear other people's thoughts — just as a menacing force seems to be threatening the world.
I didn't ask for this. I was happy with a bunch of drunken boob-and-thong Frenching contests, which I could watch with half an eye but otherwise ignore. Now, instead of reading fancy books and writing the great American novel, I'm coming home to watch your frickin' shows and hanging on every word. No one asked for a golden age of television or wanted your multinational asses to decide that it was time for the broadcast equivalent of Renaissance Florence.

I've stayed away from American Idol, Hoss. None of those medical dramas for me. I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard, but you're not making it easy.

Very truly yours,


Monday, May 15, 2006

Bush keeps his retardation in check

I doubt that President Bush's new immigration policy will do much practical good, and that tonight's speech was anything more than an empty attempt to show leadership on a hot-button issue. The result of this ginned-up controversy will likely be a Mexican Hugo Chavez and a sense of empowerment among white supremacists.

Nonetheless, he gets credit for the tone of his speech. It would have been easy to demogogue this issue and use coded terminology to feed the xenophobic, racist undertones of the anti-immigrant movement. Thankfully and surprisingly, the tone of his remarks was actually humane and measured. He spent more time speaking favorably of the immigrant experience than he did outlining the alleged problems that immigration causes.

Maybe this is just giving credit to a dog that can't be housebroken for not pissing the as-yet-unwhizzed-upon rug, but for 17 minutes, he didn't totally suck.

What I've been up to: Yes, a post that's all about me

So you've noticed we've turned into the Cole Slaw Review of Books and Popular Culture while my computer's been at death's door. It's been very highfalutin': A discussion of Great American novels, a sterling review of Neil Young's latest and insight into Myspace.

It's like when Sideshow Bob turned the Krusty the Klown Show into Sidehow Bob's Cavalcade of Whimsy. Except we'll be keeping our slide whistles, thank you.

To cut through the heaviness of my co-blogger's intellectually stimulating commentary, let me provide you with some of the stupid shit I've been up to lately. I falute at a lower level, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Since last posting, I've done the following things:
  • Watched Game 2 of the Cavs-Pistons series with two Pistons fans, one of them my co-blogger. The other, a hard-hittin' reader of the blog. Despite the Cavs' incompetence in that game, it was a good time. I need to get out more on weeknights.
  • Purchased some of the random, pint-sized bottles of Polish and Czech beer that go for $1-$2 at my local bodegas. I enjoyed the Polish brand called Brok the most. Mmm, Brok.
  • Knocked my Brok off of my coffee table and caught it mid-fall, which had roughly the same effect as if I had picked the bottle off the table and shaken it at the TV several times, as if performing a cleansing ritual or celebrating a pennant. Note: I was actually watching TV, not playing video game football, when it would have at least been potentially appropriate. That was a a fun mess to clean up. But at least I got to finish my Brok!
  • Trekked to Brooklyn to borrow goalie equipment (I'm our emergency goalie; this week was an emergency-goalie situation), then dragged said equipment to meet a friend for dinner. I was 45 minutes late, which I almost never am. She forgave me anyway, although the cafe we met at was amused to see me put a goalie stick in the hatrack where they kept umbrellas.
  • Made like a bajillion saves in my game, including a clean glove save on a breakaway that I'll be boring my grandchildren with the way I'm boring you here. Incidentally, we tied.
  • Purchased a Lonely Planet guidebook to Budapest. Just 'cause.
  • Was informed by an otherwise smart and personable Notre Dame fan that Michigan has "no chance" at winning in South Bend this September. It's nice that Irish fans are totally not believing their own hype. Notre Dame may well be good this season, but even so, they'll still have one of the most overinflated ratios of praise to performance of any team. How long until the season starts?
  • Pulled off a classic win-win blockbuster trade in my fantasy league, sending Vlad Guerrero for ... oh, my God, this is why I usually keep my personal life out of the blog _ it's very mundane.
Coming up soon ... my list of Top 10 Songs I Would Totally Use As Entrance Music if I Were a Closer, ranked by how good I would actually need to be to be able to pull it off. (For example: If I wanted to trot to the mound while "Rock and Roll (Ain't Noise Pollution)" by AC/DC played, I would only need to be as good as, say, the incomparable Travis Harper of the Tampa Bay Devil Fishies. But to enter to something more offbeat, like, say the theme from "The Jeffersons" I'd need to be a cut above. say, K-Rod at the least.

More on this soon ...

Good artists misfire: new releases by The Streets and Philip Roth

I'm a sucker for albums that tell a story. The genre doesn't matter much. I have favorites like The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday and Neil Young's Greendale, but also appreciated Sufjan Stevens's Illinois, some of The Decemberists' releases (short story collections more than story albums) and swooned for a great release from May 2004, A Grand Don't Come for Free by The Streets.

That last album followed a day in the life of a working-class English guy who loses a chunk of cash. Attempting to figure out what happened to the money, the album is a witty and observant story about the day that followed, including some moving tracks about his friendships and romances. He thinks a friend might have swiped the money, and he yearns for a girl to replace a love affair that ended. The album's songs are sharp and surprising, each of them a stitch of life recounted in a working-class English idiom. It was a rewarding piece of work and one that pays off a careful listening the twentieth time around.

It's two years after A Grand Don't Come for Free, and The Streets returns with a very different Mike Skinner. The Hardest Way to Make An Easy Living is not an album that will grow on me. It may be one of the worst albums I own -- and I still have Big Willie Style as a reminder that bad purchases have consequences.

The biggest problem with The Hardest Way to Make An Easy Living isn't that Skinner opted to focus the album on the pratfalls and frustrations of fame; in theory, he's talented enough to pull of that conceit. It's that Skinner seems to have become humorless, and lost touch with the heart and emotion that made A Grand Don't Come for Free so satisfying. The new release is witless, whiny, and slow, so the narcissistic bitching about fame quickly wears thin. A song called "Two Nations" starts off as a successful enough take on the difference between Americans and Britons, then veers into this rambling:
Understated is how we prefer to be
That's why I've sold three million and you've never heard of me
The paparazzi shoot me the the girls all loot on me
But don't shoot hiders, we fight football rivalries
The work wack means to con back home
And I wrote the ten wack commandments on my own
Not funny, not fun, and pretty smug talk from a guy who once wanted nothing more than someone to rely on and talk to all night.

None of the music is memorable, and some of the tracks (particularly a piece called "Memento Mori") are unlistenable.

Mike Skinner is adrift, and it's a voice I miss.

* * *

Philip Roth's new book Everyman isn't a failure on par with the new Streets release. It's just a yawner that retraces themes that he exhausted in The Dying Animal, Patrimony, Sabbath's Theater and My Life As a Man.

Roth's recent political novels were an amazing renaissance. After spending much of his career occupied with the intimate details of sex and death, he tore off the doors by dropping those issues into aggressively political arguments. His whole body of work took a new power.

Here, he goes back to old form without any new insight. Everyman is well written and believable, but there's nothing to see here. It's a short chronicle of the life of an unnamed narrator. He is not an interesting person. Never mind that it contains some passages so over-the-top that they read like Roth parody:
For the first two days he was always diddling around her ass with his fingers while she went down on him, until finally she looked up and said, "If you like that little hole, why don't you use it?"

Someday, an earnest Ph.D candidate will write a dissertation on Philip Roth's views on anal sex. He's invented a world of assfucking. This passage will not be a highlight.

For all of its graphic content (not just sex, but surgeries, hernias, heart attacks, and appendicitis) the book is a boring and uninspired little story that tells us 1.) dying sucks, 2.) getting sick sucks, 3.) and people don't like it when you're mean to them.

Sunday, May 14, 2006 and the end of privacy

Last weekend I was reading in a coffeehouse when I faced one of my least-favorite social moments, seated next to two people having a personal conversation that I did not want to hear.

These were two seemingly educated, shabby-chic adults in their early thirties, discussing their journalism careers and job searches. The subject turned to a tragedy that affected their mutual friend. They discussed the delicate etiquette of wanting to be there for a friend but not press hard on an awkward personal matter.

"You should leave her a message on MySpace, just saying that you're there for her in case she needs anything," one suggested to the other.

Far be it from me to second-guess anyone else's choice of how to communicate with a friend. That's not the issue here. MySpace -- just another brick in Rupert Murdoch's media hegemony -- has 75 million members, according to a recent New Yorker article.

If we believe last week's Washington Post poll showing that 63 percent of the public approves of the NSA's blanket monitoring of every phone call made inside the United States, imagine what the number will be in 20 years. MySpace is a corporate vehicle that feeds on commercial trends and user validation. It's benign enough in isolation to post a list of favorite bands, TV shows, liquors and sex acts. But when these harmless exercises of self-expression and ego-gratification are part of a 75 million-person database at Rupert Murdoch's fingertips, MySpace is not a social networking tool, but the world's most valuable market research study.

You think you're signing up for a site to keep up with your friends and your favorite bands. (I signed up a few weeks ago when I found out that The Hold Steady keeps a MySpace page, so call me a hypocrite.) That may be what you have in mind, but that's not what the site's gatekeepers care about.

Once you get used to exposing yourself online, it's a short leap to conceding other aspects of your privacy, because shit, if your MySpace profile exalts Cuervo Gold, fingerbanging and "My Humps," you're less likely to care whether the NSA tracks calls to your sister or your girlfriend.

John Cassidy's article in last week's New Yorker is a little chilling if you're tuned to the NSA's data-mining escapades. (Unfortunately, the article is not posted online.) According to the article, -- a second-generation MySpace that targets college kids -- has become ubiquitous at elite universities. I've heard of the site, but didn't realize how pervasive it is.

I'm 29, but I feel like the gap between me and the personal networking phenomonen is three generations.

Here's where we will be in thirty years: a consumer class comprised of tens of millions of technology-savvy, educated purchasers have volunteered to join an online Camp X-Ray. They're at ease with telling corporations everything, and given the blurring line between corporations and federal law enforcement, there will be few remaining privacy limits that people care about.

It will seem quaint that anyone objected when the government tapped their phones or logged their calls. When you're at ease using Rupert Murdoch's platform to acknowledge a friend's personal tragedy, you've given up a lot.

Friday, May 12, 2006

One of the best blog posts I've ever read

At a site called Pissed and Petty, blogger Ryan begins his story as follows:
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The 4 Train.

I had just gotten off work and was walking up Broadway to catch the subway home when I realized I didn’t have any cigarettes. I stopped at a newsstand to see if they had any rolling papers. I roll my own cigarettes now because, here in NYC, cigarettes cost damn near $8.00 a pack, and you can’t even smoke them in bars but that’s another story entirely.

As I’m standing at the newsstand trying to determine if they sell what I’m looking for, a rock star looking guy walks up beside me and asks the nice Indian man behind the counter,

“Hey bro, you got any magazines that tell me where I can find a good rock’n’roll show tonight?”
What follows is an encounter with a cigarette-generous stranger, which then leads to an invitation for a beer. And from there Ryan tells a tale that unfolds like the lighter side of Hubert Selby Jr.

Generally speaking, I have no tolerance for sites or posts about somebody's boring misadventures or mundane personal life. But this is not one of those posts.

The American fiction of the last 25 years

The New York Times just published the results of one of those nerdy-but-interesting book polls to name the best American novel of the past 25 years. The interesting (and respectable) results: Toni Morrison's Beloved received the most votes, followed by Don DeLillo's Underworld, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, John Updike's four Rabbit books, and Philip Roth's American Pastoral.

The article lists seventeen other works that received significant votes from the large and impressive voting pool. These include five other Roth novels (The Counterlife, Operation Shylock, Sabbath's Theater, The Human Stain and The Plot Against America) DeLillo's Libra and White Noise, and A Confederacy of Dunces. It also included some personal favorites that I wouldn't have expected to see on such a list, like Richard Ford's Independence Day, and Raymond Carver's collection Where I'm Calling From.

Another pleasant surprise -- the list is full of household names and books with relatively broad appeal. If you're moderately tuned into contemporary American novelists, you'll recognize most of the list. Apparently, the voters didn't feel a need to one-up each other by being edgy or contrarian. It's of course possible that 100 years from now there will be universal recognition that the best book of 1980-2006 is a work we're not thinking about today, but the Times list is solid and respectable, surprisingly devoid of shock value or controversy.

I love these kinds of lists, not because think they prove anything, but because they invite me to write my own list, and to compare and contrast. They also serve as a great suggested reading list -- I never would have picked up Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time if it hadn't been for the Modern Library poll a few years ago. Among other things, today's list makes me think that I should re-read Beloved.

Here's what my Top 5 would look like: I'd place American Pastoral at number one. It was a tense, well-told story, but also a micro-history of America after World War II, convincing and powerful and gimmick-free. I have a rough time paring down the other four, but if I throw self-consciousness, trendiness and political correctness aside, it would include Philip Roth's The Counterlife, DeLillo's White Noise, Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities , and Russell Banks's Cloudsplitter. Not the most cutting-edge list, and not many people would put Bonfire in this category, but it's still a book I read and re-read and find hilarious and joyful and exciting every time. White Noise gets written off as too self-consciously post-modern and anti-commercial, but I think it remains DeLillo's most interesting (and accessible) work, much better than the bloated and pretentious Underworld. I find DeLillo's body of work inconsistent and hit-and-miss, with White Noise his most successful book. The Counterlife's difficult narrative and self-contradictory depictions of Israel are challenging, but I also think it's a sort of condensed summary of Philip Roth's other books and intensifies the themes in his Zuckerman trilogy. Cloudsplitter, after American Pastoral , may be my favorite of the past 25 years -- a long and wild book about abolitionist John Brown, the raid on Harper's Ferry, and the Bleeding Kansas fiasco, totally persuasive in appropriating the language and morays of the mid-19th Century, and a chilling story to boot.

My other contenders mimic the Times list so closely it's almost not worth mentioning. I'd include all of that list's Roth entries, A Confederacy of Dunces, Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Independence Day, and two more recent favorites, Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude and Colson Whitehead's John Henry Days. Blood Meridian is a great piece of work too.

What books in the past 25 years were the most fun? I'd name Theodore Roszak's Flicker, Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and Stephen King's The Stand.

* * *

In other book news, Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer recently died. I once saw him do a reading in Ann Arbor, and remember it more clearly than any author reading I've attended. He spent most of his life as a political prisoner, and by the time he was released and traveling to America, he was elderly, charming, and morally serious. He never made a major splash in the U.S., but was frequently mentioned as a possible Nobel Prize winner.