Monday, July 30, 2007

Miracle of flight

Tom Snyder, Bill Walsh and Ingmar Bergman all in one day? That's some good company, unless you're Odile Crick and you get upstaged.

For half the day NPR led its hourly news updates with the mysterious fall that Chief Justice John Roberts took at his vacation home in Maine, necessitating hospitalization. I was all, "Whoah: must be a stroke," and I wasn't happy at the prospect, and then it turned out that he had a seizure of some kind, and then a person starts to get a bit concerned.*

Today was full of drama and developments. The FBI just searched Ted Stevens's home; Gonzalez might be impeached; Chelsea Clinton is a courteous and likable young woman.

None of this has been the top news of the past 24 hours, because last night Sam McGuffie gave a verbal commitment to Michigan. I tell myself that I don't like recruiting and therefore ignore it, but there isn't much else interesting in the off-season, so I break down. The collective unconscious of the Michigan fanbase anointed McGuffie this summer. He's a 5'11 backflipping Baby Jesus, if Baby Jesus were a white runningback from Texas who leaps and does awesome flips. One very excitable prophet proclaims:

"I personally believe that, if McGuffie chooses Michigan, he could win a Heisman. God has not created a more harmonious match than McGuffie's running style and the zone running game."

McGuffie flips out.

MGoBlog christened yesterday McGuffageddon and starting at around 7 p.m. I executed regular Google searches to see if the Backflipping Baby Jesus had picked us.

I read on some message board that Sam McGuffie was on the Cy-Fair swim team his freshman year, but then got disqualified because he always ran across the water. After Cy-Fair's first home game last fall, Sam McGuffie wanted to celebrate, so he took five loaves of bread and two fishes, and made fish tacos for the entire crowd of 4,000. At practice, Sam McGuffie isn't allowed to drink water, because the water always turns into wine, and everyone knows that high school kids are too young to drink at football practice. Sam McGuffie's geometry teacher had a shriveled hand: Sam decided to heal it, but when he touched it the teacher's hand turned into an awesome bear paw. One day Sam McGuffie brought salvation to a prostitute who spammed his MySpace profile; she's now an assistant professor in Michigan's Classics Department. On the bus ride home from a game last fall, Sam McGuffie saw a fig tree through the window. The fig tree made Sam angry, so he yelled at the fig tree and it withered.

Sam McGuffie can fly!

It would be nice to make friends with Chelsea and Sam McGuffie. Maybe someday the Jets will draft McGuffie and he'll be here in the city, and some night I'll attend some function and they'll both be there, and we'll all hit it off. Not in a good-friends way, but in a way where you meet for dinner once every six months at a nice restaurant and talk about things like leaping, health care policy and favorite pies.

*Don't misread me. I'm disappointed in the guy, but I don't wish ill on him and don't have the stomach for another Supreme Court appointment in this Administration.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Recommended with enthusiasm

Damages on FX had excellent advance word, but now it's come along and exceeded every possible expectation. Yes, yes, another show about lawyers, but the thing here is that it's entirely about fierce commercial litigation: None of the cute shit you get from David E. Kelly, where the clients are transvestites or lovable murderers. None of that monotonous Law & Order proceduralism. Damages is about smart, blistering, serious people fighting over hundreds of millions of dollars -- here, it's pension litigation, of all fucking things.

Its pilot episode didn't have a single cheap moment, from its glossy opening sequence of the Manhattan streetscape through its closing burst of White Stripes. Glenn Close comes out roaring. As with Dangerous Liaisons, she's always the smartest, toughest person in the room. The pilot is packed with great moments and conflagrations, each of them developing convincingly and naturally. No one is a good guy, no one is exactly a bad guy, and the pilot episode develops a special, almost unbearable tension. Almost Se7en-quality tension, but now I'm at risk of overpraising. The creators have said that they won't include a single courtroom scene. Given the staleness of the genre, this is a great thing.

Watch me.

For just $6.99 you can purchase from iTunes an album by a Scottish band called The View. Sometimes a person gets tired of flexing analytical skills learned in 400-level English class just to understand an album, only to realize that no one involved is having fun. Barely out of their teens, these guys aren't trying to deconstruct New Wave or show off what they learned in art school. "Hats Off to the Buskers" isn't going to change your life, but it's a burst of unpretentious, enthusiastic fun.

Enjoy the video of "Wasted Little DJs."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

There are many intense and serious things to say about Alberto Gonzalez's lies

Alberto Gonzalez reviews his prior testimony.

But I'm not saying them tonight, as work, concertgoing and extreme socializing have rendered me a shell of a man.

A few open questions before I take a four-day vacation from posting and leave this platform in Flop's monkey-clap hands:
  1. To what degree is Alberto Gonzalez's obstruction a product of direct orders from above?
  2. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, could you conceivably vote Republican?
  3. Should I buy an XBox 360 just for NCAA 2008?
  4. Where can I find a good dogfighting match?
  5. Have you lost your iPhone yet, dumbass?
  6. Who wants some fucking pie?

Wiped Stripes

I've got this policy about never writing negative words about live performances because, shit, I don't imagine that it's easy to go on stage for a succession of nights to entertain a needy crowd hoping to hear that song you've played a few hundred times and are probably sick of. Plus, it takes a certain amount of balls to do these things, and as a man with no known musical talent himself, I'm predisposed to defer to those with courage. Everyone's a critic and most people are DJs.

Still, something was a little off with tonight's White Stripes show at Madison Square Garden. They'd just completed a heroic tour of Canada, and I don't think Jack and Meg have headlined venues the size of MSG. They seemed a little dwarfed -- there wasn't the kind of energy and bravado that it takes to fill that kind of room. No banter (which I don't necessarily mind; stage banter with the crowd can be a pain in the ass) but also little recognition by Jack that he was playing to an audience. You're waiting for the rush, for something to uncork, the kind of spontaneous intensity that distinguishes a murderous rock show from a competent performance, but that wasn't coming. It was studious intensity, almost tense, but not in a good dramatic way, almost in a nervous way. There was an excellent reworking of "Fell in Love With a Girl," Jack's guitar sounded great, Meg made for a good silhouette projected on a wall of red. But still.

Then they stepped out for the encore and everything seemed right. Jack was lighter, the crowd was more kinetic, and there was the feel that yes, this is why you all came here to be together after all.* Songs that I'd never loved ("Little Ghost") sounded kind of thrilling and the odd tension that I was discerning (imagining?) was gone.

Was something off-balance here? Am I imagining it? I'll blame myself.** It was the concert I've most looked forward to in 2007, so expectations were distorted. I've been enjoying "Icky Thump" even more than their other albums. The seats were great, on floor with a direct view of the stage. I waited for the passion and the play.

*Needless digression: One of the small good things about seeing live shows is the people-watching, and the big difference between a general admission venue and a place like MSG is assigned seating. The people around you, it's like being on a flight, and you're forced to observe them for awhile. When my friends and I walked out we immediately started talking about the trio in front of us: a completely wasted guy in his mid-20s, a seemingly long-suffering girlfriend or wife, and an older guy that appeared to be his father. The guy and his dad kept grabbing each other by the head and talking into each other's face. At one point, there was man-on-dad face kissing. Periodically, the guy would try to dance, but then fall onto the startled row in front of him. The woman seemed frustrated and embarrassed; the dad appeared to be giving his son woman advice from time to time; the dad didn't seem to enjoy the show, but pretended to for the guy's benefit. It was somewhat reminiscent of Timmy Baterman, and another reminder of why you shouldn't intern your kid in the Micmac Burial Ground.

**It might have been some kind of personal funk. Somehow I managed to get fucking disoriented when I came out of the subway and confused myself on east-west directions. By now the geography of this city is tattooed on my brain. I never get lost, and I've got the instincts of a homing pigeon. Drop me in the middle of Calcutta without a map or translator, and I'll immediately know where I am and where I want to go. Still, I somehow got fucking confused about finding 8th and 33rd. Friends speculated that I suffered a mild stroke. If I suffered a mild stroke, that might explain my mild reaction.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Jimmy Dean declined to comment

Found in today's New York Post:

In his suit filed in Manhattan federal court last month, James Bonomo, a former paper sales manager for Mitsubishi International Corp., alleged that his career effectively ended after the humiliating incident during what should have been a routine business trip to China in April 2005.
Bonomo joined MIC's New York office in 1999, and his suit said that during his tenure, annual sales grew tenfold, from $3.5 million to $39 million.

Well done, sir. You are an exemplary paper sales manager and a credit to the company.
The suit also says that during a trip to Beijing, Bonomo and his Tokyo-based superior, Tetsuya Furuichi, and a China-based Mitsubishi exec had dinner with a potential customer.
The world is flat, global village, etc. Just wonderful.
Afterward, Furuichi took everyone to a bar for some liquor-fueled karaoke, telling Bonomo beforehand, "You will be the target tonight," the suit charges.
Hijinks! I bet that they made him sing "Livin' on a Prayer."
Later that same night, Furuichi allegedly pressured Bonomo into visiting a bathhouse for what he said would be "a non-sexual massage" with the clients. En route, Bonomo's boss regaled him with an analysis of his admiration for the purported genital size of Italian-Americans, he said.
Very flattering. People don't say these things to WASPs.

Despite Bonomo's discomfort, Furuichi continued on in that vein [sic], allegedly saying, "Italian men have penises 'down to here,' gesturing to his knees."


At the bathhouse, a colleague from Mitsubishi's Beijing office, Yue Zhibo, took a picture of Bonomo's penis on his cellphone and then "refused to delete the picture" when Bonomo demanded he do so, the suit states.

This is why I'm always yelling at you fuckers about your camera phones. One minute you're taking snapshots of pretty flowers and puppies at the park, and the next thing you know you're sneaking snapshots of your coworkers' wangs and and dongs being all drunk and belligerent about it. In the future, if I see you whip out your cameraphone, I'll just assume that I can never trust you when we hang out at the massage parlor/bathhouse.

After the incident, Bonomo's boss, Furuichi, compared Bonomo's penis to an "Italian sausage," the plaintiff said.

Moral of the story: Business trips to China are wacky fun until drunken Asians flip out about your huge ethnic penis, entrap you into getting erect at the massage parlor and take pictures of your boner with a cameraphone. By the time you're back to the office, the legend of your penis has grown and you're stuck listening to stupid meat jokes instead of being celebrated for your paper sales.

I couldn't find the South Park clip I wanted, so this will have to suffice.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tired cliché

Lost and Friday Night Lights both got stiffed when the Emmy Award nominations were announced last week, which is both 1.) idiotic and 2.) unsurprising.

These kinds of awards, they're better as period snapshots than contests about merit. Voters have to judge quality in real time, and as a result, the winners of these things are works that satisfy traditional criteria extremely well. The Sound and the Fury didn't win the Pulitzer Prize -- something called Scarlet Sister Mary won instead, and the year that The Great Gatsby came out, the award went to a novel called So Big. The Rolling Stones never won a major Grammy; with a few exceptions, any list of Grammy winners reads like an encyclopedia of bad taste. That phrase about genius never being recognized in its own time is a trite cliche, but its true: most great works are initially received as abrasive, strange or profane.

I'm too big of a man to give a shit about these things, but still. Lost is about halfway through its run. It's the most complicated and ambitious television show ever, more than even The Sopranos or Twin Peaks. It will be tough to judge the series until it wraps -- it's established so many complex storylines and characters that a botched ending could ruin the whole project. There better be boatloads of resolution.

John Locke doesn't care about your award.

The problem, I think, is that Lost is told more like a novel than a weekly TV drama. Some individual episodes can seem boring and inconclusive, when in fact they're setting up a slow-burn payoff or detailed character exposition that leads to something bigger. The rewards are enormous. This incredibly ambitious show is frustrating in small doses, and then, after a couple dozen episodes, you learn how to watch it. I've been re-screening the first two seasons on a loop for the past few months, consistently impressed by how small moments foreshadow a payoff 20 episodes later. It is set all over the world: African rebellions, the first Iraq War, Siberia, modern hospitals and the rural South. The final episodes of the most recent season -- with massacres and executions and heroic self-sacrifice -- were at least as impressive as The Sopranos' excellent last chapter. The problem, I think, is that a lot of people view it as a serial drama like 24, not a long-form accounting about free will and science.*

On NBC, Friday Night Lights is more conventional. Its cast of attractive teenagers playing football in a small town would do fine on the WB. But instead this is a show about loss and isolation. Dates, games and teenage sex are things characters do to pass the time and distract themselves from the divorces and isolation and the feeling that whatever is in their future, it probably isn't good.

Coach Taylor doesn't care about your fancy award == only winning state.

This is a marketing problem for NBC. The show isn't light enough to appeal to Laguna Beach types, but a show about football in rural Texas isn't a natural sell to West Wing viewers. Critics love the show but confuse the issue even further by insisting that it isn't actually about football. Obviously, it is. Sports means something more than scores, and here's a show that understands that. Your dad may be serving in Iraq, leaving you to care for your mentally ill grandmother, so that game on Friday is your chance to be in control and find vindication. Everything about sports is the collision of biography and escapism.

Friday Night Lights is subtle and detailed, as specific and observational as Lost is broad and symbolic. They're both unconventional television, executed extremely well. Instead, this year, the Best Drama nominees include two medical shows (Grey's Anatomy and House -- I've never seen either), Boston Legal (never seen it), Heroes (never seen it; no use for it) and The Sopranos. Except for The Sopranos, these shows come from a long lineage going back to Marcus Welby, M.D., The Defenders and George Reeves. The may be fine, and never having seen them, I can't say anything negative, except to note that Lost and Friday Night Lights could be as great as any novel or movie this decade. Conventional stories, told extremely well, have their place.

More of the same, probably executed extremely well. Insert trite cliche.

Additional resources and trivia Lostopedia; The Lost Community; 59th Annual Emmy Nominations; and online streaming of Friday Night Lights episodes. Hilariously awful Grammy winners for Record of the Year include Olivia Newton-John for "I Honestly Love You" (1975), Captain & Tennille for "Love Will Keep Us Together" (1975), Kim Carnes for "Betty Davis Eyes" (1982), Toto for "Rosanna" (1983), "We are the World" (1986), Bobby McFerrin for "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (1989), and Shawn Colvin for "Sunny Came Home" (1998), and many, many others.

*And many other things. I'm on board with this excerpt from a book called Living Lost by J. Wood: "Lost draws on a specific sense of 21st century isolation and distress; it taps into some very here-and-now concerns, and speaks to the audience’s deeper lizard-brain psyche as it weaves its sophisticated tales. The pilot begins with a close-up of Jack’s eye as it opens and the pupil contracts, drawing the audience in, and drawing our attention to the importance of perception; from the outset, scenes are framed through detailed, personal lenses. As Jack’s eye opens, the plane has just gone down, leaving a number of survivors stuck on an isolated island unable to communicate with the wider world. Something unseen on the island seems to be hunting them, and they don’t know when the next attack may come, in what way, or by whom. At first this “ghost fear” of an impending attack seems to come from something monstrous, then becomes more tangible with the arrival of the Others, characters a lot more pirate-ish than dinosaur-ish. By the second season, new threats emerged from within their own group, and the specter of an unknown disease requiring quarantine loomed in the background. These story elements, which continue to be written on a week-by-week basis, are phantom parallels to our real concerns since September 11, 2001. What Lost does so successfully is take these very real concerns straight off the front pages, abstract them into their psychological impression, and then crystallize that sense back into the framework of the narrative. These characters aren’t being threatened by otherworldly aliens or vampires, creatures normally only seen on the screen or in pulp fiction; this situation involves the psychodynamics of terrorism that the contemporary audience experiences in the everyday world and plays it out on television 24 times a year."

Friday, July 20, 2007

It's a flexible kind of tradition

Notre Dame is Timbuktu -- a gathering place in the middle of nowhere, where people barter and exchange ideas. Except that at Notre Dame the goods aren't ivory and precious metal, but pretty wax wings and illusions about medium-grade celebrity quarterbacks.

Still, few dispute that the University of Notre Dame physically exists. It includes a collection of structures frequented by persons willing to provide atmosphere for a middling football program. There are buildings, and some persons enter and exit those buildings. Irrespective of how much a person hates Notre Dame (be it extreme hatred or a more epic kind) we all agree that, without question, the entity includes structures, as well as persons affiliated with those structures

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame will face Washington State in San Antonio on Oct. 31, 2009. The game at the Alamodome will be the first of annual offsite games Notre Dame plans to play to try to make its contests more accessible to fans around the country.

A middling football program should travel cross-country to play another middling football program in the Republic of Texas. There is no football in Texas. Notre Dame students and alumni, who are used to attending home games on Notre Dame's campus, gladly give of themselves to show Texas the way.
"We believe these events will provide great opportunities for fans to see our team play when they may be otherwise challenged to travel or obtain tickets for games in South Bend," he said.
How true. As there is no football in Texas, the state's desperate citizens and its many, many Notre Dame fans look north to the green light and the orgiastic future. Besides, Notre Dame's students and alumni don't need to be actually present at "home" games. This game will be broadcast on NBC, and they see plenty of "home" games besides. It would be selfish of the football program to play all of its "home" games at its actual "university." The world is Notre Dame's home.

Of course, playing a "home" game in Texas may "otherwise challenge[]" the normal students, fans and alumni who expect to, like, go to their school's home games and shit. Fly to Texas on wax wings, maybe?
"Notre Dame has never played in San Antonio, so this will be a tremendous opportunity to showcase our program in a new city, and in a state in which we have a strong emphasis in recruiting," Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said Friday.

Looks like somebody buried the lede. A roadshow wherein a middling program plays another middling program at a location where neither has historical ties or a recognizable fan or alumni base might be a fine idea. It will be like a fake bowl game on Halloween -- and on a Sunday no less, so NBC can counterprogram the NFL. So it's pretty much like a bowl game and an NFL game in October, all rolled into one. It helps recruiting. So who needs "home" games at "home?" Maybe all Notre Dame "home" games should alternate between the Alamodome, the Meadowlands and the Citrus Bowl. Will help recruiting.

The program could play Texas, or Texas A&M, perhaps even SMU or Texas Tech, and gain exposure in Texas. If showcasing the program in a new city and giving this alleged legion of Notre Dame fans in Texas an opportunity to watch the game were an actual goal, Notre Dame could schedule a match against one of several high-quality Texas programs.

If the goal involves recruiting, an away game at Austin or College Station may very well be a bust. Far better to schedule another middling team on neutral ground.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame will play football games at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., in 2011 and 2014.

A middling football program should travel cross-country to play another middling football program in the football-deprived state of Florida. There is no football in Florid-

It is an attempt to return the school to its independent roots.
The idea is to be independent of a conference, not independent of a campus or students.

Athletic director Kevin White has said the goal is to travel to different parts of the country and ensure that the school remains a nationwide program.

USC doesn't have a problem maintaining a nationwide program. It doesn't take its home games on the road to perform exhibitions in Chicago or Atlanta or Jefferson City, Missouri. Florida, Ohio State, Texas, LSU, Oklahoma and Michigan -- we're all doing just fine, as are Wisconsin, Penn State, Texas A&M, lowly Boise State and humble Hawaii, and none of these programs has an exclusive contract with a national television network. They subsist just fine.
White has compared playing "home" games at other sites to the barnstorming approach that Knute Rockne took while coaching the Irish in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, Notre Dame actually symbolized something. For example, a great man named Al Smith, then governor of New York, ran for President 1928. As the son of Irish Catholic immigrants, he was subject to the most vicious ethnic smear campaign in American political history. The cruelty of it ruined him as a person. In the 1920s, Notre Dame proved that even though the country despised Catholics, the Irish, and other immigrants, their boys could still pummel your ass on the football field. This was an important chapter in what college football meant in American social life.

It wasn't a cheap marketing ploy. Call it what it is -- cynical, commercial, self-interested or just fucking weird. But don't pretend that this football program respects tradition (its own, or the game's in general) when the team flies to San Antonio or Orlando on wax wings, in hopes of impressing four-star safeties and the NBC sports department.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Greetings, zombie whores

This -- this -- is what you get with your stupid camera phone and your YouTube and your retarded MySpace page and yes -- yes -- your precious blog.

"Quickly, Amy! I have an idea!"

"What's that, Rob?"

"Let's take out our cameraphones and get some sweet-ass footage of steam and chemicals coming out of the burst pipe!"

"Sweet-ass idea, Rob. YouTube and Good Day, New York cannot ignore this."

If the next 9/11 is in the Financial District, I'm going to be punching my way through an army of these pathetic motherfuckers, who likely deserve whatever mesothelioma or asbestosis they contracted while hanging out at a burst steam pipe in hopes of getting sweet-ass footage.

(And yes, this is a lead image on the Drudge Report right now, and no, I'm not ashamed that I just got caught looking at the Drudge Report.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

RAWK! Liveblogging a muthafuckin' filibuster

10:15 p.m.: As we join the action in media res, Sen. Joe Lieberman (Ind.-Conn.) is giving head to a racehorse.

That's not exactly accurate. For those who don't have pay subscriptions to Congressional Quarterly or Roll Call's website, this filibuster involves the Levin-Reid Amendment, which would establish a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

He's already given a long lesson on the importance of the filibuster, which involved misquoting James Madison as saying something about coffee. At some point he abruptly segued into a digression about how Iranians screaming "Death to America" don't distinguish between Republicans and Democrats.

10:27 p.m.: Lieberman spells the word "goal." "G-O-A-L, goal." It's very Go-Team!

"Who does it bite?" he then asks. "I think it bites our hope for success in Iraq. It bites our troops ... It bites our hope for keeping Al Qaida and Iran out of controlling Iraq."

You can't bite hope, smart guy. You can bite a racehorse's boner, Joe Lieberman, but hope can't be bitten. It's not actually a thing with feathers. I have a suggestion for something that Lieberman himself can bite. And I'm sure that if my longtime friend Bitey, the gentlewoman from Tennessee were there, she would take umbrage at the root of her good name being dragged through the gutter by the likes of you, sir.

10:33 p.m.: Fucking hell, man. This reminds me why I donated to Ned Lamont.

10:37 p.m.: Lieberman: "You can't fight Al Qaida if you withdraw from Iraq." I'd like to keep this light, but I find myself becoming pissed.

10:38 p.m.: "I know people laugh and jest when people say if you don't defeat them there you'll be fighting them here." Yes, fucker. Yes.

My bad-assed collection of books on Bush and Iraq. For funnier pictures, click here.

10:43 p.m.: "I know that cots have been brought in tonight to allow Senators to sleep during parts of the night when they're not required on the floor. What I hope this does is wake up the Senators." Good luck, dick, because you're putting those poor bastards to sleep.

10:44 p.m.: He actually believes that the occupation of Iraq is a proxy war against Iran.

10:49 p.m.: In more important news than Joe Lieberman's fever dreams:

Save David Vitter's Penis

10:51 p.m.: Joe Lieberman, what the fuck is up with you and teeth? Did you just utter the phrase "a reasonable hope of victory from whose jaws this amendment would snatch defeat"? Who picks your mastication metaphors?

10:52 p.m.: Hey, fuckers! It's Sherrod Brown! Lieberman's done!

For those who don't know, whenever Sherrod Brown enters the Senate chamber he's accompanied by the Lovely Elizabeth. He's adorned in a purple velvet robe, and the spotlights make the sweat shine on his pectorals.

But Sherrod's looking a little rough tonight. Ever see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? The movie about filibusters, when Jimmy Stewart plays a scout-mad bachelor senator, obsessed with young scouts, who gives a long filibuster to preserve land for the young, succulent scouts of his district? By the end of the filibuster he is sweating and unshaved, aflame with passion for scouts -- the young, supple scouts, his life for them! -- and the Republic.

Is this film pro-NAMBLA propaganda?

Sherrod Brown looks kind of like that right now. Only he's not talking about his love of those fresh, youthful, succulent scouts, the way that Jimmy Stewart did in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He's just a little unkempt.

11:07 p.m.: Sherrod Brown is a card-carrying bad-ass, the Paul Wellstone heir, the real deal, but his speech is disappointingly even-tempered and mature. He barely gets in any good slams. Best he can muster: "That stubbornness is not leadership. That defensiveness is not leadership." Later, he uses the phrase "partisan antics and petty political gains."

Dude. I just endured 30 minutes of Joe Lieberman, waiting for you to filibust a cap in somebody's ass.

Thanks a lot.

11:07 p.m.: Susan Collins (R-Maine), sister of Joan Collins and Jackie Collins, speaks.

I think she's talking in iambic pentameter, and that one of the first phrases she used was "hard on."

11:07 p.m.: "Vitriolic rhetoric and veto threats." Lots of alliteration from serious senators placed in powerful positions. She has her sister's flair for language.

There's a resemblance, you see.

11:12 p.m.: Susan Collins's breathy oratory reminds me of the prose of her equally talented sister, Jackie. Since Susan, the "smart" sister, isn't saying much of interest, I'd like to treat you to an excerpt of Lovers and Players, written by Jackie, the "creative" sister:
“Never forget it pays the bills, girl,” said Cindi, a buxom twenty-three-year-old originally from Atlanta, with gleaming black skin, thick ankles, an ample ass, huge breasts, and a wide, inviting smile.
Bi-racial, the product of a black mother and what she assumed was a mixed father---a man her mother refused to talk about, let alone reveal his identity---Liberty was milk chocolate skinned, with lustrous long black hair, elongated green eyes, thick brows, impossibly long lashes, cut-glass cheekbones, full lips, a pointed chin, and a straight nose. Cindi was always carrying on about how Liberty looked like Halle Berry, which kind of irritated her, because she considered herself an original and did not care to be compared to anyone---however gorgeous and successful they might be.

Liberty was nineteen. She had plenty of time.
“Rude little bitch!” Liberty heard the woman mutter to her male companion as she walked away from the table. “Who does she think she is?”

Liberty was not bothered, she’d been called worse.

She was just about to go into the back when she spotted Mr. Hip-Hop himself walking in.
Cindi, who was up on everything showbiz, soon filled her in. Cindi devoured Essence, Rolling Stone, People, Us, Star, and The National Enquirer. She watched Access, ET, Extra, and E! every single day. “That dude is famous, married, rich, an’ way outta your reach,” Cindi had informed her. “Forget it, girl,’cause this big boy ain’t lookin’.”
Full excerpt available on

Now available in paperback.

11:23 p.m.: We're on to Bob Menendez, and what we're seeing is the future cast of a season of The Surreal Life.

Like, Menendez and Lieberman and Collins, and Jackie Collins, Linda Evans and Dustin Diamond, they're in this house, you see, and Dustin Diamond throws a half-eaten turkey sandwich at Lieberman, which hits him in he eye and screws up his contact lens, and the producers have to get involved because Lieberman is talking about assault charges, and now he's got mayonnaise from that sandwich leaving a grease stain on his tie, and how he feels unsafe living in the same house with Dustin, so immediately we all remember that earlier season of The Surreal Life when Rob "Vanilla Ice" Van Winkle was the hot-tempered difficult housemate, and Lieberman starts raving at Diamond about Iran and calls him a Jihadi, and Menendez is all, "That's racist, sir! You are a racist!" Diamond tries to make up with Lieberman -- "Hug it out, bitch," he says, because Dustin Diamond is precisely the kind of person who thinks quotes from Entourage are witty (Did you notice his cameo in that shitty Vince Vaughn/Jon Favreau vehicle Made? That was one bullshit movie; I think I saw it in the theater.) -- and the Collinses, Susan and Joan, are all, "That's misogynist, sir! You are a misogynist!" And Dustin Diamond is so pissed that the house is ganging up on him, that everyone is "against" him and no one "understands" him, that he quits the show in a rage and moves back to Milwaukee.

And then the producers of The Surreal Life replace him with Mike Lookinland.

Might as well write a long hypothetical, because Menendez is giving me nothing.

11:39 p.m.: Menendez is making a very serious speech, but it's not particularly interesting or original.

Joe Lieberman's rhetoric on teeth cannot be the high point of my evening. Where the fuck is Howell Heflin when you need him?

That's right... He's dead.

11:55 p.m.: Hey, fuckers. I have a behind-the-scenes story to share. I paused Tivo and this live blog to take a shower and shave, because shaving before bed shaves (ha!) five minutes off my morning and gives me more time to sleep in. So I've been behind, and I'm going to fast forward the shit out of Bob Menendez.

11:56 p.m.: Quorum roll call time.

12:02 a.m.: OMG the quorum roll call went wrong and the speaker pro temp just slipped and said, "Mrs. Brownback," LOL.

12:18 a.m.: We're 22 minutes into the vote all we've got is a live shot of the Senate floor. My eyes, they are ineluctably drawn toward Debbie Stabenow.

12:22 a.m.: Upon reflection, present-day Mike Lookinland resembles Bob Eubanks.

12:31 a.m.: Fucking hell, man, it's Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). My ears briefly prick up because he uses the phrase "University of Georgia cheerleader," but he's talking about a guy who enlisted.

No good cheerleading material ... yet.

12:40 a.m.: Now it's Daniel Akaka.

And I'm tired, and I'm starting to feel like a bit of a dick for making fun of people who are talking about something I care about.

Before I go to bed, another excerpt from Lovers & Players, by Ms. Jackie Collins:
"What’s your name, dear?” the bald man with an abundance of hair sprouting from his ears inquired.

“Liberty,” the young waitress replied.

“What’s that?” he said, peering at her.

“Liberty,” she repeated. It’s written on my nametag, asshole. Can’t you see it?

“What kind of name---”

Oh, puleeze! You got any idea how many times I’ve had to go through this conversation? Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their baby Apple. Courteney Cox and David Arquette, Coco. What’s so unusual about Liberty?
What's so unusual about liberty, indeed.

12:41 a.m. (It's Flop; my first update got accidentally deleted, but que sera ...). I just got finished watching Sen. Isakson from Georgia with some sob-story about how we must continue to stay in Iraq so that it's not in vain for those who died. So basically, he's advocating a pyramid scheme of dead bodies. Soldier 1 dies, but we can't pull out because if we do his death is in vain. So that's why Soldier 2 dies. But we still haven't succeeded, so Soldier 3 goes into the breach. Once he's killed, we still haven't succeeded, but to save the lives of all the other still living soldiers would mean that those first three soldiers died in vain. So Soldier 4 must go off and die. And so on and so on.

This is truly frightening logic, cloaked in just enough reasonable-sounding rhetoric to carry the day at a dinner table or on TV or among people who make all their decisions on impulse. Which, I suppose, is true of almost all Republican policies.

These people are awful. OK, the nice old man Daniel Akaka is done speaking and crazy-ass Tom Coburn M.D. (!!!) is taking the floor. As Helena Bonham Carter's character said in Fight Club : "Oh, here comes an avalanche of bullshit."

12:55 a.m. The Flopster here, rocking you through the night. Coburn was talking about the Persian Empire earlier, and making scary comments about how they might be trying to take over the world! OMG! Ahmadinejad fancies himself a Darius for a New Persian Century! Man the phalanx! I'm always amazed at all the historical references the batshit right can come up with. This is just like in WWII, when Chamberlain wanted to give Saddam the Sudetenland. No, this is like when the Ottoman empire was trying to invade Vienna. No, they want a new caliphate. OMG! The Moops are coming! They're going to take over the U.S. like they did in Spain! Along with the Mexicans! Is it a coincidence that there's a city in California called Alhambra? OMFG!!!!! They're coming for us!!! NGAHHHHH!


Where was I? Oh yes, Coburn is talking. He looks like an absolute snake. I would not trust him to remove a booger from my nose, let alone my appendix. I'd let Frist operate on me first.

Coburn is now talking about how the American people need to learn about the consequences of us leaving Iraq. Yes, there's nothing Iraqi people want more than us to stay there and keep Iraq in it's current stable, peaceful state.

Also, he would like us to consider what would happen if the United States might have to eventually return to the Middle East. You know what, asshole, we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it.

Hey, if only we'd left our doughboys in northern France after Amiens, World War II would never have happened! Great idea! And we struggled so much in Vietnam because we didn't have troops stationed there starting in 1954.

OK, now he's being so stupid I can't keep up. I leave you with these words of wisdom from Oklahoma's more-crazy Senator. (And yes, out-crazying James Inhofe is a feat.)

"Darfur's going to seem like a blip on a screen compared to what's going to happen in Iraq if we leave."

So true, asshole. And just look how bogged down we've gotten there.

1:11 a.m. Tom Harkin sighs, as if to say "Man, digging out from under that mountain of manure is going to be tough work." He's reminding us about what a bloodbath Vietnam became after we left, making what happened in Cambodia look like a blip on a screen. And now he's pulled out a giant posted that reads "Let Us Vote."

If I had photoshop, I'd totally take the picture of a pretty lady and put it on a photo of the poster on the easel. Probably this one, because I really like it:

Someone's been doing crunches, I see.

Harkin seems to be delivering a wonderfully understated takedown here, but come on man. It's after 1 a.m. Let's have some passion. I'm not asking for some Preston Brooks action here, but let's see some fire.

1:28 a.m. I just did 50 crunches.

1:30 a.m. A friend who is actually staying up and watching (and possibly even reading) asks: Do you think Lieberman voted for Bush in 2004? I bet he did. In fact, I bet he voted for Bush in 2000. Too bad the election didn't come down to Connecticut, instead of Florida. It could have been like in Election, when that one dude votes for Tracy Flick instead of himself, and winds up swinging the election.

Also, I like to imagine Holy Joe praying and thanking God for "what I'm told is a large penis."

Of course, in this case, he's referring to the one on the horse he's busy fellating in the cloakroom.

1:35 a.m. I wonder if Surge is the official soda of the Republican party. I bet there's cases of that shit on ice in the Republican cloakroom to keep everyone awake.

1:53 a.m. Wow, someone's all hopped up on sugar, caffeine and a witches' brew of hate, stupidity and xenophobia. Ladies and gentlemen, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.!

"We're taking a lot of casualties in Iraq ... because that's where they are killing our soldiers. That's the reason we're taking on casualties in Iraq because that is where our soldiers are."

"We move troops to Afghanistan they'll start killing our troops there, because that's what they are and that's what they do. They are killers, whose goal is to kill Americans. And they're going to keep coming at us. And I really don't think sometimes our colleagues on the other side see this for what it is, a titanic struggle between good and evil between radical Islam and nations that cherish freedom."

John Thune is the Tim McCarver of foreign policy. If Tim McCarver were a bigoted, fearmongering douchelord who conflates basically everyone in southwestern Asia into "they" who want to kill us. They, they they, fear, fear, fear, kill, kill kill.

Now he's bemoaning Democrat (sic) comments on the unpopularity of the war as the "politicization of the war on terror."

Nothing gives Republicans the vapors like the politicization of important policy aims. That and tender, yet ardent man-sex within the confines of marriage.

1:54 a.m. McCain sighting! Yay, war, yay Iraq. This is the second senator I can't believe I voted for. True story, I voted for him in the 2000 Michigan primary, mainly because I feared the momentum Bush had. Also, at the time, he seemed like a reasonable, respectable Republican, the kind I might have once voted for in earnest, three years earlier or so.

2:02 a.m. Webb jumps in! Asks Thune if he thinks the members of the armed forces are likely to have the same diversity of views as the American public. Thune is clearly getting uneasy at the idea of engaging Webb in debate. He's saved by the bell, however, when the president (McCaskill, I think) clarifies that the Senator with the floor can only yield for a question. Thune shows no further interest in yielding time, reclaims it and and, like a kid whose big brother has just shown up, sticks his tongue out at Webb. (Actually, he just made some comment about how maybe Webb should go talk to the troops in Iraq, rather than the ones who have returned home.)

Thune, you are a total pussy. I bet it sucks to live in fear.

2:06 a.m. Maria Cantwell has the floor. For a Senator, she's pretty foxy. Not quite Loretta Sanchez-caliber, but hey -- this is the Senate, it's a much more exclusive club.

2:09 a.m. Our Ozarks bureau chief checks in. He points out that Mark Pryor, D-Ark, won't be speaking tonight because he, like John Thune, has no balls. Also, he has no opinions and never talks at all. Now seems like the time to point out that said bureau chief once bought me a bottle of wine from Arkansas, which actually had the outline of the state on the label.

I haven't had it yet. I'm saving it.

If Pryor doesn't speak, I'll buy said chief a beer next time he's in town. Speaking of, I might take a break for a bit. I'll return if anything truly stupid happens.

2:10 a.m.-4:10 a.m. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and an especially smug and prickish Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), take the floor, with an interlude from John McCain, who then takes the floor for good around 4 a.m. I bet if I ever met Jeff Sessions he'd so piss me off that within five minutes I'd be like "Admiral Farragut says hello" and "Man, that 2000 Orange Bowl sure was something."

4:13 a.m. While he's gesturing at a map of the middle east and probably jabbering on about some bullshit, McCain's cell phone goes off. He silences it without missing a beat. Say what you will, but the man's a pro. Question: Who's calling him at that time? Shortly thereafter, a sleepy looking Hillary Clinton takes the floor. I know it's like a law or something that all writing about Hillary Clinton must focus on her appearance or some other superficial aspect of her, but in this case it's valid. Does she just eschew caffeine? She's talking slowly and fuzzily, as if her tongue suddenly got about three times heavier than normal. Was there not a single aide waiting by her cot with a fucking Starbucks Doubleshot or a Red Bull or some shit? Crikey.

5 a.m. or so. The newest senator, John Barasso adresses the Senate for the first time. Good for him, is my first thought, but upon seeing his stupid tie (a four-in-hand pulled tight down to the size of a grape; I find this very irritating for some reason) and his support for the war, I've had enough. Huzzah for him, he'll always remember the time he first addressed the Senate at 5 in the morning. I bet he votes like a loyal, war-loving Republican.

5:20 a.m. QUORUM CALL, MOTHERFUCKERS! This quorum is going to get the FUCK called out of it. I can just tell.

5:29 a.m. I just invented a new rule to live by. And that rule is: Any time I'm watching C-SPAN2 after 5:30 in the morning and the only action is a quorum call, I'm going to bed.

5:30 a.m. Guess what? I'm going to bed. It's been real.

We got a fil-i-bus-ter!

Cause we gotta filibuster, rockin' through the night
Yeah we gotta filibuster, ain't she a beautiful sight?
No more votes for cloture, ain't nothin' gonna git in our way
We're gonna roll this debate convoy, cross the Senate floor

-- Repurposed lyrics to "Convoy" by C.W. McCall.

I would normally take the time to write up a full post about the upcoming filibuster, in which Republican Senators will be forced to publicly stand up and give the middle finger to Americans and Iraqis alike. There's a decent chance it becomes a watershed moment in the coverage of the war, although the actual public opinion went south long ago. Such a change would be welcome. The majority of Americans have come around to the belief that this war is some combination of immoral, senseless and unwinnable. And they've mostly done that all on their own, without any major national outlets or pundits leading the charge. Maybe it's time for the kind of thing that will get reporters -- many of whom are social-studies geeks at heart -- to wake up.

Yeah, I've got lots to say about this filibuster -- it's got potential to do much-needed damage to what's left of support for the war, among other things. But for now, I'm busy watching Convoy to examine my hypothesis that Majority Leader Harry Reid is basically Rubber Duck -- a tough, bare-chested rebel from the American West with an uncanny ability to lead. Yes, he gets all the truckers to line up behind him with ease, but in the end, thanks to some high-stakes brinksmanship, he can even get his enemies to see things his way.

I predict CB lingo becomes a fad again, pundits decide the Democrats have "overreached" by "playing to their base and the bloggers" and most Republicans still continue to chain themselves to the lead balloon that is their Dear Leader, George W. Bush. Mostly because they have no choice, having already painted war opponents and Bush opposers as terrorist sympathizers.

Breaker one-nine, bitches.

Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), shown during a quorum call.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I'll take a 740 with a side order of Shanty: Thoughts on the Decemberists

Photo taken from MediaEater's photostream.

"When I first got here there were two dorky teenagers sitting in front of me talking about word origins and Shakespeare," a friend said when I met him to see the Decemberists play Summerstage.

"Dude, don't be a dick about those kids," I said. "If there's anything that typifies Decemberists fans, that's it."

"I'm not making fun of them," he said. "You would have liked them. You could have been friends with them. One of them is trying out for MacBeth."

And there's your Decemberists demographic. In front of us there were eight or nine kids who looked like the coolest people in their A.P. Lit class. They acted the way I do at a Hold Steady show, shouting out the lyrics and dancing surprisingly well; I'm sure they'll all end up at Brown and Middlebury and Swarthmore, where they'll have the times of their lives, and I spent at least half the show watching them and wishing I was 16. There was an Ira Glass look-alike, and to our front left was a Dutch-looking middle-aged couple (the dude had a long blond pony tail, at least) swaying on command.

The core Decemberists demographic had (or aspires to have) high verbal SATs, and during the show you find yourself having conversations about things like whether it's historically accurate for the band walk out to the Soviet anthem when the Decembrist revolt predated the Russian Revolution by almost a century.

It's a strange band and a stranger crowd. When I first saw them play Irving Plaza in May 2005, I thought they were clever and above-average but essentially a novelty act. Tonight they had a couple thousand crossword aficionados and their teenagers bouncing on fake turf at Summerstage. If nothing else, they're building a dedicated, endearing cult following among people who like songs about sick orphans and whales. Or, to twist a Floppian catch-phrase, they're a "Prairie Home Companion" for the New American Century.

Perhaps as a result, Colin Meloy has grown from a competent, likable performer to a confident, impressive one. He visibly enjoys himself, hopping around stage like a drunk librarian at the thesaurus convention. Meloy literally stage manages the crowd: telling everyone to sit down on the turf, telling everyone to scream at an assigned point, telling everyone to repeat words or to wiggle their fingers in the air like ticker-tape. The crowd, being full of obedient A.P. Lit students, is thrilled to follow along.

With books, bands and movies, sometimes it isn't whether the work connects with you personally but whether it succeeds according to the goals it set. I've got all four of the Decemberists' albums, plus The Tain, but I don't fundamentally love them. I'm a sucker for lyrics and story songs. This band, like The Mountain Goats and Sufjan Stevens, they don't really hit me in any kind of deep way, but these weird, neatly crafted little stories work well for what they are. The Decemberists are like clever conversation at a formal cocktail party, or an Andrea Barrett short story: all charming and erudite, very likable, probably won't throw a drink in your face.

Still. On the subway ride up I listened to The White Stripes and when I got home I listened to the Black Keys. When I see a band I want the guitars to make my ears bleed, and my voicebox to hurt, and I want to lose my balance and fall down at least three times, and then walk outside with sweaty hair sticking to my forehead: floor seats to The White Stripes at the Garden; head-butting strangers when The Hold Steady plays Warsaw.

The Decemberists play with different rules, and their dorky-chic fans devour every second. So there I am in Central Park, watching planes in the distance, sort of loving the city and its people, watching the coolest kids in A.P. Lit choreograph moves to "The Chimbley Sweep," pointing out the Ira Glass look-alike to my friend and thinking about how reassuring it is to have a quirky, stylized band like this and a quirky, embraceable crowd like that accessible when I want them.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

In praise of:

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo. Don DeLillo reminds me of Stanley Kubrick. Both excellent stylists, in love with ideas, whose work never seems to be about actual people. The characters are vehicles. Then, late in his career Kubrick made Full Metal Jacket, for the first time crafting authentic-seeming characters who were valuable in their own right. Falling Man is DeLillo's Full Metal Jacket: not necessarily his best (I vote White Noise and Dr. Strangelove.) but his most human.

The book, about a 9/11 survivor and his family, sounded like a mess. The wife, Lianne, is a book editor who teaches writing to Alzheimer's patients (get it? memory and forgetting, etc.), and the protagonist, Keith, a lawyer, is a sort of white-collar everyman. In the weeks after 9/11, Lianne intersects with a performance artist called Falling Man, a David Blaine type without advance publicity, who appears in public places to performing seemingly fatal leaps.

The premise sounded terrible and the reviews have been mixed, but Falling Man is something close to spectacular. There has been frustration that DeLillo, an idea man, doesn't come out with the kind of elaborate narrative or radical arguments that animated Underworld or White Noise. But DeLillo has written the first truly good novel about September 11. Now that the event has become material for kitsch and cheap sloganeering, when even mentioning it seems like a political statement, you forget how oddly and dramatically people acted out in the weeks afterward. Friends lost religion, switched political parties, abandoned lucrative jobs, talked about suicide. Every small act seemed significant and every idea seemed like a revelation. DeLillo renders this beautifully: the paranoia Lianne feels in hearing Middle Eastern music, the son's obsessiveness with Bin Laden and syllables, the fake rebellion of an interracial affair. I'm not sure what more the critics want this to add up to: You don't get much headier than screaming in the darkness, against what you think is certain doom.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. I generally dislike it when novelists insert themselves into a story, thrusting their voices into a book's warm, moist pages, ejaculating passionate phrases and then coming to a penetrating climax. After McEwan's egregious Saturday, a 200-page book (even one with small pages and large typeface) about a sexually repressed couple's wedding night sounded like a doomed exercise. I hated the excerpt that The New Yorker published earlier this year.

Its opening line:
They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and the lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.
It might as well have started, "Once upon a time." McEwan was going to spread his omniscient seed all over the story.

Yes, but this is a great little book, vast and wise beyond its limited place and subject matter. It's about sex only in the way that Atonement could be described as being about gardening. It's no story of innocence. Like Atonement, it centers on an impulsive act that torments the characters for the rest of their lives. The sex isn't salacious or overwritten; it's not a horror scene either. This book, it's tense and brokenhearted, superb.

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick. Disagreement broke out about Blade Runner in the comments to a recent post on here. I haven't seen Blade Runner, but I knew it was based on a Philip Dick novel, and that same week, someone else mentioned his work. The Library of America just published a four-in-one anthology of his novels, which I picked up on a lark, going in skeptical and as someone who doesn't like science fiction.

The Man in the High Castle is alternative history, set in San Francisco and the Rocky Mountains. The U.S. lost World War II; the Eastern half is under Nazi charge, while the West Coast is a Japanese protectorate. We never see the Nazis up close, but learn that their rule is brutal. Africa's population has been exterminated. The Nazis have sent men to Mars, but like the Soviet Union, these gestures are a mask for a crumbling society. By contrast, the Japanese function as benevolent dictators, focused primarily on efficiency and stability, coexisting uneasily with Germany. Like the Americans, the Japanese characters ultimately are sympathetic, despite unclean hands. Their rule is condescending at worst, but far from thuggish.

But the book isn't even really about that either, because there's a book within a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which, in the book's world, is itself an alternative history about the chaos that unfolded when Roosevelt and Churchill won World War II. The Japanese allow the book to be published, the Nazis want to ban it, and half the world is reading it. The Man in the High Castle turns out to be a book about how history is written by the winners, and the manipulation of fact, and false inevitability and why any of us reads or writes fiction in the first place. Plus, its plot is thrilling. On Chesil Beach and Falling Man are both very strong books, but this is the one to keep you up past 3 a.m.

Frost/Nixon. High expectations and high bias. Every few years I go through an episode where I fixate on a subject and tear into every book I can find. One of those subjects has been Richard Nixon.

I know a lot about this. I have strong views, and the striking thing about Frost/Nixon was that for most of the play, Nixon is depicted as a kind of eccentric grandfather figure, relatively harmless and puttering. The play's first 10 minutes are highly entertaining and effective exposition on Nixon's tenure and resignation. We're approximately three-fourths of the way through when Nixon's darkness surfaces, in a vaguely hallucinogenic sequence that sets up the play's final conflict.

We never experience Nixon's true menace or brilliance, but I guess that might be beside the point. It's not about Nixon the person as much as two men from the outside who lusted to be the ultimate insiders, and the artifice that comes with it. The play seemed to know Frost better than Nixon, but maybe I say that because I know Nixon better than the play knows Nixon, and sometimes knowing too much is a bitch. The play is highly entertaining and watchable, and the performances are strong, but its lessons on television are a little tired, and I waited for an explosion that never came.

Wilco at Hammerstein Ballroom, June 25, 2007. Wilco performs excellent live shows. Both performances I've seen from them, the band steps out livelier and more impassioned than hinted in their polished, carefully produced albums.

As much as I don't think that I love them -- like, fucking, love love them, like, Neil Young, Hold Steady, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, O.P.P. love -- it seems like once every couple of months I hear the right Wilco song at the right time and have a little moment of clarity. "Kamera" and "California Stars" are pop* songs as dream sequences, and there's all that floating melancholy of "Via Chicago" and "She's a Jar" and "Hell is Chrome," these near-perfect, like, post-modern secular hymns (and fuck, this post is getting pretentious, but that's life) that never get too tweedy, and then I see a kick-ass rocking show like the one at Hammerstein and ask myself, "Why the hell aren't they in my top tier?"

Work like Sky Blue Sky is one reason, I guess, and the feeling that individual songs evoke are unsustainable over a whole album (A Ghost is Born comes closest for me) and there's sometimes this sense of smugness in the band's product, that Jeff Tweedy, while not tweedy, kind of thinks he's the smartest guy in the room. It's almost like he overthinks. He never lets loose with the kind of passion you hear in Neil's "Powderfinger," or in "Like a Rolling Stone" or in "Sway." The blue, you see, is sky blue, never subterranean-homesick or tangled up. Sometimes precision is a shame.

The caution of this band's albums -- as good as they are -- doesn't show when it plays live. They know how to guide a crowd, and the undercurrent of stately adornment fades. So "Heavy Metal Drummer" feels like more of a celebration, and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is just a kick-ass song, and the blue tangles up just enough to position passion ahead of perfection.

*I don't use "pop" pejoratively.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why you can't have your secular cake and eat it, too

Strangely enough, this is not a reason to ban spiritual invocations in governmental proceedings, although that was my first reaction. But no. The establishment clause is all we need, even though we kind of give it a wink and a nod in lots of cases.

This should serve nicely as a reminder for all those sensible Republicans (you know, the ones who have been making sure to show their distaste for Bush since 2005) that you can't base yourself on an alliance with religious extremists and not expect shit like this. I know you're just in it for the tax cuts and because Michael Moore is fat and those girls from East Quad had dirty feet and there's something fishy about Al Gore and you can't quite put your finger on it, but think about the choices you're making.

I'm deeply mortified by this, and I'm not quite sure why. I guess I'm embarrassed that such a thing took place in our country. It just adds to our hypocrisy. I think This is how I'd feel if I were an Ohio State fan watching my fellow partisans assault and pour beers on visiting fans in between cooler defecations.

I thank God every day that I'm not a religious extremist, an Ohio State fan or a Republican.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dateline Baghdad

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be a 26-year-old who spends summer vacation reporting out of Iraq, our friend David Enders is blogging about the experience amid his reporting gigs.

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be a 22-year-old who leaves a study abroad program to drive into Baghdad and start an English-language newspaper at the beginning of a military occupation, his book is out in paperback. A (very) small portion of all proceeds go toward inexpensive beer.

Noch ein Radler, bitte!

My problem last night: I had the bases loaded and I was down a run, and the best hitter in the major leagues was available to pinch hit, yet for some reason, I didn't ...

Wait, no. Sorry, that was Tony La Russa's problem last night, and he should be sending out personal refunds to everyone who paid good money to see two teams made up entirely of stars play each other and yet was forced to watch Aaron Rowand (whose name La Russa had to spell for umpire Bruce Froemming when he was putting him in the game) fly out to end it. Yep, this one totally counted.

Anyway, my real problem is that the heat makes me discursive. Also, I wanted a beer, but it was way too hot to have one. For a solution, I looked to other cultures.

The Radler: I learned about this last summer, during my excellent European adventures. It's a German thing, and when temperatures were in the high 80s in Munich, I was happy to be aware of it. It's basically a mix of fizzy lemonade and beer, and supposedly was invented so bikers could have beer without getting all loopy (although after observing the beer-drinking habits of Germans, I'm amazed that surgeons and pilots don't have specially designated spots for half-liter steins at their workstations. In Germany, you'd make it with a Helles, or light, clear lager. But because I'm in the States, I chose a Corona and one of those Limonata things that comes in the green can.

Holy shit, was this thing good. I know Americans are averse to mixing stuff with beer, but really, I'm happy to be a radler evangelist. I had two of them, and I didn't get all beery and uncomfortable the way I would have even after one Corona (let alone something like Brooklyn Lager). I'll have another, please.

The Michelada: A Mexican tradition combining beer, lime juice, and salt. I believe ice, and hot sauce are optional. Yes, I know, we're getting close to "OMG, but beer and tomato juice is GOOD" territory. But honestly, I've had a Michelada before, and it had too much salt on the rim and too much hot sauce in the mix. So I made my own by squeezing limes into the glass, tossing in a bit of kosher salt and adding a Corona (no ice). And, well, I learned something. You know how bubbles in beer or champagne form on tiny imperfections in the glass? Yeah, kosher salt works that way, too. Basically, if you ever need to provide a nucleation site to get all the dissolved gass out of a liquid in a hurry, adding some undissolved kosher salt to it should do the trick.

In the end, my salt fuckup precluded an accurate assesment of the michelada. But the flavors work for me, so next time I'm using more lime juice, leaving the salt to the rim of the glass, and will consider adding one drop of hot sauce to taste. I think I like the idea of the michelada more than I actually like the michelada for now. The radler (or Radler if you like your nouns Teutonically capitalized) fucking rules, but it's an outdoor, daytime, warm-weather drink, not a standby.

Of course, when it fucking cools off, this will all be moot and we can go back to drinking our beer unadulterated.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fuck it all.

Internal Monologue

Internal Voice 1: I hate this heat. I wish I were dead.

Internal Voice 2: Keep thinking about October and college football. Kickoff is less than 8 weeks away.

Internal Voice 1: This is like having the flu, except that it never goes away.

Internal Voice 2: Sucks to be you.

Internal Voice 1: I hate summer people.

Internal Voice 2: Naturally. But the people who are happy now, they're the ones you get to look down on when they bitch about snow.

Internal Voice 1: I could be living in Alaska. But no, I'm all excellent and shit and live in New York, and now I'm here, in hell.

Internal Voice 2: Hey, asshole. You get like this every summer. Remember how nice it will be in mid-October, when you get out of bed on Saturday morning with the windows open. The temperature will be in the 40s and it will be a football Saturday.

Internal Voice 1: Summer is like being in a long line for the men's room. You know how I recite the alphabet backwards when I'm in line for the men's room at a bar, when I need to take a piss. I'm waiting and waiting for it to end, so I do whatever I can to distract myself. In summer, all I want is cold days, football and a new Hold Steady album. Fall is taking that piss and summer is that line, only summer has fucked-up kidneys and bladder disease.

Internal Voice 2: Summer as bladder disease! I like it.

Internal Voice 1: I am full of anger and regret.

Internal Voice 2: You're a melodramatic pussy.

Internal Voice 1: See you after Labor Day.

Update: Now with More Outrage! Things I hate extra-bad in the summer include text messages, feelings, soccer, sweaters, summer blockbusters, smiles, laughter, the Republican primaries, soothing music, contaminated water, blackouts, typhoid, diarrhea, soup, sweets, hugs, barfing, glands, scents generally, seeing things, hearing things, taste, touch, movement and technology.

Update II: Helpful tips on surviving the summer! Lie in front of the air conditioner in your boxers. Only eat cold cereal. Don't make eye contact or talk to other people. Drink nine gallons of water daily. Think about football. Give yourself bruises -- hurting yourself reminds you that you can control your pain, too. Avoid sunlight.

Update III: I just watched this clip again and the world felt right. This is Requiem for a Dream territory that I'm in, and I'd happily see my arm sawed off for a big fix.

Monday, July 09, 2007

It's hot

And no movie captures a hot day in New York better than Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing.

This comes close enough, though.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Rockin' out, fire-escape style

It was late and I was more sober and serious than the ideal, not having had a drink until after 11 p.m. and just having seen the Baghdad bureau chief off to the airport for his latest work trip through failed and failing states. Landing at a crowded party in a tiny apartment somewhere around East 12th, an open jar of applesauce immediately was thrust in my face. I calmly bribed a hostile drunk chick to let me cut in line for the bathroom.

It was a few hours later. The party had wound down. Out on the precarious fire escape, smoking cigarettes, we could see into the apartment across the street, where a guy with a guitar leaned out the window. One of the remaining guests yelled to the guitarist, issuing song requests for five minutes or so until he turned around and waved. This was seen as encouragement, so the song requests from the fire escape gained momentum. Across the street, two guys stepped out to a third-floor fire escape with their guitars and started playing.

A woman and her boyfriend walked past on the sidewalk below. She photographed the impromptu performance. They played "Beast of Burden" and "Sweet Virginia," the Troggs, Matthew Sweet, some later Beatles, a few songs that I didn't recognize. The woman on the street kept photographing. We applauded politely at the end of each song, trying not to make too much outdoor noise at 2:30 a.m. and therein wake the host's neighbors, which probably was a moot consideration at that late hour with a small acoustic show underway.

It ended after six or seven songs -- three guys with guitars, four of us on the opposite fire escape. Someone from our team yelled across and said that we'd buy them beer. It was time to go home anyway, so we left, picking up beer at the bodega a couple doors away.

It was decided that beer alone was insufficient reward. I pulled down a can of soup and a can of deviled ham. Flop came over with a bottle of Murphy's Oil. "They'll want to clean their floors," he said.

"Lucky Charms, too!" I hissed.

"What about Fruit Loops?"

"No. Lucky Charms."

Four of us arrived at the apartment of the guitar-playing strangers with two six-packs of beer, a bottle of Murphy's Oil and non-perishables. In all, they received $30 in supplies in exchange for a seven-song performance.

Flop later expressed disappointment that we weren't all invited to stay and hang out, but by that point it was past 3 a.m. and they had strangers in their apartment distributing deviled ham, beer and floor cleaner. We could've pulled out the Book of Mormon and they would've been unfazed. Post-3 a.m., my appetite for live jams was filled. It was time to move on. It was 2 1/2 hours until daylight and there was breakfast to order.