Thursday, August 30, 2007

Holiday

It's quiet this week, in general. I always forget that people tend to flee for the week leading up to Labor Day. Can't blame them.

So, this will be the last post until Tuesday. I'll save some things I'm eager to share until then. Happy holiday, everybody.

AP Headline of the Day

Naked Man Does Hula, Steals Beer at Store

Notes on Hip Hop

Patrick Neate, who wrote an award-winning book about hip hop, has posted a long, thoughtful piece (long by blogging standards) about "breaking up" with the genre:
I still write about hip hop occasionally. Once, I used to write about it in small independent magazines for love and armfuls of free vinyl. Now, I write about it for broadsheet newspapers for money. I don't feel great about this. These newspapers aren't actually interested in hip hop culture, they just want to be authentic/ down/ real and the fact that I'm as authentic/ down/ real as they dare to trust tells you all you need to know.
Read the whole thing.

Streetcar/Waterfront

In the cinematic dog days of late August, Pajiba had the good sense to focus on classics all this week. Today, I look at A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront:
From the moment Brando appears, playing Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski, it’s clear that he’s doing something different. Watching him share a scene with the overly mannered Leigh is like watching Jackson Pollock drip his paint on to a Rembrandt portrait. But unlike the neverending debate about the virtues or sins of modern art, only the certifiably insane could deny the brilliance of Brando’s performance.
Here's the visual accompaniment, if you'd like it:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wednesday Kick Save

I almost forgot it was music day around here. I recently wrote about a Centro-matic song I love called "Atlanta." You can see the full-band version by following this link, but I wasn't crazy about the sound quality, which I like to keep up to my usual high standards. So, here's a different version, much quieter, by the band's leader, Will Johnson. Enjoy:

An Innocent Man

Richard Jewell, who was wrongly accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta has died at the age of 44, presumably due to complications from kidney problems. As the wire report notes:
Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for spotting a suspicious backpack in a park and moving people out of harm's way just before a bomb exploded during a concert at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. ... Three days after the bombing, an unattributed report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described him as "the focus" of the investigation.
It's hard not to find this quote incredibly sad:
"For that (first) two days, my mother had a great deal of pride in me -- that I had done something good and that she was my mother, and that was taken away from her," Jewell said around the time of the 10th anniversary of the bombing. "She'll never get that back, and there's no way I can give that back to her."

Jamestown and the Author's Recommendations

Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown is one of the funniest, most imaginative novels I've read in some time. Summarizing its plot, even if that were possible, wouldn't do it justice. In my former life as an editor (as opposed to my future life as an editor), it was one of the two or three books to come across my desk that I was most disappointed to fall short of acquiring.

It's a book of strange ambitions. As the author himself has said:
I'd say one of the ways I tried to use language to depict the impossible in Jamestown was to represent the past, the present, and the future happening simultaneously. This happens at the level of content--people in a future America living one of America's originary historical events as if it had never happened before--and, I hope, it also happens at the level of style--people talking in English that is Shakespearean one moment, Keatsean the next, Otis Reddingesque the next, or all in the same sentence, or word.
But in addition to having all of that on the page, Jamestown is a deeply pleasurable read. Here's the opening, and I think your reaction to it will almost perfectly predict whether the novel is for you or not:
To whoever is out there, if anyone is out there:

Today has been an awful day in a run of awful days as long as life so far. The thirty of us climbed aboard this bus in haste, fled down the tunnel, and came up on the river’s far bank in time to see the Chrysler Building plunge into the earth. The grieving faces of my colleagues being worse to look at than that crumpling shaft of glass, brick, and steel, I used my knees to plug the sockets of my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and clamped my nose and mouth shut with my thighs. All main entries to my head remained sealed till Delaware, where I looked up in time to see John Martin vault his seatback, steak knife aimed at George Kendall’s throat. Kendall, bread knife aimed at Martin’s throat, said, “How dare you say that!” Some great, quaint pre-annihilation philosopher described the movement of history as thesis, antithesis, synthesis, whereas I’ve seen a lot more thesis, antithesis, steak knife, bread knife.
So, you should read Jamestown. But what prompted this post was actually a post Sharpe contributed to Terry Teachout's blog, About Last Night. In it, he recommends five novels with elderly protagonists. The two I hadn't heard of caught my attention -- they sound worth investigating for those drawn to the absurd. Here are Sharpe's descriptions:
The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington. This fantastical novel whose author is probably better known as a painter concerns a 90-year-old woman whose family cannot distinguish between her, a rooster, and a cactus. She dies and comes back... as a 90-year-old woman.

Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf by Paul Fattaruso. My fellow Soft Skull author's novel is wise and beautifully written and its protagonist, being an unfrozen dinosaur, is way older than any of the others on this list.

Saratoga Race Course, Sky Country



NE/RD

The head cold is still with me, but thanks to the fine folks at Vicks (makers of DayQuil), I'm able to live a little more productively than I was yesterday.

Robert J. Oxoby, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, has published a short paper titled "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson." Here's a bit more explanation, from the paper itself:
Among musicologists, researchers of popular culture, and rock and roll lovers of all ages there exists a common debate. That is, with respect to the rock band AC/DC, who is the better vocalist: Bon Scott or Brian Johnson? ... In this paper, we explore this issue. Since it is difficult to ascertain which vocalist was better given the heterogeneity of musical tastes, our analysis does not focus on the aural or sonic quality of the vocalists’ performances. Rather, using tools from the field of experimental economics, we consider which vocalist results in individuals arriving at more efficient outcomes in a simple bargaining game.
If you're desperate to know who won, you'll have to follow the link above. And if you're desperate to know whether Oxoby intends this at all seriously (obviously, there's a lot of humor in the notion), he seems to have a legitimate interest in the subject. On his personal web site, you learn he's also a bassist who's played on songs titled "Dragstrip Girl" and "Hot Rod of Love," as well as an album called Cavalcade of Perversions, which sounds, in fact, like an AC/DC album title filtered through an economics department.

(Via Metafilter)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back but Hobbled

I'm back home in Brooklyn, with lots to share, and eager to post things that will quell any suspicions that I'm turning this into a full-time horse racing blog (though it would be fun to have one of those, too). But while on vacation, I contracted a massive head cold that fully blossomed during the ride home yesterday. I'm not one to complain about colds, but this feels different -- it's like someone was just punching my face all night while I tried (mostly in vain) to sleep. Ugh.

So -- more when I'm feeling a bit better...

Overheard...

...yesterday at a magazine/snack stand in the Albany Amtrak station, in a friendly tone, from a middle-aged female cashier to a slightly younger delivery man:
Well, if I had to guess how you’re going to die, then, I’d have to say your wife is gonna kill you.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Day Four at the Races


That's Street Sense, this year's Kentucky Derby winner, heading to the track Saturday for the 138th running of the Travers Stakes. (The race was first held in 1864, and has only missed six years since, the last being 1912.) What you can't see is the thousands of people around me who were elbowing in for a similar view. The ability to watch the horses walk around the beautiful paddock before each race is one of the many things to savor about Saratoga. Here's a slightly better sense of that area:


Like the Triple Crown races, the Travers features top 3-year-old horses. Remarkably, Street Sense was the first Derby winner to run in it since 1995. He went off as a heavy favorite against a field of six others, all very similar in color, which I hadn't noticed until just now. Here they are a moment after breaking from the gate:


Grasshopper (in green silks, third from the left) got out to an early lead and nearly held on for the upset. I got great video footage of the stretch run, which I hope to figure out how to post tomorrow. Street Sense barely prevailed, paying all of $2.70.

My day started on a promising note. I showed up in time for the fourth race of twelve, and won with a horse named Royal Guard. I also won the next race with Life is a Cabernet (ugh). But though she returned $45 for a $2 bet, the race left a bad -- no, rancid -- taste in my mouth. I won't waste more of our time with the logistics, but I had every reason to have at least the exacta in the race, if not the trifecta as well. Given that the horse in second was also a long shot, at 15-1, the exacta paid $737. The trifecta (at least for the one dollar that I would have bet on it) returned -- gulp -- $3,139. Near misses, of course, are the most common lament of horse players, but trust me, I don't lament them quite like this very often. (About once a year, it seems. Last year, I had a terrible miss -- similar to today's in how large a role my stupidity played -- and as the result sank in, I leaned back in my seat and said, "Well, that was disgusting." A very frail old lady passing me at that moment put her hand on my shoulder and said, "I agree. It was.")

It's always silly to complain of missing a trifecta, so I'll leave that be -- but the exacta was mine for the taking. In fact, I had no excuse, based on how I had handicapped the race, to not have it. Bad money management -- it'll kill you every time.

This will be the last of the track wrap-ups, unless I win some ungodly amount of money on Sunday (so let's hope for one more wrap-up!) With less of a crowd tomorrow, I do hope to get some good photos, so more of those might be forthcoming. Otherwise, Monday night or Tuesday afternoon I'll be back posting from Brooklyn -- almost exclusively about subjects other than the track, so celebrate that (or mourn it) as you will.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Thought for the Day

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet." --Damon Runyon

Break in Tradition, Avoided


That's the bar at the Wishing Well above. We made it there for dinner last night, after bypassing it on Wednesday, the usual night of our visit. There was a swell of anti-Wishing Well sentiment this year because of a disappointing experience last August, but the tradition lives on. (And the experience was much better, so next year should be a shoe-in.)

Tradition is a guiding principle on this trip, mainly because it's a guiding principle in my dad's life. This is his 39th straight year visiting Saratoga for the week of the Travers Stakes. (He's been up for at least a day of racing 41 times; once in 1963 when he was in the Army, once in '66, I believe -- and then this unbroken string of weeklong visits starting in 1969.) For this reason, the Wishing Well is a particularly appropriate connection to maintain. As Saratoga continues to boom, Main Street becomes more vibrant (many more restaurants from which to choose), but also more gentrified (home to Eddie Bauer, The Gap, Banana Republic, Cold Stone Creamery, on and on...) and more kitschy (it's lousy with hideously decorated statues of horses). The Wishing Well is off the beaten path, about four miles outside of town. It's an old house, with a piano player near the bar singing both cheesy and inspiring standards (sometimes ceding the mic to drunken patrons). For many years, to hear my father and others tell it, you could barely move in the place, it was so packed with people, including racing luminaries. (It's no longer packed, but trainer D. Wayne Lukas was there last night, so the luminaries haven't entirely given up on it.)

As Saratoga's idea of night life becomes more glittery and more condensed, I like that we take one of our six nights here to drive out and pay our respects to the old haunt. Plus, the corn is terrific.

Day Three at the Races


The sun finally came out today, and I forgot to bring my camera to the track. Given my luck with the horses, this figures. So I had to make do with my camera phone (reminding me of what deprivations made up life way back in April 2007). As you can see from the photo above, I have discovered the "sepia" function on the ol' toolbar. I wasn't trying to be extra fancy, it's just that it's a crappy photo, so it needed something. That's the field passing by the grandstand in the opening moments of the ninth race. They reappeared in front of us to finish about two minutes later and, unsurprisingly, the horse I chose, Sugar Shake, was not in front.

Though it hardly seems possible, I did worse today than the previous two days, cashing a ticket only once -- on Premium Wine in the seventh. My dad bet Philharmonic in the fifth, mainly on the theory that his jockey, Mike Luzzi, who was 0 for 60 at the meet, was due. And wouldn't you know it, he won it going away. If you're not a fan of happy stories like that one, witness my experience in the sixth race. I convinced myself that Another Hades was the bet. When I went to the window, he was 8-1. When the race went off, he had been bet down to 3-1. I was feeling pretty good about that. (Sure, my potential payoff was much lower, but there is something to the wisdom-of-crowds theory at the track.) Long, predictable story short, the horse barely lifted a hoof, finishing dead last. In this case, the staggering stupidity of a crowd.

My favorite names today were Moonshiner, because I love the song (Uncle Tupelo's version), and, going against my own rule about run-together names, Artytheonemanparty. I imagine that one would be fun to say if you were a track announcer.

It was a tough day out there, and tomorrow will be tougher -- 12 races, most with large fields, including the Travers, which I wrote about here. First race goes off at 12:45, the last at 7:20. That's a loooooong day at the track, especially if you're ripping up tickets. I'll probably skip the first few to get some writing done. (Not writing for the blog, as if any of you are reading this anyway.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mashing the Apple

A conversation with a friend just reminded me of this hilarious piece by Conan O'Brien:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Day Two at the Races


That beautiful animal you see getting a post-race rinse above is Judge's Pride. She didn't look so beautiful on paper, though. In fact, in the nine races she had run in her lifetime before today, she had not only never won, she had never finished less than 12 lengths behind a winner. But, that's why they run 'em. She won today's last race at odds of 32-1, and left many a bettor looking like this fellow as the crowd headed for the gates:


But, as Steven Crist points out, Judge's Pride did make one person very happy. See, the last race was the final leg in the Pick Six, where bettors try to pick the winners in six straight races. This would be nearly impossible if you weren't allowed to bet more than one horse in each race. (And of course, the more horses you pick, the higher the price of the bet; it gets expensive pretty fast.) One "sixer" chose the entire field in the last race today. If Judge's Pride had lost to the favorite in that race, the Pick Six would have been split among 33 people, paying them each $1,579 -- a healthy amount, no doubt. But as it is, the one person who had Judge's Pride on their ticket claimed the entire pool for him- or herself: $53,717. (Or themselves, since groups of people often form syndicates to maximize the amount of money they can spend, and thus the number of horses they can choose.)

I had two winners again today -- Longingfortheone in the fifth and Metro Meteor in the seventh -- but again they weren't enough to make me a winner on balance. Not many great names today, though I liked At Attention, and being a Monty Python fan, I was partial to He's a Lumberjack. On the other side, I didn't care for Explosive Heat, which sounds like a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, but was more annoyed by Wheresthmonymaggie. Naming a horse, you're limited to 18 characters, including spaces. It's bad enough running words together to begin with -- dropping letters in a desperate attempt to fit is even worse.

Overheard in Saratoga

My dad, who's watching the news with someone in the next room, just said the following:
She won't serve any time. I mean, I don't care about Lindsay Lohan, but the problem is, she'll kill somebody else. They need to put some kind of tracking bracelet on her. Something where, if she touches a steering wheel, she blows up.

See, this other girl served 82 minutes of a four-day sentence for DUI...Nicole Richie, whoever that is.

I'm Posting This From Across the Room

More on today's luck (and lack thereof) at the track, but for now, this strikes me as pretty big news:
Using virtual reality goggles, a camera and a stick, scientists have induced out-of-body experiences — the sensation of drifting outside of one’s own body — in healthy people, according to experiments being published in the journal Science.
I'm sure this will eventually help debunk some paranormal explanations for things, and it probably also has implications for the study of consciousness. Before I get in further over my head, I'll leave you to read the rest of the article and draw your own conclusions.

From the Department of Bad Ideas

Making a sequel to Ferris Bueller's Day Off is just about the worst idea I've heard in years. It becomes even worse with a plot like this one:
The movie fast-forwards Ferris' life about 20 years. In the years since high school, Ferris has turned his carefree "Life Moves Pretty Fast" motto into a motivational self-help career -- think Tony Robbins, only with a beret and sweater vest. His best friend Cameron is still at his side, managing his massive business.

But despite his phenomenal success, Ferris is a bit distracted on his 40th birthday (which, considering his massive fame, is being watched on pay-per-view TV by millions of devoted fans). He decides to take the day off, sending Cameron, his business associates and family into a frenzy.
Take a breath. Luckily, this is just a script being shopped around by "a screenwriter based in Arizona." I would say the chances of it being made are about the chances of me starring in it.

(Via Pop Candy)

Megan on Torture

Megan McArdle's blog has a new home over at The Atlantic, and I think with the new gig comes a mandate to be more prolific, which is a good thing. She wrote yesterday about the relative strengths of different arguments for outlawing torture:
Which is why many people, I assume Matt included, make what we could call the "weak case" against torture, which is that it generally isn't that effective. But I don't think that this is a very good argument to deploy if your goal is, as mine is, a legal ban on torture by the US government. The weak case doesn't prove we shouldn't use torture; it just proves that we should limit it to cases, such as the above hypothetical, where there is a reasonable likelihood that it will be effective. I doubt the rules for doing so would be as complicated as, say, the New York City building code.

The other problem with the weak case is that torture can theoretically be made more effective. ... If you cannot make the case against legal torture without resorting to efficacy arguments, what the hell do you do if it becomes pretty damn effective?

My position is that even if it is 100% effective -- in the sense of producing only true information -- we should ban it. I don't trust anyone, not myself and certainly not the state, with the power implied by sanctioned torture. I don't want to live in a state that tortures people. And I don't think you need an efficacy argument to make that case.

Brits & Yanks, Reading & Writing

From two separate articles in The Guardian:
More Britons dream about becoming an author than any other job, according to a new survey.
and
A quarter of U.S. adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.
And on the paper's books blog, John Crace reacts to that first bit of news with some undiluted cynicism:
Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers' and agents' slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer than 1,000 copies. ... It's not even as if writing is that glamorous. You sit alone for hours on end honing your deathless prose, go days without really talking to anyone and, if you're very lucky, within a year or so you will have a manuscript that almost no one will want to read. Your friends and family will come to dread requests for constructive feedback - which they know really means just saying, "This is far better than Amis or McEwan" - and if, by some small chance, you do land a book deal you will spend the week of publication wondering why your book isn't piled up at the front of Waterstones and why you haven't even picked up a single, measly review in the local paper. ... One of the pleasures - and nightmares - of writing is that most of us can do it. Anyone with basic literacy skills can get a meaningful sentence down on a page. And, taken on its own, any one person's sentence may look not much different than one knocked out by Margaret Forster, so you can begin to see why people start thinking of writing as their creative way out. It's only when you've got several paragraphs of sustained writing that you begin to see the difference. ... So, by all means, write, if you enjoy it. But, if you value your sanity - and that of any readers - keep it to yourself. Keep the dream; just don't give up the day job.
And in a long string of responses, one commenter tackles Crace head-on:
John Crace sounds like someone who has just managed to make a living out of writing, but is aware that he is not a writer, has realised that, in that middle bottle time of his life, and speaks out to all the wannabe writers that populate the blogs: "uh, if I was a young guy like you I wouldn't get into writing - that's a tough racket, you know."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Different Kind of Wednesday Clip

I'm failing, shamefully, to uphold my vow of keeping things from getting one-dimensional around here. But hey, it's only Wednesday. I have four more days to win back your trust. Have I told you that I like what you're wearing tonight? Because I do.

So, instead of the usual music clip, I present the tripartite treat below. Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown -- the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. The last horse to do it was Affirmed in 1978, but it's impossible to say the name Affirmed without also thinking of Alydar, who finished second in all three races that year. The rivalry picked up steam as it progressed over the course of that spring. I'm posting all three races below. In the Derby, Alydar comes up late to take second. In the Preakness, things are tighter. The Belmont is insane. I don't think you need to be a horse racing fan to watch at least that one, the final clip below. Affirmed needed to win for the crown, and Alydar hooked up with him about midway through the race, matching strides the rest of the way. But as my dad said while watching it with me a minute ago, "Alydar could just never pass Affirmed. The horse would not be passed."





30-3

When I said I would write about things other than the horses this week, I really didn't mean other sports -- but this is too big not to mention. The Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles tonight, 30-3. It was the most runs scored by one team in the modern era of big-league baseball. In 1897, the Chicago Colts (now the Cubs) scored 36 runs in a game. But since 1900, the record had been 29, accomplished twice, by the Red Sox (1950) and White Sox (1955).

So, kind of a big deal. I think two things make it particularly amazing. First, the Rangers scored all 30 runs in only four innings -- five in the fourth, nine in the sixth, 10 in the eighth, and six in the ninth. Secondly, the bottom third of the lineup carried most of the weight. The Rangers' six-through-nine hitters went a combined 13 for 19 with 16 RBIs and 14 runs scored. That includes a three-run homer by Ramon Vazquez with two outs in the ninth to set the mark.

Day One at the Races


I know. The photo above is not all that inspiring. I forgot how distracting and tiring the track can be. You only have about 20 minutes between races (after cursing the previous result and moping for a couple of minutes) to handicap the next one, and given the amount of information to ingest, that's not long enough. I'll try to do better (as both photographer and handicapper) as the week progresses.

It was cool and cloudy this afternoon, which is a rare opening day for the eight years I've been coming up here. We've had gloomy weather before, but hardly ever to open things up. The horses were a bit more friendly than the skies -- I had two winners (including one at 14-1), but lost overall on the day. Still, cashing two tickets is good practice for the rest of the trip.

My first winner of the day, Tejida in the third race, was more satisfying than the 14-1 shot (Love Cove in the fifth) because I had picked him out yesterday in the form and stuck with him, despite the presence of a big favorite in the race. (Also because, unlike Love Cove, Tejida's name doesn't sound like a frat boy's nickname for his apartment.) The big favorite beaten by Tejida had what I thought was the best name of the day -- Wingspan. I also liked the name Stunt Man (but wasn't smart enough to bet him; he won).

I'm talking about names here because, frankly, I'm almost certain that if I started talking about speed numbers and past performances, tumbleweeds would start blowing across the screen.

Normally, we'd all be off to dinner at a restaurant called The Wishing Well right now. It's a Wednesday night tradition. The other guys -- and to bring you up to speed, I make this trip with my father and a few of his friends -- have been going there every year for decades. But last summer, the food seemed to drop in quality, the place wasn't nearly as crowded as usual, and it seems like we're all in for the night. Or at least not headed to the Wishing Well.

Before I put you all to sleep, I'm going to work on some other posts now. These daily wrap-ups will improve, I swear.

How to Read ASWOBA This Week

OK, here's how this is gonna work:

I'm going to write the occasional post about something other than the horses this week, and I'm going to try to keep even the horse posts broad enough that they'll interest those who don't know their partial tri wheel from their exacta box (I assume that's the majority of you). But since I'll be at the track every afternoon, it's only reasonable that the blog take an equine turn for a few days.

Each day's post about the races (there will probably be other posts that deal more generally with Saratoga, vacationing, the weather, etc. -- my usual thrilling buffet) will begin with a photo. I hope to have enough decent shots to put up additional pics on the photo blog each day. We'll see. (It's supposed to be pretty cloudy here all week, which may dampen my enthusiasm for wandering around with my camera.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, the first race, about which I developed strong opinions while handicapping on the train up yesterday, starts in about 55 minutes, and I'm walking to the track...I must away.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Archive of the Day


From Tarnished Crown: The Quest for a Racetrack Champion by Carol Flake:
"Saratoga and Suffolk both begin with S," Peter Fuller once told me, "but that's where the resemblance ends." Every year, when racing in New York moves north, Saratoga's brief season inspires railbirds to rise to the occasion with plaid pants and boaters, and stirs turf writers to flights of rapture. There is a special intensity to Saratoga, as James Agee observed, due to both the shortness of the season and the history and location of the town. Saratoga, said Agee, "grants none of that leisure for the gentle build-up and the dying fall which is the typical rhythm of more typical seasons but is brutally shear-lopped fore and aft." When fans "come to a small town thirty miles north of Albany in the foothills of the Adirondacks for thirty days' racing," he said, they "come to sit down and stay the time out, night and day."

For four weeks in August, Saratoga becomes...a place of pilgrimage, thronging with believers, swells, and touts who come to revive their spirits and renew their faith in racing. The cycle of racing that culminates in the spring with the classic races begins again, as the best young two-year-olds in the country make their debut, and the survivors of the previous generation battle it out for the three-year-old championship.

For some, even the idea of Saratoga is enough to keep the cycle going. Said Joe Palmer, the most bookish of sportswriters, "As a man sweltering through the lone and level sands of the Sahara draws new strength from an inward vision of green palm trees and cool water in some verdant oasis, so it is possible to struggle through Jamaica-in-July in the hope of Saratoga."
(More from up north either tonight or tomorrow...)

AP Headline of the Day

Alaska Man Gets 'Mauled' Into Marriage

Mr. Modesty

I'm a pretty big Hall & Oates fan. And today, Pitchfork posts an interview with Daryl Hall. Seriously.

This is my favorite part, by far:
Pitchfork: People sometimes break the Beatles into these archetypal roles, Paul's the mother, George is the older brother, etc.-- do you ever think about the roles that you and John ended up assuming?

DH: I know the roles. I don't have to think about it. I lived the roles that John and I played together, and I know what John does, and I know what he doesn't do. And he knows what I do, and we're comfortable with it. And one of the reasons we're together is because we're so comfortable with it.

We are not an equal duo, and never have been. I'm 90% and he's 10%, and that's the way it is. And he'd say the same thing. He has plenty of ideas, he's a finisher, he's a good musician, he is an attention-to-detail person. He is overshadowed by me because I'm such a strong vocal personality. I also always believed that you can only have one singer in a band. The ping-pong thing doesn't work. We're not the Bobbsey Twins. He stands there, he's the quiet one -- it's sort of like Jagger-Richards or something. And I'm out there banging away. And I'm much more prolific than him. I have much more energy than him. He's more lazy than me -- [laughs] -- in music. But he's a meticulous person.

And he's my brother. And he is a very, very talented person. And he goes out and does solo work of his own, he just takes the guitar and goes out and plays. One thing people don't know about him is he's a great finger-picking guy. He's a really, really good guitar player. And he's a good singer. But you come up against me, and a good singer -- it's like, [makes squawking noise].

Two Very Random Music Notes

I've got my hands (or ears, more accurately) on a copy of the new Band of Horses record, Cease to Begin (out October 9, I believe), and it's very, very good.

When I have it on shuffle (which is almost all the time now, having become tired of exercising my will), my iTunes is abnormally attracted to Joe Jackson and Joanna Newsom. I don't even have that much stuff by them. Odd.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Homer the Holy

Hmm. If the church had taken this approach with me at an early age, it's possible -- not likely, but possible -- that I would have stayed in the fold longer than I did:
Homer Simpson and the Archbishop of Canterbury might seem unlikely bed-fellows but the Archbishop, Rowan Williams, has given his blessing to a scheme whereby a book called Mixing It Up With The Simpsons has been sent to youth advisors in every diocese in England. The book’s author, Church of England youth worker Owen Smith, says "The Simpsons is hugely moral with many episodes dealing with issues and dilemmas faced by young people." He believes the willingness of the show's writers to deal with questions of morality and spirituality makes it an ideal tool for reaching out to the young. The Archbishop has in the past expressed admiration for the show and was reported to have been approached to appear on it a few years ago.
(Via Bookforum)

Ellipses

If you're looking for a beautifully maintained blog with a few personal anecdotes and recipes for chicken-fried steak, enchiladas, salsas, etc., look no further than Homesick Texan. ... Finding love can be so difficult -- or it can be easy (if a bit underhanded). ... Don't miss Anthony Lane's appreciation of Michelangelo Antonioni. ... Oh, and in case you've forgotten: "Only an idiot would jump into the bear cage."

The King of Kong

My latest review for Pajiba is of a movie you should all see:
Seth Gordon's documentary is a heavy-handed but consistently hysterical and ultimately moving chronicle of two men vying to be the world champion of Donkey Kong. Throughout, Gordon capitalizes on a fact that hounds the increasingly tired genre of "mockumentary": Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's also much, much funnier.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Shark Cage-Diving Industry Retools Image

"Adam and Eve aren't going to sue us."

Many are mourning the demise of Weekly World News -- the tabloid paper that didn't bother trying to convince you of semi-plausible things about celebrities, instead going straight for the "Vampires realize that the blood of tuna fish suits their macabre nutritional requirements as effectively as human blood" vein of news-gathering. (This was an actual quote I found on the WWN web site, which will continue to entertain us even though the last hard copy of the legendary paper is now gracing check-out racks at supermarkets everywhere.)

The New York Times focused on the WWN's religious coverage over the years and came away with quite an entertaining and thoughtful piece:
Weekly World News held a kind of funhouse mirror up to much popular American belief. Without meaning to, it offered a far more effective critique of the nation's religious literalism than anything the so-called New Atheism, burdened by its obvious animosity, has served up.

The tabloid's writers matter-of-factly exaggerated literalism's demand for factual detail to the point of parody: God's exact height and hair color, the soul's exact weight, the exact distance to heaven and hell and, as those excavated skeletons of Adam and Eve indicate, the exact location of the Garden of Eden — about 40 miles south of Denver.
(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Friday, August 17, 2007

My Kind of Wedding Reception

To take us into the weekend, a clip found and sent along by my friend The Comish (sic). It seems that a couple got married and Mr. Met showed up at the reception. The video of him dancing is the truly priceless part. After about 1:15, you can stop watching. But until that point, be riveted:

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Archive of the Day

From Mohawk by Richard Russo:
The bacon begins to sizzle. Harry belches significantly and wipes his hands on the stomach of his apron. He feels the way he always does on Saturday morning after a hard night's drinking. He has come directly to the diner without any sleep, and the sweet smell of frying meat has his stomach churning. It's not his stomach he's worrying about, though. He has proposed marriage to some woman during the course of the evening. When drinking, Harry is indiscriminate about women, to whom he invariably proposes. The women Harry ends up with on Friday nights usually say yes, and then he has to renege. On the plus side, they know he hasn't any intention of marrying, so their feelings are never hurt. They say yes because it's a long shot and their lives are full of long shots. They know Harry doesn't need a wife and could do better if he were serious about taking one. There was a time when they could've done better than Harry, but that was several presidents ago. The calendar above the grill is for 1966, a year out of date. Whoever gave Harry the calendar the year before didn't give him a new one this year. The months are the same and Harry doesn't mind being a few days off.

The Other Elizabeth Taylor

Benjamin Schwarz writes in the latest Atlantic about the British writer Elizabeth Taylor. I had only vaguely heard of her before reading the piece, but it's got me interested. Kingsley Amis called her "one of the best English novelists born in this century." The century being the 20th, of course. Also, the start of this sentence caught my eye, for obvious reason:
While her writing betrays a keen and obviously knowledgeable interest in horse betting...she confined her fiction largely to her limited social field: the relationships and inner lives of well-heeled women in the pretty villages of the Home Counties and in shabby-genteel Kensington and Chelsea.
She also appeared to have a high tolerance for routine, something else to which I can relate:
Like Jane Austen, the writer with whom she's most often compared, Taylor led a perversely mild and parochial life. Before she was married, she worked as a governess and a librarian. With her husband, the director of his family's confectionary company, she had a boy and a girl (her fiction displays a remarkable ear for the speech of children and a subtle grasp of their peculiar obsessions, suspicions, and insecurities). Ensconced in an upper-middle-class Buckinghamshire village, she was fascinated and deeply comforted by the daily routine of domestic life, the details of which she gave minute attention in her fiction. "I dislike much travel or change of environment and prefer the days ... to come round almost the same, week after week," she said.

Hope Despite the Times?

I've made my peace with the idea that R.E.M. might never make another great -- or even very good -- record. In general, what fuels my doubt is the almost-ironclad rule that rock bands decline as they age; the more specific fuel being everything that's happened since Bill Berry left the fold, which is now a good decade ago. Of course, what keeps my last ember of hope burning is that they are the greatest band to ever grace the planet. Arguments against this fact will not be entertained.

Well, the guys have been recording new material in Ireland, and they recently played a series of what they called "live rehearsals" at a small theater in Dublin. Word is, the shows were pretty great. So I went searching for a clip of the performances (only to find YouTube overflowing with them), and I'll be damned if the medley of brief moments below doesn't stoke that ember a bit.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Housekeeping

I thought that the previous subtitle for the blog might have been a permanent one, but there have been recommendations to change it. So I'm back to shuffling them in and out, I suppose, and for now it's a lyric from The Weakerthans, who I just learned have a new record coming out in September. That's good news.

AP Headline of the Day

Farmer May Have Given Woman Cow Hormone

Thought for the Day

"Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats." --George Orwell, "Some Notes on Salvador Dali"

(Via About Last Night)

A Note on Scooter

My dad's an even bigger baseball fan than moviegoer, and he followed the Yankees very closely in the '40s and '50s, so I figured I would share this note he sent along after Phil Rizzuto died earlier this week:
I wasn't crazy about him as a broadcaster but he was one terrific player. I always contrasted him with Ralph Kiner when I mocked the Hall of Fame. Kiner sailed in and Rizzuto had to wait decades before the Old-Timers Committee voted him in. No GM who ever lived would have taken Kiner ahead of Rizzuto if they were starting a new franchise. He was the catalyst for all those Yankee championships. Sad to see him go...

Jack's Good Consumers

"Leonard Bast" at The List of Betterment looks askance at Jack Kerouac. I agree with this just about completely:
Essentially, all (On the Road) seems to do is substitute one myth of American freedom for another. Just as punk quickly ceased to be about self-expression and became a Johnny Rotten dressing-up contest, so all the newly groovy hipsters easily ignored the alienation, the restlessness and the dissatisfaction in this book and bought themselves Levis and espresso machines anyway, and became the beat generation i.e. a new generation of good consumers, ready to take over from their frustratingly thrifty parents, who had had to combat a real economic depression and a real war, rather than choose to impose those conditions on themselves for 'kicks'.
That's sharp enough for me to almost forgive the fact that Leonard doesn't like the Hold Steady.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wednesday on Tuesday

I realize now that tomorrow is going to be light around here again (or today, depending on when you read this). In fact, this whole week will be quiet-ish. I'm here, and I'll be posting, but it may be at odd hours, and the content -- though I'm not sure this is newsworthy -- might be dicey. I'll make up for it next week when I'm in Saratoga, when I promise I won't only be writing about the horses (but they'll get their share of attention).

For now, the Wednesday song a few hours ahead of time; more Lorenz Hart, who was briefly mentioned here yesterday. If you haven't heard Ella sing this tune, you haven't lived, but this brief clip comes from The History Boys, a terrific play and movie:

2 Days in Paris

I'm off to the beach for the day, but I'll leave you with my latest review:
Delpy starred in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset — co-writing the latter with director Richard Linklater — and she must have learned a lot about shooting and pacing a naturalistic story from the experiences. In some ways, 2 Days in Paris is superior to those movies. For instance, Ethan Hawke is nowhere to be seen.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hitch Tackles Harry

In case you missed it, Christopher Hitchens reviewed the finale of the Harry Potter series in yesterday's New York Times Book Review. The match of critic to subject initially made me chuckle, and then I read the review, realizing that Hitchens is capable of treating anything with intelligence and depth. A taste:
Another well-tested appeal, that of the orphan hero, has also been given an intensive workout with the Copperfield-like privations of the eponymous hero. For Orwell, the English school story from Tom Brown to Kipling’s Stalky and Co. was intimately bound up with dreams of wealth and class and snobbery, yet Rowling has succeeded in unmooring it from these considerations and giving us a world of youthful democracy and diversity, in which the humble leading figure has a name that — though it was given to a Shakespearean martial hero and king — could as well belong to an English labor union official. Perhaps Anglophilia continues to play its part, but if I were one of the few surviving teachers of Anglo-Saxon I would rejoice at the way in which such terms as muggle and Wizengamot, and such names as Godric, Wulfric and Dumbledore, had become common currency. At this rate, the teaching of “Beowulf” could be revived. The many Latin incantations and imprecations could also help rekindle interest in the study of a “dead” language.

Five Songs, Chapter Twenty-Two

"Plus Ones" by Okkervil River

After a couple of listens to this band's latest, The Stage Names, it's pretty much what I expected it to be -- a strong mid-year contender for the best of '07.

"String of Racehorses" by Hotel Lights

I've written about this band a couple of times before, including here. This song is off a six-song ep, goodnightgoodmorning. It's great, and before you go making connections to the post below, this song seems to have nothing to do with actual horse racing.

"Downhill Racer" by Everything But the Girl

It's been nearly eight years since this band released its last record, Temperamental, which includes this song. That's way too long. Tracey Thorn has released solo material, but it's not quite the same. The band's appeal is in the sophistication of Ben Watt's beats married to Thorn's silky vocals, but she's also an underrated lyricist, as when she sings in this song: "I know how hard it is to watch it go, and all the effort that it took to get here in the first place, and all the effort not to let the effort show."

"Atlanta" by Centro-matic

I've been throwing away a great number of CD cases to prepare for a move, but I'm keeping a couple of hundred for old time's sake, including everything by this band, to which I have a sentimental attachment. Unfortunately, I don't even buy their discs anymore -- I downloaded the latest, an ep called Operation Motorcide, and this is my favorite song on it.

"This Can't Be Love" by Ella Fitzgerald

Because the first four here don't reflect how much older stuff I've been listening to, and because I know that even Thorn and the rest could learn something from Lorenz Hart:
This can't be love, because I feel so well,
No sobs, no sorrows, no sighs.
This can't be love; I get no dizzy spells,
My head is not in the skies.

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Songs About the Track

Can anyone think of songs that involve horse racing (preferably on a literal level, not a metaphorical one)? When I thought about it last week (it was a slow day), two songs immediately came to mind -- "Another Horsedreamer's Blues" by Counting Crows and "Chips Ahoy!" by The Hold Steady -- but the well quickly went dry.

I have no reason for wanting more, I'm just curious. So, if you know of any...

Billy Cub, Still Dissed

I recently wrote about Billy Cub, better known as the guy who wants to be the official mascot for the Cubs but mostly stands outside Wrigley Field in a bear costume, drumming up support for his cause and occasionally hallucinating about evil crows and magical berries. Well, from the keeper of the excellent blog Chicago Mets Fan comes photographic evidence that Billy's still at it:

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New York at Dusk

Shots taken from the Brooklyn Promenade last week:



Thursday, August 09, 2007

Starting the Weekend Early Around Here

That'll do it for this week. I have a few things to post, but they can wait. The blog's had record traffic the past two days, mostly because of links from Pajiba and 2 Blowhards, so many thanks to those fine sites, which you can find on my blogroll. And thanks to everyone who's visited. As always -- if you're new, I hope you feel like sticking around.

I'm working on something about The Road by Cormac McCarthy that makes the recent post about The Corrections look like something that could fit on the sheet in a fortune cookie. So, fair warning.

See you Monday.

756

I haven't posted about Barry Bonds because I couldn't think of anything original to say. (I know this principle doesn't keep me from posting unoriginal ideas about a handful of other subjects every day. Shut up.) Bonds, at least in the past few years, which have come to dominate our thoughts about a very long career, has come off as a scary-talented, cold, paranoid jerk. He's notoriously hard to root for, and I wasn't rooting for him, but his breaking Hank Aaron's record reached a point of inevitability long before he actually did, so getting worked up about the actual event seemed silly. I also don't care all that much that he was likely juiced for a few years. I've always thought this was baseball's problem, and that the sport and its brilliant leadership is to blame for any unfair play. How hard is it to officially outlaw certain substances and test for them? I agree with Chris DeLuca of the Chicago Sun-Times, who wrote:
Put an actual asterisk next to Bonds' name and you might as well do the same for every World Series won in the last 20 years -- unless someone can prove that every member of those championship teams, including the 2005 White Sox, was 100 percent clean.

The fact is much of Bonds' work from 1999 to 2004 -- during a time many of us believe he was juiced -- can't be touched by an asterisk. Baseball had no policy against steroids during this time. You can't break a rule that wasn't there.

Selig points to the little-known provision that using any illegal drugs is a violation of baseball rules. But none of the players caught with marijuana or cocaine or amphetamines in the history of the game has an asterisk next to his numbers.

Look at Detroit Tigers infielder Neifi Perez, the former Cub who is missing 80 games -- maybe the rest of his career -- because he ingested amphetamines, performance-enhancers that were as common as bubblegum in clubhouses during Aaron's era.
So, now for the original part. Or at least a contrast that I haven't seen elsewhere, though I'm sure it's been made. Click to this video, and about 20 seconds in you can watch Aaron hitting his 715th home run, which surpassed Babe Ruth's previous record of 714. Immediately after contact, he starts running toward first base like it was any other homer, even though it wasn't. I won't even link to Bonds' 756th, but you've probably seen it. If you haven't, it's all over YouTube. The moment after contact is a moment, like almost every other in his recent past, that is drenched in self-regard. That's his legacy as much as 756 is his legacy. I'd say he's earned both.

AP Headline of the Day

Wisconsin Cops Capture Diaper-Wearing Monkey

Strong Reading Recommendation

There's a remarkable piece by Richard Preston in this week's New Yorker. It's not available online, but you should be buying the magazine anyway. Preston writes about a rare disease called Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, in which victims (almost exclusively boys) try to harm themselves, primarily but not only by biting their fingers and lips.

The details are gruesome (this is not for the squeamish), but fascinating:
A child born with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome seems normal at first, but by the age of three months he has become a so-called floppy baby, and can't hold up his head or sit up. ... When the boy cuts his first teeth, he starts using them to bite himself, and he screams in terror and pain during bouts of self-mutilation. ... A few hundred boys and men alive in the United States today have been diagnosed as having Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. "I think I know most of them," Nyhan said. One boy, known as J.J., ended up living in Nyhan's research unit for a year, when he was eleven. He was a gregarious child, whose hands seemed to hate him. Over time, his fingers had got inside his mouth and nose and had broken out and removed the bones of his upper palate and parts of his sinuses, leaving a cavern in his face. He had also bitten off several fingers. J.J. died in his late teens; in the past, many Lesch-Nyhan patients died in childhood or their teens, from kidney failure. Nowadays, they may live into their thirties and forties, but they are generally frail and often die from infections like pneumonia. Occasionally, a man with the disease flings his head backward with such force that his neck is broken. Many Lesch-Nyhan patients die suddenly and often inexplicably.
Dark stuff, obviously, but also captivating if you're at all interested in genetics and behavior:
In the early nineteen-eighties, a group of researchers, led by Douglas J. Jolly and Theodore Friedmann, decoded the sequence of letters in the human gene that contains the instructions for making HPRT (a protein for recycling DNA that doesn't work in Lesch-Nyhan patients). ... there was no single mutation that caused Lesch-Nyhan. ... And in the majority of cases, the defect consisted of just one misspelling in the code. For example, an American boy known as D.G. had a single G replaced by an A -- one out of the three billion letters of code in the human genome. As a result, he was tearing himself apart.
If you don't have this week's issue, get it. Preston's piece isn't as sensationalistic as this might imply, and it includes a profile of two people living with the disease. There's also an article by Burkhard Bilger about parachuting from space, also not online and also terrific.

A P.S. About Hysterical Realism

When I recently wrote about Jonathan Franzen, I mentioned that I thought the literary critic James Wood was more correct in applying his phrase "hysterical realism" to Don DeLillo than to Zadie Smith. Turns out, Wood partly agrees. The big (but not astounding) news this week was that Wood is leaving The New Republic to become a staff writer for The New Yorker. In noting the move, Paper Cuts excerpted a past interview with Wood in The Kenyon Review, where he said, in part:
(White Teeth by Zadie Smith) was a funny, lively, exciting book in many ways, but I was struck that I was having an experience not unlike the experience of reading a number of other contemporary novels, large contemporary novels.

And that's to say, I had been completely unmoved. There had been no transformation of feeling. And it sent me thinking about why that might be, what the central lack might be. And it seemed to me that it had something to do with character and the human. I then began to think of Smith's novel in relation to a number of other large books: Underworld by Don DeLillo, Pynchon's recent book Mason & Dixon, David Foster Wallace's large book Infinite Jest, and so on. Was there some kind of genre here in which the cartoonish was displacing the real? In which the machinery of plot was also blocking out in some way a greater simplicity? I also thought perhaps there was an interesting borrowing from Dickens: It seems to me that if you look at a book like Underworld, it is in fact a sort of quite old-fashioned social novel like Bleak House -- it tries to account for the connectedness of society at various levels. But, and here was the thing that struck me, strongly in relation to DeLillo, perhaps less acutely in relation to Smith, was that the connectedness was entirely conceptual. It was asserted by DeLillo and it exists on the level of paranoia and ideology and so on. "This is how we will account for the last fifty years of American life." There was no human connectedness at all. There were lots of different characters; none of them had any real life with each other. The really striking difference from Dickens, say.

The Real Omar

It's inevitably a bit undramatic (which is the good news in this case), but the New York Times had the great idea of profiling Donnie Andrews, the real-life inspiration for Omar Little, one of the more memorable characters in "The Wire," which is saying something. Andrews is getting married this weekend to Fran Boyd, whose past drug problems were dramatized in the HBO miniseries "The Corner."
"I don’t have many heroes left," said David Simon, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun who co-wrote “The Corner” and created "The Wire." "Woody Guthrie and Fran, I guess — and I’m not so sure about Woody."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Another Day at the Zoo

Luckily, I'm not commuting these days. But I will be again before long. After what seemed like the apocalypse at around 5:30 a.m. this morning -- but turned out to just be a really bad rain storm (the thunder kept me up for about 30 minutes) -- New York's public transportation system was crippled by flooding. It's quite sunny right now, but the system is still slow to recover. One reader/commuter on the New York Times site offered this:
I saw men just pushing their way past a pregnant woman trying to board a crowded bus. It was animal behavior this morning.
Reminders of why I'm planning to sign another yearlong lease to live here can be sent to the e-mail address at right, or in the comments section below.

A Dark Anniversary

A couple of days ago, Norm Geras noted the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima with thoughts I second. Geras was responding to a piece in the Guardian by Oliver Kamm, who wrote that "Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome," and that as horrific as the result was, "abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still." Geras argues:
Even if one thinks the calculation does convincingly establish how any US president would have acted, it doesn't show that it wasn't a war crime. It is not a legitimate act of war to save the lives of your own soldiers by the mass bombing of civilians, and to reason simply from the 'realism' of what was to be expected in the situation prevailing is to suggest that the laws of war only apply when it's easy to uphold them, but otherwise must give way to utilitarian calculation. On that basis you might as well scrap those laws.
Like most people, I think September 11 changed some of my previous political thinking. In certain ways, it pushed me rightward. But I remember thinking, almost immediately after that day, or even during it, about the more total destruction caused by the bombing of Japan, and how killing innocent civilians on any scale -- much less that one -- is essentially unforgivable, even if refraining would cause equally terrible and unforgivable results. This is nothing more than a longer way of stating the "no winners in war" cliche, so... as you were.

The Good Old Days Weren't Always So Good

On the Guardian's books blog, Louise Tucker writes about current-day publishing, and argues that the book biz never had a golden age. The piece sets off a very long discussion between a few readers (and the author) in the comments.

(Via Booksquare)

It's Wednesday. Here's Elvis.

I don't know if it's a cool song of his to like, but this is one of my favorites from Mr. Costello:

Ellipses

Been a while since I did these: I was intensely involved in debate in high school, so I'll certainly have my own thoughts about Rocket Science after it's released Friday. For now, all I know is that Dustin really, really likes it. ... A list of the ten best bands that never existed. It's hard to argue with number one, and in fact, it's even harder to argue that some of these bands "don't exist." In any case, number 8 is ranked too low. ... I think these are my two favorite sentences from my favorite news story of the week: "Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It’s not something macho police officers want covering their biceps."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Progressive Tax Debate. Fun! (I'm Serious)

Andrew Sullivan's on vacation, but his guest bloggers are having some interesting conversations. Bruce Bartlett posted the following:
Rasmussen has a new poll out on the way Republicans and Democrats perceive the tax system. Republicans believe that tax fairness is best achieved when everyone pays the same percentage of their income in taxes; Democrats believe that fairness demands that the wealthy pay a substantially higher percentage of their income in taxes. This is not earth shattering news. ... Perhaps the most interesting data in the poll, however, is that Democrats overwhelmingly believe that we do not at present have a progressive tax system. By a 53 percent to 28 percent margin, Democrats believe that those earning $50,000 per year now pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than those making $200,000. By about the same percentages, Republicans have the opposite view.

Since this is a factual question, it is a simple matter to check and see which side is right. The best data we have comes from the Congressional Budget Office. Looking at the total federal tax burden, which includes income, payroll, corporate and excise taxes, we see that those in the middle quintile, with an average income in 2004 of $56,200, paid 13.9 percent of their income in taxes. Those in the top quintile, who had an income of $207,200, paid 25.1 percent.

Thus we see that the Democrats are simply wrong in their perception.
Eric Kleefeld, another of Andrew's fill-ins -- and much to the left of Bartlett -- responded here and here. I don't really have a dog in this fight. I think each system offers reasons to argue for its relative fairness. I just like the back and forth, because I'm a geek that way.

AP Headline of the Day

Woman Has Pencil Removed From Head

Massachusetts Got Back

My friend Eugene has made a video about Massachusetts that I think you might enjoy. There's some crude language, but nothing you guys can't handle:

David Simon Doesn't Care for Your Lawn Furniture

In the new issue of The Believer, Nick Hornby interviews David Simon, creator of The Wire, the best drama on television. The interview's a bit tedious, because it was done by e-mail, and very brief questions from Hornby are met with long blocks of text from Simon. The best interviews have rhythm, and this one has none. But I got a kick out of the very opening, where Simon has some choice words for parts of his audience (choicest words manipulated to keep with the blog's policy of reasonable decorum; complaints can be sent to the editor, but they will likely be ignored):
NICK HORNBY: Every time I think, Man, I’d love to write for The Wire, I quickly realize that I wouldn’t know my True dats from my narcos. Did you know all that before you started? Do you get input from those who might be more familiar with the idiom?

DAVID SIMON: My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: f*** the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. F*** him. F*** him to hell.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Steven at Saratoga

This will interest three of you -- tops -- but Steven Crist is blogging the Saratoga horse racing meet. This is very exciting for me, so I'll excerpt a post that I enjoyed. It's a bit less heavy on the racing terminology than most of the others, so that should give you some idea of what you're getting into:
Ms. Meadow runs the horse with the shortest name and the longest morning-line price on the entire Saturday Saratoga card: Zyxt, a 4-year-old gelding listed at 99-1 in the 8th race. She has run seven other similarly-named horses over the last five years: Yaye, Ybbs, Ydy, Ys, Ytyzz, Zyth and now Zyxt. All appear to be homebreds from her Sky Band Farm in Canton, Massachusetts ... Zyxt is the lone winner from 33 starts over the last five years for Ms. Meadow and her band of Scrabble-tile runners. He won his debut at Suffolk Downs last Nov. 6, rallying from 18 lengths off the pace to win a mile-and-70-yard maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths, returning what seems like a rather stingy $8.20. He earned a lowly Beyer Speed Figure of 39 for that effort and will probably be close to 99-1 stretching out to 9.5 furlongs on the turf off a nine-month layoff and presumably meeting tougher company. On the other hand, he's bred for the grass in general and this turf course in particular: Zyxt's dam is Bailrullah, who won the Diana in 1987.
Crist later reported that Zyxt went off at 67-1 in that race, and finished 11th.

The Ten

After some time away, my latest review is up over at Pajiba:
The Ten is ultimately just a flimsy excuse to air 90 minutes of sketches, and like any sketch comedy show, it’s wildly hit or miss.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Mascots (and Pac Man's Better Half) Near the Amusement Park

A friend was kind enough to take me to Coney Island tonight for a Brooklyn Cyclones game. They beat the Aberdeen IronBirds 12-6. I spent a solid part of the night -- and I wish I was lying as much as you do -- playing Ms. Pac Man. They had the arcade game on the concourse, and the fan who has the highest score at the end of the season will win the machine. Being a Ms. Pac Man junkie for most of my life, this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. When I heard that the high score so far is 568,000, I realized that it was an opportunity perfectly worth passing up. I consider myself pretty good at the game, but that score is unattainable. Still, I took my shot (gotta have my fix), and I reached about 160,000.

Oh, and there were mascots. (The baseball was fine -- lots of offense -- but minor league games are often as much about things like video games and mascots.) This is Pee Wee, the "younger" of the team's mascots:


Pee Wee's costume has seen better days. He looks like an old favorite doll that you find flattened in the back of your closet when you're 19.

And this is Sandy, Pee Wee's older brother, or whatever. I think they're seagulls?


And this is Sandy about to devour me. This was not staged:

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dad Fights Jason Bourne

It's been a while since I posted a review from my dad, so here's his take on The Bourne Ultimatum, which I haven't seen yet:
I guess I'm alone, but I would rate it #3 in the trilogy. It had its moments, but I have a hard time understanding the near unanimity of the rave reviews. Bottom line for me is that the dialogue and plot took a back (way back) seat to the handheld camera gimmickry. Some of it is fine and I suppose lends a touch of realism, but two hours of it could lead to motion sickness. The hand-to-hand combat scenes reminded me of the Richard Gere tap dancing scenes in Chicago. I like my karate to be less impressionistic and more literal. Matt Damon is an effective presence as the confused and dangerous Mr. Bourne, but my advice is not to wait on any long lines to see it. Let it come to you.

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A Link, A Complaint, A Poll

1. A link: Slate's "Explainer" column can be interesting, but it's rarely as practical as this one. It's not always easy to read ("Try not to panic. Easier said than done, of course—the impact of the water or an airbag probably will stun you."), but probably worth a look...

2. A complaint: There are not nearly enough clips of Professor Frink on YouTube. Can someone get on that, please?

3. A poll: Without giving away my own opinion -- though it's probably easy enough to find in previous posts -- I'd like to know what everyone thinks of Achtung Baby by U2. How does it hold up after all the years? How would you rate it? Thanks to anyone who participates...

A Year Off

A couple of people have asked, so I'll break the bad news -- there won't be a baseball trip this year. You can relive the good times of the past two here and here. The dear friend who accompanied me on these journeys recently moved to Washington, DC, where I suppose he plans on moving ahead with "adult life." It's possible the tradition will be reborn at some time in the future. What I'll miss most -- besides the actual trip, of course -- is the naming of a new blog. I was thinking something like "The Jim Gantner Chronicles." I'll be replacing the baseball material with dispatches posted to ASWOBA from my annual trip to Saratoga, which begins in less than three weeks.

"You watched the quadratic equation pack its bag."

I promise to stop lifting videos from the fine people at Moreover before long, but they keep posting ones that I like. That hardly seems fair. It's entrapment, I tell you.

Here is Billy Collins reading a wistful poem of his over some wistful animation:

Friday, August 03, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Singers Fail to Build Largest Kazoo Band

(I try to keep a strict AP policy on the headline of the day, but my friend SL sent me the following headline from the BBC, which is worth passing along:

Romania Confronts Huge Meat Pile)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Corrections: Or, 1,268 Words, Six Years Too Late

When I moved to New York in September 2000, my love of books was almost completely uninformed by professional experience. It’s difficult to remember exactly what this was like. During my senior year at Trinity University in San Antonio, my older sister called to recommend that I read an essay in Harper’s by David Foster Wallace about time he spent on a cruise ship. Neither of us had heard of him before. (I don’t think many people had.) The essay was hilarious and incisive and voice-driven in a way that made you want to read something else by him right away. Luckily, he had just released Infinite Jest, a novel that represented 1,079 more pages by him. At home over Christmas break that year, I read it down to every last footnote. It was alternately brilliant and infuriating, but my relationship to it was one I don’t think I can have again. And this is not a lament of age. I’m only 33, and I know 50- and 60-somethings who approach books with an innocent joy that, after seven years working in the sausage factory, strikes me as strange. I’m not saying I would even want it back.

I’m sure this would have happened even if I worked for, say, a small press in Minneapolis. But living in Brooklyn, where the people with whom I choose to socialize follow books and writers in the same way that those in other places might follow stocks or stock cars, hasn’t helped. In my circle, thoughts about The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen were calcifying sometime before the novel had even hit the shelves (the bookish are no less shameless than anyone else in airing uninformed opinions; maybe worse). Over the last six years, I moved through several phases in my relationship with the novel. Roughly:

--wanting to read it pretty badly
--resenting it for no good reason
--not caring in the least
--feeling a lingering interest
--forgetting about it completely
--bringing it with me on my recent vacation
--reading the damn thing

In 1996, Franzen wrote a piece for Harper's called "Perchance to Dream," in which he bemoaned the state of serious reading and chronicled his "despair about the possibility of connecting the personal and the social" in today’s novels. The essay received a good deal of attention, and within a certain subculture, it set expectations for his next book, which would appear five years later, pretty high. The Corrections was published in mid-September 2001, when the world was preoccupied. But the anticipation in literary circles, and the "controversy" surrounding Franzen's rejection of Oprah Winfrey's benediction, helped propel robust sales, and the novel won the National Book Award.

Franzen is a multitalented writer, but I was disappointed. The book concerns the Lambert family, a Midwestern brood whose three children (Chip, Denise, and Gary) have relocated to the Northeast. Alfred, their father, is suffering through increased senility, and Enid, their mother, wants the family to gather at the house for one last Christmas together. The structure, praised by some, was one of the biggest letdowns for me. Franzen breaks the book into sections, each focusing on one of the children in particular, before bringing the Lamberts together for that grand finale. Until that last section, which is moving, the novel's episodes keep the siblings isolated and floating in space, and draws out the smaller details of their lives (including a fight between Gary and his wife that's recounted to the point of stultification) in a way that sacrifices a dynamic sense of the family. For much of the novel, there isn't a portrait of family, in terms of scope and depth of feeling, that isn't equally achieved by, say, "Six Feet Under."

Yes, Franzen does writerly things well that "Six Feet Under" can’t -- but then, a TV show can't attempt some of the high-wire feats that Franzen does, where he falls, most obviously in his strain to marry the family's story with larger social themes. The literary critic James Wood has famously written about the "hysterical realism" of certain contemporary novelists. He applied the term to writers who clearly fit the mold (Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace) and others who seem more of a stretch (Zadie Smith).

Wood wrote:
The reviewer, mistaking bright lights for evidence of habitation, praises the novelist who knows about, say, the sonics of volcanoes. Who also knows how to make a fish curry in Fiji! Who also knows about terrorist cults in Kilburn! And about the New Physics! And so on. The result - in America at least - is novels of immense self-consciousness with no selves in them at all, curiously arrested and very "brilliant" books that know a thousand things but do not know a single human being.
(James Wood is really good, in case you didn't know.)

On the evidence of The Corrections, I think Franzen is painfully stuck between domestic drama and hysterical realism -- two genres that I’m unconvinced can peaceably coexist -- and he revealed as much in the aforementioned Harper’s essay, when he wrote of his time producing it:
After Strong Motion was published, I took a year off to gather material. When I got back to writing fiction I thought my problem might be that I hadn’t gathered enough. But the problem manifested itself as just the opposite: an overload. I was torturing the story, stretching it to accommodate ever more of those things-in-the-world that impinge on the enterprise of fiction writing. The work of transparency and beauty and obliqueness that I wanted to write was getting bloated with issues. I’d already worked in contemporary pharmacology and TV and race and prison life and a dozen other vocabularies; how was I going to satirize Internet boosterism and the Dow Jones as well while leaving room for the complexities of character and locale?
The solution to this would have been to keep the complexities of character and locale, which he occasionally achieves, while ignoring the impulse to satirize every cultural trend and institution that crossed his mind.

Long story short (too late?), Franzen does the domestic quite well, but he’s clumsy when it comes to the larger social canvas. When siblings spar (as in a series of funny e-mails between Chip and Denise), or when parents deal with the pains of aging, The Corrections is as vital as Franzen so desperately intended it to be. But there are several hysterical strands that trip him up. One centers on Chip and his involvement with a Lithuanian politician who wants to promote the country through a web site and bilk money out of potential investors. The manner in which Chip first becomes involved with the project is ridiculous, and his adventures overseas are the most farfetched passages in the novel. Another subplot concerns Enid and her experimentation with a new anti-anxiety drug. She’s first introduced to it when a cruise ship’s doctor strongly recommends it and delivers a labored, unbelievable speech that simply allows Franzen to cram in every possible thought about modern notions of better living through chemistry.

Later in his Harper’s essay, Franzen wrote:
Expecting a novel to bear the weight of our whole disturbed society -- to help solve our contemporary problems -- seems to me a peculiarly American delusion. To write sentences of such authenticity that refuge can be taken in them: isn’t this enough? Isn’t it a lot?
It is enough to write such sentences. It is a lot. And Franzen, at his best, delivers them. But too often in The Corrections, he gets distracted, against his own advice, by the urge to bear the weight of our whole disturbed society.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wednesday Tune

See, things were bound to balance out after last week's avalanche of posts. I've got some long-winded entries in the on-deck circle (just one, really), but it's very warm in my apartment and I've been lugging the computer to cafes all week. I'm going to leave it home today, and just go somewhere to cool off.

But here's your Wednesday song, a clip of Coleman Hawkins from the mid-1930s. Enjoy: