Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Me: At Pajiba, I review Helen Hunt's directorial debut, Then She Found Me. . . . My friends: Strath Shepard and his lovely wife will soon move (back) to Seattle and leave their friends here ruined. To attempt to make up for this, Strath has been blogging at Pacific Standard about the things he knows best: graphic design, vintage records, general coolness. The first post up there right now is about anatomically correct ghosts, which might be a strange way to begin, but look around. . . . My enemies: If the New Jersey primary was held again today, the result might be different. Big shocker.

Harry's Fired Up

For those of you not paying attention to the NBA playoffs, a quick preface to this mascot-related story. The Atlanta Hawks went 37-45 during the regular season, the Boston Celtics 66-16. The Celtics easily won the first two games of the teams' opening-round playoff series, as expected. The Hawks won the next two in Atlanta, which is stunning. This note was sent to Bill Simmons, an ESPN writer, from a former intern of his, a Hawks fan. Enjoy:
This series makes no sense. I was at both home games, and I'm still trying to process it. For instance, you know how teams gather in a circle before tip-off and hype themselves up around one guy yelling in the middle, be it 'Sheed, KG, Shaq, the Bulls' "What time is it?" chant, etc.? It's a storied tradition. So on Saturday night I look down and see the Hawks doing the same, and I'm feeling good . . . only then I suddenly realize the guy in the middle is Harry the Hawk, going berserk and presumably yelling muffled profanities through his enormous beak. It was horrifying - I think I may have dropped my beer in slow-mo. at that point I would have laid down a million dollars on us getting swept. And then we reel off two of the most inspired playoff wins in team history. It's crazy.
Needless to say, I'll be crestfallen if someone didn't capture this on video. For now, there is a montage of Harry highlights out there, and it's pretty entertaining.


Fresh Music for Wednesday

I recently discovered the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, by downloading their album Sing the Greys. I was getting into it, and thought it was brand new. Turns out it's a year or two old, but their second record -- The Midnight Organ Fight -- is hot off the presses. Below is the video for the first single, "Head Rolls Off." (I try to stick to live performances with this feature -- and if you want to see them play it live, you can find that here -- but I really like this video.) Enjoy:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bone-Deep Fear, Coming Soon!

I spent last weekend in Washington, D.C., and had a great time. Saturday night, I went to Baby Mama with friends. It was silly, but sweet-natured and funny enough that I enjoyed it. Unlike Judd Apatow's biweekly releases, the dumb guys in this aren't the heroes and the running time is a light-comedy-appropriate 96 minutes. (I'm looking at you, Knocked Up.)

But I'm actually writing to draw your attention to a movie featured during the previews before Mama. It's called The Strangers. If you don't like scary movies, think of this as an expertly edited two-minute horror movie -- and don't watch it. We all know well, by now, how misleading a trailer can be. But if this one is any indication, The Strangers should be the creepiest movie in a while...

Obama on Wright

This issue isn't going away, partly because some people have legitimate concerns and partly because the collective IQ of those running the media continues to hover somewhere around 30, but I don't see how it gets clearer than this:
And I want to be very clear that moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign. I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks.

But what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.

And anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign's about, I think, will understand that it is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country.
You've likely made up your mind, one way or another. If you're like me, the above makes a lot of sense to you. If you harbor doubts, ask yourself: Is the clip below -- the woman speaking, the diverse audience cheering her on, Obama's reactions -- something that resembles in any way the rhetoric and tone of someone like Wright?

(Clip via Andrew Sullivan)

Profile of a "Perfectly Designed Biological Mechanism"

Sarah Douglas, who contributed an excellent entry for my 6 Books series, has written a piece about art dealer Larry Gagosian for Intelligent Life (a new magazine from the brains at The Economist). A taste:
It used to be thought that no dealer had ever matched Joseph Duveen, who criss-crossed America before the first world war, hawking Impressionist masterpieces from his briefcase to robber barons eager to add some status to their wealth. But then along came Gagosian. He has spent the past quarter-century creating a network of galleries--three in New York, one in Los Angeles, two in London, and now the one in Rome--that is unheard of in the art world. While others busied themselves in their boutiques, he built a multinational corporation for selling painting and sculpture--the contemporary collector's Wal-Art.
I love the description of Gagosian that Sarah got from New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl: "His opportunism is transparent. It's not underhand: it's all overhand. He is not complicated. He's like a shark or a cat or some other perfectly designed biological mechanism."

Read the whole thing.

A Sumo Match in Three Brief Acts

Minor League Baseball has always been a pioneer in embarrassing wastes of time. Between innings, the minors tend to feature yokels from the crowd (no offense; I'm one of them) doing inane activities. I was cleaning up my stash of photos the other day, and I came across a perfect example -- two fans in sumo wrestling suits having at each other. The suits, cushioned with air, made it impossible for the contestants to walk properly. They had to just trip into each other and hope for the best. This occurred in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, almost a year ago, and if nothing else, I think these three photos perfectly capture the idea that all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Archive of the Day

From The Book of Intimate Grammar by David Grossman:
On Thursdays they walked Yaeli to her ballet class in the Valley of the Cross and waited outside for her like bodyguards. One time Madame Nikova passed by them, diminutive and wrinkled, and stopped and turned. “Always the two of you are with her, no?” she asked in her thick Russian accent. They nodded. Madame Nikova glanced astutely from the boys to Yaeli. There was a flicker of amused approval in her eyes. Her crimson mouth assumed a smile, and Yaeli bowed her head as though feigning modesty. The old ballet mistress seemed about to say more, perhaps she was reminded of her past, but she seemed to think better of it and turned away again, and Aron had a sneaky suspicion that such things were not unknown, that theirs was not a unique and unprecedented relationship; that the outcome was inevitable.

AP Headline of the Day

Iranian Official Warns Against Importing Barbie Dolls

Accelerate Goes Fast Enough

I know bloggers are supposed to review music several months before it’s released, because they’ve illegally downloaded the files or somehow convinced a publicist to send a review copy for the benefit of the blog’s six readers. I apologize.

R.E.M.’s Accelerate came out four weeks ago, which means this might be the last opinion about it to appear anywhere. And since I’ve proven to be less than objective about the band around here, I’m sure you’re reaching for your grain of salt.

Accelerate is good. Solid. Which, given the recent history of the band, translates to very good. It’s not that the last three records, all without original drummer Bill Berry, were without their moments. Up might be the most interesting record they’ve made since Berry left, because it was their initial attempt to deal with his loss, but it's also their most sonically inert work. I still enjoy “Daysleeper” and “Why Not Smile,” but most of the others songs suffer from an awkward combination of overproduction and lack of energy.

Reveal was awfully boring, too, though “Beat a Drum” is gorgeous and “Imitation of Life” was a good enough imitation of the band’s radio-single sound. Around the Sun, their most critically disdained album, has a handful of songs that I really enjoy, but also some deathly slogs, like “Electron Blue,” “Boy in the Well,” and “The Worst Joke Ever.”

The new record is anti-slog. Even the songs that border on dirges don't stick around long enough to annoy, like the Katrina response "Houston," which clocks in at 2:05. So Accelerate is what it was advertised as, a consciously energetic return to form. Not the form of the band’s ridiculously long peak, from 1983 to 1992, but the consistency that was the band’s hallmark before Berry left. Not every song on Accelerate is a pure winner, but only the closing track, “I’m Gonna DJ,” probably should have stayed on the shelf.

And “Supernatural Superserious” is probably the best song the band has recorded since 1996. As one critic wrote, “...when you hear (Mike Mills) on the peppy single ‘Supernatural Superserious,’ it’s like, ‘Ahh, yes, that is R.E.M.’” And while someone else put it a different way, writing that it’s “the kind of song R.E.M. could write in its collective sleep,” that’s kind of the point. I’ve always appreciated when artists of any stripe play to their strengths, because it's just a figure of speech; they might be able to do it in their sleep, but almost no one else can do it while wide awake.

The return of Mills’ backing vocals on other songs is the album’s most refreshing element. The song “Man-Sized Wreath” is a good example of why Accelerate succeeds when recent efforts failed. The lyrics are ridiculous -- even by Stipe’s legendary standards of obscurity, “a tearful hymn to tug the heart and a man-sized wreath, oww,” makes no damn sense. But when the songs chugs along like it does, and Mills backs up the chorus with his plaintive crooning, it’s hard to complain.

Plus, the new material seems to have energized the band’s performance of its classics -- as you can see and hear with "These Days" and "Cuyahoga" -- and that’s a blessing itself.

Stories Can End

Many years ago -- 10 or 11, at least -- I read The Book of Intimate Grammar by Israeli novelist David Grossman. I've been meaning to read more of him ever since, especially his most acclaimed book, See Under: Love. Grossman's been in the news in recent years for terrible reasons -- his 20-year-old son, Uri, a soldier, was killed in 2006 in Lebanon.

I'm eager to read Grossman's newest novel, which was begun before Uri's death and involves a mother waiting to hear news of her soldier son's fate, but I'll have to wait until it's translated. For now, Grossman is profiled and occasionally quoted in a compelling piece about Israel's fate by Jeffrey Goldberg in the latest issue of The Atlantic. Here is one of his appearances:
“If you see the tendencies of fanaticism, the way in which at every crossroads both sides almost always choose the more violent approach, if you see the fact that other religions, parts of the West, never really accept the idea of Israel . . . It means something deep about us (and even more about everyone else), about Judaism and the state that we are still in, after 60 years of sovereignty—we have not accomplished statehood, the realization that this is a legitimate state. And we have a lack of confidence in our own existence. We also don’t really believe in our own existence. We have the formal symptoms of a normal state, but we still do not believe we are a state. Throughout history we were regarded, and we regarded ourselves, as a larger-than-life story, since the time of the Bible. We’re a story that other nations read and borrow. But if you are a story, you can end."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Till Next Week

I have so many posts on deck, so much love to share, but I'm off to D.C. for the weekend to visit a friend. So I'll save the stockpile for next week. Starting Monday, it should be pretty busy around here.

See you then.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Rare Musical Opinion

Every Wednesday, Paper Cuts, the New York Times' books blog, features a music playlist by a different author. This week, Pico Iyer chooses songs "for a (stirring) non-denominational funeral, or, 10 (not unconventional) songs to play at a service where you don’t know who’s coming."

I'm not sure what that means. I do know the list features some very good songs, including "We Are the Waiting" by Green Day, an addictive, anthemic track off their last album. But the list also features "The Face of Love" by Jewel, and Iyer writes:
As for Jewel, she is one of the startlingly mystical voices of her generation, and only traduced because her first record, made when she was a teenage girl, happened to speak to other teenage girls (who were no doubt looking for a new Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath, or even just a Joni Mitchell for a generation that had outlived many of the older hopes). The only person who can legitimately and convincingly bring Jewel down is Jewel.
I know: Wow.


(Still recovering from the misguided grandeur of that last sentence...)


I suppose Miley Cyrus fans are really seeking a new Elizabeth Bishop. Someone should break the news to Iyer, a smart man who otherwise appears to have good taste in music, that he might be overthinking this one: Jewel is "traduced" because Jewel "sucks."

Line of the Week

Stephen Colbert, introducing last night's Colbert Report:
Tonight! Hillary Clinton wins the Pennsylvania primary. I can't wait to see where she grew up in Indiana.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gallery 14

High-speed sequence of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge, 1884.



The Kentucky Derby is 10 days away. Over at Pajiba, I review The First Saturday in May, a documentary about six horses on the road to the 2006 Kentucky Derby. . . . The New York Times has started a blog about this year's Triple Crown. Worth checking out. . . . On YouTube, some generous soul has compiled the stretch runs of every Kentucky Derby from 1968-2006, in two installments. The first runs from 1968-1986. The other takes up from there. I could have done without the incessant soundtrack of "My Old Kentucky Home" plaing faintly in the background, but I shouldn't complain about such a gift. I was struck most by 1989, when Sunday Silence won it despite running all over the track down the stretch, and 1996, when you could watch it three or four times and still not think Grindstone got there at the wire. But he did.

Getting the Led Out for Wednesday

One of my favorite songs by them, "Tangerine." Robert Plant really likes his hair. And Jimmy Page is wielding, for those Simpsons fans out there, "you know those guitars that are, like, double guitars?" Enjoy:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Rant to Make Me Feel Better About Tonight's Probable Primary Result

The day is finally here. Pennsylvania votes, and not a moment too soon. In fact, many, many moments too late. Since it’s the day of a big primary, I might as well uncork a political post. An anonymous commenter around here (or two -- who knows?; they’re anonymous!) recently wrote:
Your anger and vitriol towards Hillary and “The Clintons” is so overwhelming, it makes one wonder if you have been detrimentally affected by any of the policies during Bill Clinton's Presidency or Hillary Clinton as a New York Senator. Your attitude seems to be that you would rather almost anyone else in the White House, even if it is not a democrat [sic].
Another (or the same!) wrote:
There are certainly some domestic issues and relationships that have not been sufficiently addressed on this blog.
I’m not sure why I should privilege anonymous comments -- for all I know, it’s Hillary leaving them; they kind of sound like her -- but here goes:

Well, first, the Clintons in quotes in that first comment is priceless. As if they or their power-sharing arrangement are fake. Me and my paranoia, lumping an ex-president and his wife, who tried to engineer a health plan while not elected to office, into one entity. Just ridiculous. The second comment confounds me. If they’re talking about Reverend Wright, I guess a conflicted, 1,600-word post on the subject wasn’t enough. If they’re talking about more ridiculous accusations of innocence-by-association, Hillary’s been at least as silent as I have.

But let’s get to the meat of the complaints, such as there is. I'm not exaggerating my opinions for effect, and I try not to just spew vitriol, which I do find unproductive. There are a few people I can think of who, if running against Hillary, would allow me to vote for her as a "lesser of two evils" option. Of course. But John McCain is not one of them. And the strength of my opinion is not due to being adversely affected by her or her husband's policies. (I once voted for her husband, in fact.) There are two things that underpin my feeling:

1. Character. This matters to me, though not in a religious-right way. I consider both of the Clintons opportunistic and entitled in a way that stands out even for politicians, which is saying something. If their attitude and tactics were displayed by a Republican candidate, Democrats would retch. (Stubborn party loyalty leads to greater double standards than you see in almost any other walk of life, and this election cycle has laid them bare unlike any I can remember.)

2. Actual politics. This opportunism also infects their policies. On certain issues that require political courage -- like, say, gay rights, but many others as well -- I simply don't trust the Clintons to step up to the plate, and they've left a long track record on which I base that. I tend to be a left-leaning centrist, which is why I voted for Bill Clinton. But at this point, the Clintons aren't centrists; they're just egoists. They've shown time and again over the past decade that they privilege their exercise of power over principle. I'm very happy to firmly boot Bush out of office by voting in a Democrat. Very happy. But not her. Why would I choose to send a message against Bush’s style of politics by voting for someone who I think would continue them more than any other candidate (of any party) on the ballot?

If my attitude seems to be that I would prefer someone else in the White House, “even if it is not a Democrat,” that’s because it is my attitude. I am not a Democrat. I'm an independent. The notion that someone else might get in the White House doesn't necessarily chill my spine. Especially when the other option is McCain, who's hardly Bush or Huckabee or Cheney, etc.

But I want to dig deeper here, because presumably my anonymous friends (and foes) are supporters of Hillary Clinton. And so, I don’t feel compelled to fall back on arguments for McCain just yet. After all, the candidate I support is still running. In fact, more Americans have voted for him than any other candidate this year. And he is -- gasp -- a Democrat. If Obama has become unelectable, which I think is a shaky proposition, many thanks should go to Hillary, who has gone after him in a highly calculated way:
In mid-January, 59 percent of independents said they had a favorable impression of (Clinton), compared to 39 percent unfavorable. Last week, it was the reverse: 39 percent favorable and 58 percent unfavorable.
There's a reason for a swing that big, and it's not the vitriol of a little-read blogger like myself. It's Clinton herself.

Record numbers of Democrats have turned out to vote, compared to paltry numbers for the Republicans. That’s due to Obama, and it wasn’t a brief burst of energy -- the other night, 35,000 people went to a rally of his in Philadelphia. If the Dems had simply ridden this wave, given the political realities of 2008, I really think Obama would have been unstoppable. Instead, they fumbled the ball, as they have a tendency to do. (Pardon the jarring shift from surfing to football metaphor.)

So sure, now it would be a very tight election between Obama and McCain. But if Hillary is the opponent, good luck. If Democrats don’t want to vote for her in November, they will have three good reasons from which to choose: they feel alienated by the tactics she’s used over the past few months (see: African-Americans); they want to punish the party for overruling the popular and delegate vote, which it would almost certainly have to do to make Clinton the nominee; or they simply prefer McCain. On the other side, conservative turnout will be massive. Republicans might have misgivings about Obama, but if you think my feelings for Hillary are visceral...I at least recognize and respect her intellectual strength; a lot of the country simply hates her. And you can say that’s a bad standard by which to choose a nominee, but that ignores that Hillary is using the same exact standard (unelectability) to argue against Obama -- except I’m still waiting (patiently) to hear why a figure as polarizing as Hillary Clinton is more electable than someone who draws stadiums full of enthusiastic supporters.

Lastly, I find it ironic that supporters of Clinton could criticize, with a straight face, the idea of voting for a Republican over her, since she has all but suggested during certain rallies of hers that McCain is a more qualified, honorable candidate than Obama. In this and other ways, like most compulsive liars, the Clintons corner their supporters into making some extraordinarily contorted arguments on their behalf.

Episode 4 of Titlepage

The newest episode of Titlepage went up today. It features poet Edward Hirsch and novelists Elizabeth Strout, Meg Wolitzer, and Mark Sarvas. Also, our host, Daniel Menaker, is in the discussions area of the Titlepage site today, answering any questions you might have. Enjoy:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Charlie's Stammering, Deconstructed

This is mesmerizing, creepy, and hilarious. And brilliantly edited. It's a film called "'Charlie Rose' by Samuel Beckett." It was made by Andrew Filippone Jr. Enjoy:

(via Very Short List)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Two Covers

Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End was a novel with a ton of hype, deserved. (I recently recommended it on the Titlepage site. I'm doing more blogging over there at Loud, Please. Please come and see me.)

I like the American cover for Ferris' novel, with its proliferating Post-it notes. But the aerial view of cubicles on the UK cover is truly inspired:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Mock in Democracy

My friend Eugene covered last week's Clinton-Obama debate in the way only he can. While he spoke to Chuck Norris reporting on Huckabee's campaign a few months ago, this trip upped the ante on wonk-celebrity run-ins: Wesley Clark, Walter Isaacson, Jonathan Alter, and Obama Girl all make appearances. Enjoy:

Friday, April 18, 2008


I'll leave you for the week with an illustrated recap of my recent travels, for whoever cares. I took off for Las Vegas on a Friday afternoon. Having left from JFK, I was chasing the sun the entire way. By the end of my six-hour flight, it was after 10:00 in New York, but night had just fallen in Vegas. (By the way, there are plenty of reasons to worry about overpopulation -- oil, water, food, disease, etc. But don't worry because of space. Flying over the American west is an hourslong education in emptiness.)

Thanks to a friend of mine, we were staying free of charge at the Bellagio, with an amazing view of the hotel's impressive water shows:

That's the Paris hotel across the street, and the tower (cheesy as it is) does look pretty at night:

The only real walking we did was brief strolls over to Caesar's, whose poker room we preferred. The first day (the first time I'd ever played poker at a casino), I got taken for a hundred bucks or so. The second day, during a seven-hour session made much more entertaining by the presence of my friend in the seat next to me, I finished up about 250 dollars. The third day -- getaway day -- was my big mistake. After the previous day's success, I had the desire to play again. But I knew, given that we had to leave for the airport after an hour or so, that I was likely to make more aggressive plays than I should and lose the entire hundred or so that I considered my stake for the game. And I did just that. Poker is best played at great length, since patience is one of the skills it rewards most sweetly.

As it's famously known, Vegas is a place to do crazy things. And wouldn't you know it, I turned over in bed every morning to see Toni Braxton next to me:

Braxton is absolutely cutting-edge compared to most Vegas fare. Relics like Elton John and Bette Midler are currently playing on the strip, and relics like Cher are on deck. Comedy's the worst, though -- the most prominently advertised shows were "Funny Man" George Wallace (My friend Brad: "When they're putting 'funny man' in front of your name, it's time to hang it up."), Carrot Top, and David Spade.

Needless to say, we avoided the shows.

What we didn't avoid were calories. Each night -- thanks to another price reduction -- we ate like kings (there were four of us). The only story worth relating involved dessert. The last night there, another friend and I both ordered a vanilla soufflé. It arrived at the table looking sinful enough, stuffed into a deep bowl, its top flopping around like a chef's hat. But without warning, after barely a moment to marvel at this decadence, the waiter suddenly plunged a large scoop of ice cream straight into the middle of the soufflé. As it sank (quickly) to the bottom, he then dramatically covered the entire thing in some kind of vanilla glaze. It was a drive-by desserting. All of us took a solid minute or two to laugh out loud, and then the friend and I devoured them like hyenas.

A couple of pounds heavier, undoubtedly, I spent the next several days in Dallas with family and friends. I took in the Texas Rangers' home opener at their beautiful stadium in Arlington. During the National Anthem, the fans were not allowed to forget which country we were serenading:

The rest of the time in Texas was blessedly uneventful (and quiet). It's back to the horn-infested streets of New York, but spring has definitely arrived, so it's a lovely time to be in the city, rejuvenated.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Explaining a Silence

A reader asked (kindly, I thought) why I haven't been posting much about politics lately. There's not one particular reason. But here are four thoughts:

1. I've been excited about Obama -- as you can tell -- but there's a reason why, in an average cycle, I don't pay as much attention. This process is insane. The entire last year of Bush's presidency will have been overshadowed by maniacal coverage of the primaries. Even McCain, who has wrapped up his party's nomination, seems to get more attention than Bush these days. I can be geeky about elections, but come on. I think very few people in this country care as much about actual politics as they do about this sport of figuring out who's next in line. It's fun for a while, and then it's pathological. And the talking heads on TV haven't expressed a genuinely new thought in, oh, two months. When you're on 24 hours a day, that's a long time.

2. The Clintons. Hillary was a star entering this campaign, and in America (where Reagan and Schwarzenegger have been elected) that means a lot. Obama might have been a rising talent in the eyes of some wonks, but Hillary was a star. Then, in almost every measurable way that a star can be beat, she got beat. Watching what she's done in the face of that defeat has been, for lack of a better word, disgusting, though not (at all) surprising. It culminated (one hopes) in last night's debate, when she reveled in the role of 21st-century McCarthy. This has nothing to do with my support for Obama, believe me. When I try to think of someone against whom I would vote for Hillary Clinton, my mind reels, comes to rest, and remains blank. Andrew Sullivan recently wrote, "for the Clintons, anything is possible in the pursuit of power." That says it all.

3. The parties. Some of my liberal friends scoff when they hear that I've voted for a third party in a presidential election -- I've never apologized for it before, and I certainly won't now. How any clear-thinking Democrat can watch Hillary Clinton and make some kind of meaningful distinction between her and the enemies of hers she's always frothing about, I have no idea. I believe I'm paraphrasing myself here (forgive me), but the Clintons represent the professional-wrestling side of politics as much as anyone on either side of the aisle right now. I would find them comical, except they're real.

4. As some kind of combination of the three points above: There's nothing left to say right now. I can't figure out how anyone could change their mind at this point. Every issue (substantive or not) has been beaten to a pulp. If you can wring any more juice from them, you're a better citizen than I. I'm sure as more primaries are held, I'll find something to post. And I'll certainly perk up when it's down to two. But for now, merciful God, I just want it to stop.

I'll say in conclusion that I find it remarkable that Obama doesn't directly attack Clinton more. As in the clip below, he attacks her for attacking him, but he never really addresses the 9,000 skeletons in her closet. The fact that she's spun him as the easier candidate for the Republicans to assault in a general election remains the most mind-boggling aspect of this year to me. She is Hillary Clinton. I feel certain that given the choice to run against her or the exhumed corpse of Karl Marx, the Republicans would choose her.

I'll Take the Stairs, Thanks

If you ever ride in elevators (meaning: if you are a current resident of the planet Earth), you might think twice before reading Nick Paumgarten's article about them in The New Yorker. Threaded throughout the article in pieces is the story of Nicholas White. In 1999, at 34 years old, he was working for Business Week. At 11 p.m. on a Friday, he took a smoke break. On his way back up to the 43rd floor, the elevator stuck. He was alone in it for 41 hours.
After a time, he pressed the emergency button, setting off an alarm bell, mounted on the roof of the elevator car, but he could tell that its range was limited. Still, he rang it a few more times and eventually pulled the button out, so that the alarm was continuous. Some time passed, although he was not sure how much, because he had no watch or cell phone. He occupied himself with thoughts of remaining calm and decided that he’d better not do anything drastic, because, whatever the malfunction, he thought it unwise to jostle the car, and because he wanted to be (as he thought, chuckling to himself) a model trapped employee. . . . As the emergency bell rang and rang, he began to fear that it might somehow—electricity? friction? heat?—start a fire. Recently, there had been a small fire in the building, rendering the elevators unusable. The Business Week staff had walked down forty-three stories. He also began hearing unlikely oscillations in the ringing: aural hallucinations. Before long, he began to contemplate death.
I know: Sweet lord.

The New Yorker's web site features the security video (sped up considerably, of course) of White's entire ordeal. Not the most pleasant thing to watch, and the clip has been set to creepy music, as if the unadorned situation isn't creepy enough:
The most striking thing to (White) about the tape is that it includes split-screen footage from three other elevators, on which you can see men intermittently performing maintenance work. Apparently, they never wondered about the one he was in. (Eight McGraw-Hill security guards came and went while he was stranded there; nobody seems to have noticed him on the monitor.)
(Via QuizLaw)

6 BOOKS about the grand old game by Cait Murphy

Cait Murphy is the author of Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, which I recently recommended. Below, she kindly offers a list of her six (or seven, or eight) favorite baseball books.
The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter

An oral history of early 20th century baseball. Just marvelous; I am told this is also available on audio-cassette, so you can hear the actual voices. (Beware, though: Rube Marquard's account is full of artful untruths!)

Casey and Babe by Robert Creamer

Mr. Creamer has become a friend of mine, but these would make the list anyway. In particular, check out his explanation of a Casey Stengel riff - hilarious. And while Leigh Montville's recent biography of the Babe (The Big Bam) is also excellent, I still plump for Creamer's.

Touching Second by Johnny Evers

Recently republished, this came out in 1912 and is a wonderful insight into the game before the Babe, with lots of interesting stories. (Along the same lines: Pitching in a Pinch by Christy Mathewson, also recently republished.)

Ty Cobb by Al Stump

The second one, not the authorized one. Some people have said the portrait Stump draws is overwrought. I don't know; what I do know is that it is completely compelling.

The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball by Jonathan Fraser Light

Perfect for the off-season, this has exhaustive entries on everything and everything to do with baseball, from Aaron, Hank; to hot dogs; to wild pitches. Tons of fun.

The Ultimate Baseball Book by Dan Okrent and Harris Lewine

A delightful mix of text and graphics.

(For a more contemporary book, I liked Seth Mnookin's Feeding the Monster -- A good account of the 2003-04 Red Sox, and I learned a great deal about how John Henry and Co. took over the team.)


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Saturday at Lone Star Park

Spike on (the Presidential) Race

In last week's issue, New York devoted its culture pages to lists of the best New York-centric books, music, etc., released since the magazine began 40 years ago. The section also featured an interview with Spike Lee, mostly about making Do the Right Thing. But I most enjoyed this digression toward the end:
What do you think of Obama?
I’m riding my man Obama. I think he’s a visionary. Actually, Barack told me the first date he took Michelle to was Do the Right Thing. I said, “Thank God I made it. Otherwise you would have taken her to Soul Man. Michelle would have been like, ‘What’s wrong with this brother?’ ”

Does this mean you’re down on the Clintons?
The Clintons, man, they would lie on a stack of Bibles. Snipers? That’s not misspeaking; that’s some pure bullshit. I voted for Clinton twice, but that’s over with.

Wednesday's Song on Ice

Today's song is tangentially related to yesterday's music post. It isn't about Texas, but the performance did take place there, at a venue in Dallas. Canadian Kathleen Edwards is obviously a hockey fan -- a song on her new (and very good) album features the line, "You're the Great One, I'm Marty McSorley." This song, "Hockey Skates" (from her debut, Failer) also uses the sport for metaphorical purposes. It's beautiful, though. Enjoy:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Five Songs, Chapter Twenty-Seven

"Dallas" by Jimmie Dale Gilmore

I don't compare Dallas to New York, but they are both homes of mine in very real ways. So when I'm feeling homesick for the southern one, I like this lyric:
Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?
Well Dallas is a jewel, oh yeah, Dallas is a beautiful sight.
And Dallas is a jungle but Dallas gives a beautiful light.
I know the song more from the cover that 10,000 Maniacs did on MTV Unplugged (yes, I'm a thousand years old), but I've never found that version again anywhere.

"That's Right (You're Not From Texas)" by Lyle Lovett

"But Texas wants you anyway." A charmingly expressed, megalomaniacal sentiment, appropriate for a state that is as proudly provincial as anywhere you'll ever see. The big band makes a fun racket on this one. Lovett is one of the state's true jewels.

"Denton, TX" by Damien Jurado

I don't know what this has to do with Denton, but I imagine if you were from there, and you heard the plaintive "Please come home" that's sung about two-thirds of the way through, you'd have a sizable lump in your throat.

"Galveston" by Glen Campbell

"She was 21 when I left Galveston." "I clean my gun and dream of Galveston." Campbell sings these lines over more swelling strings than any tough guy would allow. Still, it works. It sounds like the music over the opening credits of a mythical 1980's TV show about a gay man with a terminal disease who had worked at an oil refinery, had to be with a woman to appease the locals, and ended up falling in love with her on some level. That just occurred to me, and I'm stone-cold sober.

"The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" by The Mountain Goats

Speaking of Denton. I went on at length about this song in a long-ago post.

OK, I suppose you've all figured out the theme here. I welcome any suggestions of additional songs in the comments.



Here's Colin Meloy singing one of my favorite Decemberists songs while riding around on an elevator. He seems to be having fun. . . . Preview the title track of the forthcoming Hold Steady record here. It's a live recording, and not a great one, but still. . . . Christopher Hitchens' brother, Peter, makes a brief but heartfelt case for The Book of Common Prayer. . . . A friend of mind discovers some fun facts about the last country to abandon feudalism.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Feeney on Hopper

Matt Feeney of the Boston Globe won this year's Pulitzer for criticism. Among the pieces that earned him the honor was this one about Edward Hopper:
Regardless of whether it's a Maine lighthouse or a New York sidewalk, the "where" Hopper paints is almost always barely populated. His friend, the artist Guy Pene du Bois, described Hopper's New York as "a noiseless architectural world." Rather than teem and roar, his city seems on the verge of evacuation. There's the empty sidewalk of "Drug Store," the solitary customer in "Automat," the nearly deserted theater of "New York Movie."
(Via Brainiac)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

AP Headline of the Day

Indonesian Masseuses Lock Their Pants

The Amis of Old

The only book I brought with me on this trip -- because I was late running out my door and took an incredibly neurotic amount of time just to choose this one -- is The War Against Cliché, a collection of reviews and essays by Martin Amis. The breathless headline on the back cover reads, “Is there anything that Martin Amis can’t write about?”

Michiko Kakutani certainly thinks so. In Tuesday's New York Times, she capped off her review of Amis’ latest collection of essays with this paragraph:
Indeed “The Second Plane” is such a weak, risible and often objectionable volume that the reader finishes it convinced that Mr. Amis should stick to writing fiction and literary criticism, as he’s thoroughly discredited himself with these essays as any sort of political or social commentator.
(“Weak, risible and often objectionable” is a great anti-blurb. I might try to collect those and have a contest for the best at the end of the year.)

It might be true that Amis has lost a bit of humor and is more narrowly obsessed since 9/11. He has company. But this best-of features a lot of his strengths, which are considerable. I’m not reading it in succession, but after about 75 combined pages, the first tour de force is his reading of It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton, which ran in London’s Sunday Times in 1996. It’s good enough on its own, but particularly entertaining in the midst of our endless primary season.

Amis begins with a brief character sketch that rings true:
...Mrs. Clinton is the most unpopular First Lady ever; and, more substantively, she is the first First Lady to stand before a grand jury. She is clearly the brightest and ablest of her line. And, in all senses, she is the most exposed. As the author of the failed health-care plan, Hillary assumed quasi-ministerial power while remaining unelected and unaccountable. ... She came to Washington, with her new broom, and the institutions duly defeated and deformed her.
Then he chews on the book itself:
If this book had been written by someone with a different address, then of course I wouldn’t be reviewing it. And neither would anybody else. A chatty manual about raising children along voluntarist and communitarian lines, it might have got a mention in the Times Educational Supplement, or in Pregnancy magazine. But, as the jacket copy patiently explains, Hillary Rodham Clinton is ‘America’s First Lady’; ‘she lives in the White House with the President and their daughter, Chelsea’. ... At no point did I find myself questioning the benignity of the author’s original impulse; indeed, the book is as sincere, in its way, as anything I’ve ever managed to finish.
In the book's foreword, Amis writes that, "Enjoying being insulting is a youthful corruption of power." Luckily, he hadn't yet tired of the corruption by 1990, when the Independent ran his review of The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, which begins like this:
The Green Movement needs a holy book. So does Viking Penguin. So do I. So do we all. Our need survives The End of Nature, in which Bill McKibben fails to fulfill the rolling prophecies of his publicity kit. The book is honest, decent, salutary; also largely unresonant. Also callow, and painfully stretched. Perhaps one ought to be easier to please than usual, when the subject is the death of everything.
Then there's this, in a review of Andy Warhol's diaries:
It would be hard work, and a waste of energy, to do much disapproving of Andy Warhol. He doesn’t take himself seriously enough for that -- or for anything else. It is worth remarking that at no point does he say anything interesting (or even non-ridiculous) about art. He’ll mention having ‘a good art idea’ or attending ‘an art party’; he’ll mention that ‘art is big now.’
Lastly (and best), Amis compares the opposite temperaments of Samuel Beckett and John Updike:
Beckett was the headmaster of the Writing as Agony school. On a good day, he would stare at the wall for eighteen hours or so, feeling entirely terrible; and, if he was lucky, a few words like NEVER or END or NOTHING or NO WAY might brand themselves on his bleeding eyes. Whereas Updike, of course, is a psychotic Santa of volubility, emerging from one or another of his studies (he is said to have four of them) with his morning sackful of reviews, speeches, reminiscences, think-pieces, forewords, prefaces, introductions, stories, playlets and poems. Preparing his cup of Sanka over the singing kettle, he wears his usual expression: that of a man beset by an embarrassment of delicious drolleries. The telephone starts ringing. A science magazine wants something pithy on the philosophy of subatomic thermodynamics; a fashion magazine wants 10,000 words on his favorite color. No problem -- but can they hang on? Updike has to go upstairs again and blurt out a novel.

Weather Report

When I went to bed last night, the wind outside sounded...unique. It sounded angry. The roof creaked. I kept looking outside my window to catch the action, but it always abated just when I peeked.

I woke up this morning to a blackout in the house, a sizable portion of a neighbor's tree fallen (partially on to Dad's roof), and lots of formerly vertical things (stop signs, flowers) suddenly horizontal. I think a twister or two touched down in the area around three in the morning. I'll have a couple of pics of the damage to share once I'm back in New York, where the weather never gets quite so treacherous.

Today is beautiful, though: Low 80's, crystal-clear sky, and a few cooling breezes left over from the storm.

Forget steroids. How about LSD?

My friend JF, who accompanied me on two cross-part-of-the-country baseball trips, sent along a piece about Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970's. This is not breaking news -- in fact, the initial revelation dates to 1984 -- but it turns out that a no-hitter Ellis threw in 1970 was accomplished while he was high on LSD. Said Ellis:
The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn't hit hard and never reached me.
He walked eight batters (a hilarious, if unsurprising, statistic), but didn't give up a hit.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Song in the Form of a Question

A long-distance dedication on this Wednesday. From my perch in a Starbucks in Plano, Texas, I offer you Linda Ronstadt, wondering when she'll be loved:

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Still Kicking

Oh, hello.

Well, the optimism expressed in my last post (which wasn't meant to malign Pittsburgh, as one reader assumed; I love Pittsburgh, and I'm not saying that sarcastically) was, like so many other instances of optimism, thoroughly, heartlessly crushed by Las Vegas. There was no wireless in (or even near) my hotel room. Silly me -- I forgot that the only rule more ironclad than Vegas' desire to provide every service and convenience known to man is Vegas' desire to keep you from spending time in your hotel room. That will change when they learn to install roulette wheels at the foot of every bed. (That time is coming. Don't think it isn't. Future wake-up calls will come in the simple form of shouts from the croupier standing above you.)

This is a long way of explaining the longer-than-expected silence here. The longer-than-expected visual drought is explained by my stupidity; I took some photos, but I forgot to bring the cord that allows me to download (upload?) the photos to my computer. (It's amazing that I don't have that cord on me. Less than three years ago, I didn't have my own computer or an iPod. Less than two years ago, I was still refusing to own a cell phone, a principled/quixotic stand noticed only by me and sometimes not even him. Less than a year ago, I didn't own a digital camera. Now, I board planes with approximately enough technological equipment on my person to create my own small aircraft, should the need arise. But I forgot that cord. Just great.)

I'm in Texas now, where everything is big, including the wireless access. I'll have a few Vegas-related posts up over the next few days, because Vegas, as always, produced a lot worth sharing. But there will be other offerings, too. In fact, I sense a big week. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Game Plan

No posts here on Friday. I've got a long day ahead of me. Finishing up some work in the morning, then getting on a plane to Vegas in the late afternoon. By the time I land there, it will be fairly late in my New York-adapted body, but it will be quite early by Vegas standards. By the time I get to bed, I imagine it will be 4 or 5 o'clock on the east coast.

Still, I'm thrilled. I'll be posting from there, assuming the hotel has wireless. Given that I've stayed in motels in Pittsburgh that have wireless, I don't think I'll have a problem.

So, a very brief silence around here, immediately followed by neon insanity. See you soon...

AP Headline of the Day

Man Steals Guitar by Placing It in Pants

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Arms (and Heads) of the Mets

Stephen Rodrick has a terrifically entertaining piece in this week's New York magazine about the Mets' 2008 starting rotation. On the front end, of course, is soft-spoken Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the sport over the past four years, who the Mets signed in the offseason. Rodrick on Santana:
A month into spring training, the Twins are still grieving for the guy who draws smiley faces on the brim of his cap and preps for his starts by playing against the opposing team on Xbox. (He still does. “Those games are very realistic about the batter’s strengths and weaknesses,” Santana told me.)
At the back end, there's Orlando Hernandez, who, as Roderick writes, "is 38, 42, or 59, depending on which birth certificate you believe." He's likely nearing his final days on the mound.

In the middle, there's John Maine ("Maine exudes a humility you’d want in a friend but not necessarily a Game 7 starter.") and the talented-but-erratic Oliver Perez.

In the middle with them is Pedro Martinez, the most compelling story on the team. Coming off a bad shoulder injury, and 36 years old, Martinez is a wild card. In his prime, he was the best (and most electrifying) pitcher of his generation, with pure heat that rivaled Randy Johnson and a chess-like mentality that matched Greg Maddux. If you're a baseball fan, it will mean something to you that he posted back-to-back ERAs of 2.07 and 1.74 in the American League. That's sick.

He's always been a character/head case, too, which is one reason I like him only slightly less for his ridiculous role in the Yankees-Red Sox brawl of '03. Rodrick doesn't mince words about the crazy part:
Three Cy Youngs and 209 wins in, Martinez is clearly nuts, Brian Wilson–in–a–sandbox nuts. But this spring it’s a happy nuts.
He watches Martinez take the mound one day during spring training:
Now it’s Martinez’s turn. Things look immediately brighter and weirder. It’s blustery out, so Martinez, gardener and cockfighting enthusiast, breaks into a mournful version of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind.” He only knows the title line. “Against the wind, against the wind,” he sings atonally.

On the mound, Martinez flings off his cap and waves for the pitcher’s cage—in place to prevent $13 million-a-year pitchers from being disabled by line drives—to be removed.

“C’mon, there’s no crying in baseball, let’s play baseball,” he says.
There's no crying in cockfighting, either.

Martinez eventually shows a more contemplative side:
A few mornings later, it was Martinez’s turn to throw again. Afterward, he was in a melancholy mood. ... When I asked him about his rehabbed shoulder, he was succinct. “It feels really good,” said Martinez, trying not to sound too hopeful. “If it goes, I’m done. No more rehab.” He gave a sad half-smile. “It makes my life easier. You just go out there, leave it all out there, and hand yourself to God and see what happens.”
When Martinez leaves the game for good, it will be a sad (if saner) day.

Wednesday Songs, from the Back of the Vault

Today's two songs (in my hopes that quantity will make up for this week's general lack of quality, as I work to get several things done before a vacation) are enjoyable as songs (I think), but I offer them more as historical documents.

They're both by The Primitives, the band that later became Uncle Tupelo. The singer here is Wade Farrar, older brother of Jay Farrar. Jay would go on to fame as part of Tupelo and then his band Son Volt. Jeff Tweedy is not visually featured much in these, but there he is, thrashing around at age 17/18 (stage left, our right, in both clips).

In the first, from June 1986, the band plays at a bar that looks like the set of a bar for a soap opera. To me, at least. The punk-ish music with a country-ish bridge is a perfect foreshadowing of Tupelo's sound, but Wade's vocals give the whole thing a British Invasion-like sneer. In the second clip, from Halloween 1985, the band rips through a Kinks-inspired number. Tweedy appears to be wearing a dress of some type. The rest of the band seem to have eschewed costumes that year. The man who comes on stage halfway through, covered in fake blood (remember, it was Halloween), is amazingly still alive. He posted both clips to YouTube. Enjoy:

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Track Story

Saturday morning, I went to Aqueduct Racetrack to conduct an interview (more on that in several weeks). At the Borough Hall subway stop in Brooklyn, I asked the conductor of an A train if he was stopping at Aqueduct. He said, "No, you need the next A. The one to Far Rockaway."

As he was closing the train's doors, he asked, "You got a sure winner?"

"Yeah," I said, chuckling, and thanked him for the transportation advice.

As the train started to pull out of the station, he leaned out of his booth and said, impatiently gesturing with his hand, "Gimme that sure thing."

Since I wasn't going to the track to play the races, I knew nothing about the day's card. But I didn't want to disappoint him, or look unprepared, or something, so I just made it up -- "Number four in the first race," I said, holding up four fingers.

Then I started to feel bad. It was almost two hours to post time. He had plenty of time to call in a bet if he wanted, and he did seem eager to hear the pick. Granted, I don't look like the most trustworthy source for a "sure thing," and there are no sure things, anyway, so if this guy was going to believe the word of someone on an A platform at 11 o'clock on a Saturday morning, that's his problem. But I have an overdeveloped sense of guilt. So I started hoping that the 4 horse would be scratched when I got to the track.

Almost as good, the 4 was 6/5 on the board. At least I gave the guy a favorite.

The horse -- All About -- went off at 2-1, attracting just a hair less attention than the favorite, Ivory Star. I had put five dollars on him. I couldn't be left standing there without a ticket if he won. He busted out of the gate to a strong lead. He extended the lead on the back stretch to at least five lengths. Around the far turn, he was pouring it on. For 90% of the race, he looked likely to win it for fun. Alas. Deep in the stretch, he tired, and Ivory Star caught him a few strides before the wire. It wasn’t exactly Personal Ensign winning the Distaff, but it was bad. I smiled and thought of the conductor on the A train.

Free Bear Suit

If you have some lyrics that have been wasting away in a drawer about why you deserve to win a free grizzly bear suit that is "not too scary, but is stupid hairy," today's your lucky day. Blow the dust off those lyrics and pick up the phone. Keep the calendar in mind, of course.

(Via a friend of mine -- and no, I didn't ask what she was searching for when she happened upon this.)