Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Cult of the GM

Neal Pollock has a spot-on piece in Slate this morning regarding the "Cult of the General Manager" and the strange interest in the "business" side of sports.
As deathly dull as a general manager's machinations may be, there's obviously an audience for it. I think that's warped. Yes, athletes are overpaid, pampered assholes, but their jobs are still inherently fun and interesting. Heroes don't analyze spreadsheets. Really, who would you rather be, Tom Brady or the guy who signed Tom Brady to a long-term deal? This may be the age of the general manager. But the quarterback still has more fun.
I would take this idea a step further and include the bizarre place that recruiting has taken in the minds of many college sports fans. While I understand the importance of bringing talent in, it absolutely baffles me that anyone would take an active interest in the process. Talk about making sausage. Aside from the poor souls whose fortunes are in the hands of 17 year-olds (and 16-year olds, and 15-year olds, etc.), why would anyone want to pay the slightest bit of attention to the process by which such decisions are made?

I'm pretty sure it's enough for me to know who's on the team when practice starts. Then I'll start paying attention.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Is This Historically Accurate?

Watched the initial episode of Rome last night on HBO. The period piece is their follow-up to the late, lamented Six Feet Under, and takes its place with their other Sunday night in-house flagship pieces.

The initial episode seemed OK, albeit understandably heavy on the backstory and exposition. Clearly the most interesting and controversial character is going to be Polly Walker's Atia, a B.C. desperate housewife of the most Machiavellian sort. Already in the first episode she's used her children to play both ends of the impending showdown between Pompey and Julius Caesar, took a literal bloodbath, rode Timon the horse-trader very hard (in front of the help, no less), and invited her precocious son Octavian to gawk an eyeful of mommy's goods.

Speaking of which, while the show has nowhere near the level of profanity that makes Deadwood what it is, there is a fair amount of full frontal nudity in the show. Female full frontal, that is. Nicely trimmed female full frontal, that is. It does make you wonder (OK, OK, makes me wonder) if the nice grooming is historically accurate? I mean, I know that clippers weren't invented yet, but were scissors even invented at the time?

Using Wikipedia to answer my own question, looks like scissors were not yet invented at the time when this show is set (~ 50 B.C.):
Modern cross-bladed scissors were invented by Romans around AD 100.
Which begs the question, from whence comes the well-coiffed ... er, areas in question?


Went to see Cracker on Saturday at, of all places, the Palatine Street Fest.

Well, sort of.

Not sure how this wildly improbable confluence came together, but the show was free and within a few yards of plenty of deep-fried food, so how could it be missed?

After an odd introduction from Palatine Mayor-for-Life Rita Mullins (at which she announced the entire City Council and Little Feat(?) before finally introducing the band), Cracker took the stage to thunderous applause and ... a five minute wait as Johnny Hickman tried to get his guitar to make some noise (this despite the fact that a roadie (ex-roadie?) spent 20 minutes working on it beforehand).

Now I'll be the first to admit that I'd kind of lost touch with this band since their first couple of records, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. With its intimate ties to my lovely Camper Van, though, they couldn't be bad.

They rocked.

Despite the bass being cranked to the point of distortion, they sounded great and played like the pros they are. Second song in, they went for the throat with "Teen Angst," and the crowd was theirs.

But here's where reality intruded. We had made the decision to bring along 12-year-old Tess. At least from my perspective -- bad decision. Despite the fact that we were 20 feet from the stage, when the time came for her to repeatedly make "that let's go face" her mother melted and it was time to go -- barely half-a-dozen or so songs into the set!


Oh, well. Given the price of admission -- nothin' -- I guess I can't complain. But the band was a bit of a revelation, nonetheless and it was worth it even for just a few.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Top 15 Albums Of The 2000s...So Far (Part 1)

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

Who: Yo La Tengo
What: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
When: February 22, 2000
Why: Yo La Tengo has always held a tension between their mellow ballad-y side and their trippy, drone-y psychedelic side. On And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out the two are fused more directly than on any record in the band’s long and illustrious career. “Everyday” sets the tone as the album opens. Ira and Georgia’s voices blend over an organ drone and an insistent drumbeat, around a delicately picked set of guitar figures, and eventually under some spacey sound effects. Tender and haunting all at once, this album is the apotheosis of the Yo La Tengo ethos.


Who: Tool
What: Lateralus
When: May 15, 2001
Why: Is Tool prog-rock? Metal? Sui generis? Who the hell knows. What is clear to me is that Lateralus is a great rock record. It’s full of fat guitar chords, double kick-drum polyrhythms, six-string bass leads, and Maynard’s wailing, screaming vocals – and all are good. “Schism” defines the band’s sound in all these respects. The constantly shifting rhythmic structure requires the head to bob and then eventually forces it to bang as the song reaches a crescendo. If this is prog-rock, then I love prog-rock.

Tenacious D

Who: Tenacious D
What: Tenacious D
When: September 25, 2001
Why: The D rocks. They’re clever, of course, funny, of course, but above all they write and play a mean rock lick. Acoustically, of course. The topics range from bawdy (“Cock Pushups”) to downright nasty (“Hard Fucking/Fuck Her Gently”). Of course, not all the songs are quite so sexy (is “Fuck Her Gently” sexy? anyway...). Many other songs concern themselves with hard rocking (“Rock Your Socks”), rocking hard (“The Road”), or old dudes who used to rock hard (“Dio”). Rock on, Kyle. Rock on, Jack.

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Last Part)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 8)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 7)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 6)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 5)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 4)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 3)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 2)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 1)
The Top 19 Albums Of The 1980s
The Top 16 Albums Of The 1970s

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Most Recent iTunes Random Plays

  • Morrissey - Everyday Is Like Sunday
  • Interpol - The New
  • The Roots - Pussy Galore
  • I Am Robot And Proud - Robot vs. Heidi
  • Mudhoney - Good Enough
  • Joy Division - Decades
  • Beck - Farewell Ride
  • Fischerspooner - Megacolon
  • Miles Davis - It Could Happen To You
  • North Mississippi All-Stars - Kids These Daze
  • Sophie B. Hawkins - Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover
  • Suede - Heroine
  • De La Soul - Change In Speak
  • Prince - Dead On It
  • Metallica - One

Someone Gets It

Fareed Zakaria, in Newsweek, pinpoints the real national security issue that should be driving U.S. foreign policy, particularly w/r/t the Middle East.
If I could change one thing about American foreign policy, what would it be? The answer is easy, but it's not something most of us think of as foreign policy. I would adopt a serious national program geared toward energy efficiency and independence. Reducing our dependence on oil would be the single greatest multiplier of American power in the world. I leave it to economists to sort out what expensive oil does to America's growth and inflation prospects. What is less often noticed is how crippling this situation is for American foreign policy.
Our Iraq fiasco, to the extent it was driven by any sentient reasoning, was driven by an attempt to "stablilize" the region in order to ensure the free flow of oil for American oil companies and American SUVs. It certainly wasn't for any reason related to national security, WMDs, terrorists or any of that other vacuous claptrap.

The current flap over Venezuela, led by the complete nimrod Pat Robertson, is only important because of our dependence on oil. Oil gives Hugo Chavez an importance out of all scale to his true significance (note in particular Robertson's insistence that whacking Chavez would not stop oil shipments from Venezuela).

All of this will only get worse. As demand increases continue to outstrip supply increases, every oil supplier takes on added significance, and every storm in the Gulf of Mexico and protest in Ecuador serve to push oil prices ever higher.

What is unfortunately the case is that the Bush administration is so thoroughly wedded to the oil culture that it is unable to see the forest for the trees. All of the carping about "security" in terms of Iraqi insurgents misses the point that until we are less intimately wedded to the sources of the problem, we will never be free of them.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Everything Ends

Last night was the finale of Six Feet Under on HBO. My reaction was probably shared by most long-time watchers -- OK, what show are we wrapping up here?

For five years this show was defined by its characters bleak lives, depressive personalities (and personality disorders) and dysfunctional relationships.

Last night, however, all was sweetness and light. In no particular order (like, say, the order they happened on the show):
  • Claire and Ted made up, and then made it (including nude digital pics -- not of Claire, unfortunately);
  • Brenda and Ruth made up, and Maya returned to Brenda;
  • Ruth cracked up, then got better;
  • Ruth and George made up, moved in together, then didn't;
  • Willa came into the world, gamely fought to stay in it, then eventually went home with Brenda;
  • David left Keith and the boys, went home to Mom, then came back all better;
  • David finally came to grips with his ghostly tormentor, only to find himself in an Empire Strikes Back sequel -- his tormentor in the red hoodie was David his own self;
  • Ghosty Nate II tormented Brenda for a while about Willa, then decided to stop and be nice (spurred on by Ghosty Nate I?);
  • Rico and Vanessa hatch a plausible scheme to cash in their share of Fisher & Diaz and buy their own funeral home, only to have David quash it, then buy them out with help from Keith and Brenda -- to the joy of all;
  • Ruth and Claire made up and Ruth gave her blessing to Claire's life-changing trip to work in New York;
  • Claire's New York gig fell through, but Ghosty Nate II spurred her to go and change her life anyway.
All of this, mind you, was before the reach-for-the-stars moment of the extra 15 minutes. As Claire drives her way across the country to New York, the lives of her and her family rush before her eyes in a way that strives to wrap up the series in a truly Six Feet Under mode.

One by one, the events and eventual deaths of each of the main characters is (p)recounted and whitescreened:
  • Ruth and Kathy Bates start puppy-sitting;
  • Willa's first birthday is celebrated by all (including a bizarre-acting-even-for-him Billy);
  • David and Keith take advantage of California's new gay marriage laws by tying the knot in what appears to be about 2010;
  • Ruth joins Nate I and Nate II in 2025, attended at the end by George, David & Claire;
  • Ted makes a salt & peppery appearance at Ruth's funeral, and Ted & Claire finally tie the knot soon thereafter;
  • 61-year-old Keith is gunned down by hoodlums in 2029 (now that's the Six Feet Under we know);
  • David eats the salmon mousse at a picnic, sees Keith one last time, and keels over in 2044;
  • Rico and Vanessa finally get that cruise in 2049 -- unfortunately, Rico narms, and only Vanessa returns to the dock;
  • Billy, still jealous of Ted, finally talks Brenda to death in 2051, and finally;
  • 102-year-old Claire, surrounded by the photos of her youth (including some of those naked Ted shots), is the last to go, in 2085.
The idea was inspired. The execution was probably as good as could be expected. Aging make-up never really does seem very realistic, and 2085 looks a bit too much like 1985 -- although it's nice to know the world neither explodes nor implodes in the next 80 years.

In the end, why shouldn't the Fishers have a little happiness, too? After all they've been through, I guess they deserve it.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The State Of The Orchestra

Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times had an interesting article a few days ago which surveyed the health and status of the big American orchestras, as well as classical music in general. It touches upon a variety of issues surrounding the art form, with a general feeling that, while it is not quite on life support, the orchestra does need to really think through things if it wants to hang on.
After hearing many of the country's most important orchestras during the last year, though, I remain convinced that, despite daunting problems, the orchestra hasn't completed its usefulness. But it's time to abandon a lot of received wisdom.

You've probably read the endless litany of woes: Audiences are aging and declining. Lack of music education has created a population of musically illiterate dolts. Young people won't sit still and can't concentrate without visual stimulation. ... expenses are ever on the upswing. Management and players constantly butt heads. ... Orchestras have become big businesses run by high-salaried executives. Star conductors are enticed with multimillion-dollar contracts for three to four months' worth of concerts. The organizations are overseen by bottom-line managerial boards lacking musical sophistication. It costs a fortune just to open the doors for business each morning.

... publicity stunts may attract new listeners to the concert hall for a time or two, but they do little to build committed audiences, let alone to advance the art form. What works, I've found traveling around the country, what gets audiences really worked up, is when orchestral music, old and new, is played with real fervor. And perhaps a bit of smart, interesting talk or conversation thrown in.

It's really that simple. But every town is different. Every orchestra is different. That's part of the pleasure — if sometimes the problem — of orchestral life, and it too needs to be acknowledged.
A survey of the big American orchestras reveals:
The orchestral landscape in America is not what it used to be. Once, American ensembles were lorded over by the "Big Five" — the main orchestras of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland. East Coast critics, while conceding the orchestral energy emanating from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony, continue to use that proprietary term, but it means nothing. The real scene has no center.

The hot conductors are in Los Angeles (Esa-Pekka Salonen), Boston (James Levine), San Francisco (Michael Tilson Thomas), Atlanta (Robert Spano) and Minneapolis (Osmo Vanska). This fall, David Robertson is expected to put St. Louis on the A-list. In 2006, when Alsop begins in Baltimore, it too should join the party.

Most in the field agree that the Cleveland Orchestra, of which Franz Welser-Möst is music director, has long been the nation's best ensemble no matter who conducts it. The New York Philharmonic, under Lorin Maazel, plays spectacularly these days, maybe better than ever. After that, the outlook is muddy. On a good night, the Cincinnati Symphony might outplay the Chicago Symphony, but that won't happen if Pierre Boulez is on the Chicago podium. The L.A. Philharmonic and Boston Symphony inhabit the best concert halls.
The designation of Cleveland as the best orchestra is not entirely surprising, but Swed does point out the very great difficulty that it will have in retaining that title over the long haul:
... the orchestra has a troublesome deficit, the region is economically depressed, and Welser-Möst works under persistent attack by the chief local critic. This is an orchestra that will require courage to forge ahead.
In the end, however, it will remain to be seen whether any of these orchestras -- or serious music itself -- can continue to thrive in the future. Swed's counsel that they must stay fresh, engaged and flexible is undeniable.

I do wonder, though, whether his initial comment about the effects of musical education cutbacks will be the overriding factor in the long term. Perhaps there will always be a small but committed minority of the population that has an interest and the patience to gain an understanding of the language -- but maybe not.

What I know is that there are moments of clarity and insight that can only be brought by an orchestra playing serious music -- I had several of them a couple of weeks ago listening to the CSO play both of Brahms' piano concertos at Ravinia -- and we will lose something very important as a society if that were to ever fall completely away.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The D Mo-vie

A little on-set banter here from The D as they film "Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny."

"We've been rocking really hard in this movie," Black insisted. "We wanna bring it to the max. We wanna live life to the max."

"Like when we hug each other, we hug each other," Gass added, "with fists pounding on each other's back. Manly love hugs."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Worst. Movies. Ever.

In honor of the release of "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" Roger Ebert listed his most hated movies. In addition to Deuce The Deuce, two other Rob Schneider appearances make the list, "The Hot Chick" and "The Waterboy."

Two of his would certainly be on my list: "Halloween III" and "Stayin' Alive." The first was MST3K fodder which had nothing to do with Michael Myers. The second was a non-stop cringe-fest of a sequel to "Saturday Night Fever." It's actually kind of embarrassing to even admit that I saw "Stayin' Alive." Awful.

One on his list that was a bit puzzling was "The Usual Suspects," which seemed pretty good to me. I mean, how many movies feature both Kevin Spacey and Kevin Pollock?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dire Predictions

The Tribune opinion page was pretty hard on W this Sunday. In particular, this piece, by retired Col. E.W. Chamberlain III. The article, title "Prediction," consists mostly of just that:
We will be out of Iraq before the congressional election of 2006. We'll either be completely out or well on our way out with a specified end date.
Here's why.
The toll of the war in both lives and treasure are going well beyond what we were promised. The elections in Iraq already are proving themselves to have been merely a vote of the majority for the majority with no room for any meaningful minority voice in the emerging government.
Our goal of bringing democracy to Iraq, while worthy, is unattainable. The Shiite clerics won't stand for it.
The clerics, who have taken on the same titles as those used by the Iranian Shiite clerics when they toppled the Shah, have won the elections.
As already is evident, even prominent Republicans are openly questioning the war. The Republicans are quickly realizing that their recently won majority in Congress will be a chimera if they blindly acquiesce to what many now see is a failed policy.
The American people are becoming less concerned about jobs as the economy improves, which gives more time for concern about a war that has no discernible end. They too are beginning to ask uncomfortable questions, hence the president's recent and frequent calls to stay the course.
Republican-dominated Congress will force the president to end the war as a demonstration of their power, or they will lose their ascendancy as the Democrats use the war and its costs and lack of tangible success as a rallying cry in the 2006 elections. The Democrats would be foolish not to.
So, my guess is you can mark your calendar for our troop withdrawal by fall 2006.
His further predictions are spectacularly dire
The insurgency in Iraq is Sunni, which many in Washington have yet to figure out. They are fighting us because we provide a focal point for rallying the Sunni people inside and outside of Iraq.
As soon as we leave, the full force of the insurgency will fall upon the Shiite government of Iraq. It already has started. The suicide car bombings that have killed so many Iraqi civilians are mistakenly tagged as terrorist attacks, when in reality they are attacks against Shiites by the Sunni insurgency.
If a couple of Americans also get killed, so much the better in their view, but the real target is the Shiite population and the Shiite-dominated government.
Probably even before the U.S. withdraws, the "democratically elected" Shiite government in Iraq will be aligned rapidly with Iran and will receive open and massive support. The Saudi Arabian government will continue to support the Sunni insurgency, as it does today, but the support will become open.
The Sunni insurgency eventually will lose as the full weight of a Shiite Iraq and a Shiite Iran overwhelms it. Numbers alone, coupled with a real war of attrition that does not discriminate between combatants and noncombatants or follow any rules of engagement, will result in horrific casualties and defeat.
This will not be the kinder, gentler, American way of war. This will be an Old Testament conflict with no quarter given.
The remnants of the Sunni insurgency will flee to Saudi Arabia. There they will foment discord because the Saudi royal family did not do enough and allowed the Sunnis to be defeated in Iraq. The royal family will be overthrown in a violent revolution in Saudi Arabia led by Sunni clerics who long have chafed under the pro-Western rule of the House of Saud. The Sunni clerics will emerge as the dominant power in Saudi Arabia. Americans and all other Westerners will be killed or, at best, ejected from Saudi Arabia, which has enough native petrochemical engineers and knowledgeable oil field workers, and can find other non-Westerners to run the oil fields. No Westerner need apply.
Of course, we need not fear another attack here at home from Osama bin Laden as all this occurs, because he will have fulfilled his fatwa. The only thing bin Laden ever said he was after was to remove the Westerners from Saudi Arabia, the Land of the Holy Places. This will be done when the clerics assume control of Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden will win the war on terrorism by achieving his goals with our unwitting help.
While each of these predictions seems successively less likely, they are clearly within the realm of possibility -- farfetched, but possible.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Last Part)

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Who: Neutral Milk Hotel
What: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
When: February 10, 1998
Why: Jeff Mangum seems to exist now only as an archetype – part of a long strain of slightly odd but endearing melodic geniuses stretching from Brian Wilson to Colin Meloy. If he does nothing more, having made this album will be enough. If this album has a forebear, for me it’s Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. Both albums combine a slightly shaggy take on a wealth of subjects with a dynamic range of instrumentation. The results for both are continued rewards even after years of listening. Welcome, Jeff, come into the light.

The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill

Who: Lauryn Hill
What: The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
When: August 25, 1998
Why: OK, the “dramatic interludes” are lame in the extreme, but they’re usually easy enough to fast forward through. The songs themselves are a soulful blend of mid-60s melodies and late-90s hip hop beats (an idea that was captured beautifully in the video for “Doo Wop (That Thing)”). The eerie sense of capturing this long-gone ethos comes through most forcefully, though, when L. channels and updates Stevie Wonder on “Everything Is Everything.”

You've Come A Long Way Baby

Who: Fatboy Slim
What: You’ve Come A Long Way Baby
When: October 20, 1998
Why: In a previous life he was Norman Cook, bass player for The Housemartins. By 1998 he was Fatboy Slim, pasty Brit DJ par excellence. This album introduced his alter ego to a wider audience, and accelerated the process of spreading rave music to the masses. While the whole album is great, the two hits, “Rockafeller Skank” and “Praise You” really do stand out above the crowd – their catch phrases worming their way deep, deep into your skull. “Praise You” then had the further notoriety of one of the great videos of all time, with Spike Jonze directing himself as himself in a reality dance piece/trespassing crime.

The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 8)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 7)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 6)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 5)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 4)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 3)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 2)
The Top 26 Albums Of The 1990s (Part 1)
The Top 19 Albums Of The 1980s
The Top 16 Albums Of The 1970s

Piano-Playin' Rock Geek

Noreen and I went to see Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright last night at Ravinia. She is a huge Folds fan, and had been looking forward to this show for quite a while. I'm passingly familiar with the both of them (Folds more than Wainwright), but don't really know that many songs from either.

First of all, I've never seen Ravinia this crowded. The show sold out completely (lawn and all) weeks ago, so the lawn was packed by the time we showed up (with pavilion tickets).

Rufus makes an impression more with the voice than the songs, although the songs are good. The voice is serious business, though. Unfortunately for Rufus, the one familiar song he played was one that had already been defined by an even better voice -- Jeff Buckley's. Rufus had apparently recorded "Hallelujah" for the soundtrack from Shrek (I thought it was John Cale's version, but I only saw parts of the movie). He did a fine version, but as far as I'm concerned, this song will always be Buckley's.

After a short break, Ben Folds took the stage as a 3-piece combo. The immediate question is, of course, bigger rock geek, Folds?or Rivers Cuomo? Tough call.

As for the show itself, let's just say that "Rock Piano God" is a limited grouping for a reason -- it is a tough gig. Nearly the entire set was played from a low crouch while banging relentlessly on the poor Baldwin (breaking a couple of low bass strings in the process). Dude must have a blacksmith's forearms. The biggest crowd reaction came from a Steve Allen-y note perfect Folds-ized cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit," but "Brick" had to be the real highlight of the show. I can't imagine that there has ever been a bleaker hit song ever written, but the emotion is real.

The closer was "500 Angry Dwarfs," and it rocked suitably. It was finished off with a piano stool toss and the house lights coming on. It would appear that the local noise ordinance precluded any encores, and to be honest that's OK with me. Of all the tired rock cliches, the "encore" is the most tired. Play a full set until you're done and we'll all go home happy and we can all dispense with the pretense.

The only problem with this idea, though, is that he might have used the encore to play Noreen's favorite song -- so no encore meant no "Luckiest." Bummer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Watched Trainspotting last night on IFC, from midnight to 1:30 (don't ask). Watching it again, it's kind of hard to believe that there was ever any controversy about this movie "glorifying" heroin use (was there a controversy? I seem to recall one, anyway). The movie doesn't glorify anything (friendship, sex, parenthood, armed robbery, drugs, work, love, the judicial system, psychopathic behavior ... anything).

Several scenes still have an overwhelming power to chill -- even when you know they're coming (e.g., the crib scene in the shooting gallery, Tommy's quick descent into disease, destruction and death after his first heroin use).

Apart from the difficulty of understanding big chunks of the dialogue through the brogues, the acting is uniformly excellent in the service of almost uniformly reprehensible characters. Ewan McGregor has gone on to galactic stardom, Robert Carlyle grasps the over-the-top psychopathic role of Begbie by the throat and doesn't let go, but it is Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy that is the most charismatic and memorable.

Watching it again nine years later does seem to beg a new question, though. Sick Boy and Darko: separated at birth?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Well, At Least They're Not Stupid

Slate has an interesting take on the standardized testing phenomenon that has overtaken the nation's education system.
If you believe in test scores—and education policymakers seem to believe in little else these days—American high-school students are a pathetic bunch. Witness the results of National Assessment of Educational Progress (or NAEP)—the "nation's report card"—which were released last month. While younger students broke records in both math and reading, 17-year olds' scores as a whole showed no improvement from the early 1970s.

Older students fail globally, too. When high-school seniors were last ranked internationally, in 1995, American students placed at the bottom, trounced by kids from countries like Slovenia and Cyprus. U.S. high-school sophomores have continued to sit international exams every three years, and their performance hasn't been much better. On the 2003 global exam that evaluates the reading, math, science, and problem-solving skills of 15-year-olds, for example, the Americans scored below average in every category except reading literacy.

You could conclude from these exams that American high-schoolers are ill-taught and ill-prepared for the competitive global economy. But what if you look at these tests like a capitalist rather than an educator? Nothing is at stake for kids when they take the international exams and the NAEP. Students don't even learn how they scored. And that probably affects their performance. American teenagers, in other words, may not be stupid. It could be that when they have nothing to gain (or lose), they're lazy.
Put yourself in the shoes of these teenagers: After more than a decade of filling out multiple-choice bubbles where a lot is at stake, it is not surprising that some of them don't apply themselves on an exam that generally comes in the second half of their senior year—a test that has no bearing on which college will accept them, what kind of job they can land, or if they'll earn a high-school diploma. Face it: You'd probably be tempted to skip school that day—or, at the very least, leave a couple of the essay questions blank.


Good news here. The Space Shuttle Discovery made a safe landing in California this morning.

As discussed previously, the problems encountered on this mission should act as a non-fatal spur to reassess the purpose and direction of the space program, concentrating on the real knowledge that's being gained from unmanned missions -- but I think we all know that won't happen.

Monday, August 08, 2005

More Random Celebrity Birth Songs

  • Simon Cowell - "Mack The Knife" - Bobby Darin
  • Missy Elliott - "It's Too Late" - Carole King
  • Frank Black - "Stop! In The Name Of Love" - The Supremes
  • Lauren Ambrose - "Baby Come Back" - Player
  • Jeremy Piven - "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" - The Rolling Stones
  • Justin Timberlake - "The Tide Is High" - Blondie
  • Snoop Dogg - "Ben" - Michael Jackson
  • Jason Alexander - "Sleep Walk" - Santo & Johnny
  • David Foster Wallace - "Duke Of Earl" - Gene Chandler
  • Jennifer Love Hewitt - "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" - Rod Stewart
  • Amanda Bynes - "Rock Me Amadeus" - Falco
  • Paris Hilton - "Celebration" - Kool & The Gang
  • James Gandolfini - "Take Good Care Of My Baby" - Bobby Vee
  • Donovan McNabb - "Tonight's The Night" - Rod Stewart
  • Richard Linklater - "I'm Sorry" - Brenda Lee

The Ruins Of Detroit

It is generally not a good sign for a city if there are web sites devoted to its decrepitude, but one of the great sites on the internet is The Ruins Of Detroit, an exhaustive tribute (of sorts) to the civic and industrial past of a city that has lost half its population in the last half-century (1.85 million residents in 1950, 970 thousand in 2000).

Of particular interest (to me, anyway) are the tours of the Michigan Central Railroad Station, Tiger Stadium and The Ford Auditorium. Each of these was abandoned by its tenants -- sometimes for greener more beloved pastures, sometimes for greener less beloved pastures -- and has been left to slowly collapse.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Glenn Gould -- Mash-Up Artist

Just finished a recent biography of Glenn Gould -- Wondrous Strange by Kevin Bazzana. Glenn Gould is an endlessly fascinating character, only in part because of his unparalleled talent as a pianist. As Bazzana makes clear, Gould had ideas on a wide number of topics, musical and otherwise.

One of the more interesting sections concerned Gould's prescient views on the role of technology in the future of music -- particularly recorded music:
...we might call Gould the first postmodern performer of the Western classical canon.

He extended his postmodern belief in creative freedom to its logical limit, advocating the direct participation of the listener in the creative process, through the intercession of technology. He believed that the modern listener had the same right to tinker with the recording artist's work as the performer had to tinker with the composer's. ... (R)ecording, Gould said, "compels the performer to relinquish some control in favor of the listener, a state of affairs, by the way, which I happen to find both encouraging and charming, not to mention aesthetically appropriate and morally right." It is a pity that Gould did not live to explore the digital technologies of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, technologies, like the Internet, that democratize and decentralize the institutions of culture to a degree he never imagined..."
What he was really describing -- in 1968 -- were exactly the sorts of mash-ups and remixes that are such a part of music today. Given the right software, anyone can take anything recorded and change it, splice it, combine it with something else, and put the result back out for consumption. Gould would have hated "A Stroke Of Genie-us" as music, but he would have loved the concept.

OK, One More Time. Why Are We Doing This?

Nice synopsis here of the history and current state of the Space Shuttle program. As has become all too clear in recent days, this is a program completely without purpose -- other than the purpose of madly improvising to keep from killing the people it is sending into low space orbit for no purpose.
In the thirty years since the last Moon flight, we have succeeded in creating a perfectly self-contained manned space program, in which the Shuttle goes up to save the Space Station (undermanned, incomplete, breaking down, filled with garbage, and dropping at a hundred meters per day), and the Space Station offers the Shuttle a mission and a destination. The Columbia accident has added a beautiful finishing symmetry - the Shuttle is now required to fly to the ISS, which will serve as an inspection station for the fragile thermal tiles, and a lifeboat in case something goes seriously wrong.

This closed cycle is so perfect that the last NASA administrator even cancelled the only mission in which there was a compelling need for a manned space flight - the Hubble telescope repair and upgrade - on the grounds that it would be too dangerous to fly the Shuttle away from the ISS, thereby detaching the program from its last connection to reason and leaving it free to float off into its current absurdist theater of backflips, gap fillers, Canadarms and heroic expeditions to the bottom of the spacecraft.


Over the past three years, while the manned program has been firing styrofoam out of cannons on the ground, unmanned NASA and ESA programs have been putting landers on Titan, shooting chunks of metal into an inbound comet, driving rovers around Mars and continuing to gather a variety of priceless observations from the many active unmanned orbital telescopes and space probes sprinkled through the Solar System. At the same time, the skeleton crew on the ISS has been fixing toilets, debugging laptops, changing batteries, and speaking to the occasional elementary school over ham radio.
Can there be any doubt that this will be the last Space Shuttle flight? If, God forbid, something happens again on re-entry it will surely never fly again. But even if it does return safely, how in the world will NASA ever be able to justify putting people in this type of harms way again for such meager purposes? It would be inhuman, wouldn't it?

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Via badtree.com and Comedy Central -- the great, late, Mitch Hedberg:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Roberts' Future

Slate has an article regarding the leftward drift of several Supreme Court justices over the past few decades (Brennan, Powell, Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter), the reasons for it and the possibility of it happening to John Roberts.

It really seems very unlikely to happen in Roberts' case, but the theories are interesting nonetheless. The most interesting is this one:
2. Mean ol' Nino This theory holds generally that justices tweak their philosophies and ideologies in response to each other; and specifically, that Antonin Scalia and (to a lesser degree) Clarence Thomas have managed to drive once stalwart conservatives into the arms of the court's lefties. Mark Tushnet, a law professor at Georgetown University, argues that the failure of the Rehnquist Court to achieve the expected rollback of the social revolution spawned by the Warren Court has a good deal to do with Antonin Scalia's failure to lead the court's moderate conservatives. Tushnet suggests in a recent law-review article that Scalia's "acerbic comments on his colleagues' work," and his general tendency to run with constitutional scissors, ultimately drove both O'Connor and Kennedy to form alliances with the court's liberals, particularly David Souter and Stephen Breyer.
What's interesting about this theory is that it has nothing to do with any highfalutin legal concepts, but the simple dynamics of human interactions when nine people are forced to work together in close quarters over many years (remember that the current nine members have all been together for 10 years now).

You'd hate to think that important cases are decided on the basis of personal animosity, but it's got to happen at least once in a while. Fact is that though Scalia and Thomas vote together in almost perfect lockstep, even Thomas will often write his own opinions -- even Thomas doesn't want to go along with Scalia.

3,000 Hits, 500 Homers ... 1 Perjury Charge?

Is this tragedy, or comedy? Tragicomedy? Nah, mostly comedy.

Did this guy really think that this would not come back to bite him in the ass eventually? Is this the ultimate example of a ballplayer who thinks that nothing can ever touch him? The guy testifies -- under oath -- that "I have never used steroids. Period." while he knows that he's using.


In the end, his status as a jock probably will protect him and he won't be prosecuted for perjury. Already, the Prez is publicly backing his favorite drug abuser: "'He's a friend,' the president said in a White House roundtable interview with several Texas reporters. 'He's testified in public, and I believe him.'"

Well, at least it's not medical marijuana. That would be wrong.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Went with Noreen and the kids to the Warren Dunes yesterday. It was, in a word, HOT! 95+ degree temps made the climb up Tower Hill pretty excruciating (have I ever sweated that much? No I have not).

They also kept the hiking up and down the other dunes fairly limited, but the final run down to beach level was as fun as ever, and the cool but not cold Lake Michigan temps were profoundly refreshing following the dune hike.

A full day of sun, sand and water, made even better by the relatively good traffic on the way home. Good times.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Closing Escrow On The Farm

Nate is dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him!

Last week on Six Feet Under we saw Nate get laid. Next week we apparently get to see him laid out, since this week he woke up, toked up (at least in his dreams) and was finally taken out by the show's producers.

In his last few hours he did marshal enough brain power to tell his pregnant wife Brenda to take a final hike -- foreshadowed perhaps by the Corpse of the Week, who had earlier taken a literal final hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, only to wind up as Cougar food (not making this up)! -- clearing the way for him to resume his deep relationship with Miz Maggie. Unfortunately the grim reaper made a surprise (ummmm, not so much) return to Nate's bedside and I'm afraid that will be the last we'll see both of Nate (yeah!) and of Maggie's underwear (boo!).