Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beer Day, Beer Day, Happy Happy Beer Day

Good ol' middle-period Mahler. Similarly (to quote a short story on audio-book CD whose author I don't recall, but referring to cheap Southern whiskey), "good ol' corn". Essentially, good for making the sadness that much more apparent, yet somehow blunting it.

Tonight's my semi-self-designated Allowed To Drink Beer Night (probably offsetting my other six nights of exercise and relatively low caloric intake, but whatever), so I met a couple of friends at the happily-still-not-closed Dr. Dremo's, where I had a nicely understated Dogfish Head Pumpkin Ale, followed by two pints of adequately hoppy Brooklyn IPA and some onion rings. Plus, for good measure, a compellingly used-to-be-sweet Lagunitas Brown Shugga' once I got home, coupled with a two-year-old South Park episode making fun of Michael Jackson on DVD. Coming next week, more of the fantastic craft beer I bought from Dee's in Regent Square over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Apropos next to nothing, here's a Youtubed clip of what I wish the maddeningly inconsistent/ arguably underused Steelers running game looked like right now, as well as a surprisingly hi-res and early-posted chunk of last week's Family Guy, which wins back some mojo for me by (wait for it) drilling into the apparently addictive junk food-consumption habits of a late-1980s commercial mascot. I don't understand why I can more or less accept casual misogyny if it's mixed with wonton mockery of Ray Liotta, but there it is.


Update: Pete points out that the correct name of the Regent Square beer seller is D's Six Pax & Dogz.

Hurts So Good

1. The University has a fine undergraduate orchestra, capable of putting on a hair-raising show.

2. There will be no further blogging tonight, on account of Mahler's Sixth Symphony saying everything that needs to be said about anything.

Happy near-weekend,

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Recent Listening, and Steelaarrrghh

Light posting all around after Thanksgiving, apparently. For my part I've been spending the week waking up before sunrise to go to the gym and slowly working my way home through the usual near-immobile flotilla of taillights on I-66 East well after the sun has set, with the margins filled in with David Attenborough bird documentaries on DVD and the pesky perceived need to spend a plurality of my waking hours at my job.

Anyway, below are the meatier parts of what was becoming an unwieldy omnibus post.

Recent listening:
I came away from Pittsburgh with the envelope of CDs that Pete recently lent to Jack, so during my commutes I've been starting to work my way through various un-overengineered albums with the Pete stamp of approval on them. Too soon to have a well-formed opinion on most of it, though I have an early preference for Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation (particularly "Candle", which strikes me as likeably rangy with harmonies that are incongruously upbeat, if battered out of shape) and the long opening track of Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die, which sounds a lot like a grittier-than-normal Philip Glass landscape and, at about the 14-minute mark, remarkably distends and folds in on itself, with a new pulse forming out of the distortion in a way that reminds me of some eerily magnified, slowed-down chemical process. Fun stuff.

I finally got ahold of the county library's copy of Radiohead's OK Computer, which is a solid album but not the colossal pop landmark that it seems to be made out to be in places. Mostly I'm put off that there's so little friction between the lyrics and the music -- I think the songs that are best at being bitter undercut happy-ish music with sad-ish words or vice versa, but most of the stuff on here, while finely detailed musically, is just too uniformly dour to seem very interesting to me. An exception is "No Surprises", which works in a worn-down, glockenspiel-accented way through its treacly harmonies... "Karma Police" feels too familiar to me already just through my incidental exposure to radio-friendly music, though if I let my guard down it'll get its pop hooks into me. And I like chasing "Fitter Happier" with Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", which is similar in its title format and electronic underpinnings but not much else.

I'm also getting more and more into Maude Maggart's still-small discography -- Her albums work almost exclusively within the early-20th-century American popular repertoire, which is a niche I'm not too familiar with, but she's got a gorgeous, pure, versatile voice. Her most recent CD of Irving Berlin songs is probably her best: "Slumming on Park Avenue" is a highlight, full of pep and subtly textured class envy. It hasn't virally infected my head the way her take on "Yiddisha Nightingale" has, though; from what I can tell she takes a snazzy, comical tune about the courtship of two Jewish city-dwellers and plays it improbably straight, resulting in a dreamy, seductive lullaby of a love song with detached, faux-Asiatic whiffs of Erik Satie in the chamber accompaniment. Probably best enjoyed in small servings, like some kind of rich, sweet-savory pastry.

...If I were going to write a post about the Steelers at this point in the season it would be titled "Steelaarrrghh". I have absolutely nothing to say about the Steelers at this point in the season, though, except that after last Sunday's game (the first half of which Jack and I disconsolately listened to on an AM radio station out of Hagerstown, MD on our way down I-70) certain cultures would now consider the Baltimore Ravens to be the Steelers' legal husbands. This last sentence was going to be a wisecrack about how long it is until the Pirates start spring training but that thought turns out to be too monumentally depressing for words, at least within the scope of sports fandom.

This Week in Cinema

For Your Consideration: Bad.

Let's Go to Prison: Not Bad.

The Fountain: Good.

Inescapable Tug of Disappointment Trilogy

I. The new Christopher Guest movie isn't particularly worth jumping through any hoops to see. Actually, I'm not at all convinced I liked it much at all — it's got some charm but it's pretty weak brew in a lot of ways. And the tenderness that started to show through in A Mighty Wind just isn't there — in fact, in the second half of the movie Catherine O'Hara's character gets dumped on enough for it to start feeling uncomfortable.

II. After the movie it's back home to ponder one of those eternal riddles of bachelorhood: When is a Breakfast Burrito Not a Breakfast Burrito? Disturbingly, I was almost thwarted even in this by the microwave instructions requiring you to wrap said Burrito in paper towels while nuking it, and by there being only the last square of paper towel remaining on the roll. Close call there.

(Paper towels? You need paper towels on hand to cook this? What does it look like I'm running here, a hotel?)

Might need to raise the bar I've set for myself cooking-wise. Or maybe lower it. Yeah, lowering it would be easier.

III. Say, a couple of months ago I would have been disappointed to miss a Thanksgiving weekend Steelers game, but the half of the Ravens sackfest that Nate & I heard in his car on the way back to DC was, needless to say, more than enough.

At the Greyhound station they had the Redskins game on, mercifully, but they cut away at one point to show the play where — if I'm remembering this right — a blitzing Baltimore defender caught Roethlisberger from behind in the pocket, tore his throwing arm off at the shoulder, and returned both the ball and the arm some 50 yards for a touchdown.

Having Ward and Polamalu injured at the same time is the last insult. Boy, that season did not turn out as expected.

note. I'm actually in perfectly fine spirits this week. Inescapable tug of disappointment highlighted for purposes of thematic coherence only.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'll Keep This Short

I don't ever like to admit to liking anything that too large a group of people like, but...

I've been listening to Sufjan Stevens a lot recently. I saw him play with an ensemble on WQED, and was interested enough to look (listen) further; I think his music might actually be really good.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Newsom Awesome

I was kicking aimlessly around the apartment last Wednesday night, so my roommate Mackenzie invited me along to hear the quirky indie-folk-pop singer/somgwriter Joanna Newsom down at the decreasingly legendary concert venue Toad's Place in town. Mackenzie's been a Joanna Newsom fan for a while, but I'd never heard her; but I figured, Hey, I've got a soft spot for quirky indie-folk-pop music, so I like the odds.

(I'm not sure whether the phrase "indie-folk-pop" has any actual, pre-existing meaning. Now I say it means like it sounds.)

And I like the music too! Joanna Newsom puts on a fun show: she plays the harp (full-sized, classical concert harp) and sings, and here she was backed up by an appealingly odd ensemble: supplementary vocalist, drummer (bass drum, smaller bass drum, suspended cymbal), banjo/guitar, another guitar, accordion/musical saw.

She plays the harp most of the time like it's a big guitar, subdued, but now and then she breaks out into one of those classic solistic harp-sweepings: fantastic. But it's Joanna Newsom's indescribable voice that glues you: sung from way up in her throat and head, it sounds a touch childlike and nasal, salty or maybe papery, with an abrasive edge and silky tensile strength. She casts it up and down melodies that sometimes drift, sometimes syncopate elastically; now and then she'll hit a sudden high note on an endearing, piercing warble.

I don't like the "you love it or you hate it" cliche, but her voice has something of that to it. I think of it as an acquired taste it only took me fifteen seconds or so to acquire.

She sang down an entire new album, composed in five extended songs—maybe I'm just hopelessly classical-minded, but I like this plan. You avoid the patness of simple songs, and in moments that would be relatively uninteresting in and of themselves it feels like you're on the way somewhere else, in a good way, like you've hiked down one hill and are going up another.

I don't remember too many of the lyrics (I also didn't make them out enough to really absorb the content) but what I caught was whimsical and allusive, with some neat rhyming patterns.

All in all it's very friendly stuff, with indie-quirkiness and folk-earnestness and pop-catchiness, and I'm very happy to have been lit up by it for an evening. So, in closing: hooray, Joanna Newsom.

Short version: "Fantastic! . . . Whimsical and allusive. . . . Hooray!"

Quirky music addendum:

Yesterday while I was walking back from lunch, whichever campus carilloneur was manning the Harkness Tower brought out a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." On a fifty-four-bell carillon this sounds a bit ungainly, and due to the way the individual bells resonate, unusual melodies and cadences in unexpected keys get encrusted with an echoey, gothic-sounding belltower dissonance.

It's surprisingly touching: a very large instrument trying to sing something very gentle, lending its clear phrases an unintentional brokenness.

Join Us Next Week for a Messiah Sing-In and Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin"

Having bought NY Philharmonic tickets online last month, I've been on their e-marketing list, which I enjoy: I like keeping tabs on what they're doing (for example, a new piano concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen in February), and I still have a healthy layman's interest in classical music marketing.

(And email is vastly preferable to phone calls; I still remember with vivid irritation the New York City Opera calling me at my work phone sometime last year & launching into a sales pitch I had no interest in. Look, I spent $25 to see one twentieth-century opera; that doesn't mean I want to spend $120 to see three nineteenth-century operas, and furthermore why are you calling me at work?)

But the main point. This kind of programming really gets me riled up:

[December 6–9]

Bramwell Tovey conductor
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
with Wynton Marsalis music director

Copland El Salón México
Christopher Rouse Symphony No. 2
Tchaikovsky Nutcracker (selections)
Tchaikovsky/Ellington & Strayhorn Nutcracker (selections)

Aaron Copland's piece is cute and faux-Latin cheesy, so whatever. But Christopher Rouse's Second Symphony is uncompromisingly bitter; he wrote it to commemorate a composer friend who died in a car accident; it's dissonant and extremely loud and ends in a cataclysmic onrush of heavy percussion. Why the hell is this on your Christmas pops program???

This seriously gets under my skin, and I'm plenty used to the "match the scary new piece with the beloved chestnuts" phenomenon at orchestra concerts. Here the Philharmonic sets up a program likely to attract a larger number of casual listeners than usual and then throws something at them that's not only difficult but also bizarrely out of place.

This says all the wrong things about contemporary music (Don't Trust Contemporary Music!) and about orchestra concerts in general (Our Audience's Emotional Experience Is Frankly Not That Interesting to Us!)

Rouse's Second can bring a house down: I saw it happen in Philadelphia, at Christoph Eschenbach's first weekend after he'd been announced as their music director. It's genuinely urgent, moving music. There was a huge ovation afterward; it probably helped that Rouse was there & had talked about the piece for a couple of minutes beforehand. (The other half of the program was Dvorak's New World Symphony, which is also an unhelpful pairing but at least a fairly neutral one.) I don't doubt the same thing could happen in New York, but it's a lot less likely with a crowd that's essentially shown up for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

There are also a smaller number of people, myself included, who might be interested in hearing a modern symphony but would sooner gag than sit through two sets of Nutcracker excerpts.

Despite having been on the periphery of the orchestra industry for a few years, I'm still not really sure why this flies. Is the Philharmonic trying to prove it's not a pops concert? My guess is rather that it's a case of standard operating procedure, gone a step more inappropriate without anyone in programming caring to tell the difference. When almost all modern music in orchestra concerts is out of place, it's probably easy to cross the line between a not-so-great program and an actively counterproductive one.

The classical music industry is paying close attention to audience development issues, as well it should be. Holiday concerts are important to this, however trivial the music seems, and it's depressing to see a major institution phone it in programming-wise.

There's a great related anecdote from a while ago on Greg Sandow's classical music blog. It's presented in the context of inept marketing, but it's a programming issue too: there's a time and a place to perform Shostakovich's "Babi Yar" Symphony, but boy howdy, it ain't Valentine's Day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pet Fancy

I've always been fairly cool towards pets, understandably: I'm allergic to most of them, and since this trait runs in the family we never had pets at home. Pets are likely to strike me as inconvenient or unsympathetic just out of hand. But now and then I can be surprised how much I hit it off with an animal.

My college friend Blair & her boyfriend (their apartment a port of call in Cambridge this weekend) have a couple of cats, one of whom is particularly friendly & spent most of a post-brunch half hour sprawled soft & warm in my lap as I petted his back. And wonder of wonders, I'm not allergic to their apartment at all, at least for a couple of hours on a generic loratadine.

I haven't had a friendly cat in my lap since I was about eight, I think, when our aunt Ellen's cat Kitty was still young & hadn't gotten ornery yet. After so much time, nearly two decades after last holding a happy cat, it's like hey, I really am missing something here. What a wonderful feeling.

Meanwhile, my work friend Karen recently obtained a totally adorable corgi puppy, and she brings her to work most Fridays. This is a sweet, cute, lovable dog, doing that little pattering kind of dog-jog around the office, and I'm massively allergic to her, such that ruffling her fur behind the ears for thirty or forty seconds will make me start sniffling. So I have to take that secondhand pet-happiness in small doses, or at a bit of distance.

That's my recent softening up towards pets. I have a sinking feeling that within a few years I'll start feeling this way about other people's kids, too.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

This Concludes Our Ivy League Wannabe Road Trip

Back in New Haven after a weekend spent entirely in Cambridge, Mass. Al and I saw the Yale/Harvard football game on Saturday, though we left early in the fourth quarter when it stopped looking like competitive football. It's a beautiful stadium up there, though, a horseshoe-shaped concrete colliseum with columns in all the right places.

The Ivies don't play particularly compelling football anymore, and it seems to fall into the "Something to Cheer For" category for the fans. My side (i.e. the side indirectly responsible for cutting my paychecks) won pretty handily.

I went with Al to the Harvard Business School tailgate beforehand, at the muddy end of an adjacent athletic field, to wallflower among his classmates & drink Heineken beer out of disposable plastic mugs branded with Lehman Brothers logos.*

Elsewhere in Cambridge, some much-needed catching up with a couple of other peripheral college friends; picking over the discounted remnants of the Tower Records classical section (Alberto Ginastera's Harp Concerto? chamber music of Silvestre Revueltas? who can leave this stuff behind??); and the continuing appreciation, trite but satisfying, of this year's quiet glide from autumn to winter.

And the new Bond movie: highly recommended. A bit long but it kicks ass, and Daniel Craig is great. (Anything else I could say about the movie wouldn't match the opening gambit from Dana Stevens's review, though.)

Oh, and a surprisingly satisfactory Greyhound bus ride home, too. Didn't see that one coming.

*[Dennis Hopper voice] "Lehman Brothers?! Fuck that shit! J. P. Morgan!!!"

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Funn Fast Food Facts

Not to toot my own horn, but with Richard Linklater's fictionalized film version of Fast Food Nation opening this weekend I'd like to point out that it can't be anywhere near as fictionalized as the "replacement copy" of Eric Schlosser's already-classic food industry exposé that I put together for Jack a couple of years ago, after having misplaced the paperback copy he lent me.

I've been meaning for a while to figure out how to edit its dozen pages or so into a convenient electronic format without stealing a copy of Adobe Acrobat, but for the moment here's a kind of low-res detail from the cover. I'm still unduly proud of the effort, if only because much of the final layout and printing constituted my most flagrant misuse of an employer's photocopying equipment to date.

Friday, November 17, 2006

This is Great

Sound quality suprisingly good, when compared with the video quality...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Science Fact of Sleep

After work today I walked up to the Yale Peabody Museum (the school-affiliated natural history museum) to hear a lecture given by a guy by the name of Robert Stickgold. He's a Harvard professor who does sleep research. A good, accessible lecture: articulate & shaded with that professorial kind of wit.

Sleep science is fascinating stuff, especially because not much research has been possible until recently, and very little is known about it still. One of Stickgold's powerpoint slides was headed "Early Theories (c. 1997)," which tells you something. From his talk it sounds like there's a coalescing sense of what sleep does to some extent, but not of how it does that. One thing I didn't know about previously is an apparent connection between sleep and quality of memory formation: some experimental evidence indicates a connection between a night's sleep and facility with learned tasks learned beforehand (word list memorization, simple mechanical tasks), and Stickgold also thinks from some of his other work that the brain is consolidating associations between concepts as well as doing some kind of problem solving work. As he says, every culture seems to have the concept of solving a problem by sleeping on it.

Sleep deprivation causes big problems with hormone regulation and other physiological processes. It's been known for a while that extreme sleep deprivation (from adult onset of congenital inability) causes death, but it's not clear why exactly that is. Stickgold's broad-stroke evolutionary explanation of sleep in general is that it's developed to provide an optimum environment for these complex biological functions.

You can watch him online in a not very elucidating but still kind of snazzy discussion with Michel Gondry, or read this six-year-old account of his experiment involving amnesiacs dreaming about Tetris. (Okay, mostly grad students, but some amnesiacs too.)

Languettes! Banderitas!

If you were to hear the words "languettes" and "banderitas," you would agree with me that they sound like they might refer to the women hanging around a saloon in Louisiana circa 1850, yes? In fact these are the French and Spanish terms for common Post-It sticky flags, which seems like a waste of colorful romance verbiage, if you ask me.

"Languette" is French for "little tongue," and "banderita" is Spanish for "little banner." I wonder what it would be in German; doubtless something more utilitarian. After a tilt with an online German dictionary I would suggest "Bemerkungsklebeflagge."

Elsewhere in the realm of office vocabulary, it occurs to me that I've got a very specific fake word that I think with some regularity, but never need to say: that word is "defrazzle," a verb meaning "to make it so the coily cord connecting the headpiece to the main part of your phone isn't all tangled up."

Does anyone else have a word for this? Maybe I should take a step back. Does anyone else occasionally feel an overwhelming need to make it so the coily cord connecting the headpiece to the main part of your phone isn't all tangled up?

I defrazzle my phone by unplugging the phone end of the coily cord & dangling it from the headpiece until it's spun enough times to unwind the tangle.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Brews You Can Use

I think I need to find a better beer store. There's one on the way home from work, but, as previously noted, it tends to stock really out of date beer.

There's an upside to this, in that I'm learning to be more conscious of how fresh my beer is, but I can't purchase anything that doesn't advertise its age. Sometimes you can deduce it, like if the bottlecaps say "10 Year Anniversary! Founded 1994."

I settled on a Smuttynose Pale Ale, best enjoyed by December 2006. I think I can swing that. Maybe not the best I could do, but having a bag of rapidly cooling Indian food with you will tilt you towards the satisficing end of the decision-making spectrum.

Drinking a single beer with dinner reduces your linguistics-homework reading comprehension by something like 90 percent.

My roommate Mackenzie is from Cooperstown, and when she was in high school she used to give tours at the Ommegang brewery, apparently. (I was proud that I could associate that with cave-aged beers, thanks to Pete's beer-snob proselytizing.) I've only recently spent enough time with her to learn anything about her; she's doing an environmental law program at the forestry school & tends to be holed up with reading a lot. But we've had some decent evening conversations within the last week, and she came out Saturday night to go not-bowling with a group of my office friends. That would have been actual bowling if the two alleys we tried hadn't been full. So we all hung out at someone's apartment instead, actually a fair number of people.

Good times. Happy Monday, all . . .

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wired's "New Atheism"

There's a big cover story in the new issue of Wired magazine about what the author referes to as "The New Atheists," namely, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. It's mostly a mediocre, wishy-washy article (to be expected from Wired), but comes out more pro-Dennett than anyone else in the end, and I like that. I think the article could've spent a bit more time really comparing the meat of the three books in question. I actually haven't read Harris' The End of Faith (its on the list though...), but I do find the differences between Breaking the Spell and The God Delusion to be rather telling.

Mainly, Dennett winds up being favored by the author of the article because his book is just the next in the sequence of books that he's been writing since Consciousness Explained. A rational inquiry into the nature of faith is the next logical step in the path of thinking that is laid down through Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Freedom Evolves, especially. Breaking the Spell mostly spends time trying to find a model of inquiry - about the kind of questions we should be asking, and the types of distinctions that need to be made for those investigations (such as the difference between belief qua belief and belief in belief).

Dawkins (and Harris too, apparently) set out to write a polemic. It's similar, in my mind, actually to Al Gore's movie about the environment. It's not preaching to the choir, as such, but really trying to energize the lazy middle-class liberals into actually standing for something. Because of this, The God Delusion stands out a bit from Dawkins' other book-length writings, in that it isn't so much an extension of his inquiry, but a re-hashing, and brief pause to preach about a set of evils. In fact, much of The God Delusion was culled from many of Dawkins' seminars and articles on atheism. People who have read Unweaving the Rainbow and/or A Devil's Chaplain will recognize entire blocks of text, even.

The author of the article seems to fall on Dennett's side because the author, along with many "brights" fails to see the use of alienating liberals with atheistic rhetoric. Dennett's book, however, comes off as being on that side of the article simply because it isn't polemical, really (although I'm sure there are plenty of religious types that would see it as being on the offensive).

I, personally, think there is a problem with Agnosticism in America, simply because it is more of a political tool than a tenable platform of belief. There is a use for agnosticism, when dealing with rational inquiry into religion, in that one most be unbiased in any direction for the investigation to remain viable. But my sense of what agnosticism should be - basically just an extension of pragmatism, isn't really the way it seems to be functioning. It's more of a way to stay friends with all the religious-types that one might know, and its there than I think Dawkins' reasoning is important - toleration of the intolerant is a morally untenable position to maintain in a free world.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

O Brother, Weird Art Thou

Here, belatedly, is the postcard Pete sent me on Shostakovich's birthday, since it just resurfaced on my table and I have my scanner running now.



Weird art.

How Do You Like Dem Apples

All right, three cheers for James H. Jim! Good to know that my fears for the worst were finally unjustified this time. Anyway, the important thing is that America's unfixable problems are back in Democratic hands.

Part of me still nurses an irrational fear that Bush & Lieberman are going to collude on some kind of political appointment, leaving Connecticut's Republican governor (Jodi Rell, just re-elected) to appoint a new Senator & tip the balance back 50–50. In real life I'm sure this is all kinds of unlikely. It was my first thought after I heard about Rumsfeld resigning, though—Christ, it won't be Lieberman, will it?! Oh no, it's a gadget play!!!—but, thankfully, it's just one of Bush Sr.'s dudes. On one hand, Iran-Contra; on the other hand, Not Lieberman. Okey dokey.

Meanwhile, parts of the lefty blogosphere link to Bill O'Reilly's well-reasoned Iraq commentary:
I think the Iraqis have got to step up and at least try to fight for their democracy, instead of being this crazy country of Shiia against Sunni—I don’t ever want to hear Shiia and Sunni again.
Problem solved! Someone should sit O'Reilly down with India and Pakistan and let him bust heads till they realize they're all just Asians.

The Onion doesn't have much election commentary yet but they did run an editing joke.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

That's One Nutty State

I successfully avoided checking the election news yesterday, so I'm pleased to see this morning that the House pickups are on a reasonably high end of what seemed to be predicted.

Less than happy to learn that in the Senate, things familiarly hinge on a couple of too-close-to-call races; especially Virginia, which is even more galling since George Allen has been such a demonstrable fuckwad. Another presumable recount, and once more our democratic process is called upon to do what it does best: providing several weeks of bitterly divisive political theater without addressing the greater problems of the situation.

Something's slightly off with this NY Times website analysis, but I can't quite place what.

(Probably a problem from my running Flash multimedia in Firefox, but, still, more than I can process at 7:30 in the morning. Wait, what? Unless that race was even crazier than I knew about.)

Anyway, happy First Day of the Official Santorum Countdown; my analysis is that Pennsylvania's voters have declared a mandate for everyone to smack him really hard in the back of the head before he leaves office. Hopefully ex-Pennsylvanians too.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Don't You Be Out of Mustard!

One of my less glamorous office duties, sorting the department mail, finally paid off today when one of my coworkers received the 2006–7 Mount Horeb Mustard Museum mustard catalog. Since he already had a copy of it somehow, I got to take it home.

The Mount Horeb Mustard Museum is located near Madison, Wisconsin. I had never heard of it before today, but on display are "over 4,300 jars, bottles, and tubes from all 50 states and more than 60 countries." It's a labor of love by a guy named Barry Levenson (not to be confused with the executive producer of The Perfect Storm and HBO's "Oz"). He also sells all kinds of mustard.

This is the best catalog ever. Think of the kind of humor in Garrison Keillor's radio ad parodies, hopped up on a sugar rush and combined with a genuine obsession for mustard. We're talking about a level of humor around "Practice safe snacks; always use a condiment" or bleeping out the word "ketchup" like it's profanity. You can order French mustards, horseradish mustards, spirit mustards, prizewinning mustards of the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, or all manner of gift baskets. There is a Mustard of the Month Club and a mustard-themed writing contest. They sell mustard bath salts and massage oils.

The website is entertaining but it doesn't do justice to the catalog, ebullient and corny and jam-packed with mustard ordering lists. Online you can read a quick history of mustard or Levenson's personal mustard-obsession story, which was supposedly (somehow unsurprisingly) touched off by the 1986 Boston Red Sox.

Is there anything better than crazy people from the northern Midwest? You should get a copy of this catalog.

Hell, I don't even like mustard.

Taste My Sad Redux

To neglect weightier topics and electoral events for a moment: As I'm on the final leg of my most recent pass through Arrested Development -- if I haven't put too fine a point on this before, I emphatically recommend that everybody get ahold of all 10 DVDs of this dearly departed series and watch them over and over, more or less on continuous loop -- I just realized that the title of Jack's "Taste My Sad" post about Radiohead from a month ago refers to the show, and not in fact to Radiohead. It amuses me how easily that comically awkward "Taste my happy/ Tastes kind of like sad" exchange between Will Arnett and Jason Bateman can be mentally reworked into a dourly ironic Radiohead lyric.

Will Arnett's pretty heavily featured in the TV ads for a movie that's coming out shortly, directed by Bob Odenkirk no less. The previews don't look promising but I'm happy just to see some of Arnett's and Odenkirk's work getting a reasonably high profile release. Maybe I'll skip the movie and mail them my nine dollars instead.

Buzz Bissinger, Bigoted Baseball Biographer

So I've been reading Three Nights in August while riding the exercycle the last couple of weeks, and while its an easy read, there's something about it that I just don't like. I think its way too conservative (in the American political sense). Starting with the way Bissinger uses his preface to set this book against Moneyball:

"It is wrong to say that the new breed [Moneyball style baseball people] doesn't care about baseball. But it's not wrong to that there is no possible way they could possibly love it, and so much of baseball is about love." (His emphasis on love.)

What the fuck? I mean, rather than try to raise the chances that your damn book will be talked about on stupid talk radio shows in your preface, just do it on the damn sports talk shows. When Bissinger goes on to the next page to say "This book was not conceived as a response to Moneyball." he's saying that, no, it wasn't conceived that way, but it certainly became that. Stupid.

The bulk of the commentary in the book needn't be held against the supposedly heartless nerds ruining baseball in cities like Oakland, LA, and Toronto (I hear Billy Beane and his buddies are all atheists too, and if you don't love God, how can you love baseball...) - its an interesting book that does rely on the viewpoint of its curmudgeon manager star, but that view doesn't operate specifically against "the new breed," so why wedge in this commentary at the opening of the book? The only answer I can think of is that Bissinger would be all for reinstating the draft and invading Iran, except for the fact that the Nerds would be exempt because of their Academic standing, and the true heroes with grit and heart would be the suckers dieing overseas, and he can't help but let his neo-conservative anti-intellectualism bleed into what would otherwise be a nice book about baseball.

Also, Bissinger is a racist and xenophobe:

"They were a gorgeous American family, blond and floppy-haired. You looked at them and wished that everybody in the entire world, including your own family, looked that way."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Odds + Ends

Don't forget to vote! Here's hoping that positive-looking polls don't portend Democratic failure this time, unlike last time or the time before that. I'd stop paying attention to these damn polls, but my only method of workplace procrastination is reading political blogs . . . My brand new towels from Target are already blotchy and discolored. I'm not complaining, just recommending that you not buy towels at Target
. . . When Santonio Holmes was arrested this summer for beating up on an old girlfriend, I wondered how I would be able to cheer for him come gametime. The problem seems to be solving itself . . . Do all Coldplay songs have that gauzy synthesizer aura clinging to them, or just Speed of Sound? I am alarmed: I thought these musical synth-auras were dispelled twenty years ago. Those who do not remember the 80s are condemned to repeat them . . . I stopped watching Family Guy several months ago and my life has gotten neither better nor worse for it . . . Is there a reason people at university gymnasiums are more willing to walk around the locker room completely naked than people at commercial gymnasiums? I'm guessing that obscure sociological factors are at work, or possibly just that it's less crowded . . . There's a massive entertainment complex being built at the Meadowlands in New Jersey; it's called Xanadu. The name sorely lacks any kind of post-Citizen Kane irony: I think at the very least they should equip their domed ski slope with a giant sign that says "No Sledding."

Get Your Omega 3s Somewhere Else

So, Yeah, I finally have a more officially documented reason for not eating seafood (beyond the obvious desire to maintain the Moral Highground at all costs):


Jared Diamond mentioned this problem in his book Collapse; if we continued to treat our fisheries the same way we do our oil wells (and water tables) then, damn, we're gonna run outta fish too.

The American Bourgeois can afford to get their protein and nutrients from non-animal (and therefore more efficient) sources, therefore, the moral imperative is for us all to do so.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Science Fiction of Sleep

I haven’t been having many dreams for the last several months, so I was happy the other night (during a blissful ten-hour sleep, much needed) to recall one crisply. Basically it was a science fiction set-piece: in a labaratory orbiting the planet Neptune, I was made privy to secret specimens of earthlike creatures kept there. Viewing tiny plants under a macroscope revealed fernlike fronds and weird hollow tubules in cross section; Neptune-insects in a hidden terrarium-room moved and lived familiarly but had unusual Precambrian-like body forms. All of this was impressively figmented in better-than-usual dream detail. Since some of the Neptune-insects were escaping, causing alarm and general heebie-jeebies, I didn’t get to see the back of the lab where the Most Terrible Secret was kept: heretofore unknown Neptune people, who were like humans but unable to respirate oxygen, making them hideously deformed and very angry.

Unfortunately the dream fell apart before building to an appropriate B-movie climax; it petered out while I was travelling back to Earth, surrounded by Neptune people (who were not actually deformed) in a kind of space-bus driven by Futurama’s Dr. Zoidberg. Later I was making out with one of the hotter Neptune women; even later I was sitting in our empty high school auditorium, which had been re-outfitted to host the Academy Awards, alone at a table with placecards set out for David Hyde Pierce and several contemporary American composers. I think the utility of recalling this dream pretty much ends here.

Back in real life I went with Stu last night to Wesleyan University up in Middletown, where the FLUX Quartet performed a concert of avant-garde string quartet music. Enjoyable and highly stimulating as a whole, but somehow lacking something in each of the parts. The centerpiece was György Ligeti's Second Quartet, from 1968 — despite frequent moments of brilliance this piece hasn't aged very well, suffering from the harmonic grayness and emotional disattachment that characterize a lot of modern music from that time. The other works were compelling, but each had its own kind of signal-to-noise ratio problem: Elliott Sharp's lacerating bow-sawing would kick all kinds of ass except that acoustically it's blunted and too quiet (I think this needs to be amped up to be successful — on CD it's awesome); Giacinto Scelsi's undulating drones communicate on only a thin band of musical variation, and moreover tend to sound like someone on a riding lawnmower a few yards down. A quartet by free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman throws together a scalding hot tangle of atonal riffs to fine effect, but it's a lot of fiddling for only a few real contrasts.

The most exciting piece turned out to be the finale, what looked on the program to be an experimental throwaway by Wesleyan composer/professor Alvin Lucier, an aleatoric bit produced by the quartet members meandering slowly around the stage tapping the bodies of their instruments in irregular metronomic patterns. For ten minutes I was convinced it was bullshit, and then suddenly I found myself absorbed: like a clean rain, it was dissipating the atonal fog from the last hour and a half. By the time it ended, I wanted it to go on for another thirty or forty minutes.

If you don't know where you're going in Middletown, it's easy to drive through it completely and end up over a river in a place called Portland, CT. So we had dinner there beforehand at the Portland Restaurant, figuring that any eatery named after the town it's in has got to be legitimate. Stu ate what he only characterized as "not the worst steak sandwich I've had in Connecticut"; I found my hot roast beef & mashed potatoes very satisfying, though.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Any Takers?

From: [Coworker]
To: [Jack's entire office]
Subject: prod/design fridge


The production/design dept is clearing out the fridge and we have some mystery items.

Does anyone want to claim:
-a square container (rubbermaid takealong) of spaghetti with pesto (?)
-a small round container (ziplock with blue lid) with a green substance in it
-paper bag containing peanut butter and jelly and something wrapped in tin foil
-an opened tin can of peaches in a plastic bag

If not, we'll chuck them on Monday.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Frost Psalms

Soon, Pete, I promise that I'll share my opinions about the several CDs that you lent me two weekends back. It's all good stuff, and they're scratching that non-classical itch nicely.

But, in the meantime, it's turned out to be a really good couple of days for listening to Northern European choral music from the 1970s.

After hearing one choir piece by Danish composer Per Nørgård (b. 1932) on internet radio, I picked up a whole album used from Amazon, and it's absolutely delightful. Serious, but delightful: Nørgård's work from the late 70s is generous stuff, lyrically written in an extended tonal language that draws out the voices' natural consonant sonority while shadowing them with rich dissonances.

The title work, Frostsalme (1976, revised 2001), is a freely through-composed ten-minute work, setting two overlaid poems by late countryman Ole Sarvig with creamy harmonies and a judicious use of mildly avant-garde glissandos & unmeasured counterpoint. Some whistling and timbale twinkling, too. Very appealing.

Wie ein Kind (1980, rev. 1996), which has been recorded several different times, juxtaposes nonsense poetry by a Swiss schizophrenic with Rainer Maria Rilke. It's a disturbing combination, very effectively brewed into a grown-up lullaby with an ironic undertone, and laced with solo outbursts that sound like the Muppet Show's Koozbanian mating calls.

Occasionally I'll spend a lunch break listening to CDs in the University music library; finding no additional choral Nørgård on tap I found my way yesterday to the recording of Einojuhani Rautavaara's Vigilia, a two-part extraction (Vespers + Matins) from an all-night vigil he wrote for the Finnish Orthodox Church in 1971.

Rautavaara (b. 1928) is Finnish, and (like many other classical Finns) gaining an ever-wider reputation. Rautavaara's orchestral music is romantic and often overblown; this is the first choral music I've listened to, and it's more forceful, beautiful in that cathedral-like way only church music can be. The Vespers are especially good, with Byzantine-inspired chants taking root in full choral harmonies. Sturdy homophonic phrases are modally grounded but shine with unusual tonal colors as they wind their way around. Some movements lay out their texts recitationally, with a bass solist trading off with choral refrains; other movements are more songlike.

Finnish is a beautiful language, too: long vowels and a limited number of consonants make for savory but also chattery, often alliterative texts. Rautavaara can unspool such a line just right: in quiet moments the lightness of rhythmic snap and harmonic tug are poignant beyond any reasonable expectation.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Copyright-Infringey Sleepy Time

Some after-work, YouTubed "Arrested Development": Buster tries to desert the army by stowing away in a car he thinks his brother is about to drive to Mexico.

Thanks to standard time cruelly taking away the sun well before I get home from work, it's tired in here too.