Sunday, August 28, 2005

Want proof of the preponderance of idiocy in the blogosphere?

In the next 12-24 hours, New Orleans could be buried in Hurricane Katrina's flood waters, and those waters may not recede for weeks. So read what fellow bloggers are saying about it.

If you're thinking half of it is "just like the liberal media to focus on the people who are about to lose their homes and not the rise in oil prices this is causing" and the other half is "OMG -- did u see theirs this hurrricane? If I lived theyre, I'd move," you're pretty close.

Things I looked up on Wikipedia today

Starting a new occasional series ...


Why: It was mentioned in today's Pickles comic strip, and I wanted to see if the whole "eat a cow in a few seconds" thing was a myth.

What I learned: They generally don't attack humans, but that doesn't make me feel better about the occasional appearance in the Potomac. Also, there's a species that apparently doesn't eat meat but has colonies of worms in its stomach. But nothing about the cow.

Stone Mountain

Why: I was there over the weekend.

What I learned: The original idea to carve Confederate soldiers roughly coincided with the formation of the "new" Ku Klux Klan at the mountain. That only adds to the irony that a park with a Confederate history theme draws a lot of African-American visitors.

Ku Klux Klan

Why: See above.

What I learned: Mostly that the revived group of the 20th century wasn't as virulently anti-Republican as the post-Civil War effort. Also that the Klan had political influence in Oregon, Indiana, Oklahoma and Anaheim, Calif. Mickey wouldn't be happy.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What are my responsibilities?

Sometimes, you simply can't do the right thing.

I got my haircut today at one of those places I go because I refuse to spend more than $20 on a haircut. I walked in, waited for one of the stylists to finish her complex operation on the sign-in computer/cash register, then typed my name on the computer in full view of everyone else.

As I did that, the stylist took one woman back and said to another woman, "I just have one more person, then you." The woman, who had a high school son with her, said: "One more after her?" Stylist: "No, just her."

A few moments later, before I had time to get into that issue of Parenting telling me what all moms are supposed to feel (all dads, of course, are supposed to be uninvolved -- have you seen our golf magazine?), another stylist walked up to do another complex operation on the computer, perhaps a simulation of a new style of foam insulation during a shuttle launch. Then she attempted to read my name, eventually deciding to spell it out.

The woman down the row enthusiastically said her son's name as if to ask if he was next. His name did indeed have one similar vowel, along the lines of "Bill" and "Justin." But several more spellings out loud established that the stylist did indeed say my name.

So I followed the stylist to the back. Her neighboring stylist said something about the woman being next. My stylist said she just read the name that was in the computer. I volunteered that they had a conversation with the first stylist in question that made me believe they were waiting for her.

At the time, that made sense. Now, well ...

Sure enough, the next stylist to get free walked up and read the next name in the computer, which was not "Justin" (not the kid's real name) or whatever Mom's name was. Someone else stood up and headed back.

And then the woman protested. "We were here before him, too!"

Oh, crap. Crapity crapity crap.

So I sat there thinking if the hair falling from my head represented some sort of metaphor for my guilt. It didn't, but I still felt guilty.

I wondered if I should ask the woman on my way out if she had meant to wait for the first stylist. Perhaps I could offer some sympathetic hogwash about it's not quite clear that you're supposed to sign in on the computer. (That would beg the question of what she thought I was doing on the computer and why the stylists kept reading other names, but I didn't have to discuss that part of it, did I?)

Soon, one of the couple in question was indeed paired up with a stylist. I thought it was the woman. But when my glasses returned to my face, I saw it was the kid, who was kicking around waiting for his stylist to finish up something unseen. The mom was still there.

But my chance to take the high road and not skulk out of there disappeared. As I stood up to leave, the woman walked up to the stylist to start complaining about the whole line fiasco.

And with that, I figured my swift departure was probably for the best. I paid, gave my usual generous tip and walked to the bagel shop for a sandwich.

In a perfect world, I would someday be in a situation in which the kid and I were in some sort of registration line without his mom, and I would help him register for something he wanted, secure in the knowledge that his mom would have somehow botched the opportunity. That would make everything even. But since this world isn't perfect, I guess I can live with what little guilt I feel.

Actually, I think I feel more guilt over the Coke I drank with the sandwich.

Where did I go wrong?

(If you don't care about fantasy baseball, you'll want to do a big scroll here.)

I made the mistake of playing three fantasy baseball leagues in a summer in which I was overwhelmed by work and kept up a busy family, soccer and housework schedule. There's just no way to keep up when you're doing all that.

Still, I'm finding myself today trying to figure out where it all went wrong. I started with the best of intentions and made the right moves in ditching a couple of players early (I had Cristian "maybe I'll break .200" Guzman in two leagues and got rid of him in April in both cases). I also snagged Jon Garland early in his big win streak and got Travis Hafner on two teams.

Everything else just went horribly astray, like Brian Carroll's shot to seal the game for D.C. United last night.

Here's the breakdown.

Team 1: 12-team, head-to-head, no keepers: R, HR, RBI, SB, E, AVG, OPS / W, SV, HBP, K, ERA, WHIP

April 3Aug. 24
C Johnny EstradaC A.J. Pierzynski
2B Tadahito Iguchi (bench)1B Mike Sweeney
OF Alex Sanchez2B Brian Roberts
3B Melvin Mora3B Melvin Mora
SS Cristian GuzmanSS Bill Hall
1B/OF Aubrey Huff1B/OF Aubrey Huff
OF Carl CrawfordOF Juan Encarnacion
OF Manny RamirezOF Jeff Francoeur
UT Sean CaseyUT Sean Casey
2B Luis Castillo2B Luis Castillo (bench)
OF Coco Crisp (bench)OF Matt Lawton (bench)
RP Chin-hui Tsao (bench)OF Willy Taveras (bench)
SP Jeremy BondermanSP Jon Garland
SP Woody WilliamsSP Bruce Chen
SP John ThomsonSP John Thomson
SP Barry ZitoSP Barry Zito
P Danny GravesP Brad Penny
P Jaret Wright (bench; rotating)P Jaret Wright (bench; rotating)
P John SmoltzP John Smoltz
RP Latroy HawkinsRP Chris Reitsma

I made a lot of minor moves along the way, but the big ones were trades. I didn't trade very well -- a couple of these moves were followed by insulting offers from the league's resident fleecer, so clearly I had become the patsy at the table.

  • April: Drop Tsao, Williams and Guzman, pick up Garland, Chen and Jose Valentin (later dropped).
  • May 7: Trade Crawford for Hinske and Encarnacion.
  • May 22: Trade Crisp and Eric Hinske for Sweeney.
  • Aug. 22-23: Trade Ramirez and Bonderman for Penny, Roberts and Francoeur; drop Julio.

Team 2: No keepers, 10-team head-to-head league: R, H, 2B, HR, RBI, SB, A, AVG, OPS / W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP

This one is the most perplexing, though you can see the disappointments in my Opening Day lineup -- Thome, Rolen, Patterson and Perez have all been hurt and/or had horrifying runs. This is the league in which someone dropped Melvin Mora after the first week, so that gives you some idea of the panic level of the competition. Still, I dropped Chacin too soon.

I've listed ALL my moves just to show how frustrating it's been.

April 3Aug. 24
C Johnny EstradaC Bengie Molina
1B Jim Thome1B Travis Hafner
2B Chone Figgins2B Ron Belliard
3B Scott Rolen3B Eric Chavez
SS Miguel TejadaSS Miguel Tejada
IF Chipper JonesIF Chipper Jones
OF Johnny DamonOF Johnny Damon
OF Corey PattersonOF Brian Giles
OF J.D. DrewOF Jeff Francoeur
UT Ken Griffey Jr.UT Shea Hillenbrand
OF Alex Sanchez (bench)C Brian McCann (bench)
no one on DLC/1B Mike Piazza (DL)
SP Chris CarpenterSP Chris Carpenter
SP Oliver PerezSP Kevin Millwood
SP Jake WestbrookSP Casey Fossum
P Greg MadduxP Greg Maddux
P Tim HudsonP Tim Hudson
RP Eddie GuardadoRP Eddie Guardado
RP Latroy HawkinsRP Scot Shields
RP Jorge Julio (bench)RP Brandon Lyon (bench)
  • April 11: Drop Hawkins, add Lyon.
  • April 28: Drop Westbrook, add Gustavo Chacin.
  • May 6: Add Juan Encarnacion.
  • May 14: Drop Encarnacion, add Corey Koskie and Trot Nixon.
  • May 18: Drop Figgins, add Bret Boone.
  • May 20: Drop Koskie, add Chavez.
  • May 28: Drop Drew.
  • June 7: Add Rafael Palmeiro.
  • June 16-17: Drop Sanchez, Julio, Chacin, Boone and Nixon; add Giles, Mark Redman, Chris Young, Danny Haren and Richie Weeks.
  • June 24: Drop Hillenbrand, add Hafner.
  • June 28: Drop Perez, add Joe Blanton.
  • July 9: Drop Patterson, add Reggie Sanders.
  • July 24: Drop Thome, add Milton Bradley.
  • July 28: Drop Blanton and Haren, add Shields and Hillenbrand.
  • July 29: Drop Weeks, add Belliard.
  • Aug. 6: Drop Estrada, Young, Bradley and Redman; add Fossum, Millwood, Piazza and Francoeur.
  • Aug. 22-24: Drop Palmeiro, Sanders, Rolen; add McCann (temp replacement for Piazza) and Molina (perm replacement).

Team 3: 16-team keeper league, traditional Roto: R, 2B, HR, RBI, SB, A, AVG, OPS / IP, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP

April 3Aug. 24
C Jason KendallC Brian McCann
1B Sean Casey1B Richie Sexson
2B Alfonso Soriano2B Ray Durham
3B Scott Rolen3B Bill Mueller
SS Cristian GuzmanSS Omar Vizquel
IF Aramis RamirezIF Jay Gibbons
OF Corey PattersonOF Adam Dunn
OF Alex SanchezOF Matt Stairs
OF Eric ByrnesOF Matt Lawton
OF Brian Jordan1B Travis Hafner
OF Shannon StewartOF Shannon Stewart
(empty bench spot)3B Bill Mueller
SP Pedro MartinezSP C.C. Sabathia
SP Jon LieberSP Jon Lieber
SP Brad Penny (DL)SP Brad Penny
RP Dan KolbRP Miguel Batista
P Rodrigo LopezP Rodrigo Lopez
P Bronson ArroyoP Bronson Arroyo
P Tim WakefieldP Tim Wakefield
P Jorge Julio1B Phil Nevin (bench)

Various fill-ins: 1B Calvin Pickering (last time I listen to the sabermetrics geeks), OF Jason Lane, IF Jorge Cantu, IF/OF John Mabry

  • April 12: Drop Guzman, pick up Vizquel
  • April 13: Trade Ramirez for Thome
  • May 18: Trade Casey and Martinez for Sexson and Batista
  • June 24: Trade Soriano and Thome for Dunn and Hafner

Next year, I'm sticking to soccer. Not that I'm doing any better there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Weird things that pop into my head

For some reason, I found myself thinking this morning about the show Gabe and Guich. One reason this is so odd -- it apparently aired under the name Lewis and Clark. Another reason -- I never actually watched the show. I just have a vague memory of the name. Honestly, what else could be named Gabe and Guich except for a sitcom starring Gabe Kaplan and Guich Koock. Apparently, the show was about a New Yorker who moves to Luckenbach, Texas, which is real life was owned by ... wait for it ... Guich Koock.

This afternoon at work, I dashed down the stairs and found myself winded. I thought of a scene from Carter Country, a late-70s "let's make fun of the South because we have a president from that area" sitcom, in which the middle-aged, potbellied sheriff and his young, spry deputy take a fitness test together. The deputy, told to step up and down a couple of stairs until winded, dashes up and down repeatedly but never gets tired. The sheriff takes one tired walk up, one down, one up and then stops to say, "I'm breathing hard."

Carter Country also featured a young, amiable idiot deputy played by ... Guich Koock.

Proof that all you need to stick in someone's head is a strange name of uncertain pronunciation.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


I doubt there's anything more sentimental than music. A quick snippet of a song can evoke far more memories than an old film clip or some sort of preserved artifact.

The funny thing I've discovered -- songs that you didn't even like when you first encountered them can trigger a strong reaction, even if that reaction is just making you realize how old you've become.

The song in question today is John Cougar Mellencamp's Cherry Bomb, to which I was always rather indifferent. Mention Mellencamp to me, and my first memory is usually my high school locker room, where a guy in my P.E. class (who later went to Mellencamp's beloved Indiana, only to transfer) imitated the "I'm a real good dancer" line from Crumblin' Down. By the time Cherry Bomb came out, Mellencamp was no longer in heavy MTV rotation -- besides, I was headed to college and wouldn't be watching much MTV again until Beavis and Butthead gave me a reason to act like a middle-schooler.

It's not that I didn't respect Mellencamp -- even in my young and foolish days, I knew Rain on the Scarecrow was one of the strongest protest songs recorded. (This'll hit sacred cow status in some quarters, but I think The Clash never quite managed anything like this, despite their reputation.) But Cherry Bomb, like a lot of Mellencamp's work, just wasn't my style, and it never occurred to me that the song had any deeper meaning.

Over the years, I heard that Mellencamp fans looooove this song. Fine, I thought. Now I hear some of the sentimentality in it, so I can see why some people appreciate it.

Today, thanks to the artist facts and other info on the cable music channels, I caught the year Cherry Bomb was recorded -- 1987.

"No WAY," I thought. "Isn't that song from far later in Mellencamp's career?"

Nope. I'm just that old.

In fact, I've now made the journey in age described in the song -- "Seventeen has turned thirty-five." (Full lyrics at Mellencamp's excellent site.) So this song is now about me, even though I was several degrees more nerdy than Mellencamp at age 17.

And so I appreciate the song a little bit more now. But not as much as I appreciate the fact that Mellencamp has gone on to produce solid material -- building on his roots but also growing -- through his 40s and now into his 50s. I don't mind looking back once in a while, but I need something to look forward to.

The blog-monster

Joel Achenbach has a great piece this morning on whether blogs are the first sign of artificial intelligence. Or something like that.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Oh, Courtney

Courtney Love wasn't always a joke. Live Through This was a good album; Celebrity Skin was a great one. In 1996, she won acting acclaim for The People vs. Larry Flynt, and I thought she was good in the intriguing film Basquiat the same year. She's still getting film interest.

And that's why it was a little bit painful to watch her at the Pamela Anderson roast. (Highlights included the ever-underrated Sarah Silverman and an hysterical deadpan reading of Pam's book by the unlikeliest of readers, Bea Arthur.) Her speech itself was good. Seriously, good -- well-written (possibly by someone else, who knows) and well-delivered (all her). Her behavior the rest of the roast was disturbing. She kept standing up and talking back to the people at the mike, sounding a bit like Kramer's obnoxious girlfriend on Seinfeld -- the one who so irritates Jerry that he goes to her office and heckles her.

She kept insisting she had been clean and sober for a year. She didn't look like it the night of the roast.

And, apparently, she is indeed off the wagon. (Or is that on the wagon? See, Seinfeld is everywhere.)

Friday, August 19, 2005

More music dissing

The I HATE MUSIC blog is probably old hat to a lot of people, but I'm a little slow in finding all those hip, snarky sites all over the Web. The archives have a great minimalist take on Stereolab followed by this -- "The highpoint of The Specials recording career was "Ghost Town", a song about people not going out in Coventry anymore. Of course they weren't going out anymore, all they were playing in the clubs was f---ing Specials records."

And you have to love this take on XTC, even if you (like me) like all the songs mentioned in the post.

XM in depth, Channel 5

Yeah, the 50s channel was a little difficult, but not without its charms.

Nat King Cole, Send For Me: Actually not the first song I heard, but the first complete song to be identified. And it's a promising start. Good mid-tempo walking bass, a vocal that sounds self-assured but not obnoxiously so, good guitar work.

The Paris Sisters, I Love How You Love Me: Not a fan of strings and girl-group ballads in general. This one has a pretty, catchy melody, but the spoken section ("I love how you close your eyes when you kiss me ...") is a bit much even for this decade.

unidentified: Interesting how you can't really hear the "make" in "I'll make love to you." It comes across as "I'll may love to you." Scared of the censors?

Ray Peterson, The Wonder of You: From the album Tell Laura I Love Her, named after the car-crash epic for which this guy is known. That song is mentioned in passing in The Worst Rock & Roll Records of All Time. It's not officially part of that book's Bottom 50, but it's implied that it's actually worse. The actual entry (#48) is the Everly Brothers' Ebony Eyes. The authors say the Everlys' song isn't the worst of the "teen tragedy sweepstakes" because the protagonist doesn't decide to join his deceased lover (as in Dickie Lee's Patches) and the details aren't as gruesome as they're described in two songs, including ... Tell Laura I Love Her. I mention all this because it's better than describing the actual song, which is a particularly dreckful ballad.

Bo Diddley, I'm a Man: Another song with "I'll make love to you" in it. When were those days we keep hearing about before our "moral compass" went astray? Anyway -- this is basically an essential blues riff (later appropriated by everyone, perhaps most notably by George Thorogood) repeated ad infinitum. Classic song, but it could use a few good guitar breaks.

Tom & Jerry, Hey Schoolgirl: My knowledge of useless things is so vast that I knew this was Simon and Garfunkel, though I had to verify it at AllMusic. The guitar hints at something interesting; the vocals don't.

Dale and Grace, I'm Leaving It All Up To You: In that case, I'm changing the station. Seriously, this is pretty bad -- utterly mismatched male and female duet vocals over a bland 3/4 setting.

Bill Haley & His Comets, Dim Dim the Lights: And turn down the music.

Sam Cooke, Another Saturday Night: Thanks, I needed that. A classic singalong for the dateless. And we've all been there.

Huey "Piano" Smith, Don't You Just Know It: I actually don't hear a piano here, just a bass, drums and a few saxophonists obviously thrilled to be playing a riff instead of just sitting around waiting for the solo. The call-and-response vocals are fun. I'd listen to this again.

Cozy Cole, Topsy Part 2: Jazzy piano, organ and drums propel this instrumental. Actually, a lot of the guys revered as jazz legends should take a cue from this -- it's listenable, danceable and entertaining. OK, the drum solo goes on a bit too long without enough variation to sustain it, but Neil Peart was just a toddler around this time, so we can't expect too much.

Robert & Johnny, We Belong Together: I could've sworn I heard the drummer snoring before he missed a beat.

Thurston Harris, Little Bitty Pretty One: I forgot to listen. Sorry.

Bobby Darin, Mack the Knife: Ever catch the Bill Murray lounge singer impressions on Saturday Night Live? The vocal delivery is eerily similar. The horn fills were stereotypical a decade earlier.

The Heartbeats, A Thousand Miles Away: ... is where I'd rather be when all the doo-wop cliches kick up their ugly heads.

Elvis Presley, A Mess of Blues: Not as overwrought as some Elvis vocals, and the piano-based honky-tonk setting is palatable.

Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Ain't Got No Home: OK, that's enough. If I'd lived in this decade, I probably would've stuck with Beethoven.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I'm back

I forgot to mention that I was going to the beach for a few days, so my apologies to both my regular readers and the people who came here searching for "five o'clock charlie +emo" or "inflate peppers."

Nifty tip discovered on the trip -- the same connector that makes my XM radio play through my tape player in the car also works with my iPod.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Simpsons and marital strife

I'm not one of those people who attempts to be cool by claiming to dislike any Saturday Night Live made after 1995 (or 1980) or any Simpsons episode made after 1997. In fact, I loathe these people with a passion. They're like the Goth kids on South Park who think they're demonstrating independent thought when, in fact, they're just antisocial jerks.

But there's one type of Simpsons episode that has gone way downhill. It's the "Homer and Marge are having marital strife" episode.

The progression:

Life in the Fast Lane (Season 1): The classic bowling episode.

Colonel Homer (Season 3): Homer manages country singer Lurleen, who tries to lure-leen him away from Marge.

A Streetcar Named Marge (Season 4): Marge demonstrates her independence by starring in a wonderfully tacky and overwrought musical.

The Last Temptation of Homer (Season 5): Not as funny as the previous three, but it never seems forced.

Secrets of a Successful Marriage (Season 5): Clever episode in which Homer's efforts to teach at community college backfire in so many ways.

A Milhouse Divided (Season 8): Works because the Simpson strife is overshadowed by the more amusing and less sympathetic Van Houtens.

The Cartridge Family (Season 9): Can anyone blame Marge for getting out of the house after Homer starts shooting up the place?

Brawl in the Family (Season 13): Here's the start of the troubles. The Homer-Marge friction is crammed into the last act. They get away with it here because the Flanders subplot is funny.

Three Gays of the Condo (Season 13): Homer moves in with two gay guys. This one's actually pretty good, ruining the curve.

Brake My Wife, Please (Season 13): This is the one I saw tonight. It shifts abruptly from a neat little plot about Homer taking up walking (he overloaded his car with electronics in a great scene, drove off a dock while trying to send an S.O.S. from his fax machine and lost his license) to an overblown Homer-Marge blowup in which Homer is far more insensitive and idiotic than he usually is but miraculously recovers to throw a party for the whole town and Jackson Browne. No.

The Ziff Who Came to Dinner (Season 15): Not necessarily a Marge-Homer episode except as a backdrop to an insufferable plot with the insufferable Artie Ziff. They seem desperate to turn Ziff into a recurring character. Please don't let them succeed. If they want to keep using Jon Lovitz, bring back the art teacher or the director from Oh Streetcar. Or The Critic.

Mobile Homer (Season 16): Starts with a good Homer slapstick sequence and might be funnier if we hadn't seen the whole "Homer and Marge fighting" thing before.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The times, they are a-changin'

I know radio formats and personalities are in a state of upchucking, er, upheaval, but there's still something strange about hearing the guy who spent a couple of decades at the local alternative station (now a Spanish station) on what used to be the classic rock station introducing Devo's Are We Not Men?

Anyone follow that?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Currently atop the playlist ...

A periodic check of the songs getting the most play on my iPod ...

Stereophonics, Dakota: I've been listening to this song constantly for a couple of months now, and I'm nowhere near sick of it. That's high praise for a relatively simple pop song. The brilliance of it is that a cute little artsy trick actually works -- the lyrics are all about his unresolved feelings, and the melody never resolves, either. If you've ever composed any music, you know that it's pretty tough to pull that off without making something that sounds awfully awkward. And there's nothing awkward about this song. If I had a Grammy vote, I'd just scrawl "Dakota" on my ballot and be done with it. Beautiful, timeless pop artistry at its best.

Molly Hatchet, Flirtin' With Disaster: Best Southern rock song ever, in part because it's one of those rare grits-rockers in which the drummer is allowed to play. There's a subtle hint of '70s progressive rock in this one -- not enough to spoil the style or make the well-timed whistle in the guitar solo seem out of place, but enough to give it an edge that you don't hear from the guys with the big belt buckles. And the lyrics could be interpreted as good ol' Southern bravado ("What are the last words of a Southerner?" "Betcha I can!") or perhaps a statement on the state of the world. With some swinging guitar, ominous bass and powerful drums, they both celebrate and lampoon life on the edge of disaster. (What I'm trying to say is this -- it's a cool song. OK?)

Dandy Warhols, Bohemian Like You: I only knew it as the theme music for the BBC's soccer call-in show 606 until I caught it on XM. It's actually a witty, hook-laden song that seems impossible to dislike. They don't get much more fun that this.

Cowboy Junkies, Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning: A nice defiant breakup song, not entirely happy but determined to look on the bright side. The pleasant yet world-weary Margo Timmins vocal, delivered in a fast, unpredictable rhythm, tells of having a whole bag of popcorn to herself at the movies, having the freedom to walk out if she doesn't like the film and, most importantly, having those "extra few feet in my bed."

Cowboy Mouth, Love of My Life: I generally don't like bands that yell at me to get up off my feet. That's my choice, thanks. But when I saw these guys about a decade ago, they won me over. "They" in this case would be Fred, their drummer, lead vocalist and general rabble-rouser. This is another breakup song, but it's a little more animated than the Junkies effort, powered by Fred's incessant tom-toms and chortling about the crazy woman who is no longer the love of his life.

The Cure, Wrong Number: The Cure, on occasion, can create a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector drool. For sheer bombast, this is the best. It starts with pulsing synthesizers that suggest a mix of the Six Million Dollar Man's "bionic" sound effects and a couple of computers trying to communicate, then hits a joyous overload with a barrage of drums and guitars. By the time they toss in some random sound effects, it's the most masterful orchestration of chaos this side of Fishbone. I have no idea what the lyrics mean -- some sort of abstract thing about colors and dreams that would easily fit a Throwing Muses tune -- but I don't care. This is sheer sonic euphoria that makes the ride home go a little faster. (Unless I have the kid in the car, in which case I play things a little quieter.)

XM in depth, Channel 6

I had to go out of order because they had special programming on the '50s channel. I was thinking that might be a stay of execution of sorts. Music from the '50s really hasn't aged well, and I hadn't been looking forward to an hour of it.

But the '60s channel was stuck in the early part of the decade, in part because they also had some sort of oddball program -- some sort of "on this date, roughly, in 1963 or so."

Probably not a fair test of this channel, which advertises itself as the station of the Beatles, the Who and all the bands that kicked rock and roll from its repetitive rockabilly roots to the mind-blowing experience that it could be and was for much of the next 30 years.

But I made it through an hour, and it wasn't all unpleasant. Here goes ...

Peter, Paul & Mary, Blowin' in the Wind: Peter, Paul & Mary always sound like they're about to lecture me on the evils of nuclear power or electric guitars. I'll stick with Dylan, thanks.

Elvis Presley, (You're The) Devil in Disguise: Some entertaining tempo changes and a lively guitar solo make this song more adventurous and more fun than some in its genre, but they're really just window dressing on a forgettable song. I know some consider this heresy, but I don't think Elvis' music holds up all that well. Distinctive voice, yes. Important place in history, sure, but I think the Beatles could've figured it out without him.

The Surfaris, Wipeout: A classic. Fun to play for any type of band, from a high school garage band to a marching band. Fight off carpal tunnel syndrome by playing along with those drums.

James Brown, Night Train (Closing): Basically a list of a cities set to a 12-bar guitar-and-horn riff. It's from a Live at the Apollo release, so I'm guessing this served some purpose in the show and undoubtedly served it well.

Annette, Beach Party: Roughly 30 seconds of music for some movie. I forgot it pretty much as soon as they were done.

Stevie Wonder, Fingertips: The guy was 13 years old when he did this. Good practice for when he did his truly brilliant stuff 10 years later, but the harmonica in this one drives me nuts. Same reason I never got into Blues Traveler.

The Beatles, Words of Love: You know they're digging into the vault when they play a Beatles song I don't know. This one isn't bad, though not as classic as some of their other early work or as groundbreaking as their later efforts.

Peter & Gordon, True Love Ways: Strings. Syrupy harmony. Cliched rhymes for lyrics. Can I grab the remote and fast-forward to 1967 yet? (My wife points out that the original Buddy Holly version, which lists as a 1953 release, is less "orchestral." I probably wouldn't mind that.)

Archie Bell and the Drells, Tighten Up: "Nobody told me there'd be boasting!" Some good drum work and a funky guitar riff, but where's the song?

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, This Guy's in Love With You: I'm looking at the XM display panel and seeing that the 70s station is playing Edgar Winter's Frankenstein. Day 2, and I'm already starting to wonder if I can stick with this experiment of devoting an hour to each channel without switching. I'm also wondering why a band with the word "brass" is so full of syrupy strings. Maybe Alpert was already counting all the money he was going to make when he founded A&M. (To be fair, he did much better work and managed comebacks in the 70s and 80s when anyone else would've been content to hang it up.)

Steppenwolf, Magic Carpet Ride: Finally, we get out of the 50s hangover. I make fun of Steppenwolf for the instrumental break in this song, in which everyone just keeps slamming the same notes over and over as if they can't think of a solo, but I can't argue with this one. A good riff sucks you in, and then they break it down to the vocal and an organ that builds up in the background to bring everyone back in. Rock had hit its stride by the time this stuff popped up.

Beach Boys, I Get Around: Having no interest in surfing, fixing up behemoth cars or leering at women, I tire of Beach Boys music in a hurry. But it's tough to beat the hooks in this one.

Betty Everett & Jerry Butler, Let It Be Me: I've just invented a new description for these slow, string-laden, harmony-driven ballads that bore me to tears -- "sleepy drummer" music. It's as if the drummer has to set an alarm clock to wake up for the next indifferent slap at the snare.

Mary Wells, My Guy: Where would the '60s have been without Motown? Smokey Robinson proved he could write for a female vocalist here -- a good hook is a good hook. I'll close on an up note here.

Chipotle and the decline of Western civilization

I'm a loyal Chipotle customer. The food is great, and each restaurant is designed to give you fresh food with awesome efficiency.

But through no fault of Chipotle's management or employees, the awesome efficiency doesn't materialize. And that's cause to wonder if our civilization is simply doomed.

I think the chain is doing relatively well. I've been to several locations, and they're always packed at lunch or dinner. And yet, people act as if they've never been there before.

Today's example takes the cake, though I have to admit it didn't bog me down because I was thankfully ahead of this guy. He was with an attractive woman -- whether she was with him because she has issues and needs to be with a self-centered alpha male or whether she's a paid escort, I didn't ask. For most people, being in line at Chipotle and being with an attractive woman is enough. But no. This guy was on his cell phone.

I don't necessarily have an issue with that. But you probably know what's coming next.

I started my food order -- crispy tacos (only get those if you're eating in; they don't survive car rides). After a pause, the first guy in Chipotle's assembly line asked this guy what he wanted.

And, of course, he was startled to learn that he would be asked such a complicated question. The notion that he would (A) have to decide what he wanted to eat and (B) have to describe it a man behind a counter of food had been lost on him while he yapped on his phone and let his eyes wander on his companion du jour.

Chipotle really could not make this any easier. My only complaint with the menu is that they do not list "fajita burrito bol" as a separate item, but I've never confused anyone by ordering it, so no harm done. And yet people can stand in the long line for several minutes, then attempt to order in ways that make no sense. ("Can I get a fajita burrito, but with beans instead of onions and peppers." "Yes. Order a freaking burrito.")

One other recent infraction in the Chipotle line. They have a little plastic guard over the counter for a reason. They don't want the germs of 200 people in their green salsa. And yet two countercultural types insisted on reaching waayyyy over the counter to make their selections by pointing. My guess they were either stoned or happened to be grad students who were angered by the hegemony of "language" among communication tools.

So I always sympathize with the good folks at Chipotle, who go to great lengths to supply a perfectly ordered assembly line that allow for thousands of combinations of meats, beans, salsa and so forth, only to have customers come up and undermine the system.

And that's why civilization is doomed to fail. You can come up with the most efficient way of delievering a good service imaginable, and some folks -- generally too self-absorbed to notice that they're holding up 40 people who are trying to grab burritos and get back to the office before their next soul-crushing meetings -- will find a way to throw a spanner in the works.

If we're all so happy to stand in line and accomplish nothing (which traffic patterns and voting records bear out all too well), we might as well have lost the Cold War.

(end venting)

Why my profession is in deep doo-doo

And no, I'm not referring to the Robert Novak meltdown today, though that shows in a nutshell why cable "news" is a vast wasteland.

I'm referring to an NYT piece by Richard Posner explaining what's wrong with the media today. He stumbles in a couple of areas -- The Wall Street Journal, editorial page aside, isn't really "conservative," and he's wrong in saying that CNN is somehow more "liberal" today than it was. The latter claim is getting ripped in blogs such as DC Media Girl (one of the rare bloggers I know and like in real life), where I left the following comment:

One problem with the blogosphere and the general media climate today NOT mentioned by Posner is that bloggers usually focus on some minute part of a story in an effort to discredit the whole thing. (Case in point: OK, the 60 Minutes thing was shoddily reported; therefore, the entire question of Bush’s service or non-service disappeared.) So in an effort to counter this, I’ll focus on three things Posner got exactly right:

1. "Journalists minimize offense, preserve an aura of objectivity and cater to the popular taste for conflict and contests by - in the name of ’’balance’’ - reporting both sides of an issue, even when there aren’t two sides."

2. "The legitimate gripe of the conventional media is not that bloggers undermine the overall accuracy of news reporting, but that they are free riders who may in the long run undermine the ability of the conventional media to finance the very reporting on which bloggers depend."

3. "Another is that competition by the blogs, as well as by the other new media, has pushed the established media to get their stories out faster, which has placed pressure on them to cut corners. So while the blogosphere is a marvelous system for prompt error correction, it is not clear whether its net effect is to reduce the amount of error in the media as a whole."

Well said.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Video games inversely correlated to satisfaction with dating life

Before you say "Duh," consider the whole business of people telling us these days that video games are the equivalent of the Athenian town square. Then consider how funny this piece is. Here's a sample of "An Open Letter to My 22-Year-Old Self":

Anyway, even if your friends were as whipped by their ladies as you suspect, at least it's a result of regular human interaction. Regardless of whether or not you want to admit it, you are whipped by a child's toy with 32-bit graphics.


Monday, August 01, 2005

Injustice alert

Watching the NewsRadio DVDs provides all the evidence needed that Emmy voters are a bit numb in the head. This series received exactly three Emmy nominations -- two for costume design (winning one) and one well-deserved bid for Phil Hartman.

Forget Sam and Diane, wonderful as they were at times. Forget Ross and Rachel. Forget Bull and whichever female bailiff was currently alive on Night Court. The most entertaining screen couple of our generation was Dave (Dave Foley) and Lisa (Maura Tierney). Foley was always the deadpan master on The Kids in the Hall, and Tierney's portrayal of an ambitious reporter who can't quite conceal her freakish side should make us all wish that the humorless, child-hating producers on E.R. would let her do more funny scenes. That mix made their bickering -- which, as it turned out, was a turn-on for Dave -- have a certain absurd edge that fit in perfectly with the workplace.

Great, well-crafted escapist fun.

Just had to vent.