Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dear NFL Network

If you insist on allowing Bryant Gumbel to mar your telecasts, would you please teach him proper football terminology? Failing to convert on 3rd down and choosing to punt is NOT the same thing as "turning the ball over on downs," yet Gumbel referred to it this way each time it happened during last night's New York-Washington game. Each time I caught myself wondering if I had missed something and the team had gone for it on 4th down. This was very distracting and further reduced Gumbel's almost non-existent football credibility. Perhaps you can lure another former player to join Collinsworth in the booth?

Richard Nelson

Friday, December 29, 2006

I've Been Tagged

Via quite a meandering chain, I've been tagged to tell you five things you may not know about me--and tag five others to do so as well. So, Paul, Jon, James, Michele, and Zaki--you're it!

1. My favorite morning beverage is coffee--but I do not drink it. Since August I've had terrible bouts of heartburn, and eventually I realized that under the circumstances drinking coffee in the morning is very much like starting the day with a column of burning acid in my chest. But I still love the smell of brewing coffee!

2. I have put up the same Christmas tree every year since I was a boy. I bought it at Osco for $20 of hard-earned paper route money, and I still decorate it with the same ornaments and bead garland I've been using for almost 15 years. The lights, alas, have been changed a few times.

3. Before I became a staunch Democrat, my nickname was "Richard the Republican." This was in sixth grade, when I was probably the only person who even knew what a Republican was. (Though at the time I did not know that they ate babies and killed the poor in their sleep.) This folly lasted long enough that I even had a "Speaker Newt" placard on the wall of my first dorm room in college.

4. Speaking of politics, I also had an odd habit as a child of naming houseplants. This was important because I named one of them George Bush in 1991, during the Gulf War, when everyone loved him. Some time later, my mother ripped George from his pot with the cord of the vacuum cleaner--pity the fool who stands between her and a clean house! Quite soon thereafter, Bill Clinton became president. (Yes, I considered naming another plant George Bush and killing it in 2004.)

5. My life is one big sing along. When I am alone in the house or the car, I sing along with whatever music I'm playing--and often dance as well. I may refuse to bust a move at a wedding, but I am a freak in my own home.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Hope that everyone reading is having--or had--a very happy holiday season. I know my holiday weekend kicked off with a bang. Our friends from Texas visited and we had dinner at Maggiano's; to celebrate Festivus, we went with a family-style meal and had lots of food--and fun! I can only hope the next two days of home cooking can match the delights of all-you-can-eat gnocchi and salmon and linguini and chicken parmesan and salads and tiramisu and profiteroles. Our table actually had to be expanded halfway through the meal to accommodate it all. 'Twas a sight to behold!

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Still Time for Gift Giving!

If you haven't seen this video yet, you're missing out on belly laughs that will burn off at least a few Christmas cookies. This is the best thing SNL has done in a long time!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'Tis the Doubt

Gay and Evangelical, Seeking Paths of Acceptance

I feel bad for the subjects of this article. And, as we're in the thick of a season that has long been my favorite, maybe it's time to say why.

Most people who know me now know me as a very, well, agnostic person. I seeth at the notion of organized religion, and I think it's a bit arrogant to claim knowledge of an entity on the basis of an old book while simultaneously claiming the entity to be beyond all human comprehension in his majesty and glory.

See? There I go again.

And yet, folks who've known me a bit longer know that there was a time when being a good churchgoing boy was very important to me. I went every week as a child and all the way through high school, even as I chafed at the idea of being confirmed a Catholic. (I went through with it, though; technically speaking, in the eyes of the church, I'm one of them.) Even when I went off to college, I trudged off to Mass, held on Saturday nights so as not to conflict with the Sunday morning Lutheran service. I knew all the hymns by heart and could have been a reader during Mass without more than glancing at the page. Anyone who suffered through CCD will know that this was above and beyond the requirements. I loved being Catholic.

But all through this time I knew something was amiss. As it began to dawn on me what that something was, it got harder and harder to go to church. I started crying during Mass. At first it was simply tears at the beauty of the story--that the holiest of holies would give up his only son to make recompense for my wicked ways--but eventually the tears turned bitter, as I realized I was losing the stories, and the church, and everything I had known. And my wicked ways, in the eyes of the church, were partly, though not entirely, to blame

It's been at least eight years now since I was a regular churchgoer, and I don't miss the hassle of it. Meet the Press on Sunday mornings fills in nicely, though it does remove one way I might meet more friends who live close by. But I do miss the songs, the stories, and the feeling of inner certainty I once had. I've been thinking about it a lot, lately, wondering if it wouldn't be easier to just give in to the crowd and make myself believe.

I won't, of course. But that doesn't mean I don't occasionally look at the Christmas tree I've set up in the front window, surrounded by a little holiday village and stacks of carefully wrapped gifts, and wish it all meant the same thing to me that it does to others. Or that I don't look at the manger scene atop one of our bookshelves and think about what a beautiful story it represents. The holiday cannot help but permeate the season. And that brings me great joy--but it cannot help but be permeated by a tinge of sadness.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top Ten Albums of 2006

And here we have it: my picks for the ten best albums of 2006. Paul will have his picks up at 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds as well.

1. Teddy Thompson: Separate Ways
I’ve been raving about this album since the spring and still feel strongly about it. After discovering Teddy Thompson on the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, I couldn’t wait to hear more of his music, and he obliged by releasing this album early in 2006. It’s filled with wry, dark lyrics and catchy music that is as appropriate to a drive with the windows down as a quiet evening at home. The best song on the album may be “I Wish It Was Over,” but I’ve never had that feeling listening to this one.

2. Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit

It took a while for this album to grow on me after I bought it in February, but I am now thoroughly convinced of its majesty. It takes the good things about past B&S albums and turns up the volume and the rock. The result is endlessly entertaining, hyper-literate, and will stick in your head for months.

3. Scissor Sisters: Ta-Dah
This album is, in words lifted from it, a party that ain’t over ‘til it’s through. I have no idea how I have avoided a wreck while dancing and singing in my car. If “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” isn’t the song of 2006, I don’t know what could be; it protests against toe-tapping but is guaranteed to incite full-body motion. “Paul McCartney” is a riot, “Might Tell You Tonight” a very pretty but up-tempo falling-in-love song, and closer “Everybody Wants the Same Thing,” while quite vague, is sure to be played in heavy rotation at gay marriage rallies. A rough patch in the middle precludes ranking this number one, but nothing closes the deal more effectively.

4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones
Talk about defying expectations. While their debut album did lay a trail toward this one, the shifts are still shocking. The band took “Maps” and exploded the concept of the song into an album, with a remarkable centerpiece in “Cheated Hearts” and a closing song, “Turn Into,” that manages to make the guitar sound like it’s actually weeping. Slays me every time.

5. Rosanne Cash: Black Cadillac

While other albums on this year’s list toyed with sad, this one dives in and swims around in it. Writing in the wake of the death of her mother, stepmother, and father, Cash poured out her feelings about loss, pain, anguish, memory, and moving on, and the results are so tender yet tough that I found them inspiring in a year when death touched our house. If you reach the clip of baby Rosanne talking to her father at the end and don't tear up a bit, I'm not sure you're human.

6. Bob Dylan: Modern Times
You've been expecting this one, haven't you? Another latter-day masterwork from Bob, whose catalog since 1989 has been almost uniformly brilliant. Not number one because, well, I got more excited by some other discs this year, and this isn't quite as splendid to my ears as Love and Theft was. But that's judging Bob against himself. From the hip "Thunder on the Mountain" to the soulful "When the Deal Goes Down" to the apocalyptic closer, "Ain't Talkin',"this is a rock-solid album.

7. Brahms: The Piano Concertos

Nelson Freire, piano
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
This one I bet you weren't expecting! And yet I'd bet that a survey of my daily habits would show that this two-disc set accompanied me to work more days than any other entry on this list. The recording quality is crisp and clean, the orchestra sounds remarkable, and Freire's piano is elegant and powerful. Oh, and I suppose some credit is due to Brahms...

8. John Mayer: Continuum
On this, his third proper solo album but fifth studio release, John Mayer grows up. No longer pondering his quarter-life crisis, Mayer is thinking bigger. The opener, "Waiting on the World to Change," laments his (and my) generation's difficulty in making an impact on the political and social culture, while later songs lament difficult relationships, the pain of living with a broken heart, and, in the album's most universal song, "Stop This Train," the ache he feels each time he pulls out of his parents' driveway knowing they won't be around forever. With his Trio album last year, Mayer proved he has chops. This one shows he's got staying power.

9. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Oh, to have the voice of Neko Case. On this short album, which Amazon called the top disc of 2006, she uses it to full effect, singing dark songs that suit her to a T. In 35 minutes, there isn't a moment of filler, just 12 songs that touch on small, everyday concerns and through the sheer force of voice make them grand. Best listened to in the dark...

10. KT Tunstall: Eye to the Telescope
It took me a while to accept just how much I like this album, which American Idol brought to my attention when Katherine McPhee sang "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree." A pop-star cover, thank-yous in the liner notes that look like they were written under a desk during math class, and even an odd name (KT?) were working against it. But that's all marketing, I think. With a raspy voice, lyrics with depth (that she actually had a hand in writing!), and music that sounds like it was played by actual musicians rather than a computer, this album continues to amuse and surprise me just by being as good as it is. It will be interesting to see where Ms. Tunstall goes from here!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2006 Best of the Rest

Welcome to the "best music of the year" portion of the blog. As usual, we begin with choices in some special categories. Paul Allen will have his choices in the same categories at his blog, 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds. Our top ten lists are coming soon!

Best Surprise
The Wood Brothers: Ways Not to Lose

One day this summer, this album appeared on my screen as one of the most recent releases at The cover intrigued me (see below), and the reviews were interesting. For $5.99 plus tax, I figured, why not? It was a good risk to take. This album may not be everyone’s cup of tea—the arrangements are sometimes spare, sometimes weird, and the tempo can be slow at times—but the lyrics are thoughtful and the music plays along. I haven’t tested the theory yet, but this seems like the perfect album to play while sitting on the porch on a day a bit too chilly to be out there, drinking a cup of tea—or something stronger.

Biggest Disappointment
The Flaming Lips: At War With the Mystics
I was so excited for the follow-up to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The Flaming Lips were on a two album roll (after 1999’s masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin) and a third seemed like a sure thing. But this isn’t what I waited for. Some of the songs work, some don’t, but the big problem is that the album sounds like crap. At first I thought this was just me, but recently I read in SPIN that Wayne Coyne and company decided to mix the album loud. Lots of bad bands do this—it makes their albums sound more forceful coming out of your speakers by decreasing the volume difference between the mid-range sounds and the loudest ones. That may be fine for a song or two, but over the course of an album it all begins to sound the same, with no sonic variation, no way for big moments to stand out—and no way to enjoy listening.

Best Cover Art
The Wood Brothers: Ways Not to Lose

Simple, understated—just like the album itself—but this cover dangles the hand of fate, has you begging to see what card it’s holding, and thus sucks you into asking the question every cover should: I wonder what the music sounds like?

Best Album Title
At War With the Mystics
Hey, just because the album isn’t very good doesn’t mean the name isn’t!

Best Cover Version
Jenny Lewis and company: "Handle with Care"
Lewis is joined by Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard in a remake of the Traveling Wilburys hit song. It should be a mess—what right do these indie wunderkind have tackling a song handed down by the masters?—but it works perfectly. Proof of the talents of both the songwriters and the ones singing.

Guiltiest Pleasure
Muse: Black Holes and Revelations
This band is supposedly a successor to Radiohead, but I don’t see it. They do, however, make for quite the car ride, even if the lyrics are either nonsense or liberal propaganda. (And you know, if I think something is liberal propaganda, it’s off the deep end.) Bombast and catchy guitar riffs—I know I should bring something else with me, but I can’t stop myself!

Best Discovery
I’ve noted this on the blog before, but 2006 was the year that living with a classical music fan finally started to penetrate my rock and roll defenses. But the fun thing I discovered is that, while he prefers symphonies, I have a yen for concertos. Hearing the rollicking interplay between an orchestra and a virtuoso pianist or violinist unlocks something in my brain. No wonder I don’t leave for work in the morning without some Beethoven, Brahms, or Mendelssohn in my bag.

Best Trend
Does my short candidate list yield any “trends?” Not really. But its very shortness points to one: new albums by old favorites that are so roundly panned as to free me from buying them. The trend began with last year’s new Sheryl Crow album, which debuted to middling reviews. This year, Everclear, Jet, The Killers, the Magic Numbers, Damien Rice, Starsailor, Robbie Williams, and Pete Yorn have all done my checking account a favor by pushing out discs that didn’t meet with much critical acclaim. Not to mention Oasis and U2 and other bands that put out greatest hits albums that fail to live up to the job description. (Not including “Whatever” on an Oasis compilation? Are they kidding?) These bad albums are like money in my pocket!

Best Concert
As I profiled here, the best concert experience of the year for me happened at Ravinia in July. The stars aligned to give us a crowdless, quiet night to enjoy what many consider Mahler’s prettiest symphony, the fourth. It was preceded by a jazz-infused piano concerto written by Erwin Schulhoff (for which my Amazon order was recently canceled after five months of waiting). Both pieces were lovely, as was the evening. Even Bob Dylan couldn’t top it.

Hardest Album to Leave Off the Top Ten
Elton John: The Captain and the Kid
It kills me to have to deny Sir Elton; he could have made the list a little bit gayer. But while I catch myself whistling the opening track, "Postcards From Richard Nixon," and admire the storytelling that goes on over the course of this sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, some of the songs just don't do it for me. The Scissor Sisters also have a hard time slowing it down, but the songs I docked them for were merely B-level material. "Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way (NYC)," "Blues Never Fade Away," and "The Bridge" are three pieces of D-level cheese, and that's too many on a disc with ten songs. Sorry, sir. Maybe next time.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sorry, Blue

Who's #2? The BCS' dumb obsession with finding America's second-best college football team. By Chris Suellentrop

Chris Suellentrop has a very good point in this article. People who are once again bashing the BCS--which, by the way, brought us one of the all-time classic games last season in Texas-USC and made dozens of games this season interesting to even someone like me who usually pays attention to only a few--are missing the point of the system. It's designed to produce a game after which college football has a champion. How would an Ohio State-Michigan game accomplish that? If Michigan were to win, wouldn't that just mean it was time to play the rubber match?

Here's Suellentrop's killer paragraph:
Do we know if Florida is the second-best team in the country? Of course not. Here's what we do know: Michigan is not the best. How do we know that? By the traditional criterion: They scored fewer points in a football game than Ohio State did. The only team that has the "right" to play in the BCS championship game is the best team, Ohio State. And the only teams that should be scratched without question are teams that have already been determined to be "not the best," like Michigan.
Exactly. I wanted Michigan to win the Nov. 18 game. I hate OSU. And I know that if Florida somehow wins this thing, there will be those who say that they should have to play Michigan to be the real champs. (Unless USC clocks Michigan, in which case I say give the trophy to Boise State if they can knock off Oklahoma.)

All of this jibber-jabber is, of course, simply more fuel on the playoff fire, and I'm all for that. How can we know for sure that, for example, Boise State could not have run with the big boys? But until that happens, I have no problem with a system that declines an inconclusive rematch in favor of a title bout between the champs of the two conferences that produced the top four teams in the BCS standings, six of the top nine, and seven of the top 12. Because if Florida was good enough to win the SEC, and Ohio State was good enough to win the Big 10, can you really deny that whichever team wins a game between the two of them is good enough to be this year's champion?

Etes-vous Prete?

This week will see a lot of lists. Are you ready?

First, Paul will finish posting the top songs of the '90s. After that happens tomorrow, he and I will each post, on Wednesday, the first portion of our lists of the best music of 2006. Thursday will bring the actual top ten lists. And, given that it's the second week of December, you can probably count on a few professionally composed best-of lists as well.

So, as I asked before, are you ready? And what are your top music picks of the year?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Books for Sale

The 10 Best Books of 2006

Tis the season for lists!
The link above leads to the list from the New York Times. It includes one book that I've read this year and can recommend highly: The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. It would make a good gift for the book-lover on your list!

I can also recommend The Book Thief, listed right now on the right as one of the books I'm currently reading. So far it's engrossing and beautifully written. It's set in World War II Germany and narrated by Death. (It's also perched atop Amazon's top ten teen books of 2006, but don't let that dissuade you.)

Have you read any of the books on the Times list? And what was your favorite book you read during 2006?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Let the Fun Begin

Looking for gift ideas for the music lover in your life? Amazon has posted its "Best of 2006" list. As usual, I'm gratified by how nicely my tastes and Amazon's match; without giving anything away I can only say that there is substantial overlap between my top ten, due to appear here next week, and theirs. What do you think of the list? And what are your favorite CDs of 2006?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Saturday at Symphony Center (reprise)

Boulez, CSO tour Mahler's No. 7
Symphony gets musical analysis that is a joy

I warned you there would be another concert post, didn't I?

Saturday night we again trekked downtown for a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert, this time to hear them play Mahler's 7th Symphony. Spry 81-year-old Pierre Boulez took the podium for the first time as Conductor Emeritus, an odd title for a man who appears as vital as anyone else we've seen conduct, including the much younger Jarvi last week.

Before the music, I must comment on the surroundings. Last week we sat way up in the gallery, four rows from the front and miles from the actual players. This week our seats were much closer--we were in the front row of the upper balcony, which is three feet behind the last row of the lower balcony but quite a bit cheaper. You'd think this was a bargain, right?

You'd be wrong. The upper balcony has everything going against it but the price. The overhang, which my concert companion hates for the way it obstructs the sound, was not much of a factor where we sat in that regard, but it definitely did something to the circulation. After last week's airy, comfortable experience in the gallery--where the warm air, by rights, should rise up to heat you--this week's cramped, stuffy, and just plain hot experience in the balcony caught me by surprise. The burly fellow next to me actually removed his sweater and listened to the concert in a theme T-shirt, and by the end I must admit I was jealous.

Despite these impediments, it was a fantastic concert. Many consider the 7th Mahler's weakest symphony, but you have to give him credit--he brings it in the end, something that cannot be said for some of the others (4 and 9, I'm looking at you). Boulez can be chilly as a conductor, delivering clean readings that leave out some of the emotion others find in a score--but I'll take that over the sort of messy reading a Barenboim can deliver, as evidenced by his insanity inducing 5th last spring. Boulez's internal movements were pretty, and the first and last were rousing and raucous, just as they should be, taking full advantage of the CSO's powerful brass without losing control of the line of the music. (If you want to hear for yourself, they're playing it again tonight.)

Now the waiting begins; we don't go back until May for Bruckner 7, followed in rapid succession at Ravinia by Mahler 5 and 6. Any concert suggestions?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Saturday at Symphony Center

'Concerto' composers offer refreshing view of outsiders

After a few months during which our only concert-going involved a certain creaky singer-songwriter, we were back at Orchestra Hall Saturday night, way up in the gallery for a program assembled by conductor Paavo Jarvi. The night included two concertos for orchestra, one by Kodaly and another by Lutoslawski, as well as Gershwin's piano concerto and an intriguing newer piece, Zeitraum, by Erkki-Sven Tuur.

The whole program was splendid, though the sonics up in the nosebleeds got a little muddy during Kodaly and had me worried that we were in for a troubled night. But when pianist Wayne Marshall joined the action for the Gershwin, the hall seemed to warm up; the piano sounded clean in the rafters and the jazzy piece--which left no doubt about its composer--seemed to win over most of the crowd, occasioning both an embarrassing post-first-movement burst of extended applause and a partial standing ovation at the intermission point.

But it was the crowd, not the hall, that detracted most from this experience for me. During Zeitraum, an admittedly challenging piece that played with concepts like fast and slow and quiet and loud, the loss of focus around me was apparent; the couple immediately in front of me started shuffling about, and the man kept looking at his wife to indicate his boredom. The piece was 15 minutes long! And constantly surprising at that.

Fortunately, Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra is too powerful to be denied. Its 32-minute playing time sailed by, with the CSO brass taking it by storm, the kettledrum showing off its might, and the strings playing for their lives. It was all I could do not to leap up and shout "Paavo!" at the end.

We go back next Saturday for Pierre Boulez's reading of Mahler 7. Don't be surprised if you see a part two to this post!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

You're Still No Vegas

Another TV trend has caught my eye this week. After seeing no mention of Atlantic City in anything I watched for longer than I can remember--perhaps since Seinfeld--suddenly two shows in two days have used the shifty gambling town as a plot device.

First How I Met Your Mother took the gang to the boardwalk to try to get newly back together couple Marshall and Lily hitched. The writers took several potshots at AC, including one character exclaiming that half a dead whale was rotting on the beach and, when learning that they were about to board a boat, asking, "Is that what the wooden thing between all the garbage in the water is?"

Then last night's House saw House and Wilson embark on a road trip with guest star John Larroquette, who insisted that he'd find the world's best hoagie somewhere among all the old people smoking.

Based on the two shows, here is what I have learned. Atlantic City is:
  • A good place to not get married
  • A good place to kill yourself so your son can have your heart
  • Filled with smoking old people
  • Staffed by whiny voiced old people
  • Incapable of providing the proper ingredients for a sandwich
  • Close enough to Princeton that you can drive a just-dead body home and still use the organs
I am sure the city fathers are very proud.

Back to Not-So-Black

Trent Lott returns to Senate leadership
Mitch McConnell unanimously chosen to be Senate minority leader

Looks like the GOP incursion into the Democratic stranglehold on the black vote is over. A week after Lynn Swann and Michael Steele went down in flames, Senate Republicans have installed Trent Lott as their minority whip. Not exactly the politic thing to do if you want to court black votes, as Lott's fall from grace after he said Strom Thurmond should have been president to prevent "all these problems we've had" painted him as a racist. I'm not saying Lott is any worse than many of his fellow GOPers--indeed, I suspect he's a good deal better than most--but this move doesn't look good. And when you combine it with the party's choice to pass over Steele for Mel Martinez, Hispanic and of electorally-critical Florida, for the party chairmanship, it seems clear that the new minority party has written off the old minority group in favor of a new one. Does this mean the loud cries for a fence with Mexico are over?

Interesting, by the way, that the GOP's Southern Strategy is writ large in their leadership choices: Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Lott of Mississippi. Meanwhile, Dems chose folks from Nevada, Illinois, Washington, Michigan, and New York to be their leaders. What this says about the possibility of two quite regional parties in America is pretty clear--it's happening, at least for now. Look west, old men! That's where the action is now...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Best Supporting Queer

Knight, Harris outings a product of the times

This is one of many articles I've seen in just the last few days that turns the recent bevy of gay men in show business coming out of the closet and builds a trend story. But unlike this week's EW, which basically says, "Well, that's progress for you," this one questions where we're headed--and essentially questions the masculinity of its subjects. Just after calling the gay press bitchy, the article says:
Harris and Knight might appear to be challenging Hollywood's conventional wisdom that actors disclosing their homosexuality risk having their off-screen persona cloud audience perceptions of any roles they play onscreen. But a closer inspection of their current TV roles undercuts their significance.
Come on! T.R. Knight's character slept with Meredith Grey; Neil Patrick Harris's Barney has slept with every woman he could since How I Met Your Mother began last season. But the article dismisses the first as "one of the girls" and the second as "a caricature."

There is a point to all of this, though--one that annoys me even more:
Neither Harris nor Knight are in the mold of the traditional leading man, and that's a huge distinction. That type of role is predicated on an actor's sex appeal to the opposite gender. Absurd as it sounds, on some level viewers have to believe the object of their affection could somehow reciprocate their attraction.

Just imagine if "Grey's" resident heartthrob, Patrick Dempsey, who is not gay, had come out. Would McDreamy still be as popular, and would that affect the popularity of "Grey's?"
And it's hard not to grant the point. But the article goes on to imagine the day when a tabloid outs a "sexy lead actor." Will that dim his prospects?

I'm sure it's a valid question. But I'm equally sure that the writer of the article, Andrew Wallenstein, has a certain someone (or someones) in mind. He could probably rattle off a list of in-the-closet actors. Why is it OK for him to know, but not OK for us? And when will journalists stop accepting complicity in a lie?

Friday, November 10, 2006

At It Again

top 200 songs of the '90s

Paul and company are at it again, this time making a list of the top 200 songs of the 1990s. If you're like me, you can think of 50 or 60 off the top of your head--which is what makes this list so interesting to watch as it's revealed day by day.

What, you were expecting post-election gloating? It's a wonderful week for Democrats, to be sure. But Tammy Duckworth lost. Dan Seals lost. Gay marriage was banned--again--in another seven states. We won a major battle this time around. But the war--in so many senses of the word--is far from over.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tuesday Night Incest

TV Review: Boston Legal - "Trick or Treat" @

Something strange is happening on TV Tuesday nights.

For the last several weeks, Boston Legal focused on a big murder trial. When it finally resolved last week, the upshot was that the young man on trial was innocent. However, viewers learned that his mother was not--she had killed the woman her son was sleeping with because she wanted to have him all to herself. By allowing the plot to develop over six weeks, the show made the moment that mother and son kissed after the trial almost vomit-inducing.

This week's House continued the incest trend. A married couple both came down with similar symptoms after a robbery attempt. The diagnosis? They shared a rare genetic condition--because they also shared the same father. This gasp-worthy conclusion appeared to tear the couple, in love since childhood, apart.

Cue Boston Legal! Not to be outdone, the show has been developing a relationship between Denny Crane and a younger woman, Bethany, who happens to be a dwarf. This week Bethany brought her mother (played by Delta Burke) to town to meet Denny. But it turns out she and Denny have known one another for a long time--and used to be engaged. Bethany, her mother claims, is--can you guess?--Denny's daughter.

What is going on? Have you noticed incest plots in other shows, or is this strictly a Tuesday-night, hour-long dramedy phenomenon?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Leave Us Alone!

Bush hits hard at gay marriage - Yahoo! News

Is it too much to ask that we get through one election cycle without the president using his opposition to the life I lead as an applause line? I don't know which makes me sicker: that Bush brought it up--
"For decades, activist judges have tried to redefine America by court order," Bush said Monday. "Just this last week in New Jersey, another activist court issued a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and should be defended."
--or that
The line earned Bush by far his most sustained applause at a rally of 5,000 people...In this conservative rural corner of eastern Georgia, even children jumped to their feet alongside their parents to cheer and clap for nearly 30 seconds — a near-eternity in political speechmaking.
Even children. This may take longer than we thought.

Could It Be? - 'Studio 60’ Cancellation Imminent - Celebrity Gossip | Entertainment News | Arts And Entertainment

Last night watching the big Cowboys-Panthers game, I was surprised to see that NBC will be airing Friday Night Lights instead of Studio 60 tonight. But the article above, from Fox by way of Salon, makes me think it may be part of a bigger strategy.

If so, it's a sound one. The first few episodes were increasingly dull. Two more sit on my DVR, next to The Passion of the Christ, hogging space because, even though I feel like I should watch them, I don't want to. The show has been so pompous--and so incredibly unfunny--that it's hard to give Sorkin the benefit of the doubt any longer.

But, as the Fox writer notes, the show will have served one good function. It will remind folks in Hollywood that Matthew Perry is unfailingly great on TV. Find the man a show that works and I will watch it faithfully--and never let it sit on my DVR until it's replaced by too many recordings of The Young and the Restless.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Where Are You, Vito?

New Jersey Court Backs Full Rights for Gay Couples - New York Times

Oh, if only Vito had survived the first 12 episodes of season six of The Sopranos. One can only imagine what David Chase might have made of the sudden possibility of him marrying a man. He could have made an honest man of Johnny Cakes!

Yesterday's ruling in New Jersey is a plot point in more than an HBO serial, though. Coming so close to the election, it could have served (and still might) as a spark to drive rabid cultural "conservatives" to the polls to stem the tide of equality.

But the court was quite careful in its ruling, and while that saddens me as a gay man, it gladdens my Democratic heart. While I had already cast my ballot when the ruling came down--we went yesterday before lunch, and thank goodness, as the ballot was 14 screens long and will make many voters late for work--a great many folks could have taken a full-out declaration of gay marriage in New Jersey as a sign of the apocalypse. Civil unions--the likely outcome, given that most of the Democrats who control N.J. politics don't support using the "M" word--are a little less scary. And the waiting period between now and when the legislature figures out what to call this thing that's got all the rights and financial benefits of marriage should allow time for cooling off--and let the election pass, hopefully unaffected.

Besides, if marriage had been allowed, think of all the gays and lesbians who would have been forced to travel to Atlantic City! If we're going to have a gay marriage capital of America, let's make it someplace nice. Aren't they talking about remaking Navy Pier? Start playing "In the Navy" on the pier and Chicago could become quite the tourist destination!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Simpler Explanation?

Blue-eyed men prefer blue-eyed women - More Health News -

I'm not a scientist, but I think this study takes the data a little too far. It suggests that blue-eyed men seek blue-eyed women so they can be sure that their offspring are their own--because two blue-eyed people who mate can only have blue-eyed kids.

OK, I suppose that makes sense. But sometimes homespun wisdom can tell us as much as science. Men marry their mothers, right? And what color eyes does a blue-eyed man's mother have?

As for the data that suggest that brown-eyed men, and women in general, don't care about eye color, well, should we be surprised that men are more superficial? Women may marry a man like their father, but that doesn't mean he'll look the same. And brown-eyed men don't spend their childhoods hearing about their beautiful blue eyes or gazing into the blue eyes of their sisters and mothers, learning that the rare trait makes them special.

So yeah, maybe blue-eyed men are subconsciously marrying blue-eyed women so they'll have a cheap way to check the paternity of their kids (though a kid fathered by a blue-eyed brother might slip under the radar). But maybe, just maybe, this one has more to do with nurture than nature.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Screw Us Coming, Screw Us Going

No Death Benefits for Studds's Spouse -

I can't put it more succinctly than this lead:
The federal government has refused to pay death benefits to the spouse of former congressman Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.), the first openly gay member of Congress.
It isn't enough to treat gays like pariahs. When we die, those we leave behind get nothing--except, perhaps, a court battle to keep the house and all the other things accumulated as a couple. If only I could believe this were true:
Gary Buseck, legal director for the group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said Studds's case may offer "a moment of education for Congress."

"Now they have a death in the congressional family of one of their distinguished members whose spouse is being treated differently than any of their spouses," Buseck said.

It's pretty to think so, but something tells me this isn't quite the teachable moment that will get their attention.

Many Misfortunes

Last night after work I had a few errands to run--Menard's to return something, Target to buy a few things, and a book drop to pick up the final installment of the Lemony Snicket books, A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Thirteenth: The End. Fittingly, everything went wrong.

First, lightning struck my usual book drop during a storm two weeks ago, so rather than picking up the book on my way home, I had to go quite a bit out of my way. But I tried to turn this into a good thing by using it as an excuse to shop at the new Target on 59 and Higgins. Leaving that Target, I thought I'd avoid making two left turns by taking Old Sutton Road up to the book drop instead, creating a series of simple right turns and staying away from traffic. Halfway up Old Sutton, though, there's a railroad crossing, and when I arrived a train was apparently going through it. Except--well, the train wasn't moving. It was dark, so this wasn't immediately clear, but as the cars lined up, it became obvious we weren't going anywhere for a while. So I turned around and made three left turns instead of the original two, sitting through several red lights. When I finally arrived at the book drop--which doubles as the village hall for a neighboring town--there was a squad car with its lights blaring in the entrance! After waiting a while for the man who was out of his car talking to the cop through the window to move, I finally honked him out of my way, drove in, and got the book.

Now, this is all nothing next to the perils the Baudelaire orphans have faced though 12 soul-crushing tomes, but doesn't it seem a bit foreboding?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Not a Reunion

ABC sticking with 'Brothers & Sisters'

This news makes me happy. While we've given other new shows a try this fall--Studio 60 and Dexter--this is the only one, so far, that we've actually kept up with. (The others are building to a critical mass on our DVR--methinks next Saturday will see a marathon in our house!)

Yes, Brothers & Sisters is a fairly standard issue family soap opera, complete with a family business that creates a wealth of strife, a la just about every daytime soap. But it also looks at how political and social issues play a role in a family dynamic; Calista Flockhart and Sally Field have a long-running feud over the Iraq war. And the big family includes a gay son, who copes with being accepted but still feeling different from the rest. Why on earth wouldn't I like this show?

Oh, and while it hasn't met the grim fate of Reunion, it does serve as a reunion of sorts for us, with Dave Annable from that show and Rachel Griffiths from Six Feet Under among the cast. (Notice that Dexter also features an SFU alum, Michael C. Hall, while Studio 60 is essentially a re-write of The West Wing. Creatures of habit, anyone?)

Have you found any good new shows this season?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Can't Go Back

My five-year reunion took place over the weekend at Augustana. It was a fairly uneventful visit--I saw some professors, walked around campus, and had a beer at Blue Cat. (It still tasted great to me five years and many other beers later--who'd have thought a little pub in the Quad Cities would have such exceptional ale?)

But one thing happened that will never happen again.

I visited Carlsson Hall on Friday. In the lounge I found a plaque with my name on it, honoring me as a four-year resident. (That isn't strictly true--I moved in partway through my freshman year--but I'll take it.) Also pictures taken at picnics in front of the building, many containing hallmates I haven't seen since I graduated. And even a plaque commemorating the many times our floors won the award for the best male GPA on campus.

Carlsson, as I heard later at the president's house, is slated to be gutted next year; when they rebuild the inside it will become the home of many business-oriented departments. The beautiful new residence hall behind Andreen will surely help the school to recruit new students; the kids only have to share a bathroom with four people rather than dozens, and the rooms are huge. (The place also looks like a nursing home to me, but I suppose if the college ever goes under it can always be repurposed.)

And so this weekend was the last time I will ever stroll through the halls of my old home as it was. It makes me a little bit sick to my stomach to think of it, honestly.

But, while I hope the plaques and pictures are preserved and set up somewhere else on campus, being back made me realize that I don't need Carlsson as a vessel for the memories that happened there. This weekend was the first time I set foot on campus in four and a half years, and while it's nice to think that it might be the start of something, the harsh reality is that it may be longer than that before I go back again. It's comforting, somehow, to know that the bathroom where I puked up my 21st birthday drinks hasn't been altered, and that the tile in my senior year room still peels away to reveal the names of the room's residents going back many years. But Augustana gave me all that it could--an education, mentors, friends, and love. It exists for a seventeen-year-old somewhere, who may be just like I was, thinking about his first year away from home and the changes that it might bring. I hope that he decides to go to Augustana, and that it is everything for him that it was for me. And that can happen with or without the chance to live in Carlsson Hall.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


George F. Will - What Goeth Before the Fall -

George Will's column today is pretty much brilliant. Often a handmaiden for the party, today Will calls the Republicans on their hypocrisy. Referring to Dennis Hastert's complaint that whoever brought forward the Foley e-mails and IMs has disrupted the "story" he and other GOPers are trying to tell, Will says, "Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks."

Will goes on to note the disturbing turn that has taken place among evangelicals. Once, they believed that their religion forbade their active participation in politics. Those were the good old days! Will quotes Ryan Sager, author of The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party:
"Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush's faith-based initiatives program."
These changes have transformed politics, and morphed a mostly tolerable Republican party into one that has festered into a thing revolting to behold, both for many sensible Americans and for most of our allies abroad. The Foley episode only crystallizes in the public mind a dreadful shift that has taken place, as Republicans have harnessed well-meaning (but wrong, nonetheless) people of faith, whipped them into a frenzy, and used their anger for their own ends. In a sense, the entire Republican party is Foley, and a great many Americans who have been taken in by it are those young men, giving the party what it wants--in this case power rather than titillation--in hopes that they'll eventually get what they want out of it, too.

Now all those Americans feel violated. And so, as Will puts it, "If, after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain 13 seats [Will concedes the two former gay Republican seats, Foley's and Jim Kolbe's, to the Dems], they should go into another line of work."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Smear Campaign

"The List" (of Gay GOP Aides on the Hill)

No, this is not a link to a list of gay Republican aides, though that is probably available somewhere on the Web by now. But that list will be the next piece of the pie in the Mark Foley scandal, suggest both David Corn (above) and Josh Marshall. Not really a surprise, I suppose.

The theory is that Hastert & Co. will blame this whole affair on gay staff members who enabled Foley's behavior. While this would be reprehensible if true, something--namely Kirk Fordham's statement--tells me it isn't.

David Corn notes:
What's interesting about The List--which includes nine chiefs of staffs, two press secretaries, and two directors of communications--is that (if it's acucurate) it shows that some of the religious right's favorite representatives and senators have gay staffers helping them advance their political careers and agendas. These include Representative Katherine Harris and Henry Hyde and Senators Bill Frist, George Allen, Mitch McConnell and Rick Santorum.
This raises the question: Are these people sincere in their hate of homosexuality? If not, the base they've convinced that they are should be appalled. (And if so, of course, they're both bigots and, apparently, hypocrites.) Or are they merely opportunistic, willing to play to any prejudice to gain power? It's hard to look at those names and think of any nice way to spin this.

The fact remains, though, that in the next few days we're probably going to see two things: A desperate blame game by Republicans that blames gay staffers for this whole sordid mess, and a mass outing in Washington that will put other such campaigns to shame. I feel sorry for the great many politically-minded gay men who are about to be violently torn from the closet, but let's face it: They knew the score going in. They worked for forces of hatred at a time when those forces were pressing down especially hard on their fellow gays and lesbians. They brought this pain on themselves.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Not Again

Rep. Mark Foley, IM jockey. By Timothy Noah - Slate Magazine

Like James and Zach in Seattle, I'm dismayed by the news about Mark Foley, whose IM conversations with teenage boys, including the one documented above (which is probably too filthy to read if someone might look over your shoulder), sent him from Congress to rehab faster than you can say filibuster, much less pedophile. What is it about staying in the closet for decades that leads to behavior like this?

National Coming Out Day is next week (October 11). Maybe the rest of the closeted members of Congress should join the celebration rather than going down the same self-destructive road that took down Foley?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Little More Equal

Partner benefits proposed for federal workers | News |

This is huge. And I have to give credit where it's due: Joe Lieberman, of all people, joined Gordon Smith--a Republican!--to propose it. If that combo doesn't make domestic partner benefits seem like the very picture of moderation, I don't know what does.

Change clearly happens in stages. This would be a big step in the right direction!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

First Man

Bill Clinton’s quest to save the world, reclaim his legacy—and elect his wife.

Grab a tall cup of coffee. This profile by David Remnick is definitely not short. But by the time you're done, I think you'll understand Bill Clinton--and understand why, despite their faults, I believe the Clintons are the best chance the Democrats have right now of winning and of using their power to actually accomplish something.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Refreshing Honesty

Archives open up centuries of British sex

The results of a 57-year-old British survey are being released this week, after being embargoed because they were too shocking to be reported when they were compiled. I think this paragraph explains why:
Despite the taboos of the time, the 1949 sex survey, originally meant for national newspapers but never published due to its content, found one in five men had homosexual experiences and a quarter admitted to having sex with prostitutes. One in five women confessed to extra-marital affairs.
One in five! That's a lot of extra-marital affairs! (And the number of men diddling men is pretty remarkable, too.)

Seriously, the one in five number doesn't surprise me. Anyone who's got a bit of an Anglophilic bent knows what goes on in those boarding schools. While we have a "Lesbian until Graduation" (or LUG) phenomenon in America, Britain long had a GUG trend, though it took place behind closed doors rather than at bars.

This does, however, give new meaning to a scene from Will & Grace (courtesy of imdb):
Lorraine: You're a fancy dresser. Are you English?
Will: Oh no, I'm gay.
Lorraine: Well, its the same thing.
Will: If that weren't true, I'd find that offensive.
Finally, a loophole that lets me be English!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Solid Foundation

Alexander out indefinitely with broken foot - NFL

This is sad news. A terrific, though sometimes selfish, player should never go down in the third week of the season. I hope Alexander is able to return to the Seahawks before the season ends.

I also hope that when his team meets the Bears in the playoffs, it's at Soldier Field rather than in Seattle. And this injury, by making next weekend's Sunday-night game more winnable, definitely makes that possible. Sick, perhaps, but it's tough for the fan in me not to see a silver lining after several injury-plagued seasons in Chicago.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Just a Peck

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town

This story, in which a gay couple resting their heads on one another during a flight from Paris to New York results in the captain threatening to divert the plane, makes me cry inside just a little bit. I try to believe that the world is becoming more accepting, to enjoy being in public with the man I love (even if we would never put on even this small a display of affection for an audience). But reading about this reminds me why we tend to just stay home. I hope American Airlines issues an apology.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gut Check

The excuses keep on coming for Ellison's behavior

I hate that I agree with Katherine Kersten, but what is going on in my old congressional district? Kersten suggests that Minnesota's 5th District Democrats are so excited about the prospect of a black Muslim in Congress--a worthwhile first, no doubt--that they're ignoring Keith Ellison's faults, and it's tough to argue with her. They threw former state party chair Mike Erlandson overboard in favor of Ellison, who in the past aligned himself with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam and who has a history riddled with violations of laws related to both campaign finance and operating a vehicle.

Ellison will almost certainly still win in November; the 5th District is true-blue; the situation is quite like that in Cook County, where a new poll shows Todd Stroger running away with the election for board president despite a blatant lack of qualifications and a...let's call it "questionable" path to the nomination. But unless he shows heretofore untold abilities in Congress, I hope his stay is brief. It's fun to make history, Minnesota. But there's no need to fill a safe seat with someone who's nothing more than a seat-filler.

Don't Panic

Bush approval rating rebounds in new poll

I know that this news is hard to fathom; other than cheaper gas, nothing has changed. (Though I've been saying for a long time that, reality be damned, a lot of people decide whether things are going well based on the price at the pump.) But one thing has changed since Bush's super-low ratings earlier in the year: There's an election on. Elections tend to rally people to their standard bearer, for good or ill. (Remember how Democrats stood behind John Kerry?) The poll confirms that this is the reason for Bush's rebound:
Bush's approval rating edged up largely on the strength of Republicans coming back to the fold with 86 percent saying they support him now, compared to 70 percent in May, USA Today said.
That doesn't change the discontent in the country with his performance, only how it's quantified. It will take more than poll numbers like these to convince me that people are really unlearning the lessons of the last six years of misrule.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Back in the Day

Top 200 Songs of the '80s

One of the most admirable things about my friend Paul is that he always has a project in the works. The one linked above is ambitious; he's created a list of the top 200 songs of the 1980s. While he got help from several others, myself included, this has his stamp on it. He's up to #171 right now, with ten songs unveiled every other day. Subscribe with Bloglines and follow along!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Minor Infraction

The incumbent's win in Rhode Island is a sign of the tough fight to come. By John Dickerson - Slate Magazine

John Dickerson's analysis of last night's sorta-surprise win by incumbent Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee over town loon/Cranston mayor Steve Laffey in Rhode Island is a good one, but what it foretells is not. Here's one of the great lines of this week:
Do you like grown-ups calling each other names? Treating each other with the bitterness and recriminations usually reserved for faculty fights? This may be the election season for you.
If you find that funny, pick up a copy of Richard Russo's Straight Man. You'll love it. (If you've already read that, try just about any David Lodge novel.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

All of the Above

The Chronicle: 9/15/2006: A Pop Quiz for Constitution Day

Did you know that next Monday is Constitution Day? Somehow that didn't make my office calendar, though my wall calendar insisted that yesterday was "Patriot Day (USA)." In any case, give the quiz above a try. You may not get a perfect score, but it will probably make you think!


Governor's lead solid, but voters seem wary | Chicago Tribune

Unless something wild happens, it looks like term number two will start for Gov. Blagojevich about the same time prison term number one starts for former Gov. Ryan. The results of the poll linked above, for which I was one of the 600 respondents, indicate that Blago has a 12-point lead over the plain-talkin' Judy Baar Topinka.

Between this race and the one for Cook County Board President, though, I have to admit it's tough to get fired up for this election. I'll vote, of course, but how can I get excited about my choices? Blago is, at best, a seat-filler. Stroger is such an empty suit that I don't think I can even vote in his race; I'm going to leave it blank and hope Peraica doesn't eke out a win. And then there's Rep. Melissa Bean, who shocked Phil Crane two years ago and since has been the most Republican of Democrats in the House. I'll punch her number, but it's tough to feel great about it. (Still, she's better than McSweeney.)

Are you feeling election fever this season, or just waiting for it to end?

Friday, September 08, 2006


Help! Home for sale: Terry Likens and Duane Przybilla

I love this story for two reasons. First, it encourages my thinking that not owning a house right now is not the worst thing in the world; the difference between us having bought over the summer and waiting until next summer or the summer after that, price-wise, is likely to be negligible due to a flat market, and in the meantime we can save the money we're not paying toward the mortgage faster than the combination of appreciation and chipping away at the principal would have gained us equity in the first two years. All we're losing is time.

But the second reason is more exciting. This article is one of more and more articles that appear in the mainstream media that matter-of-factly present a gay couple as an example of an issue that has an impact on everyone. What will ultimately make gay equality a reality isn't petitions and fundraisers and protest, though those are important. It's opening paragraphs like this one:
Travel agent Terry Likens and his partner, contractor Duane Przybilla, own a three-bedroom, four-bath townhouse in Eden Prairie, Minn. They would rather have a single-family house with more space and a backyard.
What could be more subversive? Without once using the words "gay" or "marriage" or even "civil union," the article presents a gay couple facing the same issues as any straight one, handling them in the same way. The cumulative effect of articles like this is that gay couples are normalized, as is the idea that, yes, indeed, gay men can have a stable life. When that idea takes root, equal rights won't be far behind.

Evolution at Work?

St. Paul Pioneer Press | 09/08/2006 | U finds test drug prolongs sex for men

While this article raises questions about whether this drug will ever be sold, it's clear that pharmaceutical companies view it, and premature ejaculation treatments in general, as the next big thing. But I have to ask: Is premature ejaculation really a sexual dysfunction?

Obviously, for the couple experiencing it, it's not something to crow about. But isn't it at least possible that calling it a dysfunction misunderstands an evolutionary strategy?

Perhaps "premature " ejaculation is one of two methods for trying to pass on genes. Call it the "Don't worry, baby, this will only take a second, you'll barely even notice" method of gene-spreading. Others opt for the "You know you want it baby--remember how good it was last time?" method. Clearly, as a civilization, we're claiming that we prefer the latter option. But does that really mean that the former is a dysfunction?

According to the article, "As many as one in three men may experience premature ejaculation." That doesn't sound like a dysfunction--it sounds like a common situation.

Then again, the numbers in the study are such that I wonder if maybe it is a dysfunction:
Roughly 2,000 men in the trials took pills and then used stopwatches to time sexual intercourse with their spouses or significant others. Intercourse increased for some men from less than one minute without medication to 3½ minutes on the highest dosage that was studied.
3½ minutes? One minute!? Never mind what I said before. Get these guys a pill. Their wives and lovers deserve better than that.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

High Holiday

Ellen DeGeneres tapped to host Oscars

The Oscars are a gay holy day of obligation, and now we have just the priestess we need. Jon Stewart was a good idea, but this is pure genius! And Ellen is even funny accepting the job:
"When [Oscar producer] Laura Ziskin called, I was thrilled," said DeGeneres in a statement. "There's two things I've always wanted to do in my life. One is to host the Oscars. The second is to get a call from Laura Ziskin. You can imagine that day's diary entry."
I have no idea what will be nominated, but I can already tell that the next Oscars will be great!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Back on Top

Bob Dylan earns first No. 1 album since 1976

Have you seen Bob Dylan lately? He's been everywhere, especially in a striking new commercial for iTunes that raises questions about his assertion that current music sounds terrible. (A tiny, compressed sound file [MP3, or any other format you use on your iPod] is not the same thing as a digital recording carefully processed into discrete analog channels and output to specific speakers to create a particular sound field [SACD].)

And the saturation, combined with superb reviews, has worked, driving him to the top of the charts for the first time since three '70s albums in a row took the mantle from 1974 to 1976. If you haven't heard Modern Times yet, you're missing out!

Standing Out

MedlinePlus: Sexual orientation seen linked to bulimia risk

There are plenty of ways I hew to the stereotypes of my people, but this news is a reminder that there are just as many ways I don't. I am, increasingly, a healthy eater in both senses of that term. And, a few wild nights in college aside, there is something about myself that I hold very dear: I. Do. Not. Puke.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Return of the Master

Dylan's new album "Modern Times" wins rave reviews

Bob Dylan's first new release since the birth of the blog should be a day of celebration, right? A better deal online combined with sloth, however, means that my all-but-certain praise of the album (which is pulling a 95 on metacritic right now, making it the best-reviewed album of 2006 and the fifth-best in the site's six years of existence) will have to wait until tomorrow's UPS delivery. (Also noteworthy: Love and Theft is ninth on the metacritic all-time list.)

But the release of what will surely be one of my top ten albums of the year gives me occasion to ponder what has become of my music habit lately. While I've acquired plenty of new rock and pop CDs this year by most standards (20, including Bob's new one), I'm surely falling short of my own normal pace.

There are plenty of reasons for this, I'm sure: Disappointing reviews of artists I've bought before, a backloaded schedule that will see me buy more brand-new CDs in the coming four weeks than I have the past four months, and a newfound patience. For the latter I blame Knowing that, if I wait a few months, I can have an album shipped directly to my door for only $6.36, including tax, provides a powerful incentive to be patient. In practice, though, many albums I may have bought on their release date no longer interest me by the time they're available for $6.36 a few months down the road. Whether this is a good or bad thing is debateable, though it and a new, bigger-than-anticipated CD shelf should make for enough storage to last at least a few more years before another expansion is necessary. (If you're interested, I can send you a link--and get another CD for myself!)

But there has been another big change lately in my music listening and buying patterns. Apparently living with another person eventually results in some rubbing off of tastes! In the month or so since we attended a wonderful performance of Mahler 4 and a Schulhoff piano concerto, I've been buying classical CDs (and SACDs) at what must be an alarming rate: 22 discs of music, spread among 15 albums or collections, in a month. Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Mozart, Prokofiev, Schulhoff, Shostakovich, Sibelius--they've all come hurtling through the door (many of them for $6.36 a disc). Instead of turning down rock music in my office, I often find myself cranking up the (presumably less offensive) piano concerto or symphony of the hour. (Mahler mostly stays home.)

So, if you rely at all on my end-of-the-year list to give you a picture of what's worth buying, be warned that I've been less attentive than usual this year. In the meantime, here's Amazon's Best of 2006 So Far list. It's hard to argue with their top pick!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Conan the Hilarious

O'Brien taps into best, worst of TV

Last night's Emmys were entertaining, at least, though waiting to start watching until 7:45 doubtless made them more appealing (we still finished at 10 by eating up all our lead-in time fast-forwarding through commercials). I'm more convinced than ever that I should be watching The Office and that not catching Elizabeth I on HBO when it originally aired was a big mistake. (Fortunately, it's a mistake that Netflix can rectify.)

But mostly the winners disappointed. In the directing for a drama series category, there were riches aplenty, including episodes of Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, The West Wing, and Big Love. Also tossed in were two shows in which I have a combined zero interest: Lost and 24. With Lost shut out, you can imagine what won.

Indeed, Alan Ball and Six Feet left the night empty-handed. Mariska Hargitay over Frances Conroy? Come on. Tony Shalhoub again? Martin Sheen can never win? Barry Manilow?

At the end of the night, we realized that we're wrong about everything. Nothing for Boston Legal, one trophy for The Sopranos, nothing for Six Feet or for Big Love. Rome wasn't even nominated all night!

Oh well. At least the show got me excited about the onset of fall and the return of some good shows. Our DVR is set to record How I Met Your Mother, House, Boston Legal, Desperate Housewives, and, starting in November, The O.C. (Rumor has it that Rome will be back in January.) We've also got Weeds running right now, and Bill Maher is back as well. Oh, and we're giving Vanished a shot, though we'll see how tonight's episode does.

What are you watching this fall?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Root Cause

Michael Skube: Wanted: Students who read for pleasure

This Michael Skube article is a must-read. Supposedly smart students whose reading begins and ends with what they're assigned are not smart.

I am sure that colleges know this. Why else was one of the first questions of my admissions interview about my favorite books that I read on my own? Someone who isn't curious enough to go beyond the required reading isn't likely to give anything more than the bare minimum in other areas, either.

But Skube's point is that the lack of reading by today's students is leading to a different crisis--one of communication:
How does one explain the inability of college students to read or write at even a high school level? One explanation, which owes as much to the culture as to the schools, is that kids don't read for pleasure. And because they don't read, they are less able to navigate the language. If words are the coin of their thought, they're working with little more than pocket change.
His students can't understand him when he uses words like impetus, advocate, satire, pith, or brevity. They call every book, of any kind, a novel. They are, as Skube says, afflicted--and they don't even know what the word means.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Astronomers say Pluto is not a planet

What a blow! I have always identified with Pluto; it seemed a planet, as a child, that was destined for me to love it. Discovered on my birthday in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, who was only 24 at the time--a prodigy, just as my child self hoped I would be!--it was smaller than the other planets, distant, and a bit off-kilter.

Well, wouldn't you know--Pluto ain't a planet, and I ain't a prodigy. I guess neither of us is as important as we thought!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sacred Swimmers

Hotel in-room porn irks activists

Conservative activitists have it in for everyone. You'd think they'd get tired after whaling on gays and women considering abortions, but their every-sperm-is-sacred creed has other implications, too. Now they're after the ubiquitous in-room porn that business travelers apparently use often enough to make it an important income source for hotels.

First off, I don't see how this matters long-term. Hotels are gradually coming around to providing broadband internet access in-room anyhow, and that kind of porn-hunting is a lot less likely to show up on the bill you have to turn in with your expense report. So it's not like those who are looking for what in-room porn has to offer won't find it in other ways. (Random thought: Could the possibility of losing porn-rental revenue be what keeps hotels from making free broadband standard?)

But second, I don't see how this can possibly be the business of conservative activists. With abortion, they claim to be trying to protect innocent lives. With gay marriage, they say, "What about the children?" as if seeing two men marry one another will fundamentally fuck up a ten-year-old. But who is a middle-aged middle manager whacking it in Topeka while watching two Asian women go at it on the hotel TV really hurting?

I understand that the porn industry can be exploitive, and that watching porn can lead to unrealistic expectations. But those problems already exist, and banning hotel porn won't stop them. The crusaders would have you believe that watching porn in a hotel will turn our middle manager into a prowling sex offender. More likely he'll watch a little, do his (in their minds) shameful business, and fall asleep.

A disclaimer: I've never seen hotel porn. But something tells me it's no worse than what's available online or in stores.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Witness to History - COLUMNIST - Wojciechowski: Woods is greatest individual athlete ever

To the sentiment expressed above, all I can say is: Yes, he is. I stood five feet away from him Friday, and you can just sense all of it--the power, the focus, the mental strength--everything that makes Tiger Woods a man above the realm he has chosen to dominate.

To stroll the damp pathways of Medinah on Friday was to see the disparity between Tiger and the rest writ large. Where he had been there was emptiness; where he was there was a mob. Where he was going there was mounting anticipation.

We spent most of the day where he was going, parking ourselves in the bleachers at the seventh green for an hour before his arrival in order to get a bird's eye view of the man. He did not disappoint, missing by inches a very long eagle putt and then looking downcast upon making only a very easy birdie. Arriving at 12 ahead of him, we got to see an excellent approach and a rare misread of a putt. And after soaking at 17, we saw him make a simple par.

These sound like mostly ordinary moments, and they were. But watching Tiger, you see his will to win. And if you watched over the weekend, you saw over and over the genius for the game that we saw when he drilled his long putt on 7 so close to the hole.

This is not to say that only Tiger can impress; Michael Campbell made a remarkable birdie putt on 17, and a chip shot from the bottom of the steep lakeside hill on 12 that climbed 40 feet but managed to stop almost on a dime was a thing of beauty. But there is something about Tiger. He makes all of it look easy.

Medinah was beautiful and organized; if the greens played a little soft and yielded low scores, the members can console themselves that they were exceptional hosts. There were long-ish lines for food but none for the bathrooms, and while cell phones were banned, free phones were available all over the course. Even simple things like the buses to the various lots around Chicagoland were handled with care, with the result that an event with as many attendees as a rock concert felt as calm as a nice walk in the park.

Which, come to think of it, is probably just how it felt for Tiger.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's Coming

Tony Kornheiser's promising Monday Night Football debut. By Robert Weintraub - Slate Magazine

If you're secretly excited about the return of televised football--and I, to my enduring shame, have grown more and more excited about it each year since a high-definition television entered my home--then you've got to be wondering how the big shakeup to the week's two marquee games is going to shake out. Robert Weintraub's observations mostly match my distracted impressions of NBC's new Sunday football fest (which Weintraub hilariously calls America's Night of American Football in America), while his discussion of Pardon the Interruption shouter Tony Kornheiser's addition to the Monday Night team on ESPN ("If nothing else, Tony K. adds the wiseass Jew element to Middle America's most beloved sport") made me laugh out loud.

It's coming. Are you ready for some football?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sad and Sadder

Seven dwarfs more famous than US judges: poll

I do not know which is worse: That so many people know so little (unable to name one of Homer's epics, the most recent Supreme Court justice, or the planet nearest the sun) or that I knew the answers to all of the questions, both pop culture and political.

Love Letter

Greatness of 'Weeds' could make Showtime must-pay-for television

I would try to convince you that tonight's start of the second season of Weeds is cause for celebration--and in my house, it will be--but Tim Goodman's article, above, beats me to the punch. If you missed the first season, fear not--it's out on DVD now. 10 shows, 30 minutes each--that's a five-hour high!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Three For All

R.I.P. Joe Schwarz

Amid all the hubbub regarding Lieberman and McKinney losing their primaries last night, not much is being made of the one primary loss by an incumbent that should make us sad: Joe Schwarz, moderate Michigan Republican Congressman. Schwarz, who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year, refused to repudiate his vote against the Federal Marriage Amendment, and his opponents tarred him as an abortionist doctor (this despite the fact that he's a head and neck surgeon). Endorsements from Bush, Cheney, and McCain were no match for the attacks against him by the Club for Growth and Michigan Right to Life.

And who will likely replace Schwarz in Congress? Tim Walberg, a fundamentalist preacher. A doctor and veteran who knew whereof he spoke on myriad issues will be replaced by a jackass. And do you see the media talking about this? Before you read this post, had you ever heard of Joe Schwarz, or Tim Walberg?

That's because it's big news when Democrats decide to nominate someone who actually stands for their ideals instead of a yes-man for Bush. But when Republicans show their true (and very ugly) colors? Been there, done that.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Turn, Turn, Turn

DeLay Says He’ll Still Work to Be Taken Off Ballot

To everything there is a season. For Tom DeLay, evidently, this is the season for suicide.

Denied at every turn in his effort to get his name off the ballot in Texas so Republicans can have a fighting chance at victory, DeLay today persists in believing that he can get off the ballot. And he CAN: the judges who have ruled against him have said the only way his name can be removed is if he can prove he will not be returning to live in Texas and will therefore be ineligible to serve in Congress. As his wife and home are still there, they consider this a dubious proposition.

Enter suicide! If DeLay is really committing himself to "take the actions necessary" to get his name off the ballot, his lawyers should be telling him right now that death is the only way out of this race. Exterminate thyself, Tom...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Silver Linings

The Volokh Conspiracy - The hardest day of the cruelest month

Dale Carpenter is, as usual, quick and spot-on in his analysis of today's ruling from Washington that the ban on same-sex marriage in that state is constitutional. Lest the ruling tempt gays and lesbians to despair after a month that has seen setbacks to the marriage cause in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Georgia, Carpenter finds a passage in it that seems to indicate that, while it does not wish to call it marriage, the Washington Supreme Court is concerned with the very real hardships that face couples that are denied legal protections associated with marriage:

We do not dispute that same-sex couples raise children or that the demographics of "family" have changed significantly over the past decades. We recognize that same-sex couples enter significant, committed relationships that include children, whether adopted, conceived through assisted reproduction, or brought within the family of the same-sex couple after the end of a heterosexual relationship. We do not doubt that times have changed and are changing, and that courts and legislatures are increasingly faced with the need to answer significant legal questions regarding the families and property of same-sex couples. (Citations omitted).

We are also acutely aware, from the records in these cases and the briefing by the plaintiffs and the amici supporting them, that many day-to- day decisions that are routine for married couples are more complex, more agonizing, and more costly for same-sex couples. A married person may be entitled to health care and other benefits through a spouse. A married person's property may pass to the other upon death through intestacy laws or under community property laws or agreements. Married couples may execute community property agreements and durable powers of attorney for medical emergencies without fear they will not be honored on the basis the couple is of the same sex and unmarried. Unlike heterosexual couples who automatically have the advantages of such laws upon marriage, whether they have children or not, same-sex couples do not have the same rights with regard to their life partners that facilitate practical day-to-day living, involving such things as medical conditions and emergencies (which may become of more concern with aging), basic property transactions, and devolution of property upon death.

But plaintiffs have affirmatively asked that we not consider any claim regarding statutory benefits and obligations separate from the status of marriage. We thus have no cause for considering whether denial of statutory rights and obligations to same-sex couples, apart from the status of marriage, violates the state or federal constitution. (emphasis added)

In other words, Carpenter says, "To the state legislature, the message seems to be this: 'Get moving on addressing the hardships faced by gay couples and their children, some of which we’ve listed for you. You don’t have to give them marriage and maybe not even all of the rights of marriage, but something needs to be done. If you don’t act, we might.'

To gay-marriage litigants, the message seems to be this: 'Go to the legislature and see what can be done about the sorts of problems you’ve identified and that we agree exist. If the legislature is unresponsive, come back to us not with a claim for the status of marriage, but with a remedial claim for the benefits and protections of marriage for your families.'"

This summer may be remembered not as the summer gay marriage died, but as the one when it realized it couldn't emerge from the cocoon a fully-formed, beautiful butterfly. It looks more and more like there will have to be some intermediate stage--the civil unions of Vermont and Connecticut, the domestic partnerships of California--before we are finally granted full equality. I hope the masterminds of our strategy are paying attention. I want marriage very much. But I care a lot less about the damned word than I do about the legal protection that comes with it. If compromise is the only way to get it, I'd say it's time to compromise.

One More For Our Side

Lance Bass of `N Sync reveals he's gay

Two reactions. First, I knew it! Second, this makes the crush that Laura, one of the page editors on the college paper, had on Lance in college seem much funnier than it did at the time--and it seemed pretty funny then.

Oh, and a third: Do you think Lance--who once wanted to be a cosmonaut--will make a special appearance the next time SNL does its "Gays in Space" skit?

Second Best

Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

The real news this morning out of Washington is bad, but here's some fake news to cheer you up. A sample:
The commemorative page is one of the most detailed on the site, rivaling entries for Firefly and the Treaty Of Algeron for sheer length. Subheadings include "Origins Of Colonial Discontent," "Some Famous Guys In Wigs And Three-Cornered Hats," and "Christmastime In Gettysburg." It also features detailed maps of the original colonies—including Narnia, the central ice deserts, and Westeros—as well as profiles of famous American historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Special Agent Jack Bauer, and Samuel Adams who is also a defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals.
I've always found Wikipedia to be a useful resource, but this article is still hilarious. And it does have a point--just look at the entry in Wikipedia for Westeros! It's longer than the entries for most real places...

Monday, July 24, 2006

From the Deep

Ravinia: July 21, 2006

For reasons unknown to me, there hasn't really been a review of Friday night's Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert at Ravinia. (I'm not counting Andrew Patner's not-so-friendly appraisal of James Conlon's connection with the orchestra as a review, as it only mentions the concert rather than discussing it.)

There ought to be one, though. Maybe it was the rain; maybe it was the somewhat unfamiliar program of Erwin Schulhoff's first piano concerto and Mahler's fourth symphony, which even our Mahler-loving household only purchased earlier this month to prepare for this concert. Something kept the crowds away; the lawn was sparse when we arrived 15 minutes before the baton was lifted and even the Pavilion, while densely populated as usual in the center section, had 10-seat wide streams up either side that were vacant. (We got seats just off center, in the first row behind the boxes, as walk-ups and had no one for two seats on either side of us or directly behind us.)

Despite the lack of a crowd, though, the CSO put on quite a show. After James Conlon addressed the audience and explained his Breaking the Silence project, which presents to audiences the music of composers killed during the Holocaust, soloist Philippe Bianconi gave the ivories an impressive workout as he introduced the Pavilion to Schulhoff's first piano concerto. Was it good? Suffice it to say that I'm ordering it from Amazon and that, given the 3-6 week expected wait time, I'm not including a link lest your order should slow mine. And Schulhoff wrote it at age 19!

After intermission, we heard Mahler 4. We've attended each of the Mahler symphonies at Ravinia since Conlon began his other project, the performance of all of them in a row, last summer. While there may be more to the first three than there is to the fourth--and while I remain of the opinion that, had he only produced the first, Mahler would have achieved enough for a lifetime--the brevity and fun of the fourth were uniquely suited to a cool summer evening outdoors. I would be hard pressed to recall another symphonic performance that so ably handled all the distractions Ravinia provides, from the cicadas to the airplanes to the train roaring by. (A stroke of luck brought the Metra along just as one movement ended, and Conlon cleverly held his head down until the engine's cough had faded.) Soprano Anna Christy, making her Ravinia debut, brought a childlike innocence to the final movement, which the crowd could appreciate thanks to supertitles that revealed the almost preposterous text--a child's vision of heaven, complete with a host of saints preparing dinner--she was singing.

Afterward Conlon returned to the stage, joined by journalist Bill Zwecker, to discuss his love of music. Small plastic cups of wine made their way around the audience as Conlon spoke with passion about his Ravinia projects and his ardent belief in the importance of Breaking the Silence. Those who stayed until the end left, I'm sure, deeply pleased with the performances and confident that, with Conlon at the helm, Ravinia's CSO calendar and performances will remain engaging well into the future.