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 yourmusic.com. 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

ESPN.com - 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...