Friday, March 28, 2008

So, Where Do You Go For Your Fix?

There's so much political information out there, along with unbelievable doses of spin, equivocating, and bias, that there isn't one perfect spot to go to satisfy my desire for more and more political news. The key for me has been to go to a rotating list of about 15 sites that give me a good general impression of what the candidates are doing or saying and how things are being perceived. Here are my favorites, but be warned: once you go down the rabbit hole of political blogs and punditry you'll find it very, very difficult to climb back out (cue spooky laughter)...

Marc Ambinder-He keep a regularly updated blog on the Atlantic Monthly site that is both intelligent and unbiased. For whatever reason I've come to trust his opinion on the issues more than any of the others, and his site has thus become the first place I seem to go when a big story starts to break.

The Caucus-The Gray Lady's blog, offering a more substantive take on the major political issues of the day than a lot of other political blogs. What is lacks in a personal touch it makes up for with the quality of the writing.

-The Slate take. Generally the funniest of the political blog. It was on this site that I first heard about Sinbad's distinct take on his trip to Bosnia with Hillary Clinton. Speaking of Slate, check out this article to get Jack Schafer's way-more-comprehensive-than-mine take on the world of political news.

The Page-Compiled by Mark Halperin and other Time Magazine staffers. Definitely the most Wham! Bam! Pow! of the blog, which makes the site a little hard to read at times. Still, it's probably the best place to go to find out what the absolute freshest political news is (thanks to John, my friend in the Michigan Democratic Party, for the heads-up).

First Read-MSNBC's take. I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about this site, except that I like it's perspective quite a bit and I find myself trusting everything the goateed, earnest Chuck Todd says.

The Huffington Post-A good place to go if you need an "I Love Obama" fix (which I often do) or if you randomly decide to care what Alec Baldwin thinks about the issues of the day. Still, definitely worth going to for the perspective of smart outsiders like Barbara Ehrenreich.

Political Junkie-I talk about Ken Rudin and the NPR team more than I should, but his light and fun weekly column is always a good place to stop by for a little midweek entertainment.

Those are just of few of the many, many, good ones out there. Anyone else have one they love that I'm missing?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Dip Into the Vault

Oh me, oh my: Thanks to a tip from the hilarious (if erratically updated) Mickey Tettleton Memorial Overpass, it turns out that you can now read every back issue of Sports Illustrated in their new section called "The Vault."

I'm going to assume that everyone out there is exactly as enthused about this as I am. We all made our dad's save up their back issues of Sports Illustrated (going back years and years) so that we could read them when we came to visit, right? We all can recall with perfect clarity the exact images and texts of certain covers dating back twenty years, right? And, finally, we all know that the following cover is the greatest in the history of the magazine, yes?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is This Racist?

Personally, I don't see it, but head over to the Huffington Post to read more about the apparent controversy regarding the cover of this month's Vanity Fair.

Although I don't think the argument against the cover is wholly without merit, I find it a little absurd that someone could actually be personally offended by an image that is so obviously intended to be playful, or, at worst, mildly provocative.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Oh, Kwame! What Were You Thinking?

Well, he's probably still better than Marion Berry, but Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (inexplicably awarded a second term in 2006) has been indicted on charges of perjury.

You can read more about this bizarre, idiotic, and, I'll admit, occasionally hilarious story here and here. This New York Times piece about it from a while back has one of the greatest newspaper quotes I've ever seen: “This technosexual tragedy has engulfed the city in a way I haven’t seen in 30 years of doing political consulting.”

Man oh man, didn't he think people could trace text messages, or what?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Slimming Down With Steve: Dancing!

I'm a bit distracted with the NCAA tournament just starting up and that whole presidential race you might have heard about (yes, "race." As in: somehow everyone started talking about Obama's race and race in general all at once-the 67th most pressing issue in this country and something that threatened to ruin Obama's campaign for a moment thanks to a combination of bad press, idiocy and hearty dose of white racism. Thankfully, it appears he's weathered the storm).

Anyway, that being the case, the least I could do to make up for the bitterness on this website of late is to post my all-time favorite piece from The Daily Show: The "dancing" segment from Steve Carell's "Slimming Down With Steve" series. I just rewatched it for perhaps the 5th time and the breakdancing part at the end I'm happy to report that the sketch has aged perfectly over the last 5 years.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Lovers that Never Were

I was digging through some old cd's last night (you can almost track, to the month, the day that I got an ipod and made an almost complete shift to digital music) and came across a cd that a friend made for me of the Elvis Costello/Paul McCartney demos that were recorded in the late 80's, around the time that Costello released his Warner records debut,"Spike." Although a lot of the songs from these sessions aren't especially memorable, there are a few highlights such as the demo (and superior) version of "Veronica" and "You Want Her, Too." The real highlight, however, is a song called "The Lovers that Never Were."

This was the time in Costello's career where his voice was starting to crack on the higher and more plaintive lines in his songs (which peaked for me with the line "well it's his story you flatter" on "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" where his voice seems to whack into the ceiling). I can't explain why, but every time this happened with his voice it struck a strong, personal note with me. He seemed wiser and more rueful than before, and, for whatever reason, the music from that era fit perfectly with where I was at that time in my life.

Anyway, for about three months in college "The Lovers that Never Were" was was my absolute, without question, favorite song. It was never that far from my thoughts and seemed to pop back in every time there was a gap. I can't even give a good reason for this-though the lyrics are good the rhymes are terrible, there's almost no backing music to speak of, and the only thing that holds it together are the strained voices of Paul McCartney and Costello. Still, it works, if only because when it comes to impassioned vocals, you really can't best either of those guys.

So, here's the song. It gets my vote for the best "lost Costello song" and it really is kind of amazing that with all the (generally superfluous) Costello reissues of the last few years, the tracks from these sessions have still not really made it into the public sphere.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech on Race in America

Here is the text of Obama's speech in Philadelphia this morning. I'll try to get a YouTube clip up once this becomes available.

First thought: It seems like a perfect speech, able to incorporate Rev. Wright into the Obama narrative while both denouncing and explaining the more unusual rhetorical elements in some of Rev. Wright's sermons.

Second thought: How did this all of a sudden become a big deal again? Oh yeah: nothing going on right now, 4 more weeks until the Pennsylvania primary, 24 hour news shows, let's rehash old issues and hold Obama responsible for things his pastor said years ago!

Third thought: I'm pretty sure that bringing the "race issue" into the fore (already the elephant in the room) won't really hurt Obama, at least in the primary, because most of the points he makes about change, resolution, the need to understand the wounds of the past, etc. are simply inarguable. Thus, making a speech like this allows him to take the reins and once again put himself forth as the candidate full of positive, idealistic notions about America. This is the kind of thing that I think America's want more of, enough so that he should be able to weather the brutality that has been put forth by the Clinton campaign the last few weeks.

UPDATE: Here's the video...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baseball: The Break from Politics We Need

Looking for a diversion from "Obama v Clinton" or "Eliot Spitzer v. Himself"? Then it's time for a little baseball-related material! Although there are too many good baseball blogs out there to name, here are three that I highly recommend:

Joe Posnanski
- I'm new to this one, but it's already become one of my absolute favorites. During the midst of these insanely long, often very funny blog posts Posnanski ( a columnist for the KC Star) talks about some of baseball's newer and most confusing statistics in a way that actually makes sense. If like me you're caught in the middle between embracing the "Sabermetric" approach to baseball and wanting to keep a foot planted firmly in the Field of Dreams-esque world of Baseball Romanticism, this is the perfect blog in which to get a major (and unsentimental) dose of both.

The Detroit Tigers Weblog- The absolute best place to go to get information about the Detroit Tigers Baseball Club (tm). Bill Ferris does a tireless job of providing game by game breakdowns along with a ton of links to baseball-related material as well as other relevant Detroit Tigers blogs. Essential reading for any Tigers fan.

Bad Nats
- My friend Shek has finally answered the public's clarion call for more Washington Nationals blogs written as though the blogger were a passionate, creative, and semi-literate 9 year-old. (on hiatus until the regular season)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hall and Oates, Part 2

Due to Stephanie's inspired inclusion of the video for "She's Gone" in the comments section yesterday, I decided that I had to get this included into a proper post. It's an amazing video, and if there's ever been a better reaction to meeting The Devil, I'd like to see it:

"She's Gone"

On an unrelated note, has "shame" ever been personified better than in this picture of Eliot Spitzer during his press conference on monday? It's an absolutely perfect mix of contrition, embarrassment, and awkwardness. As Stephen Colbert pointed out on his show last night, it looks like he wants to eat his face:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hall and Oates

Just in case you, the reading public, are going through the same unquenchable Hall and Oates phase right now, I thought I'd pass along the YouTube clip of their classic video for "Maneater":

What is it about this band that makes them so irresistible? This is exactly the same mix of surprise and a surprising lack of embarrassment that I felt when I started getting heavily into Fleetwood Mac a couple years ago. Is it just that I was too much of a snob in the past to give some of the most popular acts of the past a chance? Possibly. For that matter, what is it about a band like Hall and Oates that makes them seem so fundamentally uncool, which other bands from that time period, such as Duran Duran, have always been acceptable in a "a good song is a good song" sort of way? Heavy questions, yes, but here are some possibilities:

  • Hair. I mean, c'mon, look at these guys. Aren't they basically everything you didn't want to look like if you grew up in the 90's ? They're so tethered to the 80's it would have taken a lot of confidence, more than I apparently had, to like them growing up .
  • Their lack of "Englishness." One of the reasons that bands like Duran Duran and Inxs can always get some credit in the States is because of the simple fact that they're not from this country. As such, we can like what we want about them and dismiss away anything weird as some sort of English quirk that we don't get. But Hall and Oates? C'mon, those dudes are from Philly!
  • Oates's mustache. Oddly compelling, but ultimately too much to handle:
  • Too popular with the wrong people. Aha- finally we get at the biggest problem. Much like Fleetwood Mac, there are just too many people with terrible taste that like these guys. As a young snobby kid still sorting out what was good and what wasn't, it was just about impossible for me to listen to a band like this on it's own terms and look past the fact that you could like the same band as your parents. This is something that, thankfully, I've been able to get over. Because I'm sorry, if you can listen to "Rich Girl" and not think it's just about the best thing you've ever heard, you might still have some work to do.

Monday, March 10, 2008

To The Creator of Daylight Savings Time

Dear William Willett,

Where the hell did my hour go? It's nice having more sunlight later in the day, but at what cost? Two to three AM is when I'm most productive.

When I found out DST was invented so you, some crackpot Brit, could golf in the evening hours, I got upset. Then when I found out you passed it off as a way to save energy, I threw up a little in my mouth. But when I heard you spent much of your life promoting something that robs innocent people of an hour's sleep once a year, I decided to write a letter. Mr. William Willett, I want my hour back, thank you.

There is no evidence to support that it saves energy. Sure, it helps some businesses like convenience stores and, of course, your beloved GOLF, but it hurts farmers because workers end up leaving earlier in the day. Hard working American farmers, you heartless aristocrat.

I can't help but wonder what you've done with all the hours you've stolen. If you have the ability to steal time, Mr. Willett, I'm sure you have other tricks up your sleeve. I bet you're in some alternate world, golfing all day and laughing at American farmers. And at this point there's no doubt your days last something like 57 hours.

You supposedly died in 1915, but every bone in my body believes you and your hours are alive and well. I want my hours back. I'm 26 years old, so I figure you owe me just over a day. Do you hear me? An entire day, you swindler! I'm a reasonable man, so I'll make sure I devote each hour to the plans I originally had for them.

Not that you care, but this would be my itinerary:

Hour 1: sleep, cry for a diaper changing
Hour 2: sleep
Hour 3: lie in bed, keep an eye out for the monster lurking in my closet
Hours 4-9: sleep
Hour 10: start to question the validity of daylight savings time
Hour 11: play two games of Tecmo Super Bowl as the Kansas City Chiefs at Chris Briggs' house
Hour 12: sleep
Hour 13: vividly dream I am a tiger being hunted by poachers wanting to give my paws as a gift to the Habsburg Empire
Hour 14: eat Oreos while watching Psycho for the first time
Hours 15-16: sleep
Hours 17-19: (can't remember, probably sleep)
Hour 20: stay at party a little longer, still not talk to cute girl
Hour 21: stay at party a little longer, still not talk to cute girl
Hours 22-24: sleep
Hour 25: thank the time police for not springing us forward earlier than usual
Hour 26: breathe easy knowing it didn't go from 1:59 am to 3:00

Sounds like a full day, doesn't it? Maybe it doesn't to William "Time-hoarder" Willett, but it does to this hard-working American. Wait a second - don't we set our clocks back in the fall? Forget all that stuff I said about DST. Thanks for the evening sunlight, Mr. Willett.

Bryan Williams

Friday, March 7, 2008

Better Chatter Makes Some Subtle Changes

Well, after an hour of messing around, the only thing I could figure out how to do in terms of changing up the blog's look was to add a little background color to the site. I hope everyone likes this incredibly subtle, yet also incredibly moving, change to the blog.

Any other suggestions? Anything that really should be up on this site that isn't? Any bored graphic designers out there?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Project Runway Season 4 Finale

Alright fine, I'll admit that I watched the Project Runway Finale last night. People say this so much it's become a little cliché, but I swear that Project Runway is the only reality show you'd ever catch me watching. Unlike any other reality show I've seen (with the possibly exception of the original Iron Chef) it gets the closest to being a straight-up talent contest. It's entertaining to watch weird and talented people do interesting things, even if I don't actually know, or even really care to know, anything about the fashion world. Plus, there's always something kind of fun about observing co-host Tim Gunn, a.k.a. the most composed person on the planet.
In the end Christian, the youngest and most talented of the contestants, was, to no one's great surprise, the winner. Here is the video for his collection in case you want to check it out and pretend (as I do) that you have any idea what is and is not considered fashionable. (By the way, everyone seemed to make a big deal about the way Christian repeatedly described everything as "fierce" like it was a new edition to the lexicon, but wasn't this very word already the subject of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode a few years ago?)

Was anyone unhappy with this result or surprised with the way the show panned out this season? Overall, there seemed to be way less extra-topical stuff tacked on to the show this time around: no more crazy contestants brought back, weeks after they were kicked off, to increase the drama, no more accusations of cheating from other contestants, and no last-minute challenges to do right before the final Bryant Park show. It was a good, entertaining season, if maybe not as dramatic as, say, Season Two.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jonathan Richman at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

Although I'm still a little too depressed about last night's election results, along with the terrifying thought of six more weeks of condescending interviews and press releases from Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson, I can at least say some good things about the Jonathan Richman show I saw last night!

Richman, for those who might not know, is a beloved (mostly acoustic) singer-songwriter and former member of the seminal and short-lived proto-punk band The Modern Lovers back in the early 70's. The Modern Lovers are most famous for their lover of the Velvet Underground, their hatred of hippies, and for writing the time-tested classic "Roadrunner," (mp3) one of the great driving songs of all time.

The Modern Lovers looked like this:
But these days, as you can see, Richman's aesthetic is a little more laid-back:

Anyway, back to the show. Vic Chesnutt, the opener, put on a very entertaining and interesting performance. The wheelchair-bound Chesnutt had a wry, dark sensibility that contrasted perfectly with J Richman's unfailingly upbeat style. Although he was constantly stopping his performance to get his guitar back in tune, he won over the audience with his laid-back style and a very funny song about the Iraq War.

Richman himself was in typically good form. I was thrilled to see that mixed in with the typical favorites ("I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar," "Pablo Picasso," "Girlfriend") were some classic old tunes that I was excited to hear, including the wonderful, perpetually overlooked "Egyptian Reggae." (mp3) Here's a video of that song which, while not taken from the show, pretty closely mirrors the kind of performance he puts on:

In addition, near the end of the show, Richman played his typically brilliant live version of "Let Her Go Into the Darkness," which everyone always go nuts over because he sings a verse of the song in English, then in French, then in Spanish, and this time in Hebrew. There was a lot of stuff from the new, as yet unreleased record that he threw in as well, which was a little hit and miss (the "Cellphone Song" wasn't exactly a slice of heaven), but nonetheless seemed to go over pretty well with the crowd.

This is now the 4th time I've seen Richman, and, though it was unquestionably entertaining, it did remind me of the perils of seeing any artist you love in New York. First of all, it was in Williamsburg, which meant I had to deal with a bunch of rich, skinny hipsters that all looked like they were about 17 years old (you know, not to generalize or anything). I'm only in my mid-twenties, but does that already make me too old for this neighborhood? It certainly felt that way at times. Secondly, the show was sold out, which meant that I was getting bumped all show and couldn't really see anything anyway. Finally, and here I'll admit to being just a little petty, the person right behind my friend Steve and I had this barking half-laugh of surprise that she would do any time that Richman said anything sweet or funny. She did this every 45 seconds or so (Richman says a lot of sweet, funny things) and it led me to seriously contemplate seppuku by the end of the night.

Overall, though, a typically great Jonathan Richman show. He's the kind of artist that creates so much happiness and positive energy among the concert goers that you've really got to go out to see him at least once to really experience it (a hippy-ish thing to say, I admit, but nevertheless true).

If anyone wants it, here is the set list I cobbled together from the show (March 4th, 2008 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg):

Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow
Springtime in New York
Pablo Picasso
Leonard Cohen Cover
Cellphone Song (new song)
I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar
Egyptian Reggae
When We Refuse to Listen (new song)
Unknown Spanish Song
My Love for Her Ain't Sad
Vermeer (new song)
Let Her Go Into the Darkness
Old World
Unknown song in French
Curly and Wild (new song)
Vincent Van Gogh

Cell Phone Song (reprise)
Unknown Song about his Mother

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Format War Loser

If you want to get an idea of my particular brand of cheapness, check out Josh Lewin's very funny article on Slate about why he purchased an HD DVD player over a Blue Ray last year. Basically, he suffers from the same problem I do: Wanting to acquire the hipness associated with being an "early adopter" without actually paying the money or doing the research that being an early adopter requires.

It also raises the important question over whether it's better to be completely cheap and then only get the best stuff when you do spend your money, or just sort of cheap and always settling for second best merchandise. It's probably better to be neither if you can get away with it (which I personally can't, due to some sort of brain malfunction that makes me a complete miser), but if you have to be one, I think the former is probably the way to go.

Also, on an unrelated note, check out Todd's post on Well Respected Blog regarding some excellent cartoon websites. The Garfield Minus Garfield site in particular is so inspired I almost passed out the first time I went there.