I'm finally close to 100% today, following this fantastic illness that started last Tuesday morning and basically sabotaged my entire Thanksgiving break. I want a do-over! I was like Kramer taking hot showers to fight this thing. "When are you coming out of there?" "I'm not!" I've pretty well whittled it down to a minor cough, but it was rough there for a few days.
Being sick adds an extra layer of frustration because of the Catch-22 situation it sets up. On one hand, it's a pretty effective way to clear your schedule. I had a bunch of plans for Wednesday, and then suddenly ... no plans. However, you can't actually do anything with that free time ... because you're sick. I wasn't able to rise much above the level of watching Netflix - it
s never a good thing when video games seem too strenuous. Eventually I pulled my head together enough to certify myself for tax season, which is always a major pain that I'm happy to have behind me.
Yes, this is rambling, so let's get to the point. Despite recent foibles, I do take some measures to improve my health, and one is that I mostly eat vegetables for lunch these days. Being away from my fridge/pantry makes me a captive audience, so it's a good time to insert some healthy food into one's diet, plus avoid being too tired out for the afternoon. This lunch is anchored most days by a block of firm tofu, about 4 oz., which has injected a fair amount of comedy into my lunch routine.
People who look at the tofu are almost invariably appalled by the idea of someone just straight-out eating a block of the stuff, which I find amusing. I recognize that it isn't the most flavorful food in the world, I do, but I don't mind it, and I find that I look forward to it more than, say, carrots. The fact that it weirds people out is just gravy.
Even better are the people who don't realize it's tofu, instead mistaking it for cheese (it does look a bit like cheese from a distance). This is delightful, because I very much like the idea that someone thinks that I would just come to work and eat a big old block of cheese. What a fantastic lunch routine that would be! Yep, eating healthy today, got my spinach, my tomatoes, my peppers, and of course, my block of cheese. Of course, now that I've written this, I want to have a block of cheese. Bye.
I'm finally close to 100% today, following this fantastic illness that started last Tuesday morning and basically sabotaged my entire Thanksgiving break. I want a do-over! I was like Kramer taking hot showers to fight this thing. "When are you coming out of there?" "I'm not!" I've pretty well whittled it down to a minor cough, but it was rough there for a few days.
I don't write about sports as much here on TFB as I once did in the blog's early days, mostly because I employed Forest City Fanatics as a separate sports outlet for several years so general TFB readers wouldn't be subjected to my musings about the Browns, Cavaliers, Indians, and Buckeyes. As I've gotten older and taken on more responsibility in life, I haven't been able to spend enough time to keep the FCF endeavor afloat, so I think I'll publish the occasional sports-related item here from time to time, though without the Cleveland/Ohio emphasis that FCF had.
I still follow the world sports pretty closely, though I've found that I don't do so with quite the same fervor I did when I was younger. I like to watch the games, but they've dropped down my priority list a bit. When I do watch, I shake off bad plays and losses more easily, partially because as a Cleveland fan I've been exposed to so many, and partially because I have a better perspective on the games' importance. Don't get me wrong - I still really want my teams to win, and in the heat of action the games are important to me - but I can move on more easily. (You're still an idiot if you condescendingly offer "it's just a game" to a crestfallen sports fan. You really are.)
More importantly, I've also gotten away from the games more because of my increasing distaste for the peripheral aspects of sports - the agents, the "business," the scandals, the athletes inevitably saying and twittering dumb things, the crimes, the PED's, the trash-talking; why am I supposed to be interested in any of this? I'm trying to keep my actual-sports to sports-related-nonsense ratio as high as I can. And oh my is there a lot of nonsense. Cracked was right to name sportswriting the #1 job on its list of statistically full of shit professions, and ESPN and its various tentacles have proliferated the reach of that profession to an incredible extent. You can't swing a dead cat on TV without hearing some guy in a suit (always a suit - people in the actual professional world usually dress business casual but it's some violation of International Law to talk about sports - games! - unless you're wearing a full suit) giving his interpretation, or "analysis," of some corner of the sporting world. ESPN has almost completely abandoned providing game highlights in favor of punditry, which is kind of amazing when you consider that all most people really want is to see game action, not some ex-ballplayer waxing poetic about game action. This continues to puzzle me, in the same way that MTV abandoning music in favor of unwatchable "shows" does, though I suppose both entities must be making money.
While I'm here, why do the ESPN broadcasters who are calling the Monday Night Football game always refrain from making a prediction about the game on the website? Are they somehow going to be unable to call the game objectively just because they made a pick that they have literally nothing riding on? What is our goal here? Why are we so serious about these things? Weird.
Anyway, so many of the topics and concepts these "Experts" prattle on and on about are simply platitudes - this team needs to "take it one game at a time"! - and other notions supported only by anecdotal evidence, bringing us to today's final topic: rivalries.
Rivalries are, of course, matchups between teams that have, over the years, taken on increased importance. This time of year sees a number of rivalry games contested in both the college and professional ranks of football. College adversaries usually rise to the level of "rivalry" for geographic and historical reasons, like Ohio State-michigan (42-41 this year, Go Bucks), Auburn-Alabama, Oregon-Oregon State, and so on. Usually they have some conference tie-in as well, something important to play for in addition to pride and prestige. Professional ones develop for a variety of reasons, including geography (Cleveland-Pittsburgh), divisional alignment (Dallas-Philly), or a recent history of significant games (Indy-New England).
And every time - EVERY TIME - one of these rivalries pops up on the schedule, there's inevitably someone on TV in a suit telling us how we can "throw out the records" in a rivalry game like this, and how it's going to be a great game even if the teams seem imbalanced in talent. We're told that the emotions and pageantry of a big rivalry supersede the actual abilities and performance of the teams involved, because ... well they just do, because that's a thing that it kind of seems like should happen. THROW THE RECORDS OUT THE WINDOW!
I think it's fair to question this assumption, presented as it always is without any evidence whatsoever. Why do we think this is the case? Upon what information is this pearl of wisdom based? Yes, sometimes teams who are big underdogs in a rivalry game do manage to keep things closer than expected, or even pull off an upset. But this happens in all situations where one team is expected to roll over another. Upsets and surprisingly close contests take place all the time, and I haven't seen any evidence or statistics presented indicating that such results are any more prevalent in contests between longtime rivals than in matchups of casual foes. If such research on this topic exists, I'd be very interested to take a look at it, but in its absence, I don't see any reason why one can disregard the teams' previous results in a matchup of bitter foes any more than you could in a battle between any other two teams.
A lot of other close results in games between major rivals are, well, exactly what one would expect between two evenly-matched squads. For example, Ohio State beat michigan 42-39 in 2006 when the two squads were ranked #1 and #2. That seems like a well-expected result between two top teams, whether they play every year or every hundred years. Last weekend's thrilling Auburn-Alabama game will surely be touted as proof of the theory that anything can happen in rivalry games, but those teams were ranked #1 and #4 - is a close game really such a surprise? Again, close games and blowouts both take place in games anticipated to be narrowly-fought, rivalry or no rivalry.
The last component in being able to continue to make this silly claim about the special closeness, and book-throwoutability of rivalry games is a willingness to ignore the ones that, well, aren't so close. Yeah, Auburn-Alabama was a classic this weekend, but Auburn lost to Alabama 49-0 last year and 42-14 the year before. Rivals! OSU put up wins of 30, 11, and 35 points against michigan over a recent stretch of three years and have lost just two of the schools' last 13 meetings. Rivalry! My beloved Browns have lost 18 of their past 20 games to the steelers. Rivalry. :( I wish we could throw out the proverbial record books for this particular series, but it remains a stubborn, frustrating exception to this time-honored, cherished, totally made-up maxim about ignoring the clubs' previous bodies of work in situations where they are traditional adversaries.
I know dudes in suits on TV aren't going to stop making this non-point. But until some data actually suggests that rivalry games are more closely-played (after controlling for point spreads) than games in general, you should certainly stop believing it.
Cool video here, worth 2 minutes of your time. My delight at seeing Hanks and Hasselhoff offsets my contempt at seeing the Beatles, and the rest of it is very clever and well-done.
For as long as I've lived in Cleveland, I've had my eye on completing the World Tour of Beers at the Winking Lizard Tavern, a local chain of bar-and-grills consistently voted the best in Northeast Ohio. It's pretty easy to have a good time at a Winking Lizard, or as polyglots Nena and I call it, "The Lagarto." The World Tour asks its members to put up a modest $10 entry fee, then finish, within a calendar year, 100 different beers from around the world. The selections come from a list that includes a wide variety of both bottles and drafts. These include Winking Lizard staples, including limited-time specials introduced throughout the year, and ends up totaling around 500 beers. This includes oddities like the fancy beers from "The Bruery", various Guinness Mixes, and the Glass of the Month. Obviously unless you're some sort of Lizard obsessive, you're not going to get to all of those. The magic number of 100 might seem like a lot - and it is - but in the end it's only about eight per month, and if you make it a point to go to the Lizard when you're going out (which is easy to do given their locations), that's not a whole lot of extra work.
I decided early on that, since I only plan on trying this one time, I was going to do the tour up right. I set up some rules:
1) All of the beers have to be finished by me. Some people get help from friends or significant others. Not this guy. I was moderately offended when a server would occasionally ask me if I wanted a colleague's beers to count on my Tour, though they stopped doing it once I piled up 60 or so. I was intrigued by the "Tour in a Day," where you and a group try to knock off a full 100 together in just a day. Perhaps some other time.
2) None of the beers I drink will be products of the state of michigan.
3) I need to photograph each beer. If I forget to capture one, I have to re-drink it.
4) I must visit every one of the Lizard's 16 locations.
5) I will complete the bonus tour - not just the 100 to be an official finisher, but the 150 that nets you a bonus gift as well. The well-known prize for finishing the Tour is the special Winking Lizard jacket. In years past, it was a cool-looking letterman-style jacket; this year it was a windbreaker. Alternatively, finishers were given the option to forego the jacket and have a donation of $50 made in their name to Cleveland's Coats for Kids. I figured I don't really need cold-weather gear with a large smirking reptile on it, so I opted for the donation. Yes, that's right: I was only doing this for the charity! But the fill-on 150 beer bonus gift of a hoodie: I'll gladly accept that.
The Lizard does some curious accounting on the way to 100. Each tourist is assigned a number and a little plastic swipe card at the start of the year. The member ID has like 12 digits but the last 4 are supposed to identify each tourist. Mine was 3201 - I could always tell a veteran server by who asked for my name in addition to the number. Apparently they recycle the 4-digit identifier year over year, but you'd think there would be some way they could delineate the years, maybe, I don't know, use some of those surplus digits and pop a 2013 in there? Fun fact: someone named Andy had my same number within the past few years.
For notching tallies for your list, 22 ounce drafts bizarrely don't count - just pints. How does this make sense again? Also, on your tally sheet, the midway gift counts as one (as if it were a beer), as do the 100 and 150 gifts. There's really no way to keep these separate? Fortunately I tracked them on an elaborate color-coded spreadsheet I constructed, so I was on top of things.
The Lagarto offers some fringe benefits, in addition to the great atmosphere, sports, food, and beer selection. One is free popcorn. Another is the actual live lizard at each location (don't tap on the glass!) A third, available only to select patrons, is the opportunity to watch Nena play games of skill. I'd throw out dollar bills all day to watch her play the claw game and/or the key/lock game. It's adorable.
Sometime early in April, I hit the halfway mark of 50, and was presented with this delightful mini-cooler.
As I mentioned in my rules above, I decided to go all-out and visit all of the Winking Lizard locations. I sort-of succeeded at this. Tourists select a home bar - mine was Lakewood, for proximity reasons. The Lakewood Lizard is a magical place. It's an old building that used to be an Elks Club, with a bowling alley downstairs that curiously I never visited during all of my trips there. Incidentally, I adopted the habit of describing my excursions as "working on my tour," as if it were some sort of job or mandatory activity. I like euphemisms. Since I visited the Lakewood one so frequently, I also decided I should work in a Tour visit there by bicycle (which I did twice) and running (once). It's 4.7 miles from my house, by the way. Totally worth it. I really ran back quickly.
I did visit nearly all of the Lizard locations, with the exception of two out of the three located in Columbus, because Columbus is far, and one of them opened up mid-year after I'd already visited. I also made it to the Copley one, which moved from its Fairlawn location and whose location is given quite inaccurately (an incorrect ZIP code sends you the wrong way) on their online map. That was a frustrating time, when I first searched for it. Here's all the pictures I took of Nena and me at various Lizard locations - missing are, bizarrely, three of the ones I frequented most: Independence, Downtown Cleveland, and inexplicably, Lakewood. I guess I just always figured I'd get it the next time.
I wish I could enlighten you about all the beers I had on the your, the porters, and IPA's ... but I can't. After a while, it's just beer, which I like, but completely failed to distinguish by the end. Thus, I give you with regards to beer description: nothing. OK, maybe something: I really liked the Samuel Smith Apricot beer that I had.
Victory! Here's me with my waitress the night I hit 100. It was fantastic - they announced me over the PA and someone came up and high-fived me. True celebrity. And yes, I'm sporting a Washington Nationals t-shirt, even on a night where my beloved Tribe earned a walkoff 2-1 win. The shirt is a joke, a reference to me resembling Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg. I also apparently look like a British actor whose name I can't recall. Chris something.
After completing the official tour (at the end of June!) I decided to take a month off from alcohol of all sorts, tour or otherwise. I think I wrote about this on my LoseIt! article. Anyway, I elected to break the streak at the Lakewood Lizard (of course), and did so with a little bit of trepidation. Here's the magic moment:
I figured, since I still had plenty of time, and the goal of 150, while unofficial, was still out there, I decided to go for the big prize of 150 and claim that hoodie. Needless to say, I got back on track and succeeded, as you see here:
I held to my original goal of taking a photograph of every beer I drank, even the occasional off-tour Yuengling Light I ordered when I didn't feel like working on my tour. And yes, I did forget a few times, four times to be accurate, and every time I went back and cleaned up my mistake. For a couple of weeks after finishing the tour, I reflexively got out my camera when I ordered beers in non-Tour situations, even in bars other than the Lizard. But it was worth it, as I got all the shots from my entire World Tour of Beers 2013. Without further ado, here it is: my complete World Tour of Beers 2013, including the off-tour beers I knocked back as well. Click to behold its full-sized glory. Salud!
I wouldn't go so far as to say I've reinstated this as a monthly feature, but I'm starting to write about entertainment again with a little more consistency, so there's that. I really should just dispense with these as I go along, but sometimes life gets in the way.
I wrote extensively last week about what I consider to be my favorite dramatic show ever: 24. Seriously, I know that was like a decade ago, but it's really gripping and fantastic.
I meant to castigate popular ESPN and Grantland writer for giving away a major development late in The Wire, on the incredibly arrogant grounds that "you should have seen this show already," and I suppose now is a fair time to do so. Look, I know the world isn't spoiler-proof, and that The Wire ended some time ago. I get it. And when I find something out about a show or movie by cultural osmosis, so be it, I don't stress or get upset. As a prime example, obviously I knew what happened to Tony Soprano before I saw the last Sopranos. But Simmons didn't reveal the major Wire point for any reason other than to make his meta-point about how it should be OK to reveal spoilers, with nothing to be gained other than antagonizing readers and acting self-important. I don't even disagree with his main point, but it didn't need an actual spoiler to land its punch. What kind of person revels like that in ruining a show - his favorite show - for others?
Anyway, I did watch the first season of The Wire, and like I wrote in my 24 opus, I appreciated it, thought it was very good and well-made ... but I certainly didn't love it. I don't think I ever endeavored to watch two episodes back to back. For those of you not as versed in the TV universe as Simmons and me, the first season of The Wire focuses on the drug trade in Baltimore, looking at it from the vantage of the cops and the robbers (and, occasionally, the users and other third parties). The police lead, Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), finds himself working for an under-resourced unit led by Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) and tasked with investigating the top drug crew, the Barksdale organization, led by Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and his right-hand man Stringer Bell (Idris Elba).
More than anything, the first season of The Wire is about rank and organizational politics, on both sides of the game (not so much with free agent and stick-up man Omar, played by Michael K. Williams). The power dynamic between Avon and Stringer, as well as between those two leaders and the rest of their crew, is a running theme, as are the byzantine office politics within the BPD. To a certain degree, though, this can get tedious - yes, I get it that cops have a difficult time trying to balance their desire to do their jobs effectively and the pressures they get from their superiors. Ultimately, it's a very realistic, very well-acted, and meticulously detailed look at the modern drug trade.
I was very impressed with a somewhat under-the-radar sci-fi thriller from this summer, Elysium. Like his previous feature, the excellent District 9, writer/director Neil Blomkamp uses science fiction to address issues of social justice head-on. Where the oppression of District 9's aliens served to parallel South African apartheid, the titular orbiting paradise for the wealthy of Elysium makes a pretty clear statement about inequality in modern society. Where District 9 had a cast mostly unknown to American audiences, Elysium has bona fide Hollywood stars in Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Blomkamp was wise to carry over South African actor Sharlton Copley, though - Copley is a major talent, and shines here as Kruger, a ruthless, violent extralegal government agent acting as a wild card in everyone's plans.
Elysium quickly draws contrasts between the orbiting donut-shaped paradise to which Earth's wealthiest citizens have escaped, featuring lush landscapes and advanced medical healing devices apparently capable of instantly curing any ailment, and hot, crowded, violent Earth, where the rest of the population resides. People in the 1% probably aren't going to enjoy this movie very much. The film's affable protagonist with a checkered past, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), spends most of the movie in desperation. Having fallen victim to radiation poisoning, he has a powerful exoskeleton grafted on himself and, along with some questionable "allies" and the nefarious Kruger, works to reach Elysium for himself, and on behalf of the rest of the citizens of Earth. I thought this film was excellent both from a science fiction standpoint, and as effective social commentary.
I already wrote a fair amount about this summer's most acclaimed thriller, Alfonso Cuáron's outstanding Gravity, though admittedly I probably spent a bit too much of that review fighting back at Neil deGrasse Tyson's weird Twitter binge. I'll take this opportunity to say that it's the best movie I've seen this year, an instant classic and the testament to the power of cinema. For two hours I was just locked in to this thing - I mean, in case we weren't clear, the whole thing takes place in outer space and looks every bit of it. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s wild battle with space junk and epic struggle to get back home is not to be missed - especially in IMAX - and if you're like me, that last image will stick with you for a while. Just tremendous.
I've been a fan of Morgan Spurlock ever since his terrific fast-food documentary, Super Size Me, and I would strongly recommend The Greatest Movie Ever Sold to fans of his work. It's truly a meta-movie, as the entire film documents his quest to secure product placement funding for the movie itself; thus, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold does not exist outside of itself. Spurlock identifies a group of offbeat brands (JetBlue, Sheetz, POM Wonderful), and seeks their financial support to make a movie about him seeking financial support from them. Most of the company people understand that they are the joke, and also that to some extent that they can be in on it, but still can't fully control what Spurlock does with their brand image, hard as they may try. It's a clever commentary about the proliferation of product placement in our society, as well as a funny movie in and of itself.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is how casually Spurlock integrates his sponsors into the picture, keeping a straight face about it even in situations where it should seem odd. Who conducts an interview on a JetBlue? He also has a bottle of POM Wonderful with him for pretty much every scene - by the end of the movie, you have to admire the guy's persistence and attention to detail.
But the funniest part is his interaction with Mane and Tail, a brand of shampoo that caters both to humans and horses, which is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. Spurlock finds it even funnier than he should, and the genre of people finding mildly amusing things really funny has always been special to me. He just can't contain himself whenever the subject of Mane and Tail comes up, even from his first giddy encounter with it at a grocery store. It takes him a while to compose himself when he finally calls them to pitch his proposal, and even then is on the verge of cracking up when he tells them the preposterous TV ad he wants to cut: him, in a bathtub, using Mane and Tail, then the camera pans over to his son, also using the product, then one more pan to the son applying Mane and Tail to a horse, also, apparently in the tub. I have no idea how he says it with a straight face, but I recommend you find out how his interaction with the company, and the others featured in this movie, turns out.
A couple of quick reviews here to start. I'd read a lot of good press on Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, and I really admire Sagan...this one just didn't work for me. I don't know, he just spent so much time talking about all these pseudosciences that were so ridiculous and easy to dispense that the first half of the book could have been as simple as: hey, look at this bullshit, this is dumb, moving right along. Towards the end of the book he gains momentum as he explains the positives of science and freethinking instead of having to swat away idiocies like ghosts and UFO's, but this was not one of my favorites in the freethought oeuvre.
I was much more impressed with Chuck Thompson's travelogue-slash-takedown Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession. It's all right there in the title, and Thompson proves to be a remarkable writer with a keen eyes for satire and silliness, plenty of which he discovers in the south. Thompson writes the way that I think (or maybe hope) I would write if I were a professional writer. Readers may quibble with some of his methodology. As an example, I still think him leaving Texas in his new United States of America is odd (though he anticipates this criticism), and not all readers (again, as he himself points out) will need an entire chapter raking SEC football over the coals. But for liberal Yankees like me, this book was spot on.
I do think we should spend more time talking about David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, a fascinating and complex novel that I think perhaps I need to read again to fully grasp its subtleties and layers.
I didn't see the movie, and heard it actually wasn't that great, but the previews I saw for it, combined with the dust jacket blurbs I read, were compelling enough for me to take a flyer on this unique piece of modern literature. Cloud Atlas is billed as a novel, but its structure is much different than what we typically imagine a novel being - it's a series of six nested stories, with each story existing as an independent entity but also appearing as a book, film, or other medium in the following story, which takes place in a later time period. The stories progress in this fashion, from the 1800's to some indeterminate date well into our present future, until the final tale is reached, after which the first five stories (which all ended on cliffhangers) are completed in the opposite order they originally appeared. Mitchell uses the structure to demonstrate the connectedness of lives through time, and this literary device and the connections he draws allow him to do so in very clever fashion. One soul is identifiable through each of the stories by the presence of a common birthmark - this website breaks down the rest of the characters linked through the stories. I assume they're easily recognizable in the film by the actors who play then, but not so much as you read the book. I might try to give this another read knowing what characters are connected through the eras.
Mitchell proves himself a master of styles, as the stories are told through wildly different voices, eras, and narrative styles; one is the journal of a 19th century American lawyer, another a deposition from a futuristic clone human, another from a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian hillbilly. I'm not sure how Mitchell is able to transform his writing style so adeptly, but it's really a testament to his ability that he can do so this fluidly and remain consistent within each sub-story, and at the same time keep all the narratives linked. He even meta-refers to the book's unique structure, sprinkling the number 6 throughout the novel and even having one character compose a symphony patterned in the same way and having the composer wonder aloud if the gimmick makes any sense.
To me, the arrangement of the book is its most notable feature; I wonder if it will be even more so if I track the various "souls" throughout the book's sections. What I wondered as I read, and am thinking about still now, is how much I was supposed to (or did) get out of the stories themselves, independent of the overarching novel's themes of history repeating itself and the connectedness of life. For example, "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish," about a boutique publisher who unwillingly finds himself trapped in a nursing home, isn't something I would seek out at all just as a short story. It just isn't that good of a standalone tale. "An Orison of Sonmi-451" on the other hand, the lone science fiction-themed of all the stories, was utterly riveting, no matter who Sonmi-451 was in the other stories. Seriously, David Mitchell, can you write a whole series about that aspect of this world?
Ultimately, the individual weakness of a couple of the six stories keeps Cloud Atlas from being a perfect novel, though perhaps if I read it again armed with more knowledge, I might draw more out of those ones as well. I really did appreciate the risks Mitchell took with the organization and the ambitious ideas he tackles. I'm also a bit creeped out by it, because as I write this I have a strong sense of déjà vu that I already wrote this and someone commented on it (the comment was about me under-appreciating the novel, which I have tried to anticipate here by being open about what I didn't get). Normally that wouldn't be strange - it happens a lot - but when it's concerning a review about a book where character traits and events are shared through different time frames to different people, it makes one take pause.
The oddest thing though, happened late when I was reading this book. The first (and, by extension, last) story takes the form of a diary, titled "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing." Very late in the book as he tells his tale, apropos of nothing, Ewing writes a separate paragraph consisting of a single line: "Today is my 34th birthday." Can you see where this is going? I read that line for the first time on my 34th birthday. I'm not making this up.
Look, obviously I don't believe in reincarnation, and souls traversing time, and atlases of Clouds ... but can we agree that this is weird? Like, there's pretty much only one book where that line is written, I'm guessing, as it's both pretty arbitrary and specific. I picked up Cloud Atlas on a whim one arbitrary night and finished it, well, just when I finished it, not by any set timetable. This book is nine years old, and I just got to that one very spot, not just on my birthday, but the exact birthday of the character, and in a book whose major theme is characters connected through time to boot. The odds opposing this are staggering, yet it happened. Even with a full understanding of confirmation bias, this is really something. As is Mitchell's book. I suspect that I'm not done with the world he's crafted here.
I wrote quite a bit about AWOLNATION's Megalithic Symphony, a surprisingly excellent and effervescent debut set of electronic pop-rock.
For reasons I may never fully understand, I checked Toadies' Feeler out of the library, and, well ... not good. I really liked their debut Rubberneck - there's a whole lot more good stuff on that record than just the amazing "Possum Kingdom" - and maybe I thought hey, these guys might have some other great stuff. It turns out that Feeler was supposed to be the follow-up to Rubberneck but the record company wasn't going for it, so they went back to the studio, and the sessions were scrapped, and blah blah blah it came out and isn't that great. Oh well. If you get nothing else out of this capsule, take a few minutes and check out Rubberneck.
I pretty much avoided writing a lot about Nine Inch Nails' Hesitation Marks, and I think I'm going to keep it that way. Let me just say that, sonic depth or no, I'm not ready for Trent Reznor changing his game all the way from "Your god is dead/and no one cares" to "Oh dear lord/hear my prayer."
Hi, early bird readers! I'll have this final two record reviews posted by Tuesday night, but I ran out of time and still wanted it to be in this mega-post without anyone missing them, so this post will be kinda Second Death Star for a day.
Green Day Warning
You know how sometimes you listen to something, and you feel like you should be enjoying it, but you kind of aren't, and you aren't sure why, and then that confusion makes it difficult for you to start liking it? Does that make any sense? I got a feeling when I listened to Green Day's 2000 folk-pop record Warning that I should have liked it more than I actually did, without being 100% sure why. I can point to a few quibbles I have with it: the singles "Warning" and "Minority" never did a whole lot for me, the theatrical "Misery" is awful, and some of the added instrumentation just seems out of place. But overall I think I shouldn't be too harsh, because it is a pretty strong batch of songs, and quite a few of the deeper tracks like "Blood, Sex, and Booze," "Castaway," and reflective album closer "Macy's Day Parade" rank among the group's best material. Who knows, maybe American Idiot's excellence just made it tougher for Billie Joe and company to move the needle for me.
Another fun month of hate mail directed to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, intercepted and mocked by me. Every month, I’m just astounded by how awful these people are, and how eager they are to go out of their way - to take time out of what are undoubtedly serious, productive days - to show everyone how bigoted, cowardly, violent, hateful, illogical, unreasonable, and flatly stupid they are.
I understand that there isn't much to be gained from fighting this - these people are going to be stupid, and do stupid things, regardless of any skewering from me. But frankly, I like fighting back. I like pointing out their foolishness. And I like not just sitting back and letting them fire off their missives every month without being checked. Even the anonymous ones, who give Brave Sir Robin a run for his money in the courage department.
The leadoff entry this month was a photo of a fake donation card to FFRF that some HILARIOUS prankster had filled in, pledging a donation of: “100 tons of shit since you enjoy spreading it. I do too.” Gross, man. The comedy doesn’t stop there, as he side-splittingly return-addresses it:
I/M/ Satan, 750 Intense Fire Blvd., Eternal, Hell. Phone: 2063 06 3096 (Come on Down).
Quick aside here: I'm always fascinated by the arbitrary nature of so much of the "content" of these letters. Why 750? Why 2063? It's almost as if the writers just put down the first things they thing of in every case and never again consider or revise what they've written. Hmmm.
Our comedian also added boxes below the existing ones (Life Member, Contributor, etc) for “Jerks” and “Freaks.” Someone get this guy a sitcom NOW. OK, onto the more conventional communications. All typos are from the original authors.
Witefish Mtn Resort”Jesus” Statue
I am not a “religious” person, but you people need to stay the f**K out of Montana and not concern yourselves with what we choose to do out here. If you are so “offended” by this statue, then look the other F**KING way!
-Dennis Morgan, Dayton, MT
Pretty run of the mill stuff here – I love the defiance “get out of my state” people, whose sense of xtian privilege runs so deep that they cannot fathom the idea of an organization headquartered in another state filing lawsuits in their state to stop Constitutional violations. If they weren’t so nasty, it would be comical how defensive they get; letter-writers here seem completely incapable of self-analysis, just lashing out at anyone who tries to check their bullshit. FFRF is in a tough spot with what they do - it's inevitably them reminding people to stop doing illegal things, and then everyone just flips the fuck out at them instead of, you know, not doing the illegal thing. It's like when you ask a smoker to stop smoking in a place where he or she is not allowed to smoke, and of course you're the bad guy for pointing it out.
Darwin and Atheism
Darwin was not honorable..he tortured animals and killed them. And people who have the propensity to do those things because you say it’s just how they evolved..well that is stupid and irresponisible.
Um...right. Does anyone have any idea what this guy is talking about? Maybe try fully forming your "thoughts" before trying to write them down? Just a thought. I'm not sure where these odd anti-Darwin claims are coming from (true believers are firmly convinced that slandering old Chuck Darwin somehow invalidates the fact of evolution), but in regards to the animal-killing charge, I have to wonder if Duncan is a vegetarian.
You people are dyed in the wool idiots
Id-i-ot 2. A person of profound mental retardation having mental age below three years and generally being unable to learn connected speech or guard against common dangers. The fact that you believe the devil’s lies is proof of your idiocy. I know from experience that hell exists. One morning in June 1950 I was laying in bed wide awake and I left my body and went to hell. I didn’t get in the fire but I got close enough to feel the heat and hear the screams of the people there. Then I came back and got in my body. The devil will tell you that I was sick or it was just my imagination but he will be lying as usual.
Wow, that was a long definition, MRED, but I’m glad you copied and pasted the whole thing -it really added a lot to the discussion. As I’ve pointed out before, the “argument from experience” is among the least persuasive of all the tools in the believer’s toolbag. I have to give this guy some credit, though – he’s realized what a handy thing it is to reframe all of your delusions, putting them in terms of the person you’re criticizing being under the persuasion of an invisible, malevolent entity. Try it, it’s fun! You don’t like something on my blog? That’s because the devil told you not to like it. This trick pretty much makes you impervious to any and all criticism.
Why try and make everything so “politically correct” when the State and Church are barely unanimous. You people are giving extremism a segway into this nation and don’t even realize it.
- Annabelle Giletti
Ha, “segway.” Tell me you didn’t picture GOB from Arrested Development.
Yall need to keep ur noses out of our community here in Marion county tn It’s non of ur concern what we do here keep ur asses in Wisconsin there will be prayer at our sporting events I’ll make sure of it a former united states military member I faught for this right so shut up
- miles davis, south pittsburg, tenn
It is our concern, Miles, and I refuse your boorish demand to shut up. Why can you people not understand that FFRF is a national organization, headquartered in Wisconsin? I feel like if people could understand that, about half of this email traffic would vanish. I can respect Miles’ military service, but what he “faught” for was, I hope, something other than the right to violate the Constitution and bully minority groups.
Come kill me
I love my god and I have my choice to be religious. Want to stop me your only choice is to kill me because I will never stop believing. What are you going to do imprison me shoot me ticket me. go fuck yourself
- Jesus Christ, Heaven, Alberta
This person needs mental help, immediately. I’m not even kidding or using that as a figure of speech. This person should seek professional psychiatric help right away. That's all I'm saying about this.
We will win
You will never succeed! If I have to I will personally come out to your headquarters and make sure of that!
- James Baughman, Child Crisis Therapist/Evening Triage Therapist, Tulsa, Okla.
We are succeeding, Jimmy. Nonreligion is growing steadily and rapidly, especially among the young, as society starts throwing off the shackles of religious superstition. Winning! I love the implied threates of violence though – where would insecure xtian hate-mailers be without them? Also, James Baughman really sounds like the kind of guy you want helping children sort through crises..,a measured, patient kind of guy, with a level head on his shoulders. That was sarcasm. This guy is a freak and shouldn't be allowed within 100 yards of a school.
A Friendly Rant
Who the fuck are you to tell someone they can’t have a cross on a war memorial? Have you liberal cocksuckers ever served your country? doubt it. It’s tree hugging faggots like you people that should be removed from our country. You have zero respect for the soldiers who dies so you would have the freedom to run around and act like assholes. If you ass clowns don’t like this country as founded, then by all means, get the FUCK OUT….oh, and have a nice day.
-Marc Hightower, Greenbrier, Ark.
There are really two ways to go about addressing this hideously-misnamed letter. One is going through and rebutting it, point by point. This is the more mature, thoughtful approach, though maybe not a very effective method. It goes something like this:
1) To your first question, even though it wasn't asked in good faith, they (we) are the FFRF, and the cross you’re complaining about violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
2) “Cocksuckers” is impolite and unnecessary, and the need you feel to include this language points strongly to your lack of confidence in the merit of your argument.
3) If you mean military service, yes, a lot of FFRF members have served in the military.
4) There are no grounds on which to deport “tree-hugging” (people who like the environment?) “faggots” (gay people). Your bigotry is insufficient.
5) How do you know FFRF doesn’t respect soldiers? I suspect that they do. I do. I respect them enough not to try to parade them and co-opt their deeds as unearned collateral in hate mail.
6) I’m not going to leave here just because I don’t like certain things – I prefer to stay and try to change them. I suspect the “as founded” is a reference to the “christian nation” myths promulgated by David Barton and others.
That was educational. There’s the less thoughtful approach, which admittedly is tempting to use on all of these, but I will use just once, to avoid losing too much credibility:
Marc Hightower of Greenbrier, Ark, you are a fucking idiot.
People like you are ruining America. “Let immorality reign” should be your slogan. I know many of you lay awake at night wondering if there is a God and if you will have to answer to him one day.
- Mark Kjenstad
No, we aren’t. That slogan is dumb. “Morality” is not limited to your narrow, repressed vision of it. I assume the ironic error of “lay” (the past tense of “lie,” but you knew that) was a mistake, and you weren't trying to say that we used to lie awake, back in the day. Finally, we do not wonder this – that’s you. Stop projecting. Bye.
Jesus picture in school
You have no need to tell the parents of Jackson County Ohio how to raise their children. I am in contact with other parents and we are trying to get it put on the ballot to be able to vote on having the picture put back.
- Mary K. Bates-Wilson
I love that defensive, overblown opening! As if enforcing chuch-state separation in public schools is somehow telling people about all facets of child-rearing, putting these unfair, burdensome restrictions on them. I actually know parents in Jackson County, Ohio, and I do not tell them how to raise their kids. I do, however, understand why it’s fucked-up to have Jesus pictures in a school. Let's not conflate the two. The last part is pathetic desperation. What ballot? The one to invalidate the Bill of Rights? Good fucking luck with that, Mary K. Bates-Wilson!
Your religious harassment
I heard about you harassing the La Marque City Council of Texas. My response is to pledge to boycott all Wisconsin businesses, starting with Milwaukee Tools, Wisconsin dairy products, Packers football, and so on. Want a world without religion? That will be a world of revenge and retribution. Welcome to your new world, assholes.
- Steven Truthslinger
Wow, the last thing the Packers need with Aaron Rodgers out is “Steven Truthslinger” boycotting them. What are they to do!? I love Steve-o's quick pivot from his one-man crusade to the fine irony of him describing (apropos of nothing) a religion-free world as one of “revenge and retribution,” right in the midst of an email where he does nothing but seek both. And am I to believe from his eloquent closing statement that my new, religion-free world has indeed arrived? Hooray! I’m going to go check!
Keep your cheese head opinions to yourselves
You don’t live in Texas don’t worry about our business. We Live by the Constitution of the United States founded buy Christians and by the Texas constitution again founded by you guessed it Christians. your playing in the wrong playground. Period. go play with your al-Qaida friends.
- Randel Gilmore
Lots of anti-Wisconsin sentiment this month. Isn’t the phrase “playing in the wrong sandbox”? Randel checks off pretty much all of the boxes of idiocy here, including the old "atheist=terrorist" one, which I don’t quite get because they pretty much all seem to be carried out by true believers. I mean, Randel, you’re the one who’s the religious extremist and fellow Person of the Book – shouldn’t you have more in common with al-Qaida than an infidel like me?
You seem to not be smart enough to know anyone who has any beliefs, even your beliefs in nothing but self and science, when acting on those beliefs has created a religion. Even if it’s a lame religion like yours trusting in noone but yourselves. So in short, Fuck Off, Democrat puppets and panderers. I can appreciate you not beliving in God, as I am sure you can appreciate me believing you ain’t worth the salt in my piss.
- gary stephens, new hampshire
I like that first clause of a completely unreadable opening sentence – how could someone possibly not know anyone with any beliefs? Even assuming that he means religious beliefs (everyone believes some things), but even then, in a nation with 85% professing some religious faith, the idea that you could (or would want to) somehow avoid all of them is comical. I've long admired the “atheism is a religion” line of attack. It’s such a self-defeating argument for believers to make – “you suck because you’re like me” and isn’t even close to being true. As to that last statement, wow, this guy really thinks highly of himself.
You people are arrogant idiots that need to mind your own business cause nobody around here has a problem with prayer for a better school year. So y’all just stay up there and eat your crappy cheese.
- Joseph Hinkle, Cullman, Ala.
WE HAVE MEMBERS ALL ACROSS THE NATION WHY CAN’T YOU GRASP THIS CHEESE IS GOOD???
We are Bible Thumping, Gun Toting, Freedom loving Patriots. Without a belief in God, what is there to keep society in check? Laws? No, only the fear of eternal damnation compels people to be good. May God Bless your hollow souls.
- Freedom Lover, Alabama
Sweet Jebus is this individual ever a coward. I’m not saying this just because he/she spends his/her free time sending mean-spirited letters to a public advocacy group, anonymously. ("Coward, Alabama" would have been a better sign-off.) No, it’s more because of the last part of the message, where this lover of freedom (why everyone assumes a priori that atheists hate freedom is beyond me, inasmuch as we’ve chosen freedom from the mental shackles of faith) lays out the ONLY thing that compels people to be good. No friend, I’m afriad that cowardly fear is the only thing keeping you in check. You’re projecting again.
who do you think you are?
I am already crippled,or I would try to meet any sob who comes to alabama to have the right to have a christian celebration,the bible says there is a time for war,i personally would not lose any sleep if you were all shot on sight.PS,better thank the lord that i can’t travel.
- deerhunter, alabama
I'm Andy. Threats of violence, horrible grammar, internet boldness, ho hum. Can you imagine if atheists wrote these sorts of letters to churches? Here, I’m going to try one.
You people are SICK
Why do you crazy basterds need to interferer in MY business trying to "witness" and "convert" atheists if i want to not believe I can, what do they say about let sleeping dogs lie?! The CONSTITUTION says to make no law effecting religion so keep your commandents out of my coutrhouses! If you like State-Sponsored religion so much then go to Iran, Saudi Arabia, ect. but get the F**K out of my country.
Seems weird, right? That's because atheists don't write crazy shit like this. I dind't even know where to start. Frankly, it was hard not to just go all-caps in every sentence.
what are you afraid of?
why do you meddle in other states than wisconsin? what about christianity scares you so much if you don’t believe? God is over all, so meddle all you want, you will be wondering what happened & why is it so hot?
- ann wittnebel, westlinn, oregon
BECAUSE IT’S A NATIONAL ORGANIZATION WE JUST WENT OVER THIS, GODDAMNIT ANN WITTNEBEL. The answer to your second question is: people like you and the rest of the letter-writers. You're the scary part. Not the book of Hebrew myths ... its adherents. I hope I'm being clear.
You are a flagrant violation of the word of God
You want god out of the schools? Then God will remove you from the book of life!
- Grady Brown
Boom, roasted. People really believe this stuff, it’s amazing. The book of life! Do I go into a different book?
marion county football games
The problem with this country now is lowlifes like you people trying to get prayer out of schools and create a bunch of immoral degenerates.I suppose you support a homosexuals to.
- bill everdon, jasper, tenn.
Yep, I have a big sign in my front yard saying, “I Support a Homosexuals To.” Bill Everdon, you dummy, learn how to spell-check.
you have no clue
If my kids want to pary on school land before a football game they will and if I want to pary with a bull horn in the middle of the football field I will as my tax money paid for it and no bunch of godless hell bound fools will stop me.
- dale king, jasper, tennessee
What if your kids want to type the letter “r” before the letter “a” – will you let them do that? What if your kids don't want their father to be a total ass - could you make that happen? I would love to see Dale King go out there with his "bull horn" and embarrass himself, right there on that field that he personally bought outright, 100%, with his taxes. Also, your kids can pary whenever and wherever they want – it just can’t be school-sponsored. People who write these letters are so caught up in their mindless rage that they can’t be bothered to understand this crucial distinction. But hey, thinking is hard.
So … it took me a while to come around on this one. During my initial review of the record, I did award it four stars , but then added that: “I really liked and appreciated the record, though it's probably not something I'll come back to in the future.” Right.
I did correct that oversight in 2010 in my “Mistakes Were made” feature for 2007, but then inexplicably left it off my Very Good Records series and omitted it from even the Top 20 of my Best Records of the 00’s compilation. Whoops. I went ahead and subbed it in for The Hives’ Veni Vidi Vicious on the oughties list - I had overrrated VVV - and assumes its #8 spot. I just went back and semi-corrected that article, though I don’t really feel like re-doing the collage. I wish I had a staff for this blog. Funeral will not, however, claim a spot in Very Good Records, though, because it’s earned a spot on Great Records. Onto the coronation.
The debut album from Montreal, Canada’s Arcade Fire, Funeral, is without a doubt the most significant indie rock album of the past decade-plus, ranking among the most critically-adored albums in history. Led by husband-and-wife team Win Butler and Régine Chassange, supported by like 5 or 6 other guys, who knows, Arcade Fire crafted a unique and compelling sound, building their warm, organic sound into a series of soaring, heartfelt anthems. It’s interesting to consider how sincere and emotional this record is compared to the lackadaisical irony of the other Most Significant Indie Rock album, the one that kicked off the modern era of indie rock, Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted.
Arcade Fire composed Funeral after a spate of band members having lost loved ones, hence the title, and the sense of resilience, community, and solemnness of such a turbulent time is reflected starkly in the opening suite of four “Neighborhood” songs. The record kicks off with “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), which to me is one of the greatest and most ambitious songs ever recorded. From the opening muted strings and pianos, an indelible six-note guitar melody arises. As Butler’s vocals enter, the track adds rhythm guitar, drums, lead guitar, and eventually a full-on chorus echoing the song’s main motif. With this instantly memorable track, in just five minutes Arcade Fire had announced themselves as a serious player in modern rock.
The rest of the “Neighborhood” suite is a bit more restrained, featuring the accordion-driven “Laïka”, delicate “7 Kettles”, and overblown “Power Out”, the latter of which I think is one of the album’s few missteps. Arcade Fire do many things very well, but big-drums, heavy-guitar rock is not one of them. The rest of the album’s tracks don’t follow the thematic thread of “Neighborhood,” but do fit comfortably in tone and content with that suite, making Funeral as a whole remarkably coherent and well-paced. “Crown of Love” is a strikingly plaintive 6/8 ballad – modern rock doesn’t often pull off lines as honest as “if you still want me/please forgive me” very often. “Wake Up” follows, with a choral hook so sticky it was used as the theme for a Super Bowl, of all things (Saints-Colts). You could probably have written a pretty good song just using “Wake Up”’s grinding one-note riff, and another one with the vocal line – Arcade Fire throw both together with some orchestral flourishes to boot, and end up with a classic.
While not entirely contemptuous of traditional songwriting structures, Funeral throws in some more complex arrangements and, more importantly, heralds the return of one of my favorite rock traditions: the two-part song. These always work! Some day I want someone to release an entire album of two-part songs. Arcade Fire switch abruptly and kick it up a gear for the final 90 seconds of both “Wake Up” and “Crown of Lies”, and even on tunes where there isn’t a clean break between movements in a song, the codas to epic tracks like “Tunnels” and “In the Backseat” take the listener to very different places than where they started.
Funeral closes on two stirring, yet perhaps philosophically opposed notes, with the rollicking, feisty “Rebellion (Lies)”, and the somber “In the Backseat.” The former is defiant and energetic; the latter yearns for a place of quiet safety. Perhaps Arcade Fire used these two tracks to juxtapose very different ways of dealing with loss; maybe they just had a diverse set of feelings that they wanted to include on the record; maybe they just had two really good songs left. Regardless, the anthemic passion and dramatic sweep of Funeral make it a Great Record and place it among the finest indie rock albums ever.
3 best songs: Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Wake Up, Rebellion (Lies)
Shouldn’t you be reviewing the new album, Reflektor, instead of doing this? Mind your own business.
Live performance: I didn’t get to see them at Lollapalooza 2010, since some dummy scheduled them opposite Soundgarden, but I highly, highly recommend the clip of them performing “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” on my Best Songs Ever post (linked above).
Magic moment: I know, I keep saying this … but the choral part of “Tunnels”
Minor flaw: You’ll notice I didn’t mention “Haiti” anywhere in the Overview.
Why it's great: Funeral is an enduring, heartfelt, anthemic, modern rock masterpiece.
It's widely acknowledged that we're living in a Golden Age of Television, as the number of quality shows, as well as the presence of a handful of truly exceptional shows, well outpaces previous time periods in television and leads to a sort of embarrassment of riches, where there are simply more excellent programs than anyone not currently serving as a TV critic can reasonably be expected to digest. This Golden Age was effectively kicked off by the debut of HBO's The Sopranos in 1999, and persists to this day, though it can be argued that the end of a few marquee programs might mark a transition. (For the record, it mostly applies to dramatic series, particularly serial ones, though there have been some groundbreaking comedies like The Office and Arrested Development). Chuck Klosterman wrote a while back, astutely, that four shows from this era stood out from the pack: The Sopranos, AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and HBO's The Wire. It's interesting and telling that none of the four aired on the major networks, as the best shows have clearly migrated away from the big players. Even second-tier modern classics (I mean that as a compliment) like The Shield, Game of Thrones, and Walking Dead have taken advantage of the freedom afforded by cable and premium channels. It hasn't been all bad on the networks of course, with the vanguard held by shows like NBC's The West Wing and ABC's Lost.
Oh yeah, and Fox's 24, which happens to be my favorite show.
Mind you, I'm not necessarily saying it's the best. I understand the notion of critical consensus, and I realize that any serious TV watcher would have my head on a platter for not picking any of the aforementioned Big 4 as the GOAT. But I like watching it way more than any of those (I haven't seen Mad Men, but I know myself, and it's the right call for me to stay away), and I think that has to count for something. I watched the first season of The Wire and a season and a half of Breaking Bad, and I could appreciate the artistry and quality without really being drawn into them. I would dutifully watch an episode here and there, and that was fine, but it always seemed a little bit like eating my vegetables. I rarely finished an episode and then thought, wow, I have to watch another one - a phenomenon I experienced frequently with Lost and that I encounter almost literally every time I watch 24. It's just an amazing show.
For those of you who somehow aren't familiar with the show or its concept, it focuses around a Federal Agent named Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who works for the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) in Los Angeles. Each season comprises a single day - 24 episodes each one hour long, filmed in real time - as Bauer and his colleagues fend off sophisticated, elaborate, and large-scale terrorist threats. It's the most kinetic, tense, intricately-plotted, and intriguing show I've ever seen, and it's kind of interesting to me that it seems to have been sort of forgotten by the viewing public. A friend of mine recently suggested that if I like 24, then I should check out Showtime's Homeland. On one hand, I'm sure I'd like it ... but on the other hand, I have four more seasons of 24 (plus the final two hours of Season 3, from which had to tear myself away to write this), so I think I'll stick with the real thing until I've exhausted it.
Plus, circling back to my original discussion of critical acclaim - there's something to be said for interjecting one's own personal taste into what one chooses to watch. Even if I acknowledge that The Wire is a superior show (I don't - I'm just using it to make a point), if I like watching 24 more, then maybe that's the one I should go with, no? I still remember the first time I watched the first season, back in 2006, lamenting that Blockbuster (!) wouldn't just give me all the discs, NOW. Also, you might get a spoiler or two here, but I'll try to keep it light if I can.
Sutherland's superhuman Jack Bauer is the central character in 24, but the actor himself has pointed out that the real-time format is the true star of the show, and he's right. Maybe it's a gimmick, but it's an awesome one, and the sense of urgency that it lends the show is the #1 reason why I find it so compelling. I have a lot of respect for whomever plans out and executes the elaborate storylines of these seasons ("Days"). Fitting all of the separate plotlines together, pacing everything properly to sync up key events, keeping all the details straight on what everyone knows, who's on what side, even what time of day is, must be a logistical nightmare. I'm sure there's some jerk out there cataloguing all the minor continuity errors on 24 (that blood on Jack's coat looks different than the previous scene!) - I would sincerely like to see anyone do better.
While acknowledging that the structure and pacing of the show is the primary key to its success, I should also mention the considerable contributions of the show's cast, led by Sutherland as superagent Jack Bauer. The indestructible Bauer is really a remarkable character - fearless, physically overpowering, commanding, dedicated, and utterly relentless. The show probably doesn't work without this strong of a lead, and the episodes do suffer a bit when Bauer is off-camera for too long. It's interesting too some of the personality traits Sutherland built into the character as well - as intense as he is, and as unhesitating he is to kill a bad guy, he's unfailingly polite too, never missing an opportunity to thank sincerely someone who's given him assistance. I also like his trademark way of dealing with someone from whom he needs help. Ask/order the person first in a normal, clear, assertive voice, then after a second's hesitation, make the same request/order again, LOUDER, and more forcefully. Bauer is an unstoppable force physically and strategically - his only weakness is really that he cares too much about protecting his nation and his family, which has earned him countless enemies and given those enemies leverage against him. Dennis Haysbert also turns in a terrific performance as the exceedingly presidential and honorable David Palmer, a man presented with seemingly impossible choices almost every hour.
Kim Bauer (Elisha Cuthbert), well ... not so much. I think it's even an Internet thing how loopy and off-track Kim's subplots end up being, how often she manages to get captured. Just not a lot of value-add from that character, other than making things more challenging for Jack, who kind of has enough to worry about as is.
And, of course, there's Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke), one of the most secretly terrifying villains to ever appear onscreen. Myers opens the series as Bauer's former flame (he's still married to Teri) and second in command at CTU, and ends the first season as CTU's most destructive and insidious mole. She manages to resurface in the 2nd and 3rd seasons, and her character's resourcefulness and complete lack of a moral center makes her tremendously unsettling. Clarke plays it perfectly, especially the menacing look she gives the security camera when murdering a colleague in the first season and the smirk and non-answer she gives CTU's Tony Almeida when he asks what exactly she gets out of being a mass-murderer. With all the other villains in the series, the viewer is at least presented with some explanation as to their angle and motive; not with Myers.
Speaking of villains, 24 sure knows how to press the viewer's panic button. The first season, taut and dynamic as it was, seems relatively tame, as the chief bad guys are mostly concerned with breaking a war criminal out of prison. The second and third seasons introduce nuclear and biological weapons, respectively, into the mix; who knows what sort of crazy thing the final four seasons hold. The scale of the attacks seems improbable at times, but certainly not impossible - a show about a weaponized virus ends up being that much more effective when one reflects on the fact that there are deadly viruses and nuclear weapons in the world, and there are criminally insane people who would use them for their own ends, most likely against the United States. I even joked in this space a few years ago, when the Bush administration notified the public about stopping a potential nuclear threat in Los Angeles, that they had seemingly just ripped off Season 2 for a press release.
The villains always take a long time to reveal themselves - the org charts of their nefarious groups are always fascinating to me, and the real mastermind never shows his face until the second half of the Day. It makes 24 a bit of a video game, where the player doesn't get to face the main boss until the very end. Villains also remain hidden to the viewer because of how frequently characters turn out to not be who you thought they were. With all the moles and double agents roaming around CTU, that must be one bizarre place to work. Maybe it's a bit too convenient that there's a plot twist pretty much every hour on the hour, some concessions must be made to the fact that, in the end, it's a show on TV. It doesn't cost the show any credibility
CTU is a strange place, but they sure do have neat gadgets. Everyone there seems incredibly adept at operating phones, setting up lines, and "patching him through" - their level of telecommunications training must have been years just by itself. The skill set to work as a Field Ops agent (the ones who shoot bad guys) has remarkable breadth and depth. Jack Bauer is basically a gold medal decathlete crossed with a Google Engineer. It seems a bit quaint to see the incredibly high-tech, plugged in CTU, with its almost limitless surveillance and data processing capacity, calling Bauer on his flip phone, but hey, that's what people had then. It's worth pointing out that Bauer had what was basically an iPad in like 2003, when they didn't exist.
As I've rewatched the first two seasons of 24, I've been more acutely aware of the main theme of the show, the thing that makes it so riveting episode after episode: the dynamics of power. The entire program rests on one major concept: how do you get someone to do what you want him or her to do? In other words, how do you gain leverage on your opponent. This question and challenge manifests itself in many ways throughout the show: how do the villains get CTU agents and political figures to capitulate to their demands? How do the CTU agents get information out of people they've captured? How do you get someone to drop their gun? How do you convince an adversary that you're a friendly?
The questions have an equally broad distribution of answers. Villains gain leverage through meticulously crafted planning and organization, with a heaping helping of kidnapping, which time in and time out proves to be the highest-leverage move anyone can make to gain an upper hand. Aside from this, shocks to the power dynamics are supplied in the most roguish fashion by none other than Jack Bauer. Far more than any other character, Bauer uses physical strength and ability to change the equation of power in tough situations - escaping custody, killing adversaries, and, most notoriously, by using torture. This is the element of the show that garnered the most criticism, more often than not from people who hadn't actually seen the show, but it demands that the viewer at least consider the central question of whether or not Bauer's actions are justified. Yes, we can all agree that it's wrong to torture someone for information. But if it's the only guy who can provide information that might avert an imminent nuclear attack, doesn't that change your calculus a little bit? Bauer is the perfect vehicle for this because he will stop at nothing to do his job and protect innocent lives. Consider his actions kicking off the second season, when out of nowhere he kills a key Federal witness so he can cut off the guy's head and deliver it to the leader of a gang he once joined undercover, just so he can quickly re-establish his cover. He doesn't do these things just to do them, just when it's warranted - consider as a counterpoint him staging the execution of the son of a suspect he was interrogating rather than just doing the real thing.
Kidnapping is frequently employed by both sides to gain an advantage - as many nefarious and morally bankrupt psychos (or, like Jack, single-minded and focused) as there seem to be on the show, not one of them seems above family loyalty. It's weird to try to understand the terrorists' rationalizations - you're OK with killing millions of innocent people, but the idea of your daughter being killed is so troubling to you that your operation is compromised? Their utter lack of perspective is always fascinating to me. Consider the Drazens' revenge plot in the first season, where they are out to avenge the death of two of their family members but are completely callous and indifferent to the feelings of the dozens of families to whom they inflict the same pain. Nevertheless, I've yet to see a character on the show who isn't susceptible to this tactic when employed, especially Bauer, who spends most of the early portion of Season 1 pinned down by the kidnapping of his wife and daughter.
It's this endless power struggle, the scheming, planning, reacting, and fighting, that continues to drive the show's spectacularly complicated plots, all filtered through the nearly-invincible and yet decidedly human central character of Jack Bauer. He gains complexity as the show rolls on - obviously he's a guy who's seen a ton of violence and mayhem, but the events of the Days on 24 contribute to his psyche as well. Among those events, by far the most notable takes place in the waning seconds of Day 1 - a bold, startling, wrenching ending that truly established 24 as a top-flight show willing to take risks and push the viewers' boundaries. I'm looking forward to the remainder of it.
Thought I'd just tell some tales form recent events from this weekend, as they provide as good an opportunity for storytelling and (hopefully) entertainment value as anything I could draw from the worlds of entertainment, sports, science, politics, or my usual haunts.
I went out for a while Friday night, but was generally taking it easy because I had things to do this weekend and a race to run on Sunday. More on that later. I went to bed at a pretty reasonable hour, 11 pm or so, intending to get an early start on my Saturday.
A 2:30 am call from security at my employer was not the early start I had in mind, but that's how it played out. A production-size research tool that I manage was alarming insistently (this despite the fact that it's not actually running), and I wasn't going to be able to help the guard handle the problem over the phone. So, I pulled myself awake and drove in at 3 am to play Mr. Fix-It. Awesome!
I corrected the problem and left the site at 5 am. On my way back, I was looking to make a left turn, and was stopped in a left-only lane waiting for the turn arrow to allow me to do so. No other cars were at any of the other locations at the intersection. To my right were two through lanes headed east (I was faced east, planning to turn north). Suddenly I heard a loud thud and felt my seat shake, involuntarily letting out an "aaah!" Considering that I wasn't at my most alert, given the previous events, it took me a second to figure out that I had been sideswiped on the passenger side by a vehicle headed east - it finally clicked with me when I saw almost nothing where my passenger side mirror resided for the past 10 years. I looked ahead and saw the vehicle - a gold SUV as best I could tell from a rear-angle viewing in the dark - wondering if it would turn around.
I saw it go ahead through a light and turn down a side street. I moved ahead a bit to get out of traffic and tried to locate the fugitive, but realized quickly that this would be a fruitless endeavor, so I returned to the scene, parked on a nearby side street, and called the police. I was a little unsure which city I was in - the road itself is apparently the border between City A and City B. I called City A and the dispatcher asked which side of the street I was on, and I told her, and she said, OK, you're in City B, I'll transfer you. I told City B the same information and the woman said, oh, you're in City A. I said, nooo, they just said it was you, let's figure this out before you switch me back. She muses that maybe I'm in City C - I'm definitely not in City C. I point out that I'm actually standing on "City B Blvd" and after a random f-bomb from her, she dispatches an officer.
Since I was unhurt, they went looking for the perp first, which makes sense. When the officer arrived, he looked around the street for debris form the other car, but found nothing but 2004 Ion rubble. Blah. He and I talked a while, he took photos and finished his report, and that was that. I appreciated his professionalism and the fact that he didn't call my integrity into question. The circumstances and debris supported me, but still.
So, hey, good morning.
Later that day I found myself playing on what was nominally called a "football field" but would more accurately be described as a "mud pit." We beat our archrivals, the über-douchey Bayside Tigers, knocking them out for the second straight season, before losing a 1-point overtime heartbreaker to end our own season. Sad face.
I knew I had the Towpath Marathon coming up the next day, where I traditionally participate in the half marathon race. This would be my fifth in six years - the exception was last year, when my knee wasn't recovered enough to run. It was supposed to happen October 12, but since Ted fucking Cruz had to shut down the government as part of his insane strategy to deny poor people health care, and the race takes place in a National Park, that date got pushed back. This didn't work out well for me, since I'd geared my run training to that original date. For some reason I didn't do a great job sticking with it after that, and knew I was a bit underprepared for this year's edition. Sprinting around a muddy field for two hours was bound not to improve my situation, and some recent unexplained bouts I've had with sidesplitters were troubling as well. As such, I decided to accompany my team to the bar following our contests.
The race went about as I'd expected - a sidesplitter so bad that I wondered to myself where my appendix might be located struck me right after I finished the first 5 miles, and I ended up posting a time around 1:44. That's a few minutes off my usual pace (I've cracked 1:38 twice there), but I'm happy to have finished my first real distance race in two years, and a 7:56 per mile pace isn't the worst thing in the world.
Thanks to those of you who sent birthday greetings - always nice to hear from people. I even got to see a Browns victory and enjoy one Great Lakes XMas Ale and one PBR. The real party , of course, is next Friday at FrancisFest.
Even casual sports fans have likely seen the end of last night's World Series Game 3, won by the Cardinals in a walk-off fashion on one of the strangest plays I've ever seen. I'd like to talk here for a while about the play, and more in-depth about the Red Sox players' reaction to the outcome.
Here's what happened: in a tie game, 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, St. Louis has runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out. The batter hits a ground ball to the 2nd baseman, who fields it and fires home, where the catcher applies the tag to the lead runner for the 2nd out. The catcher then throws the ball to try to nail the trailing runner at 3rd, but air-mails it into left field. The runner and 3rd baseman (who was trying to field the errant throw) get tangled up and the 3rd baseman ends up sprawled, in the baseline, between 3rd and home. The runner at 3rd tries to advance home with the winning run, but is tripped up (the 3rd baseman clearly raises his legs but intent is in no way clear) on his way and is tagged out at the plate. The 3rd base umpire, however, had ruled Obstruction on the part of the 3rd baseman, and thus the home plate umpire by rule declared the runner safe (even though he never touched the plate) and the Cardinals won the game.
Let me be as clear as possible here in the 4th paragraph: this was absolutely, almost indisputably, the correct call. Here is the rule, if you're interested, and a link to the video of the play.
Obstruction is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: ... After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the act of fielding the ball. For example, an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
I do not have a rooting interest in this Series - I don't have anything vested in either team, plus both have won 2 titles within the past 10 years, so there isn't any long-suffering fanbase for me to identify with. I have no dog in this fight. I do, however, have an abiding interest in fairness and correctness, and this was 100% the right call. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a Boston homer unwilling to deal with the truth. Remember how I said that the 3rd baseman's intent wasn't clear? Turns out that doesn't matter according to the rule - the obstruction is to be called completely independent of that factor. The umpire does not have to make any judgement regarding the fielder's intent - just whether or not he impeded the runner - and if you don't think Will Middlebrooks impeded Allen Craig's dash home, then you need to have your eyes and/or brain checked.
Or, perhaps, you are simply a member of the losing Red Sox, who spent considerable time immediately following the call trying somewhat pathetically to inveigh against it, though on what grounds I cannot possibly conceive. I should point out that Red Sock manager John Farrell had the right perspective - he wasn't happy about it of course, but accepted that it was the right call and moved on. Farrell made some strange moves during this game - it really didn't need to come down to this strange play. I know it's a big game and you want to win, but ... you didn't. I was surprised at the immaturity of a few of the Red Socks' postgame comments, including Xander Bogaerts:
"For a game to end like that, wow.[It's the] World Series. I mean, it's not the regular season, game 15 or game 20, you know. It's the World Series, Game 3. I don't know about that ending. To me, it wasn't correct. That's a bad way to lose a game. And in a World Series? That makes it even worse."
I'm troubled most by Bogaerts' comments regarding this being a WS game, not a regular season game in April. Who cares? The rules apply no matter what. He says, "to me, it wasn't correct," which is the same as saying, "I am wrong," and adds "I don't know about that ending," which is maybe a sign that he should stop talking.
Will Middlebrooks, the 3rd baseman at the center of the play, asks, "I mean, what am I supposed to do? ... I was just trying to get myself up. The first thing I thought was [the ball] hit the baserunner, and it was somewhere around close. I was just going to get up and pick it up. As I'm trying to get back up, I get pushed back down, because he was going over me. I feel if the baserunner was in the baseline, he's going over my feet at the most. He was inside where I dove for the ball. There was no place for me to go. ... I don't understand it. I don't understand it. I have to dive for that ball. I'm not in the baseline. I feel like if he's in the baseline, he's at my feet. So, I don't understand it."
Indeed you don't! For Middlebrooks to suggest that he was "not in the baseline" lies in sharp contrast to the video of the play showing him lying in the baseline. I'm sympathetic to Middlebrooks from the standpoint that he probably was just trying to locate the ball and make a play, and just got tangled up with Craig. Unfortunately, that has no bearing on the call as to whether he obstructed Craig, which whether he wanted to or not, he clearly did. Sorry, bro.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the catcher whose crazy throw set the whole thing in motion: "From what I saw on the replay, Will was laying on his stomach, and he lifted his head up. He didn't lift his body up, didn't try to jump out of the way. Allen was on the inside part of the base and tried to jump over him and tripped. I don't see how that's obstruction when he's laying on the ground."
Some of this is true, though even a cursory viewing shows Middlebrooks lift his legs right when Craig (who, in an interesting subplot, has an injured foot - a healthy Allen Craig might have hurdled Middlebrooks cleanly) is trying to jump over him. Yet that last sentence just doesn't work - "I don't see how that's obstruction when he's laying on the ground." Jarrod, it's obstruction because said ground was right near the bag where the runner was trying to advance. If that's not obstruction then you could just strew fielders along the baselines for every play - why not keep a guy on his stomach with his legs slightly elevated near home plate on the way to 1st base?
Jake Peavy helpfully offers the least intelligent of all the takes, with this gem of misinformed rage-spew. I'm actually going to line-by-line his comments because I think their douchey indignation merits it;
I cannot believe you make that call from home plate
No one is asking you to believe that - Jim Joyce made the obstruction call from his spot at 3rd base, right where the foul occurred. Anything else you'd like to add?
I'm out of words.
Then stop talking.
I don't know what to say.
I think it's a crying shame a call like that is going to decide a World Series game. It's a joke. Two teams are pouring their hearts out on the field and that's the call you make.
You think it's a shame that a correct call was made? I know you want to win, but at the cost of the game's integrity? How does the quantity of heart-pouring affect whether or not the umpires should or should not officiate the game properly? This is a common fallacy in sports, and one of its most tenacious - the "let them play" view, that game officials should refrain from making calls in crucial spots of big games in favor of a no-call, never mind whether the no-call is a more fair and accurate interpretation of the rules. I hope we can realize this for the idiocy it is - according to this mindset, calling a warranted holding or personal foul or obstruction is somehow worse than the opposite error - NOT calling a holding or personal foul or obstruction that actually takes place. The Red Sox don't seem to understand that the important thing is for the umpires to get it right, not to cotton to their weird, uninformed notions about what is and what should never be.
Consider if the obstruction call - which, I cannot stress enough, was 100% right - had not been made and Craig was called out at the plate. Wouldn't that be much worse? Just as in this case, you would have one team upset about the call and the other team OK with it, only in this hypothetical, the call is completely injust. I don't like that one bit.
It's fascinating to me how few of the Boston players were able to divorce their rooting interests from the fairness and correctness aspects of the game. I suspect that had the teams been reversed, the Cardinals would have some words about the call and the Red Sox would happily take their 2-1 edge in the Series ... but I honestly don't think the Cards would have been so whiny and off-base. Just doesn't seem like them as an organization, and it seems exactly like the Red Sox, and like the Boston teams in general and their spoiled-rotten fan base. Sure, they won their 1st Super Bowl with an invaluable assist from the comically-awful Tuck Rule, but that didn't stop them from deriding this and the (again, correct) call that cost them their game with the Jets last weekend, or stop Bill Simmons from throwing in a pointless non sequitur about concussions during a tantrum-tweet about the Jets play.
Come to think of it, I think I will root for St Louis now.
Ed: Boston rolled off two victories in the two days after I wrote this
Saw this on the Twitter, courtesy of Northeast Ohio's only news radio, WTAM 1100:
Bob Frantz: SHARE THIS: Neil Cavuto DECIMATES President Obama with 100% verifiable FACTS on ObamaCare
There was a hyperlink, but let's not waste our time with it. Let's get to work.
First off, Neil Cavuto is a gigantic liar. Let's understand that first. He's on Fox News, which tells you what you need to know about his general relationship to facts.
But the important lesson here, to me, is that they have to point out, and even reinforce, the "FACTS" part. This is a fascinating insight into the American political Right. Nothing on the Left side of the aisle would feel even the slightest need to clarify in this fashion - we just assume that if someone on our side is trying to make a political point, that they have verifiable facts on their side. Granted, when they present said facts I try to look into them further, but I generally give them the benefit of the doubt. It's comical to me, then, that this guy has to go out of his way to highlight that Cavuto has FACTS, something I highly doubt.