28 September 2008

27 September 2008

Paul Newman Is Dead


No other actor blurred the line that divides the dangerous from the merely mischievous, the rogue from the renegade, like Paul Newman. So great were the sum of his parts that his characters - from Fast Eddie Felson to Butch Cassidy, Hud Bannon to Reg Dunlop - seemed like facets of the real Paul Newman; he was not a chameleon because he did not need to be. Newman was the real McCoy, one of the last real movie stars, back when that term wasn't considered implicitly distinct from "actor." He leaves behind a body of work - 65 films, many of them among the greatest in the history of the form, over a 50 year career - that is simply without peer. More than that, he leaves behind a legacy of charitable endeavor that marks him out as a truly exemplary human being, and perhaps that is what we will miss most: as Mr. Newman himself was quoted in the New York Times' obituary as telling a reporter, “We are such spendthrifts with our lives. The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”

25 September 2008

"A good manager doesn’t fire people. He hires people and inspires people. People, Ryan. And people will never go out of business."

Dunder Mifflin: better run than Lehman Bros.

Just a reminder that as America's financial system teeters on the brink of collapse and our president tries to sell the nation on the virtues of democratic capitalism, The Office returns tonight at 9 p.m. Confidence restored.

Er, Uh, She's Needed to Address the Financial Crisis in, Uh, What's the Capital of Alaska Again?

Why you duckin' me man?

A new day dawns and so too a new gimmick: now the McCain camp wants to postpone the vice presidential debate, currently scheduled for October 2 in St. Louis, if there is no deal on the bailout. Now, since Sarah Palin is governor of Alaska and not a member of Congress, it's not exactly clear what purpose postponement would serve in her case, as opposed to Senator McCain, whose wealth of economic expertise is desperately needed back in Washington ("Fire the SEC commissioner! Restrict executive pay!"). Perhaps we can then infer that this too is a political maneuver, that the McCain team, which has been restricting access to Palin like she's Dick Cheney in the bunker or something, doesn't want her to get on a stage and have it be known that in addition to knowing next to nothing about foreign policy, she knows next to nothing about market economics. As reality has intruded on the campaign, the need for leaders who can actually handle the job of being President of the United States has become more and more abundantly clear; just as clear is the extent to which Palin, who may well find herself a heartbeat away, does not fit this particular bill.

24 September 2008

GimmickCain Bails Out of Campaign

Don't worry America: they're on the case

When confronted with danger, a possum plays dead; a turtle pulls inside its shell; an armadillo curls up into a ball. John McCain, it seems, resorts to gimmicks. Following the success of the Democratic National Convention, McCain resuscitated his seemingly moribund campaign by plucking the inexperienced, untested Sarah Palin from obscurity to be his surprise (and quite possibly, surprised) running mate. Now, confronted with the collapse of Wall Street on his party's watch, an event playing into Obama and the Democrats' collective wheelhouse, the foundering McCain has again pulled a wild card, suspending his campaign and calling for the postponement of Friday's presidential debate so that he and Obama can go back to Washington and work on President Bush's $700 billion giveaway to the super wealthy bailout package.

Over the past week or so, Senator McCain has articulated no policy position on the bailout and Wall Street's profligacy that has not seemed either incoherent ("Fire the SEC chairman!") or too much like me-too bandwagon jumping ("Restrict executive pay!"). He has previously copped to not understanding economics; unlike foreign policy - which seemed poised to dominate this election cycle at the outset - it is not an area where he thrives. One of his chief economic advisers, former Sen. Phil Gramm, once proclaimed Americans "a nation of whiners," unable to appreciate the fact that the economy, regardless of their personal experiences of it, was fundamentally strong. Indeed, McCain, too, has embraced this notion of fundamental soundness - though to his credit he has allowed that "people are hurting." Of course, as we now know, the economy was not fundamentally sound. Indeed, it is so fundamentally unsound that $700 billion in taxpayer subsidy is required to salvage it.

The American electorate has sensed McCain's weakness (and more profoundly, detected his party's complicity in fomenting this crisis); they have decided increasingly to place their faith in Obama. McCain's staff, who know how to read a poll, decided that, well, something had to be done. After all, their man seemed unable to extricate himself from the quicksand merely by explaining what he might do in this situation - in common parlance, this is known as "talking about the issues" (syn. "Straight Talk" ha ha). So another gimmick: Senator McCain, who has no idea what the hell he's talking about, is desperately needed in Washington to work on the bailout. Perhaps his mere presence will imbue the proceedings with a glow of bipartisanship and comity. Who knows. At any rate he'll be in Washington, being above the fray (the fray nowadays consisting mainly of his own outrageously mendacious campaign ads). Being, we are meant to infer, presidential.

Mr. McCain Goes to Washington is, of course, not a suspension of a campaign but a continuation of it by other means. Getting off the trail stops the bleeding, and changes the tone: McCain is a doer, not a talker. He's not willing to put political aspirations above the public good. McCain wants to duck the debate scheduled for 9 p.m. on Friday not because he genuinely believes that he's going to be doing anything worth a damn doddering around the Capitol, but because he doesn't want to risk Obama thumping him in his moment of weakness and driving him into a deep hole from which he might never climb out. Worse yet, the first debate is set to be about foreign policy, McCain's strong suit; even if they stick to the script and McCain pulls off a victory, who the hell is going to care? Who wants to hear about how things are going in Gaul when Rome is burning? Putting off the debate is pure strategy, not wanting to risk getting exposed in moment of weakness, not wanting a presumptive strength to be sapped away by extraordinary events. The calculus, in any event, is thoroughly political: Obama's credibility > McCain's credibility.

Obama, himself on the way back to Washington, has not taken the bait. He has rightly insisted that there is a pressing need for debate: “Part of the president’s job is to deal with more than one thing at once. In my mind it’s more important than ever.” Put another way (about 2:30 in):


22 September 2008

F-4 Interceptor

Chances are that if someone catches this ball, he won't be wearing a Jets jersey

Seeing Brett Favre in a Jet uniform is like taking a detour into a bizarre alternaverse; it reminds me of those What If? comics they used to put out that used to posit these fanboy-argument provoking hypotheses, like What If The Hulk Killed Wolverine? The academic nature of the question allowed you detached intellectual pleasure in something you would otherwise be emotionally invested in, because, you know, it's not really happening. Like a cosmic Get Out of Jail Free card. Given these circumstances, the fact that Favre seems to have zero familiarity with the Jets' playbook and is heaving interception after interception, that doesn't bother me. It's like by adding Brett Favre the Jets were conceding the 2008 season was going to be a one-shot issue stamped with a really gaudy hologram foil cover; not part of the ongoing continuum. My favorite team has been reduced to a prop in Favre's ongoing post-faux-retirement melodrama, and you know what? I could care less. I was forecasting 8-8 before the season began, so what the hell did I have to lose? Two or three more games? At least I can now comfort myself with the thought that the Favre experiment has so divorced this season from any plausible sense of continuity with the Jets organization I have rooted for for, oh, seventeen seasons, that I have no reason to be emotionally invested in the team. This is only a bad thing if Broadway Brett leads the Jets to a Super Bowl title, in which case...ah fuck it if he leads the Jets to a championship I'll give him my first born. Otherwise, given the way things are going, I'll at least avoid an ulcer. Oops, San Diego just scored again: Chargers 38, Jets 14, early 3rd quarter.

The Lazy Way They Turn Your Head/ Into a Rest Stop For the Dead

Not priced out yet

Not too sure what I think about this. After three straight days of listening to Dear Science (not sure if the comma is in the title, per Jon Pareles, or out), the newest record from TV on the Radio, I still can't get my head all the way around it. Granted, sometimes you can't force yourself to digest art, there will be an epiphany down the road, etc. Yet with TVOTR's previous outings, I was always able to get a bead after a couple of listens - 2003's Young Liars EP and 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain each sounded rich, complicated, crespuscular right off of the bat, making plain the tensions and anxieties undergirding the music and lyrics. Each were strongly thematic works, aesthetically and philosophically, centered on a marriage of indie rock, hip-hop, Motown, and noise in the first instance and an extreme sense of dislocation in the latter. Even 2004's inferior Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes - one wonders if the band would have profited by confounding expectations and allowing the superlative Young Liars stand alone as their debut - is insistently unitary in its purpose and execution.

In Pareles' interview with TVOTR's principals, he insists on Dear Science's cohesiveness. Indeed it is his thesis vis-a-vis the album: "In an era of disposable downloads and ring tones 'Dear Science,' is a coherent collection of songs made for repeated listening." This remark implicitly places Dear Science in a pop continuum, as opposed to the confines of the indie rock scene wherein TVOTR have achieved their most enduring success, and where the album format still retains significant currency. Certainly, this is a context Dave Sitek, the band's lead guitarist and sound manipulator, embraces:
“If you’re going to reach for it, reach all the way for it,” Mr. Sitek said. “Albums like ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Thriller’ and those kind of records, you had to reach far above the din of cynicism and modern living to get to that place, against all the odds. The industry used to support that kind of record making, and just because the marketplace of the industry doesn’t support it now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try for it.”
Thriller and Purple Rain are shorthand for pop ambition; well, not just pop ambition but the desire to reach an audience so broad as to be all encompassing. The kind of reach event records like Thriller and Purple Rain had before the concept of an event record evaporated in the late '90s, early '00s (I direct your attention to No Strings Attached and The Marshal Mathers LP); the kind of reach that is now the exclusive, if diminishing, province of event films like The Dark Knight. (Unless you count Google as art. Takers?)

Granted, I don't think that Sitek or his bandmates seriously countenance the possibility of Dear Science reintroducing the pop record as unifying cultural event - frankly, they're on the wrong side of the musical polyglot divide, the omnivorous Timbaland presently occupying that particular high ground. But Dear Science is their pop move, make no mistake about it. The rough edges are there, but sanded down - abrasive in the mold of former label and tourmates Nine Inch Nails. The addition of horns courtesy of Brooklyn's Antibalas obliterates the band's assiduously cultivated air of sonic claustrophobia. And one could go positively batshit trying to count the myriad clever appropriations of Top 40 technique. The cumulative effect is that even at its least direct, you never lose sight of the fact that Dear Science is foremost a big pop record - a statement meant to be received in the same manner as Thriller, or Purple Rain, or, to cite a more proximate example, Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds.

Thus, the question might be: does Dear Science succeed on this, its chosen field of battle? Well, therein lies the rub. You hear the pop record, that much is undeniable; whether we're talking about a well-placed, uncharacteristic ballad like "Family Tree" or its boisterous follow-up, "Red Dress", there is no obscuring the fact that TVOTR is pushing all the right synaptic buttons. Yet what set the great mega-albums, the enduring pop lodestars apart was that they all came equipped with killer singles, and lots of them. Purple Rain produced "Let's Go Crazy", "When Doves Cry", and the title cut. Thriller birthed no fewer than seven monster singles, including "Billie Jean", "Beat It", "The Girl Is Mine", "Thriller", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", so on and so forth. (In fact, that was always the knock on Thriller: it sounded too much like a singles comp and not enough like a cohesive album, which is ridiculous, insofar as having too many good, eminently replayable pop smashes on your record could ever be considered a demerit - sounds more like a dentist admonishing a child against sweets than a rock critic evaluating an album to me.) The beat goes on: Born in the U.S.A. (title track, "Dancing in the Dark", "Glory Days"), So ("Sledgehammer", "Big Time", "Red Rain", "In My Eyes"), Slippery When Wet ("Livin' on a Prayer", "You Give Love a Bad Name", "Wanted Dead or Alive").

Dear Science
, there is no other way to put this, never quite achieves orgasm. You have a string of superlative album cuts, and not one of them seems to get out in front and lead the parade. As such the album never quite catches the ear, never trips those subliminal wires that cause you to automatically tune into it when it's playing in the background. There is no earworm, no calling card for the id to recognize. You can either dedicate yourself to listening to Dear Science or you can ignore it - no middle ground is afforded you.

Certainly, it's not fair to demand that TV on the Radio turn into a singles band; though they're more than capable of producing one - "New Health Rock", "Wolf Like Me", "Staring at the Sun" - the album is more their metier. (Perhaps this explains the band's avowed interest in preserving the form.) Nonetheless, Dear Science is a manifestation of TVOTR's ambition to move beyond the cultural backwater that is Pitchfork's readership (sorry, but the road goes both ways) and into the mainstream; in order to fulfill that ambition they needed to bring at least one killer ap single to the party - a concession, perhaps, to the kids and their "disposable downloads and ring tones." One reads about the supposed flexibility of their deal with Interscope, the major label that underwrites them (and fellow [former] Williamsburgers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, leading me to wonder whether there was a quip pro quo at work or some A&R guy figured he'd get all his Christmas shopping done on Bedford Ave.), but the facts are these: a) no one signs with a major label without some pretense of getting bigger (unless you're Sonic Youth, perhaps) and b) if you don't get bigger, you're gonna get dropped. Clearly, from a commercial perspective, and no doubt an artistic perspective as well, going pop was the right move. While Dear Science is doubtlessly a good album - how good, I can't yet say without incurring the risk of doubling back on myself - it's not good enough, not accessible enough, not insistent enough that you're going to hear it on the radio. Or the TV.

20 September 2008

So When Do Daniel Murphy Jerseys Go On Sale?


The Cooperstown Kid lifted his average to .374 (5-for-11 as a pinch-hitter) with a go-ahead two-run double in the 8th. The Mets went on to beat the Braves 9-5, moving a half-game into first place.

18 September 2008

16 September 2008

We Must Stop Congratulating People For Making Stupid Art



Listen, no is looking forward to the new TV on the Radio album more than me. Well, okay, perhaps that's not true, but judging from the band's sales, I'm in the top 100,000. However, the video for lead single, "Golden Age", is pretty shit. It's cheesy '80s video effects, dancing cops, and people turning into hunky half-animal, half-men (or manimals, if you prefer). Idolator had this to say:
Sure, it has references to Joy Division and the Care Bears, to the Village People and to Voltron, all of which are played out on a blue-sky background that's seemingly within reach at any moment. But what I can't stop seeing is a clip that feels like the only culmination of a long life spent inhaling the culture (and "culture") of the cable-TV era, from the time of those clicky plastic boxes that could descramble the Playboy Channel if you hit the right buttons all the way through to the HD-ed out present.
Granted, perhaps I am either not old enough to know from this "clicky plastic boxes" era of TV, though I do get the references to Voltron (huge fan back in the day), Joy Division (ditto, though not to the point where I automatically associate dudes in robes w/ the "Atmosphere" video), and the Village People. Yet this seems like excusatory boosterism to me: the "this-video-would-suck-but-for-the-grace-of-TV-on-the-Radio" approach. Let's face it, folks: DIY can and has sucked in the past. Goofy charm is not a quality conferred automatically by a low budget and gumption. Compared to the awesome clip for "Wolf Like Me", it fairly reeks of we're-not-trying-itis.

12 September 2008

NSFW

Left: Kate Moss in Interview; Right: Sarah Palin in The New Yorker

I am reading the latest issue of Interview and listening to New Order's Technique LP (Factory, 1989) while intermittently looking in on the Kansas-South Florida game progressing like molasses in January on ESPN. I ate a cheesesteak from BB Sandwich Bar (120 W. 3rd Street), which famously only serves this particular cheesesteak, which is a very particular cheesesteak indeed, if you are well-acquainted with the traditional Philadelphia iteration. The BB take is served on a kaiser roll rather than a hoagie roll, with white American cheese in lieu of cheez whiz (trad.) or provolone (best for taste, I'm told), rib eye steak vs. the usual indeterminate meat, a ketchup-vinegar-red pepper relish (no analog), and marinated onions (no difference). The sandwich is kind of a reorientation -- it's a cheesesteak, but it definitely doesn't fit into the extant continuum; it's sweet, with the onions and relish foregrounded, as opposed to the typically dominate cheese-meat-bread troika that governs the paterfamilias. Recommended. $5.

I have a new shelf stereo system, a refurbished Sony something-or-other I bought at a factory outlet in Delaware. As I am unable to extend the NYU network using my Airport Express, the stereo is hardwired to my laptop; my CDs are all languishing in storage, probably for at least the next year or two. Lately, apart from the New Order, I've been listening to Lou Reed's Berlin, Sonic Youth (EVOL, Sister, Daydream Nation, and Sonic Nurse), My Bloody Valentine, The Dutchess and the Duke (it's becoming more and more difficult to justify why I don't think this is the absolute best album of 2008 so far), and Television's Marquee Moon. There's a strong guitar theme running through these selections, veering from virtuosity to sheer distortion, and I can't help but wonder if that's owing to the relative sonic strengths and weaknesses of my setup. Additionally, there's a subtle New York meme at work, but I'm not willing to read anything into this, especially since I find that living in Greenwich Village is a lot like living on South Street - the romance is gone, although from 6 to 10 most nights (weather permitting), the guy playing rudimentary sax with wanky filigrees for change nine stories below tries to bring it back.

If You Read This Between Now and Midnight...

Dis not news to THIS GUY

Greatest Kiss, the Kiss greatest hits album, is on sale for $1.99 at Amazon's mp3 store.

10 September 2008

MVP MVP

Handing out one way tickets to Citi Field

New Non-Mets Related Content

Democrats: Keeping it Reality

David Frum has an interesting piece over at the Times arguing that income inequality is bad for the G.O.P. and that they ought to concern themselves with rectifying it. His premise departs from the fact that areas with a pronounced degree of income inequality tend to vote Democratic - regardless of which side of the gap the voter is on, while areas where incomes are more evenly distributed tend to vote Republican; hence the split between urban Democratic strongholds and Republican exurbs. He cites the recent electoral experiences in D.C.'s Virginia suburbs: once solidly Republican, they delivered a victory to Democrat Tim Kain in the 2005 gubernatorial elections, with a larger margin for Jim Webb in 2006. The theory goes that as income inequality spreads, the Republican vote will erode, and G.O.P. politicians will pay a price for ignoring this fundamental problem.

Frum's argument is noteworthy because he suggests that the Republican's need to re-orient themselves on the issue of income inequality: it's about inequality of opportunity, rather than inequality of wealth. The former plays into the G.O.P.'s wheelhouse - as long as everybody's doing better, who cares that some people are doing better than others? The latter, and where the Republicans get crossed up on the issue, suggests a desire to "pancake" wealth distribution. Savvily, Frum grasps that, from an electoral perspective, income inequality is a geographic issue: he wants to preserve the harmony in the exurbs. This allows him to skirt the idea that in order to reduce income inequality, you might have take positive steps to redistribute wealth through, say, the tax code, which has proven to be an effective tool in the past. His posited solutions are more targeted, and presumably somewhat more palatable to conservative opinion: target undocumented workers, who depress wages at the low end of the scale while providing a proportionate benefit for those at the top, and fix the heath care system, which Frum avers has devoured the sizable wage increases of the Clinton era.

In his piece Frum pays the most attention to the middle and upper-middle classes: the relatively well-educated denizens of suburban America who formed for decades the base of the Republican Party. He argues that as these people begin to feel the strains of income inequality - as their relative homogeneity is disturbed - they will, and have already begun to, vote Democratic in increasing numbers. Most compellingly, he argues that these people have begun to expect government to, well, work, and may be increasingly reluctant to hand the reins to politicians whose central thesis seems to be that government is destined to fail. This dovetails with a point that I have been making recently: that educated middle-class voters are increasingly voting Democratic because they view the Democrats as a pragmatic alternative to the strident ideology of the national G.O.P. It's not a novel argument to suggest that in pursuing a strategy of maximizing the social conservative vote at the expense of coalition-building, the Republicans have alienated a significant swath of voters whom do no share their constrictive values. Beyond this, though, I think that a growing portion of the electorate, in light of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and increasing evidence of climate change, wants leaders who view issues not through an exclusively ideological prism, but attempt to craft workable, realistic solutions that address the facts on the ground. To paraphrase an infamous Bush-era quote, they want politicians who live and work in our shared actual reality, not ideologues preoccupied with manufacturing their own counterfeit edition.

Thus I would suggest that the 2006 election, wherein Democrats did not seek to challenge the underlying values of voters - they ran a slate of conservative, pro-gun, anti-choice Democrats for seats in traditionally G.O.P. areas - was in large part a referendum on competence. Democrats won because they seemed to be in better touch with reality than the Administration or their Republican opponents. Likewise, I think Frum is arguing that for the G.O.P. to succeed, it must address itself to presenting serious solutions tailored to real problems, such as working to reduce the cost of health care instead of falling back on a doctrinal view of the tax cut as a panacea. While the implication of his argument - that the Republicans can furnish solutions to these problems comporting with their existing ideological outlook - is debatable, it is a superior alternative to what exists for conservatives in 2008: a choice between a Democratic party with a better grip on reality but a disagreeable ideological framework, or a Republican party with an inflexibly dogmatic viewpoint and a virtually nonexistent relationship with reality.

08 September 2008

04 September 2008

Eight Is Enough

What Does This Even Mean?

Page views, we need them not

From Quietus' interview w/ Metallica's Lars Ulrich:

Do you still maintain that St. Anger is a ‘punishing’ or ‘challenging’ album, rather than just a horribly bad one?

“I’m so beyond ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Terminologies like that don’t work for me. I know a lot of people don’t think it’s a good album, I appreciate that and I respect it. I know a lot of people find it very difficult. What I am 100 percent sure of, is that if it wasn’t for St. Anger, Death Magnetic wouldn’t sound the way it does. St. Anger had to happen: if you can’t find anything musically to appreciate, which I respect, at least respect St. Anger’s existence.

03 September 2008

How Sweep It Is

Mets 9, Brewers 2