Google calendars & World Cup

I've been bug­ging out on Google cal­en­dars recent­ly, and I found a real­ly nifty one for this year's World Cup. Oth­ers: Bot­tom of the Hill shows (rock n roll!), Giants games (hey, bat­ter), Dolores Park movie nights (bring: jack­et, beer).

san francisco tech tip

Free WiFi to roll into SF

Flickr photo

So appar­ent­ly Google and Earth­link are team­ing up to pro­vide free WiFi ser­vice to all of SF (via Giz­mo­do). While we're still a ways from know­ing what this will actu­al­ly mean — main­ly, will be acces­si­ble at 14th and Valen­cia, third floor apart­ment? — it is intrigu­ing to me that Google is involved. Unlike Earth­link, Google has nev­er gouged me, or failed to pro­vide ser­vice that I've paid for, or sold my name and home address to direct marketers. 

So I guess you could say that I'm hope­ful. Maybe some­day soon I'll be able to work from Pac Bell (er, I mean, SBC … er, I mean AT&T) Park, or Bue­na Vista Park, or the lit­tle red­wood grove out­side the Transamer­i­ca build­ing.
Or from my roof. (See the photo).

music tip

Dust it off / XTC, Skylarking


Here's my ques­tion: How did this become the "Dear God" album, con­sid­er­ing at least half the songs on it are as good or bet­ter? Damn you, Sarah McLach­lan. I hadn't lis­tened to it since maybe 1995, when Ted and I played the shit out of it. We both loved the Bea­t­les, and I had a fond­ness for the syn­thy 80's style. This album com­bines these qual­i­ties, and adds a lit­tle indie rock sen­si­bil­i­ty as well.Now that the Cars and Hall & Oates have been on heavy hip­ster rota­tion for the past year or so, I'm sur­prised that XTC haven't seen some props, espe­cial­ly for this album. Com­pared to oth­er XTC albums, the vocals are more blend­ed with the rest of the sound, rather than held above it, which reduces the sac­cha­rine edge of lat­er albums (Oranges & Lemons, for instance). Maybe XTC just doesn't have the kitschy cache of oth­er 80's bands, who knows?Incidentally, you can read more about the most well-known song on the album. Here's a fan of Sarah, explain­ing why it's okay to love Sarah even if she ques­tions the exis­tence of God: "I do not believe that you should rule out a whole singer or album just because of one song that you do not care for."

music tip

Dust it off / Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One

All Hands on the Bad One, baby

Most of my records, CDs and tapes sit idly in crates and on shelves, so here's what I'm going to do: Every so often, I'm going to dust one off and see what it sounds like. Dredge the archive, and take a good long lis­ten to some­thing I haven't heard in 2+ years. 

Tonight, I begin the exper­i­ment with a ran­dom­ly select­ed record: Sleater-Kinney's All Hands on the Bad One, which I'll admit I haven't lis­ten to in three years. Maybe four.

Here's the thing about Sleater-Kin­ney and me. I'm prob­a­bly one of the very few San Fran­cis­cans (of a cer­tain age and neigh­bor­hood) who *likes* them but doesn't *love* them and some­times wish­es they would cool it with the too-often shrill vocals. But of course every­one knows they're polit­i­cal­ly-active fem­i­nists who play punk rock, so what's my problem?

Let's talk about Bad One. It's got great moments: the title track and "The Pro­fes­sion­al" are rockin and fun — even after five years, they're a cou­ple of the all-time great songs to lis­ten to while rid­ing a bike. The prob­lem is that, for the most part, this album is huge step away from their ear­ly, raw sound, which had a lot less Heart-esque pow­er bal­lad voice. Songs like "Milk­shake n Hon­ey," and "Bal­lad of a Lady­man" fea­ture this voice, which for me is the ele­ment of their sound that rocks the least. (It comes down to this: If Car­rie Brown­stein har­mo­nizes with Corin Tuck­er on a song, chances are that I'll like it).

I'll say some­thing nice about them: I saw them move the crowd in a seri­ous way at Dolores Park one sum­mer. Their fans were freak­ing out, and the band itself was hav­ing fun and sound­ing good — even songs I didn't like were pret­ty great. I real­ly wish their albums cap­tured this bet­ter. But like any­thing, their sound can't be all things for all peo­ple, and they seem to please some group of peo­ple every­time they put out an album, so more pow­er to them.

flickr minneapolis tip

Things to do in Minneapolis when you're cold

Flickr photo

The Twin Cities are still full of good times, espe­cial­ly when the mer­cury plunges. A cou­ple of week­ends ago, I enjoyed the chill with my friends Fish, Katie and Becky (pic­tured, in front of the new wing at the Walk­er). The highlights: 

  • Viet­namese sand­wich­es at the Jas­mine Deli on Nicol­let. Their sand­wich­es are fab­u­lous, espe­cial­ly the BBQ chicken.
  • The new and improved Walk­er. Twin Cities res­i­dents seem ambiva­lent — some love it, oth­ers are under­whelmed — but I was real­ly impressed with the way that the new wing blends into the old, and the man­ner in which they space itself still seems inti­mate and sur­pris­ing. Plus, it's open late on Fri­day nights; how great is that? The Walker's video instal­la­tions have always been great, and I was real­ly glad to catch a few moments of Jem Cohen's "Lost Book Found" and "Blood Orange Sky" as we walked through — worth read­ing: A long, detailed inter­view with Jem Cohen by Rhys Gra­ham. Also, an entire room ded­i­cat­ed to Sher­rie Levine, a cab­i­net full of Fluxus stuff (still cool after all these years of imi­ta­tors), and a great exhib­it of Huang Yong Ping that includ­ed some live spi­ders and scorpions.
  • Good, sol­id Mid­west­ern dish­es pre­pared Chez Panisse-style (local, organ­ic, a lit­tle French) at Auri­ga. They also serve Kona coffee.
  • Weird Nor­weigan snacks and crazy folk-art murals at Inge­bret­sons, a store that sells all sorts of Scan­dana­vian crafts and gifts. Even weird­er because it's in a some­what bombed-out part of Lake Street.
  • A lit­tle water­fall in the mid­dle of the city, Min­neha­ha Falls. Total­ly worth see­ing, espe­cial­ly in winter.
  • Fish and Katie's total­ly awe­some 60's‑style neigh­bor­hood movie the­ater, The Riverview, that shows fair­ly new movies for THREE DOLLARS. Are you kid­ding me? Plus, it has been total­ly restored, and total­ly reminds me of the hey­day of Kansas City's Glen­wood, which I think has recent­ly been gut­ted of all the 60's schmaltz.
inside art tip visual

Fresh Air interview w/ Mike Mills

Mike Mills is a graph­ic design­er, direc­tor of many excel­lent music videos (among them: "Kel­ly Watch the Stars," by Air, the one with the 70's‑looking slow-motion ping-pong play­ers), and all-around aes­thet­ic bad-ass. Ter­ry Gross inter­viewed him on Fresh Air a cou­ple of weeks ago, and you can check out the archived ver­sion on the NPR web­site. It includes a fun­ny anec­dote about his expe­ri­ence as an appren­tice for a well-known Scot­tish artist — at the risk of giv­ing away the end­ing, Mills didn't assist in the cre­ation of the work as much as he cre­at­ed the work for the artist, who was too hun­gover to do it him­self. Here's a real­ly com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of his video work, includ­ing "Kel­ly Watch the Stars."Incidentally, when I was grow­ing up, a dif­fer­ent Mike Mills was the bassist for my favorite rock band c. 1985–88 — REM. You can hear his thin, poignant har­mo­niz­ing on Mur­mur, Reck­on­ing, Fables of the Recon­struc­tion, Life's Rich Pageant, Dead Let­ter Office, and Doc­u­ment. (Don't both­er with any­thing after Doc­u­ment; it's all down­hill from there). Let's hear it for all Mike Millses!

lit tip

New Yorker cartoon formula exposed!

Flickr photo

Take one char­ac­ter each from col­umn A and col­umn B, place them in one of col­umn C's set­tings, and voila! You have the mak­ings of a New York­er car­toon. Sup­pos­ed­ly, this was the doing of a group of NYer car­toon­ists at a recent festival.

law & order tip

Following the Roberts confirmation hearing

Law nerds around the coun­try are pro­vid­ing inter­est­ing com­men­tary of the Roberts con­fir­ma­tion. SCO­TUS­blog pro­vides a blow-by-blow account of the pos­tur­ing and inter­mit­tent ques­tion­ing of the sen­a­tors along­side inter­est­ing legal com­men­tary, but it's a blog, so you have to scroll down to the bot­tom and read upwards if you want to read chrono­log­i­cal­ly. Balkiniza­tion, a blog that includes many quite inter­est­ing essays by Yale Law pro­fes­sor Jack Balkin, has an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about why Democ­rats should not con­firm Roberts. Balkin recent­ly pub­lished an inter­est­ing piece in Slate about orig­i­nal­ists and the con­cept of a liv­ing con­sti­tu­tion: "Alive and Kick­ing: Why no one tru­ly believes in a dead Con­sti­tu­tion."If you're will­ing to sift through the details — and each meme­ber of the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee tends go into exces­sive detail before get­ting to his/her ques­tion — the NYT has raw tran­scripts: Day 1, Day 2.

lit reviews tip

Nurse! Get me Rolling Stone on the phone!

Has there been a more thank­less task in mod­ern lit­er­ary his­to­ry than edit­ing Hunter S. Thomp­son? Accord­ing to for­mer Rolling Stone edi­tor Robert Love, the mag­a­zine actu­al­ly assigned junior edi­tors the task of babysit­ting Thomp­son as he approached his dead­line. (Okay, there are worse junior edit­ing tasks than that; I've done them). In a recent in the Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review arti­cle, Love dis­cuss­es this and much more in his essay about edit­ing the good doc­tor at Rolling Stone. Charm­ing rev­e­la­tion: HST's blus­ter and bom­bast attained read­abil­i­ty only after long, hard edi­to­r­i­al over­sight. The kind of over­sight that involves tear­ing the thing apart and and reassem­bling it sen­tence by sentence:

So, a flur­ry of man­u­script pages would arrive, buzzing with bril­liant, but often dis­con­nect­ed pas­sages, inter­spersed with what Hunter would him­self call "gib­ber­ish" (on cer­tain days) and pre­vi­ous­ly reject­ed mate­r­i­al, just to see if we were awake. "Stand back," the first line would inevitably say, announc­ing the arrival of twen­ty-three or twen­ty-five or forty pages to fol­low in the fax machine. Soon there were phone calls from Deb­o­rah Fuller or Shel­by Sadler or Nicole Mey­er or anoth­er of his stal­wart assis­tants. We always spoke of "pages," as in "How many pages will we get tonight?" "We need more pages than that." "Can you get those pages marked up and back to Hunter?" Pages were the coin of the realm; mov­ing pages was our mis­sion. I would mark them up, make copies for Jann, and then send them back.

The issue for the mag­a­zine was nev­er that Hunter wasn't the fun­ni­est, clever­est, most hilar­i­ous writer, sen­tence to sen­tence or para­graph to para­graph. The editor's role was get­ting those sen­tences to pile up and then exhib­it for­ward momen­tum. (Hunter called this process "lash­ing them together.")

  • Heard about this from the fun­ny folks at The Morn­ing News. Thanks, guys.
  • Categories
    reviews tip

    Movies / Sans Solo: The real problem with the new Star Wars trilogy

    I've nev­er met any­one who enjoyed an install­ment of the sec­ond Star Wars tril­o­gy — Phan­tom Men­ace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Com­mon­ly cit­ed aspects of its unpop­u­lar­i­ty (in no par­tic­u­lar order): ter­ri­ble dia­logue, insuf­fer­able "love" scenes, new char­ac­ters that would be mere­ly unin­ter­est­ing if they weren't offen­sive, and over-depen­dence on effects. [Read all of this and more in Antho­ny Lane's New York­er review].I sub­mit for inclu­sion: No Han Solo! No rogu­ish charmer! No swash­buck­ing mer­ce­nary! Han is every­thing that the sec­ond trilogy's char­ac­ters aren't: unpre­dictable, fun­ny, charm­ing; in short, INTERESTING. In the orig­i­nal tril­o­gy, his unabashed ego­tism bal­ances Luke's piety and Leia's bitchy cold­ness, mak­ing all three movies much less gag-induc­ing than they would have been otherwise.Note to screen­writ­ers: If you're going to write a sto­ry about the clash of good and evil, you need a char­ac­ter like Han to bal­ance the sac­cha­rine aspects of the two. Luke and Leia are pure and uncom­pli­cat­ed; this ren­ders them unin­ter­est­ing unless they're con­trast­ed with a char­ac­ter who actu­al­ly dis­plays human qual­i­ties. Han's irrev­er­ence and greed is off­set by a devo­tion to his friends, and this meaty, real stuff — plus sar­casm, fear, etc — helps view­ers embrace the unre­al stuff.The sec­ond tril­o­gy need­ed more Lord of the Rings-style sto­ries involv­ing friend­ship and adven­ture — some­thing, any­thing to bal­ance the melo­dra­ma and pol­i­tics. I mean, c'mon. Lucas!? Why sub­ject us to this? A char­ac­ter like Han could have inter­ject­ed in moments like this, at the begin­ning of Phan­tom Menace:

    BIBBLE : Your High­ness, I will stay here and do what I can … They will have to retain the Coun­cil of Gov­er­nors in order to main­tain con­trol.HAN: Yeah, good luck with that.BIBBLE: In any case, you must leave.AMIDALA: Either choice presents a great risk … to all of us.PADME : We are brave, Your High­ness.HAN: "We" are get­ting the heck out of here before the bat­tle dri­ods get any closer. 

    Dis­claimers: (1) I'm not a Star Wars nerd. I thought that Episode 1 unequiv­o­cal­ly sucked and left the the­ater (or blocked out every­thing) after the pod races. I laughed through most of Episode 2, except for the scenes that made me retch. Dit­to Episode 3. And (2) While it's fash­ion­able to point out prob­lems in these movies, I don't have much expe­ri­ence with offi­cial Star Wars crit­i­cism beyond my own snide remarks and the snide remarks of oth­ers — so per­haps some­one has already writ­ten about this.Unrelated: Check out McSweeney's amend­ments of some clas­sic Obi­wan lines: "The Force is what gives a Jedi his pow­er. It's an ener­gy field cre­at­ed by all liv­ing things. It sur­rounds us and pen­e­trates us. It binds the galaxy. Oh, it's all horse­shit. God."Next prob­lem with the new tril­o­gy: No Lando.