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February 27, 2009

Friday Random Top 10

For Lent I am fasting on Fridays. I did it 10 years ago so I thought I was due. Even though I maintain that there is a sandwich in every bottle of beer, drinking alcohol does not break may fast. Let's celebrate with a random top 10.

1. Personal Jesus -- Johnny Cash
2. My World Fell Down -- Sagittarius
3. Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth? -- The Minutemen
4. Perfectly Lethal -- The Replacements
5. Chicken Blows -- Guided By Voices
6. Melted Pat (live) -- Guided By Voices
7. Psychotic Reactions -- Count Five
8. Nobody Hurts You (live) -- Graham Parker
9. Bouncing Ball -- The Magnolias
10. Three Coins in the Fountain -- Frank Sinatra

Nice list. Hey E-6, Frank didn't write his songs either. What's your top 10?

February 25, 2009

Nick Punto is Stupid

If you ask a Twins fan what is the thing that frustrates you most about the Twins, most will say it's unwillingness to spend more $$$ on payroll. However one frustration that will also rise to the top is Nick Punto's proclivity to slide into first base on close plays. As anyone who has played baseball or has a rudimentary understanding of physics, sliding into first is slower than running through the base, not to say anything about greater possibility of injury while sliding.

Apparently Nick Punto knows how we all feel and has heard the same from coaches on every baseball team he's ever been on. In the article Punto admits that people have told him sliding is slower but he replies "for some reason I think it's faster." No word if Nick Punto is a Republican consultant telling the R's that tax cuts decrease the budget deficit and more greenhouse gases in the air doesn't contribute to global warming.

Punto goes on to say...

"I think if I wasn't personable, and a guy who loves to work hard and loves his team, people would just think I'm a jerk," ....It's just one of those things. It's the only thing I'm hard-headed about in life. I'm a good listener. It's just that I think it's faster."

No Nick Punto we don't think you're a jerk, we just think you are stupid. The evidence is there both at a theoretical level and based on experience. All your "hard work" and "personality" can't change the laws of physics.

Obviously it appears that the Twin can't coach Nick Punto into not sliding into first. I like SBG's idea of fining him every time he slides. Maybe a hit on his pocketbook would do the trick. And if he get's injured while sliding, double the fine. At least with the extra cash the Twins could pick up that reliever they so desparately need.

February 23, 2009

My favorite Things -- Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, is by far my favorite ballpark. Everyone knows its charms: the ivy-strewn walls, the hand-operated scoreboard, its intimacy, the 100 years of Cubs ineptitude, etc.

I especially love the way the ballpark is settled into the urban fabric of Chicago's northside. It doesn't overwhelm the neighborhood but is part of it. Although it owns its name as a "field" it is truly an urban ballpark, with downtown Chicago peeking over the right field fence and apartment buildings providing vantage points over centerfield. The el rumbles by during the game and fans fill the bars and restaurants of Wrigley-ville before and after the game. Rural meets city, men play a boys game, and the fan isn't assaulted with crazy fireworks, loud video commercials or post-modern theme park entertainment features. I have a friend who lived in Wrigleyville and his kitchen window was situated so that he could see the ballpark clock from his table and that is what he used as his kitchen clock. That is the definition of an urban ballpark.

I've gone to occasional games at Wrigley since the early 80's, before they became trendy. The first game I went to we bought tickets the day of the game in the lower level along the 3rd base line. For about 10 bucks if I remember. It was a glorious May afternoon and the sun was shining and the Cubs, of course, were losing. I remember ordering my first beer and the beer guy doesn't pull out a $8.00 beer in a plastic bottle. No he pulls out an ice cold 16 ounce can of Budweiser, cracks it open right in front of me and pours it into a paper cup and hands it to me. "That'll be $2.50." I was smitten.

Now that was over 25 years ago and there are lights at Wrigley, those tickets I sat in are probably $75.00 and you have to buy them months in advance. But the park retains its charms. The ivy is still bare in the spring and green in the summer. Kids scramble up down Waveland to catch a home run ball, and there still is hardly a bad seat in the house.

The Twins play the Cubs in Wrigley this summer and I am planning to go. Hopefully someday I will have the same feelings for Target Field.

February 20, 2009

Friday Random Top 10

So what was your favorite Casey Carlson moment? Mine was when she winked at me. Yes she was winking at ME. Here's a Friday Top Ten, dedicated to you Casey...

1. Ain't No Good -- Cake
2. Monkey Gone to Heaven -- Pixies
3. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs -- The Minutemen
4. Buckets of Rain -- Bob Dylan
5. Devil Doll -- Roy Orbison
6. Rudie Can't Fail -- The Clash
7. Sugarcane -- Fred Eaglesmith
8. Giant City, Tiny Town -- Jack Logan
9. Motor Away -- Guided By Voices
10. Shine on Sweet Jesus -- The Flaming Lips

Bonus: Redemption Song -- Johnny Cash w/Joe Strummer

Nice list, a little something for everyone. Nice pairing of that Minutemen and Dylan song. What's your top 10?

February 18, 2009

Viva Glasvegas!


I have been struggling lately trying to find some new bands to get into. My foray into new music last year happily led me to discover The Wedding Present. However, they could hardly be classified as new as most of their best recordings are more than 10 years old. And while all the cool kids like The Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, TV on the Radio, (among others) I just can’t seem to summon the energy to get past one or two songs without throwing up a little in my mouth. Basically I was resigned to wallow in my Replacements memories and Guided By Voices arcana.

Then suddenly something wonderful happened. I came across a new buzz band that I actually like, love even. Glasvegas is a band out of Scotland (Glascow, natch) and can be best described as a 60’s girl group backed by a bunch of grungy fuzz guitars. Guitars rule here with none of the whiny pretension that smothers Fleet Foxes. Also instead of insolence from some put upon snot-nosed punk or sexual braggadocio, the lyrics are alluring with a hint of doo-wop and matinee idol crooning.

Now I was going to write more about the band and their new album but then in the Friday comments, Jeff L., unprompted, posts this about Glasvegas:

This record really has its hooks in me. If you haven't heard it, it sounds kinda like one of Phil Spector's 60's girl-group pop records, only with Jesus & Mary Chain or Teenage Fan Club as the studio band and a singer that sounds like the spawn of a sexual encounter between Bono and Groundskeeper Willie (sounds weird, I know, but I'm sure Bono really is capable of having sex with a cartoon, and then carrying the child as well; or at least he thinks he is). This is grand Glaswegian guitar pop. Glorious guitars of the electric variety through multiple Marshall stacks, all turned up to 11. Every snare hit a fucking EVENT, like Hal Blaine on the clear AND the cream.
So true and frankly I can’t top that so I won’t even try. Basically you have a choice: You can continue to gaze at your navel in Bon Iver's saltbox cabin, “rawk” out to Vampire Weekend, twiddle the knobs to M83 electronica or I-don’t-know-what with your Andrew Bird whistle-tunes and just languish along with your pop musings. Or you can go with Glasvegas and re-discover music all over again. The choice is yours. So what are you gonna do?

February 17, 2009

George Will and Washington Post -- Oops!

In the weekend's Washington Post, in typical global warming denier fashion, George Will made the following arguement:

"According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."

However, within hours of Will's column appearing, the ACRC had posted the following statement on its website:

"We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.

It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts."

I don't know which is worse, George Will making shit up or the Washington Post allowing it's pages to publish something that was obviously easy to confirm as not true. And the traditional media complains that bloggers can say anything without controls.

February 15, 2009

Favorite Things -- Counting Crows on Letterman

I've never been a big Counting Crows fan. Their first album was good and I listen to it every so often but I don't think I could even recognize a song they've released in the 15 years since their debut came out.

However I've always loved this performance of 'Round Here from the David Letterman show. You have to remember that this is the infamous Madonna show on Letterman where basically she swore throughout the interview, was difficult, wouldn't leave, said Charles Barkley was huge where it counts, etc. Like most train wrecks, it was hard to look away and clearly Dave was uncomfortable while also knowing that this was pretty compelling TV. Anyway Madonna finally leaves and The Counting Crows get to wrap up the show and they sing 'Round Here which was their second single after Mr. Jones.

The song is about a guy leaving everything behind and by doing so, that which is left behind is taken away from him. The reason I love this version is because Adam Duritz sings with such emotion it really draws you in. He's really believes in the words, has lived its sentiment. It's much more than a performance than an inhabitation of the song. Maybe it's the contrast with Madonna who is all about the performance and nothing is real. Maybe it's because the band really rocks out at the end. Maybe because it's a real good song with a real good performance. Whatever it was, it has haunted me ever since and it's one of my favorite performances of a single song I have ever witnessed.

February 13, 2009

Friday Random Top 10

Valentines Day coming up, let’s see if a Random Top ten produces some nice love songs.

1. The Hill – Marketa Irglova
2. The Good Toothpicks – The Handsome Family
3. Ask – The Smiths
4. Paranoid – Black Sabbath
5. Buzz Buzz Buzz – The Blasters
6. Oddfellows Local 151 – REM
7. What Was Burned – Jack Logan
8. Daughter of Darkness – Tom Jones
9. The Meeting Place – XTC
10. Too Drunk Too Fuck – The Dead Kennedys

Ouch! You could take those songs and describe a very scary and unsuccessful Valentines date! What’s your top 10?

February 12, 2009

Death and Birth of a New Campus Building

The Science Classroom Building has been a blight on the University of Minnesota Campus for 45 years. Here is a picture of it from January.

Demolition Event (8).jpg

The building was on one of the primo pieces of real estate on the campus -- at the Washington Avenue bridgedeck overlooking the Mississippi river and great views of the Minneapolis skyline. Finally after many years of wrangling, the University received money from the state to demolish the building and build anew.

Construction Progress 02-06-09 003.jpg

This is the site on February 6th, 2009. It is amazing how fast these buildings can come down. But don't worry, we won't be left with a hole in the ground. As soon as the rubble is removed, construction will begin on a new building that will have state-of-the-art, technology-rich classrooms and student services -- which currently are housed in many buildings all over the campus -- will be consolidated into one place. Also the building will be LEED Gold-Certified, meaning it will be built with strong efforts toward sustainability (including recycling of all that rubble you see above). Just as important, our goal to beautify the campus and have it reach out to the river will be is slowly but surely being accomplished.



February 9, 2009

My Haitian Soccer Team


One day when I was in Haiti we visited this place that served kids who were either “infected or impacted by AIDS.? Essentially these kids were orphaned because their parents had died of AIDS or they were HIV-infected themselves and their families couldn’t take care of them.

They actually had pretty nice digs as they were housed in a former compound of dictator Duvalier and when we got there they were about to have recess. An impromptu soccer game broke out and I along with another person in my group joined in. Although we added marginally to the quality of play, and in fact one extra person on each team made it harder to play in the small courtyard, they were happy to have us and included us in the game.

The amazing thing was that there were a couple of times when the game was halted for some other event or presentation and when the game started up, the kids insisted that we join in again. Now believe me they could have easily started up again without us and we would have been happy and completely understood that this was their game and that we were interlopers. But they didn’t. They insisted we join them and wouldn’t start up until we got back onto the courtyard pitch.

Thinking back on that day it really hit me that although we were in Haiti to support these kids, in fact they were supporting us. Their lives are vastly different than ours -- practically different universes from my kids where their biggest concern is that I won’t allow them to access the internet from their cell phones. But their woes didn’t matter, all that mattered is that they were playing soccer and that they had a couple of other guys who wanted to play.

My Favorite Things -- Rock and Roll High School

I want to take Mondays to regularly look back and review some of my favorite movies, books, albums, vacations, concerts, etc. I will generally stay away from my 30 best loved albums, since I discussed those in depth already. What a better way to kick this off then by talking about Rock and Roll High School.

Rock and Roll High School came out in 1979 and was filmed basically to become a cult classic. The story is pretty simple as a new hard-ass principle comes to the school and wants to exercise her authority by banning rock and roll. Riff Radley, a girl who loves the Ramones, rallies the students and takes over the school and in every high schooler's fantasy, blow it up.

The movie takes place in January 1980 which would have been my Junior year. Looking back 30 years brings back a lot of high school memories: Smoking in the boys restroom, the stacked chick with the feathered hair, tripped-out conversion vans, standing in line for concert tickets.

Of course the reason why the movies is so cool is the Ramones. The Ramones have one of the Greatest. Movie. Entrances. Ever. when they pull up in a convertible playing Tonight and then march down the street still playing their instruments as they walk past the concert goers standing in line for tickets. Another set piece in Riff's bedroom as Joey croons "I want you ah-ro-und" is another classic.

The movie also has a great actual concert footage with the Ramones playing about 5 songs. No intercutting the songs here, they are all filmed and showed in total. After the concert we get to go backstage with the Ramones and it gets really goofy. Joey has a couple of lines that he is obviously reading. The lines are rushed and it so bad that it is endearingly funny. Finally the Ramones show up at the high school and have a blast while the kids destroy the school.

The movie was done on the cheap and the acting is pretty bad, the dialogue is lame, etc. But you're not watching Rock and Roll High School for its cinematic qualities. You're watching Rock and Roll High School for the Ramones and they deliver the goods. Highly recommended.

February 6, 2009

Friday Random Top 10

I'm really geeking for tonight's BSG. Adama and Tigh are making a last stand against a mutiny. Definitely need a Random Top 10 to tide me over.

1. 15 Years in Indiana -- Jack Logan
2. Jesus Christ Pose -- Soundgarden
3. Soul Asylum -- Religivision
4. Jonathan Richman -- Government Center
5. California Man -- Cheap Trick
6. Metallica -- One
7. Cry -- Dan Wilson
8. Tractor Rape Chain -- Guided By Voices
9. Heroin -- Velvet Underground
10. They're Not You -- Patsy Cline


What's your top 10?

February 5, 2009

Faces of Haiti

You always see the pictures of desolation in Haiti, I thought I'd share with you some pictures of the people of Haiti (click on a picture to enlarge)












February 3, 2009

January Books Read

wordy 10 cent.jpg

I started off my 2009 book reading project by reading two off-beat history books by authors who’s previous efforts I really enjoyed. Unfortunately their latest efforts, while decent, were not nearly as compelling nor as fun to read as the earlier books.

A couple of years ago David Hajdu wrote a great book about the early Dylan days in NYC; his relationship with Joan Baez and her sister Mimi, all the way up to Dylan’s motorcycle accident in 1966. It was called Positively 4th Street and I heartedly recommend that book to anyone interested in that particular period of pop culture history.

Hadju’s latest entry, The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America is about the rise of comic books and the intense political pressure they came under in the 1920s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The 1950s witch hunt lead to the Comic Book Code, essentially eviscerating comic books of any relevance, critical, or artistic merit. Hadju gives a good accounting of the players involved and he interviewed a lot of guys (mostly) who went through that period in the 1950s. Maybe it was the subject matter but I found the book a little dry. The worst thing is that there were few pictures, only a small smattering of b&w photos. Given the fact that the horror and weird comic book covers of the time played a large part in political leaders trying to ban comic books, it would have been nice to see some full-color examples of the covers or pages from the comic books he was describing. (to be fair, I noticed on Amazon that there is now a “fully illustrated? version of The 10 Cent Plague. I’m not surprised, the book really needs those comic book examples to make it work).

It is decent book about a time when the governments were seriously considering putting restrictions on freedom of speech and essentially forced the comic book industry to self-regulate itself. However the book could have used a little more spark and liveliness. I am guessing that the new illustrated version is a lot more satisfying.

Sarah Vowell is a regular contributor to This American Life on NPR and a few years ago wrote an amazingly informative and funny book about presidential assassinations called Assassination Vacation. Again highly recommended. Her latest, The Wordy Shipmates, covers the time between 1630 and 1690 and the English Puritans who settled New England, specifically Boston, and eventually Providence and Connecticut.

Vowell uses John Winthrop’s City on the Hill sermon as a jumping off point and thoroughly examines the writings and letters (and these guys wrote a whole lot, thus the title) to give insight to our first settlers and the development of some of the “American? ideals that we still hold dear some 350 years later. Winthrop is contrasted with John Williams who argued for a lot more religious freedom than Winthrop and the Puritans were willing to tolerate. Williams was banished from Boston and he found the City of Providence. Vowell makes a great point: "Winthrop is Pete Seeger, gathering a generation around the campfire to sing their shared folk songs. Williams is Bob Dylan plugging in at Newport, making his own noise."

As you can tell from that last line, Vowell brings attitude to this subject much like she did with Assassination Vacation, it’s just not as page turningly funny. The book is informative and a nice little history of John Winthrop and the first Bostonians, but again the spark is missing. Maybe it’s the dour nature of her subjects, maybe its hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice, or maybe I need more to be impressed, but while I enjoyed the book, instead of urging everyone to read it, like I did AssVac, I would urge caution, suggesting that if you’re looking for a fun, funny read, this book won’t really bring it.

There’s some obvious themes here, the first being that its no wonder that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are in the first amendment to the Constitution (in fact Williams’ Rhode Island progeny insisted on the freedom of religion clause in the 1st Amendment). We have fought for these rights for over 350 years, and sometimes, like with Comic Books in the 1950’s, our ideals are compromised. In the end freedom does win out and we continue to strive for that shining city on the hill.

So that’s it, lots of off-beat history for January. A scholarly look at Alfred Hitchcock’s films is now on top of the bookstand with books about Dylan and Hibbing, Allen Ginsburg, and Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train still to come.

What are you reading?

February 2, 2009

Will.I.am Shilling Pepsi!?!

I don't pay much attention to the Superbowl Ad-hype so I was surprised when all of a sudden there's a picture of old-school Bob Dylan on my Hi-Def TV screen singing an off-version of Forever Young during the Superbowl.

The ad was cute and all comparing one generation to another and I don't have a problem with Dylan selling his songs for a commercial. (Using the Mats' Gary's Got a Boner to sell Levitra -- sacreligious!!) But Will.I.am? Couldn't Pepsi have done better than that? The obvious choice would have been Bono of course. I asked my kids, Is Will.I.am the voice of your generation? They just looked at me like I was weird.

Heck maybe that's the root of our problems these days. We don't have an obvious voice of the generation, and when admen have to come up with one, Will.I.am rises to the top. Maybe that's why Obama is so popular, he fits that voice of a generation slot so nicely. Now Dylan and Obama in a Pepsi commercial. That would be cool.