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November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend Cultural Wrap-up

Thanksgiving means a lot of things. Giving thanks, gorging on turkey, spending time with in-laws, watching football. Also with basically 4-1/2 days off work, there can be lots of cultural goings on too. Here's a rundown of what I saw, heard, or seen this past week:

Movies. I had the unfortunately experience of seeing Ninja Assassin this weekend. Someone had to be the parent/guardian for a couple of teenagers to see this flick and I pulled the short straw. Totally predictable, unbelievably gory, badly acted. Heck this was so bad the film "makers" could even find the energy to throw in a gratuitous naked boob shot. It was bad, so bad you have to go to confession after seeing it. I still want to see 2012 (I know another bad movie) Where the Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mr. Fox (which I had to give up to see N A) and Avatar.

DVDs. Donnie Darko and Food, Inc. Easily my 8th viewing, Donnie Darko is a classic - make sure you get the Director's Cut. If you ever wanted to know what it's about here's a pretty good wrap-up. Food, Inc. Is a great documentary about all the bad things that are done to our food. I've been moving toward taking making better choices about what I eat ever since I read The Omnivore's Dilemma. After watching this I have to double my efforts. One thing I am doing is buying my meat from a local farmer who uses both humane animal husbandry practices and no pesticides/anti-biotics. (our 22-lbThanksgiving Day turkey was fresh, locally grown, and had no preservatives, antibiotics, etc., and brought tears to your eyes it was so good).

Books. I quickly finished The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. A nice little book about how trends/fashions etc go "viral." Thing is he wrote this before the onset of Youtube so I would love to hear his thoughts on that. If you liked Freakonomics this is along the same lines, but better. I plan to read Gladwell's other books, Outliers and Blink. But next on the bedside table is a 1000 page tome on post-WWII European History. Should be a good winter read. I also have the latest Atlantic Monthly I need to slip in there.

Music. I didn't buy any new music lately but I did listen to a bunch of Pavement, Radiohead's In Rainbows, Whiskeytown, Decemberists' Crane Wife (which will be on my list of best albums of the 2000s -- if I ever make such list) and all 50 songs on Elvis Costello's Get Happy! For some reason I have a hankering for The Clash and plan to scratch that itch by listening to their first two albums.

Sports. Watched some football this weekend too but missed most of the Viking game. I like that the Vikings defense is coming around. I will definitely watch tonight's game as I am also a Patriots rube.

Well that's about it. What else is going on out there that I missed?

November 24, 2009

Funeral v. Neon Bible


Wake Up from Funeral

With the end of 2009 only five weeks away, we are starting to see some "Best of Decade" lists popping up all over the interwebs. Here and Here are two good examples. Music lists probably get the most debate because there is so much music released and opinions can be quite vast regarding what is good or best, especially over a decade. Also over a 10 year span, popular musical tastes can change greatly and it is interesting to look back at what was considered great nine or ten years ago compared to current tastes (a great example of this is to compare music in 1960 to music in 1970; or 1985 to 1995).

Also it is inevitable when these lists are put together that an artist will only get one entry. This is usually done because there is limited space (top 20 or 50 albums, for example) and unless a band releases two incredible albums, one will usually get left off. Who can really blame the reviewer(s)? They don't want to be seen as a geek for one band, and a lot of time these lists are also used to show how broad one's tastes are. Doesn't mean we can debate the decisions. I might take on these debates over the next few weeks.

One thread I have seen in these lists is that Arcade Fire's 2004 album Funeral is getting listed (usually quite highly) instead of 2007's Neon Bible. Frankly I think both should be listed, but if you only had one to pick, which one would you pick?

Funeral is an obvious choice for best of decade considerations as it was highly received and universally loved when it was released. For Arcade Fire band members, the years leading up to the recording of Funeral were marked with death and many of the songs address the pain that follows the death of an aging loved one. As Pitchfork Media stated so well in it's review: "Funeral evokes sickness and death, but also understanding and renewal; childlike mystification, but also the impending coldness of maturity. The recurring motif of a non-specific "neighborhood" suggests the supportive bonds of family and community, but most of its lyrical imagery is overpoweringly desolate." Pretty deep stuff. The album is moody, it sweeps you up. It's great as background music but it is fantastic to listen to by yourself, getting overwhelmed by the music and evocative lyrics.

In 2007, Arcade Fire released Neon Bible and the pre-hype was over the top. Based on Funeral, expectations for Neon Bible was sky high and for the most part the reviews were glowing. Also much was made out of the band's purchasing of an old church near Montreal that was then converted into a recording studio. Neon Bible, although moody and atmospheric, is a different album than Funeral. Instead of looking inward and reflecting on death and "deep thoughts" Neon Bible is outward looking, focusing on worldly issues such as government, religion, the military, and even the entertainment industry. The music is propulsive, however, it doesn't erupt. Instead it gradually intensifies, coming to a satisfying crescendo by songs end.

So which is better? Both are great and it could be akin to asking a parent which child they love best. However, for me, Neon Bible is better. It basically comes down to the songs. Song for song, I think Neon Bible is best overall album. Whereas Funeral ends stronger, Neon Bible is good throughout. Both deserve consideration as among the decade's best, but Neon Bible should be rated higher.

What do you think?

November 23, 2009

Gophers Football Wrap-up

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Previewing the Gopher's football schedule back in September, I predicated a 7-5 season and said I wasn't expecting a Rose Bowl but wanted to see improvement. No more 55-0 losses to end the season. So the Gophers ended up 6-6 with only a 12-0 season ending loss. Is that improvement? No.

Basically the Gophers came close to my prediction. If they win the Illinois game, they would have been 7-5. My problem is that the Illinois game was extremely winnable, as was the Wisconsin game. In fact, the Iowa and Penn State losses were to teams that weren't that good either. The bottom line is that the Gophers were mediocre in a bad league, losing games to teams that are going to get trounced in upcoming Bowl games.

The Gopher's offense was putrid and got worse as the season wore on. No offensive touchdowns against South Dakota State. Shut outs against Penn State and Iowa and a garbage touchdown against Ohio State. The last two games were practically unwatchable: Poor offensive scheming, a bad offensive line, a quarterback who couldn't hit an open receiver, and receivers who dropped the ball when it did get to them. Adam Weber took three steps back in his quality of play this year and new Offensive Coordinate Jed Fisch demonstrated no ability to put a game plan together or to coach up his players.

The Defense seemed to play better at the end of the season, but the last 11 quarters were against Redshirt Freshmen quarterbacks who were thrust into their new roles. Time and time again the defense couldn't get off the field and basically if an opposing team needed a big play, they were able to get it. If the offense gets a D, the defense gets a C-.

Coach Tim Brewster is getting a lot of flack and the question of his future is getting a lot of play. Athletic Director Maturi didn't exactly give him a lot of support last week and I know for a fact that Brewster has more than his share of detractor's among University administrators. Although a decent recruiter, Brewster has shown no coaching ability, either from getting the most from his players or putting a game plan together to responding to game situations. He's a lot of bluster with not a lot to back it up. The problem is people are starting to see through his bluster. Sunday Brewster said he was happy with the progress of his team. If that's true, he's the only one.

I don't think the University will fire Brewster nor unfortunately should they. Three years is too quick to dump a coach and Brewster needs one more year to see if can really put this together. I would keep him on a short lease however and pull the trigger quickly if there is no improvement. Firing Brewster now would mean a couple more years of turmoil, plus a $800,000 buyout. Fortunately I am not sure Coach Brewster will be around much longer anyway. Word is that former Denver coach Mike Shanahan will have his pick of a number of NFL coaching jobs and that Brewster could follow him back to the NFL. That may be good in the long run but would mean the U would be looking for a coach in February.

So as it has been for the last 40 years, the Gophers end on a disappointing note, the football program is in trouble, the future looks bleak with no end in site. At least we have Gopher Hockey. MN Timberwolves. MN Wild. Oh never mind. When do pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers?

November 20, 2009

Friday Random Top 10

I've given up sugar and sweets cold turkey until Thanksgiving. It's been surprisingly easy to do. I think after a couple of pieces of pumpkin pie, I will continue with my "sugar fast." Let's celebrate with a random top 10:

1. Loveless Love -- The Feelies
2. Black Hole -- She & Him
3. The Prisoner -- The Clash
4. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- The Beatles
5. The Cities Are Burning -- Rev. F.D. Fitzpatrick
6. Like A Soldier -- Johnny Cash
7. Clementine -- Decemberists
8. Bossa Nova Baby -- Elvis Presley
9. Celebrated Summer -- Husker Du
10. Smash the Mirror (live) -- The Who

Bonus: Can't Hold On -- Cheap Trick

That was a little different. Hey Big Mak, I think I might do a story out of this one. Only wrinkle will be to incorporate SPLHCB into the mix.

What's your top 10?

November 18, 2009

Zach Grienke -- A Charmed Life

Zach Grienke deservedly won the 2009 Cy Young even though he pitched for the woeful Kansas City Royals, winning 16 games.

It has come out that Grienke is not only a great pitcher but uses sabermetrics to help him approach batters. The guy uses his brawn and his brains.

So if you are a Major League Baseball player, making millions of dollars, awarded the highest honor for your position, and obviously extremely bright what else could you ask for? How about engaged to a former Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader?

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Well done sir. Well done.

November 13, 2009

Random Top 10

The family is suddenly become hooked on Glee. Witty writing, goofy characters, song and dance numbers. Sounds like a winning formula. Here's your random top 10:

1. Canary - Liz Phair
2. A Song for You - Gram Parsons
3. You Make It Easy - Golden Smog
4. Champaign Supernova - Oasis
5. Cool Blues - Charlie Parker
6. The Neighbors - Jonathan Richman
7. Tired of being Alone - Al Green
8. Who By Fire - Leonard Cohen
9. War on War - Wilco
10. Hound Dog - Elvis Presley

Bonus: Dog for Fire - Pixies

Seven solo artists and a wide range of styles. Also at least one song from every decade since the 1940s! Beat that! What's your top 10?

November 11, 2009

Katherine Kersten Hates Gay Marriage

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Responding to the Star Tribune's Katherine Kersten could easily fill a blogger's screen for a year and I typically have ignored her. But this past Sunday's screed against gay marriage is just too delicious to pass up. It's no surprise Kerstin is writing about her opposition to gay marriage. Gays probably rank right up with there with scary Muslims and the downfall of today's culture as tried and true Kersten columns.

I found it interesting that Kersten in her opening paragraph has to backtrack a little on gay marriage. She admits that if a married couple asks "how does gay marriage directly impact my own hetero-marriage?" she can't point out any good examples. Part of this is a realization that we've had gay marriage now for a number of years in some states (including next door Iowa) and all the doom and gloom predicted by the gay marriage opponents have not come to pass (much like we have yet to see a Islamic-centered agenda from Congressman Keith Ellison that KK was so worried about).

Doom and gloom won't work because we have too much evidence that gay marriage really has no impact on how we live our everyday lives. So Kersten has to fall back on philosophy. Kersten's main argument against gay marriage is that marriage is an institution needed to create families. In other words, marriage is reserved for those who can procreate. Here's the kicker quote: "Marriage channels men's and women's sexual attraction into productive ends, and harnesses the male sex drive by binding men to the mothers of their children."

No word on whether or not a couple's marriage can be revoked if for some reason they were not able to produce children or if there is some sort of contract a couple signs when getting a marriage license that states that they will produce x number of children over the course of their marriage. Just think of the possibilities! More importantly what about post-menopausal women who want to get married? Should they be refused marriage too? Under a KK world will men and women have to undergo fertility testing to make sure that they are able to procreate and thus uphold the real purpose of marriage? Does every man over the age of 55 get Viagra with their marriage license?

Of course if we talked with KK she would scoff at all of those examples. But in a nutshell these examples are at the core of her problem. The anti-gay marriage logic is so tortured, so gerrymandered to solely defend her anti-homosexual agenda that it just falls apart under the faintest of scrutiny.

Not withstanding the disappointing vote against it in Maine last week, gay marriage is more and more becoming a reality on the United States. Younger people have no issue with gay marriage and since most of the opposition lies with older people, each year that opposition becomes less and less pronounced. The states that have approved gay marriage have not become Sodom and Gomorrah, gays haven't been "recruiting" more kids to their team, and existing hetero marriages are just as strong (or weak) as ever. The fact that gay marriage opponents are left with flimsy philosophical arguments and stale anti-gay anecdotes to make their case shows how out of the mainstream they've become.

Update:
There was a hilarious parody of the Kersten column in today's strib. Read the Kersten column from the link above, then check out this. Good stuff.

November 10, 2009

Hot, Reckless, and out of Control

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Last week the City Pages used that term to describe Corey Brewer, the string bean of a forward employed by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Besides generating page hits through teh google, I thought that phrase perfectly captured Brewer and the potential of the Wolves.

If you haven't been paying attention, the Wolves have completely revamped their team once again in the hopes of creating something out of the big stinking growler left by the Kevin McHale regime. So far the results have not been pretty: a Detroit Lions-like 1-7 record including a record-breaking 146-105 loss last night against the Golden State Warriors, crowds at Target Center that are listless and sparse, and the team "savior" Ricky Rubio playing in Barcelona for another 2 years.

There is hope however. Kurt Rambis seems to be a good coach and has put together a pretty good coaching staff, including Dave DeBuscher Bill Laimbeer (God was that embarrassing). Just seeing those guys on the sidelines is a little comforting. Also Corey Brewer is one of those guys you gotta love, not necessarily for his basketball skill but for his ineptness. The guy can play defense -- he's all energy, and with those long arms and legs he is up in your grill in a flash. Problem is he can't shoot a lick, doesn't understand the offense, and is just as likely to throw the ball away, shoot an airball before his team is set in the half court, or commit a foul his body is out of control and the opponent takes advantage. He's one of those lovable losers that, when your team is bad, you have to embrace just for the futility of it all.

Now all isn't lost if you are a fan of NBA basketball. You can easily score tickets to any game you want. Last Friday, a couple of friends and I went to the Wolves-Bucks game and sat 6 rows behind the Wolves bench for $20. This was a Friday night against a Milwaukee team that will pull in some 'Sconi fans. I am guessing midweek games can be had for a song. Even with the Wolves as bad as they are, watching NBA basketball for that cheap and that close is a treat.

So go to a Twolves game. Cheer on Corey Brewer and his spindly little legs as he goes 1-12 from the floor. Watch all 5'-7" of Johnny Flynn flying down the court, getting hammered by much bigger opponents, see Stewie look-alike white Euro dude Percherov score 24 points against a nice Celtics team and then not even sniff the basket against a lousy Bucks team. It's all good. It's the 2009 NBA as we know it in Minneapolis.

November 6, 2009

Friday Random Top 10

Last week I was at the hospital waiting for the elevator. The door opened and there was this Priest all dressed in black except for his white collar and huge silver crucifix. When the door opened he looked at me and said in a very low voice "going down?" Even though I was, I said no and waited for the next elevator. Here's your Random Top 10:

1. Pale Blue Eyes -- R.E.M.
2. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs -- Minutemen
3. Troublemaker -- Weezer
4. Mesmerizing -- Liz Phair
5. I'm Sorry For You My Friend -- Hank Willams
6. One - Aimee Mann
7. Bad Luck -- Social Distortion
8. Kid About It -- Elvis Costello
9. Joke About Jamaica -- The Hold Steady
10. What Led Me to This Town -- The Jayhawks

Bonus: Alone + Easy Target -- Foo Fighters

Hey, that's not a bad list, good variety, nothing embarrassing. What's your top 10?

November 3, 2009

Weekend Sports Wrap

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Last weekend was big plus rare with all four major sports leagues were in action. Here are some thoughts

Vikings-Packers. This was the biggie. Favre back at Lambeau. Opportunity for Vikings to put away the Pack and grab a stranglehold on the NFC North Division. A million words have been spilled on the event, I'll just add that the anguish Packer fans are going through (see image above) makes me even happier than the Vikings 7-1 start. Vikings secondary is still a big concern and I worry how they would match up v. the Saints or Colts.

Gophers v. MSU. A must win and a crazy game. How many times does a team commit 17 penalties and win? Plus the Gophers got a couple of key calls late. Go back to my prediction, I've practically nailed it. Gophers win next two and lose at Iowa. However, I would gladly trade those two wins for a victory against the Hick-eyes and ruining their national championship hopes.

Timberwolves Start Play. A miracle win in their opener followed by 3 loses. This team ain't going to win a lot of games, hopefully they will be entertaining.

Gophers Hoops. Three plays suspended. Ouch that's 25 percent of the team. Hopefully White and Bostick's transgressions are minor. With those three players, this could be a fun team to watch this year.

World Series.
Jeez, Chase Utley is playing out of his mind, too bad it seems like the Phillies will need to score at least 6 runs every game to even have a chance at winning. It will be interesting to see if Girardi's strategy of using only three pitchers on three days rest backfires. Burnett looked awful last night.

November 2, 2009

H1N1 Vaccine Deniers: Deny Away!

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The H1N1 Virus under a microscope

Even though cases of H1N1 increases every week, including mounting deaths to younger people and those who have weakened immunity, there still is a small, but vocal, contingent of vaccine deniers who will refuse to take the vaccine once it becomes available. Given the fact that a Minneapolis clinic was overwhelmed with over 120,000 calls last week when it became known it had the vaccine, I do believe that vaccine deniers are a small minority of people, hyped up by 24/7 news channels looking to fill time and by (ahem) bloggers who need something to write about.

I have no issue with taking the H1N1 vaccine and will get a shot when it's available and make sure the rest of my family can get one too. The vaccine, its development, and manufacture is no different than the seasonal flu shot, and while I am sure there are some people concerned about the seasonal flu vaccine, we don't hear much about them.

I also don't have an issue with people refusing the H1N1 vaccine, even though it may cause the virus to spread further. First, more people refusing the vaccine means that I will get my vaccine that much quicker and will be easier to find vaccines for my family. But more importantly if a few of these vaccine deniers actually contract and die from the virus, we will "thin the herd" of those who obviously are of lesser intellect. Many of these vaccine deniers would be prime candidates for a Darwin Award and if they want to eliminate themselves from the gene pool, we'll mourn their passing but then feel grateful they can no longer propagate. Surely someone who takes their medical advice from some white dude rapping about H1N1 or Bill Maher instead of the CDC, gets what's coming to them.

So all you vaccine deniers out there, deny away. I'll go get my shot, stay healthy, and check out your stuff when the estate sale is held.