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friday random ten, 2009 edition

The last random ten in the current format.

1. Jay-Z, “Empire State of Mind."

2. Green Day, “Horseshoes and Handgrenades.”

3. Nanci Griffith, “Money Changes Everything.”

4. Miranda Lambert, “Time to Get a Gun.”

5. Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow.”

6. Tegan & Sara, “Arrow.”

7. Nellie McKay, “The Very Thought of You.”

8. The Avett Brothers, “The Perfect Space.”

9. Neko Case, “Vengeance Is Sleeping.”

10. Sonic Youth, “Anti-Orgasm.”

[edited to add Spotify playlist]

matt taibbi strikes again

I really have no idea whether Matt Taibbi is a positive or a negative on a pragmatic scale of “getting things done.” His overheated rhetoric probably makes more enemies than friends … on the other hand, “overheated rhetoric” in this case often means “funny as shit in a mean-spirited way.” In other words, I love reading Taibbi, enough so that I fear I don’t spend much time worrying about the pragmatic effect of his work. He is reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson, except Thompson was trying to reinvent journalism more than he was trying to construct political arguments, while Taibbi is a child of that reinvention who likes the dirty work of research (of course, he gets ripped on a regular basis for a supposed lack in his research abilities).

Last month, David Brooks wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times that got a lot of love from Bruce Springsteen fans. Brooks outed himself as a Bruce fanatic, and that’s all most fans needed to hear. Everywhere I turned for a few days after, Bruce fans were linking to the piece. My feeble complaints that Brooks is not someone I agree with on pretty much anything non-Bruce related were inaudible.

So it’s nice to see Matt Taibbi applying his way with words to a description of David Brooks. As is often true with Taibbi, once you get past the rhetoric/funny-as-shit stuff, he has a useful point to make, in this case re: Brooks as an example of “the kind of spineless Beltway geek we always see beating the war drum at times like these.”

But I confess, in what I always call the “if I believed in guilty pleasures, this would be one” mode, that I mostly liked the piece because of its one-sentence opening paragraph:

I’m always afraid to write about David Brooks, because I worry that my attitude toward this guy is colored by certain strong feelings I have about his appearance — he just looks like a professional groveler/ass-kisser, and every time I see him in public I have to fight off visions of him home at night in his Versace jammies, feverishly jacking off with one hand while caressing in the other an official invitation to, say, a White House event, or a Harvard Club luncheon.

Pragmatically useful? I’m sure it isn’t. But I know the next time Taibbi writes, I’ll be reading.

smith-rubio family xmas update, 8th annual edition

It’s that time again, when everyone’s thoughts turn to family and joy and camaraderie. It’s a long tradition for families to send out xmas mailings to their friends in far-flung places, updating them on the events of the past year. This is a bit redundant for anyone who has a blog … if you want to know what I’ve been doing, the evidence is right here. Still, we have our own traditions at the Online Life Corral, so, here we go.


Yes, it’s the poster child for the Xmas Update, Spot! For what is xmas without pets? Sadly, Spot has become incontinent over the years … the food you see him eating in the picture will become a turd on the living room floor by nightfall.

This is the part of the Update where I tell you what everyone in our family has done over the past year. Oops, out of time!

It’s become Yet Another Xmas Tradition over the last few years to end these posts with a song. So here goes … something that reminds me of the most enjoyable night I spent during 2009:

So what I'm still a rock star
I got my rock moves
And I don't need you
And guess what
I'm havin’ more fun
And now that we’re done
I'm gonna show you tonight
I'm alright
I'm just fine
And you're a tool so
So what
I am a rock star
I got my rock moves
And I don't want you tonight

what i watched last week

Only Yesterday. Some years ago, a friend gave me a lovely set of Studio Ghibli films on DVD. I’ve never been sure of the legal status of the box set, but it gave me a chance to look at some of the finest films of all time without worrying about dubbing or editing. I’ve spread the movies out over time … I’ve seen all but a couple now … Only Yesterday is one of the last on the list. It’s the kind of movie that resonates after the fact … the animated spell it creates works in such a way that for the most part, you don’t think “this is a great animated film,” you think “this is an interesting character study of a young woman.” I liked it quite a lot, but it was afterwards, when reading the praise of its many fans (who like it more than a lot), that I started thinking back and realized I had sat through something special without truly realizing it. Even now, I’d hold back on too much praise … I suspect it seems even better on a second viewing … but this is a very good movie, at the least. 8/10.

Star Trek. I’m certainly not the one to judge this. I’ve never really watched any of the TV series, and only saw one of the movies prior to this one. But I’ve also never hated the show … was mostly indifferent, except that many friends loved various versions, and that seemed like a good thing. But I approached this as I would any other sci-fi epic, or at least, I thought that’s what I did. When the movie started, I understood that even a non-fan is aware of the basics … I knew the names of the main characters, knew some catch phrases, stuff like that. So it’s silly to say I’m totally outside the Trek universe. How did I like the movie? It was OK … the science part of the plot didn’t reward any deep consideration, so I avoided that. The action scenes were ok, nothing special, the acting reasonable. I’ve always hated Zachary Quinto’s' eyebrows … stupid, I know … so his arched Vulcan brows worked wonders for me, since I thought they were an improvement. It was a nice way to spend two hours; don’t think I’d go farther than that. 6/10.

welsh rugby legend gareth thomas comes out of the closet

From the Daily Mail:

Somehow, the coach had guessed.

'He took me out of the team room to the medical room, locked the door and I told him everything. After keeping it secret for so long, I felt a huge rush of relief.

'Scott said: "Right, I've got to speak now to three or four players in the Welsh team because you need the boys to surround you and support you. You can't cope with this on your own," and he was right.

'He told two of my team-mates, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams, and as I sat in the bar waiting for them, I was absolutely terrified, wondering what they were going to say.

'But they came in, patted me on the back and said: "We don't care. Why didn't you tell us before?"

'Two of my best mates in rugby didn't even blink an eyelid. Martyn said he never had a clue, would never have thought it.

'I felt everyone was protecting me and closing in tight around me. No one distanced themselves from me, not one single person.'

Since that confession to his closest circle of friends three years ago, Gareth says his team-mates at his club, the Cardiff Blues, now know - and apparently don't care.

teevee 2009

A look back at some of the stuff I wrote about television this year. For what it’s worth, I think the quote below about Damages is one of my better ones.

The L Word: “We were supposed to like The L Word because it was about lesbians. If we didn't like it, we were bad people. If the show sucked, that didn't matter ... all that mattered was that the show existed in the first place. And we got the show we deserved, one that never worried about being good because being good was irrelevant. This is what happens when all you ask of art is that it reflects your own life.”

Battlestar Galactica: “I don't have to be a believer myself to appreciate the way this series showed how religion affects people's lives, and not just for the worse.”

Life on Mars: “It was all very Wizard of Oz-ish, which is fine, since the original had lots of that stuff too. Ultimately, the scenes about Sam Tyler's search for home were far more touching than I would have expected, and lifted the show above the norm.”

Damages: “[T]his is a show about shitty people doing shitty things to other shitty people. If that sounds like a bad show to you, stay away. But, if you know me, you know that I'm always up for a show that brings the shitty.”

24: “The show has such a tenuous link to reality that it's stretching to believe we honestly want to know how Jack feels about torturing people. We just want to see things blow up, and that's not because we in the audience are crass, it's because the show treats us like we're crass. And I have no problem with that. I just don't want to see whiny ‘character’ stuff. Blow shit up, put the country in danger, toss in a couple of useful guest stars, and leave it at that.”

Kings: “Mixing flamboyantly aggressive acting from Ian McShane with a bizarre mixture of alternate contemporary reality and the Biblical story of David, Kings was never going to appeal to a mass audience, but you’d think it would have had some cult success, if nothing else. But that never happened … it wasn’t a sci-fi hit, wasn’t a soap opera hit, wasn’t a religious hit, even though it had elements of all of those and more. It goes without saying that this was an ambitious show, and at times its ambitions extended beyond the show’s good qualities, i.e. it was erratic.”

Nurse Jackie: “Nurse Jackie isn’t up in the pantheon yet, but it has promise, and it has Edie Falco. You know I’m going to give every possible chance to a series where the heroine is a drug addict with a husband, two kids, and a boyfriend on the side who is the hospital pharmacist who supplies her with drugs.”

Weeds: “Weeds has gone from a comedy with serious undertones to a dark show with comic undertones to what we have now: a dark show that is rarely funny, and isn’t offering anything new. Nancy Botwin still makes terrible choices. She is still a terrible mother. She still stops every three episodes or so and realizes what a terrible mother she is. And then she continues to make terrible choices and to be a terrible mother.”

True Blood: “[Y]ou can always count on seeing some hunky guy showing off his abs, ass, or both, and little Anna Paquin’s good for half-a-dozen hot nude sex scenes a year. Basically, it’s The Tudors, only it’s on HBO instead of Showtime, and it takes place in a different century. And there are vampires.”

Mad Men: “Mad Men, which has always paid plenty of attention to the role of women in the time period of the series, finds new and heartening ways to show how women can advance, but those women are leaving the Bettys of the world behind. Being a wife and mother just doesn’t get it in the Mad Men universe, where people are largely defined by their jobs and wife/mother isn’t considered ‘real’ work. It’s entirely possible we won’t see much of January Jones in the future … Betty isn’t as necessary as she used to be … whereas Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (and the series itself) finds a way to bring Joan back into the fold.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Some people seemed to think Larry went too far this season, but don’t they say that every season? Me, I thought the episode where he peed on the painting of Jesus, making it seem like Christ was crying real tears, was hilarious.”

Sons of Anarchy: “Season Two raised the show to the level of the best TV has to offer. It began with the brutal retaliatory rape of a central character, then followed the ramifications of that moment throughout the season. We saw strong characters made vulnerable, good people drawn into perilous situations, and a biker gang that was somewhere between Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey on the morality scale. Nothing happened in a vacuum … not only do these characters pay for their actions, other people pay as well.”

Glee: “I think the message of the show is supposed to be that we all have our talents that make us special, no matter where we fit on the high-school hierarchy of coolness. But the songs tell a different story: success is available to anyone with access to auto-tune. It is a rare song that isn’t produced into sterility.”

Dexter: “Dexter always teeters between letting the titular character remain what he is (an evil serial killer) and giving him growth as a human being (granted, anything human in Dexter is a step forward). This is problematic because if he remains the evil serial killer, the show goes nowhere, and it becomes just another show, but if they humanize him, the show loses the angle that makes Dexter unique.”

Lie to Me: “Tim Roth is so good as Cal Lightman, he makes Lie to Me must-see TV all by himself. … Hayley McFarland as Lightman’s daughter is a particular standout, as is the father/daughter relationship. It’s not something they touch upon every episode, but it’s nicely nuanced when McFarland shows up.”

Stargate Universe: “[T]here was never a time when I thought ‘I’ll be watching this show until it goes off the air.’ It’s not really my place to evaluate a show like this, with a built-in audience that doesn’t include me. So if you’re a Stargate person, YMMV. Me, I was bored.”

30 Rock: “I don’t think it’s past its prime, I laugh constantly at pretty much every episode, and I look forward to it each week, which isn’t always true for The Office.”

Dollhouse: “I’ve thought for awhile now that I would really miss this show when it’s gone, but I’m not so sure any more … I don’t know how much more I can take. And I mean that as a compliment. With Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy done for the year, Dollhouse may be the best show currently running on TV, and I’m as surprised about that as anyone.”