Thursday, December 10, 2009

Traditional By-products

By ned * Other ned Posts
The holiday season encourages a variety of activities that inertia would otherwise cause us to ignore or avoid. We all tend to look at our bank balances in early January only to feel like a ho-ho-ho as unexpected gifts and splurges take their toll (the Yule Log dvd excluded). We fill our homes with green despite it being a stark season. We interact with family members close, distant, delightful and curmudgeon.

By-products though of the forced family interactions are the stories that come up about your fore-bearers that otherwise would go unnoticed. We hear stories that we would probably sooner forget of our grandparent and parents in their twenties. Vivid descriptions of times spent on family retreats or at a relative's home that predates your birth or ability to experience. Personality flaws and strengths are exposed of adults that were overlooked when we were idolizing children - ultimately making the connection and bonds we share stronger.

Coupled with these traditions are those of another mortal construct, the end of the college football season. This past weekend bowl bound programs finally stamped their tickets and fans and players of the other teams forgot the completed season even happened. Akin to honored family gatherings, the bowl system itself grows organically and justifies itself on tradition. Although the bowls the spoils of a season, perhaps more tradition rich are the rivalry games that take place at the end of each season before bowl selection Sunday. If you grew up in Columbus, Ohio; Auburn, Alabama; New Haven, Connecticut; Corvallis, Oregon or a host of other college towns you would be hard pressed to disagree with me.

Family stories and college football rivalry games became intertwined for me this year at the Thanksgiving table. My mother shared with us her account of her first Yale-Harvard football game, aka The Game, and meeting my father's college buddies for the first time. The course of the actual day were fine, but leading up to the event my mom was concerned about what she had gotten herself into.

Ms. Porter, another product of Columbus, grew up on the traditions of Ohio State football games, an environment where wholesome midwestern tailgating food, beer and values blended with sitting next to a father swearing at silver helmets. She assumed though that Yale-Harvard (best read with your nose in the air and an ascot around your neck) might require a different approach. Wanting to make a good impression, she was open to advice on how to conduct herself.

"So, what should i wear to the game?" my mother asked a high school friend who was one of the first women to attend Yale.

"Do you have a fur coat?"

Startled, the future Mrs. Young responded "I guess I can get one out of storage, but I have a leather jacket."

"Well, I guess that will do."

With one conversation, my mother was now expecting to have to find her place in a setting straight out of a New Yorker cartoon next to the likes of Montgomery Burns - quite a change from the sweatshirt clad crew in the Horseshoe. Unfortunately, the concern about being a fish out of water was only exasperated when she picked up a nice tureen as elegant tailgating food to impress.

"Oh, this will be perfect for the Yale-Harvard game," the cook exclaimed. Just what she wanted to hear to goad on her fears.

Like my father, I ended up becoming a son of Eli. But despite this legacy status, I think my experience with The Game is more like my mother's. My class was the first class since the war, with that war being the Great War, to never experience a Yale victory. The only reason that that class did not see the bulldogs victorious was because they did not play the game in 1919. Like my mother, my experience with The Game was somewhat rocky. However in the end, we both came out winners - perhaps for reasons we did not initially anticipate.

Sitting at us at the Thanksgiving table as she recounted this story were close friends who were at my mother's first Yale game, one of my father's college roommates and his family who have been coming to our Thanksgiving for years. Despite that bumpy start, my mother has gotten personal friendships with impact and depth beyond the Yale Bowl. That maybe the moral of these cold weather traditions: through Thanksgivings, Christmas Mornings, football games or playing catch, the traditions of sport and holidays both force us to behave differently and in a group setting. The end result is not the traditions themselves but a greater connection with the past and with each other. In this way, traditions are more of a vehicle for interpersonal connection than celebrations of the event of the moment.

However that point does have its exceptions. For instance, there is the exception of how I ended up benefiting from the Yale-Harvard game. I ended up witnessing a victory despite the result on the field. But not on the football field. But by having my class get the last word over hahvahd in my senior year game.

Happy Holidays and Bow Wow Wow!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mixtape Mondays - Best of 2009

The contributors of ATC thought long and hard. After a few games of darts and rock, paper scissors, we each assembled our lists of best songs of 2009.  Here is the synthesis of those lists.  Enjoy! Other suggestions welcome!

Music Playlist at

If issues here is a link to the playlist -


List of the songs included and occasional rationale as to our thinking:

* Passion Pit - "Folds in your Hands" - Song of the year according to one contributor
* Flight of the Conchords - "Carol Brown" - "obligatory fotc song.  my favorite of last season"
* KiD CuDi - "Simple As "
* Cursive - "From The Hips"  
* Suckers - "It Gets Your Body Movin' (Alternate Version)
* Los Campesinos! - "The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future"

* Throw Me the Statue - "Hi-Fi Goon" 
* Juelz Santana feat. Yelawolf - "Mixing Up The Medicine (Main)"

* Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - "Om Nashi Me"
* A Camp - "Boys Keep Swinging"
* Kirby Krackle - "Ring Capacity"
* Sondre Lerche - "Heartbeat Radio"
* Weezer - "(If You Are Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To"
* MSTRKRFT - "Heartbreaker"
* Parry Gripp - "The Girl at the Videogame Store"
* Royksopp - "The Girl and the Robot"
* Wilco - "You Never Know"
* St. Vincent - "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood"
* The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Young Adult Friction"
* Neko Case - "People Got A Lot Of Nerve"
* The Flaming Lips - "The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine"* Dirty Projector - "Two Doves"
* Dananananaykroyd - "Some Dresses"
* Bill Callahan - "Too Many Birds"
* Andrew Bird - "Masterswarm"

Wanted to include but the program we use has limited reach:

* The Very Best Warm Heart of Africa - "Yalira"
* J.Period & K'NAAN - "Don't Think Twice (Messengers Remix)" 
* Jim Johnston - "Oh Radio"
* The Mountain Goats - "Matthew 25:21"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm accustomed to a smooth ride

By ned * Other ned Posts

Certain musicians craft lyrics fitting to comfort the uneasiness of a particular moment. For me, one artist has showcased this talent repeatedly without my searching him out to do so. There is no doubt of Paul Simon’s acclaim as poetic lyricist supreme, but I would like to add one more accolade to his resume – troubadour of serendipitous soothing.

In regards to social relevance, the moments have gone been beyond stumbling on "The Only Living Boy in New York" while jogging through Manhattan to blow off some steam. I first noticed this skill when I saw him perform at Yale’s Tercentenniel celebration in the fall of 2001. The occasion glorified a history of achievement of a grand institution but felt at times surreal and out of touch with the mood of times; the dust had not settled on tragedy 80 miles away in lower Manhattan. The ceremony was out of touch that is until honorary Yale grad, Paul Simon, performed “Bridge over Troubled Water” - a song where the performer reaches out his hand to give his audience strength against adversity.

Fast forwarding a few years, last year America was at the peak of anxiety over an economic recession. Fear about the overall direction of the economy was at its highest fervor in the fall – especially in my home of Manhattan where big banks are king. Personally, my employer had just gone out of business. Out of nowhere Paul Simon pops into my life again to stir up positive emotions.  Promoting a new book, Simon sung “American Tune” on the Colbert Report. By selecting to perform this classic, he broke some of the tension of the times. The song does not shy away from the real hardships in life but is ultimately to me a song of hope.  Its thesis is what you truly need will always be provided, a perspective lacking at the time.

There is one personal exception to this association of Paul Simon and unexpected comfort and joy: whenever I pack to head back to my native land of Columbus, Ohio, I always reach for the song “Homeward Bound.” As I fold – read crumple – my t-shirts into my bag, images from a Saturday Night Live video, baggage on a carousel as well as a lick to the face by a cruel alarm clock known as the family’s lab run through my mind with the song in the background.

Somehow the act of selecting “Homeward Bound” as the fanfare for my triumphal returns fits the occasions. Just as I select a song, I make a choice to return home. Just as I listen to the song, going home is a deliberate act to surround myself with the comforts of the familiar. The images they both extract on first blush are the stuff Hallmark Cards are made of.

Given the simplicity of that depiction of the emotions of going home, perhaps familiarity alone is not the entirety of what creates the comfort of returning home. Part of it may be more like my "American Tune" experience than I realize as I pack. There are unexpected surprises including delightful conversation, particularly good slicing of the turkey, and new traditions. Although overshadowed by the familiar, these unexpected nuances are what make each return memorable and special.

So in all likelihood your joys and comforts this holiday season will be the result of circumstance and conviction, of surprise and sameness. I certainly hope they are plentiful – even while just listening to music on shuffle with your ticket to your destination.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Night Out With Dad

By Josh Cain * Other Josh Cain Posts

I was pretty sure my friend Gabe was about to be disappointed. It was his first time in New York City and I had just found a bar that would let 18 year olds drink. For some reason his enthusiasm was undiminished by the facts that a) it was a Tuesday b) we were being allowed to drink because the bar was almost empty and my dad knew the owner and c) the only reason the bar was “almost” empty was because my dad was the sole patron.

We arrived to find a simple bar adorned with various sporting memorabilia and outfitted with a dozen televisions, each displaying groups of men using some combination of sticks and/or balls to make scores and thus earn the adulation of the unwashed masses. At the bar sat my father, a handsome 50-something in t-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap casually drinking a beer and watching the progress of his favored squadron. It may seem weird to refer to one's own father as “handsome,but he once went to a pornstar convention and had to pretend he was gay to keep from getting jumped by the women there. I’m not even joking. The best I’ve managed to pull off is having an overweight drunk girl talk to me at a frat party before pausing to vomit on herself.

Hanging out with Dad was the staff: the bartender, a pudgy, jovial guy who was clearly in his element talking loudly and drinking beer while watching sports; the waitress, a tall blond who might have been hot but looked like she’d lived hard; and the owner, a cute little blond bouncing with energy who was clearly slammin’ back in the day but whose hotness was diminished by the fact that she was at least 40 (which might as well be 80 to an 18 year old).

Gabe and I joined my dad and grabbed beers, made all the more delicious by their illegality. I quietly sipped while Gabe and my dad discussed athletics and politics, two subjects where I know nothing and have no interest in learning. It was likely due to this distraction that I overheard the owner proudly describing her custom-made underwear that prominently featured her own face on the crotch. When the bartender heard this he exclaimed, “oh yeah, check this out! Thunderbolts!” slightly pulling down his pants to reveal the electric undergarments in question. I am, of course, an asshole and thus feel the need to one-up people whenever possible (that’s pretty good, but I’ve got a way better public urination story), so I foolishly said, “man, I’ve got cooler underwear than that.”

Conversation halted and everyone froze. After a few seconds of silence the owner issued a challenge, “Let’s see ‘em, she whispered.

Uhhh…I’m not actually wearing them right now,” I said. The superior underpants I had in mind, namely Spider-man undies and my Monopoly board boxers with “Water Works” over the fly, were both items I saved for special occasions. 

“I said show me your underwear,” she said more forcefully, the waitress and bartender shouting down my protests. “Get behind the bar and drop trow,” she ordered.

Uncertain and grasping for help I turned to my father for assistance. Our eyes met and with a slight nod he said, “Do it, son.” This might seem like an odd reaction for a parent, but when you view the situation as a man who once complained that there were just ten truly gorgeous women at his college and he “only” dated 3 of them speaking to his 18 year old virgin going on 19 year old virgin son, you can maybe understand why he was encouraging me to take my pants off in front of women.  

With a resigned sigh I hopped over the bar and soon found myself wearing distinctly uninteresting grey boxer briefs and holding a bottle of whiskey. Gabe’s laughter at my predicament was quickly silenced as the increasingly excited owner commanded him to join me in my state of undress. Pantsless and confused we were told to create a drink neither of us had heard of. Gabe and I floundered behind the bar amidst the cheers of my father and the staff. This was accompanied by the occasional comment by the waitress indicating that she thought we were both “cute,” but “preferred darker men,” leering at me as she said this. The surreal nature of putting on a sex show for two older women and my father allowed me to dissociate myself enough to focus on the task at hand and eventually slop some random combination of liquors into several shot glasses.

We took our shots with gusto and the owner announced that we were going to get our “reward.” As she leaned over the bar and grabbed the bottom of her shirt, the bartender started hitting me on the shoulder and saying “oh man, you are so lucky!” As I turned to face him to figure out what about this event could be construed as “lucky,” I heard a collective cheer. As I turned back with a puzzled expression Gabe leaned over and informed me that we had just been flashed. Yet again I had been denied the adolescent Holy Grail that is the booby.

As I rejoined my dad, newly pants-wearing, he took me aside.

“So I was talking to that waitress,” he said, “and she offered to take you home and show you some things if you’re interested.”

Slightly aghast, I asked, “How old is she? Like 26?”

“38!” he said brightly, a smile creeping across his face.

I admit that I did consider it, but decided that I didn’t want my first time to be associated with public degradation, a woman twice my age, and having my father as a wingman.

“I’ll pass,” I said to him. He told me that it was ok and, strangely, didn’t seem disappointed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding my NYC State of Mind

Working and living in New York City isn’t always what it seems. With so much energy devoted to the day-to-day affairs, keeping noses to the grindstone as it were, the allure of the city goes to the wayside. But the arts - film, television, song and comics – can be refresher courses in the city’s wonder. Such is my case. I've been introduced to works that have re-introduced me to New York City: they reflect not the traditional conception of New York but rather show the New York that I've experienced, am experiencing or long to experience.

Woody Allen has become one of the most famous New York auteur. Prior to his acquiring a passport, Annie Hall and Manhattan served as practically boilerplate on depicting New York City. While I own both of those movies, I have yet to remove their shrink-wrap. I’ve seen them before but I have not been compelled to re-watch them. Not to discredit Mr. Allen's fine films but my NYC movie happens to be Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. To be fair, neither Nick (Michael Cera) nor Norah (Kat Dennings) speak to me as characters (both characters are from New Jersey, which is an automatic disqualification); The film's setting, the concert venues of New York, are a backdrop to the characters' pursuit of a mystery performance. This romanticizing of concert euphoria recalls some of my fondest high school experiences.

I was something of a concert hall junkie during the latter years of high school. I dragged many a friend to Irving Plaza, the Roseland Ballroom, Webster Hall, the Hammerstein or elsewhere to see bands they had barely heard of, if at all. Because of my bona fide momma's boy status, the biggest thrill, after the music, was being in the thick of these places, surrounded by the smells of beer and various smokes, without partaking of either recreation. I have a fondness for cigarette smoke that can’t be mirrored. I stayed in the mosh pits because it was a workout for me, surfing people and
pogo-ing. I’d emerge from this mass, drenched in sweat (mostly mine) while remaining mostly unscathed. I say ‘mostly’ because on one night at Irving Plaza, I was lightly bitten on the neck by Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones . I'd call it a Hickey by Dicky but I didn't have to wear a turtleneck to school the next day. He was gentle.

Nick & Norah is an avenue for these concert moments but also for the post-show atmosphere. Bodegas and Diners are the locations of preference. When lucky, the ideal is a hotdog from Gray's Papaya. Ideally, it’d be from the 72nd & Broadway location, which is my favorite one. I really appreciate that the film has the characters go to that specific location even though it is geographically illogical (The concert venues in the film are either on the Lower East Side or Brooklyn; that Gray’s is on the Upper West Side.). Also, kudos for going to a Gray's Papaya and not a Papaya King, King Papaya, Papaya Dog or Famous Original's Gray's Papaya. Accept no substitutes, kids.

Gray’s has earned its loyalty. Fools Rush In, starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek, holds a very special place in my heart because, without giving too much of this cinematic masterpiece away, the 72nd and Broadway location plays a pivotal role. My college roommate, who’s from Texas, developed a craving for those specific hot dogs because of the movie. I took him there and he called his Dad afterwards. It filled me with a sense of pride that I’d never felt before. It was like … a Gray’s hotdog.

Television holds my single favorite depiction of New York: The Simpsons' episode “Homer v. The City of New York.” That episode shows how the same city on the same day can be wondrous for some (Marge, Lisa & Bart) while disastrous for others (Homer). While the message is not something unique to New York City, it is nice to see The Simpsons use the city for that vehicle. Also, Bart licking a subway pole in a grift gone wrong really makes you admire the art of the panhandle.

Putting the Taxis and the Night Courts aside, the television series that holds the most influence on my NYC view is How I Met Your Mother. The show revolves around 5 friends (Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney) living in New York City at pivotal stages in their lives. Their exploits are told through a series of flashbacks that Ted narrates to his children in the near future. I want to make their New York City my New York City. I’ve awoken after a night out to discover things I have no recollection of but never something as strange as what Ted found in “The Pineapple Incident.” I’d like to have a reoccurring driver like they have Ranjit. “The Limo” persuaded me the idea to rent a limo for New Years for me and my friends to use; it also dissuaded me by pointing out that traffic is everywhere in New York, especially on that day. All of these things are nary impossible but How I Met Your Mother makes them seem plausible at least.

The episode “Ten Sessions” has a sequence that epitomizes that sense of the improbable. Ted wants to ask his dermatologist Stella on a date but can’t due to AMA rules. Ted decides to wait until he is no longer her patient to ask her out. During that time, he learns a lot about her, particularly that Stella only takes 2 minutes for lunch. Ted devises a date that includes a cab ride (Ranjit!), a short screening of Manos: the Hand of Fate, lunch al fresco, flowers and a stroll back to her office. It's illogical that all parties involved - the cabbie, the electronics store, and the restaurant - would be willing to bend the rules just so that Ted could charm Stella for 2 minutes. In their New York, however, this happened and
totally worked

“The Burger” is a more relatable episode that carries a sense of the city with it. Marshall leads the group to various New York burger joints in search of the perfect burger he once tasted 8 years before. In doing so, the episode observes the city’s corporate expansion: independently run shops that were New York staples - diners, clubs, restaurants - have become Pharmacies, Fast Food Chains and Banks, frustration Marshall in his Quixote-like search for burger shaped windmills. But the use of framed autographed 8 x 10’s adorning the walls of burger joints that triggers memories of Big Nick's Burger Joint, the location of one of my favorite burgers. Like Marshall, I've been in pursuit of the best burger (while taking an occasional side journey for
cupcakes) in New York City. I too have exhausted Zagat guides and humored the recommendations of friends, co-workers and know-it-alls. They’ve all ended in disappointed. Given the quality and variety, it is an almost endless endeavor. Marshall achieving his goal is motivation for me to continue mine.

Incidentally, Ted, who is originally from Ohio, has an irrational hatred towards New Jersey, brought on by residing in New York for a few years. It is a trait that many New Yorkers share, including me. Thanks, HIMYM writers.

Several Comics take place in New York City. New York City, in the Marvel Universe, is home to Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, several Avengers teams and the Hood, which is only a small sample of the heroes and villains that protect and terrorize New York City. For a genuine homage to New York, I turn to
Johnny Hiro by Fred Chao. He combines true-to-life depictions of daily life in NYC like the big city weariness that inspired this post but combines it with element reserved for the superheroes. Johnny and his girlfriend Mayumi, get their sleep interrupted by a giant lizard attacking for example. In another instance, a night at the opera turns into a battle against 47 ronin businessmen. At any given time, an ordinary night can become and unlikely adventure. They’re rarely on par with fighting a Godzilla-like creature while wearing bunny slippers but not everyone is Johnny Hiro.

There are countless bands from New York and countless songs about New York. Right now, “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys fits both categories. Hearing Keys sing the beloved city name alone encapsulates the song’s anthem-like and admittedly cheesy nature. It’s a sense that the residents of New York have embraced, expressed by constantly playing the song. Hell, it’s the first Jay-Z song on my iPod that hasn’t been mashed with something more to my palate (Jay-Zeezer's Black and Blue Album and Danger Mouse's Grey Album hold the other spots). My everlasting sentiments, however, are with another song and I plan on converting people to it one day soon.

The Artist: Andrew WK

The Song: “I Love NYC
The Venue: Drunk Karaoke Bar

Have you ever noticed that an Actor, when interviewed, will say something like. “[City] has the best audiences in the world.” or a Musicians say, “Nobody rocks harder than [City]!” Better yet, have you ever been at a concert and realized that the musician changed the words to a song to include the city name or one its landmarks? The response is always a loud cheer from the audience, right? In professional wrestling, that’s called a “Cheap Pop.” “I Love NYC” is one of the best Cheap Pop ever recorded because it only really works with New York City. I’m sure Andrew WK may have tried at to put another city name in there (I Love … Walla Walla?) while on tour possibly, but the song wouldn’t remain the same. A more blatant examples of a Cheap Pop song is LMFAO’s “I’m In Your City.” They actually released multiple versions for
multiple cities, a marketing move that I respect.

Back to “I Love NYC,” I have no idea what the verses say. I only care when Mr. WK gets to the Chorus: "I Love New York City! Oh yeah! New York City!" Repeat 20 Times. I mean, I've looked up the lyrics but, frankly, I could care less. Here is the mental image I get when I listen to this song: Me conducting dozens and dozens of Karaoke Kings & Queens in a chorus of "I Love NYC," having them alternate between bellowing "I Love New York City" and "Oh yeah! New York City," arranged by gender, or by side of the bar, or by whatever arbitrary factor I decide. It’ll be the World’s Worst Chorus having the World’s Best Time! And by ‘World,’ I mean “New York City,” because they will be one and the same at that point. How do I am to accomplish this feat? Well, the song speaks for itself; but a round of free drinks should carry “I Love NYC” the rest of the way.

The Pop Cultural items listed below are representatives of New York as much as the works considered more traditionally or more popularly 'New York.' From my vantage point, these works are greater representations of New York because of their ability to invoke my personal memories or wants. I'm not shunning quintessential New York works. Arguing that Nick & Norah is a better film than Annie Hall would be silly. My preference on what to watch on an idle Saturday afternoon, however, leans more towards seeing Michael Cera and Cat Dennings over Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. My flow can't handle "Empire State of Mind" nor the vocal prowess to tackle the chorus, for that matter. But hoarsely yelling "I Love NYC" over and over again? Mission Accepted, providing copious amounts of alcohol. If anyone doesn't like it, deal with it. That's about as New York as it gets.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mountain Goats and the Economy

By CL * Other CL Posts

The video below is an interview between Stephen Colbert and John Darnielle, the singer/writer/main guy in The Mountain Goats, of which two parts caught my attention. The first was the "suicidal pride" (in Colbert's words) of mountain goats, in that many die attempting to jump across ravines that are significantly wider than they can jump. The second was Darnielle's discussion about finding hope in times of absolute desolation because, basically, there's nowhere to go but up.

The Colbert Report
Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
John Darnielle

Colbert Report Full Episodes
Political Humor
Michael Moore

The day after that interview aired, I received in the mail a copy of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's Summer of Fear (which is pretty awesome and you should buy it). The song Trap Door (embedded below) is an interesting counterpoint to Darnielle's statement above: it basically argues that things can always get worse; there's "a trapdoor in every rock bottom."

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Trap Door from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

Thinking about these ideas, I thought back to my freshman year of college, when I broke my arm shortly after my birthday. I had a cast up to my elbow and was unable to write at all, and unable to type, eat, or do just about anything else at a normal speed. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a huge deal - I had no permanent injury or scar, and I didn't have any midterms or finals while the cast was on - but it still would have annoyed most people. After I had had it on for a few weeks, one of my friends pointed out that I seemed to be enjoying the experience, and wondered what was wrong with me.

I responded by saying that it was an opportunity to temporarily see things from a new perspective, and try something that I (hopefully) would never have to do again. In hindsight, I have no idea why it would be desirable to experience one-armed life. But the "new experience" thing, coupled with the fact that I really wasn't suffering very much, was enough to make me (sort of) enjoy it.

More generally, this got me thinking of a fairly simple model of personality profiles. In it, there are two basic states of reality: better than average, and worse than average. In each of these states, you can believe that (and act as though) the state will continue indefinitely, or you can believe that it will soon revert to the mean.

Putting it this way is a little bit different from the old glass half empty/glass half full dichotomy, in that, viewed this way, there are four possible personalities:

1. The Mountain Goat

This is the eternal optimist. Like the band's lyrics, they are comfortable with the knowledge that after a certain point, things can't get any worse and must get better. Like the animal, they can get overconfident and take excessive risks, which don't always end well. For an example, think of a typical eight-year-old...and be thankful that I didn't make a "kid" pun about it.

2. The Trapdoor

These people are the worriers. If things are going badly, they can probably get worse. If things are going well, they're bound to get worse. Lots of old people seem to think this way, which is hopefully not an inevitable result of the aging process.

3. Momentum-Conservers

The conservation of momentum is a physical law, as unavoidable as it is dependable. Some people extend that to their lives in general - if things are going badly, they're bound to get worse, and if they're going well, there's no way that's going to stop. It would be easy to say that these people have no perspective on things, or that they're just stupid. I'm not strongly inclined to disagree with either statement. A nicer way to put it may be that they give themselves too much credit when things are good and too much blame when things are bad, and as a result they think their current trajectory must continue. This profile fits the typical teenager pretty well.

4. Mean-Reverters

These people think things are going to revert to the mean sooner or later - if things are going badly, they're going to get better; if things are going very well, that's going to slow down at some point. I'm probably one of these, and if I thought there was a stronger argument that most middle-aged people think like this, I could have rewritten this whole post as an age-based thing.


Unfortunately, the American economy seems to be driven by Momentum-Conservers, and we'd be much better off if the opposite were true and it were driven by Mean-Reverters.

During the internet bubble, day traders and professional analysts/stockpickers were amazed at how talented they were (and conveniently ignored the fact that everyone else was doing just as well as they were); many kept doubling their bets until everything started crashing. During the housing bubble, builders and brokers ceaselessly sped up construction until demand - clearly a factor outside their control - slowed, then they were left with acres of unsellable and/or unfinished inventory. In the run-up to the credit crunch, traders bundled mortgages together and somehow thought they could increase the expected return of a set of mortgages by combining them in a different way (note from anyone with a decent knowledge of statistics: you can't); their faith in their own mathematical skill was not enough to beat the laws of probability. In the last year or so, we've seen the flipside of this momentum-conserving belief: excessive pessimism when things aren't going well, and a feeling of hopelessness regarding the economy's short and long-term prospects.

The lesson in all this is that more temperance is needed: people shouldn't rush to throw all their assets at whatever sector of the economy is doing well (either by investing their life savings in tech stocks or by buying a house they can't afford) and companies and banks shouldn't overleverage* themselves just because they've done well recently.

*It's a little ironic that someone who went to law school - a choice, despite being made by many risk-averse people, that generally brings huge amounts of student loan debt in return for the promise of an unresaonably high salary - is advocating against excessive leverage.


As a side note, Daniel Kahneman and Noah Tversky's prospect theory - which is a foundation of behavioral economics and won them a Nobel Prize in economics - is centered on the idea that, from their current vantage point, people overweigh the risk of any loss and underweigh the possibility of any gain. This would mostly correspond to a trap door viewpoint above, though they go into much more detail and explain it (and its implications) much better than I could.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mixtape Mondays - A Month of Plenty

When the editors of ATC put the team up to the challenge of creating a mix tape in honor of this month of feasting and harvest, one contributor by far and away had the best set of suggestions.

Therefore, this month's mix tape is brought to you by the letters "L" and "K" as LeKeith solo dj's this month mix which creates a symphonic meal. May your ears devour it.

Your Mix Tape Menu

Food Prep aka Places where there is Food / Drink:
The Clash - Lost in the Supermarket
A - Starbucks

Cock-Tail Hour:
The Cardigans - I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to be Nicer
The White Stripes - Little Cream Soda
Thin Lizzy or Metallica - Whiskey in the Jar
Great Big Sea - Old Black Rum
The Who - Old Red Wine

Main Course:
The Beets - Killer Tofu (Totally my favorite!)
The Flaming Lips - She Don't Use Jelly
Weezer - Pork and Beans
The Presidents of the United States of America - Peaches
B52s - Rock Lobster
Kate Nash - Pumpkin soup
The Ting Tings - Fruit Machine

Dessert or I Thought this was a Food but may have been Mistaken:
Mika - Lollipop
Lazlo Bane - Buttercup
The Foundations - Build me up Buttercup

Post Dining Fun - aka Food as a Euphemism
Warrant - Cherry Pie
Flight of the Conchords - Sugalumps

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Searching for Baker Street

By ned * Other ned Posts

Robert Downey Jr breathes life into a variety of different characters. When contrasted with more serious roles in Chaplin and the Soloist, his comedic role in Tropic Thunder perhaps best demonstrates his versatility and ability to garner critical praise. As his next conquest, he has recently been paired in the new Sherlock Holmes movie with Jude Law -- whom I have kept my eye out for ever since his chilling portrayal in the Road to Perdition. But, the casting was not the cause of my initial excitement for the upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie. Not since 2001's Gosford Park have the masses been able to enjoy a good mystery on the big screen (please feel free to correct me and Dana Carvey's Master of Disguise does not count). Moreover to my personal stake, I consider myself to be a casual fan of mysteries. Yes, if given the options on the little screen of America's Best Dance Crew, Family Guy or the BBC's Sherlock Holmes of the 80's on PBS, I will probably turn to the sleuth of Baker Street. As with any story though, there is a twist; my heart sank when I heard the movie was directed by Guy Ritchie and saw this preview.

This is not to say that I have not enjoyed Guy Ritchie movies in the past. Snatch and Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels stimulate the senses. They keep you on your toes while cutting quickly to visually interesting shots, to graphic violence, or to dryly witful situations. These Guy Ritchie movies feel at times like a cinematic love child between Pulp Fiction and Ocean's Eleven. With comparisons such as this, you can assume they are enjoyable for what they are. Needless to say though, neither the flashy aesthetic nor the jarring pacing was likely what Sir Aurthur was trying to create with a cognitive, mysterious gumshoe in Victorian England. If the past Ritchie and the preview are any indication, it is probably safe to say the new Holmes will be a new take on an old friend.

This take potentially speaks to a larger trend. Without recent examples of mysteries coming to mind, the new Sherlock Holmes and like movies are missing the mystery, intrigue, and deliberate action of a rich tradition of movies from film noir to Hitchcock. So apparently Downey can bring to life a variety of characters but not a genre. Whether Rear Window or the Maltese Falcon, some of AFI's top 100 movies unravel a conundrum of illicit affairs in dark subtle shrouds of intrigue. Apparently though, these movies do not fit into the profit formula for the production studios of today.

Perhaps, I am being too harsh and these types movies have just been replaced by comparable choices. With that said, there may be a few general alternatives today in lieu of the classic whodunnit. Just as a mystery builds to an ah-ha moment, there are the recent twisters that try to build to the revelation at the end of the movie - see the Usual Suspects or every M. Knight Shyamalan movie. You also have the prime time CSI crime shows. However - maybe with the exception of the show Monk - today's examples all seem different to me. Their plots are driven much more by short scenes and flashy science visuals than by the dialogue or subtlety that you need to pay attention to in say, Vertigo.

There may be a few explanations for this trend. On the supply side, perhaps film makers of yesteryear had greater ties to the craft of the theater. On the stage action needs to rely on more plot points and dialogue as opposed to visuals, explosions and editing which are techniques that have have developed over the history of film making. Perhaps demonstrative of this tie to the theater, most of the action of the classic Rear Window appears to happen on a single set that could be transplanted onto a stage. A Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade who is an astute observer of words and simple actions would be more at home in this type of small set than an expansive one where he is dodging massive explosions.

On the demand side, our attention spans crave shorter burst and are less willingness to engage detail than earlier movie audiences. We are a generation of iPods shufflers, channel changers, and twitterati. Its hard to deny that our media exposure is gradually being consumed in shorter and shorter bursts. Thus, to keep with the pacing of our lives, movies need to appeal to our senses through quick changes. For examples of this look to the commercial success of the Oceans Eleven franchise, Get Shorty, and Kill Bill.

Lastly, there is a factor that would impact the consumer as well as the producer. In our society, greatness is not defined usually from repeating the old but creating something new. On the flip side consumers tend to search for newness. Thus, the makers want something fresh as much as the takers. The mysteries of old are familiar; they certainly do not satisfy that need. However, although that might be the case, I think I will sit this block buster out. Instead, I will seek out the familiar, taking in Holmes around the couch instead of in stadium seating.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gatorade G2: Cynical Genius

By CL * Other CL Posts

Back in high school, when I had cross-country or track races most weeks, I would usually bring along a bottle or two of Gatorade. It was more or less the only hydration/energy option back then, and it had one serious drawback for me: I found the taste way too sugary, so I would bring one full bottle and one empty bottle and end up with two bottles of 50% watered down Gatorade.

More recently, we've seen a rise in competitor sports drinks as well as an increased scrutiny in the nutritional aspects (specifically, high calorie counts) of soft drinks. This led to a proliferation of low-calorie alternatives to all sorts of drinks, in addition to the traditional light beers and diet sodas.

As a result, every sports-drink manufacturer has brought out some sort of low-calorie alternative. Powerade Zero is the most aggressive of these, offering zero calories (and making me wonder how exactly they fit any nutritional value in there). Vitamin Water 10 also turns in a strong effort with, as the name would imply, 10 calories per serving (though the typical small bottle somehow contains 2.5 servings). Judging from the flavor, these seem to be new creations, either with new flavors or with an alternative sweetener substituting for sugar.

Gatorade, however, seems to have chosen a different tactic. Their low-calorie option is Gatorade G2, which has half the calories of regular gatorade and is identical - in color and flavor - to my 50% water/50% Gatorade concoction from high school. (I haven't tried all the flavors, but I've had the grape on many occasions and the orange at least a few times, and they both fit this pattern).

They really do seem to have taken the regular formula, cut it in half with water, and promoted it as a low-calorie alternative. This is either sheer genius or offensively condescending; either way, I salute Gatorade for not putting much effort into trying to fool us.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hot Entertainment Job Listings

By Doug Lieblich * Other Doug Lieblich Posts

New Media Upstart Company seeks Assistant who can figure out this gosh-darn Internet. TVFeeder is a hot young production company designed to distribute high quality shows virally. We are looking for an assistant who can tell us just what this Internet hooplah is all about. The assistant will deliver our emails to other computers and take us to the Worldwide Website. If all goes well, we will buy more Internet as the company expands. Can we use the phone at the same time? Let’s take America Online by storm! See you in the chatrooms!

Studio Exec seeks Intern to vicariously live as his son. Busy-high level executive at a major studio is looking for an intern to become his son, Todd. You will wear Todd’s clothing, listen to his music, and join his track team. On weekends we’ll go fishing, build model airplanes, and other hobbies that are not skiing accidents. We’ll also visit your grandma (read: Todd’s grandma) on the holidays. This is a great growth-opportunity for getting the family Toyota Camry, and a chance to learn the ins and outs of being my son. Interns already named Todd are a plus.

Top Production Company seeks slaves to build Top Production Company Pyramids. We are looking for unpaid slaves to construct Production Company Pyramids. Slaves must be willing to work against their will, as they drag enormous Production Company Granite Slabs up a steep stone slope. We need creative problem solvers! The pyramids must be grand enough to house the Production Company Pharaoh, but strong enough to protect against looters. They will also serve as a promotional tool for the new ABC series Modern Family.

FOX Diversity Group desperately seeks a black guy. As a team dedicated to ensuring ethnic and racial diversity in the workplace, the Fox Diversity Group is in desperate need of a black guy to chair the meetings and “keep it real.” The ideal applicant should have an MBA from a top-tier business school, 5+ years of industry experience, and a sassy jive-talking mouth that just won’t quit! Please fax resume and a photo of your favorite basketball jams to

Network News Division hiring upgraded News-Reporting Android. News Division of a major television network has recently lost its News-Reporting Android and is now looking for a replacement. The Android should deliver news stories smoothly and efficiently, and speak with an odd inflection no normal person would use. It should also robotically chant sports scores with a serenely placid, human-like face. Job starts immediately. We cannot report the news without this android! Please hurry as Katie Couric has already been scrapped due to a critical hardware malfunction.

Documentary Filmmaker hiring assistant to have sex with. I believe in honesty: having sex with you is much more important than editing this documentary on the Khmer Rouge. Ideally, I would like to have sex with you in my apartment, specifically on the Murphy bed, and with time permitting, the backseat of my ‘98 Ford Windstar. Once again, faulty agricultural reform, and Pol Pot’s ruthless torture of Cambodians are ancillary compared to our imminent fornication. Assistant will literally work under an accomplished documentarian who, until your employment, spends lonely tear-soaked nights, wondering if he’ll ever again feel a woman’s embrace. Knowledge of Final Cut Pro a plus.

Hollywood Job Listings Company seeks a new Job Listings writer—aww fuck! God damn it! Who the…who? Please send resumes to

Cable network seeks Janitor to head scripted drama division. We’re looking to take our drama line-up in a new direction and are therefore hiring a confident, experienced janitor to lead our scripted drama division. The candidate should be handy with a mop and comfortable scrubbing neglected urinals. The “Drama Janitor” will supervise and schedule all scripted drama shows for the network, and negotiate advertising with investors. This is a high-pressure job with high rewards. Candidate must have at least 7 years of toilet cleaning.

CBS is looking for an Administrative Assistant to assist in Development Programming and Programming Development. The assistant will develop programming for our development programming team, which will then be passed on to programming development for further development. Assuming the developing programs meet our approval, the assistant will program a development program for primetime programming. You’ll be working in tandem with the Production Coordinator and Coordinating Producer.

A-List Talent Agent seeks Worthy Opponent to Battle in the Warrior’s Fire Ring. Well-reputed motion picture talent agent (Robin Williams, Sandra Bullock, Seth Rogen) requires a new foe to combat against in the dreaded Warrior’s Fire Ring. This is a great opportunity to become the next agency tribe chief and please the all-watching war god Golgar! Opponent must be willing to work shirtless and able to wield a bronze trident. Must have flexible schedule. Opponent’s heart may be devoured for Warrior Strength. College credit only.

FOX Diversity Group desperately seeks an Asian girl in a wheelchair Know any?

PR Agency seeking a Temp to work the phones for like 5 minutes. It’ll be just like five minutes. Are you in the chair OK? I’ll be right back. This button puts them on hold and this is the call-forwarding, but you probably won’t even use it because I’ll be gone for like seriously five minutes. I just need to make myself a ham sandwich. Thanks so much, you’re a doll. Please email resumes to

NBC executive seeks ball washer. NBC studio exec needs a responsible, friendly, thick-skinned ball washer to wash his balls. Whether in a golf tournament, or just hitting the links, this busy executive needs his little white balls, waxed, tidy, and immaculate. Washer must be willing to thoroughly wipe his balls and not afraid to put a little elbow grease or some spit-shine should the occasion call for it. If you can cradle both balls in one hand--even better. Note: applicant must also be willing to scrub testicles.

Paramount Vantage seeks intern to put tape on shit. We have a lot of shit that needs taped and are hiring interns to put tape on said shit. Boxes, posters, broken windows--you name it--it needs tape. Job requirements include having two hands, basic motor-skills and a fun enthusiastic attitude for taping. Must have 4-year degree at Ivy League school. Interns will not be compensated for tape.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Defining Moment

By ned * Other ned Posts

Individuals, movements, and institutions often define themselves against their adversaries. The Cold War allowed Capitalists to delight in their freedoms and Communists to lament the West’s frivolities. Barack Obama defined himself as pragmatic and multilateral to contrast with the idealism and unilateralism of the Bush years. Yale and Ohio State necessarily have to take on the mantle of superiority and good looks when contrasted with their respective archrivals. Lastly, Kate Gosslin’s hair juxtaposes itself with a mullet.

One of the political trends of 2009 has been the cult personality and devotees surrounding the Fox News host Glenn Beck. From promoting Tea Parties, to shameful use of the race card (, to bating Birthers, Beck - as well as others on talk radio and Fox News - has struck a cord with a populist, disenchanted, and disempowered thread of conservative America. As we have seen over these months, many of the out-pourings from this group - although genuine - have at times shown a darker side of American public discourse.

After a summer when these personalities and words steered the conservative ideological narrative, many moderates and traditional conservatives are now standing up to this negative and potentially dangerous rhetoric. David Brooks powerfully argued in an op-ed a few weeks ago that the Republicans should not be swayed by the fake power of Beck and his cronies ( Bob Dole recently chided some of the adversarial rhetoric to health care reform on the right and advised for engagement on the issue – perhaps the most important domestic debate of our time ( Lindsey Graham also added to the chorus of individuals critiquing Beck and his brand cynicism. For Senator Graham, Beck is not the embodiment of the conservative movement (

However, what is behind the cynicism that empowers Beck is a reactionary movement as well. This reaction is being pushed by bigger forces in the public’s discourse than what is driving the anti-Beckites. From deficit spending to a stimulus bill that has in the short term correlated with falling employment rates to fear over death panels, for many Government is moving at an alarming pace into new roles and a broader scope. Through these actions by a Democratic Congress and President, a group of Republicans have been fighting for the GOP to become defined as the “Party of No.” Pushing this brand, Pat Toomey, Senator DeMint and others see the party as a necessary restraint and opposing force to government in a time of potential excess. (NB: to further elaborate on this movement, I highly recommend this New Yorker article if you can get your hands on it -

Given the policies of Obama, Pelosi and Reid and the spending of the Bush administration, Republicans defining themselves this way can create a very poignant and sticky message. My concern though is that this direction is one of negativity, fear, and, as we are seeing with the health care debate, disengagement. If you are the “Party of No,” the path of least resistance is to shake your fist at your opponent as opposed to shaking his hand. You are more inclined to political victories in other's defeats than minor gains through compromise that actually impact the public.

I certainly applaud the efforts of Brooks, Graham and others who have stood up to potentially powerful interests and ideas on their side of the aisle. But, those actions only move the ball so far against the tide of cynicism and fear within the right of center circles. To be more powerful than the “Party of No,” moderates and others on the right need to contrast themselves not only against Glenn Beck but also articulate an easily understood ideology that could be applied to a policy or a movement. Perhaps the challenge is to reform the idea of “No” to something more positive and engaging. To something that embraces protecting liberties but also recognizes that government has some role to play, such as with defense or protecting citizens from government bodies or, yes, maybe even health care.

Through this change in rhetoric and engagement, the Republican Party could redefine itself not as a party of “no, you shouldn’t” but to a party of “yes, we are” to take on the high expectations set by an adversary of “yes, we can” in 2012.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

No One Knows What It's Like-Behind the Star

By Fidel Martinez * Other Fidel Martinez Posts

I was supposed to be working on something related to the importance of good television, pop culture, The Wire, and something or other. That's how I was supposed to come back to ATC after several independent projects forced me to take a long term hiatus. That was supposed to be my glorious return. Instead what brings me back today, faithful reader, is a beef and a nasty feeling of defeat I can't shake off. Yes, true believers, I make my-not-so-triumphant return by ranting on about the Dallas Cowboys, and I'm not particularly happy about this.

For those of you who have the unfortunate displeasure of knowing me personally, you know what I'm talking about. For those of you who don't, I have a confession to make: I am a Dallas Cowboys fan and have been since I can remember. It's not something that makes you popular outside of Texas. In fact, after college, I moved back to the safe confines of Austin, Texas to avoid persecution not unlike the tribe of Israel's mass exodus out of Egypt to find their own promised land . But back to the subject at hand, it becomes increasingly harder for me to stomach a Cowboys loss. It causes me great pain to watch my team lose, more so than having the nails torn out of my toes. For those of you who do not root for my team, I'm not asking you to feel sorry for me, nor do I expect you to. I really don't. Sure, you might equate my pain to that of the male, middle-class and white protagonist's in the Ben Folds Five song "Rockin' the Suburbs". Here's the thing, though. You all don't know what it's like. My pain is grander than yours. Sorry CL but being an almost dynasty doesn't compare to being a former one. Here's why.

Nothing is harder in sports than rooting for a team that was once great but can now no longer find the shadow of its former self. I feel particularly qualified to speak on this subject because I also grew up a Cubs fan. As someone who knows both kinds of defeat, having won a long time ago and falling from grace is much worse than being the perennial losers. The lovable losers do not know the sweet embrace of being in the promised land, whereas having once been champion, getting back there haunts every one of your dreams. Sure, the Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, but hardly anyone ever remembers the Cubs as winning. In contrast, the Cowboys haven't won a Superbowl since the 1996 season, much less a playoff game since then. Think about that. I'm 24 now. The last Cowboys playoff victory came 13 years ago when I was a pre-teen.

Ask any true Yankees fan out there what the hardest thing about rooting for their team is and they'll tell you that it's not winning the World Series year after year. Everyone hates the Yankees, and no one knows this better than their fans. They know you hate them, but that doesn't bother them. What hurts a Yankees fan the most is losing. They expect to win year in and year out, and why shouldn't they? Theoretically they have the best overall talent, and the money to pay for that talent. Being a Cowboys fan is the same way. Everyone hates us, but that's okay because fuck those guys, they probably root for someone like the Chiefs. Rooting for a losing team is bad, but when your team is the team of Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, and the Triplets, then each loss is a god damn stomach punch. Hell, I hate the San Fransisco 49ers because of the 1990s rivalry with the Cowboys( see 1995 NFC Championship game), but I feel for them. Their pain is much like my own.

The Steve Bartman debacle is infamous in windy city sports, but if you ask any true Cubs fan out there, they'll tell you that in the back of their heads they knew something like that would end up happening. No doubt the North Siders had brought upon so much bad karma on themselves through the years (see, The Curse of the Billy Goat) that even so close to the World Series, the entire collective unconscious of the Wrigley faithful suspected that something bad was going to happen. Compare that to the 2006 NFC Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks, otherwise known as the Tony Romo botched field goal. If you follow sports, you know exactly what game I'm talking about. It's one of the most gutwrenching Cowboys games in recent memory, and one of the most painful nights in my adult life. After spending the remainder of the 90s in the Dark Ages (see, The Quincy Carter Era, The Vinny Testaverde Era), the Cowboys decided to hand the reigns over to a young gunslinger named Tony Romo after having benched their middle aged quarterback Drew Bledsoe (who had earlier in his career also lost a starting gig to a then unknown Tom "Ow My Knee" Brady). While we went on to lose that game against the hated rival NY Giants, it seemed like we had finally found our savior. With Romo at the helm we made the playoffs in what seemed to be a lost season, and our once lost glory seemed to have been restored. Alas, the rest is history as shown by Youtube below . I remember that night sitting in my car outside of my parents house crying and taking comfort in a bottle of bourbon. No fan of a historically losing fan knows that pain. They expected it all along.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mixtape Mondays - Boo

This months theme is to gear you up for the months biggest holiday! We here at ATC are waiting with bated breath for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. Are you?

Rationale behind some of the picks:

Spinal Tap "Stonehenge" - This song always terrifies me.

Nine Inch Nails "The Perfect Drug" - A dark song with a music video that looks like something out of a Edgar Allen Poe poem. A tribute is needed to also mark the end of this long running forefathers of synth in hard rock. Not to mention it is pretty darn catchy.

Tracy Jordan/Morgan "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" - Okay, so the song is not exactly about Halloween, but it's about werewolves and bar mitzvahs, two genuinely scary things. What could be scarier than being an awkward 13 year old boy becoming a man in front of all your family members. Spooky Scary! Boys becoming men, Men becoming wolves!

"Send in the Clowns" - To this day, I am terrified of clowns. ... Get that rubber nose away from me!

Ghetto Boys "My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me" - It's kind of sad how much of America--the pasty white population-- is only familiar with the Ghetto Boys because of Mike Judge's Office Space. No doubt every white crackah in your 'hood was rockin' out to 'Damn it Feels Good To Be a Gangsta' at some point or another. Houston's Ghetto Boys were more prolific than that. Take 1991's "My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me". The song is a narrative of paranoia, depression, and schizophrenia. All 3 Ghetto Boys talk about being pursued, causing them to be violent, uncertain, and above all, scared.

Dead Man's Bones "My Body's a Zombie for You" - It is spooky in the spirit of the times and also a fun ditty that is newly out this fall. Tip of the Hat to NPR's All Songs Considered to letting me know about the song.

"Monster Mash" as covered by the Misfits - A double whammy as far as band as song that are in the spirit of all hallow's eve.

Modest Mouse "Perfect Disguise" - A holiday that reveals in disguise needs at least one song that explicitly talks about it.

"You are the Blood" by Sufjan Stevens - Both epic and eerie, the perfect song to end us with.

There are few obvious ones in there which we are sure you enjoy as well.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Beatles vs. the Dreyfus Affair: Cures for Modern Civility?

By ned * Other ned Posts

The New Yorker avoids discussing video games like Tom Wolfe avoids color. The pastime associates itself with passive couch potato adolescents and not academic Park Avenuers. The 64-bit art generally appeals to groundlings through violence and sport as opposed to the aristocrats through wit and reflective storylines. Therefore, it would be difficult to spin out multi-thousand word essays appealing to an audience of private university graduates over the age of 40.

However, the recent production of the Beatles edition of Rock Band may have provided the monocle clad authors that opportunity to delve into the jargon of joysticks. The Beatles provide baby boomer appeal and Rock Band has proved to be an interesting phenomenon. It has created a potential new channel to sell music for the struggling music industry and the game has cultivated a new fan base for waning rock when hip hop had seen a dominant rise in popularity. Moreover, because it is the Beatles, there is the ability to tap into a vein that spans generations and is somehow bigger culturally than anything else ... some might even say Jesus.

However, with only a scant entry on its online blog, the editors of The New Yorker have stuck to their guns the past few weeks – often through articles referencing esoteric events of the past as opposed to cult followings of the present. One such article reviews a book that recounts the Dreyfus Affair and highlights its relevance for the current socio-political climate (The Dreyfus Affair: A Chronological History by George R. Whyte).

We all remember the Dreyfus Affair. Dreyfus, a Jew in the military, was court martial for treason, stripped of his titles in rushed proceedings, and persecuted to the delight of a loudly anti-Semitic faction in late 19th century France. Eventually Dreyfus was reinstated, those who persecuted him punished and the institutions of the modern Western state vindicated as liberal, pluralistic, and fair.

However, the New Yorker writer points out that the book focuses not on the event as part of the anti-Semitism narrative that darkened the history of the first half of the 20th century. Instead, the book struggles with the question of how something like that could happen in such a modern society as France – which at the turn of that century touted itself to be. To some extent, according to the article, the Dreyfus Affair was a result of emotions left unchecked in elements of society that felt disempowered and, subsequently, angrily searched for explanations of the status quo. Through these traits connections are insinuated to the current right of center Tea Party movement and the Anti-Muslim sentiments of the past decade - paralleled in the trails of the Guantanamo detainees. Therefore, study of the Dreyfus affair might provide us answers on how to grapple with extreme, passionate views so they do not get out of control and ultimately impair fairness or - at worst - falsely victimize other persons.

The power of the Dreyfus case as a tool to that end may be inherent in many publicized legal proceedings. The New Yorker article states how often court cases from Scopes to Simpson provide a theater for the tensions of a given society to methodically play out. Thus records of episodes such as the Dreyfus Affair can provide particularly powerful lenses to compare to modern events. In order to believe that these comparisons are possible, the author of the book and the New Yorker article must believe in a principle tenet of the study of the history – through study of the past we can better understand who we are and can be.

The question then is whether that premise of the pursuit of studying our ancestors is actually true? Is there something that we can glean from the past to make for a better future? For that to be true there must be some things that are fundamentally human regardless of time period. If Frenchmen of the 19th century are completely unlike Americans of the 21st, then does the Dreyfus Affair matter at all today? Of course though, there are commonalities; we still relate to experiences found in the writings of the ancient theologians, philosophers, and storytellers. Experiences that once recognized as human can only lead to a degree of respect and empathy – if not love – in those individuals around you who share and have shared in those experiences.

It is this perspective that is a more relevant take away for today’s society than an episode of anti-Semitism at the turn of the century France. Recent outbursts of Serena Williams and Joe Wilson as well as racial undertones of rallies and violent threats of terrorists have lead many to question the degree of civility in modern society. One tactic to fight for civility is for us all to take time to recognize what we have in common and what we share.

The music of the Beatles can be study of the cultural shifts in the sixties. From clean cut rhythm and blues rockers “holding hands” to psychedelic, eastern influenced artists “doing it in the road,” the Beatles flowed with the times they helped shape. To quote Elvis Costello, a part of that involved espousing the virtues of “peace, love and understanding.” Perhaps that is a part of the music that the New Yorker can highlight to a contemplative audience; the Beatles Rock Band, the unlikeliest of sources, can remind us of values currently lacking in society. Maybe these virtues of the sixties would appeal to civility in a way tenable to both Christians and counter-culturalists alike. Maybe what society requires now is empathy for the human experience. Maybe all we need is love.

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Article referenced:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reading is Pretty Necessary

By CL * Other CL Posts

Over the course of the summer - as I spent day after day doing nothing but learn and review the law in preparation for the bar exam - I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would rather be doing. One of the more mundane but better ideas I had was to go back to my favorite books and reread them.

In law school, I spent very little time reading for pleasure. I had a few phases of bringing non-law books on the subway, and I would always work in some poetry, but I read an average of two books a year in that time. So I have a small stack, heavy on the Johnson and Banville, to get through.

Now, rereading all these books, I've realized the real extent to which all that law reading has affected my ability to express myself. I had gotten to the point where I could barely put together a coherent non-IRACed paragraph, in conversation or in print. Everything I read before this exercise fell into one of the following categories, and as a result I could not think or communicate outside of them:

-legal cases and articles
-news headlines
-short-form conversation: emails and gchats
-blog posts in the "quote an article and say something sarcastic" mold

Which is all well and good, but doesn't give you much in the way of interesting conversation. All these huge casebooks and throwaway jokes, with nothing in between, had caused a slow ossification in my ability to discuss things, to explain things, and to think analytically or creatively (outside the legal context). And having the bluebook rules constantly floating in the back of my head all of 2L year didn't help.

So now that I'm reading actual books, I'm regaining some ability to communicate clearly. This is all fairly obvious: reading more --> a greater ability to write and talk. But it's easy to forget, and it slips away very slowly. The point being: even if it's just on the subway on the way to work, I'm going to make it a point to read part of an "actual book" as often as possible from here on out.