Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Quiet Time in 2009

What a year. Obama was elected president. The economy went in the tank. The Olympics were even better than usual. Kansas City sports teams were even worse than usual. Personally, my life had some serious upheaval. The whole year it seems was one big event after another.

It was sometimes unbelievable fun and sometimes maddeningly frustrating. But it was certainly not low key. So how about we pull 2009 aside and tell her that a little rest would be nice? I'm not asking for a boring year, but a year where the peaks and valleys were a little less pronounced would be just fine. I think we've all earned it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pet Peeve

Richard Cohen has an article about President Bush's reading list as provided by Karl Rove. He makes a great, if not entirely novel, point about the list being long but narrow. One more example of the president's unwillingness to consider other points of view. Great. I'm all on board with the idea.

But then Richard Cohen says this:

Bush read some novels, but they are mostly pre-movies, plotted not written, and lacking the beauty of worldly cynicism. I recommend Giuseppe di Lampedusa's "The Leopard." Delicious.
Delicious. I can think of no other word that makes me consider its user more pompous or pretentious. And for some reason it is literature that most often brings out this behavior in people. Other known causes are art films, installations, and general prickishness.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Back to Reality

If you are fortunate enough that your parents still live in your childhood home, and that your childhood was a pleasant experience, then you probably know that spending a few days at home can be a great experience. For me, it means great meals and lounging on the couch. It also means that I get to check out of reality for a few days. The internet connection at my parent's house is still highly suspect, so I tend not to spend large amounts of time keeping up with the world in my usual fashion.

As always, reality returns at some point. Today, I find that Iraq is having a resurgence of violence, Israel and Hamas are again at the brink of war, and a bitter divorce led to an 8 year old being shot in the face by Santa Claus. The real world is back, and I'm already looking forward to the next time it takes a short leave.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

80's Movie Line: Holiday Edition

Alright, Die Hard isn't really a comedy. And this quote doesn't have anything to do with Christmas. But the fact is that there are quite a few Christmas quotes in the movie, and none of them are as good as the one below.

Those of you who have seen the movie will remember that John needed shoes really bad.

John McClane: Nine million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister.

Snow Day Comics

I miss Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin's snowmen are one of the main reasons.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Speaking of Carl

This is maybe the best promotion I have ever heard from a minor league team.

WICHITA, KS- The Wichita Thunder has announced they will host "Carl Peterson - Blame the GM Night" for this Saturday's home game versus the Rapid City Rush.

The promotion is on behalf of all Kansas City Chiefs fans who learned Monday that longtime General Manager Carl Peterson had resigned from his position.

Any Thunder fan with the first name "Carl" or the last name "Peterson" will receive free admission to Saturday's game. Any fan wearing Chiefs gear will receive buy one get one free tickets to the game. Anyone in attendance named "Clark Hunt" will receive Thunder season tickets for the rest of 2008-09.

During the game, fans can also register at the novelty stand to win a pair of 2009 Chiefs tickets.
And the night before is "Rod Blagojevich Bribe Night." I'm tempted to drive to Wichita myself.

Friday, December 19, 2008

They'd Probably be Sneakers

It's very fitting to me that King Carl is going out within a month of President Bush leaving office. In so many ways, they are the same guy. It's nice that we can now watch them ride off into the sunset together.

One more thing I would love to see though is Carl getting the same treatment as the Prez and having a couple of shoes fired at him by a reporter. Do you think Whitlock could get his shoes off in a crowded room?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Best of 2008: Movies

Those of you who know me personally are aware that this has been an unusual year in my real life. One of the ways that has impacted the sillier, superficial part of my life is that I haven't seen nearly as many movies as I would like. Of the nominees for any of the major Golden Globe awards, I have seen only WALL-E and Pineapple Express. Both were very good, by the way.

Hopefully, I will see many of these movies soon (along with quite a few others I have missed). Until then, all I can say about 2008 was that The Dark Knight was everything I hoped it would be. Heath Ledger really was great. Christian Bale was better than he was the first time around. All in all, I think it added up to my favorite superhero movie in a long time. I imagine when I get around to a Top 10 list, it will be in the vicinity of the top.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

80's Movie Line: Holiday Edition

Gremlins isn't exactly a Christmas movies, but it does take place at Christmas. And it has one of the best Christmas stories:

Kate: The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney... his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus.

Our Progressive Tax System

Kevin Drum has a good post that features the preceding chart. I don't have anything special to say about it really, but I run into enough people on a regular basis that tell me how unfairly the wealthy are treated in our tax system that I like to pass on graphs like these whenever I get the opportunity.

I apparently also like to write very long sentences.

Monday, December 15, 2008

At Least They Won Right...

Yesterday, I exited my car in Blue Springs and stepped into 57 degree weather. Now, I had not seen a weather report since earlier in the week. That means it is going to be hard for me to complain too much, but I'm pressing on with the story. I was meeting a friend near his house to catch the Chiefs Express to Arrowhead.

My friend stepped out of his car wearing a three layers of shirts, a hat, gloves, and a big coat. Weird, I thought. He asked me if I had a jacket, and explained that is was going to get "cooler." I rummaged through my trunk and found a rain jacket that was tantamount to a windbreaker.

Not more than 30 minutes later, we stepped off the bus at Arrowhead and the first breath out of my mouth was visible. "How cold is it supposed to get?" I asked. "30 degree drop," my buddy said.

By the middle of the second quarter, it was 24 degrees. I was still wearing a long sleeve t-shirt and a windbreaker. I've likely been colder in my life, but it is hard to remember exactly when.

I managed to make it through the entire game, which was itself best summed up by two phone conversations I had later that day. While talking to two separate people who had watched the game only to turn it off with a couple of minutes to go, I twice heard:

"Well, at least you got to see them win, right?"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best of 2008: Music 2

Last year, I followed up the Top 10 albums post with a post containing the 10 best songs not on the top 10 albums. Here comes the same thing, only I've gotten lazy. I just don't want to do the work to pare down to 10, so I present you with the best 17 songs not on my top 10 albums (in no particular order).

Until the Day is Done, R.E.M.

All You Ever Wanted, The Black Keys

Scare Easy, Mudcrutch

Working Poor, Horsefeathers

Red River Shore, Bob Dylan

Crawl, Kings of Leon

Too Drunk to Dream, The Magnetic Fields

Meadowlarks, Fleet Foxes

The Old Days, Dr. Dog

Cobwebs, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Skinny Love, Bon Iver

Paper Face, Rivers Cuomo

Wreck My Flow, The Dirtbombs

I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress, Mike Doughty

Inní mér syngur vitleysingur, Sigur Rós

Salute Your Solution, The Raconteurs

Aly, Walk With Me, The Raveonettes

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?, She and Him

(I did limit each band to one song on this list. Otherwise, the list might have grown even more unwieldy.)

Best of 2008: Music

Last year, I declared the 2007 best music year in some time, and I said I hoped 2008 was even close. As it turns out, it was. It wasn't as good as '07, but it was really good. The most interesting things is that much of it came from new sources. That was good because some of the stuff I was most excited about (Kings of Leon, Cold War Kids) turned out to disappoint. Fortunately, we have the Internet to help us find out about new music. Three cheers for the Internet.

Here are my favorite 10 albums of 2008, with a couple of the best songs from each.

1. The Walkmen – You and Me
Donde Esta la Playa, New Country
2. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Oxford Comma, A-Punk
3. TV On the Radio – Dear Science
DLZ, Halfway Home
4. The Dodos -- Visiter
Walking, God?
5. Beck – Modern Guilt
Gamma Ray, Modern Guilt
6. Johnny Flynn – A Flarum
The Wrote & the Writ, Wayne Rooney
7. Eagles of Death Metal – Heart On
Secret Plans, I Wanna be in LA
8. Pale Young Gentlemen – Black Forest (Tra La La)
The Crook of My Good Arm, Marvelous Design
9. The Rumble Strips – Girls and Weather
Alarm Clock, Girls and Boys in Love
10. Pete and the Pirates – Little Death
Come on Feet, Eyes Like Tar

Special awards this year go to Bob Dylan's Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 for best album filled with stuff that had already been released in some form, and The Clash's Live at Shea Stadium for best live album. A "best songs not on the list above" post is forthcoming.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Arena League

According to the Star, the Arena League is suspending play for 2009.

“It’s pretty much a done deal to suspend the 2009 season and work toward a single entity-league,” Likens said. “We plan to start up again in 2010, if the owners vote this way. We’re prepared to play this year, and/or next.”
Now I never got into Arena League, but I have always thought that given several factors (including football's general popularity), Arena League Football had about as good a chance as is possible of creating a sustainable new sports league. My question then: is it possible in today's marketplace to envision any new sports league becoming financially viable and/or a major part of culture?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Love for Rickey

As I've mentioned before, Rickey Henderson is my favorite baseball player of all time. He's eligible for the Hall of Fame this year. Joe Posnanski has an excellent blog post about why he should receive a vote from every Hall voter.

And think about this: Pitchers REALLY did not want to walk Rickey for all the obvious reasons. I mean, Ted Williams, sure, walking him often made sense; I suspect most pitchers did not kick themselves for walking Ted Williams. But Rickey — he was probably going to steal second on you, maybe steal third. Even if he didn’t steal, he was going to create all sorts of tension. Nobody WANTED to walk Rickey Henderson.

But they could not help it because Rickey would get in that crouch (Jim Murray wrote that his strike zone was the size of Hitler’s heart), and he would foul off pitches, and he would just WILL his way on base. Put it this way — and I’m about give you one of my all-time favorite statistics: Rickey Henderson walked 796 times in his career LEADING OFF AN INNING. Think about this again. There would be nothing, absolutely nothing, a pitcher would want to avoid more than walking Rickey Henderson to lead off an inning. And yet he walked SEVEN HUNDRED NINETY SIX times to lead off an inning.
Posnanski gives quite a bit more evidence in Rickey's favor as well. And he doesn't even include comedy.

Says it All

Everything you need to know about Dwight Howard's game you can infer by Marcus Camby's expression.
(Click the photo to see it bigger and get the full effect)

Monday, December 8, 2008

80's Movie Line Holiday Edition

Scrooged updated the classic Dickens story, and reminded us what the spirit of Christmas was all about.

Earl Cross: All day long I listen to people give me excuses why they can't work. My legs hurt. My back aches. I'm only four. The sooner he learns life isn't handed to him on a silver platter, the better.

Panic on All Sides

Perhaps still convinced Obama is a socialist, there are still some wingnuts out there trying to challenge the president elect's eligibility to serve. Some liberals, meanwhile, are starting to fear they helped elect a closet centrist, and they aren't very happy about it.

Is it possible to be a liberal that the right fears beyond any reasonable measure without really being liberal at all?

I would guess so.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pretty Good at Basketball

Stephen Curry is someone you really should see play basketball. You hopefully did last year when Davidson went on an improbable NCAA run, finally losing to Kansas in a great game in the elite eight. If you didn't, find a Davidson game now.

Yesterday, Curry scored 44 as Davidson beat North Carolina State. Among the riveted spectators was none other than LeBron James who looked as giddy in the crowd as everyone else. Curry drove, he hit runners, he hit mid-range jumpers, and he hit at least one shot from around 30 feet.

This is a game after Curry posted a 0 because Loyola University chose to face guard Curry with two players for an entire game and let Davidson play 4 on 3. Davidson won that game by 30, so we may not see that strategy again. But that game was sandwiched by two 44 point outbursts, and the 0 has not stopped Curry from leading the country in scoring at almost 30 per game.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Breaking News

Jack Shafer has a piece at Slate about the struggle between accuracy and timeliness in reporting during events like the massacre in Mumbai. This is something I thought about quite a bit as I watched the events on television. Shafer mentions the complicity of all types of media, but I certainly notice most among the television outlets. It can be completely frustrating to watch any unfolding event because the first thing you hear almost guaranteed to be partially wrong if not completely wrong.

It seems though, that this is likely inevitable during a chaotic event such as the one in Mumbai. While it would be good for reporters to make more explicit the transient nature of their reports, there is very little doubt that no information at all would not be preferable.

What concerns me more is when this issue creeps into non-crisis reporting. For instance, NPR had a reporter out on Monday morning talking to retailers who suggested that sales had been pretty good. Kevin Drum pointed out that news outlets were reporting that the National Retail Federation was estimating a 20% increase in Black Friday sales over the weekend. Yet, it turns out that sales were actually up around 1% with many major retailers reporting decreases.

Perhaps news agencies feel the National Retail Federation estimates are an important source (though, as Drum points out, the methodology is very poor). But I suspect that what is more important is the fact that these numbers and the opinions of some people at the mall are simply important because they are the first information available. It seems to me that Black Friday sales are the kind of topic that could wait for substantive information instead of first available.


I don't have the expertise to know if this point by Matt Yglesias bears out under scrutiny, but it certainly seems plausible on its face.

What I would say about car companies and unions is this. We had a period of time in the United States when prevailing labor law made it viable to organize private sector unions in the teeth of management opposition. So a bunch of firms were unionized at that time. Then we more-or-less closed the door on such unionization. And then after the door shut, new car plants were opened in anti-union jurisdictions. That obviously put the unionized firms at a disadvantage. But that’s different from saying that unionization is killing the car industry — cars are made and sold in Europe just fine. Meanwhile, in a capitalist system over the course of decades and decades it’s just inevitable that some sectors of the economy will rise and others will decline. Since we’ve made it so difficult to organize new unions, and since things change over time, we have disproportionate concentration of our private sector unions in the declining manufacturing sector. But that’s not unions causing the decline, it’s just things changing over time. The union-dominated movie and television production industries have become more central to the economy over the same time period. These things just happen. In a decent economy, though, we need to make sure that as new industries rise the workforce in those industries has a realistic shot at forming unions and bargaining collectively.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gettin' Schooled

We are assured by those who don't want to admit that growing inequality is a problem that we simply have an education gap. Those who are willing to work hard enough to get an education will do just fine in this worldview. One problem:

Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.
So college is roughly three times more expensive than it was 25 years ago. And what the numbers quoted above don't show is that the wealthy have accounted for most of the median income gain. For low income families, it more like 4 times more expensive. That is a pretty pricey ticket to the top.

Feeling 10 Again

According to my latest Rolling Stone magazine, the top three active (whatever that is) rock radio hits are from AC/DC, Metallica, and Guns'n'Roses. Apparently all it takes to resurrect three bands who haven't been really successful in at least 15 years is to have a chart where the alternatives are Shinedown, Mudvayne, and Disturbed.

As for that "active" label, what is it really? Judging by most of what it on the list it seems it might be code for "crappy." Wikipedia says that "active rock plays current rock artists with a mix of classic rock songs." Fine, but I still have no idea what the word "active" is intended to signify. Anyone know?

On a personal note, I am going to see AC/DC in January. This will leave the Rolling Stones as the only still functional band on my list of favorite bands I've never seen.

Monday, December 1, 2008


An article in Slate comments on an important truth.

There are a million ways to slight a rival's manhood, but to suggest that he enjoys Zima is one of the worst. Zima was the original "malternative"—a family of alcoholic beverages that eventually came to include such abominations as Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Silver—and it has long been considered the very opposite of macho: a drink that fragile coeds swill while giving each other pedicures.
Very true. The important question is what other accusations are emasculation by proxy.

Antique shopping, convertible ownership, small dogs as pets? I'm not sold on any of these yet. Ideas?

80's Movie Line Holiday Edition

Last year for the holiday edition, I used only quotes from Christmas Vacation. I could probably continue that practice for the next five years and still have good stuff. But there are a lot of great Christmas movies in the 80's. One of the best is A Christmas Story.

Ralphie as Adult: With as much dignity as he could muster, the Old Man gathered up the sad remains of his shattered Major Award. Later that night, alone in the backyard, he buried it next to the garage. Now I could never be sure, but I thought that I heard the sound of "Taps" being played. Gently.

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