Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New Things I Like

1) NetNewsWireLite. I've never really liked RSS readers. Sage for Firefox had gotten buggy, and live bookmarks aren't manageable (or updateable) beyond a certain scale. But this one works, it's super-well integrated with broswers (Firefox, Camino, or Safari) and it's free. I'd been keeping Safari and Firefox both open so I could use Google Chat and read RSS. Not any more.

2) Peel. An MP3 blog reader with a built-in music player. You can play mp3s from music blogs one after another, like it were a radio station, without even navigating to the site.

3) Babble. A web magazine, put together by the people from the online sex mag Nerve, about nontraditional parenting. Kori Gardener from Mates of State contributes a column ("Band On the Diaper Run"), and there's a great feature called "Notes From A Non-Breeder." This entry, about a young man who wants children with partners who don't, is one of the better web pieces I've read in a long time. And I may make a separate post on the Alternadad debates, which have also spilled over into (among other places) David Brooks's column in the New York Times and New York Magazine.

It's crazy to me that people my age are suddenly as interested in nonvanilla parenting as they used to be in nonvanilla sex, but it makes a certain kind of sense. In Philadelphia, the Gayborhood and once-funky Bella Vista are now full of strollers, maternity shops, and a Whole Foods. Plus ça change.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oh Blog, I Still Love You

I've been spending my unused blog-time posting over at Young Philly Politics, a sometimes-crazy political forum-cum-think tank of (you guessed it) young Philadelphia political bloggers. (Search for "Short Schrift," and you can see what I've written so far.)

Philadelphia's in the runup to a hotly contested mayoral primary, so sometimes the partisan rancor is thick, and sometimes things sink to name-calling and petty arguments, but the site is full of good people. None of whom (I think) I know personally.

I promise to come back strong to Short Schrift soon. There's one idea I've had cooking for a long time that puts New York Times Television to shame. It also involves a big media company, an unexpected move, and cash dollars to be made. But it's a little less obvious, and more specialized to what I do, so it will take a little more explanation.

And with the seed of that poem like a gift from the sun, I say (as the sun said to Mayakovsky and O'Hara), farewell.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Pretty Lady

Music blog Stereogum reports, and Si.com confirms, that Beyoncé Knowles will be the first non-model, non-athlete featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

At great personal sacrifice, I carefully examined Beyoncé's photo set. (Readers can award me a medal for courage later. I only did my duty.)

It should suffice to say that the lady looks fantastic. I don't know what she has to do with sports, but I'm glad that she's in a swimsuit here, and not in, say, FHM. Sports Illustrated always gets great models and photographers, and her set is no exception. It's classy, fun, and seems celebratory rather than spank-inducing.

There are a few shots where things don't quite fit right. I can't tell if it's because Beyoncé's body is slightly different from a typical swimsuit model's, or if it really is just a matter of fit. BK says that her mom designed some of her swimsuits, so I'm guessing it's the latter.

In most of her shots, though, she fits right in, with one important difference. Where models mostly strip themselves of personality to sell the goods, Beyoncé doesn't have to do that. If she's selling anything, it's herself, her movies, and her music. So in her best shots -- and I've posted my three favorites here -- her personality rips right through the camera lens.

In these, she's not artfully posed or facially controlled -- they look like photos you've snapped of your wife or girlfriend, on an especially fun day at the beach. It's weird, because more than anything, they made me think of my wife, and our memories together, and how much I love her. This is an unusual feeling to have while looking at pictures of another beautiful woman. But it's a welcome one all the same.

Friday, February 16, 2007

In The Boring-Ass Bits Of Your Daily Life

Jessica Pressler titled her musings on the ways that memories of an ex-boyfriend/-girlfriend return in strange unexpected moments "Remembrance Of Flings Past," but I like my title better.

Come to think of it, I think I like "In the Boring-Ass Bits Of Your Daily Life" better as a translation of "A la recherche de la temps perdu" too. It certainly captures what Proust meant.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The End of the World (Musically)

Hot on the heels of my Best of 2006 mix CD, I've got another thematic mix that I want to share. This one is called "Not A Single Lonesome Sound: Songs About the End of the World." It's available for download here.

In my 2005 review of Andrew Bird's masterpiece The Mysterious Production of Eggs, I spoke briefly about the musical genre of the "false apocalypse" -- songs that treat the end of the world not as total Revelationary disaster, but as something slightly more mundane and everyday but still altogether strange. I've always liked this concept/motif, and it seems to me that a pop song is a perfect medium for exploring it. A novel is almost necessarily too long and ponderous -- it has to descend into either allegory or an excess of explanation. And an explicit theological treatment would be even worse. Only a song, or perhaps a poem or short story, can capture the right mood, the right amount of wonder in the discovery. Yes, indeed, the world has ended, and its end is nothing like you believed it would be.

My friend Brandon described these songs about the end of the world as having the right balance of sadness and hope. I think Mirah puts it best in "Mount St. Helens" when she sings, "We were alone there... there was still hope there." At the same time, songs like Talking Heads's "Life During Wartime" share the dystopic mood of films like Cuaron's stunning Children of Men. Like Clive Owen's Theo in that film, David Byrne's narrator is matter-of-fact in the face of disaster: "Heard about Houston... heard about Detroit... heard about Pittsburgh, PA." But in a different context in "(Nothing But) Flowers," Byrne is disappointed in paradise: "I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens... Don't leave me stranded here, I can't get used to this lifestyle."

All of these songs are imaginative, all of them are musically excellent, and some of them are deeply moving or funny -- sometimes both at the same time. It's odd, too -- listening to them together always manages to cheer me up.


1. The Microphones - I Want Wind To Blow
2. Built To Spill -- Randy Described Eternity
3. Modest Mouse -- 3rd Planet
4. David Bowie -- The Man Who Sold The World
5. Galaxie 500 -- Leave The Planet
6. Talking Heads -- Life During Wartime [Live]
7. Bob Dylan -- Talking World War III Blues
8. Johnny Cash -- Down There By The Train
9. The Shins -- We Will Become Silhouettes
10. Television -- Marquee Moon
11. Jim O'Rourke -- Get A Room
12. Mirah -- Mount St. Helens
13. Andrew Bird -- Tables and Chairs
14. Talking Heads -- (Nothing But) Flowers
15. The Flaming Lips -- Evil Will Prevail

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Caring Problem

An unlikely, non-music related, thoughtful piece from Chris Dahlen at Pitchfork: Why does Web 2.0 seem to care more about Star Wars than about Africa? A highlight:

All in all, you can find more Star Wars fans and more sci-fi content on the internet than material on Africa. This is partly because sci-fi nerds in the Western world have better net access than most Africans. People also seem more drawn to the relative simplicity of pop culture than to the complexities of real life. Pop culture gives us a world we can understand, and problems we can solve. Or as Ethan Zuckerman told me, "If you're writing 'Buffy [the Vampire Slayer]' fan fic, you may not know the name of the third junior subvampire who showed up for one episode in season four. But someone does, and you can authoriatatively build the Buffy index on Wikipedia." By contrast, "We don't know authoriatatively who's in the Union of Islamic Courts. And we probably never will."

Another interesting point raised by the article: the more developed a national or linguistic blogosphere becomes, the harder it is to find "bridge bloggers" who can relate what's going on to the rest of the world. "When you start getting a larger blogosphere, it makes more sense to talk to your neighbors. And you can see this in Iran, where the Persian language blogosphere doesn't bridge all that much. There are a lot of debates that you just aren't turned into unless you read Persian."

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Possible Future of Media

Originally posted at Snarkmarket. (The link is to the original post -- scroll down to see multiple comments, some of which are mine.)

Why doesn't the New York Times start its own 24-hour cable channel?

The New York Post has its own cable channel -- Fox News -- why not the Times?

(Shit -- Microsoft has its own cable channel, or half of one.)

They are the dominant source of news in both print and on the web -- why not television?

Sulzberger's been buying up internet sinkholes and fading newspapers -- why not jump into the 20th-century's media revolution, rather than trying to cling to the 19th while sticking your toe out into the 21st?

Everyone in television is dying to appeal to the demographic the New York Times serves -- no offense, but nobody else has a lockdown on wealthy tastemakers -- so why couldn't a television version of it be sold, with the express refusal to water it down?

They're already producing those web videos -- so why not hire somebody with the media and technological skills to turn those into network/PBS-quality broadcast pieces?

Despite a proliferation of cable news channels, nobody on television is doing what the New York Times does.

And get this -- The New York Times may be the only entity in the universe that generates enough original content and coverage to fit into 24 hours of television.

If I were doing it, I would shy away from just covering political and breaking news, and instead split the 24 hours into programs that cover everything the Times does -- politics, the world, art, food, movies, business, travel -- with the obvious breaks for breaking news, special events, and recaps every five-six hours -- like a real network. There would be an obvious place for real newsmagazines with long-form reporting that would put what the networks call newsmagazines to shame. And on Sunday? Just run everything from the New York Times magazine between 8 and 12, and again between 7 and 11 at night.

They could easily sell the rights internationally, to Europe, China, India, Latin America.

And all they really need is a setup like PBS, the BBC, or vintage-era CNN -- a newsroom, smart reporters and news readers, and people who can effectively introduce their (mostly) already media-savvy columnists and reporters.

They also have -- get this -- a great web site and what I hear is an excellent print product, all of which could promote each other and the television channel. (If Oprah's fans watch her show AND read her magazine, I see no reason why TimesTV would cannibalize either the paper or the website.)

Maybe television would be The New York Times's Helen of Troy. But if there is going to be anything like the good qualities of the monolithic news experience in the future, I think something like TimesTV would stand the best chance.

City of Lights

If you get a chance today, fire up Google Earth 4.0. Then type in "Paris." I did it this morning, half on a goof, and was stunned at what I saw. I have a hard time believing that any other city looks as wonderful by satellite.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Well, It's News to Me

Wired's Leander Kahney points out that the recent Apple vs. Apple (Inc. vs. Corps) settlement clears the way for Apple to sell iPods preloaded with music. Until now, the prohibition to sell music in a physical form forced Apple Inc. to keep iPod and iTunes separate. (Well, relatively separate for a benificent vertical monopoly.)

The first preloaded iPod? Keahney writes:

First up will likely be the widely rumored Beatles special-edition Yellow Submarine iPod, tipped to be released in just over a week on Valentine's Day.

Beatles fans are hoping that the Fab Four's entire catalog, currently being remastered, will be available in uncompressed format. What better way to deliver it than preloaded onto an iPod, instead of forcing fans to download gigabytes of data from iTunes?

It would be sacrilege to any true Beatles fan to abandon the physical form in which those albums appeared -- and I hope and am praying to Jesus that the remastered rereleases bring a similar restoration to the original album art as well. But a dedicated Beatles iPod with lossless mp3s of the entire catalog, that looks like a Yellow Submarine? I just might dig deep into these shallow grad-student pockets and do what the music industry's been demanding that we all do without anything close to a comparable addition in musical or experiential value: spring for both.

Monday, February 05, 2007

2006: Dark Mascara, Historical Deeds

Many Short Schrift readers know that I run a small end-of-the-year Mix CD exchange with friends past, present and virtual. My mixical take on the year in the music can now be found all zipped up on Rapidshare for anyone who didn't have the chance or the time to make a disc of their own, but would still like to take a listen.

Last year's comp turned into a two-disc extravaganza, the first ("There Is Nothing Left to Fear") being a loose concept piece about Hurricane Katrina, and the second ("Nothing Ever Falls Apart"), a more optimistic collection of the rest of my favorite songs from that year. These joined my 2004 and 2003 mixes ("Scare Your Son, Scare Your Daughter" and "Leave All These Moments Behind.")

For 2006, I stuck with one disc, and gave my comp the title "Dark Mascara, Historical Deeds," partly from a line in Belle and Sebastian's "Another Sunny Day," and partly to observe that over half of the included tracks were from female artists or female vocalists; even more included male-female duets. This is an unusually high sample rate for indie rock, but given the strength of the material this year, ladysongs are, if anything, underrepresented. I have a strong hope that 2006 will be remembered as perhaps the best year for female artists in independent and alternative music, if not pop music altogether. One listen to this album and I think any unbiased fan would have to agree that the ladies burn the men's houses down.

There's also a strong theme of mutation on my album -- especially people turning into animals, and vice versa -- so the album is subtitled "Transformations and Torch Songs." And there are lots of other resonances as well, some of which are intentionally engineered and others which I only discovered after putting the mix together. I'd love to hear feedback, especially if you find anything especially worthwhile. It's like a musical scavenger hunt.


1. Young Folks - Peter, Bjorn and John
2. Star Witness - Neko Case
3. To Go Home - M. Ward (ft. Neko Case)
4. Another Sunny Day - Belle and Sebastian
5. Let's Get Out Of This Country - Camera Obscura
6. Lived In Bars - Cat Power
7. The Crane Wife, Pts. 1 and 2 - The Decemberists
8. Thursday - Asobi Seksu
9. Wolf Like Me - TV On the Radio
10. The W.A.N.D. - The Flaming Lips
11. Omaha - Tapes 'N Tapes
12. Us Ones In Between - Sunset Rubdown
13. Cheated Hearts - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
14. Benton Harbor Blues [Edit w/ Missing Verse] - The Fiery Furnaces
15. Sawdust and Diamonds - Joanna Newsom
16. I Feel Like Going Home - Yo La Tengo

* I cut together this version of "Benton Harbor Blues" myself, using mp3directcut.
** The track order is largely variable, but I like this one the best.
*** The default track order is slightly different. In particular, I think "Cheated Hearts" and "Benton Harbor Blues" are switched.
**** If you use the album cuts of all of these tracks, it will not fit onto an 80 min. CD. Several of these tracks have been custom shaved so that they should in fact fit.

At Least Three of These People Could Actually Be A Good President

The DNC's own link to this page is busted, but I figured it out: videos of all ten potential Democratic presidential candidates from the DNC 2007 Winter Meeting.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Double Bind of Articulateness

Joe Biden rightly got into hot water for his tone-deaf-if-not/(perhaps not)-explicitly-racist characterization of Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” In today's New York Times, Lynette Clemenson writes: "There are not enough column inches on this page to parse interpretations of each of Mr. Biden’s chosen adjectives." These would presumably include all of them, each of which is ripe for analysis and criticism: "first," "mainstream," "African-American," "articulate," "bright," "clean," and "nice-looking," maybe even "guy."

Biden could have saved it all by adding that "I don't think all of America has gotten around to evaluating Senator Obama on his full experience and merits," which would have done him the double service of distancing himself from the weird half-informed limited praise everyone has heaped on Obama while subtly suggesting that if they did evaluate Obama on his experience and merits, he would come up short, or at least shorter than Biden. Instead he has had to go around assuring everyone that he thinks lots of black people are bright, clean, and articulate, and Obama most of all, which is an even weirder kind of statement to be making, both racially and politically.

Barack Obama zeroed in on "first" (“African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate”), and Biden himself seemed to especially regret "clean," but Clemenson zeroes in on "articulate" -- which, by being the most double-edged and most often misunderstood term of art in Biden's faint praise, might drive black people nuts even more than any of the others.

Anna Perez, who used to work for Condoleeza Rice and George Bush, files it under (surprise) "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Penn prof Michael Eric Dyson says "You hear it and you just think, ‘Damn, this again?’ ” D.L. Hughley says, "subtle words like this are more insidious. It’s like weight loss. The last few pounds are the hardest to get rid of. It’s the last vestiges of racism that are hard to get rid of." (I think the NYT's "get rid off" is a typo.)

This mode of analysis, which owes its popular dissemination to Chris Rock's fantastic rant about Colin Powell's reception in 1996's Bring the Pain -- "'Speak so well' is what you say about retarded people who can talk" -- demands reiteration, again and again. But I wonder if there's another way in which we can think about this as well.

Certainly, "articulate" can be used by white people to distinguish black people who speak and enunciate in clear, standard (white) English from "other" blacks, who apparently sound to average white ears like they're mumbling some unintelligible hoodoo dialect. ("Stewardess? I speak jive.") Brown University prof -- I almost just wrote "Brown prof," and corrected myself before I understood why I thought it needed a correction -- Tricia Rose makes a nice argument that despite his oratory skills, because Al Sharpton "speaks with a cadence and style that is firmly rooted in black rhetorical tradition you will rarely hear white people refer to him as articulate.”

On the other hand, though, this is the real paradox of articulateness, and where the black rhetorical tradition comes in. White people might believe that most black people fall short of basic standards of articulateness, but when it comes to exceptional articulacy, especially in the political arena, American whites -- and especially white liberals -- have nearly always turned to African-Americans. Lincoln was an outstanding writer and public speaker, but the voice of abolition was Frederick Douglass; Martin Luther King Jr. trumped JFK, LBJ, and RFK (no slouches themselves); and most white liberals burned for Michael Dukakis and John Kerry to have something, anything, of the rhetorical gifts of Jesse Jackson, Sharpton, or Obama. White liberals nominate white candidates and elect white presidents, but they have always counted on blacks in the party to inspire them and fire them up. Bill Clinton managed and manages to do and be both, which much more than his charm, a poor southern past, and a love of soul food is why he really was America's first black president.

So calling a black politician articulate or charismatic, and even more so, using their charisma to raise money, fire up convention delegates, elect other candidates, or make a political party feel more inclusive than it really is -- and I think this is true for both Democrats and Republicans -- isn't just a way of silently condemning a distorted image of the black majority. It's also a way of carefully circumscribing that politician's role within the party and his/her relationship to the public. It's why Martin Luther King is remembered as a craftsman of beautiful words and sentiments rather than as an organizer and strategist of what really was a political opposition party -- the most important third political party that the United States has ever had.

This, too, I think provides some of the context for and stakes of Obama's positioning of himself as outside the traditional categories of baby-boomer politics. Part of the construction of black politics, stemming from the civil rights era, limits the range of issues on which black politicians (and black intellectuals, too) find themselves consulted on and given political and media attention for. In the political opposition, this took the verbal form of "outside agitator" -- even when the "agitators" were from the South -- and applied to blacks and whites seeking to exercise civil rights for blacks. But liberals, too, have tended to think of black politicians as "our agitators" -- the party's voice on all issues having to do with race, and often with poverty, crime, the criminal justice system, and cities. Again, quoting Chris Rock: Al Sharpton "isn't Martin or Malcolm, but if you get your ass kicked by the cops, he's a good person to call."

Obama already has the Clintonian story, the legendary convention speech, and despite his relative newness to national politics, has already put in his time raising money and helping other candidates get elected. All of these things are well-known. What he has to do, and what he has been more successful than any prior African-American presidential candidate in doing, is to refuse being bound by his articulateness, even by his supporters. This is why what looks like Obama's move to the center, his attempt to "move past the racial politics of the past," which could be construed as pandering to white voters skeptical of electing a black candidate, is exactly the opposite. Obama is demanding that he be taken seriously, and not just as a skilled and useful voice of racial and economic justice. In short, he is asking America to evaluate him on his merits. And this is why what Biden was actually trying to say, that Obama presents a pretty picture, a political phenomenon without being genuinely worthy of presidential consideration, may be more racially backwards than any of his troubling adjectives.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Filled With Nick Drake and John Fahey's Holy Ghost

The Postal Service and The Shins might be the highest-selling artists on indie labels (way to go Sub Pop), but I would submit that Merge's M. Ward is the most universally liked and admired -- at least right now, at least among indie fans.

Almost every other much-beloved indie act has a group of passionate and sincere detractors: Belle and Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, Guided By Voices, The New Pornographers, The Rapture, Spoon -- okay, maybe not Spoon. Even The Shins' backlash has firmly set in. And it's worse for the minor/majors, acts on major labels who still have broad appeal to an indie audience: Radiohead, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Magnetic Fields, Death Cab For Cutie, The White Stripes, TV on the Radio, and many others.

But definitely not M. Ward. If M. Ward were a literary critic, he would be Walter Benjamin: everyone who cited him would do so approvingly.

However, most fans would cite his warm-but-gravely voice, his wonderful songs, and his beautiful, delicate arrangements. They would not cite what this video (c/o Pitchfork) definitively shows: M. Ward is nothing less than a full-fledged guitar genius.

Not One Penny Less

Russ Feingold has a great argument against the Warner-Levin compromise resolution on the Iraq war. (Still looking for full text.) From Salon.

The Real Important Stuff

Just when I'd gotten used to every ad on the internet being blandly sensitive, universal, and multicultural (at least compared to TV), I caught this Verizon Wireless demo for its cellular Web 2.0 service. It's one of the more sexist advertisements I've seen in a while. I think it's the high, whiny "female impression" that puts it over the edge.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Triumphus Verbum

Scotto at More Fantasticness! proposes that today (Feb 1) be made a National Word Day, in honor of the anniversary of the publication of the first installment of the Oxford English Dictionary.

On the one hand, this is an awesome idea. There are no nationally recognized or widely celebrated holidays that recognize education at all: no Teachers' Day, no Students' Day (other than the weeklong "Spring Break", which is nonstandard), no Lifelong Learning Day, let alone Reading Day, Science Day, Grammar Day, Mathematics Day, or Coloring Day. A word day seems like one thing that we could all get behind. Especially if you don't call it Spelling Day, which makes people feel anxious. (Not me, though. I won most of my school spelling bees.)

On the other hand, though, there are two big problems with Scotto's proposal.

First, Feb 1st is already a holiday: it's National Freedom Day, since Feb 1st is also the day Abraham Lincoln signed the joint resolution that ultimately became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Second, while I am all about the Oxford English Dictionary -- as faithful a lexicophiliac as they come -- it's not clear why that anniversary should be recognized as National Word Day. It might be the best dictionary, but it certainly wasn't the first, or even the most famous. Also, there's nothing "national" about the OED, at least for citizens of the United States. We don't celebrate Canada's Independence Day, or Bastille Day -- or at least most of us don't. It seems strange to celebrate that most English of English dictionaries as an American holiday.

Which is not to say that we shouldn't reach across the Atlantic and all around the world to clasp hands with English speakers everywhere today. Raise a glass to the English language, that most magnificent of accidents. Sooner or later, everyone gets fucked by a Viking.