Saturday, December 08, 2007

First Rufus and Judy, Now Martha and Edith

So, I love Minneapolis and all, but I can't help noticing that we never get really awesome shows like Rufus doing Judy and now Martha doing Edith. At least the Rufus/Judy CD is OUT NOW! And maybe if my brother's lucky enough to get tickets, I can hear about the Martha show secondhand. Still, utterly unfair.

In other news, the Breeders have a new CD coming out on April 7, 2008! I can't imagine a better birthday present. Minneapolis just may redeem itself if the Breeders perform here as part of their album tour.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Kristin Hersh has a new single, "Slippershell," available for download as part of the Coalition of Artists & Stake Holders (CASH) Music Project. The single is great, as is the idea for the project, at least for those folks who have a reliably speedy internet connection.

I was amused that there's a fabulous quote from none other than Orrin Hatch on CASH's homepage:

If we can find some way to [stop filesharing] without destroying their machines, we'd be interested in hearing about that. If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines.

Man, Hatch is lookin' old!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Dam Fine Mess

After reading Jacques Leslie's fascinating account of three individuals who have dedicated their lives to either preventing dams from being built or ensuring that only the best ones are constructed, this article in the Christian Science Monitor caught my eye.

It points out that while all eyes are on the state of the country's bridges (and rightfully so), the state of dams in the US is even more dire. Collectively, American bridges received a 'C' grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers in a 2005 survey while dams received a 'D' grade. Also:

"Since 1999, the number of 'high-hazard' dams rated 'deficient' has more than doubled, according to data from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials in Lexington, Ky...In 1999, the US had 546 such dams rated deficient. By last year, it had 1,333."

Does this mean we can expect another Johnstown Flood sometime soon? Hopefully not. But leaps forward in improving infrastructure only seem to happen post-disaster, and this time around that disaster was a bridge collapse. All y'all living next to a dam: watch out.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Seattle Thug

Yesterday the Seattle Mariner Moose clipped Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp as Crisp was leaving the dugout. Crisp, who wasn't hurt, said "That was the most athletic thing I did all day." The Mariners sent over an apology, which Crisp and the Sox accepted. Apparently the Moose will not face punishment. Maybe TC should give the Moose some driving lessons?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Die Hard Superlatives

I have just returned from watching the excellent fourth installment in the Die Hard series, Live Free or Die Hard. Who cares if some of the stunts were ridiculously implausible? They always are. But Bruce was his good old snarky self and Timothy Olyphant performed deliciously as the new anti-McClane villain. (Did he lose some weight for the role? He definitely looked skinnier than his Seth Bullock days.)

Anyway, in honor of this glorious movie, and this never-to-be-topped action movie franchise, here are some Die Hard superlatives. Some of these were tough choices. Comments and quibbles welcome.

Best Villain: Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). This one really could be a three-way tie between Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Olyphant. They all had brilliant on-screen moments. But Rickman's throaty "Ho-Ho-Ho" and "When Alexander..." speech are moments of pure genius. And let's not forget his precious imitation of a sniveling American hostage when he first encounters McClane. Again, genius.

Best Buddy: Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson). Sure, you have to love Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), but there was something dynamite about the Willis/Jackson pairing. Zeus ("As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don't fuck with me or I'll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus!") was by far the most equal and entertaining partner in all of McClane's adventures.

Best Yippee Ki Yay Moment: Live Free or Die Hard. Of course the original is a classic. But the build-up in 4.0 to "the moment" was fantastic. I could have sworn he was going to say it when Mai died, and when he didn't, the anticipation was heightened even further. Sheesh, then the circumstances during which he finally says it are just spectacular. (I won't give it away.)

Best Henchman: Karl (Alexander Godunov). That man just won't die!

Best Use of a Song: "Battle Hymn of the Republic" aka "When Johnny Comes Home," Die Hard With a Vengeance. The extended use of that song in a crucial sequence of events gives me goosebumps every time. Though Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis" is absolutely a close second, with CCR's "Fortunate Son" a somewhat distant third.

Best Agent Johnson: Special Agent Johnson (Robert Davi). Come on, he was in the Goonies!

Best Use of Dennis Franz: Die Hard 2. OK, so I'm throwing Die Hard 2 a bone here. I do really like the sequel, but it doesn't stand out in very many categories. It's the worst of the four movies, and I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to convince me. But Dennis Franz is always good at portraying the curmudgeonly cop, and does so perfectly here.

Anyone have any others?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Peter Parker Meet Billy Goat Gruff

At tonight's educational and hilarious Physics of Superheroes lecture by U of M professor James Kakalios, I learned something more shocking than Superman's weight on Krypton (3300 pounds) or why Spiderman accidentally snapped his girlfriend Gwen Stacy's neck while attempting to stop her fall from the George Washington Bridge (he stopped her fall too quickly). I learned that scientists are taking spider genes and putting them into goat eggs to enable them to produce spider silk. A goat given this gene will secrete spider silk into its milk, which then can be isolated and used to make any number of existing products hundreds of times stronger, such as tennis rackets, fishing lines, and even body armor.

So, why don't they just use spider silk instead of producing goats that are 1/70,000th spider? Because spiders are too aggressive to be easily and economically farmed. While "spidergoats" can live cheaply and peacefully amongst each other, each farmed spider would need its own little abode to avoid a lot of intraspecies murders. Basically, a spider would take up more room than a goat. I told you spiders were evil.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Notable Numeric Anniversary

All the talk on this here 7/7/07 seems to be about Live Earth or the ridiculous couples who think getting married on such a day will increase their chances of staying together (newsflash: it won't). But today's date has a much cooler significance: July 7, 2007 marks the 77th anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's death (by heart attack) at the age of

"My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplace of existence. These little problems help me to do so." --Sherlock Holmes, The Red-Headed League

Friday, June 22, 2007


(Thanks to Leah for a couple of these photos.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Qu'est-ce qu'un cercle? Ce n'est point carré.*

Lately I've been engrossed by Mount Holyoke math professor Donal O'Shea's fascinating mathematical history, The Poincaré Conjecture. While the topological discussions are a little over my head (I never did learn much about topology), the writing is accessible and the story fascinating.

For those who aren't familiar with Henri Poincaré and his famous conjecture, here is one way to state it: That every simply connected, compact three-dimensional manifold without boundary is homeomorphic to the three-dimensional sphere. The proof of this conjecture would have a lot to say about the shape of the universe, thus it has fascinated mathematicians and physicists for a century. The Clay Institute even declared it to be one of their seven Millennium Prize Problems, meaning one million dollars is on the line for whoever could offer a proof.

Though many tried and failed, it seems fairly certain that a relatively unknown Russian mathematician, Grigori Perelman, has finally proved the conjecture. Shy and reclusive, Perelman is the perfect hero for this 100-year story of alternately smugly or endearingly obsessed mathematicians. There is a two year period of review before the Clay Institute makes its prize offering official, but those in the know seem confident in Perelman's work. It's a shame Perelman seems to have quit math due to concerns about mathematical ethics and the high level of unwanted publicity he and his discovery received. Still, one Millennium Problem down, six to go.

*A play on words oft-repeated by adolescent French math nerds: What is a circle? It's not a square.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ring Them Bells

OK, so Mark has set me up to deliver a vicious retort to his snarling anti-Neko post, and I can sorta oblige. But first, I must make clear that I would never classify myself as a huge Neko Case fan. Yes, I own a few of her albums. Yes, I think she has an amazingly alarming voice and can write some decent songs and even fewer amazing songs (see "I Wish I Was the Moon" or "Deep Red Bells"). But see, I'm a huge fan of people like Kristin Hersh and Martha Wainwright and have proof of my ambivalence to Neko live. In fact, my initial review of Neko live still stands, so here it is again, to serve as my review of her April 7th show:

And then Neko played. She was good. Her cover of "Buckets of Rain" was fantastic. Hearing "I Wish I Was the Moon" and "Deep Red Bells" live was worth a good portion of the ticket price. The rest of the set I could have enjoyed as happily simply hearing the notes come out of my stereo speakers. Martha Wainwright she ain't.

So, while I think Mark's critique is a little harsh, and not quite spot-on, there's a glimmer of truth hidden in his words. Still, it was a great way to spend my birthday and hearing that "inimitable" Neko voice live is always a treat.

On a different note, we had my birthday dinner at Cafe Brenda, a food destination I've been meaning to hit since I've lived in Minneapolis. Believe the hype. The atmosphere was fancier than I'm used to without being snobby, and the food was 1000x better than a pear-flavored Jelly Belly, and you know those green speckled orbs are delicious. I had the ginger glazed mock duck salad and everything about it was perfect -- from the tender, tasty mock duck to the slightly chilled capellini noodles to the uber-flavorful cherry tomatoes. After the salty edamame appetizer, the bread basket, and my entree, there was no room for dessert, but I'm sure it would have been equally delicious. Now I just have to find an excuse to go back.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Genuis? Composer? Shame...

Joe Strummer... you've been through the cleansing fire of punk, only to pick up a few venerial diseases along the way. You're more of an optimist when it comes to fucked-up genius. But you can write wicked-deadly riffs and lyrics.
Take this quiz!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Post Postema

While Major League Baseball has never witnessed a woman umpiring an official regular season game, it is crawling towards that historic moment courtesy of Ria Cortesio, currently a AA league umpire in the Southern League. However, the majors are paying attention, giving Cortesio the nod for the All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park on Sunday. Cortesio was excited, but stated rather humbly:

Until I work a regular-season Major League baseball game, I haven't done anything. I don't want to be a pioneer. I just want to do my job.

Of course, Cortesio isn't the first woman to ump in professional baseball. The best prospect for MLB success was Pam Postema in the 1980s, who was royally screwed out of a well deserved post in the majors. Having been denied the privilege of watching Postema call balls and strikes, we can at least read her witty, revealing memoir You've Got to Have Balls to Make It in This League.

Some day it'll happen for real. And, Jesus Christ, why not? As Cubs star Derrek Lee says:

It's awesome. I think it's about time. Female eyes are as good as male eyes. Why can't they be umpires?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Stuff That Dreams Are (Still) Made Of

In a not-so-surprising imitation of Dashiell Hammett's novel and the classic Bogart flick, someone has stolen a replica of the Maltese Falcon statue from a restaurant that Hammett used to frequent during his writing days. The restaurant's owner is offering a $25,000 reward for its safe return. If I owned something with Elisha Cook Jr.'s autograph on it and it were stolen, I'd be pretty peeved too.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Top 14 Albums of 2006

I'm probably breaking a few rules of end-of-the-year listmaking: I'm a little late for the end of the year; I'm including a movie soundtrack, an EP, a Christmas album, and a posthumously released album of outtakes and alternate versions; and my list contains the very round number of 14 albums. I guess it's true that we asymptotes just barely toe the line. Or are just slightly behind the curve. Or *insert dorky math joke here*.

1. The GossipStanding in the Way of Control. The title track blows my mind every freakin' time I hear it. "Yr Mangled Heart," "Keeping You Alive" and "Listen Up!" -- I need to dance...I need to dance...I need to dance. Wait, I thought I hated disco? Heck, if I were alive and living in Chicago, I would have participated in Disco Demolition Night. Only Beth and Hannah could get me to convert. P.S. To whom it concerns, I want "Coal to Diamonds" played at my memorial service. Oh, and I want to be cremated.

2. Tom WaitsOrphans. This thing's a beast (three monstrous discs!), and I haven't quite digested it all yet. But here's what I know: Waits makes a better Elvis than Elvis ("Lie to Me"); is a serviceable Shane MacGowan ("Bottom of the World"); cooks up highly effective anti-depressants ("Sea of Love" and the Ramones cover "The Return of Jackie and Judy") and depressants ("Rains on Me"); and far surpasses Bush in his politics ("Road to Peace" – one of the collection's very best). And all that just from the first disc. I need a nap.

3. Erase ErrataNightlife. This album has steadily grown on me since I saw them live. "Aim the satellite down from a penthouse bubble / Cause we're afraid of being robbed / Or catching something / While you're too broke to not commit a crime / Your federal government knows that this is true." Maybe they don't need Sara after all.

4. Camera ObscuraLet's Get Out of This Country. This Scottish outfit has quietly crept onto my short list of favorite bands. With stunningly beautiful vocals and alternately heartbreaking and uplifting lyrics, LGOOTC continues their stream of classic albums. From "Dory Previn": "Fed up with girls in pretty dresses / And boys who want to teach them a lesson." From "The False Contender": "I once had a love / That soon had enough / Cause he was a false contender." From "Country Mile:" "The singer in the band made me want to cry." Yup.

5. MorrisseyRingleader of the Tormentors. The popular tagline on this one seemed to be Morrissey + Sex = Tasty Music. Is the equation really that simple? I doubt it, seeing as how he's created more than a few excellent tunes while celibate and melancholy. His new happiness may be responsible for this record's certain glow, if you will, but let's not give too much credit to the power of love (or of the "explosive kegs" between his legs). Morrissey can approach mediocrity and excellence at any given time – luckily for us, with Ringleader he's definitely aiming for the latter.

6. Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man Motion Picture Soundtrack. Let me tell you, Bono should be banned from music. If he did not appear on this album, it would have shot up my list to, like, number five. But his 40-second "performance" on the very last track is the definition of the word "travesty." So, stop the CD before you hit track 16 and you'll be okay. Especially note Martha Wainwright's contributions: "Tower of Song" and "The Traitor." And Perla Batalla's "Bird on a Wire." Goddamn. Teddy Thompson also puts in an unexpectedly nice turn on "Tonight Will Be Fine." Mark just loves Nick Cave's "I'm Your Man." (That's a big fat lie.) Antony brings down the house on "If It Be Your Will." And who doesn't want to hear Rufus do a calypso "Everybody Knows" or sing about receiving head on an unmade bed?

7. Tanya DonellyThis Hungry Life. I kinda felt bad when I didn't like Donelly's Whiskey Tango Ghosts. I mean, I despised it. Which, given how much I love everything else Donelly has ever touched, seemed almost impossible. Or definitive evidence of my evil nature. So I was really, really ecstatic when I heard the opening chords of the first track (an utterly perfect song called "New England") and then the rest of This Hungry Life's brilliance (including a surprising cover of George Harrison's "Long Long Long"). The Earth returned to spinning on its axis, I was no longer an evil person, and I could excuse Whiskey as a bizarre anomaly in Donelly's otherwise spotless track record.

8. The Exploding HeartsShattered. The liner notes for this album are a heartfelt tribute to a band that's one of the saddest rock n roll stories from the past few years. Obviously, I didn't know any of the three band members who died in that July 2003 car crash, so I can't really join in the mourning of them personally. But I can mourn the lost music that these boys (yes, they were just boys) would have provided for decades to come. They were master power pop songwriters and energetic and skilled performers. This collection of previously unreleased songs, early singles, and alternate takes is a sparkling glimpse into their genius.

9. The CoupPick a Bigger Weapon. It must be hard to write and perform as many politically-inspired songs as The Coup without it becoming stale. Their secret must be that while they care about serious things, they also have a lot of fun. As Mark noted, "Laugh/Love/Fuck" is a standout track. It's also a brilliant prescription for anyone saddened by the state of the country.

10. Bob DylanModern Times. This is far from Dylan's best album, but even his lesser material is better than most of what's produced these days. "Rollin' and Tumblin'" is a body-shaker, "Beyond the Horizon" and "Nettie Moore" are pretty sweet, and "Spirit on the Water" is another good memorial service candidate. So the man makes my Top 14 of 2006 and every album he ever makes will continue to make this list until someone can prove to me that he doesn't deserve to be here. Good luck.

11. 50 Foot WaveFree Music. What would a Top 14 Albums list be without a Kristin Hersh appearance? Sure, it's only five songs long. Sure, I couldn't actually get it for free because I don't have the computer technology. But it's still Kristin Hersh and still 50 Foot Wave, and this EP delivers. 'Specially on "Pretty Ugly" and "The Fuchsia Wall."

12. Aimee MannOne More Drifter in the Snow. Though I love Christmas music, I really can't listen to it year-round, and that's the only reason this album was relegated to the bottom three. "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" (featuring Grant Lee Phillips) is dead on and her spare "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is one of the best versions I've heard. Plus, Mark predicts that "Whatever Happened to Christmas" will join the ranks of Christmas standards – and he's never wrong about Christmas music.

13. Justin TimberlakeFuturesex/Lovesounds. I get enough crap from my co-workers for having a past that includes loving NKOTB, so I couldn't put JT any higher on this list. But he deserves to be on it. "My Love" makes me want to sing. "Sexyback" makes me want to dance. And "Futuresex/Lovesound" makes me want to fu-, um, dance. Yeah, dance. I'm psyched to be seeing him live this Saturday.

14. Yeah Yeah YeahsShow Your Bones. A slight disappointment, this record just barely scraped it's way into the Top 14. Only after repeated listens did certain songs grow on me, including "Gold Lion," "Phenomena," and "Honeybear." And "Dudley" is one of their best songs ever. Still, better luck next time.

So, it was a decent year. By the way, I'm not planning on dying any time soon, but watching Six Feet Under makes me want to have my post-death wishes known. So, here they are: cremation, ashes scattered off the coast of Rockport, MA (not ME), and good music played at my memorial service. Simple enough, don't you think?