Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happiness Is Just A Flaming Me Away

I meant to get back to the usual format tonight and talk a little about "Weeds" and a little about how pathetic the McCain campaign is, but that was before I had a day for the ages. At different points, I drank alcohol at work at 10AM, almost got hit by a truck, took part in a jalapeno-eating contest that left me dry-heaving, and had a box of beer cans break and litter recyclables all over the sidewalk. But all of that pales in comparison (as a badge of honor) to how I set myself on fire. Literally, there were flames on me.

We had a chili-cooking contest at work -- hence the jalapenos and beer -- and since I am not one to be overly creative with food preparation, I made myself official pot-stirrer/chili-smeller. Wearing the apron we were given, I stirred the concoction, while making sure that people didn't put too much of X or Y in and that sufficient kick was added. I stood there, next to the portable burner, which was right at the level with the bottom of the apron. We pumped the burners up a lot to boil some of the liquid off. I stepped away for a second, looked down, and, lo and behold, there were actual flames coming off of my leg. I pride myself in being completely calm at all times, but I was even a little surprised in retrospect that I didn't panic. I stared for a split second, then used my wooden spoon to beat the flames out. Nothing touched my skin at all, but the clothes were singed enough that they eventually tore all the way through. All in all, pretty lame for being en fuego, but definitely a first in terms of life experiences. In the end, we didn't win the contest (I thought our chili was the best, but by the time the tasting came around, the jalapenos were wreaking havoc with my stomach), but I got a great story out of it. Pictures of the aftermath below.

Some Things Change, Everything Stays The Same

Some thoughts and impressions from the last few days:
  • We all like to play amateur psychoanalyst, so check out this Encyclopedia Brown-like mystery I had on my flight back from Boca to DC. I'm sitting next to a woman who is a total mess and insists on dominating both armrests so I'm forced to lean into the aisle and routinely have my elbows smacked by the drink cart. She's staring ponderously at a book of word searches. Only word searches. Not only that, but she's having serious trouble. She's gotten fewer than 10% of the words in the puzzle she's on, and she's just staring at the page. But, under the puzzle book (and I use the word "puzzle" lightly), she has a copy of Dreams From My Father. So here's the question: Is she stupid and reading Obama's book to prove he's a Muslim? Is she stupid and holding his book to look smart? Is she one of the very rare stupid Obama fans? For a good portion of the flight, I'm just leaning over to avoid her alligator-skin arms and glancing over to solve the mystery. What would you think? And then, it all comes together. As we prepare to land at National, she looks through her purse and, in doing so, pulls out a Canadian passport. Aha! Since we know that foreigners covet Obama's leadership, she turns out to be just a stupid Canadian. I never would have guessed that solution, but of course they look so much like us.
  • When I was 25, South Florida looked so cool. Huge extravagance, beaches, lots of fine Wings stores in which to get 99-cent scoops of Hershey's (no relation) ice cream. Now that I'm a little older, the damn place is a nightmare. Everything is too big and gaudy, the people drive like maniacs, too many New Yorkers with no Magnolia Bakery or roasted chestnut vendor in sight. I don't feel too comfortable down there anymore, but Dolemite or Don "Magic" Juan might.
  • It's weird to see a bio for yourself, even if you begrudgingly wrote it.
  • I was afraid that I had missed out, in my two days with nothing but quick glances at the New York Times between meetings (read: drinking and trips to the beach and driving range), on things from the race. But no, everything seems to be the same. There's one candidate who doesn't support the troops, no matter what he says; who has said he's a new kind of politician, but goes against it to attack his opponent, falsely; who is so befuddled on what he stands for that he is lying about past statements and has given upon trying to show why he's better rather than why his opponent is worse; who gets preferential media coverage. Man, am I glad I'm for the other guy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Different Rose, Same Sweet Smell

Even though Josh returned this evening from his stint as faculty at a conference, we have a guest blogger, commenting on momentous events of the day

Scrabulous. In a word, so many happy memories are evoked: battling friends for linguistic victories, wracking your brain and hitting "sort" to somehow find a potential bingo in the midst of a set of tiles including x, k, m, u, a, s, and an e, and most importantly, enjoying the opportunity to procrastinate in the midst of the workday, delighting in a game that could easily be played in person but seems to be so much more fun on Facebook.

Scrabulous was definitely one of my favorite Facebook applications, one of the first to be added to my nascent account, but I will admit that I'm not terribly upset to see it go. Perhaps this is because I discovered other fun applications, and while I still had a couple of Scrabulous games in play (my sister had been idle for weeks - I wasn't holding out hope), I had actually already transitioned over to the new, legitimate Scrabble application that started a few weeks ago and was reviewed on this very blog . I've been enjoying the shiny new graphics and animation, and even if it doesn't have the exact same features that Scrabulous employed, well, somehow I'm okay with that.

So, what's all of the buzz going on today with Facebook all about. While Facebook did launch a new look (some people have expressed strong feelings about this - you have to check out the comments at the bottom of this blog post - I simply cannot be bothered), I definitely saw at least four of my Facebook Friends updating their status lamenting the loss of Scrabulous. A few even attacked and blamed Hasbro for the sudden disturbance in the force, one person even reverting to name-calling with "Hasbro is a big baby."

Why is Hasbro a "big baby"? I certainly don't think they are. While I'm no copyright/intellectual property lawyer, I do believe they copyrighted their addictive game, hence Scrabulous is supposedly still operational in countries beyond the US and Canada. Hasbro has every right to secure their property - can't really blame them for that. They came up with the game, they copyrighted it, it's theirs.

Well then, who can you blame? There are those out there who want to blame the evil corporation that killed off Scrabulous. I'm sure there are those who place blame with the creators, Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla, the two brothers from Calcutta who simply saw the void in cyberspace where Hasbro had not yet ventured and, indulging their love of the game, created a sensation - Scrabulous is reported to have more than 2.3 million users, with 50,000 visits a day. Again, not a lawyer, I don't know if the Agarwalla brothers did anything completely wrong - until their game became a sensation and spread across the globe - into the US and Canada.

So, for those of us in the US and Canada, so long Scrabulous. I urge you all to download and try out the new Scrabble. Maybe you'll hate it, maybe you'll love it (they're still working out kinks and it's reported that they're continuing to tweak the application into perfection). I'm looking forward to starting new games and striving to add yet another elusive bingo to my repertoire.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Movie #1: Step Brothers, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. The key to this one: It's co-written by Ferrell and Director Adam McKay. They co-wrote Anchorman and Talladega Nights, but McKay wasn't involved in the not-so-good Blades of Glory. McKay's influence shows; the movie is hilarious. It's probably not as good as the first two I mentioned, but it has its moments and there are certainly a couple of memorable lines. Anytime you put Fergie and Jesus in the same sentence, you're going to get laughs.
    • Movie #2: 21, based on the great Ben Mezrich book Bringing Down The House. The book is non-fiction and therefore has an ending that isn't exactly made for Hollywood. They change that in the film along with some other details to make the story flow, but the movie is very entertaining. That's all you can ask.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • It's blowout time. While the cat was away, the mouse has played and played and played. But he's ended up looking rather lost and pathetic. Said cat is back and it's time to put this whole thing to rest.
    • I still don't get MMA nor why WJFK has seemingly hitched themselves to it.
  • Sayonara, For Now:
    • I'm off to Florida for a couple days for a professional conference and likely with no internet. The practice run on my 15-20 minute presentation felt like 10 minutes and was actually 27. There may be some other bloggers for Sunday and Monday. Otherwise, see you Tuesday.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

At Least I'm Not Planning On Rolling

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Two of my favorites were on "The Soup" tonight as Keith Olbermann and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) stopped by. The part where they talked about the Legally Blonde show was gut-busting as Olbermann pretended (badly) to cry and Pegg jumped on screen and started making hilarious faces.
    • The book Into The Wild is way better than the movie. So much more in-depth and fascinating.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Ugh, I'm going to end up having to do some work tomorrow to prepare for the big presentation. If only I had John Goodman's sensibilities (NSFW).
    • Here, I present to you the award-winner for the stupidest review of The Dark Knight. Enjoy!
  • Daily Rant:
    • What's better than a throw-away line? You get off some snarky remark and let it hang in the air. Everyone chuckles and you move on. Do you know how annoying it is to talk to someone where every one-liner evokes a five minute response?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Muppet Rap-stravaganza

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Mostly just caught up with "Countdown" for the week tonight. That means lots of pointing McCain's many, many gaffes of the last week and an appearance by Joel McHale tonight. I also have this irrational hatred of Bill O'Reilly... Oh, that's called being human.
    • I turn on the TV at 11 tonight and go about deciding if I'll watch "Daily Show" or a "Family Guy" rerun. But, no! I've discovered that The N (one of those random Nick stations on digital cable) runs "Saved By The Bell" from 11 until midnight. My love for the saga of Bayside High has been documented.
  • Random Thoughts/Links (Special Muppet Edition):
    • I'm starting to get a little obsessed with people posting videos to YouTube where parts of "The Muppet Show" are synched up with popular songs. Here are a bunch.
    • Beaker performs "Yellow" by Coldplay.
    • Scooter helps on "Stay Fly" by Oscar-winners Three Six Mafia.
    • As much as I hate the song, The Count and Ernie do "Crank That" by Soulja Boy.
    • Sort of a creepy beginning, as Ernie sits in the bathtub and sings Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise".
    • The ultimate and very NSFW: The Muppets do "F*** The Police" by NWA.
  • Daily Rant:
    • We've all read and heard countless rants about the decreased attention span nowadays and the economy is suffering from an extreme case of entitlement around the country. In our 800 channel, On Demand, personal display-entertainment-communication device culture, it's very easy to take things for granted. We're on to the next thing all the time. So, I'm taking a step back and appreciating the internet for a second. Last night, over Facebook, I chatted with a former co-worker who now lives in Argentina and with whom I hadn't spoken in a year. Really, how cool is that?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

And They Are Indisputable

These are the facts:
  • My wife started watching "The L Word" on DVD. Every time I looked up, people were having sex. I'm a little surprised the show is on Showtime and not Cinemax.
  • What is with shows that are basically softcore porn? "The L Word". "Generation Kill". I don't get it.
  • The Vanity Fair cover joke doesn't make any sense. Everything on The New Yorker was things that are false. The Vanity Fair McCain jokes are mostly things grounded in reality. Now, give him an illegitimate black child and we're good to go.
  • This is why I've always thought that Let Your Editors Drink At Work Day was a horrible idea.
  • Even if I understand what Natalie Portman is trying to do, the phrase "vegan shoe line" immediately makes me cringe and call BS. Do the shoes not drink milk?
  • I don't know how many people I've heard call The Dark Knight a perfect movie. It's so not. The Hong Kong scene was superfluous and the cell-phone tracking thing was derivative of Cerebro in X-Men. It's a really good movie, but chill the f*** out.
  • I'm fascinated by tortilla chips with lime. They're freaking delicious. According to something that someone made up to put on Wikipedia, tortilla chips were first mass-produced in the late 1940s. So, we're talking about nearly six decades of the same tortillas, in different shapes and maybe some cheese added here or there, before someone decided to try lime. What advance in chip technology occurred so that this is now possible?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Long Life In The DC Suburbs

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Watched In Bruges. All I have to say is: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes. Great actors doing their thing. The movie is beautifully shot, but borders on over-directing at times with some unnecessarily artsy angles. Definitely catch this one on Netflix or cable.
    • I finished Palahniuk's Rant (he's a weird dude, but his work is compelling) and I'm on to Krakauer's Into The Wild. I'm a big fan of long-form reporting in the novel format. Anyone who has read Capote's In Cold Blood has to be.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • The baseball essay last night would not have been possible without the great site, Obviously, I was at the Orioles game in question, but Retrosheet's box score and play-by-play collection was a huge help in getting the details right.
    • By the way, to the best of my research around the web, that Hoiles grand slam was the only one in recorded history that came with the team down three runs in the ninth with two outs and a full count.
    • Check out this map of life expectancies by Congressional district. The #1 district in the nation is VA 8th, Jim Moran, taking up parts of Northern VA. #2 is MD 8th, Chris Van Hollen, taking up parts of Montgomery County, MD. I think that should make most of the people that read this (and write this) regularly fairly happy.
  • Daily Rant:
    • Redskins fans are so manic. I'm not saying the Jason Taylor trade wasn't a great move. It's just annoying how everything good is the best thing ever and everything bad is the worst thing ever. There is no in-between for fans of the burgundy and gold.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Random Americana: Baseball

Since this year seems to be a turning point in our nation's history, I've decided to begin a series on things about America that stand out to me. This will be semi-regular (meaning, whenever I feel like it, but no less than biweekly). The first topic is one of the true loves of my life.
Enthusiams... What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives
me joy? Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what?
For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part
of a team. Teamwork... Looks, throws, catches, hustles.Part of one big team.
Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. If his team don't
field... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of
fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But... I get
nowhere unless the team wins. -- Robert De Niro, The Untouchables
May 17, 1996. Nighttime in downtown Baltimore. The Seattle Mariners, down 7-2 after five innings, have completed a furious comeback, capped by an eighth inning grand slam off the bat of a third-year up-and-coming star named Alex Rodriguez. Norm Charlton, one of the original Nasty Boys that led the Cincinnati Reds -- baseball's first professional franchise -- to an improbable Word Series win in 1990, is on in the ninth to protect a 13-10 lead. He walks Roberto Alomar but then strikes out the dangerous Rafael Palmeiro, who had been 5-for-5 with a homer to this point. Bobby Bonilla doubles, but then Billy Ripken fouls out. Charlton walks Cal Ripken to load the bases. Catcher Chris Hoiles comes up and battles Charlton until they both stand on the ultimate precipice of baseball glory: Bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, a three-run game, bases loaded, a full count.

July 21, 2008. I'm sitting at Shirley Povich field in Bethesda, MD with 380 other people, watching the Bethesda Big Train take on the Alexandria Aces in Cal Ripken, Sr. Collegiate Summer League action. The players come from all over the country, staying with host families in the area. The odds are that none of these players will ever be heard from on the Major League level, but kids line the railings all the same, excited about an autograph, trying to grab a foul ball. In one of the upper-crustiest of American suburbs, the great pastoral game goes on.

Baseball is a part of the American soul. We have an intuitive understanding of certain aspects, as if the game resides on some Jungian level. We also have, even if not spoken, an inherent knowledge that the game is far older than anything we can comprehend, having been played prior to the Civil War and in a similar fashion to how it is played now. It is timeless, both in its existence and in its lack of clock. Watch it on a beautiful day and your mind drifts. It is the most meditative of spectator sports.

Think back to the 1920s, when baseball's greatest ever player was both figuratively and literally larger-than-life, a perfect mascot for the de-Puritan-ization of our culture. The 1930s, when people struggled to find work, but could look up to a man nicknamed The Iron Horse, who showed up for work every day and played with a blue-collar toughness belying his Columbia University education. World War II, when heroes on the field became heroes off of it, leaving the game and losing out on potential records to fight for their country. 1947, when baseball integrated racially long before the country as a whole was ready.

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball," said historian Jacques Barzun in 1954. Historian Bruce Catton said, "Say this much for big league baseball - it is beyond question the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America." Al Spalding, one of the founders of professional baseball in the late 19th century, said, "The genius of our institutions is democratic - baseball is a democratic game." There have been quotes and books and theories, from Walt Whitman to Yogi Berra, Robert Frost to Casey Stengel. Baseball is, with the exception of politics, the one thing that has always drawn in Americans from all walks of life.

Back to May 17, 1996. Charlton begins his full count delivery to Hoiles. The runners take off on the pitch. Hoiles connects and sends a drive to deep center field, where waits Ken Griffey, Jr., the greatest center fielder of his generation. Griffey, famous for his acrobatics at the wall, leaps and extends his glove... but he is just short. There is a moment of shock as the gathered make sure that the ball actually went into the stands, and then chaos erupts. Grown men and women jumping around, hugging, like little children. In a game of anticipation, where a moment of true drama may show itself only once every few games, the exceptional has happened. The fans will never forget what they've witnessed, what they've experienced.

But baseball doesn't need that kind of heroics to be great. The deep green expanse of the outfield. The pop and explosion of dust as a fastball hits the catcher's mitt. The crack of wood hitting leather. The constant chattering from the players, the benches, the fans. This is a game of sights and sounds and feeling.

This is baseball.

This is perfection.

This is my America.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A F***in' Shark Ate Me!

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Watched The Bank Job on DVD this evening. It's very good; reminiscent of other good recent heist movies, such as Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, and Snatch. Here's the major thing: We love Jason Statham. Maybe I didn't care for what little I could stand to watch of The Transporter, but his work in Guy Ritchie's early movies, The Italian Job, and this one? He's to British heist movies what Jason Lee is to Kevin Smith ones. That might be a bit of an awkward analogy, but I think it works.
    • The other movie I watched today was Deep Blue Sea. It stinks. It doesn't even succeed in being as funny-bad as Anaconda or Lake Placid. The comic relief isn't comic and star Thomas Jane looks like he'd rather be anywhere else than filming this piece of garbage. The movie is only worth watching for exactly one scene, which is classic. And I'm linking to it right here, so you can save yourself the other hour and fifty minutes or so.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Sing along! At the Maliki-liki-liki-liki-liki room/At the Maliki-liki-liki-liki-liki room/Where sixteen months can't come too soon/At the Maliki-liki-liki-liki-liki room!
    • Last night, when I published my list of banned words, I completely forgot "Netroots". Stop inventing dumb words!
    • We've now succeeded in using the ice cream maker, after having used the bread maker for the first time two weeks ago. My dream of making my own ice cream sandwich with ice cream and bread is nigh on fruition!
  • Daily Rant:
    • I really think that the way box office numbers are done at this point is ridiculous. I know they want to report gross receipts because it makes the industry look good, but it's a little disingenuous. If they're going to tell us that X movie had the biggest opening/day/holiday weekend of all time, shouldn't they use comparable figures? Adjust the receipts for mean or median ticket price. I think it would be a lot more exciting if we knew for sure that The Dark Knight beat E.T. or Home Alone on an even playing field.

Knights In 152-Minute Armor

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Ok, so The Dark Knight... Ledger lives up to his hype. His performance is nothing short of brilliant. There are a couple of scenes where he speaks with psychotic glee, but his eyes show a totally different emotion of pure dark anger. Amazing work. When he's not on the screen? Pretty good, but the movie suffers a little. It's very long and feels that way by the end, and since the best scene takes place at the very beginning, there are pacing issues that pop up. However, the relationship between the three main heroes (Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Gordon, and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent) is beautifully nuanced and the decisions that Wayne is forced to make are food for thought for a while after the film is over. I don't think this is the best comic book movie of all time -- I'll take Spiderman 2 or maybe even Iron Man -- but it's well worth seeing.
    • Season premiere of "Monk" this week. What can you say? It's a funny, consistent show. Stanley Kamel's passing leaves a hole that is ably filled by the great Hector Elizando.
    • I caught a little of House Party this morning. It holds up a little as a good movie. It is amusing that the slang used in this movie, made in 1990, is the slang that older white women use nowadays to sound cool.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • This is a very interesting bit from The Daily Dish on intellectual trends in the presidency.
    • We got screwed out of the good trailers this morning (for the most part; we got The Day The Earth Stood Still) because we saw a 9:30AM show. Good thing I've seen the ones for Watchmen and Terminator: Salvation on-line.
  • Daily Rant:
    • I've heard the word "manscaping" twice in the last 24 hours. Hate it. It officially joins "staycation" and "green-collar" as banned words/phrases.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who Will Watch It?

Late night tonight, so I'll just leave you with a few quick links and I'll be back tomorrow with a review of The Dark Knight, THE BIGGEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, sorry, I guess the hype is invading my brain a little:
  • Let's see, so far Obama has been knocked for saying we should bomb Pakistan and then we do, then he's knocked for "appeasing" evil countries and then we negotiate with North Korea and Iran. Now, it looks like after Obama has been knocked for wanting a timetable of withdrawal from Iraq, the President is moving in that direction. Who exactly has no judgment on foreign policy?
  • Here is the trailer for Watchmen that will begin running in theaters this weekend. I'll reserve comment on this greatest graphic novel ever for another time. This cover article in this week's Entertainment Weekly discusses director Zack Snyder's (300) vision on the movie.
  • William Petersen will leave "CSI:" this year. How much longer can the show continue? Maybe a while, because it pulls ratings, but I can't see how it will be the same, no matter who replaces Grissom. Even if it's... Horatio Kane!
  • Oh Joel, how bereft my life would be without you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Everything's Gonna Be... All... Right

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Finally caught the season finale of "30 Days", where Morgan Spurlock goes to live in the Navajo Nation. I actually wish the show could have been longer since Spurlock could only touch briefly on certain issues. Two things astounded me: the size of the reservation and the extraordinary poverty. Many people lack running water and the unemployment rate averages around 53%. Sickening to think about that going on inside our borders, especially with a population whose historical abuse is one of the dark facts we don't like to think about.
    • Good to have Olbermann back on "Countdown".
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • This site,, is fantastic. You type in an address and it will tell you how walkable your neighborhood is, by looking at the distance to various shops, schools, and entertainment options. Besides being enlightening about where you live or work, it's a lot of fun to just check out various places. The White House area is "very walkable".
    • McCain referenced Czechoslovakia twice within the last few days. He's not out of touch at all. In fact, he's going to embark on a tour of the globe to show how in touch he is. Stops will include: Abyssinia, Ceylon, Persia, Rhodesia, Siam, Yugoslavia, and Zaire.
    • Brett, just quit it, dude. We're all sick of you. Here's hoping you end up with Oakland or Arizona.
  • Daily Rave:
    • The new Scrabble app for Facebook is out of private BETA and it's great. It's much more fluid than the broke-down Scrabulous and it has a lot of features that the copyright-infringing old one doesn't have, like a graphical look at current games, better statistics, and better move-by-move recounts. And, hey, it doesn't infringe upon any copyrights since it's licensed by Hasbro. Have I mentioned that? Compared to the new Scrabble app, Scrabulous looks like it was made circa 1952 (the year John McCain would have been eligible to get his driver's license if cars had been invented by then). Just take a look at the picture below to see how pretty it looks. This message brought to you by Getting To Try Out Cool Stuff Because I Have A Blog.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In Which I Actually Praise The President

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • If you missed either of the last two "The Soup Presents" episodes, you missed Joel McHale bashing President Bush pretty harshly. Not a surprise -- he's a) rational and b) a regular guest on "Countdown" -- but it's still unexpected on a pop culture show on E!. In the funnier of the two references (no video available, unfortunately), he also slides in a reference to Obama winning the election. Kudos, Joel; I like my comedy real.
    • This is the anti-McCain ad that Planned Parenthood debuted during "Project Runway" tonight. I'm a big fan. It's based on this very awkward video from last week when McCain was asked about statements that surrogate Carly Fiorina made.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Here is the latest from JibJab. I'm sure you've already seen it. It's their best yet.
    • Yeah, I stayed up and watched the whole All-Star Game last night. Just a little tired this morning. The extra innings were the best part, by far, though; the defensive wizardry of Miggy Tejada and Russell Martin was tremendous.
  • Daily Rave:
    • The Senate passed the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) tonight, including the John Kerry/Gordon Smith amendment striking down the ridiculous HIV immigration ban. A big congratulations and thank you to (wait for it... wait for it...) the President for being a champion of something so important to America and the world. Here is the write-up by Andrew Sullivan, who as an HIV-positive foreign national has more to gain than most.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Sense Of Humor You Can Believe In

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • I've been sleeping on baseball a bit this year. I track the fantasy team daily, but I haven't actually watched a whole lot. With this in mind, I made sure to watch as much of the All-Star game as possible. No belly itchers here -- solid pitching is the name of the game. It is exciting to see some up and coming young stars out there, like Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria.
    • Bought the Coldplay CD, Viva La Vida. I haven't listened to all of it yet, but what stands out so far is the remarkable production value. Everything sounds so crisp that even a sound as small as a hi-hat means something to the overall mix.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • You may have seen a commercial for the new Loaded Steakhouse burger from Burger King. Yes, it has a baked potato topping. Yummy! What can be bad about putting artificial baked potato with chives and bacon bits on a fast food burger?!? Apparently, a lot (enjoy the disgusting pictures).
    • Today is July 15. One must wonder that if Julius Ceasar was warned to beware the Ides of March, should Bobby Flay's wife Stephanie March (sorry, not too many people with the name) beware the Ides of July?
    • One of the cool features of Microsoft Word that is rarely used is Numbering. We all use the Bullets half (obviously, I use them a lot on this blog), but the Numbering part is used all too rarely, I find.
  • Daily Rant:
    • You know, I'm actually starting to come around on the The New Yorker cover. My gut reaction when I first saw it is that it will feed those who actually believe that crap. But, those people are going to believe it no matter what and they're probably not reading The New Yorker. I think my problems come down to a lack of context on first sight of the cartoon. There's no caption or preview of what articles are inside. I'll speak for a lot of Obama supporters when I say that we're hugely sensitive because of the small but loud (and media-covered) racism and the stupid Muslim stuff. So after some thought, it's clever satire and I'm certainly against censorship. The relatively silent but vast majority of people don't believe the junk and they are smart enough to either laugh at it or shrug it off. Heck, let's open it up for all of the magazines to do stuff like this. It's the only way we'll lighten up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

There's Something About Music

I have to admit that I have avoided this whole blog-writing venture. I've left it entirely in my dear husband's hands, and, until now, I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting Random Babbles as an innocent bystander. Having studied English in college, I am a lover of the written word, and, in typical perfectionist fashion, I am quite critical of my own writing, never quite allowing myself the creative license that seems to now rear its ugly head. So, I ask that you now indulge this rare moment of writer's inspiration.

After taking a cue from my sister, who managed to win a Bose sound system from a Bay Area news station, I've embarked on a mini-career of entering radio contests for fabulous prizes. Last night we took advantage of some free tickets and ventured out to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts to see Hootie and the Blowfish in concert. I have never been a Hootie fan, mostly due to a teenage desire to buck popular trends. If scads of people were running towards the Blowfish in a fit of musical adoration, I fervently stayed put or even ran in the opposite direction. It wasn't that I disliked their music - in fact, I often found myself singing with the radio without even realizing it - I simply didn't want to be one of the sheep all going along with this popular trend and craze. I fully admit this is a faulty approach to life - I nearly missed out on Harry Potter! The contest entry was born out of my love for good, free entertainment, as well as the acknowledgement that DH has been a big fan of the band for years - I knew he'd enjoy the concert.

I've always loved music - playing it, listening to it, even singing along with a favorite band, albeit horribly off-key (there's a reason I joined the band, NOT the choir). In the middle of the concert, though, I had a sudden strange realization. The show had been a fun mix of some of those mid-90s radio standards as well as some nice covers and lesser known (to me) selections. All of a sudden, the band broke into "Hold My Hand," and I suddenly felt a little warm and fuzzy. Music is great because it causes you to feel something, perhaps remember something, or even whisk you away to a certain time and place. Even though I hadn't been a Hootie fan, this one song (or even most of their songs from "Cracked Rear View") was almost like a nice security blanket. It felt comfortable, like an old friend I hadn't talked to in a while, but I was all too excited to visit with. It got me to thinking... what are my top comfort songs?

So, in typical Rob Fleming fashion, I'm offering up my own list of top 5 Comfort Songs - these are my happy-place songs. Whenever these pop up on the radio or my iPod, I smile and feel a little bit at home:

5. Birdhouse in Your Soul - They Might be Giants, Flood (1990) - to be fair, I doubt I was aware of this song as an 11 year old - I don't remember when I discovered this band, but oh, such fun!
4. Old Apartment - Barenaked Ladies, Born on a Pirate Ship (1996) - If I had to pick just one BNL song, this would be it. Just love it.
3. Hold my Hand - Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracked Rear View (1994) - surprising, I know. I couldn't not put this on the list since it was the inspiration for this entire venture
2. The Luckiest - Ben Folds, Rockin' the Suburbs (2001) - You'll notice that this is the only song that didn't originate in the 90s and during my high school career. This is a personal favorite for entirely different reasons.
1. Mr. Jones - Counting Crows, August and Everything After (1993) - By far my favorite song ever, and this from someone who hates to be tied down to a "favorites" list. I will never tire of this song.

So, I thank you for humoring my little blog entry. I admit that this list is not carved in stone - it does alter and shift depending on my mood, and I certainly could have easily made it into a top 10 list.

I now turn it over to you - what are your favorite comfort songs/bands/albums?

And They Are Indisputable (Music Edition)

These are the facts:

  • A few music thoughts tonight. I'll start with a sort of somber one. Of all the versions of "Little Boxes" played on "Weeds", the most famous actual recording of the song is the one by Pete Seeger that plays as Agrestic burns at the end of the third season. Pete Seeger will always have a special place in my heart. When I was 12, my father passed away while we were away at an annual folk festival that Seeger runs in upstate New York. My mom sent a letter to Pete Seeger telling him about how much my father had liked him. Seeger wrote back personally, a long letter. He's one of the great classic American singers and obviously a good person as well.
  • My wife won tickets through a radio station's website to tonight's Hootie and the Blowfish concert at Wolf Trap. It had been, to my best recollection, almost three years since I had been to a real concert (the last one was Ben Folds playing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra).
  • The opening act was the Drew Davis Band, a country rock band from LA. I was a little hesitant about a country band, but they were actually pretty good. This country rock sound, popular now from bands like Big & Rich or Rascal Flatts, is based on the sound of classic rock, Southern or otherwise. In fact, this set included covers of a Skynyrd song and an Eagles song. After their set, they signed autographs (under a small overhang in the pouring rain, no less) and we went by after buying their CD. I was a bit taken aback when they all stuck out their hands, unprovoked, to introduce themselves and shake hands. Nice guys.
  • Then came the Hootie set, and they were freaking fantastic. I'm a big fan but it was my first time seeing them live. You forget how many huge hits they've had and they played everything you'd want, including my two favorite of their songs (both from 1998's Musical Chairs), "Desert Mountain Showdown" and "Wishing". They played for a long time, ending the main set with "Hold My Hand" (the set also included a cover of "Losing My Religion" that brought down the house), ending the first encore with a great cover of "Champagne Supernova", and then closing the show with "Only Wanna Be With You". Strong, strong performance. As my friend said, they'll be one of those bands that can tour forever. Their music is poppy enough to be relatively timeless and they had enough hits that people in a certain age group will always want to hear them.
  • One funny note on the show. Fans of Tony Kornheiser's radio show know that he's very good friends with the guys from Hootie and the Blowfish (they recorded a version of his mailbag song). Fans will also know that Mr. Tony hates Led Zeppelin. Right before Hootie played their famous version of Zeppelin's "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do?", frontman Darius Rucker said something along the lines of: "My favorite person in the sports world is here tonight, Tony Kornheiser. This song is for you." For the probably very few at the park that were in on the joke, it warranted a laugh.
  • I have to go to more concerts. It was too much fun.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ah, But There Was A Murder

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Still going with "Weeds", but getting close to being caught up. I don't love the third season as much as the other two, it's dark but not quite so funny. Well, that is until one specific Pro-Life joke that was first shocking for a second and then fall-down funny.
    • Woefully behind on news shows. I think I have three "Countdown" episodes to go along with the usual "Chris Matthews Show" and "Meet The Press" tomorrow. I'm sure I'll find something in there that will tick me off enough to rant about.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Went out third in the monthly poker tournament tonight. I was short stack, though not by a ton, and was looking at 4s under the gun. The one fold, one person raised a small amount, I called. Flop came 2-7-8. I pushed all-in. I figured the other player had a high card because of the raise, and the low cards would favor my low pair. They called (after some thought) and showed A-7. I was half right. After a 6 hit on fourth street, I was looking at a straight draw and 6 outs (15% of the 40 remaining cards). No luck, though. It's a bit more loose-aggressive than I would normally play, but I think it was reasonable logic.
    • For any "Journeyman" (and "Rome") fans, it looks like Kevin McKidd will be joining "Grey's Anatomy" this fall.
    • This is the "Clip of the Week" segment from this week's "The Soup", but really I'm linking to it because of the new intro. Lou rocks. If I let my dog wear clothing, I'd totally get him this shirt.
  • Daily Rant:
    • Can we lay off of A-Rod, please? I have a damn fantasy championship to win.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

We're All In Little Boxes

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Here's a good question: Is "Weeds" actually a chick show? I say yes -- the main character is a woman, all of the women have strong personalities, and all of the men (except Conrad) are buffoons or psychos. Discuss.
    • My DVR is growing overfilled and neglected. There are two "Soup" episodes sitting there unwatched. What have I become?
    • An interesting column in the Post this morning about HBO programming. Entourage" got pushed back because of the writer's strike and "Curb" is almost definitely coming back. Of course, Sunday marks the premiere of "Generation Kill", the new David Simon series. You know it's going to be great.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • There's a new actual Scrabble brand app in development for Facebook and I've gotten a chance to play with it a little. I'll go more in depth soon, but it's great and it is light years ahead of Scrabulous, which I tolerate but don't love.
    • I think Guitar Hero is giving me carpal tunnel syndrome.
    • Believe me, we'll take him!
  • Daily Rant:
    • Using speakerphone to call someone who sits ten feet away -- not as a joke -- is not cool. It's just not.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Dog Days Begin To Nip At Our Heels

I'm pretty much at a loss for words. I've spent the last three nights furiously watching "Weeds", which is (I'll say it again) fantastic. There's a monologue early in the second season where Andy is talking to Shane about becoming a man that is one of the funnier things I've seen on TV. The Jesse Jackson and Phil Gramm quotes were both ridiculous, but who can work up that much anger at such blatant stupidity? So, there you go, a quiet July week. Four weeks until the Olympics and seven until the conventions.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

McCain's Fear-Mongering Steps Over The Line

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • When I first saw the previews last year for Into The Wild, I immediately assumed it was essentially porn for liberals. Poor rich kid, boo hoo, needs to find himself so he goes on a grand adventure to Alaska. As I watched it tonight, I found myself hoping early on that he would get eaten by a grizzly, a la Grizzly Man. By the end, though, the film is very moving. Emile Hirsch does great work in it and the ending definitely left me thinking.
    • I'm behind on the news, since it was announced on Monday, but I'm pretty psyched that Dan Patrick is joining "Football Night in America" (the best football show on TV, by the way) and not at the expense of Costas. It's hard to remember that "Sportscenter" was actually appointment TV when Patrick and Olbermann were doing "The Big Show" on Sunday night. They're back together and that should only make a great show that much better.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Here is the Jesse Jackson video. It works out so well for Obama that Jesse is attacking him (makes him look normal, centrist, and non-threatening) that the slightest conspiracy theories have to creep into one's mind.
    • Josh Hamilton's walk-off shot tonight gives him 90 RBI for the season. 90 with a week to go until the break!
  • Daily Rant:

I was actually going to make this the whole post tonight, but I've calmed down a bit. I saw a second of "Hardball" this evening and Matthews mentioned that McCain had made some comment about a second Holocaust that could be incendiary. Here's the quote from McCain's interview with Katie Couric this evening: "This is part of a calculated plan-developing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. And nations led by all of our European friends as well as other countries-we have to impose meaningful, tough, effective sanctions on the Iranians to modify their behavior. We cannot ever allow a second Holocaust." He said the same thing in his interview yesterday with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

I'm absolutely floored. Being Jewish, I'm offended to the heart of my soul for two reasons. First, it frightens and saddens me that anyone would use the Holocaust for political gain. Even the impression that someone was doing it is tantamount to disrespecting the millions of people, Jewish and otherwise, who were murdered. Second, while Ahmedinajad has promised to "wipe Israel off of the map", the term "Holocaust" ,with its connotation for the past seventy or so years, is not appropriate here to begin with. Hitler desired to wipe out the Jewish people. Not take their land, not make sure they don't have a country -- to completely destroy them. At the risk of sounding like I'm defending a madman, I don't believe that is Iran's aim.

I haven't seen coverage of this in the press so far and nothing I can say or write will bring this to any attention en masse. Maybe we're used to Giuliani exploiting 9/11 for politics, but I can't stand quietly as McCain throws around the word "Holocaust" with improper context. It is inexcusable.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sankara Stone Oven Pizza

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • So we tore through the entire first season of "Weeds" in two nights. We have the second disk coming tomorrow, but we caught it all already on Watch Instantly, so we'll just send it right back. Great, great show.
    • This article from Time on the candidates' gambling preferences has caused a bit of a stir. One of them enjoys throwing large sums of money at something where they have less than a 50% chance of winning. The other enjoys taking few risks and betting what little money he does gamble on his own skill. I know which one I take after more. Which profile would you rather have leading the country?
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Go deeper into this site and you'll figure out pretty quickly it's a joke. An amusing one. "Third Term's The Charm!"
    • I'm absolutely disrespecting sleep this week. There are kids on Elm Street who got to bed faster than I have.
    • I may not be good at home stuff and I may not know most things about cars, but I can change a tire faster than Obama can change his position on FISA or McCain can change his position on the right of a sovereign nation to ask an occupying force to leave. I got the opportunity to show off that skill tonight and I did not disappoint. Actually, I don't think I changed the tire, nor did I flip-flop from the original to a spare. I matured in my opinion of correct wheel maintenance.
  • Daily Rant:
    • Went to that bastion of fine dining, Cici's, for dinner tonight. We needed something quick. They actually had a pizza that had tomatoes, green pepper, onions, mushrooms, and ranch dressing. If they're going to put all that crap on something, what they need to do is make a small improvement in my favorite of their stomach-destroying fare. They have a pepperoni and jalapeno that is good, but burns your heart faster than Mola Ram. Now, a pepperoni, jalapeno, and Pepcid pizza? I'm all over that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Freedom... Yeah, Right

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • With Showtime now, we just started watching "Weeds" on DVD in order to catch up. Hilarious. Plus, Mary-Louise Parker shares my birthday, which is awesome.
    • This is a really well-done discussion of the political themes in Wall-E. It's all spoiler, so don't read it if you haven't seen the movie. Instead, go see it and then read the article.
    • I really have very little desire to see Hancock, but I'm curious to know what the crazy twist is that apparently ruins the movie. I can wait for DVD, I suppose (I know there are plenty of sites to find it, but that's no fun).
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • This is fairly interesting. Not shocking, but it's always nice to see in print.
    • Now that I'm a homeowner, a friend asked me if I had been to Home Depot more than once a week. It's true that my Home Depot visits have gone up to once or twice a month from, let's see, about zero times a year, but I can't change over that easily. Today, I went to a store to see about a lawn mower, but they didn't have what I wanted. So I could wander around to see about some other potential projects or I could hit the Best Buy next door and window shop the Wii aisle. Not much of a choice.
  • Daily Rant:
    • They say that conversation is as much body language as anything else. If that's the case, why are some people horribly oblivious to it? Let's posit, for instance, that you're talking to someone and the other person is fidgeting, crossing and uncrossing their arms, looking over their shoulder constantly, and taking little steps away. Don't you think you'd let them be free, for God's sake?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

An All Sports Sunday

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • What a bourgie sports-viewing day I had today (I think I've decided to start linking to Urban Dictionary whenever I use a slang word, for accessibility's sake). I woke up around 9 and watched, when I wasn't napping, the seven hours of Wimbledon coverage. Then, I turned to watch the end of the golf tournament. I did sneak in five minutes of "Baseball Tonight", but then it was on to the last night of the swimming trials. I think I'm going to have to watch And 1 mix tapes tomorrow in order to come down to earth a little.
    • McEnroe said that today's match was the greatest he had ever seen and I don't watch enough tennis to know if that's an exaggeration. The word "epic" definitely applied to this one. Nadal jumped out to an early lead and looked like he would run away with it, but Federer wouldn't let go. They battled for well over four hours, through rain delay and as night began to fall. Maybe men's tennis is relatively dead at this point -- on the scale from heavyweight boxing to NFL, it's well closer to boxing -- but this had all the drama you'd ever want from a sporting event.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • I don't know if there were any huge snubs on the All-Star rosters. I'm a little surprised that there were only two Rays and maybe David Wright's deserving of more respect than being in the Final Vote. I think in the AL, you have to go with Longoria for the last spot. He's got the buzz, he's on the best team, and they may have already given him Rookie of the Year last week.
    • People do a lot dumb things, but this has to be way up there. On a totally unrelated note, tomorrow is the Festival of San Fermin, which includes the Running of the Bulls.
  • Your List Sucks!: Top 5 Active Jewish Athletes
    • 5. Jordan Farmar (PG, L.A. Lakers) -- Farmar was All-PAC-10 while at UCLA and he improved this year, his second in the NBA, becoming an important piece on the Western Conference Champions.
    • 4. Marty Turco (G, Dallas Stars) -- Turco helped lead the Stars into the Western Conference Finals this year.
    • 3. Kevin Youkilis (1B, Boston Red Sox) -- Youk (the "Greek God of Walks" from Moneyball) has become a key player on the World Champions.
    • 2. Dara Torres (Olympic Swimmer) -- Torres, at 41, qualified for two events in Beijing during this year's trials. Her first Olympics were the L.A. games in 1984 and during her last Olympics, in Sydney in 2000, she was already the oldest member of the U.S. Swimming Team.
    • 1. Ian Kinsler (2B, Texas Rangers) -- Kinsler went 20-20 last year and is currently leading the AL in Avg, Hits, Total Bases, and Extra-Base Hits. He was named to his first All-Star team this afternoon.

Potomac, 20854

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Watched the Grindhouse double feature (available on Starz On Demand) tonight. Both of the movies are good examples of the director's work, with the first one, Planet Terror from Rodriguez, being a shoot-'em-up horror film along the lines of From Dusk 'Til Dawn, with a similar-ish ending. I think the zombie thing is a little played out though, and while it tries to channel Romero, I prefer Peter Jackson's Dead Alive or the best, Raimi's Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. Man, do I love Evil Dead 2. The second movie, Death Proof, is fantastic. It's Tarantino's homage to stuntmen, specifically stunt driving. Great dialogue, a few choice Pulp Fiction references, and a scene shot like the opening of Reservoir Dogs, but with a creepy twist to it. I'm a bigger Tarantino fan than a Rodriguez one (I think most people are), so take that into account when I say I would recommend Death Proof and I could take or leave Planet Terror, if you have to split up the two.
    • Most of the day was spent down at Congressional, watching live golf. It was hot and it was a lot of walking, but golf gives you the best value for your sporting event dollar. You can watch as much as nine or ten hours of action, you're not confined to one seat, and you can get up right next to the athletes. Of course DC humidity for nine or ten hours isn't too much fun, but it's well worth it.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • At one point, one of the golfers three-putted and it made me feel great, because I could have three-putted from where he was in my sleep. Heck, I could have probably got it down in two without too much trouble. On the next hole, the same golfer proceeded to chip out of a bunker that was deeper than he was tall and get it to within five feet of the pin. I'll never be able to do that on the luckiest day of my lifetime. So much for feeling good about my inconsistent and very, very average golf game.
    • Walking around the course, we happened to catch a glimpse of some of Potomac's hidden mansions through the trees. They were big. How big were they? They were so big that they didn't have floor plans, only maps. They were so big that I heard an echo coming from the inside of one of them of a golf shot from last year. They were so big that one of them was dating Elizabeth Perkins and dancing on a piano mat.
  • Daily Rant:
    • I've decided that most or all of my strong pet peeves boil down to not caring for people who take themselves too seriously. Who can put up with that type of person, acting like they're better than everyone else, that they don't want to stoop to the level of the common person? I think it comes from deep insecurities, where they want to project an air of perfection so that they cover up their self-perceived faults and I don't much care to hang out with anyone who is so deeply insecure that they can't function warmly in a social setting. No fun.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Fourth Is A Fourth, Of Course, Of Course

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • "30 Days" this week dealt with someone who believes in strict gun control going to live with gun enthusiasts. I realized while watching it that one's belief on gun control is one of those things that never really changes. Sort of like with one's feelings on choice; once you have your stance, it's extremely unlikely that anything will change it. Personally, I disagree with the Supreme Court's ruling on Heller, but I guess that can't be too surprising to anyone who's ever read this blog.
    • I finished The Bonfire of the Vanities today. It's extraordinary -- Wolfe does a fantastic job of creating a number of well-rounded characters and setting them up as heroes and villains, then twisting everything 180 degrees so by the end you're rooting for the people you hated originally and vice versa. This book is strongly recommended.
    • Now it's on to Chuck Palahniuk's Rant. If you've never read Palahniuk, just know that Fight Club is one of the most tame of his books. He's like a no-limits Vonnegut.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • I opened up the Post this morning and saw a blurb at the bottom of A1 that made me tear through everything until I got to the Style section. Back in March, I wrote a line about arguably the greatest news story of all time, the saga of Buddy, Ollie, and Moe. Today, we find out that Moe has escaped and we get an update on the whole story.
    • I don't care if you like McCain, this is pretty funny.
    • "Twilight Zone" marathon again today on SciFi. Great chance to fill up the new DVR.
  • Daily Rant:
    • Happy Birthday, America. Here's hoping, regardless of what happens in November, that we're all a lot happier with you when #233 comes around.

Transcending a Medium: The Surprising Greatness of Wall-E

There's a point where something unexpectedly great takes on a critical mass and one has to partake of it before they are passed by. It becomes sort of a look into the workings behind Malcolm Gladwell's tipping point. My best illustration is when The Sixth Sense came out and everyone was abuzz about the ending; I made sure to see it so as not to have it ruined for me, then immediately called all of my friends to tell them that they had to go for the same reason. So it is that I found myself itching to, and finally tonight going to, see Wall-E.

There had been a little buzz because people thought the trailer was cute, but not so much buzz as for Shrek or Toy Story. These CGI movies are kind of old hat by now. We know it's Disney or Disney-like, so we know that it's going to be cutsie with enough double-entendre to keep the adults from being completely bored. Rotten Tomatoes gave this movie 98%, but there are plenty of movies that score that high that I might not want to see for various reasons (say, they're kid movies, for instance). Then, everyone that I talked to who had seen it raved about the movie and then references to Wall-E started showing up on political blogs, of all places. I was intrigued, I had to see what it was all about, I didn't want a cultural phenomenon to pass me by. So, after saying as recently as two days ago that I was happy to wait for DVD, I went to the theater this evening and tried to keep my mind as open as possible and my expectations reasonable.

Now, after two paragraphs of set-up, here's where I destroy your ability to keep those expectations reasonable. Wall-E is the best movie of this year so far, hands-down, by a million miles. Even more so, Wall-E is the greatest movie Pixar has ever made. Better than Toy Story, better than Finding Nemo. It's brilliant -- touching, prophetic, subversive, emotional. More than anything else, it may be a G-rated animated film, but it sure as heck isn't a kid's movie.

Wall-E tells the story of an Earth destroyed by mass-consumerism to the point where it can no longer sustain life. Humans have left for space, where they wait for robots to clean up the planet so they can return. Only one of these robots is still functioning, a lonely trash compactor who watches an old musical at night and dreams about having a companion. When a spaceship lands and a mysterious and futuristic robot begins to explore the area, Wall-E thinks he may have finally found someone and will do anything and go anywhere to make sure he's never lonely again.

Putting aside the thematic aspects for a second, the technical quality of the movie is tremendous. P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood was renowned last year partly for a minimal opening sequence with no dialogue for 15 minutes or so. Wall-E has basically no dialogue for the first 30 minutes (and very little dialogue throughout), but the film-making sets up the story better than Anderson did, with techniques that make the animation look like actual film. You really feel the desolation and loneliness and the dust in the air adds a grittiness that is uncommon in CGI fare. Different cinematography for different settings sharpens the feel you get at certain times and there is one scene that is as visually beautiful as anything from sci-fi classics such as 2001 or Alien (which are both referenced often in the film).

But what sets this movie apart are the thematic aspects, and here's where I was stunned. Wall-E is more political and, yes, subversive than any Disney movie I can remember. Having been to Disneyland recently, I was struck by how Disney movies are relatively straight morality tales. Snow White takes something from a stranger and she almost dies. Pinocchio gets lazy and gluttonous and he is turned into a donkey. Wall-E has some of these simplistic ideas, speaking to how our own gluttony is destroying the environment and turning us into obese Epicurean morons, but it also has some very complex attacks on how easily fascism can spring from our culture. This is why I can't see it as really a children's movie. Kids might understand the great love story, but they won't grasp the idea that when business and government become indistinguishable, we literally become slaves to our own greed. They may think screwy robots are funny, but they won't see why physical contact takes on such huge import in the constructs of the film. You can even look for a quick, but surprisingly blatant, bit of mockery of our President.

There are those great things that we can see coming and those that take us by surprise. Nobody had to rush to see Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List lest they miss out on a phenomenon, but The Sixth Sense came out of nowhere because it changed our preconceptions of a horror movie. So too does Wall-E, by setting a politically-aware romantic drama in a world of CGI robots, change the preconception of an animated movie. It has set the bar not only for all future animated films, but it is the first movie this year that merits talk of a Best Picture nomination.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Will Cindy Keep Them Out of California?

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • I'm finally caught up on news shows and what a horrible episode of "Meet the Press" on Sunday. It was weird because it wasn't at the usual set, plus the taped interview with Schwarzenegger was lit so badly that it looked like CGI. It didn't help that Arnold tried to tell a joke or two and Brokaw sat there stone-faced.
    • I logged into my Guitar Hero account and this video popped up. Funny. There was also this one for Archuleta.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • See this this morning? Liar.
    • What's with Joe Lieberman going everywhere with McCain? They're the Jay and Silent Bob of the Republican party. Or Laurel and Hardy, if I were to make a McCain-esque reference and if Laurel and Hardy had ever described themselves as "heterosexual life partners".
    • I mentioned yesterday. Here's Nate Silver from that site writing a really good piece about the Rays for Baseball Prospectus.
  • Daily Rant:
    • You know it doesn't bode well for a work day when you carpool to work as the passenger and you sleep all the way to the office. Hard to get going after that.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Undue Process

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Getting into the swimming a little. Still not up on all of the technical stuff, but it's pretty apparent that Phelps is considerably better than everyone else.
    • I've been meaning to stick a blogroll up on the left side. Right now, the go-tos (they change every so often) are Andrew Sullivan, DailyKos, Marc Ambinder, and
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • I'm not mad at Tiger for not showing up this weekend. I'm paying to see him play, not walk around. If he can't play, I don't really care if I see him wave from a golf cart.
    • On my baseball preview, I had Tampa as the most underrated team. It wasn't a huge stretch, but they are really legitimately good.
  • Daily Rant:
    • Had an interesting conversation at work today about the death penalty. My thoughts: If there's even the smallest, slightest chance that someone who might be innocent could be executed, I don't think we should have it. Otherwise, I have no philosophical problem with it. Regardless of what you think about it, this story about the alleged cop-killer being murdered in his cell is beyond horrible. I hope it opens up deeper looks into our justice system.