Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday Story Hour: More Bolaño

It's the last day of January which, this year, is International Roberto Bolaño Month. So we should celebrate with more Bolaño, right?

Today's short story is from Bolaño's collection translated into English as Last Evenings on Earth. If you're reading Bolaño, Fosco heartily recommends this collection. You probably shouldn't read it until you've read 2666 or The Savage Detectives or both. I suspect that this collection would be somewhat inaccessible without some prior experience with Bolaño. But once you've gotten the feel for Bolaño's voice, this collection is an absolute delight.

The stories tend to have a narrator similar to Bolaño himself (whatever that means), often identified only as "B." Readers of his major novels will recognize details from those books--sometimes "biographical." Most of the stories in this collection are concerned with moments in Latin American literature, usually invented: stories about writers and books, author encounters. But what's wonderful here is not the plots, but rather the tales and the voice that tells them. There is a palpable joy in the telling of these stories and it's easy to get caught up in it.

The best story in the collection is probably "Anne Moore's Life." I would love to be able to offer this story to you today, but it is unavailable online. If you can get a hold of it, it is exceptional.

Instead, today's selection is a story originally published in English in The New Yorker called "Gómez Palacio." You can read it on the New Yorker's website here.

It's a strange story in some ways, more disconnected than some of the other stories in the collection. In fact, it may seem to you like a recounting of a number of completely unconnected incidents (which it is, more or less). But many of the standard Bolaño themes are there: how can you try to be a poet in a place like Mexico? How do you make sense of random experience? And, to what extent should we trust the written word? Should we trust memory? After all, as Bolaño's narrator notes, as he relates a detail in the story: "But it’s unlikely, like most things in this story."

Read it and pop back with comments, if you like.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Golden Delicious

"Foodie Friday" continues here at Fosco Lives!

This past week was the annual Bocuse d'Or competition in Lyon, France--a sort of "culinary Olympics" for the best French-style chefs in the world. The competition is named for legendary French chef Paul Bocuse, who with typical Gallic modesty, also lends his name to the eponymous award. Interestingly, the literal translation of bocuse d'or is "golden narcissist," which seems appropriate when you see the winner's trophy:

Yes, that is the actual figure of Paul Bocuse standing atop the globe. In gold. This guy makes Donald Trump look like Mother Teresa.

But despite Bocuse's Rick Warren-like self-regard, the competition is still a deadly serious event, with many European countries following it as closely as sporting competitions. The competition takes place over two days and is something of an endurance test. Each country that participates is allowed one team, led by one chef. This year, the American chef was Timothy Hollingsworth, the sous-chef at the best restaurant in the US, Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Napa. Hollingsworth won the privilege last September and has worked full-time since then with his team to prepare for the competition. Like I said, this is serious.

The New York Times covered this year's competition quite well (how will we live when they no longer exist?). You can watch this short video explaining the competition and describing its strange football-game atmosphere.

If you prefer your culinary competitions to have a bit of a Top Chef twist, then you will definitely appreciate this report from the competition that describes how the first day's ingredient (Norwegian prawns) were given to the chefs frozen. As the Times notes,

“It was the surprise of the day!” said Christian Têtedoie, a member of the official organizing committee, who once won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, considered the most prestigious cooking award in France. He offered no other comment except to shrug his shoulders, tap his clipboard and walk away.
Eek! What would Tom and Padma say?

The good news is that, unlike previous years, all of the chefs lived through the ordeal. The bad news (for rabidly patriotic Americans like Fosco) is that the American chef, Mr. Hollingsworth, came in sixth. The winner was Norway. Or Sweden. Or something like that. Luckily, you can read about why Mr. Hollingsworth failed. It turns out there was a minor snafu with plating (I told you this thing is serious):
“It was very difficult to plate the fish,” he added. “This was the first time I was with these servers, it was very difficult. They were working a different way from the way I’m used to working.”

He said he was used to plating all the dishes for one course at one time, but his servers at the competition did it in sets of four.
Nor did things go any better for the home team:
The biggest disappointment was felt by France. Philippe Mille, the 34-year-old Frenchman who is the sous-chef at the three-star Paris restaurant Le Meurice, was a strong candidate, and many expected him to win. But his fish dish came out a minute late, which cost the French team 12 points in the scoring.
Sadly, M. Mille will now be deported to Belgium.

Meal on Wheels

Welcome to a new feature at Fosco Lives!: Foodie Friday. A whole day every week to talk about food. Will it be enough? We'll see.

This is a post dedicated to one of Fosco's very favorite eating experiences: dim sum. In Cantonese, dim sum literally means "a million little pieces." If you've never had dim sum, you're in for a treat someday. Basically, you sit and drink delicious hot tea while Chinese ladies wheel carts of Chinese appetizers past you. Any time you want something, you just point to it and you get to eat it! And you can do it all morning! Then later, when you're completely stuffed, you receive an inexplicably high bill that seems to bear no relation to the food you ate. It's a pretty amazing experience.

Fosco and Oz go about once a month on Sunday morning to their favorite dim sum restaurant, San Francisco's famous Yank Sing. Yank Sing has a lovely website that has a gorgeous gallery of dim sum items (although not all of our favorites appear). We tend to get Yank Sing's signature Shanghai dumplings, potstickers, spring rolls, steamed bao, sticky rice, turnip cake (Fosco's favorite), and one or three other items depending on our mood. And, of course, Fosco has to have an egg custard tart and mango pudding for dessert. It's better than church!

SFGate ran a feature on SF's dim sum houses this week, finding 46 of them in the area. Yank Sing reviewed well, of course (their Shanghai dumplings are accurately described as "the stuff of dreams"). The SFGate piece also offers some advice for enjoying dim sum for the first time, but not all of it is correct. For example, the SFGate's expert suggests that you should

Order one thing at a time. Although it's tempting to grab everything that looks good as the carts roll by, Chiang recommends getting one item at a time. Finish your first dish before moving on to the next. "I like to eat it in courses," she says. "That way, everything stays hot," which, she explains, is the most important thing when eating dim sum. Nobody likes a cold dumpling.
This is wrong, of course. The key to a satisfying dim sum experience is to grab as much as you can every time a cart goes by. If you don't have 4-5 dishes on your table, then you're not doing it right. And you don't have to worry about the food getting cold as long as you eat it fast enough. Hint: conversation is what you do after lunch.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

News Roundup: Gov. Sunshine, Man-Goblin, and the Bluth family

Governor Sunshine's post-impeachment press conference was absolutely thrilling, especially the desperation that sneaks into his voice as he offers to play basketball with some local kid. This is fun of the highest order.

But, there were actually loads of other neat items in the news today. Here's a roundup:
  • File under "good news." As per Defamer, Jeffrey Tambor assures "Arrested Development" fans that Michael Cera will definitely participate in the AD movie. Cera's participation had been in question, but Pop Pop has confidence that he can persuade Cera if necessary. Fosco once saw Mr. Tambor live (when Fosco was a member of the studio audience of "Regis and Kathie Lee"--don't ask) and his personal charisma is considerable. I believe he can make this movie happen.

  • You may remember Fosco's admiration for Brenda "Wire-haired Man-goblin" Warner. Well, Brenda and her husband, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, are the subject of an inspirational email that is making the rounds of all well-meaning middle-aged Christian women who don't understand the meaning of the word "spam." You know, like Fosco's Aunt Bonnie.

    According to Deadspin, the email tells the heart-warming story of "Kurtis and Brenda," two crazy kids with little in common except an inexplicable physical attraction and a burning love for Christ. The email plays up lots of more Christian-y aspects of the couple's courtship (yet is curiously silent on the subject of saddlebacking). The best part of the story, however, is all the basic facts that it gets wrong, and usually in such a way as to make the story less interesting (oddly enough). Here's a quote from the Deadspin piece:
    Brenda was never a checkout girl. She met Kurt when he was still in college and before his career took its unfortunate turn for the worse. (She actually stuck with him, despite his many football failures.) They were together five years before they got married, not one. Her son, Zachary, is actually her oldest child and he doesn't have Down's Syndrome. His birth father dropped him on his head when he was an infant, leading to brain damage and blindness. (The trauma of that incident let to the father leaving Brenda, while she was pregnant with her second child.) Also, left out: the tornado that killed Brenda's parents in 1996; the spider bite that cost Kurt a tryout with the Bears; and Brenda's first career as a freakin' Marine.
    Wow. Put that all together and I think you have the best white trash epic since The Grapes of Wrath.

  • And that Steinbeck reference provides a nice segue to this bit of local news from the San Jose Mercury News. A restaurant war on Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf has erupted and it's gotten nasty. Apparently, the hosts at one restaurant have been dumping another restaurant's pagers into the ocean. It happens like this (now follow along here, it gets a little complicated):
    1. Prospective customers go to Restaurant 1 where they are placed on a waitlist and given a pager.
    2. Prospective customers walk along the wharf while they wait for their pager to summon them.
    3. Prospective customers are accosted by the host at Restaurant 2 who notes that they can be seated immediately at said Restaurant 2.
    4. When the prospective customers agree to be seated at Restaurant 2, the host at Restaurant 2 claims that he/she will return the unneeded pager to Restaurant 1.
    5. Restaurant 2 host does not return the pager, but rather drops it into into Monterey Bay, where it immediately becomes a choking hazard for curious sea lions. Okay, I made up the sea lion part.
    Believe it or not, this sequence of events was established in a sting by two undercover police officers (Monterey doesn't have drugs or murder, apparently). A diver(!) "reportedly discovered seven pagers on the sea floor under [Restaurant 2]. During another dive, three more pagers were found."

Dressing One's Boyfriend: Raf Simons

If Fosco ever wins the academic lottery, he might just start playing dress-up with his boyfriend Oz. Not that Oz doesn't dress well (he does); however, there is always room for some expensive labels in a handsome man's closet. And Oz is indeed a handsome man.

And if Fosco's windfall shows up tomorrow, he will probably buy Oz this coat from Belgian designer Raf Simons (go ahead click on the photo to get a sense of the fabric--that's what makes this coat great).

Also, while perusing Simons's Autumn-Winter 2008-2009 collection, Fosco had to wonder: does the Estate of Mark Rothko get a residual from every sale of this sweater?

Seriously, though, that is a pretty sharp sweater.

From the Annals of "Holy Crap!"

I've been meaning to mention this for a couple of weeks. From SFGate:

Science closing in on cloak of invisibility.


Of course, as cool as it sounds, this is going to be an extraordinarily bad thing.

Jeb isn't the only funny one

Years ago, Fosco had a pretty good therapist (probably the best he's had). This was in Virginia and she was an older woman who had a great appreciation for traditional Southern manners (while, at the same time, being very politically liberal). It was around the time that George W. Bush stole his first presidential election and, naturally, Fosco needed to talk about the whole thing in therapy (remember how crushing it was?).

My therapist and I were both repulsed by GWB's callowness, of course. But to Fosco's surprise, she maintained that George H. W. Bush (Old Bush) was to be admired as something of a patrician gentleman--of the old-school Connecticut variety. My therapist was appalled that someone as honorable and well-bred as Old Bush could have produced someone like Young Bush (and she figured that Old Bush must have been appalled as well).

There is something to be said for this schema, I suppose. After all, there were points during GWB's tenure that Old Bush seemed mildly ashamed of his son. And there were certainly points where Young Bush seemed to enjoy thumbing his nose at the older generation of political gentlemen like his father.

Well, I think we can put to rest the question of Old Bush's gentlemanliness with this clip (from yesterday's Jezebel):

Wow. Yuck. It turns out that guy's not exactly a gentleman. He's actually kind of a dick.

Incidentally, Clinton is exactly right. He could never tell that joke in public. Of course, I'm not sure why he would want to.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Isis gotta watch Wapner

Fosco has never had a cat before, but now he's helping to raise Oz's cat Isis. As Fosco has previously noted, he feels some anxiety about Isis's psychological well-being. He spends more time than he should wondering about Isis's thoughts and feelings. And he's actually gotten a little frustrated: what is going on in kitty's head?

That is, until he read this brief note in Sunday's NYT Book Review. Temple Grandin's new book Animals Make Us Human includes some interesting thoughts about cats. According to the review:

In her chapter on cats, she offers advice on how to prevent “cat explosions” at the vet’s office and mentions at least one book, “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome,” that Inside the List would like to get its hands on. “Cats seem autistic,” she writes, “because they don’t come across as being sociable or eager to please like a dog, and also because their faces are kind of blank.”
Fosco thinks this is actually a pretty brilliant way to think about cats. From what he can tell of the book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, it is intended primarily as a teaching tool for people who want to understand Asperger's better; however, based on this summary of the book, it seems to offer a pretty decent description of cat behavior as well. So this is Fosco's new approach to thinking about Isis: she is the feline equivalent of an Asperger kid. And once you realize that, you stop worrying about why she doesn't always want to cuddle or why she sometimes ignores Tina Tuna or she both fears and loves crinkly plastic.

All this means, of course, is that Fosco was using the wrong cognitive model to represent Isis. He was thinking about her as a low-functioning but essentially "normal" human (hmmm, like a baby!). But Isis is not like most neurotypical babies; rather, she may be more like an Asperger or autistic kid. And Fosco can deal with that.

Hell Across the Border

Lately, Fosco (like everyone cool) has been reading Roberto Bolaño. His head has been completely lost in the languid and terrifying city that is the centerpiece of Bolaño's masterpiece, 2666 (the city also appears briefly in several other Bolaño novels). He calls it "Santa Teresa," but it is actually meant to represent Ciudad Juárez. In his work, Bolaño has not only renamed Juárez, but has relocated it from Chihuahua (on the Texas border) to Sonora (on the Arizona border). However, despite this geographical sleight of hand, there is a strong attempt at realism in his depiction of the city.

At its heart, 2666 is something of a murder mystery (although the novel is so sprawling, it is probably wrong to try to pin down its "heart"). The mystery is horrifying: the rape, mutilation, and murder of hundreds of young women over more than a decade. What's more horrifying is that Bolaño is not making this up.

As a 2002 article in Mother Jones notes:

And so Mexico's fourth-largest city retains its nickname as "the capital of murdered women." The city of 1.5 million, where an acrid haze of factory smoke and car exhaust hangs in the air, is known for having one of the highest crime rates in Mexico; in 2001 alone, drug traffickers were blamed for more than 60 execution-style murders. But Juarez is most notorious as a place that draws tens of thousands of young women from small, poor towns to take $55-a-week jobs in assembly plants, known as maquiladoras, operated by some of the wealthiest corporations in the world -- companies like General Electric, Alcoa, and DuPont. More than 60 percent of maquiladora workers are women and girls, many as young as 13 or 14.
In Bolaño's novel, the murders are partly the fault of the globalization-driven culture of the maquiladora. (Sadly, even progressive companies, like the one that employs Fosco's boyfriend Oz, have outsourced to Juárez.) However, there are plenty of other factors that have contributed to this holocaust, including government incompetence, apathy, and malfeasance.

Well, because the truth of the world is that things can always get worse, Ciudad Juárez was in the news again last week. According to an article in the New York Times, Juárez is not just an unsafe place to be a young woman; rather, it is now completely unsafe for anyone. The Times article plays up the irony that Juárez is separated only by the Rio Grande river from El Paso, the third-safest city in America. Juárez, on the other hand, is not safe at all:
El Paso still enjoys its status as one of the safest cities in the United States, while Juárez, a city of 1.5 million that has always been rough, has become a battleground for drug cartels. More than 1,550 people were killed there in drug wars last year.

Worse, other violent crimes — carjacking, extortion, armed robbery — have surged as the beleaguered authorities struggle to respond to daily gun battles.

“It’s strange to be the third-safest city in the United States right next to a war zone,” said Mayor John Cook of El Paso, as he gazed at the ramshackle neighborhoods of Juárez.
Let's do the math. Last year in Juárez, 1,550 people were killed (in drug wars alone!) out of a population of 1.5 million. Last year in El Paso, 16 people were killed out of a population of 600,000. If we convert El Paso's murder rate to make it comparable with city the size of Juárez (a city 2 1/2 times larger), there would have been 40 murders in El Paso last year. What the hell is happening in Juárez?

The problem is drugs, as the Mexican government fights a losing battle with drug cartels. The mayor of El Paso suggests that the Mexican government's intervention is actually to blame for the increase in violence, by upsetting the fragile balance of competing cartels and creating a "turf war." Whatever the cause, things are not going to get better:
The mayor of Juárez, José Reyes Ferriz, says his city suffers from a woefully undermanned and ill-equipped police department, despite programs to recruit new officers and purge scores of corrupt ones. Mr. Reyes estimated that Juárez needed at least 4,000 police officers to take back control of the streets. It has only 1,600.

He said the 3,000 soldiers and federal agents Mr. Calderón had dispatched to quell the violence had had limited success. The soldiers, for instance, know nothing about police work and patrol in long columns, which are easily spotted and avoided.

In the past six months, the killings have become more frequent, more brazen and more gruesome. One body was beheaded and hung from a bridge. Others were stuffed in giant stew pots.

Most of the victims have been young men recruited from other towns to fight for the warring drug kingpins. But at least 40 of the victims have been innocent bystanders, among them a few El Paso residents.

“This is a real war and the city, unfortunately, is the theater for this war,” Mr. Reyes said.
In 2666, Bolaño's Santa Teresa is a version of hell. In 2009, the real Ciudad Juárez is even worse.

Who Was Roberto Bolaño?

Some days, it feels as if Fosco writes about Roberto Bolaño every day (and stay tuned for an upcoming post later this morning). But Fosco isn't the only one who is Bolaño-obsessed right now: Winter 2008-09 is Bolaño's cultural moment in this country, so let's just go along for the ride.

Here's today's installment: Roberto Bolaño may not have been quite as bohemian as he has claimed. According to this article in the NYTimes, Bolaño's widow (from whom he was separated when he died in 2003) and her agent

dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”
Part of the problem here is that always thorny question of the "truthfulness" of writing. You see, Bolaño once wrote a piece called "Beach" in which he claimed a heroin habit. However, the status of that piece as literal truth is in question: was it an autobiographical fragment? A short story? A memoir? In other words, was it fiction or nonfiction? As the article notes,
“Beach” was originally published by the Madrid daily El Mundo in July 2000 as part of a series in which 30 Spanish-language authors were asked to write about the worst summer of their lives. The editor of the newspaper’s literary supplement, Manuel Llorente, said most of the writers responded with “narratives that were clearly and unquestionably autobiographical,” but that he was never sure about the Bolaño contribution.

“I knew Bolaño was a writer who played with reality, who cultivated ambiguities and false identities, so I didn’t care whether the narrative he submitted was true or invented,” Mr. Llorente said in an interview. “To me, the only thing that mattered was its literary value.”
This is a particularly vexed question for an author like Bolaño, who has an alter ego, "Arturo Belano," who appears in several of his works. In others of his stories, the protagonist is called "B" and bears a striking resemblance to Bolaño.

This may seem a bit trivial, especially for those of us who care little about Bolaño's biography. But that's not all. There is the more problematic claim about Bolaño's claims to have been in Chile during the Pinochet coup in 1973 (a formative moment for Latin American leftists). Bolaño's story has become legend:
According to the standard biographical accounts, Mr. Bolaño moved to Mexico in 1968, but returned to Chile in the early 1970s to support the Socialist government of President Salvador Allende. He was then supposedly arrested and jailed during the coup that brought General Pinochet to power on Sept. 11, 1973, but was saved from possible execution and allowed to escape by two guards who were high school classmates and recognized him.
However, this story is now in question:
In the mid-1970s, “we talked a lot about Chile, and it was obvious to me that Roberto had not been there and was letting people think he had,” said Ricardo Pascoe, a Mexican sociologist and diplomat whose home was the setting for some of the parties and readings Mr. Bolaño later described in “The Savage Detectives.” “He would ask me about things that anybody who was there and on the left, or related to the left, would have known.”


He said that he once asked Mr. Bolaño directly if he had been in Chile and “his response was vague enough that it made me want to say, ‘Why don’t you just answer yes or no?’ But I liked him, and our friendship was not based on politics, so I didn’t really mind. But it was clear he had not been there.”
What does this revelation mean for the Bolaño mythology? It's probably not a good thing. It also probably destroys some of his Leftist street cred.

Of course, it should all be pretty much irrelevant to someone (like Fosco) who is more interested in the words that Bolaño (whoever he was) put onto the page than in any of the details of his life. And yet, there are ways in which this kind of biographical information still feels like it adds something to the reading experience. And, to some extent, I think this is the dilemma that Bolaño wants us to be stuck in.

Delusional Mania: Blago v. West

Strangely enough, it is an open question who has brought more joy to Fosco over the last two weeks: Barack Obama (President) or Rod Blagojevich. On the one hand, Obama has made history for African-Americans, led the country back to its true moral values, and spread hope to pretty much everyone. On the other hand, Rod Blagojevich has

Actually, after watching Blago's Rachel Maddow interview last night, Fosco has become a full-scale Blagophile. This guy is like a ray of sunshine in the dark winter of Fosco's discontent. Seriously, this guy's media blitz has been the most fun Fosco has had with television since he got too old for "The Electric Company." He may be "Blagojevich" to you, but to me, he will always be "Governor Sunshine."

I've just never seen anyone who is so politically savvy and so self-aggrandizingly delusional. Well, maybe Sarah Palin comes close. But Blago is just so much more fun to watch! And he can speak in complete sentences (paragraphs, even)! And the chutzpah! To claim that he is being impeached for being too much of a progressive populist. This is the boldest public relations strategy that I could ever imagine. I am thankful every day that he hasn't listened to a word of his lawyer's advice. It takes an amazing man to be so guilty and yet to make me feel sad that he's going to jail (when he's behind bars, who will say the crazy?). You know what I want? A made-for-TV movie: "Executive Privilege: The Rod Blagojevich Story." Oh, and I want him to write a book. Now.

Luckily, while Blago's in the big house, we may be able to count on Kanye West to take up some of the slack in public insanity. Have you seen this unsurpassedly strange little video?

A message from kwest on Vimeo.

I can't decide which part I like best. Is it when he says that he has been forced to change his name to "Martin ‘Louis’ The King Jr." and demands that you "address me as such"? Or is it when he says "I don't know the name of that champagne--it just came with the room"? Or is it the beginning, when he pretends to look up and be surprised by the camera? (Big Ups to Oz for passing this along to me.) Oh Martin "Louis" King Jr., you are working so hard to cheer me up!

UPDATE: The inimitable kungfuramone has diagnosed why Kanye's ramblings are so funny. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RIP America's Most Overesteemed Writer

Fosco Lives! bids a fond farewell to John Updike, known around these parts as The Most Overesteemed Man in American Letters. Updike is well-known for anthropomorphizing bunnies, making sex repulsive, and, well, being John Updike.

Fosco has read several of Updike's novels and each one is more unbearable than the last (especially his gimmicky "home-grown American terrorist" novel). This is not to say that Updike was talentless. Fosco does recall one or two short stories that were pretty good. And Updike's art criticism is pretty decent, especially his meditation on Renoir:

Renoir does not quite rank with the heroic masters of early modern painting--specifically, with his friends Monet and Cézanne. Compared with either, he didn't look hard enough. He saw what he wanted to see, and turned it as he aged into an inward vision, a mythology. [...] The brushstrokes turn greasier, the colors rawer, the drawing vaguer. In the end the people all look Mexican.
This is a critical bullseye, I would say, but we must remember that an occasional perceptive comment should not make one into a titan of American letters (deserving of a front page NYTimes obit).

So how did Updike come to be so overesteemed? The definitive history of this phenomenon is yet to be written; however, Fosco suspects it has something to do with the 1960s-70s and suburban adultery.

Updike had held the title of "Most Overesteemed Man in American Letters" since the death of Norman Mailer in 2007. Mailer had held the title for almost twenty years, with a brief hiatus from 1996-1999 when David Foster Wallace held the distinction.

Who does the title pass on to now? Unfortunately, David Foster Wallace is dead, as is Hunter S. Thompson. Robert Olen Butler may overly esteem himself, but I'm not sure anyone else likes him at all. Philip Roth and Don DeLillo are both highly esteemed, but deservedly so, in Fosco's judgment. Similarly, I think Cormac McCarthy could not be overesteemed. Are there any women who qualify? (After all, this title doesn't have to go to a man.) Again, Fosco believes that the esteem for Toni Morrison is entirely justified.

Richard Ford is a possibility, but he's actually pretty good and people don't really talk about him much anymore. We are probably going to have to go down one tier to find our new titleholder. In the second tier, I think Jeffrey Eugenides is a strong candidate. But instead, I am going to award the title of Most Overesteemed American Man of Letters to Michael Chabon. Chabon is a Pulitzer Prize-winner (for a ridiculously bad novel about comic books), as well as a promoter of stupid genre fiction. He has scraggly rock-star hair.

Congratulations, Michael Chabon! May you continue to be scandalously over-rated for many years to come.

Author Trouble: Baseball Edition

Authorship is a vexed question, my friends. You may have seen the news that your avuncular grandfather, Joe Torre, has written a vengeful book about his time managing the Yankees. ESPN loves this story, and why not? Torre taking shots at A-Rod? That's golden delicious. Except that maybe Torre didn't--at least, not in the way that ESPN thinks.

You see, it's complicated. According to reports, Torre is only the coauthor of the book:

The book, "The Yankee Years," debuts Feb. 3. It is co-written by Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. It is published by Doubleday. While Torre is the co-author, the book contains both his thoughts and independent reporting, according to Verducci.
Well, so it seems that the book is a hybrid between Torre's memories and Verducci's "independent reporting." Except that doesn't actually seem to be the case either:
"I think it's important to understand context here. The book is not a first-person book by Joe Torre, it's a third-person narrative based on 12 years of knowing the Yankees and it's about the changes in the game in that period," Verducci told [].
So Torre's contributions are not in the first-person. And in fact, there appear to be a lot more than Torre's reflections at work here:
The book is not a first-person tell-all, but rather, a third-person narrative by Verducci, who interviewed dozens of players and team personnel while researching for the book, the source said.
Now this all sounds straightforward, right? This isn't a Joe Torre score-settling book; rather, it's a sober third-person account of the Torre's Yankee years based on Verducci's reporting and numerous interviews within the organization.

So clearly ESPN (and other news outlets) have been making too big a deal about this book, right? Well, except the book isn't quite your normal third-person journalistic report either, because Joe Torre is the coauthor. This is what makes it all so strange. Is this a tell-all book by the former Yankees manager? Apparently not. But clearly the former Yankees manager has a responsibility for the contents beyond just being interviewed for the book. As an author, Torre must have some responsibility, even for the "third person" parts, right? And I think that's what confuses everyone (ESPN included).

Like I said, authorship is a vexed question (and you don't need Derrida to tell you that).

SFMOMA by night

Fosco and Oz had a (very small-scale) eighteen-month anniversary celebration in SoMa last Friday night. They had dinner at Northern California's fanciest food court at the Westfield San Francisco Centre. You can tell it's a fancy food court because they have real silverware. They also have an outpost of Beard Papa!

Oz was in the mood for spicy tuna, so he opted for a spicy tuna bowl:

Fosco was in the mood for the deliciousness of the Slanted Door's takeout version, Out the Door. Out the Door serves Fosco's favorite green papaya salad:

Fosco is not normally agog over green things, but this salad is exquisite. It's fresh and clean and complex and totally rejuvenating (the french-fried onions really rock it). Sadly, Fosco cannot recommend the Egg Noodles with Shrimp Stir-Fry--an unfortunate failure for such a consistently good place to eat.

After dinner, Fosco and Oz headed down the street for an after-hours corporate reception at the SFMOMA (thanks to Oz's employer, which may or may not be Mmm Carpets). It was a surprisingly hip event. The SFMOMA's atrium was almost clubby, with a DJ and everything.

The best part, of course, is that all of the galleries were open. Fosco and Oz had been to the museum recently, so there wasn't much new. However, they got a nice second look at the Martin Puryear show. Most of Puryear's work is on some borderline between wood crafts and art, usually on a (very) large scale. A surprising amount of the Puryear exhibit leaves Fosco cold, but he does really appreciate this work, entitled "Brunhilde":

The longer you walk around this piece, the more interesting it becomes. Fosco also enjoys Puryear's little tiny ladder on display in the SFMOMA's atrium:

There is a nice (short) piece on Puryear's art here that I think is helpful.

We had also seen the exhibit called "Art of Participation" before, but we walked through it again. One of the best pieces is by Fosco's adored Félix González-Torres. This is Untitled (1992-93):

The work is essentially a big stack of prints on large sheets of paper (like 2.5 X 3.5 ft). The prints are all the same. Viewers are encouraged to take one of the prints home with them. The stack is replenished forever. Isn't that cool? Right now, Fosco has one on the wall near his desk (don't worry--Oz and I have another one to frame someday):

The last time Fosco was at this exhibit, the ANT FARM Media Van wasn't working correctly. Luckily, it was running smoothly on Friday night. The Media Van is a gutted van that is the repository for a digital time capsule (which will be opened in the year 2030, assuming humans still exist then). Inside the van, there are hookups for iPods, cell phones, cameras, etc. Visitors are encouraged to hook up an electronic device to the van; the van then randomly downloads a file from that device for inclusion in the digital time capsule. Once you the van copies your file, it spits out a receipt for you (which is good for 10% off in the SFMOMA store!). Here is Fosco's receipt:

As you can see, the van randomly selected a Bloc Party song from Fosco's iPod. Fosco realized afterward that this could have been a very embarrassing situation: can you imagine putting some horrible song into a time capsule to be played in 2030? Now Fosco doesn't have a ton of bad music on his iPod, but there are still some things he wouldn't be thrilled about (Bon Jovi, Aly and AJ, Roxette...) Luckily, Bloc Party is acceptable in terms of street cred (and "Sunday" is a particularly good song with a particularly good chorus for an anniversary: "I love you in the morning / When you're still hung over.") And who knows? Maybe in 2030, that song will still sound totally rad.

Come to think of it, Fosco and Oz will celebrate their twenty-three year anniversary in 2030.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"The Awfulness of Billy Joel, Explained"

It's Music Monday here at Fosco Lives!

From Slate:
The Worst Pop Singer Ever: Why, exactly, is Billy Joel so bad?

All Fosco can say is "Word."

UPDATE: actually, the other thing that Fosco can say is that he is utterly amazed that one can write an entire article about the awfulness of Billy Joel without mentioning the abomination called "We Didn't Start the Fire."

Inaugural Candids

This will probably have made the rounds on all the internets by the time you read it, but if you haven't seen this amazing picture of Obama's Inauguration (by David Bergman), you need to do so. What's great about it, of course, is that it is made up of 220 separate photos. The detail is absolutely insane--spend a few minutes zooming in on people. You are never going to see so many extremely cold people in one place (no, not even in this picture [NSFW]).

But, to save you the time of finding to good bits, Fosco has singled out a few of his favorite scenes within the scene.

Here is cellist (and Harvard alum) Yo-Yo Ma capturing the moment for posterity:

Not everyone was as excited about this moment. Here is some unidentified guy who woke up too early:

George Bush and Dr. Strangelove really don't look that happy to be there either:

My favorite, however, is this snapshot of three Supreme Court Justices. No, that's not your great-grandmother--it's Ruth "Bader" Ginsburg. What the hell kind of hat is Nino Scalia wearing? And, um... is Clarence Thomas asleep? Sorry, Clarence, looks like your attempts to destroy the Black community have failed. Dick.

If you find any other good ones, send them along.

January Music

A new Fosco Lives! feature: Music Mondays.

You may recall that, in preparing his half-baked end-of-the-year recommendations, Fosco discovered that most of the songs he really liked in 2008 were actually released in 2007. Well, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, because Fosco has spent these first few weeks of 2009 grooving to some great music from 2008.

At one point recently, Fosco complained that he sometimes feels adrift in the world of contemporary music, with no reliable guide to what new music he might enjoy. Basically, Fosco was bemoaning the demise of radio as a source of music that appeals to him. But then, something miraculous happened: Fosco's friends came through for him! Ted Gideonse announced his Golden Teddy Awards for Music which introduced Fosco to TV on the Radio and Fleet Foxes. And then the always reliable Todd chimed in to recommend The Gaslight Anthem and Cut Copy.

But then things got even better, thanks to... The New Yorker?

I guess Fosco shouldn't be too surprised. I mean, after all, he does owe much of his initial interest in Radiohead to an Alex Ross piece from 1997 (right after the release of their masterpiece, OK Computer.) And he learned about the importance of Wilco from an excellent review of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

But ever since the arrival of full-time pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones (who is not, as Fosco believed for over a year, a woman), music criticism in the The New Yorker hasn't been that helpful to Fosco (except for one great piece that introduced Fosco to Slint). The problem is probably the extraordinary catholicity of Frere-Jones's taste: he is interested in everything in pop music. Fosco not so much. Fosco may be sheltered or narrow-minded, but he just can't that excited over a review of Little Lil Wayne's newest mix tape.

And then, just days into 2009, things got better. The New Yorker ran Kelefa Sanneh's profile of Will Oldham, who (as of late) records and performs under the name of Bonnie "Prince" Billy. The profile is glowing and it made Fosco curious about this obscure musician who is quietly extending the authentic tradition of American country music. Also, any musician who uses quotation marks in their name is totally cool in Fosco's book.

Well, it turns out that his music is really amazing. Powerful lyrics and simple melodies. The only problem with Will Oldham's oeuvre is that it is huge and much of it is recorded on odd labels and under many different names. However, if you start with the easy-to-find iTunes stuff (I'm still there), you'll be just fine. This is a song called "Easy Does It" from the most recent Bonnie "Prince" Billy album, Lie Down in the Light. I have no idea what the video accompaniment is.

Try to get a hold of his songs "New Partner" or "I See A Darkness."
Be forewarned: BPB can get much darker than the rollicking tune you just heard.

The next week, in the following New Yorker issue, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote a review of his favorite album of 2008: Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. Apparently, the entire album was recorded by one man alone in a cabin in the woods near Eau Claire, Wisconsin (much multi-tracking is involved, which is one of the things that make the songs so great). The lyrics are mostly (Frere-Jones's phrase) "word salad." And the whole thing is absolutely gorgeous. Fosco has listened to it almost nonstop since last week. This is Fosco's absolute favorite song from the album, "The Wolves (Act I and II)". The auto-tune in the second half of the song is absolutely exquisite. Seriously.

Frere-Jones spends a paragraph of his review talking about the beauty of the sentence fragment "what might have been lost" from this song. The "might" is what makes it so powerful. As he notes:

Those words are what get me—joined with melody, they seem like a summary of the entire album, especially with that highly conditional “might.” Trying to keep track of everything lost? Or celebrating what wasn’t? When the band was done, and the crowd had filed out, I was still in my seat.
There is a new Bon Iver EP making the rounds on the intraweb and Fosco can recommend it. Other highlights of For Emma include "Flume" and especially "Re: Stacks" (Fosco's second favorite song on the album). This is exactly what music is supposed to sound like in January.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fosco Lives! News

Some titbits of news that relate to this blog...

First, Fosco wants to announce the winners of his Grammar Challenge. In a recent post on split verbs, Fosco intentionally buried six split verbs in the post. Two regular readers attempted some portion of the extra credit: The BeeMaster and Fosco's boyfriend Ozias "Oz" Midwinter. The BeeMaster sent his guesses via email; Oz posted his in the Comments. Oz got all six correct:

  • "to slightly spoil"
  • "would otherwise be played"
  • "to subtly draw"
  • "to strictly adhere"
  • "to adequately express"
  • "will happily split"
The BeeMaster correctly identified four of these, but also did the "Extra Extra Credit" assignment: to find a split verb in another Fosco Lives! post. He identified this one: "Unfortunately, workers are removing the stickers as we speak. However, maybe this will spur the city government to permanently change the street name. Wouldn't that be cool?"

What do The BeeMaster and Oz win? Well, for one thing, they get their pictures displayed as "Grammar Superstars" (over there, on the right). I'm not sure what else they win. Well, Oz wins a kiss. I guess The BeeMaster can have one too, but I don't think he'll take me up on it...

Second, Fosco is pleased to report that last week Fosco Lives! received its first two visitors from China. On the same day, the site received a visit from an IP address in Beijing and one from Shanghai. This is very pleasing to Fosco; usually, he gets most of his Asian traffic from South Korea (apparently, the search "playboy shave pubic" is popular in Korea--and that search inevitably leads here. Sorry, you pervy Koreans... I don't think Fosco Lives! is quite what you're looking for.).

Hey, I bet I could make it so that Fosco Lives! never gets another visit from China:

Tibet. Human rights. Tiananmen Square Massacre.

There, that should be enough to get Fosco Lives! blocked. Wait, why would I do that?

Third, you may have missed the news (as it was buried in a post on torture, and not even Fosco's boyfriend reads his posts on torture) that Fosco Lives! will be cutting down on politics for a bit. Which is not to say that I won't run the occasional funny picture... But for a bit, Fosco doesn't feel like getting too earnest about politics.

Fourth, Fosco has some exciting new features planned for the blog. You saw "Saturday Story Hour" yesterday. Stay tuned this week for several new weekday features.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Isis and her new perspective

Fosco and Oz are celebrating their eighteen-month(!) anniversary this weekend. And their kitty Isis is joining in the fun by acting totally goofy.

Trust me, she's never done this "upside down head" thing before. At least not while we were there.

Isis sez: "Nope. You're still ugly."