Saturday, February 21, 2009

Get Out The Vote

Won't you vote in the Fosco Lives! poll of which film will win "Best Picture"? Cast your vote at the top of the righthand column.

And the wiener is...

Fosco hasn't watched the Oscars in five years (ever since he moved from Charlottesville and consequently lost his invitation to the best Oscar party on the planet). But apparently, the Academy keeps awarding the statuettes anyway. This year, the host is the supposedly charismatic Hugh Jorgen (say it out loud--dirty!), apparently as part of his X-men Origins: Wolverine publicity tour.

Fosco hasn't seen any of the "Best Picture" nominees this year, but that won't prevent him from offering his dear readers (you!) a chance to participate in an Oscar poll. Look to the top of the righthand column and cast your vote now! Let's see how accurately Fosco Lives! readers can predict the future.

Of course, the suspense of the whole thing has been effectively killed by super- egghead Nate Silver, who has already used logistic regression to predict the winners. He was right about the election (among other things), so I'm going to take his advice on this.

If the Oscars plan to outdo the Grammy's this year in terms of drama, then one of the stars needs to be assaulted by his/her significant other. I wouldn't be surprised if the Academy has already contacted Dame Helen Mirren and asked her to "take one for the team." Personally, I think Dakota Fanning has gotten a little cheeky lately and could stand to be knocked down a peg. Plus, as she's dating Sean Penn, it's only a matter of time...

Or, if you'd rather just ignore this year's Oscars and complain about the year that your favorite movie (Hint: "I wish I knew how to quit you") lost to some undeserving celluloid trainwreck (or car-wreck...), you can check out this article about the greatest Oscar mistakes. The biggest one? Hint: "I'm the king of the world!"

Saturday Story Hour: Bolaño's Fake Nazi Poetry

Good Morning: Welcome to Saturday Story Hour!

Even though it's February, we are not done with the great Roberto Bolaño! At this point, Fosco has almost worked through the translated Bolaño oeuvre, and he still adores him. Luckily, we have more works to come as Bolaño continues to be translated into English (and we have another one due this summer!).

The most recent Bolaño book that Fosco read is the faux literary encyclopeadia, Nazi Literature in the Americas. In a NY Times review last spring (enjoyably titled "The Sound and the Führer"), Stacey D'Erasmo describes the work:

Cross-referenced, complete with bibliography and a biographical list of secondary figures, “Nazi Literature” is composed of a series of sketches, the compressed life stories of writers in North and South America who never existed, but all too easily could have. Goose-stepping caricatures à la “The Producers” they are not; instead, they are frighteningly subtle, poignant and plausible.
Indeed, each biographical sketch is a fully-realized portrait of a life, completely convincing in both the general trajectory and the minute details. The sketches are also, frequently, laugh-out-loud funny.

In today's installment of "Saturday Story Hour," Fosco excerpts one of the funniest passages from the book--a passage that gives free rein to the full ingenuity of Bolaño's imagination. The three paragraphs below are from the portrait of "Pedro González Carrera." The first sentence of this portrait is "A few hagiographies of Pedro González Carrera have come down to us; all concur in affirming, and perhaps with good reason, that his work was as brilliant as his life was dull" (61). And from there, things start to become very strange...

An excerpt from Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas, translated by Chris Andrews:

[González] stubbornly continued to exploit his peculiar poetic vein. The next three poems he published (not in Iron Heart, which had folded, but in the cultural supplement of a Santiago newspaper) are free of surrealist images, symbolist baggage and modernist vagaries (González, it must be said, knew almost nothing of the three schools in question). His verse had become concise, his images simple; the figures that recurred in the six previous poems have also undergone a transformation: the Merovingian warriors have become robots, the women are now dying beside putrid streams of consciousness, and the mysterious tractors plowing the fields without rhyme or reason are either secret vessels sent from Antarctica, or Miracles (with a capital letter). And now these figures were counterbalanced by a sketchy presence, that of the author himself, adrift in the vast spaces of the fatherland, observing the apparitions like a registrar of marvels, but unenlightened finally as to their causes, phenomenology or ultimate purpose.

In 1955, at the cost of great personal sacrifice and tremendous effort, González financed the publication of a chapbook containing twelve poems, printed by a press in Cauquenes, capital of the province of Maul, where he had been transferred. The little book was entitled Twelve, and the cover, which was the author's own work, is noteworthy in its own right, as it was the first of many drawings he produced to accompany his poems (the others came to light only after his death). The letters of the word Twelve on the cover, equipped with eagle talons, grip a swastika in flames, beneath which there seems to be a sea with waves, drawn in a childlike style. And under the sea, between the waves, a child can in fact be glimpsed, crying, "Mom, I'm scared!" The speech bubble is blurred. Under the child and the sea are lines and blotches, which might be volcanoes or printing defects.

The twelve new poems add new figures and landscapes to the repertoire developed in the previous nine. The robots, the streams of consciousness and the ships are supplemented with Destiny and Will, personified by two stowaways in the holds of a ship, as well as The Disease Machine, The Language Machine, The Memory Machine (which has been damaged since the beginning of time), The Potentiality Machine and The Precision Machine. The only human figure in the earlier poems (that of González himself) is joined by the Advocate of Cruelty, a strange character who sometimes speaks like a regular Chilean guy (or rather, like a grammar school teacher's idea of a regular guy) and sometimes like a sibyl or a Greek soothsayer. The setting is the same as for the earlier poems: an open field in the middle of the night, or a theater of colossal dimensions situated in the heart of Chile. (64-65)
I don't know about you, but I wish those poems actually existed--like almost all of the works described in this book. This is part of the genius of Bolaño's achievement here: he's created a reality that, despite some of its horror, you wish were actually real.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Another Great Food Blog

On "Foodie Friday," you can eat fried chicken for breakfast even. Really.

Fosco continues to stumble across first-rate food blogs. Here's one for Bay Area readers: No Salad As A Meal. The photographs are beautiful (definitely John Mackey-quality). And while the reviews are SF-centric, you can still appreciate the restaurants vicariously.

Here's a great recent review: Thomas Keller's casual dining experience in Napa, Ad Hoc. Believe it or not, Ad Hoc offers FRIED CHICKEN NIGHT. Thomas Keller fried chicken? Um, as Liz Lemon would say: "I want to go to there."

N.B., while the above photo is of the buttermilk fried chicken(!) at Ad Hoc; it is NOT from No Salad As A Meal. Like I'm going to steal a pic from a blog in the same post that I recommend said blog? Trust me, the photos are much better at No Salad.

Breakfast for Dessert

Every meal can be breakfast on "Foodie Friday."

There it is, my friends: the French Laundry cinnamon-sugar doughnuts with cappuccino semifreddo. It's one of the signature desserts at Thomas Keller's Napa temple of gastronomy (read a wonderful blog review of the restaurant here). And it's also, according to this NY Times piece, the original inspiration for the culinary trend of breakfast-themed desserts.

The Times profiles several of the more interesting breakfast-inspired dessert options, including several of the offerings at David Chang's Momofuko Empire in NYC. Momofuku's pastry chef is Christina Tosi is known for her panna cotta made from cereal milk (you know, what's left in the bowl!). She also has some other tricks up her sleeves:

She is also developing a pancake cake, stacked pancake layers separated by cinnamon-bacon, maple syrup and brown butter fillings. At Momofuku Ko, she serves a sphere of guava sorbet with a cream-cheese skin: the flavors mirror classic Latin breakfast sweets.
As you may recall, Fosco used to belong to a pancake club... which means that "pancake cake" has now become his obsession.

And then there is molecular gastronomy. The craziest food science in the country is going on at Chicago's Moto and the desserts are no exception:
“Breakfast flavors are so familiar, and that makes them a great way to bring in unfamiliar textures and temperatures,” said Ben Roche, the pastry chef at Moto in Chicago, where he uses an ice-cold “cooking” surface and a syringe full of “batter” (a purée of pancakes, milk and maple syrup) to make a dessert called frozen flapjacks (the taste is like ice cream with concentrated essence of pancake.) Mr. Roche’s twist on coffee and doughnuts is a cup of hot doughnut soup (made from chopped glazed doughnuts steeped in milk) with a circle of coffee-flavored whipped cream. The whipped cream is sucked through a vacuum sealer to make it tall, puffy and firm enough to cut.
You can actually see these frozen pancakes being prepared in this clip:

And yes, you heard correctly: Moto executive chef Homaro Cantu works with NASA. This is truly an exciting time in the history of food!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You, You, You Otter Know.

One of the best things about living on the Monterey Bay is the occasional appearance of charistmatic megafauna. Like sea otters, the world's cutest fish! Here's an absolutely adorable story from the San Jose Mercury News about a sea otter cum cinematographer. That's right: it's a sea otter pointing a video camera! You can thank me later.

From the Annals of Real Estate Devaluation

When Fosco moved to Santa Cruz almost three years ago, the median home sales price was somewhere around $725,000. Median home sales price in January 2009: $430,000.

On the one hand, this is good news for the Santa Cruz middle class (most of whom cannot afford to buy in Santa Cruz County). On the other hand, this is a breathtaking loss of value.

And on the third hand, Fosco still could never afford to buy a home here.

Lat Sighting

Fosco's college roommate, blog impresario David Lat, makes an appearance in a Gawker story today: because he's hella clever (it's true). And the best part of the whole story is that a lawyer having a loud conversation on his cell phone (while riding the subway!) gets his comeuppance. It's the kind of story that makes you feel like there is a tiny bit of justice in this world. We must band together to enforce proper social etiquette!

New Moon on Thursday

You may recall that in his review, Fosco went all Chris Brown on tween pulp sensation Twilight. Despite his generally harsh reaction to the book, Fosco did admit that he kinda enjoyed it and was willing to give the second book, New Moon, a try. Well, both Fosco and Oz read New Moon this week, and we are pleased to report that it is much better than the first book! In fact, Fosco would be willing to say that he liked this book a lot.

Of course, a number of the deficiencies of Twilight remain unfixed. There's still absolutely nothing approaching sex in the books. In fact, tongue-kissing is still mostly verboten. For lots of vampire fans, that is probably a deal-breaker. And Stephenie Meyer still can't write a climax scene that doesn't feel like a complete letdown. And her prose is still occasionally purpler than one might like. And both Oz and I would still like to see a good fight scene.

However, certain things have improved with this book. Meyer seems to have had a competent editor (finally!). The vampire mythos has been filled out in several important ways. Things that seemed like loose ends in the first book have been picked up and developed. Some of the silly religious stuff has been toned down. Or maybe I'm just becoming inured to some of the bad stuff.

But even beyond these improvements, there is some stuff in this book that is actually quite good. The werewolf plot is really interesting and provides a great conflictual "hook." Bella's depression at being abandoned is really extreme and pathetic, but that's the point, right? Fosco found himself really surprisingly affected by the "hole in her chest"--losing someone you love is actually a lot like Meyer describes. The emotions in this book are a lot more explicable to Fosco than the ones in the first book.

And best of all, Meyer finally provides us (and Bella) with an opportunity to take sides. Vampire or werewolf? Should Bella choose her soulmate, the brooding and unreliable Edward (vampire)? Or should she choose the loyal and handsome Jacob who wants nothing other than to make her happy and keep her safe (werewolf)? (N.B.: Oz votes Edward, Fosco votes Jacob.)

Which means, of course, that Fosco and Oz are moving on to Book 3 with much eagerness! Stay tuned.

Smells Like Peen Spirit

In a post two days ago, Fosco reported on the trend of calling Republican governors "governeros" (to appeal to the cowboy aesthetic of what remains of their party). In that post's title, Fosco referred to a Simpson's song about an SUV that claims it "smells like a steak." Well, it now occurs to Fosco to wonder what Republican governeros actually do smell like (and is it steak? No, it is not.).

Fosco has pondered this question and he has some theories. So, let's play the game: "What Does Your Republican Governor Smell Like?" Here are a few suggestions:

N.B.: there is no way that Fosco is going to propose a smell for Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal--there is just too much potential for unintentional racial issues.

But what about other Republican governeros? Any scents?

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Do the Hand Job Jive!

You've probably already seen this in some incarnation, but I have to pass it on anyway. I first saw it yesterday, courtesy of my old friend Joanna Goddard of A Cup of Jo.

Of course, the first thing you think when you watch it is that it's funny and cute. Then, after about fifteen seconds, you realize that it's going to go on for another two and a half minutes. Maybe you become slightly alarmed. Then you begin to feel impressed with the amount of practice that must have gone into it. After a while, you begin to think about the evolution of the routine: did they add one move a day? How long did it take them? And finally, if you're like me, you find yourself a bit wistful--wishing you had a coworker that you felt this much camaraderie with.

However, I do think the exemplarity of this scene implied by its YouTube title is probably overstated. I'm pretty sure that, during commercials, my local news anchors just hiss at each other like lizards.

Alien Infiltrates White House?

Yesterday, Gawker did a thing on some recent official White House photos. While glancing through them, Fosco's eyes were drawn to something strange. Here is the pic:

I've circled the thing that bothers me (on the far right, behind President O). Now Fosco doesn't know much about interior decorating or antique furniture (he leaves that to people more qualified), but what exactly is that thing? It looks like a wok on legs. And not very sturdy, oddly ugly legs at that. Now I'm sure that that thing is a very very expensive thing. And probably a very very old thing. But I still don't understand what it is and what it is doing there. It's like some sort of proto-organic life form.

Can anyone enlighten me?

My Favorite Palin

Fosco has surprised himself recently with the depth of his anger at conservatives who believe that abstinence education has any relation to teen pregnancy (hint: it doesn't). Whether or not babies are a blessing (and Fosco's jury is still out on that one), I just don't understand how people can refuse to support sex education programs that would help women to have babies when they want to. If we all agree that babies should be born into stable homes and relationships (and I don't know who can disagree with that), then I just don't see how this "abstinence only" charade or the "virginity pledge" fraud can be allowed to continue.

The most famous know-nothing on this subject, of course, is Governero Sarah Palin, whose support for abstinence-only programs has famously come home to roost in the uterus of her teen daughter Bristol. But how does Bristol feel about all of this? Is her head in the sand too (next to her mother's)?

Well, thanks to everyone's favorite Bell's palsy-ed lesbian, Greta Van Susteren, we now have the definitive interview with Sarah Palin's SportsCenter-named daughter. And here's the surprise: Bristol Palin isn't as stupid as her mother. And believe it or not, she even speaks in complete sentences (more or less)!

Let's go to the transcript. Now things start out a little rocky for our Bristol. She clearly needs a little time to warm up to her message:

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it always is sort of a difficult thing, you know, when it's a question of youth, and no one ever really knows what to say to a young person in your situation.
BRISTOL: Yes. I don't know. I just -- I hope that people learn from my story and just, like, I don't know, prevent teen pregnancy, I guess.
As slogans go, this one lacks some punch. I don't really see this on a T-shirt: The Bristol Palin Foundation: Working to just, like, I don't know, prevent teen pregnancy, I guess. I think she needs to talk to some PR people.

But then Bristol starts to get more interesting. Like in this exchange, when she talks about her "choice" to have her baby:
VAN SUSTEREN: What didn't anybody get? What didn't people understand?
BRISTOL: That -- there's a lot of things. They thought that, like, my mom was going to make me have the baby, and it was my choice to have the baby. And it's just -- that kind of stuff just bothered me.
VAN SUSTEREN: And in terms of your mother making you have the baby, I mean, the whole issue of, I guess, the right -- the right to life and choice and things like that.
BRISTOL: Yes. Yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: But this is your issue. This is your decision.
BRISTOL: Yes. And would have -- doesn't matter what my mom's views are on it. It was my decision, and I wish people would realize that, too.
Wait a minute--is Bristol Palin saying that she (as a woman) had a choice about whether to have her baby? She talks like that's a constitutional right or something! Women aren't supposed to have that--not in Palin's America!

A little farther into the interview, Bristol has made some progress with her slogan:
VAN SUSTEREN: What do your parents say about teen pregnancy?
BRISTOL: It's not something to strive for, I guess. It's just -- I don't know. I'm not the first person that it's happened to and I'm not going to be the last. But I don't know. I'd love for -- to be an advocate to prevent teen pregnancy because it's not, like, a situation that you want to strive for, I guess.
"Teen Pregnancy: It's not, like, a situation that you want to strive for, I guess." That's a little better. Still could use the touch of a good PR person, though.

But I've been saving the best exchange for last. It starts when Greta Van Pervert asks for some explicit Bristol-Levi sex details:
VAN SUSTEREN: I don't want to pry to personally, but I mean, actually, contraception is an issue here. Is that something that you were just lazy about or not interested, or do you have a philosophical or religious opposition to it or...
BRISTOL: No. I don't want to get into detail about that. But I think abstinence is, like -- like, the -- I don't know how to put it -- like, the main -- everyone should be abstinent or whatever, but it's not realistic at all.
BRISTOL: Because -- I don't want to get into details on this.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, no, I don't mean personally, just big picture, not -- not necessarily about you, but...
BRISTOL: Because it's more and more accepted now.
VAN SUSTEREN: Among your classmates and kids your age?
BRISTOL: Among -- yes, among kids my age.
If you can get past Greta's question about Levi's condom use (and who wouldn't want to know what size he wears), you may notice that Bristol Palin points out that abstinence is "not realistic at all." Finally, I think Bristol Palin has said (badly) something worth saying: ABSTINENCE (or whatever) IS JUST NOT REALISTIC. AT ALL.

And by this point in the interview, perhaps you, like Fosco, are wondering whether Bristol's realization here also signals a shift in Sarah's thinking about abstinence. Has the pregnancy of her beloved teen daughter actually made her rethink her "abstinence-only" approach to sex ed? Has real life experience made a dent in her thick, ignorant cranium? Luckily, this is about the point when Sarah Palin herself "pops in" to answer a few Van Susteren questions. And we are treated to another titbit of Sarah Palin's nuanced worldview:
SARAH PALIN: Exactly. Exactly. So you get behind that, that ideal of, yes, abstinence, you know? Hey, don't get pregnant. Well, get beyond that when it happens, and then you deal with it. Life happens. Life happens and you deal with it, and Bristol's dealing with it wonderfully.
First of all, this woman's grammatical skill makes her daughter Bristol sound like Winston Churchill. But assuming that I'm parsing Sarah's "sentences" correctly, I read her meaning as follows: "First, you teach abstinence until it fails and then you deal with it. Because shit happens." Even purely as a parenting philosophy, this seems like sheer idiocy. But as public policy? You have got to be fucking kidding me. This woman shouldn't be running a 7-11, much less an American state.

And so, on behalf of America, I'd like to apologize to Bristol Palin. Bristol, I'm sorry your mom is a hillbilly idiot who didn't want you to learn about how not to get pregnant. And I'm sorry that people like your mom were in charge of your education in the state of Alaska, thereby preventing you from receiving meaningful sex ed. And as much you love being a mother (and as rewarding as it no doubt is for you--and I sincerely believe that it is rewarding), I am sorry that you didn't get to make that choice ten years from now--when you had a career and a stable relationship and a life.

See you in hell, Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More of a Cameo Than I Require

[If you haven't watched Battlestar Galactica Episode 4.17, "No Exit" and you care about spoilers, you should stop reading now.]

Fosco was surprised to find that last week's new episode of BSG contained a cameo appearance by John Hodgman. You know Hodgman from his guest appearances on "The Daily Show" and for his role as "PC" in those ubiquitous Mac v. PC commercials. Or you may, like Fosco, enjoy his books.

But even though Fosco likes John Hodgman (with a few reservations), he certainly did not appreciate his BSG cameo. These are the last few episodes of BSG and the revelations (and bodies) are piling up. This is a very serious time in what is a very serious television show. BSG, unlike many other cult hits, is not particularly interested in sharing "knowing winks" with its audience. But that's exactly what John Hodgman's cameo was--an "in joke" for geeks. Unfortunately, this kind of joke prevented me from taking Hodgman's scenes seriously--I was too distracted by the strangeness of John Hodgman suddenly appearing in deep space.

I can't imagine who will be make a guest appearance in next week's show. Bruce Campbell as a ridiculously overconfident Viper pilot? Patrick Stewart as a coldly imperious starship captain? Kevin Smith as a slacker mechanic? Neil Gaiman as some sort of space-goth?

N.B.: while researching this post, Fosco stumbled across John Hodgman's blog. The design is absolutely brilliant.

Smells Like A Steak, Governs.

Yesterday's online NY Times reports a new rhetorical strategy by Republican governors to make their jobs sound more "rugged." Here's the summary:

Just picture Texas Governor Rick Perry saying: "I'm not just the Governor--I'm the Governero." I actually think it's a pretty good strategy.

Of course, now I have in my head the Simpson's "Canyonero" jingle. So why shouldn't you?

Sing along with me: "Govern-ero! Governero!"

Live Dry (My New Motto)

Yesterday was a big day in Santa Cruz, as our humble downtown hosted the finish line for Stage 2 of the Tour of California bike race. That means that literally hundreds of viewers of the Versus channel got to see our town in all its hippie glory.

Sadly, it was an absolutely miserable day for a bike ride--in the middle of a "winter" storm that dropped almost six inches of rain in three days on Santa Cruz. Not to mention the high winds that presumably battered the peloton throughout the stage (which started eighty miles north, across the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito). But at least bikers aren't pussies like golfers and the race went on as scheduled (maybe it has something to do with the drugs?).

The Tour of California is actually a pretty major event, especially this year. Fosco used to follow pro cycling pretty closely and he can assure you that there are some really big names in this race. Essentially, you can think of the field as Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, plus a bunch of famously disgraced drug users (Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, &c.).

How does Fosco know so much about these druggers? Well, mainly because a lot of these guys were his cycling heroes in previous years. And that should explain why Fosco doesn't really pay much attention to the sport anymore. It's just too dirty. Sadly, there are even days when Fosco doubts the purity of King Lance. (Although on good days, Fosco still believes that, as this article noted years ago, Lance Armstrong is just a physical freak of nature.)

Despite his disillusionment, Fosco had been planning to be on the sidelines near the finish line yesterday. I mean, how often does Lance Armstrong ride through your town? But then the weather got in the way. The older Fosco gets, the more he becomes like his mother: completely unwilling to get rained on. And while Fosco loves and admires Lance, it isn't worth getting wet to see him go cycling by (assuming I could see him at all in the peloton; and also assuming I would recognize him in full gear at that speed).

After making the decision to stay home, Fosco was trying to think of people he would be willing to stand in the rain to see. Not even Barack Obama makes that list. Actually, I don't know if anyone makes that list--no one living, at least.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Opera Populism

Music Monday can even include opera. Twice.

From yesterday's NY Times, an article on opera broadcasts at movie theaters:

Thanks largely to the efforts of the Metropolitan Opera, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are seeing live opera performances in movie theaters, and many others in repeat showings. A dozen other important opera companies are now sending out broadcasts of their own.
If you hadn't noticed the option on Fandango, you can now buy tickets at certain movie theaters to see broadcasts from the Met. As a member of the opera-going public who is too poor to see much opera (and certainly too poor to see more than one production at the Met every few years), Fosco is well-served by this innovation. And while the Met has been televising operas for a number of years now (to say nothing of the weekly radio broadcasts), a movie theater offers much better sound and a much more enveloping experience. So hooray, right?

Well, of course someone must complain:
The dissenters say that the movement will lead to more conservative programming; that the voice will become subservient to appearance; that listeners will be trained to hear something electronic and lose an appreciation for a live experience.

Some worry that vocal training will change, de-emphasizing the ability to project, and that the Met’s effort is a deal with the Devil, because it will divert audiences from local opera houses to make the easier, cheaper trip to the mall.
Some of these criticisms are more worrisome than others. For one thing, the voice has already become subservient to appearance--that happened over a decade ago (if not longer) when opera houses (and major classical music labels) decided to market the sex appeal of their performers. And while Fosco does indeed fear more conservative programming, the Met's programming is already pretty conservative. To be honest, the Met is not where you go to hear the newest avant-garde opera.

As for those who fear that the Met is diverting audiences from local opera to the mall, well... fuck off. Just because I'm poor doesn't mean that my only option should be the Santa Cruz Opera Guild's version of Eugene Onegin (in English!); if you care about the quality of opera in this country, anything that makes Renee Fleming affordable to the masses should be celebrated.

Suck it, haters.

[N.B., there is no such company, to Fosco's knowledge, as the Santa Cruz Opera Guild.]

iPod Update (Now With Banjo!)

"Music Monday" continues...

For the past week or so, Fosco has been listening to these three albums:

1. Jack's Mannequin, Everything In Transit. Fosco has Oz to thank for this recommendation. Jack's Mannequin is piano-driven power-pop with some emo-tones. Both of their albums are great, but Fosco is really digging "Everything In Transit" this week. A song like "Holiday From Real" is a pure distillation of California summertime (which Fosco is missing during this rainy February)--not to mention that "holiday from real" is very much what grad school is about. You can't go wrong with a bridge like this:

Oh, California in the Summer
Ah, and my hair is growing long
Fuck yeah, we can live like this
Fuck yeah we can! (Wait, wasn't that one of Obama's slogans?)

But if you prefer raw emo-power (and what could be greener?), you should join Fosco in rocking out to "I'm Ready":

This is one of those songs that grows and grows and grows on you. I've been singing it in my sleep the last two nights. I'm ready, so don't stop.

2. Steve Martin, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo. Yes, it's that Steve Martin. And no, it's not a joke. Steve Martin has written an album of banjo songs. And the stranger thing is that it's good--really good! Now Fosco is not really what you would call a "bluegrass fan"; but he does appreciate a catchy or charming song, even if it's played on a banjo. And Martin's written several good ones. There is the sweet and melodic "Pretty Flowers" which features a duet between singing thumb Vince Gill and Dolly Parton (who sounds absolutely amazing). A number of the tracks are instrumentals, including the comfortably danceable "Blue River Waltz." And Martin himself even sings (although not always that well), as on the comedic "Late For School" which provocatively rhymes the words "flamingo" and "Filipino."

3. The Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound. Fosco owes this one to Todd. The Gaslight Anthem is a rock/punk hybrid that one might describe as a cross between Bruce Springsteen and the Ramones. Their songs seems pretty straightforward, yet are surprisingly allusive--Springsteen lyrics, Counting Crows lyrics, and Charles Dickens are a few references that Fosco has noticed. Musically, they have two tempi: fast and faster. However, they can still write a sad and meaningful semi-punk song about death, like the title track (Fosco's favorite):
Well, I wonder which song they're gonna play when we go.
I hope it's something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow.
When we float out into the ether, into the Everlasting Arms,
I hope we don't hear Marley's chains we forged in life.
'Cause the chains I been hearing now for most of my life.

Did you hear the '59 Sound coming through on Grandmama's radio?
Did you hear the rattling chains in the hospital walls?
Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over?
Did you hear your favorite song one last time?
As song lyrics go, these are really quite good. You can watch the video here:

Methadone Lescaut

If today is Monday, we must be talking about music. Because it's "Music Monday."

Opera is a surprisingly robust art form. While Fosco is certainly a fan of the traditional repertoire (especially the Germans), he does appreciate contemporary opera--especially the ways in which composers have relied upon both recent history and cinema as sources of inspiration. And while Nixon in China is hardly Parsifal, there is clearly something vital in the exploration of our own cultural myths and tragedies.

Sadly, due to the financial crisis (among other things), two very promising contemporary operas have recently been shelved: Philip Glass's bio-pera of Walt Disney and the Charles Wuorinen-composed Brokeback Mountain opera ("I just can't quit you"). However, there remains one bright spot for contemporary opera: here comes the story of Anna Nicole Smith!

Commissioned by Britain's Royal Opera, the opera:

will have music by respected British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. The libretto is by Richard Thomas, co-creator of "Jerry Springer: The Opera," an earlier merger of highbrow and lowbrow culture. It is due to run in the Royal Opera's 2011 season.
Now Mark-Anthony Turnage is a very serious composer (Fosco adores Three Screaming Popes) and the Royal Opera is a very serious company, so we must conclude that, as trashy as all this sounds, this will be a very serious opera.

And yet, if you've ever watched this clip of Kathy Griffin discussing her "Hollywood Squares" encounter with Anna Nicole, you will have to wonder about the wisdom of a (non-comic) opera (btw, this is Fosco's favorite Kathy Griffin "bit" ever).

The other important thing to learn from the above clip is that a Little Richard opera entitled "Whoo Dat Dawg?" would be mightily entertaining...

But, whether this opera ever makes it off the ground, I think the question we need to be considering is "who next?" Personally, I would love to watch a Lindsay Lohan opera. Think about it--we already have a pretty decent three-act structure:
  • Act I: Lindsay as promising child star.
  • Act II: Lindsay as the crotch-displaying party girl who squanders her early promise.
  • Act III: Lindsay is redeemed through the love of a good woman.
(No, this is not a tragedy. Fosco prefers his operas, like his massages, to have happy endings.)

If necessary, Fosco will write the libretto himself (although he would rather just sit back as an "assistant producer" on the project). As for the composer, I have a pretty good idea... Do you think John Mackey would be willing to add Fire-Crotch: The Opera to his oeuvre?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Wonder Years" Gets More Complicated

This story just gets more unpleasant. So of course, I have to write about it again.

You may remember thirteen-year-old Alfie Patten, the four-foot-tall British Fred Savage-lookalike who impregnated his fifteen-year-old girlfriend. Well, it turns out now that there is some question about paternity. Apparently, Alfie's girlfriend, Chantelle, may be something of what the British refer to as a "slutter." Indeed, there are already two other young men (ages 16 and 14) who claim that they could be the father of Chantelle's baby. And it looks like poor Alfie will have to take a DNA test. If only these kids lived in the US, then we could get Montel to settle the whole thing in one hour.

Of course, whether or not Alfie is the father, he's already won over this blogger with his intelligence and charisma:

Once indoors [Alfie] gave a series of clipped answers to a long list of questions by an eager reporter from The People.

When asked if he loved Chantelle he said: ‘Dunno.

Did you get her a Valentine's card? ‘No!’

Did you know how babies were made before you had sex with Chantelle? ‘Course’.

Do you like changing the baby's nappies? ‘It's OK but getting it back in the clothes is hard - the arms are the worst bit.’

Are you looking forward to getting back to school soon? ‘No, school's dead boring.’

What are your favourite subjects? ‘Dunno. Haven't got any. Not maths.’

What would you like to do when you grow up? ‘Go in the Army, but Mum says she won't let me.’
I'm going to guess that he will be begging to return to school in a few weeks. Something tells me that life with Chantelle and a baby is going to make school look like Free Cotton Candy Day at the carnival. He also sounds exactly like the kind of boyfriend that you'd expect for a thirteen-year-old boy; clearly he wooed Chantelle with his pillow talk:

CHANTELLE: Oh Alfie, do you love me?
ALFIE: Dunno.
CHANTELLE: Isn't my new jumper [sweater] pretty?
ALFIE: [shrugs]
CHANTELLE: Did you remember today is our anniversary?
ALFIE: Can I have a biscuit [cookie]?
CHANTELLE: Will you ring [call] me later?
ALFIE: Maybe. I'm playin "Halo."

And lest you think that conservatives (even the British variety) would let this story pass without making it into an exemplar of crumbling social morality:
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: 'It exemplifies the point we have been making about broken Britain.'

‘It's not being accusative, it's about pointing out the collapse in some parts of society of any sense of what's right and wrong.'
Of course, the first problem here is the question of the exemplarity of the Alfie Patten case: does this one occurrence really signal a collapse of an entire society? Or, to put it another way, is this kind of thing happening all over Britain? This is an empirical question (and I don't really want to bother doing the required research); however, let me bet that Iain Duncan Smith hasn't done that research either.

The second problem here is the assumption that this incident has anything to do with "any sense of what's right and wrong"--at least in the way that Smith seems to mean it. I think we can all agree that it's better when teenagers don't have babies; but there will then be a disagreement over the best way to make sure this doesn't happen.

On the wrong side, we have the sexual moralists (the "any sense of right and wrong" people). These are the folks who want to teach abstinence-only sex ed and sell purity rings. Which is all well and good--except for the part about how instilling a strong sense of "right and wrong" doesn't seem to have anything to do with teenage pregnancy rates (just ask Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol). If Iain Duncan Smith and the British conservatives find this hard to believe, I think we can arrange a nice tour of Wasilla, AK, or of the more Evangelical parts of the American South for that matter.

Is Fosco claiming to have the answer for preventing teenage pregnancy? Not quite--although contraceptive education is probably part of the solution. As for the problem of thirteen-year-olds having sex (with or without contraception), I think we have to consider the ways in which our culture sexualizes young people. If we are going to continue to conceptualize adolescence as the beginning of full sexuality, we cannot be too surprised when even little Fred Savage does the nasty.

V-Day Roundup

Fosco and Oz had some elaborate Valentine's plans, but got doubly ambushed by the icky "winter" storm plowing through the Bay Area and Fosco coming down with a head cold on Friday night. Fosco's cold is something of the CDC equivalent of a traditional locked room mystery, considering that Fosco literally had not left his apartment for seventy-two hours before he started getting sick on Friday evening. Very weird stuff.

However, we still celebrated a bit yesterday by exchanging gifts. More accurately, Oz lavished elaborate gifts on Fosco, while Fosco reciprocated with uninspired gifts that he felt too sick to wrap.

Oz always knows the perfect gift for Fosco: books, books, books.

I can't wait to read about this guy called "Barack Obama." I've heard he's a good author. I wonder if he's written anything else...

But Oz is much too creative to stop there. After opening the books (each of which was individually-wrapped, natch), Fosco was sent on a scavenger hunt to find the next gift that Oz had hidden (under the bed, it turned out) the night before.

When Fosco unwrapped the hidden gift he was puzzled. It was a thick hardcover trash novel by one of those "popular" authors who write using a text generator. Think Tom Clancy with less writing skill and no movie contracts. Now imagine a completely laughable cover and a snicker-worthy title. This is what went through Fosco's mind, in order:

  1. Does Oz think that I would read this?
  2. If he does think that, whither our relationship?
  3. It must be a joke. But why?
  4. [seeing the price tag] Oh God, did he really pay full price for this?
Oz's card offered only a little help: "read the Prologue for a hint as to your next gift." Fosco dutifully read the prologue (which was terrible--all about hunting for German U-boats), not quite knowing what he was looking for. (And let me tell you that Fosco was unrealistically hopeful for a second or two after reading the words "Lufthansa" and "BMW.")

Finally, after ten long pages, Fosco turned the page to discover the secret:

It's a hollow book! Oz made it himself with a book he found in his office's lost and found ( and yay, he didn't pay full price). Fosco has always wanted a hollow book, even though he doesn't really have anything he needs to keep inside one. Except his blow.

But wait, there's more! Inside the hollow was a ring box. And in the ring box was a nice solid tungsten carbide band with a celtic design. Fosco loves big, thick, chunky, nearly indestructible rings and this one is gorgeous. (Sadly, the ring has resisted our efforts to photograph it. We'll keep trying.) Need I add that it fits perfectly? Oz had done his homework.

Compared with this giftapalooza, Fosco doesn't really want to say what he got for Oz. Regular readers probably can guess (hint: it's eight inches tall and made from plastic... And no, it's not that. Don't be a filthy gorgon.)