Saturday, February 28, 2009

More Jindalicious Lies

Last week, Louisiana Governero Bobby Jindal provided the Republican response to President Obama's address to Congress. Despite his status as a Republican "rising star," Jindal's performance was roundly panned as stale, inauthentic, and nihilistic. Oh, and he may have reminded many Americans of a likable yet dimwitted television character. Mission accomplished, Bobby!

But wait, it gets worse. Yesterday, a spokesperson for Jindal admitted that the governor completely fabricated the central anecdote of his speech: a story about his heroic anti-bureaucratic actions during Hurricane Katrina. Oops! Jindal had used the story to make a point about how government often stands in the way of the solutions to problems (solutions like, you know, saving people from rising flood waters). Maybe so, but do you know what probably does even less than government to save people from rising floodwaters? Fictional heroism! Heckuva job, Bobby!

All of which raises an important question for Fosco: what else has Bobby Jindal been lying to us about? With a little digging, Fosco has managed to compile a list:

Whether or not these lies are sufficient to disqualify him from seeking higher office (like, say, the Presidency) remains to be seen. But let's just say that Sarah Palin is sleeping a lot more soundly this weekend...

[Commenters: Did I miss anything?]

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Saturday Story Hour: Saunders and Ghosts

Find a comfortable chair and get ready for Saturday Story Hour.

It is entirely possible that Fosco's favorite contemporary writer of short fiction is George Saunders. He has published three absolutely stellar collections and any story of his is a must-read for me. He is effortlessly funny, as well as acutely critical of our cultural preoccupations.

Most of his stories take place in worlds that are slightly-exaggerated versions of our own consumerist, entertainment-obsessed civilization. The effect is strange and familiar at the same time. It's not exactly realism--but some sort of hyper-realism or concentrated realism.

He has an affection for losers, for underdogs, and for those people who cannot quite fit into the New World Order. He's also fond of ghosts (and once, zombies)--those revenants who haunt our lives, but who aren't supposed to exist. As you might expect, the emotional territory of his stories is typically melancholic, nostalgiac, full of resignation. But he's still hilariously funny.

Today's story is one that makes Fosco cry every time he reads it (and yes, he cried re-reading it for this post). It's called "Commcomm" and it was originally published in 2005 in The New Yorker. The protagonist is a public relations hack at a soon-to-be-decommissioned military base. The plot depends on his willingness to perform an illegal action to get a better job.

But there's much more to the story than that. It's an extended meditation on "bad luck" and the miseries of living. It's about the excesses of religious fundamentalism. It's a parody of self-help. It's about guilt and memory and family. Oh, and did I mention that the narrator's parents are ghosts who must obsessively act out their violent deaths in his house every day? If it sounds crazy, it is. If it sounds bad, it isn't--it's sad, funny, and finally redemptive. Like I said, I cry when I read this story--but it's not because it's sad; rather, it's because it is ultimately so comforting and hopeful, in its eccentric way.

Despite the sadness and the hope, you should relish the black humor, though. Here is a bravura passage:

A week after his layoff, Grandpa died. Day of the wake, Dad got laid off too. Month later, we found out Jean was sick. Jean was my sister, who died at eight. Her last wish was Disneyland. But money was tight. Toward the end, Dad borrowed money from Leo, the brother he hated. But Jean was too sick to travel. So Dad had an Army friend from Barstow film all of Disney on a Super-8. The guy walked the whole place. Jean watched it and watched it. Dad was one of these auto-optimists. To hear him tell it, we’d won an incredible last-minute victory. Hadn’t we? Wasn’t it something, that we could give Jeanie such a wonderful opportunity?

But Jean had been distilled down to like pure honesty.

“I do wish I could have gone, though,” she said.

“Well, we practically did,” Dad said, looking panicked.

“No, but I wish we really did,” she said.
Dark, yes; but also funny.

I admire almost every sentence he writes. His ideas are so perfectly... odd. How can you not appreciate this passage?:
They’re standing at the kitchen window, looking out at the old ballbearing plant. All my childhood, discarded imperfect ball bearings rolled down the hill into our yard. When the plant closed, a lathe came sliding down, like a foot a day, until it hit an oak.
Or this description of a self-help cassette series:
I think of Tape 4, “Living the Now.” What is the Now Situation? How can I pull the pearl from the burning oyster? How can the “drowning boy” be saved?
Or this perfect throwaway line:
Blockbuster has a new program of identifying all videos as either Artsy or Regular.
Or, finally, this heartbreaking revelation about the metaphysics of ghostly parents:
When they stand in direct heat, it doesn’t make them warmer, just makes them vividly remember their childhoods.
This universe is not quite like ours and yet, it's exactly like ours.

If you read this story and fall in love with George Saunders, I would recommend reading one of his slightly more upbeat stories: "My Flamboyant Grandson"--an equally beautiful, but more heart-warming story (in its way).

Comments after reading either/both are welcome.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Another Day in Paradise

Sure, the weather is nice here in California; but there are occasional drawbacks, as this frontpage of today's online Santa Cruz Sentinel makes clear:

Sigh. Even so, it's still better here than in Elkhart.

Luckily, anyone looking for some good news on a day like this can take comfort in this article about a rescued sea otter. Even though "Olive" the Otter was found covered in oil (probably from a "natural" source[!]), she is recovering well and will be released back into the Monterey Bay in another couple of weeks. While in the care of the Dept. of Fish and Game in Santa Cruz, Olive has been receiving a veritable spa treatment:

The young female, estimated to be about a year old, was treated with an olive oil bath and then washed intensively for two hours.
"She is eating primarily prawns and clams right now because they have the highest caloric content and she likes them," Jessup said. "She will be staying for at least another week, maybe two, before we send her back."
I'm a little jealous, actually. Not to mention that the whole thing sounds absolutely adorable. Aren't charismatic megafauna great?

A Fusion Dream

I'm hungry. It must be "Foodie Friday."

In recent weeks, Fosco has learned a surprising amount about eating in Los Angeles (mostly via random TV shows like "Man v. Food"). But now, thanks to this NYT article, Fosco is finally convinced that he needs to go to there. And, upon arriving, to eat.

To understand Fosco's new sense of culinary urgency, you need only understand two word: KIMCHI TACOS.

Listen to this:

After obsessively checking the Twitter postings of the Korean taco maker to see where the truck will park next, they begin lining up — throngs of college students, club habitués, couples on dates and guys having conversations about spec scripts.

And they wait, sometimes well beyond an hour, all for the pleasure of spicy bites of pork, chicken or tofu soaked in red chili flake vinaigrette, short ribs doused in sesame-chili salsa roja or perhaps a blood sausage sautéed with kimchi, all of it wrapped in a soft taco shell.

The food at Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go, the taco vendor that has overtaken Los Angeles, does not fit into any known culinary category. One man overheard on his cellphone as he waited in line on a recent night said it best: “It’s like this Korean Mexican fusion thing of crazy deliciousness.”
Which all sounds like a beautiful dream to Fosco. What a perfect fusion: street tacos + kimchi + food truck!

As far as Fosco is concerned, this is probably the best reason to travel to LA right now. Road trip?

Would you care for the "Drum Roll of Colonial Fish"?

Please to be enjoying "Foodie Friday" here at Fosco Lives!

Fosco missed an important anniversary last Friday: the one hundredth birthday of the Futurist Manifesto. The Manifesto was published by F.T. Marinetti on the front page(!) of Le Figaro. As the BBC notes, the Manifesto seems like a strange thing to celebrate:

It called for the demolition of museums and libraries, contempt for women and the glorification of war, "the world's only hygiene".

It promoted "the beautiful ideas which kill" and claimed that beauty exists only in struggle - so why is the art world celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Futurist Manifesto?

Because when it appeared, on 20 February 1909, it was the first art manifesto of the 20th Century, paving the way for Vorticists, Surrealists, Dada-ists, and Situationists, as well as more recent cultural agitators like the Stuckists.
Sure, it's all a bit creepy and proto-fascistic, but don't you have to appreciate (even a little) a movement that so entirely attempts to revalue all values? Personally, Fosco has always loved tenet #4 of the Manifesto:
We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
I can guarantee that Dale Earnhardt Jr. agrees with that one.

The best reason for us to talk about Futurism on "Foodie Friday" is Marinetti's 1932 publication of The Futurist Cookbook. There aren't many "isms" that provide their own recipes and there is no cookbook that is as amazingly bizarre and hilarious as this one. Actually, the genre confusion is part of the fun here: is this really a cookbook? Is this literature? Is it some kind of imaginary food-writing? Whatever it is, here is Fosco's favorite recipe (not that he's ever tried it, of course):
HEROIC WINTER DINNER (from the “Futurist Cookbook”, 1932)

A group of soldiers who at three o’clock on a January afternoon will have to get into a lorry to enter the line of fire at four, or go up in an aeroplane to bomb cities or counter-attack enemy flights, would seek in vain the perfect preparation for these in the grieving kiss of a mother, of a wife, of children or in re-reading passionate letters.

A dreamy walk is equally inappropriate. So is the reading of an amusing book. Instead these fighters sit down round a table where they are served a ‘DRUM ROLL OF COLONIAL FISH’ and some ‘RAW MEAT TORN BY TRUMPET BLASTS’.

“DRUM ROLL OF COLONIAL FISH”: Poached mullet marinated for twenty-four hours in a sauce of milk, rosolio liqueur, capers and red pepper. Just before serving the fish open it and stuff it with date jam interspersed with discs of banana and slices of pineapple. It will then be eaten to a continuous rolling of drums.

“RAW MEAT TORN BY TRUMPET BLASTS”: cut a perfect cube of beef. Pass an electric current
through it, then marinate it for twenty-four hours in a mixture of rum, cognac and white vermouth. Remove itfrom the mixture and serve on a bed of red pepper, black pepper and snow. Each mouthful is to be chewed carefully for one minute, and each mouthful is divided from the next by vehement blasts on the trumpet blown
by the eater himself.

When it is time for the Peralzarsi; the soldiers are served plates of ripe persimmons, pomegranates, and blood oranges. While these disappear into their mouths, some very sweet perfumes of roses, jasmine, honeysuckle and acacia flowers will be sprayed around the room, the nostalgic and decadent sweetness of which will be roughly rejected by the soldiers who rush like lightning to put their gas masks on.

The moment they are about to leave they swallow the Throat–Explosion, a solid liquid consisting of a pellet of Parmesan cheese steeped in Marsala.
Of course, the question of how seriously to take this is part of the proper enjoyment of the Futurists (at least for contemporary readers). The strange thing is how similar this kind of recipe is to the actual contemporary culinary practice of chefs like Grant Achatz or Homaro Cantu.

If this kind of food writing thrills you, you may enjoy even more the setting of the Marinetti's cookbook to music! American composer Aaron Jay Kernis has written The Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine for string quartet and narrator. A recording is available on this CD.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

From the Annals of Strange and Terrifying

The Grand JennyT sent this along. It's the kind of toy that would change your life--if it really existed.

And it's a perfect gift for Pep-Pep and Nanna!

Cuter Than Errol Morris

Last week, Fosco pointed your attention toward the photograph of an otter with a camcorder. After thinking about it, it occurs to Fosco that this otter could have been in the process of shooting a documentary film--maybe something about tourists on boats. Which leads Fosco to rank the best otter-made documentaries:

  1. The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Swimmy Reefenstahl
  2. Inside Kelp
  3. The Banality of Evil: The Lives of Killer Whales
  4. On Our Backs: Eating Habits Explained
  5. Hands on a Hard Scallop
  6. Otto: An Inspiring Story of a Developmentally-Disabled Otter
  7. Finding Nemo: The True Story of a Delicious Meal
  8. Whiskers of Fury
  9. Otterville Follies
  10. The Little Mermaid: Inside the Undersea Porn Industry
Am I forgetting any?

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I've got another puzzle for you!

A couple of weeks ago, Fosco and Oz played the role of "good gay uncles" for Oz's goddaughter (who we will continue to call "Amanda") by attending her elementary school musical: Willy Wonka Junior. It's based on Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, of course, and features many of the songs found in the original Gene Wilder film.

You know what's best about Amanda's elementary school? The "street" names. Welcome to "Megaskills Avenue," my friends.

The show itself was a pretty typical elementary school production. Half of the actors stared directly at their parents. More than half of the song lyrics were indecipherable. Nearly eighty percent of the dialogue was too quiet to hear or too garbled to understand. Strangely enough, most of the main roles (Charlie, Wonka, etc.) were played by more than one student--they switched about halfway through the show. This was surprisingly confusing. Even weirder, one of the Charlies was a girl. Here's the non-girl (or "boy") Charlie, with Grampa Joe and Willy Wonka himself:

Oz's goddaughter was one of (many, many) Oompa Loompas and their costumes were the most adorable. She was definitely the best of the Oompa Loompas, even if this proud "uncle" says so himself.

The set was actually pretty decent:

If it sounds like the whole thing was a nightmare, you're wrong. It was actually a complete hoot. As long as you don't care about actual theater.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Finally, some good news involving Michael Cera.

Even the sad news about Defamer can't take the shine off this story they reported today: Michael Cera is finally onboard for the Arrested Development movie. According to the source, shooting could start "this winter" (which presumably means next winter, i.e. Winter 2010).

So many "long national nightmares" have ended recently that Fosco can barely keep track of them. But yes, another long national nightmare is over.

In related casting news, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has signed on to play the role of Waiter #3 in the film. Clearly, it's an excellent choice.

Battlestar Galactica as "future history."

There were probably ten disturbing bits of information in this recent New Yorker article about the military uses of robot-mounted shotguns (seriously). But this might have been the most troubling:

Combat-robot advocates are quick to say that the decision to fire will always remain in the hands of a human operator. Their refrain is "Man in the loop." Yet several weapons systems, including the Patriot missile and some defense systems built for U.S. Navy ships, can be programmed to shoot without a human pulling the trigger. P.W. Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of "Wired for War," about the growth of robotic warfare, says, "We've already redefined what 'in the loop' means. It's moved from making the decision to fire to mere veto power. The lines are already fuzzy, and they're disappearing."
In two hundred years, as the last remaining human historians trace the developments that eventually led to the Cylon Wars, this passage will seem sadly prophetic.

Can humankind change course in time?

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WG Sebald: Looking at Corpses

Fosco recently read several "novels" by the late German author W.G. Sebald. Sebald's work is absolutely astonishing; he's one of the best authors I have read in years. In fact, The Rings of Saturn is now one of my favorite books of all time.

Sebald's work is hard to describe--it's kind of a hybrid between a novel and a personal essay, with lots of history thrown in. There isn't much "plot," but the stories are so ravishing and the language is so smooth that it's easy to fall under the spell of the narrative.

For your Wednesday edification, Fosco today offers an excerpt from Sebald's The Rings of Saturn. In the excerpt, Sebald offers a historical and art critical meditation on a famous Rembrandt painting, The Anatomy Lesson (seen below). As history, this is a beautiful passage; as art criticism, it's extraordinary. Hopefully, it will whet your appetite for more Sebald.

Excerpt from W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, trans. by Michael Hulse:

"In January 1632, [...] the dissection of a corpse was undertaken in public at the Waggebouw in Amsterdam--the body being that of Adriaan Adriaanszoon alias Aris Kindt, a petty thief of that city who had been hanged for his misdemeanors an hour or so earlier.


"The spectacle, presented before a paying public drawn from the upper classes, was no doubt a demonstration of the undaunted investigative zeal in the new sciences; but it also represented (though this surely would have been refuted) the archaic ritual of dismembering a corpse, of harrowing the flesh of the delinquent even beyond death, a procedure then still part of the ordained punishment. That the anatomy less in Amsterdam was about more than a thorough knowledge of the inner organs of the human body is suggested by Rembrandt's representation of the ceremonial nature of the dissection--the surgeons are in their finest attire, and Dr Tulp is wearing a hat on his head--as well as by the fact that afterwards there was a formal, and in a sense symbolic, banquet. If we stand today before the large canvas of Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson in the Mauritshuis we are standing precisely where those who were present at the dissection in the Waaggebouw stood, and we believe that we see what they saw then: in the foreground, the greenish, prone body of Aris Kindt, his neck broken and his chest risen terribly in rigor mortis. And yet it is debatable whether anyone ever really saw that body, since the art of anatomy, then in its infancy, was not least a way of making the reprobate body invisible. It is somehow odd that Dr Tulp's colleagues are not looking at Kindt's body, that their gaze is directed just past it to focus on the open anatomical atlas in which the appalling physical facts are reduced to a diagram, a schematic plan of the human being, such as envisaged by the enthusiastic amateur anatomist René Descartes, who was also, so it is said, present that January morning in the Waaggebouw.


"[T]he much-admired verisimilitude of Rembrandt's picture proves on closer examination to be more apparent than real. Contrary to normal practice, the anatomist shown here has not begun his dissection by opening the abdomen and removing the intestines, which are most prone to putrefaction, but has started (and this too may imply a punitive dimension to the act) by dissecting the offending hand. Now, this hand is more peculiar. It is not only grotesquely out of proportion compared with the hand closer to us, but it is also anatomically the wrong way round: the exposed tendons, which ought to be those of the left palm, given the position of the thumb, are in fact those of the back of the right hand. In other words, what we are faced with is a transposition taken from the anatomical atlas, evidently without further reflection, that turns this otherwise true-to-life painting (if one may so express it) into a crass misrepresentation at the exact point of its meaning, where the incisions are made. It seems inconceivable that we are faced here with an unfortunate blunder. Rather, I believe that there was deliberate intent behind this flaw in the composition. That unshapely hand signifies the violence that has been done to Aris Kindt. It is with him, the victim, and not the Guild that gave Rembrandt his commission, that the painter identifies. His gaze alone is free of Cartesian rigidity. He alone sees that greenish annihilated body, and he alone see the shadow in the half-open mouth and over the dead man's eyes." (12-17)

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UCSD Cancer Scare

Take notes, UCSC students: this is how protests are supposed to work.

This is a picture from a protest last week at one of UCSC's sister schools, UC San Diego (UCSD). You see, there is some evidence for the existence of a cancer cluster in one of UCSD's buildings. Apparently, there have been eight cases of breast cancer reported by workers in this building since 2000.

Now this is an upsetting story, but it gets even more troublesome for Fosco with the revelation that the offending building is the home of the Literature Department. Fosco's program at UCSC is also a Literature (as opposed to English) program, and so he feels a kinship here. Not to mention that Fosco knows several people in the UCSD program--including one of Fosco's intellectual heroes. These are Fosco's peeps that are in danger!

According to an epidemiological research report commissioned by UCSD, there is a very low probability that this type of thing happened by chance:

the observed incidence of invasive breast cancer in the Literature Building was about 4-5 times the expected incidence in the California general population.
As the report goes on to note (with typical scientific detachment):
Estimated relative risks in the range that was observed suggest that the cluster was worthy of closer epidemiological scrutiny.
So what exactly is going on in UCSD's Literature Building (I mean, besides reading, writing, and cut-throat departmental politics--all the usual things)?

Here is the offending structure:

From the outside it does indeed look safe, unless you are easily-pained by bad architecture. The epidemiological report ruled out mold, water contamination, and chemical causes. Rather, the potential culprit could be electromagnetic fields from the elevator banks. Of course, it's hard to tell for sure: the fact that a recent study has demonstrated no link between EMFs and breast cancer further complicates matters. Even so, UCSD has already taken some steps to reduce exposure to the elevator fields--just to be on the safe side.

However, students, faculty, and employees remain concerned that UCSD's response remains insufficient. I can't blame them--if I worked in the building, I would be demanding that UCSD either
  • demolish it
  • go all "X-Files" and quarantine the whole place (complete with guys in hazmat suits).
Of course, with the UC budget crunch, neither of these things will happen. UCSD is making a high stakes bet here: if the cluster is not a coincidence and if it's not due to the elevators, there will be blood on the hands of UCSD administrators.

All I know is that UCSD better not have been taking out "dead peasant" insurance policies.

Whether this cluster is indeed a coincidence or the sign of a real problem, this is a terrifying story that hits too close to home. I don't know what I would do were I a grad student at UCSD; I would hate to think that my advisor and beloved departmental staff were risking their lives by working in the building. Luckily, if UCSD is anything like UCSC, the grad students are probably unaffected--considering that none of us have offices in the Lit building (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Any UCSD students out there who can offer a "local report" on this story? Holla atcha colleague.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Animated Isis

Oz ran across this. It pretty accurately captures the behavior of our cat Isis (well, except for the part where the cat uses the remote). And it's surprisingly cute.

Let's Save A Bookstore (Or Two)

From this weekend's Santa Cruz Sentinel, an article about the local independent bookstore, the Capitola Book Cafe. It's a pretty decent general interest bookstore, with occasionally interesting author events (which Fosco has attended before). And, like all independent bookstores, it's in trouble.

But the Capitola Book Cafe owners have an interesting suggestion for how we can help save independent bookstores:

Still, said the Book Cafe partners, the fate of the independent book industry is largely in the hands of consumers. A recent study pointed out that among even those consumers who thought of themselves as "loyal independent bookshop customers" only four of every 10 books they buy came from an independent bookseller.

"We're not asking that people buy 10 out of 10 books from independent bookstores," said Janet Leimeister. "But just one or two more, five out of 10, or six out of 10, would make a huge difference."
This is actually a pretty interesting idea and one that seems eminently doable. As much as Fosco spends on books (and obscure academic books, at that), there is just no way he can quit shopping Amazon. But, he may be able to shift one or two (out of ten) book purchases to independent stores like the Capitola Book Cafe. Can you?

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Harvard Now Just Like Other Universities: Poor.

Fosco has been following the story of Harvard's financial dissolution for several months now. You may recall that, when we last checked, Harvard had lost 8 billion dollars from its endowment in 2008. But this week, new details have emerged. In this NY Times article, you can read a profile of Harvard's embattled Endowment Director, Jane Mendillo.

You have to feel for Mendillo, who took the job on July 1, 2008. How can you not admire timing like that? It's a little like being promoted to US Director of National Intelligence on September 10, 2001. If I were a Wall Street bank, I would have a standing job offer out to Mendillo. The day after she accepts it, you would know that it's time to sell.

But whether or not Mendillo got hosed by taking her new job, she still has to try to account for the largest endowment loss in forty years--a loss that has left Harvard short of the ready cash it needs to meet its immediate obligations. As the article notes:

Harvard has frozen salaries for faculty and nonunion staff members, and offered early retirement to 1,600 employees. The divinity school has warned it may not be able to cover tuition for all its students with need, the school of arts and sciences is cutting its billion-dollar budget roughly 10 percent, and the university president said this week than the unprecedented drop in the endowment was causing it to delay its planned expansion, starting with a $1 billion science center, into the Allston neighborhood of Boston.
The delay on the Allston Science Center (pictured above) is actually the saddest part here, because it will mean an additional four to five years until Harvard students will have access to Laser Floyd.

If you're interested, there is much complicated financial jargon to help explain Harvard's situation:
The endowment was squeezed partly because it had invested more than its assets, a leveraging strategy that can magnify results, both good and bad. It also had invested heavily in private equity and related deals, which not only lock up existing cash but require investors to put up more capital over time.
She has raised the equivalent of 3 percent of assets for a cash reserve. “For a long time, Harvard had a negative 5 position,” she said. “That means that 105 percent of the assets are invested at most times.”
I don't really understand any of that, of course. But I'm pretty sure it means that Harvard is broke. All I know is that I keep getting emails every week or so from Harvard President Peri Gilpin Drew Gilpin Faust soliciting items for a "Harvard Yard Rummage Sale." I'm thinking of sending along a nice tea set that I've never used.

Monday, February 23, 2009

There's a place...

"Music Monday" concludes.

When Fosco was in college, the subway trains on the Red Line of Boston's T would enter Harvard Square Station (outbound) by marking a wide underground curve. The high-pitched squeal of the tires(?) that you heard in the cars during this maneuver always seemed strangely musical to Fosco and some of his friends--as if the T were doing a piece by Ligeti. Fosco's most musical roommate would even sometimes pretend to conduct the screeches (yeah, he was pretentious like that).

But little did Fosco know that other subways around the country play actual musical compositions. From the NY Times:

The first three notes of the song "Somewhere" from "West Side Story" can be heard underground on some 2, 4 and 5 lines when they depart. This began in 2000 when new cars were introduced, though virgin ears are still discovering the melody today.
You have to love the Times for an article like this--and a long article, at that!

Of course, this just confirms Fosco's opinions about Bernstein's compositions: so annoying that even a subway train could have written them.

Not (Yet) on iTunes

Tra-la-la... Music Monday!

Without Ted Gideonse, Fosco would miss all of the good blog memes. This is a great one: the Random CD Cover Meme. Let's get the rules from Ted (so you can do it yourself):

Here are the rules:

1. Use Wikipedia’s random article page to find your band name.

2. Go to the Random Quotations Page. The last four words of the very last quote is your album name.

3. Visit Flickr’s interesting photos page, the third image, no matter what, is your cover art.

4. Use Photoshop or Paint.NET to put all the pieces together.

5. Post it to the group!
For example, my random Wikipedia article was on Ski Bums, a gay and lesbian ski/snowboard club (how interesting!). My random quote was from the loathsome Woody Allen:
Organized crime in America takes in over forty billion dollars a year and spends very little on office supplies.

And if you think that none of this seems very promising for poor Fosco's band so far, wait until you see this "interesting" Flickr pic.

However, I must say that a little PhotoShop can do wonders. Here is the complete CD cover:

It actually came out looking surprisingly professional, I think (certainly much better than these covers). Lest you think that Fosco knows much about PhotoShop, allow him to reassure you that he did most of this by accident. That cool "molecular" background beneath the titles? That was (somehow) the default background texture. But for some reason, it looks pretty rad with the other elements.

The next step, of course, is to record this album. Anyone know any songs?

Sorry, David Archuleta...

Today's "Music Monday" is all about blog memes. You've been warned.

The outrageously fashionable Jill of Stella's Roar has tagged yours truly with the "Top Five Albums" meme--you know, that thing where you get to choose only five CDs to last you the rest of your life... Eek. As Jill says, that is indeed a "dismal limitation." But nonetheless, it is a useful exercise in mental hygiene and willpower. I'm going to set one more limitation on myself for this list: these are my top five non-classical albums. Having to mix in classical music would just mess the whole thing up too much.

And so, in no particular order:

1. Explosions in the Sky: The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place. I was introduced to this Texas-based "post-rock" band by a friend I met during my Second Life phase. I don't play that game anymore (I am concentrating again on my first life), but this CD is still one of the best things ever. I saw them in concert in Santa Cruz last summer with Oz and it was an amazing experience.

I can accept (intellectually) that these guys aren't for all tastes. And maybe it's my experience with classical music that allows me to enjoy ten minute instrumental songs. But I just don't see how you can resist the chiming guitars and hell-for-leather drumming--this is seriously emotional music.

You can listen to my favorite track "Your Hand In Mine" below. When Oz and I saw them live, I actually got to hear "Your Hand In Mine" with Oz's hand in mine. I'll admit I cried a bit.

I could listen to this song everyday. And for a long time, I did.

2. Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise. My total music crush on Sufjan Stevens is no secret. This is the second disc in his (probably nonserious) attempt to write an album for each of the 50 states. While his Michigan album was really good, this disc is absolutely exceptional. The amazing thing about these songs is that they balance at the intersection of grand historical time (events in Illinois history like the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition) and completely personal detail (a trip to Decatur with his disliked step-mother). They are simultaneously personal and historical. And the instrumentation is brilliantly experimental.

Here is my favorite song from the album, "Casimir Pulaski Day," about the cancer death of teen girlfriend. This is a live performance--and isn't he quite handsome?

The most amazing lyric in this song:

Tuesday night at the Bible study
We lift our hands and pray over your body
But nothing ever happens
If I could write a line like this, I would retire. I probably wouldn't get any money for it, but I would still retire.

3. Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American/Self-titled. The original title of this disc was "Bleed American," released in July 2001. After 9/11, the title was changed to prevent misunderstandings. Fosco saw them tour with this album in Washington DC on September 8, 2001, so he still calls it "Bleed American."

I love most of the Jimmy Eat World oeuvre, but this is my favorite disc. There isn't a bad song on it (although some are better than others). The first five songs on the disc make an excellent five song set. "The Middle" was the well-known single from this album and, while it's a good song, it's not the best. I vacillate as to which song I like best: "A Praise Chorus" or "If You Don't, Don't." "A Praise Chorus" is a great anthem for a romantic in his late twenties. "If You Don't, Don't" is a much more ambivalent song, despite the driving beat.

I'm pretty fond of the grammatical hesitation in song's title, as well as the almost Raymond Carver-esque plea: "Would you mean this, please, if it happens?" And the slight break in his voice on "please" kills me every time. The song always reminds me of the many cool summer nights in Virginia that I spent driving around in my car, listening to this song and trying to make sense of a very confusing romantic relationship.

4. My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade. And now we've fallen deep into the emo abyss. I may be slightly embarrassed by it, but I can't live without this album.

What do I love about it? I love that the theatricality of it all--as if MCR decided to channel Freddy Mercury and Queen for both the vocals and guitar solos. I love the brazen defiance: "I'm not ashamed / I'm gonna show my scars." I love that each song (with one inexplicable exception) is focused so clearly on the theme of death and loss. And, for someone as depressive as Fosco, the concluding optimism is surprisingly powerful: "I am not afraid to go on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone." Oh yeah, and I really love those black drum major uniforms--I want to belong to that marching band!

Here is the video for "Famous Last Words," my favorite song on the disc. I love the costumes and the makeup, but the video itself is a bit uninspired. Oh well.

5. The Pixies: Doolittle. This fifth slot gave me some trouble and I think if you ask me next week, I might be willing to swap in Radiohead, Springsteen, or Coldplay here. But the Pixies are indisputably deserving. They're also the band on this Top Five list that I've liked longest (since I stumbled across this album in 1990 or so).

The Pixies are one of the seminal alternative bands, and this is one of the most important alternative albums (which essentially means that the Pixies were huge in college rock before college rock became alternative). There is not one bad song on this album. Not one. And there are probably five clearly classic songs on this album. Five.

Did you know that the original working title for this album was "Whore"? Love it.

"Here Comes Your Man" may be their poppiest song, but it's still soooo good:

N.B., you can download this entire album to play on Rock Band and it's worth doing, even just to feel like you are a member of this band. In another life, I'm Black Francis.

That's it. That's the list. Thanks Jill, this was fun. You know whose musical taste I'm curious about right now? kungfuramone, consider yourself tagged.

UPDATE: KFR has already responded. And his list is just as enlightening as I'd hoped. Good work.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Roundup

Fosco didn't watch the Oscars (with one brief exception, as you'll see). But he did keep track of the developments via two live blogs: Ted Gideonse and Nate Silver's

First off, let me congratulate the Fosco Lives! reader who correctly predicted the Best Picture winner, Ghetto Superstar, in our first ever Oscar poll. As for the four of you who foolishly voted for Brad Pitt vehicle, The Splendiferous Zeppelin Escapades of Filliam H. Muffman, well, you guys suck.

Speaking of predictions and sucking, it looks like baseball/politics statistics guru Nate Silver was out of his element. The predictions from his logistic regression model were accurate for four of the six categories he predicted. While this is better than chance, it's much worse than the "educated guesses" of insiders like Entertainment Weekly's Dave Karger (who got all six correct). Sorry, Nate: your math is powerless against Hollywood.

Fortuitously, the part of the Oscars that Fosco did see was Sean Penn's Best Actor acceptance speech. I loved that he called out the Prop 8 supporters, referring to "the shame in their grandchildren's eyes" when said grandchildren someday learn that their forebears voted for the measure. I thought this rocked.

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25 Things About Fosco (Sort Of)

February is the month that the NY Times discovered the "Twenty-Five Things About You" meme that whipped through Facebook during late January. You know, it's that thing where you are tagged by a friend/acquaintance/coworker to post 25 random things about yourself--your choice. Several of Fosco's blogopals, like Jill and Ted, have even relocated this task from Facebook to their blogs.

In one recent piece in the Times, they discuss the ways in which the list can be used (like everything else on Facebook) in the service of self-presentation. So, in the spirit of that Times piece, Fosco offers you his own 25 list today. Note: the Times's recommendations for each number are in brackets and italics. Fosco's actual answers follow the recommendations.

  1. [Say that you hate things like this, and are doing it only to get the (oh, so many) friends clamoring for your list off your back.]
    I'm actually not a fan of this kind of thing, but people keep asking me. (Although, the very fact that I blog at all should suggest that I actually don't mind this kind of thing too much.)
  2. [Describe “embarrassing” high school incident that makes you look cool.]
    I was the valedictorian of my high school, which was pretty embarrassing at the time because our school did not strongly value academics.
  3. [Confess to crush on a) third-grade teacher b) obscure indie actor or actress c) your significant other, especially if he or she is on Facebook.]
    My third grade teacher was a giant lesbian, so I didn't have a crush on her. I do, however, have a (not exactly sexual) crush on Alan Tudyk.
  4. [Identify real, but minor, flaw.]
    I noticed last week that, in profile, I have Lincoln's nose.
  5. [Identify major flaw by suggesting how it may also be major virtue.]
    I have absolutely no control over my book-buying habit. It's a terribly expensive habit for someone with a grad student's income. However, it is very nice to own a large library--especially when much of it is useful for your work.
  6. [Cite mean nickname you were given as a child.]
    As a tween, I was occasionally called "Spanky."
  7. [Follow with offhand mention of receipt of high professional honor or athletic or artistic achievement.]
    After graduating from Harvard, I received a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship to study psychology.
  8. [Describe meeting a celebrity and how it a) disillusioned or b) thrilled you or c) if it’s a really good celebrity just the name will do.]
    I've met Bruce Springsteen and it was a little thrilling.
  9. [Mention small adversity, like long commute or annoying neighbor, and the unexpected, preferably funny, way you overcome it.]
    I would really love to own a pug dog, but almost all Santa Cruz leases don't allow dogs. So instead, I have bought a Pug-A-Day Calendar the last three years. And every day, I name the pug(s) of the day.
  10. [Cite an actual random thing that comes to mind while writing this list.]
    John Cameron Mitchell saw my penis once.
  11. [“Admit” that you always identified with weird ancillary character on popular TV show in 7th grade, as if you didn’t know that everyone in retrospect agrees that was the best character.]
    It doesn't quite fit, but in seventh grade I thought I was Alex P. Keaton of "Family Ties."
  12. [Expose something genuine and poignant about yourself, such as untimely death of close relative or rare genetic condition.] I have a genetic non-Parkinsonian tremor, which will probably slowly get worse over the rest of my life. Most of the time, people just think I'm very nervous.
  13. [Express heartfelt thanks to friends or family for helping you through #12, or just for being there, or whatever.]
    My boyfriend Oz has been extremely understanding and supportive about my tremor (and it's potential for future degeneration).
  14. [Conclude sentimental portion of list by citing the scene in movie X that always makes you cry. Could also be a lyric, or a memory, so long as it involves crying.]
    I always cry during the prom scene in Buffy Season 3.
  15. [Something about drugs.]
    I think cocaine is much more interesting and useful than marijuana. I'm not really into drugs, but if I were, it would be coke all the way.
  16. [Tell a story of how you stood up to authority. Dwelling on descriptive details can help it not seem like you are making yourself out to be a hero even though you are.]
    When I was an announcer for a classical music station, I once chose to play a piece that contained the full text of Allen Ginsberg's Howl as the libretto, insisting that the station's obscenity policy could not apply to art. I was wrong. All of the announcers had to take obscenity training because of me. They weren't thrilled.
  17. [Recount a dramatic moment, like having your heart broken or getting arrested, but withhold details, forcing readers to ask for them in your "comments" section. In case you didn’t know, comments equate to status on Facebook even more than number of friends.]
    I once failed a field sobriety test when I was completely sober.
  18. [Make one up.]
    I've appeared on "Card Sharks."
  19. [Say “one of these is completely made up.”]
    One of these is completely made up.
  20. [If you have kids, a) cite weird names you wanted for them and how your more rational, if less creative, spouse rescued them from a lifetime of torture,]
    I don't have kids, nor do I want kids. But if I accidentally ended up with three kids, I would probably name them Foucault (boy), Derrida (girl), and Dickens (either). Luckily, Oz wouldn't let these names happen (because he hates creative names).
  21. [and/or b) relate story that appears to expose your inept parenting while in fact highlighting their precocious brilliance. If you don’t have kids, relate a cute anecdote from your early life to show everyone that you’re still a kid at heart.]
    When I was six, I was in an art class at the local nature center. I made a model that I called the "Hall of Justice." The teacher was so impressed with my precocity until the mother of one of my friends/rivals explained to her that the "Hall of Justice" was the headquarters of the Super Friends.
  22. [If you have a pet, you have one item only through which to convey its superlative nature. If you don’t have a pet, talk about how much you yearn for an obscure breed of cat/dog/reptile or, alternatively, how much you hate animals and the people who love them.]
    Oz and I have a cat named Isis who loves to play "fetch" with her catnip-stuffed fish (named "Tina Tuna").
  23. [Something about parents.]
    My mother is a distant relative of Abraham Lincoln. My father is a distant relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  24. [Name skill that you are proud of by recounting unexpected way you acquired it.]
    I learned to smoke a pipe while I was (briefly, in college) a member of a shadowy conservative organization. College was a very confusing and awkward time for me.
  25. [Close with the unusual: a) recount a genuinely traumatic event you witnessed or b) name an exotic location that is your favorite place on earth or c) cite a dubious world record that you performed.]
    I love Reykjavik, Iceland and have been there twice. It's one of my favorite cities in the world.