Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I don't know at what age you should no longer answer the question of "what's your favorite band?" with the name of the band that was your favorite when you were 15. I mean sure, there are bands out there today that I really enjoy, certainly with The White Stripes and The Strokes at the top of the list, and bands that have been going a while that make me feel cool in my geekiness, like They Might Be Giants and Weezer.

But I was reminded this weekend that if you asked me that question point-blank and wanted the first answer from off the top of my head, I'd still tell you that my favorite band is the Dead Milkmen.

A little back story is in order.

I was one of those smart, rural, awkward kids who had no idea how to be cool when I was 12, desperately wanted to be cool, and tried on any number of really bad ideas about how to be cool. I went back and forth, for instance, between ugly gaudy clothes and ugly boring clothes. I once fell in love with a British Knights shirt that resembled nothing more than a louder version of the Maryland flag. I then turned 180 degrees to a phase where I mostly wore a jeans jacket that would have suited the Skoal/stoner crowd, but didn't work for me at all. Somehow I couldn't get clothes right at all (and, frankly, probably still haven't).

I also somehow decided that one of the reasons I wasn't cool was because I didn't follow popular music. Being a geek, I overcompensated poorly by starting to get up at 8 every Saturday morning and listening religiously to Casey's Top 40 from 8 until noon. (The most useless category of knowledge I retain is Top 40 songs from the first half of 1987; Billy Vera and the Beaters, Gregory Abbott, and Whitesnake will always be superstars to a certain part of my brain.) Of course, I did this just at the age when actual cool kids somehow started realizing that top 40 music wasn't where it was. Not having MTV was probably a big part of this for me, but I had no idea that REM, The Replacements, et al. were the bands people would really remember; how could they be cool when B94 didn't even play them?

I never really got into those cool bands and only have a retro and not real appreciation for them, but somewhere in all that mess someone played me the Big Lizard in My Backyard album. Nothing magical happened right away, I wasn't taken to a different place, or anything like that. But as I heard Big Lizard and later Bucky Fellini and Beelzebubba, things started to happen. I started to understand that there was other music out there, for one thing. But I also started to understand a more punkish, ironic outlook on the world. I started seeing how people who had gotten out of small towns managed to get out, and what they saw after they left. The Dead Milkmen taught me how smart people drop smart references. (The fact that Stuart got a pamphlet entitled, "Do You Know What the Queers Are Doing to Our Soil?" is funny; the fact that the pamphlet came from Pueblo, Colorado, is freakin' hilarious. Was in 1988, is in 2004.)

I don't make any grand claims that their music was a singular driving force in my life. But in retrospect, I can see that the Milkmen for me played a similar role to what the cool alterna-bands (like the ones above, and slightly later groups like Nirvana) played for other teens. It was the soundtrack of my later teen years, and it did what good soundtracks do--it set the mood, and it was catchy to boot.

This all came to me over the last several days after I went shopping at Amoeba Music on Sunday. Now, in case you don't know, Amoeba is the greatest music store on the planet, and I will not argue about this. They carry more new music than any other record store I've ever seen, and the also carry more used music than any record store I've ever seen, all at reasonable prices, all under one roof. If that doesn't make it the best, I don't know what does. Almost as an afterthought, I looked for some Milkmen discs that I only ever owned on cassette and thus haven't listened to in years. I found two--Beelzebubba and Eat Your Paisley.  

I put one of them in my CD player at work on Monday and I haven't stopped listening yet. Between the 2 albums I've listened five times, and I'll probably listen again tomorrow. I don't know if it's nostalgia, quality or both, but they hold up terrifically for me. Beach Party Vietnam is still excellent satire, Bleach Boys still tells the story of disaffectation in a funny yet deadly serious way, and Punk Rock Girl is still the greatest 3 minutes ever created by human beings.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I understand the concept of having two movie supervillains face off against each other; I get that. But why, pray tell, are they playing volleyball?

A few popular culture notes written while watching my favorite Michael Gross movie:

There are several summers of my life that I consider to be inextricably linked to a particular song. 1988 will always be the summer of Pour Some Sugar On Me, which seemed to be played every other song on the jukebox at the pool. I seemed to spend the entire summer of 1994 driving around with a girl who would crank her car radio to full blast for the line "I want to be Bob Dylan" (even though she didn't really like Bob Dylan) everytime Mr. Jones came on, which seemed to be pretty much all the time. (When Mr. Jones wasn't playing that summer, Basket Case inevitably was.) In 1998 I literally couldn't escape Torn. It was the runaway pop hit of June and July, and then when I went to Europe in August, it was the runaway pop hit there in August. In 2001 Tim and I drove across the country winding our way north and south, and then I drove back across using a different route, and we never once made it through a state without hearing Follow Me somewhere in that state. (Except North Dakota, where I literally heard the song within 500 yards before entering and after leaving the state.) Sadly, it was always the Uncle Kracker version, never the John Denver version.

The practical upshot here is, I don't know about the rest of the country, but in L.A. 2004 is now officially the summer of Float On. Congratulations to Modest Mouse for achieving the requisite ubiquity; may your career be more Green Day than Imbruglia. Another month and I'm sure I'll be wishing you the opposite.

In other pop culture news, Jeff and I took the ironic movie plunge last night and rented Gigli. In short, the verdict is that it's not as bad as you've heard. It is almost as bad, but for different reasons than you might think. I don't think Jennifer Lopez was particularly awful, and I don't think Ben Affleck was particularly awful. We were ready to hate them when the movie came out, so the fact that they weren't very good somehow turned into them being horrible. I'm also not going to attack the premise--premises can be better or worse, but you can make a good movie with a bad premise and vice versa.

The problem with Gigli is that it is absolutely miserably written and directed. It can't find a tone, which is bad. It has scenes that could be played for comedy or drama but you can't tell which, and that's worse. And sometimes it has those scenes and then piles on some really over-the-top music that forcefully tells you how to feel, but that's even worse yet.

The plot is equally muddled. The love story itself is clear and is either clever or offensive, depending on how fluid you think sexuality really is. But the rest is just a mess. The lead couple are hired guns, and there's a kidnapping, but it's totally unclear why they've kidnapped this person, on whose behalf, and to what end. Then there are characters who are apparently important and hold clues to these questions, but they show up for one scene and then are gone and forgotten. Christopher Walken shows up and does a five-minute quirky Christopher Walken scene, and then is gone. Later, Al Pacino shows up and does a five-minute quirky Christopher Walken scene (which, Jeff points out, can be a lot like a quirky Al Pacino scene), and then two-thirds of the way through it, suddenly turns and shoots his agent.

There is some campy fun to be had out of Gigli, particularly with the highly manipulative music and the rare non-Oscar-nominated mentally retarded performance by Justin Bartha, but beyond staring at J-Lo's ass (let's not forget, she's a star for a reason; specifically, that reason) there's not a whole lot of fun to be had here.

If you want real campy movie fun, check out the $17 the special effects department budgeted to show you how The Legend Begins.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A couple of links that have come my way lately from non-bloggers (thanks Chris and Kristan!)

Trojan Heisman hype has started. Well, sort of.

This year's Bulwer-Lytton results are in. Personally, I preferred the runner-up.

So the brief I carried to San Francisco two weeks ago was part of a cross-filing. When you file a motion, generally there's the initial filing, then an Opposition brief by the other side, and then your Reply to the Opposition. But, as I said two sentences ago, this was a cross-filing, so both sides filed motions, both sides have to oppose the other side's motion, and both sides have to reply. Our Opposition is due tomorrow, which meant by 7 p.m. tonight to avoid flying it. We made it by about 12 minutes. The Reply is due next Friday.

Basically, even though I've mentally checked out, I haven't been able to totally check out. But I'm getting there.

Also, it's worth noting that if you ever need documents through the Freedom of Information Act, good freakin' luck. That's about all I can say, but trust me, it's true.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I've been back to the gym each of the last 4 days, but before then I'd been on a very long drought--hadn't been in about a month, and haven't been regularly in at least 2. It's been reminding me of why I love it--I do enjoy the lifting, and breaking a sweat via exercise legitimately makes me feel goo. It's also been reminding me of the bits I hate--the extreme soreness the first few days back (the difference between no chest pain and extreme chest pain the last 2 days has been the difference between holding my arms up almost to shoulder height vs. holding them up to shoulder height), and particularly the early mornings. Five a.m. just sucks; there's no two ways about it. I'm heartily hoping that my fall schedule will allow me to spend a much saner hour of the day in the gym.

Another thing that's been annoying about all of that is that for some reason, having my alarm set for 5 a.m. makes me spend half the night waking up and going back to sleep. I've had very fitful sleep for two straight nights now, and a third tonight wouldn't surprise me. Combine that with the fact that we're working somewhat long hours again this week, and it makes for one tired Joe.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Oh yes, I forgot about one footnote from my trip last weekend, which was this painful image in the Skymall catalog. (Thanks to DEK for posting and The Bruce for scanning.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Quick quiz: What do these things have in common?
The Copts, Friedrich Durenmatt's The Physicists, Bonus Army, Walter Benjamin, hegemony, Rosh Hashanah, Giles Goat-Boy, Nathan Zuckerman, Ross Geller, Pragmatism, Vikram Seth, Heinrich Boll's The Clown, Vinson Massif.

Those are the correct tossup answers given by yours truly in 7 rounds of quiz-bowl at Berkeley this past weekend. I'm not sure what to make of them--I'm happy to have known them, particularly Clown, which I've actually read. I've wondered where I would stand as a player nowadays, and now I have a benchmark--I can get about 2 non-trash tossups per game on ass-hard questions playing with 25 ppg of teammates and going 1-6 as a team. How much of a benchmark that is, I don't know. I'm unsure whether or not I'll be playing now again now that I'm back in school. I've kind of considered myself retired for a while, but then again the idea of getting to be the 3rd or 4th scorer on a really good team is a luxury I've never had on a regular basis. To be able to do that on a national championship level has a lot of appeal. But then again, I don't even know if I would be the 7th or 8th best player on a Michigan squad at this point, and I can't imagine that I'm going to spend much time in law school trying to get better at quiz-bowl. I guess only time will tell.

Monday, July 12, 2004

I'd give you my account of the rest of last weekend, but one of the fringe benefits of spending it with Mr. Bruce is that it has already been thoroughly covered. Except for the fact that (due to weird trip scheduling quirks), I took his girlfriend out for lunch and a movie today. I promised Matt I'd show her a good time but, given that she's his girlfriend, not TOO good of a time. I hope I succeeded on that front. We went to Anchorman, largely because I just haven't gotten enough David Koechner in my life since the demise of The Fops. Funny stuff, and I particularly liked Steven Carell as a really dumb guy.

I'd type more, but I Love The '90s is about to start.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The last few hours of my life have been a lot like that upcoming Tom Cruise-Jamie Foxx movie, except without all the violence and frosted hair. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I got to work at 9:30 yesterday morning and took a half-hour break for lunch. Otherwise, I worked straight through to 12:30 a.m., drove home, set my alarm for 4 a.m., and was back at work at 5:20. Assembling a large pleading is a frighteningly complex, mindless job. Basically we had to put together 6 copies of the following: my declaration (3 pages) plus exhibits (approx. 1,000 pages), my boss's declaration (14 pages) plus exhibits (approx. 2200 pages, 1100 in one exhibit), five three-page declarations without exhibits, a proof of service (a two-page document saying we mailed a copy to the other side), the motion itself (57 pages) and a notice of motion (3 pages). We make a file copy, one for each of the 2 lawyers on the case, one for the US Attorney, 1 to file with the court, and 1 for the judge.

The first sacrifice we made was that we'll assemble our copies next week, leaving only the 3 that had to go out of the office. The copy for the government just needed to be mailed today. The copies to the court, however, needed to be filed today by 4 p.m. in San Francisco. This meant they had to be taken to FedEx by 7 p.m. last night, or else someone had to fly them up to the Bay Area today.

That is why I'm typing this from Matt Bruce's office in Emeryville, at the east end of the Bay Bridge.

We made not one, not two, not three, but four outgoing flight reservations from LAX--8:30, 11, 11:30, and 12:30. By the time my boss got done with the P's and A's (Points and Authorites, aka "the brief") at about 8:15 a.m., we assemble copies and tracked down original signature copies for the court's copy, and I went Al Haig on the assembly process for about the fifth time, it was almost 10:45 and I despaired of getting here at all. That doubled when I found out at curbside check-in that none of the four tickets had actually been paid for, but fortunately the reservations still existed (That bill will go on the pile of the enormous number of reimbursements I'll be putting in for next week.), so I got on the plane.

After landing, I got the three boxes worth of motion from baggage claim and headed out to the taxi stand, where I was picked up by Sunday who, as required by federal law, was an immigrant. Specifically, Sunday immigrated to the Bay Area 14 years ago from Nigeria. When I then asked him, "Yoruba or Ibo?" I got this look that suggested, "I've been telling people for a decade and a half that I moved here from Nigeria, and you're the first white boy to ask me that." (Yoruba, as it turns out.) Sunday took me to the courthouse, circled the courthouse, and then brought me here. I left my carry-on bag in his cab while I filed the motion; I was slightly nervous that he'd drive away with my bag still in tow, but not that nervous since I hadn't paid him the $55 fare yet. By the time we got here, the fare was $95, which is easily the largest taxi bill I've ever compiled.

So I'm here, on three-ish hours sleep, not too much the worse for wear. I'm apparently engaging in Basque-related activities tomorrow (or, rather, BASQuE-related), and then a Giants game. Other than that, I will do some sleeping, and maybe some sleeping.

You know, come to think of it, the motion is a Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of a convicted multi-murderer (though we're, of course, trying to do something about that), so maybe the only real difference is the hair...

Thursday, July 08, 2004

In the last 36 hours I've worked more than 24 of them, so I'm pretty tired right now. The motion due on Friday is going along OK--more stories about that later when I'm lucid. The short version is that I'm probably spending the weekend in San Francisco for reasons parallel to my October trip to Reno. In short, I'll get on a plane with a big-ol' Motion for Summary Judgment (by "big-ol'" consider this: I'm a paralegal, not the lead paralegal, and my Declaration runs three volumes with exhibits. Egads.), get it to the courthouse, and then have the rest of the weekend off to hang out in the city. Of course, it's entirely possible that I'll go to work tomorrow morning and be there until I'm actually ready to hop on a plane Friday morning, so I don't know how active I'll be in San Fran.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The Pirates have won 10 games in a row. I don't even have a line here; I just want it noted for the record. Of course, they'll have to get to 16 straight to get to .500.

So at work we have a major motion due on Friday. Imagine the equivalent of having a nasty term paper due, except it's already kinda overdue, it's 50 pages long but with over 10,000 pages of exhibits, and if you don't get it done and done well, someone might die. Yeah, that's kinda what we're facing right now. That's a tad overstated, but just a tad. So we're doing crazy things such as, in my case, getting to work at 6:30 a.m. so you can leave at 1 on a national holiday.

The reason I left at 1 was to see my buddy Frank, with whom I had plans to go to the races at Hollywood Park. Hollywood Park is a great place to go if you like horses and/or losing a lot of money in a short amount of time. Also, the horse track is one of the few places left where it's socially acceptable to litter, so, you know, GTs.

Finally, Eric Gagne's streak is now over at 84 games. I was at one of those 84, and a Gagne appearance at Dodger Stadium really is electric. I've always said that all the best closers and AWA wrestlers are Gagnes. Anyway, if nothing else, the streak has give us a really frightening-ass logo. (Scroll down--the "Game Over" one. No, not Duaner Sanchez.)

Sunday, July 04, 2004

I went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 today, which seemed to me strangely apropos. I've always enjoyed Michael Moore's movies, and I agree with him more than I disagree with him. (He's more of a populist than I am, which is probably the biggest difference.) I also think he's very smart about putting together films in ways that entertain and argue at the same time.

It's hard to know what to make of the argument of a film like this, because to some extent Moore is all over the place. He argues about the Bush family and the Bin Laden family, he argues about Iraq, he argues about Afghanistan, he argues about the unfairness of the poor carrying most of the burden of fighting wars on the ground.

What this film is really about more than a specific argument, though, is creating a tone that juxtaposes legitimate grief and righeous anger. And at that, the film works wonders. As Jeff and I both expressed afterwards, it makes you want to cry, it makes you laugh, it makes you angry, it makes you want to cry some more, etc.

Does the movie takes some cheap shots? Absolutely. Does it extend some arguments beyond his evidence? Probably. Does he play fast and loose with facts? I don't think so. Given all that, he's certainly no worse than your average Fox News show, and probably a lot better.

One thing that really galls me is the attempt to marginalize Moore on our political spectrum as if he's way off in kookytown or something. The right has (to their credit, in tactical terms anyway) successfully captured the terms of debate in this country, and has managed to drag what counts as mainstream rightward. I get that. But Moore does not strike me as any further to the left of center than the current administration is to the right. Yet somehow, our current political culture manages to cut off any voice much more than slightly to the left, while tolerating just about anything the right-wing can put out there.

I'd also like to say that I don't really buy into some of the accusations people are claiming Moore makes, most specifically that Bush was somehow complicit in bringing about 9/11. I think what he's really saying is that the Bushes helped create a situation that led to 9/11, and that they have benefitted from it. That's not the same as saying they wanted it to happen, brought it about, or were glad it happened. Unfortunately, this is muddled enough (I think because Moore tried to tackle too many things) that I can understand why people would make the more conspiracist assumption of Moore. But I don't think it's actually what he's trying to say.

Ultimately, the images that I'll take away are not specifically the stuff about Bush or the administration, but the images of military families, soldiers on the ground, Iraqis, and above all the sights and sounds of 9/11 that open the film--not the actual footage of the attacks, but audio followed by gut-wrenching reaction shots. The film instantly took me back into that moment, which is not a moment where I like much to go, but which I think is probably important to revisit from time to time.

My bottom line on this movie is that it reminded me of all the reasons my I have a strong antipathy for this Administration, and it at least briefly re-energized the strength of that dislike. I don't know how others would react--there are some truly powerful images that I would like to believe could make people stop and think, but I also know that when you get away from the experience you'll probably remember why you already think whatever you happen to think. All I can tell you is that I enjoyed it, it really moved me, and if it motivates more Democratic and/or anti-Bush supporters, then it's a positive force.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Jeff and I went to Sara's sisters for a cookout of sorts last night. OK, a Hollywood (the neighborhood, not the metaphorical place) cookout--soy hot dogs, grilled portabello mushrooms, and tofu ice cream sandwiches. Not surprisingly, I chose last night to eat a very sparse dinner.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I had a quintessential "guy" moment last night. The plan, after dinner, was to go bowling. At the cookout, I met this friend of many of my friends who I had heard a lot about, and for whatever reason we almost immediately started in with a mock controversy about kicking each other's ass at bowling or something. It was clearly an ironic fake macho thing, but here's the punchline. When I got up there as the last bowler in the 10th frame needing a mark to win, I was actually feeling the pressure. And when I got a strike, it instantly became one of the top ten athletic highlights of my life. And Jesse, I'm pretty sure, was at least a little bit disappointed for real. Guys; go figure.

Just for the record, I bowled a 145, which just goes to show that I can actually bowl OK on the rare occasions where I can find a relatively light ball with big enough and widely enough spaced finger and thumb holes. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen much, and I don't bowl often enough to actually invest in one.

Friday, July 02, 2004

So June turned out to be the cruelest (or at least laziest) month for blogging, but hopefully July will be better.

DEK has posted the first day of his California trip. Personally, I'm looking forward to more bad pictures of myself, particularly one from the La Brea Tar Pits, where we pretty much wrote the caption before we took the picture. But that's still to come. Right now, the horror is limited to this. Considering that's the actual Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk, I should probably throw away those clothes.
You know you've been living in LA too long when things like this happen. A friend of yours works for the show Tru Calling. At some point in conversation he starts bitching about how they just can't seem to get decent scripts, so if you know anyone who could write a decent spec script for the show, you should tell them to send one in.
And you do.