Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just to clarify, this is me (about halfway down), and this isn't me.

Carry on.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

No Lions and no Steelers this afternoon, but we did finally get a moment we've been waiting for ever since football season started back in July: the Black Eyed Peas' Grey Cup halftime show! It's hard to pick out a favorite element of the performance, but I think we can settle on three. One is that the entire band seemed to be in golf clothing, probably having just come off the links. That is, except the drummers in Edmonton Ricky Ray jerseys--we were reasonably confident that they didn't just wear those from their own personal wardrobe at home. Also, Fergie wasn't in golf clothing, but she was probably in the closest thing to golf clothing she's ever worn. Two was that at the very end it briefly appeared that someone was bringing out the type of oversized check normally only given to charitable organizations, golf champions, and Price is Right contestants. OK, it wasn't actually, but it truly embodied the spirit of the event: namely, the Black Eyed Peas will go anywhere and do anything for a gigantic check. I'm thinking "love for Canadian football" was well down the list of reasons for this gig. Three was the fact that all the camera work gave the feel of an intimate club show or at least an arena show with some intimacy, but after several minutes we got a wide shot revealing that the stage was a tiny island in the middle of a gigantical oversized CFL field. The only people within 50 yards of the band were the sound people and a handful of cheerleaders. We figured none of the fans were bothered by the moderately raunchy show because they could barely see or hear it anyway.

Of course, though we kid, it was about 100 times more musically relevant than any Super Bowl halftime show ever. Although this year we get a young, hip band all the kids seem to love. Or something. Apparently Patti Page, Mitch Miller, and the Andrews Sisters were all unavailable.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

If you can judge a man and his mood by the mix CD he puts together from music he's been listening to quite a bit lately for the drive back to school from a trip home for Thanksgiving, then judge away:

  1. People Who Died, Jim Carroll Band
  2. Letter From An Occupant, New P0rnographers
  3. Fairytale of New York, The Pogues
  4. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, The Postal Service
  5. Science vs. Romance, Rilo Kiley
  6. Failure Is OK, Robespierre and His Reign of Terror
  7. Vanessa From Queens, Stephen Malkmus
  8. Since U Been Gone/Maps, Ted Leo
  9. Undone (The Sweater Song), Weezer
  10. Sugar Cube, Yo La Tengo
  11. Duel Duet, Shock Treatment soundtrack
  12. Walt Whitman Bridge, Marah
  13. Chasing Heather Crazy, Guided By Voices
  14. The Mariner's Revenge Song, The Decembrists
  15. Dead Ringer for Love, Cher & Meat Loaf
  16. Bitches Ain't Shit, Ben Folds
  17. The Stars of Track and Field, Belle & Sebastian
  18. Ballad of The Sneak
If I had to self-analyze, it sounds like a bit of melancholy, combined with a pining for East Coast cities along with regret for having to kill my cousin for sleeping with my ho. Some of that sounds right, and some of it sounds wrong. I have been a tad depressed lately about all the standard things (food, sex, self-esteem), and in fact have started some occasional counseling to try to work through it.

The weekend with the fam didn't help, because Dad seems to be at a real crossroads in his long-time battle with cancer. He's had prostate cancer for about 8 years and has been managing it via a number of alternative therapies and some more traditional stuff, but no drastic treatments. But now there's some bone cancer as well, and he sounds like he's finally looking at some chemo. As you might imagine, cranberry sauce can't take away much of that particular sting. My Dad is one of the most optimistic people I know, and he tells us he's not looking forward to the chemo side effects, but he's not especially worried. My Mom is one of the most pessimistic, and she had that look in her eye a few times that said, "This one's real trouble." I'll keep my predilections to myself, but if you want a hint, you could notice that I'm training for the profession that advises clients to have hair dryer warnings saying that the product shouldn't be used while sleeping or showering.

Monday, November 21, 2005

CNN today is reporting the 10 most dangerous cities in America and the 10 least. I'm giving them some benefit of the doubt for now by not putting the word reporting in scare quotes. Here are the lists:

10 Most Dangerous

  1. Camden, NJ
  2. Detroit, MI
  3. St. Louis, MO
  4. Flint, MI
  5. Richmond, VA
  6. Baltimore, MD
  7. Atlanta, GA
  8. New Orleans, LA
  9. Gary, IN
  10. Birmingham, AL
10 Least Dangerous
  1. Newton, MA
  2. Clarkstown, MY
  3. Amherst, NY
  4. Mission Viejo, CA
  5. Brick Township, NJ
  6. Troy, MI
  7. Thousand Oaks, CA
  8. Round Rock, TX
  9. Lake Forest, CA
  10. Cary, NC
The story goes on to discuss Camden's efforts in particular to fight crime while missing entirely the real story here: America's 10 "most dangerous" cities are cities, while its 10 least dangerous are not. Wow, shocking finding here: traditional center cities that have been abandoned by the middle class, business, and state and local governments breed crime, while exurban edge cities (not even, in many cases, suburban) that externalize their problems while beefing up public and private security forces are safe for those who afford to live there.

Apparently safety doesn't imply any degree of livability. To give you an example of how little "there there" there is in those places, this map shows that I have driven through #9 Lake Forest many times without ever realizing that the place existed. I have to admit some fondness for Clarkstown, where an aunt of mine has lived my whole life--her house cannot be seen from any neighbor's and vice versa, it doesn't seem to be atypical, and even the municipal website refers to it as a "Town" and not a city. Its biggest attraction, wait for it, wait for a gigantic mall.

All in all, I'd rather be in Camden.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I actually managed to read a book during law school, and during football season no less. Admittedly, it's a very short one. Steven Johnson is a neuroscientist who set out to explore deep structures of TV, the Internet and video games in Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.

The premise is simple: denunciations of the vapidity and/or immorality of contemporary popular culture focus on the wrong thing, namely content. But if we look instead at the structure of various cultural forms, there is a remarkable upward trend in complexity and interactivity, a trend Johnson calls the "Sleeper Curve." Shows such as Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The West Wing, and Survivor require much more of the viewer than popular shows of 25 years ago--not in terms of vocabulary or any other content-based measure, but in terms of narrative complexity, intertextual reference, and nonlinearity. Whereas 25 years ago the primary goal was not to ask any more thought of the viewer than necessary, many of the most successful shows in recent years withhold information, play with time, weave in multiple threads and storylines, and work on a variety of levels of reference. The good news is that the business of TV makes it likely that this trend will continue, as shows are less profitable now when they are disposable and more profitable if they stand up to repeated viewings, yielding new pleasures on the 2nd, 3rd, or even 10th viewing--such shows are more viable in syndication and more successful in DVD sales.

Johnson also focuses extensively on video games, which increasingly reward not scattered attention, but rather the ability to achieve complex tasks through the gradual completion of hierarchically organized tasks toward intermediate goals. Yes, you can enjoy Grand Theft Auto or The Sims just by messing around with them, but getting anywhere in such games requires you to identify relevant tasks that will lead to completing missions or achieving goals. Johnson calls this process "tunneling" and says learning it is akin to learning algebra--not useful for most people in and of itself, but rather because of the type of process learning that it requires.

It's important not to overestimate the benefits here and not to ignore the shortcomings--in particular, contemporary culture does not promote systematic expository thinking and writing in serious depth, i.e. traditional book literacy. OTOH, people are probably reading more than ever, and are certainly writing more than ever, thanks largely to phenomena such as this very blog and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) like it. Johnson convincingly demonstrates that while the smartest people in our society are probably no smarter than the smartest people 50 years ago, the average person is getting smarter at a rapid pace, as shown by the continual adjustment upward of standard IQ test scales. (Think of it as SAT recentering in reverse: the average score stays constant--100 for IQ, 1000 for the SAT--but how many correct answers that score represents changes as people perform better or worse in absolute terms.)

Johnson's book refocuses cultural debate is a reamarkably useful way, even if you question some of his findings. Middlebrow and lowbrow cultural criticism too frequently focuses on content over structures in numerous situations in our society, and even highbrow academic writing too frequently takes cheap potshots at content as a way of scoring points. Anyone tired of reading gloom and doom accounts of our culture should take a look at this book.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I got a strange phone call this afternoon. It was a (212) number, which was odd, and when I picked up the phone the person said they were from Greenberg Traurig, which was really odd. I interviewed with them for Miami and L.A. on-campus, and they were the only firm that never called me back nor dinged me. The person was just calling to say she was sorry that I didn't receive my ding in early September when I was supposed to, but apparently some batch of letters accidentally didn't get mailed out.

I'm not sure how to respond to that: Um...thanks for the personal attention in calling me 2.5 months down the road? Fuck off? That's OK, I only interviewed with Miami firms as pretext for a free fall callback trip anyway? No problem, I got a job somewhere better anyway?

Let's just say I was cordial and then got off the phone in a hurry.

I had the strangest experience on-campus with that firm on campus, where I interviewed with Cesar. Cesar is very Cuban, very colorful, and very charismatic--three useful things to be, I suppose, when you are the President and CEO of a Miami-based law firm. Let's just say it's odd for a law firm to have a CEO, let alone for him to be interviewing people on campus. Cesar was the only interviewer who had some sort of personal assistant on hand at the hotel--her one function in my interview being opening the door and then later closing it behind me. Any other inferences to be drawn from the presence of this young-20s woman are an exercise for the reader alone, as I draw none. In my 20-minute interview, Cesar spent a good 18 minutes 45 seconds talking. He told me about how they move fast, make decisions fast, and hire fast. (I didn't know at the time that I should have understood the lack of "notify fast" as a meaningful absence.) My favorite moment of the interview, though, was during his speech about the unified command structure of the firm, with few committees, mostly individual decision makers. Cesar was particular proud of the fact that there is no compensation committee; to this end comes the only direct quotation I remember from that week: "All compensation decisions are made by the C.E.O." Yes, Cesar referred to Cesar in the third-person!

Suffice it to say, I'm perfectly content that GT never came a-callin', at least not until today.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

With this, I now count the list of former Steeler offensive linemen who have died at or under the age of 50 since 2000 at four:

  • Mike Webster
  • Terry Long
  • Justin Strzelczyk
  • Steve Courson
...and amazingly, none of them are Crazy Carleton Haselrig. Also, I feel like I'm missing at least one. It's starting to get creepy, frankly. Courson's death reminds me of nothing so much as the Anthrax classic NFB (Dallabnikufecin)--fight through years of steroid-related heart disease, finally make a full recovery, only to be felled by a tree. And in the part of Fayette County that only contains two types of people (rich weirdos and poor weirdos) no less. You don't think Tunch Ilkin and Dermontti Dawson look both ways about five times before crossing the street nowadays?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Certain things you never want to hear out of your doctor's mouth. High on the list would be things like "inoperable" or "malignant." But in the context of an injury, I would propose that "uh-oh" goes pretty high on the list.

"Uh-oh" was what came out of my doctor's mouth today when I started describing how I injured myself on Saturday. I asked him why the uh-oh, and he said that the description sounded like a torn Achilles tendon. However, a quick feeling up of my lower leg showed that the Achilles was intact, as is the entire general knee area.

It turns out my self-diagnosis of torn/pulled/strained calf muscle was indeed correct. More correct than I knew, in fact--I had envisioned a hierarchy of muscle injuries where a tear was worse than a pull and pull worse than a strain, but it turns out "pulled calf," "strained calf" and "torn calf" are synonyms for exactly the same injury. Also the weird amalgam of advice and intuition I had been using to treat it were exactly correct. It'll hurt like a bitch periodically for a week, but no serious harm done.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I made it through almost 30 and 3/4ths without suffering the type of injury that involves hearing a "pop". But I was playing football today, practicing for an IM game, and as I tried to turn and cover someone, I felt like someone hit me right in the middle of the left calf with a rock, or a small ball or something, heard a sound indicating the same, and then collapsed. I limped off the field, and a little later limped home, but there's a decent chance I'll be on crutches once student health reopens on Monday. Bad, bad times. Based on 90 seconds of Internet research, it's probably a calf pull. Suffice it to say, I'm out for the IM season. Carry on, Flying Justice!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

UPDATE: I think a couple of commenters (commentors?) missed the point--of course they covered Garbage Pail Kids and The Last "I Love The '80s" and "I Love The '80s Strikes Back." They're well beyond things you'd actually associate with a particular year for the 3rd go-around. I mean, when your gimmick is based on the 3rd Jaws movie...

OK, so I love "I Love the '_0s" as much as the next guy. In fact, way WAY more than the next guy. WAAAAY more. Still, even I have to admit that the '80s have been stripmined by VH-1 at this point. To illustrate, here are the topics covered in "I Love the '80s 3-D" for 1985:

  • Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting (leading with PBS; strong)
  • Monster trucks ("We'll sell you the whole seat--BUT YOU'LL ONLY NEED THE EDGE!!!")
  • Mick Jagger and David Bowie Dancin' in the Streets (timely)
  • Calvin Klein Obsession ads ("I alone could possess her. Her deepest thoughts know only to me.")
  • Legend of Billie Jean (i.e.: some movie I'd never heard of)
  • Phil Collins, particularly Sussudio (highlight: Mark Hoppus of blink-182 calling him a "badass" as a songwriter)
  • Joe Theismann's leg
  • My Buddy
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic (quote from him that made the episode: "I wrote 'Eat It' because I wanted to buy a house. It worked.")
  • Just One of the Guys (i.e.: some movie I've barely heard of)
  • Bernie Goetz (but strangely no AIDS, crack, or hypodermics on the shore)
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Brewster's Millions (my God, the evil accountant is the 7th Heaven dad?!)
  • "You like me--you really like me!"
  • El Debarge, Rhythm of the Night
  • Spies Like Us
  • Rocky IV
If there's another installment, I expect a lot of footage of producers asking Hal Sparks if he remembers a show, and he'll be like, "yeah, kinda, vaguely--are you sure that didn't just air in Canada?"