On a song from the album that really gained them critical attention about 10 years ago, Drive By Truckers lead singer/songwriter Patterson Hood opined: “Me I was one of them p**** boys because I hated football so I got a guitar; but a guitar is a poor substitute for a football with the girls in my high school so my band hit the road” (“The Three Great Alabama Icons”). Such a sentiment seems apt now that Superbowl season has came and went. This year I didn’t bother tuning in at all; the Superbowl being the only football game I ever bother to sit through and then only for commercials, halftime shows and to perfunctorily take part in this sort of  US-only holiday that becomes more pervasive, expensive, and popular every year.

Like Hood, I have never cared for football; his statement reflected that sense that male non-football fans notice even if it doesn’t really bother them, that the overwhelming majority of their peers cannot comprehend  their disinterest in such a seemingly mandatory interest. A columnist on a graphic art and comics site I frequent wrote an interesting article awhile back (I’d link to it but can’t find it at the moment) about how he finds at his office the sports fans can openly and frequently talk about obsessive levels of fandom–quoting stats from plays and games dating back decades even–yet his interest in comics and graphic novels, including getting paid to write articles for comics journals and knowing the artists and writers that work on titles present and past in the same manner his coworkers can name players on teams is seen as somewhat freakish in comparison. Sports is a universal interest which invites high levels of fandom, creating its own network of socially acceptable bonding over said fandom.

So football. See, I came to sports fandom a bit late and not in not nearly as an intense manner as many; never caring for football and only having a passing interest in basketball, I rediscovered baseball in my early twenties, maybe five years ago; watching the games, rediscovering my childhood teams which I liked then for no rational reason and returned to liking now; I watched Ken Burns massive 10 hour documentary on the history of the game, caught up on giving my own management hand a try via Baseball on Playstation, read some literary journalism on the game, watched the predictable but entertaining sports drama films about baseball, etc.

I really do love baseball now and can watch any game when it’s on in season; yet, aside from certain occasional games, I can also pass on most games if something else is going on, and my love for the game never approaches the level of love I have for music, philosophy,  films, books, or comics. Yet I love baseball a bit more with everything I learn about it; it is one of those games that pays you back for learning its intricacies, subtleties, history, and stats.  I’ve waxed and waned on this site occasionally giving reasons why it’s the better game when compared with football, usually somewhat in jest, often invoking the classic Carlin skit. Now that football has passed from being a mandatory “male” interest to a seemingly mandatory “American” interest, I present a few post-superbowl reflections on why baseball still is the better sport!

I realize that criticizing football is inviting slurred insults my way; heck, even a football fan like Rolling Stone political hot head Matt Taibbi (who loves the game) can get ripped for criticizing the sport as he did  following a piece he wrote in a recent issue as part of his monthly football column in which he noted that the reason concussions were rampant and more often an occurrence now and would increasingly be so is because compared to earlier days today’s players have gotten bigger (due to genetics, steroids, diet), the game has gotten faster and more aggressive (due to fan expectations and advertisers), and the injuries were going to continue to build and be constant–that fans would have to accept responsibility for the collateral damage their hobby as viewers encouraged and that the big-wigs at NFL would have to decide how many physically debilitating events are an acceptable loss margin. Either that, Taibbi concluded, or Americans would have to embrace the game that all of Europe plays as football and we call soccer. So yeah, he got a bit of NFL sportswriters ire with those claims. So, don’t take my column so seriously, since every year even the friends I grew up with who also hated football seem to have been pulled into the armchairs to root for it now; I realize my opinion is that of a small margin of people (a fact I have to recognize in other ways, like I must be the only guy I know who hates “Family Guy” and “Glee” both).

So here goes:

Football is an American sport, granted; America took the name all of the world used for their global sport and attached it to a rougher, more aggressive stadium style game. Baseball is an American game too; the “american part-time.” Yet baseball is now popular in Japan, Puerto Rico, and South America. Baseball was born in America out of immigrant convergence, a game that took in all who came to find new lives and a game that traversed American history with the country, weaving and adapting like that other great American invention, Jazz (or even democracy!). Baseball created this poetic, subtle game that could translate to other cultures who caught a passion for it as well; football is an american game in an imperialistic manner–taking the name of a widely played and loves sport to co-opt it for something practically only played and cared about in this country. Football is ingrained with an American ethos–faster, stronger, crushing, commercializing; baseball’s american ethos is poetry, jazz, history, culture sharing and affirming.

Just some thoughts. Don’t hate.

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Geek Diatribe

November 6, 2009

As always, thanks for visiting “Raging Against the Dying Light,” all dozen of you. ( : I have a lot of loose threads in this one, my main articles for November and December are in formation and so now’s the time to spew out what I refer to as a “Geek Diatribe” to touch on all the incomplete facets of interest I write about on this site. This time it’s all light too, no politics or religion!

First off, the 2009 Baseball season is over. I find it a very depressing of an end at that…I’m not a vehement Yankee hater, I have extreme love for the history of the team and readily admit the talents and watchability of most of the current Yank roster, but I always have a bit of anger over the unrestrained budget the team has to work with and the idea that they can “buy’ the championship…and the fact that A-Rod alone earns a higher salary than several combined teams. So, there’s always the hope that they will be shutdown and it will be proven that money can’t suppress the drive to overcome that thrives in the underdog teams; the Phillies would have been a much more satisfying win. But the whole thing got me thinking about the structure of the current season; it’s November, and Baseball is just now wrapping up. It’s cold, grey over much of the country and well on the way to winter. Now, I never thought I’d specify that the season should be shorter since Baseball is really the only sport for me, but the season should be shorter! It’s a spring and summer game, and the now extended season length drags it into competing too heavily with football broadcasts and ticket sales, and the game just doesn’t seem appropriate this time of year for whatever reasons. I say, start it in early spring as is done now, start the post-season in September and have the World Series the first week of October. Anyway, as many people thrive for the play-off season when things heat up, as fun as that can be I prefer two other key baseball phases—the opening game through the first two weeks of the season and the events of and games leading up to July’s all-star game and home-run derby. A lot of this ties in with many of the teams still having a shot, but just as much at factor is the time of the year and the way it perfectly fits with the game. I imagine football fanatics feel the same way about fall and February.

Item two on the geek docket is the best music of the 2000s. I’ve pretty much got the 50 picked out for albums and almost for songs, I just have to properly rank them which requires listening to them and making the call on order. It’s a compulsive geek trait for any type of list like this, but you can’t just arbitrarily throw them together. There’s a distinctive reason why item A is at 17 and item B is at 16…or at least there should be. As I was working on my list I noticed that “Paste” magazine already has their “50 albums of the 2000s” on their site. I really like “Paste” and they’ve turned me on to a lot of good music over the years, but their list was off (in my mind) on several accounts—for one thing, it’s early November, there’s still 2 months of music yet to be released. Related to that, their “Best of ‘09” list isn’t up yet—it seems fairly backward to sum up a decade before the last year of the decade. As to the selections, there’s the obvious nerd-centric private idols that the publication adores and will rank highly and mention continuously even if no one else does as highly—everyone does this, my lists are guilty of it as well. “Paste” is very noticeable for adoring a core 5 bands that can never do wrong, as is Rolling Stone and AMG and it’s interesting because these core 5 never overlap in the same regard between these publications. That’s a very signifying factor that when it comes to art and pop criticism, there is no great science. There may be general critical consensus that something new and groundbreaking is “excellent” but it often differs from group to group and certain styles and personalities latch on to certain sounds. I won’t ruin the article for you, but the #1 album of the decade for “Paste” sums up their stance and personality as a publication, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m pretty sure my “1 choice does the same thing for me, as will RS and AMG’s. Another observation on “Pastes” selections is that they was heavily eschewed towards music made by bands established in the ‘00s, with a few ‘90s bands new work thrown in but very little attention paid to career artists releasing very notable work in the decade. No mention of critically acclaimed and massively entertaining work by Dylan, Young, Springsteen, U2, etc. Jazz, Hip Hop and Blues were almost completely overlooked as well, and although Indie is a major focus for “Paste,” they’re an eclectic publication so I expected more variety. The 2000s, looking at them as a whole, may very well have produced the bulk of music that will stay with me the longest. I was a junior in High school at the beginning of the decade and as it draws to a close I’m a first year grad student working on a Masters. In between there was college, work, marriage. I’ve moved several times and grown a lot, and the music I’ve heard that’s stuck with me from each phase of this decade is formative and memorable. Granted, most of my all time favorite albums were made long before this time, but there’s something to be said for what was new and vibrant amidst the average, waiting just to be found.

On to the next one; I always cap up the year’s best in graphic art and prose– comics and graphic novels—with a top ten list at the end of each year as well. This year has been phenomenal with trend breaking literate work in Graphic Novels- – “Asterios Polyp” by David Mazuchelli, The illustrated book of Genesis by R. Crumb, pretty much the entire Vertigo monthly catalogue, creator owned and controlled titles by Jeff Smith and Terry Moore (“RASL” and “Echo,” respectively) and notable work from indie publishing houses IDW (“Locke and Keye“), Boom Studios (“The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh“), etc. As far as mainstream work, generally meaning the “big two” (Marvel and DC), it’s become clear that despite cornering 65 percent of the market and being host to millions of loyal fans who refuse to read books published by anyone else, Marvel is far inferior to almost every other publishing company, especially DC. It just hasn’t been Marvel’s year. They sell out to Disney for a big paycheck. They opt for raising the majority of their titles to a higher price point– an entire dollar more, making most of their mainstream titles 3.99, a price DC reserves for special events and “important” stories. Unlike Marvel, when DC charges 3.99 they provide ten additional pages of story as well as better paper and ink quality. Marvel heads (here’s looking at you, Joe Quesada—by the way, stay retired from penciling, your art is atrocious) originally stated that this was the result of a tighter economy and to combat mounting paper costs but later Quesada admitted in an interview that it was really because “this is a business” and they wanted to see how much profit they could make if the cost of the titles continued to go up and sales didn’t dip accordingly. To make matters worse for Marvel, their output hasn’t been good enough to justify such tactics anyway. The only really smart move they’ve done recently is re-tool “Amazing Spider Man” last year, shedding the excess titles, hiring a great staff of rotating writers and artists for it, releasing it thrice monthly and generally making it the best popcorn, fun-for-everyone-over-13 book as possible. They have even (thus far) kept it price-pointed at 2.99 and the stories from it all year have been great escapist fun. Other than that, they’ve consistently dropped the ball. Big tie-in events and mini-series? DC’s “Blackest Night” is far better than Marvel’s “The List” or whatever they’re calling it now (since it’s an ever continuing fall-out tale from last summers “Secret Invasion” which was far inferior to DC’s “Final Crisis” at that). Thor? An Eisner-winning surprisingly smart book by Stracinzski is now moving on without Stracinzki and staying at 3.99 (without the extra ten pages). Then there’s the it-just-won’t-die slew of “Marvel Zombies” mini’s that get worse with each sequel. Or dumb ideas like “Marvel Apes” or “X-Babies.” There’s the never-reveal-the-ending-to-the-mystery compost-heap “Hulk,” which gets ever more ridiculous and stopped being fun half a year ago. They were building up steam with “Uncanny X Men” each issue after 500 then lost it having each issue be part of an asinine tie in to an asinine concept series. The only other worthwhile Marvel title right now is “Fantastic 4,” while DC has been on a run with their mainstream work as well. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are producing the best Superman mini in years, “Secret Origin,” and their entire run on “Action Comics” was terrific last year. Since Batman’s death, every tie-in Bat title has been excellent., notably, “Batman and Robin,” with Grant Morrison and initially Frank Quietely but “Detective Comics” as well if only for J.H. Williams III’ impressionistic and unconventional art. “Green Lantern” and every “Blackest Night” tie in has been great sci-fi and “Wednesday Comics” was a truly original and successful idea. Of course, “JSA” has fallen off and “JLA” seems to never work, but the point is that much of their mainstream work is great and most of it is approachable and more affordable than their competitions. Most importantly, where DC has it’s “Vertigo” imprint which puts out a lot of great, intelligent adult-geared work and DC utilizes that imprint heavily, Marvel’s “Icon” imprint which allows creator funded work to be released doesn’t get nearly enough emphasis. “Criminal” by Brubaker and Phillips is back again with another miniseries, and it’s great. “Kick Ass,” is always fun whenever Mark Millar bothers to get it out (he’s late on everything lately), but what else does Icon have? And why no funding from Marvel? Why not more emphasis?

Okay, last up (and briefly) is “The Wire.” Harvard recently announced a college course that will utilize “The Wire” in its curriculum. If any show has ever been worthy of this, it’s this one. The smartest, most important and best produced television show of all time. Five seasons, so check them all out. That’s all for now.

TBR

The first four innings of the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox September 2nd game contained everything I love about baseball. Oddly enough, it caused me to think about some of the major problems I have with Major League Baseball despite my sincere fandom of it.

Since I’m not really a fan or opponent of either team, I just happened to begin by rooting for the Sox but soon began to root for the Rays upon seeing their entire team exemplify to the audience and the viewers at home how to do everything right on the field and at the plate.

A depressing sight, however, occurred anytime the cameras panned the stands—which were practically empty. The commentators stated that it was unusual for a team playing very successfully and that had just been to the World Series the previous year to draw such dismal numbers. The Rays have been drawing several thousand under the average MLB team attendance this season. The sportscasters suggested that the local Florida fans had already fled for college football. While narrating they reiterated the oddity of local fans not supporting such a winning team but said that (to paraphrase) “however you wish to spend you disposable income in such an economy is up to you, but it’s just odd.”

So despite the excellent baseball I was seeing, I began to wonder how the national pastime would continue if the recession lasted a significantly long period of time. I could go on yet another rant about baseball being better than football in a historic, artistic and cultural manner and digress that it’s simply symbolic of short attention spans and degraded culture that has caused the almost usurpation of baseball by football. I’d do so primarily in jest, even though I can’t help but believe small aspects of those arguments, but that’s not the direction I thought in nor where I am going with this now. No, here I was watching Major League Baseball on a public television set—I don’t even have cable so unless the game’s on a network available by antennae I’m not getting it at home. I also quite clearly wasn’t at the park paying the ticket price to see it. So the organization wasn’t making a dime off of me no matter how much I enjoyed it. If the recession continued a long time, the general public simply wouldn’t have time or money to spend to go out to the big game. By the time a family pays for gas to the park, tickets to the game and a few concessions, they’re looking at over a hundred dollars for an afternoon’s entertainment.

How could we bring down the cost to see the big game? Of course many will still pay their large cable and satellite prices. Many will pay the additional dozens of dollars a month to expand that to get things like “Season Pass” to catch all the games no longer available for the general public on basic cable. Eventually, though, if there aren’t enough people in the seats something has to give.

How would the cost come down? Well, let’s see….these players are making millions of dollars to play this game. When that much money is going to the people playing, the tickets have to be expensive. If this game is truly a national pastime, how about we lower the ticket prices and fill the stands?

Here the argument becomes one very comparable to a complaint many have over health care reform (believe it or not). A common fear expressed by some Health Care Reform opponents is that if we pay doctors less we won’t have doctor’s that work as hard, we won’t have the drive for technological and medical breakthroughs and we’ll fall behind. A recent AP article took on 5 common health care myths and in addressing this one, mentioned many of the products, techniques and breakthroughs we use in the US that emerged from medical communities in France, Germany and Canada under socialized health care plans. Well, when it comes to baseball, the argument is that salary caps and cut pay rates for players accustomed to lavish lifestyles will result in the greats dropping out and the powerhouse years coming to a close. As much as I love many of the players raking in big money and I do recognize that many of them devote decent chunks of their money to needed community programs, I feel that even if they were to leave, there’d still be those that are just hungry to play the game. Look at the minor leagues alone. Ninety percent of those playing in AA and AAA teams will never see the big leagues. Granted, most of them have the hope or even the confidence that someday they will and that in that day they will make millions. Yet many, if not most, players in these leagues probably realize the odds say they won’t and yet continue to play very hard every time. These players make less than most middle class workers. They also spend their time shuttled around on the roads playing in out of the way parks for sometimes uninterested viewers. They wear their bodies out and live pretty hard. Yet many of them play the game with complete heart. So, say the average Major League player goes from making millions a year to making $400-500,000 a year. That’s still quite a bit more than an AA player making $20,000. Add fame, recognition and all the perks and do you really think the average AA or AAA player will struggle less to make the jump to the big leagues?

If we really want to return Baseball to its rightful place as a national Pastime and a populist sport, a drastic cut in salaries and restructuring could do that. I say this begrudgingly I guess, because I love the game and I love the big name players, the World Series, the entire thing and it’s so big scale now that a drastic restructuring would shake it up completely. Will this happen? Almost certainly not. Should it? Yes. Will I continue to watch either way? Yeah.

I love MLB, movies, music and entertainment. Yet hearing the sportscasters lament that the stands weren’t full and that our expendable income was our choice (but “hint-hint” we should probably spend it at the baseball park) made it appear even odder to me that in a recession, we the fans are asked to show our support. We the fans who make between 20,000 and maybe $200,000 a year are to support those that make 2 million and up a year? I hope the amount these players are giving back to the community and the world has gone up tremendously in these hard times, yet I doubt it’s gone up enough. Why do we pay those that entertain us so much better than we pay those that protect us, save our lives, treat us in clinics, educate us and serve us?

carpenter-at-cards

Major League Baseball is back. Yeah, for me I’m “forget March Madness, the real Game starts in April.” Baseball looks to be fun in 2009.

I’m a Cardinals fan, and St. Louis at least managed to split their first series of the year, with Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter back, healthy and pitching an almost perfect set on Thursday afternoon aiding in a victory against the Pirates. Here’s hoping that Cards manager Tony La Russa leads the boys to a stellar season, with Carpenter pitching perfect and Pujols hitting them out of the park. I can hope for the World Series and enjoy it regardless.

Of course the Cards aren’t the only story. We’ve got the Yankees starting out this year with the hopes of breaking their dry spell, going the longest they’ve gone without a trip to the Series in what seems like forever. So they’ve pumped as much money as they can (and been called on it admittedly) into snatching up some key free agents. In a soft economy we’ll see if those millions for both new players and a new stadium pays off for them.

Of course we had opening night with last years champs, The Phillies, losing to the Braves. They went on to lose again yet regained some cred by winning a well played game on the night they were awarded their championship rings.

Then there’s Manny Ramirez starting off his first full year in LA. Will he give us (and the Dodgers) a nice season?
Sadly, the worst baseball related story of the year so far comes out of LA as well, with Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart losing his life in a car wreck Thursday morning. He had given a tremendous performance the night before and it’s sad to see such a young player with so much promise lose his life when he was just getting started.

Well, the season’s underway and baseball fans have about 5 months worth of action  to look forward to. Whether your team wins or loses (statistics show even the best teams lose more than they win), enjoy the show. I’ll follow key events that interest me on this site, but I’m far from an expert…just a fan. I love baseball like I love jazz, they’re both things that I’ve grown to appreciate more over the years, both are things that for me result in the most satisfaction when you invest yourself in the knowledge of them—the history, the great players and parks of the past and the present, the subtleties and quiet moments that fall between the more explosive ones. They’re both great American art-forms that carry the weight of past generations and develop in new ways each time their performed.
So play ball.

Celebrating Mediocrity

January 30, 2009

mcdonalds-coffee

My brother commented on one of my articles recently suggesting I make a list of hit films, books and songs that, although very popular, are not good in the artistic or critical sense; in other words, what’s my top ten hit media items that I feel are really just crap?

Well, this isn’t really that. This isn’t a countdown of what’s the worst popular junk in systematic dissection, this is more an article about the enthusiasm for mediocrity as a whole.

There’s a recent TV commercial for McDonald’s, a company I loathe almost as much as Wal Mart. In the commercial two young guys are in a traditionally “trendy” looking coffee shop. Both are wearing glasses, one is reading a book. Both speak in low, stereotypical “pretentious” voices. One says to the other “did you know McDonald’s sells coffee now?” The other says “well what are we doing here then?” He whips his glasses off saying he doesn’t really need them. He says he’s tired of sitting in coffee shops and talking about “films” and that he really just enjoys “sitting and watching football.” The other agrees but concedes he actually does need his glasses.

So really, this commercial is showing that there is no need to go to a trendy independent coffee shop where poetry readings and acoustic open mic sessions are  held and where people discuss art, film and philosophy. No, now you can go to McDonald’s and get a dollar cappuccino and take it home to sit on your couch and watch football till your brain drips out your ear from the numbness of average, ordinary mediocrity.

I’m not going to get into a criticism of football. I’ve written about baseball often on this site, if you click on “baseball” at the bottom of the page and read back at all of my baseball articles from last year you’ll even see at least two that comment on why I feel baseball is a superior sport to football on various levels. That’s not something to get into yet again here. I don’t loath football, I’m just not a fan. Perhaps it’s somewhat silly for me to equate baseball as a symbol of positive American values and football as a symbol of negative American values, but it’s mainly just for fun in my case. No, I’ve been known to watch a super bowl occasionally (I’ll definitely tune in to the halftime show this year because Bruce Springsteen is my favorite musician of all time). Not everyone who watches football is a symbol of mediocrity, but the idea that there’s nothing better for the average guy than to sit on his couch and watch football all day, possibly eating fast-food, is a bit of mediocrity celebration.

On a smaller scale, much of what is incredibly popular is insanely mediocre. Your typical active rock radio station plays the most uninspiring new rock imaginable (Nickleback anyone?). Hip Hop stations play the same club jam and pop rap hit like “Live Your Live,” “Apple Bottom Jeans” (Re-Remix), or a mash up between Justin Timberlake, Akon and Bow Wow. Country stations wallow in mediocrity. Alt-country, classic country or even slightly edgy country will not be on the radio–instead get ready for Toby Keith, Big & Rich or any number of other brain numbing works. A slew of mediocre books were turned into mediocre films over the past months ( Marley and Me, He’s Just Not That Into You, Confessions of a Shopaholic). I’ve mentioned authors that churn out sub-par work on a regular basis that manage to sell truckloads worth of books (James Patterson post-the first five Cross novels, Nicholas Sparks, many would say “Twilight” ).

The point is, quite often very unintelligent, unoriginal, and utterly crappy material becomes very successful, be it music, movie or book. I can list a lot but there’s really no point. Why do such things appeal to so many people? Many would say that they are safe, middle of the road affairs that appeal to the lowest common denominator so that they can reach the widest group of people. Typically such things don’t require too much thought, too much absorption and concentration or any measure of taste cultivation. Really, the best of any medium quite often requires the reader, listener or viewer to participate in the process a bit by thinking, involving themselves in the field to better understand the author or artist. So what makes this troublesome is not that people like “crap.” People are different, they can like anything they want to. What’s problematic is that the better work is too often buried underneath mediocrity, pushed out of stores to make room for the top selling garbage, and ignored by the radio stations, TV stations and book stores.

My Last 2008 Best-Of

January 8, 2009

al_green_lay_it_down

2008 is over, so I’ll issue my one last best of ‘08 recap and move one. I’ve perused AMG, Rolling Stone and NPR’s best of music recaps and found some overlap and similarity to my personal picks and some differences. Once I see Paste and Mojo’s choices I’ll be done with that. As for films, I’m holding out for the Oscars to see how they fall in (I tend to completely overlook People’s Choice and Golden Globes).

Anyway, there are three close runner ups to my music list that I‘ve gotten since I posted my list. All three I heard after my final selections had been made and all three are excellent. I stand my by top ten though, but these three come close:

1)Al Green: Lay it Down
This is the best soul record I’ve heard in years. The only modern soul singer that holds a candle to Mr. Green is Anthony Hamilton but Green surpasses him in sheer maturity and range. Ahmir “?Love” Thompson of the Roots aided in production of this disc but he in no way infuses hip hop into it. He encourages Green’s natural talents and sensibilities and the overall sheen is retro pop perfection. The few folks who aid in the songs vocally, with duets and background vocals are Anthony Hamilton, Corrina Bailie Rae and John Legend, and all are at the top of their game. “Lay it Down” is best in one long, hour dose. Though it’s also good song by song,, it’s the sum of those parts working together that most effectively showcase the last living soul great’s artistry.

2) Vampire Weekend :

This album was the hipster buzz album of the year, preceded by a year’s worth of hype and internet chatter. The reason it’s so buzzed about and critically raved this year, I think, is because it sounds like nothing else. The music is a mixture of classical (seriously, violins, orchestra style classical) and Afro pop. The vocals are pure indie rock, the backing vocals are post punk. The lyrics are collegiate. It all blends together in an artsy, thinking, dancey way and it’s never quite pretentious. Each song is memorable.

3) Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue
Jenny Lewis has, as many have noted, gone from the alt country/indie pop hybrid lead singer of Rilo Kiley to Costello influenced alt indie on “Rabbit Fur Coat” to this, a lady of laurel canyon folk singer. She’s even moved to the canyon and been involved in starting a music scene there again. Acid Tongue is a great album, full of shining moments. The shifting and three tiered eight minute “Next Messiah,” the Costello duet “Carpetbagger,” and everything else here is fun and unique.

Okay, so my Best Films 08 list was listed in no particular order, completely unranked. I’ve seen a few of the films I was holding out for, but have still not seen “Doubt,” “Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” or “Gran Torino,” all look terrific. So what follows is my ranking of the films I enjoyed the most from the 08 release year. Some important and relevant, some merely entertaining.
10-Zack and Miri Make a Porno
9- Forgetting Sarah Marshall
8-Hulk
7- Iron Man
6-Shine a Light
5-Bolt
4- W
3-Changeling
2-The Dark Knight
1-Milk

Finally, some notable events of ‘08 that weren’t negative.
· The 2008 Baseball season-
A)the longest all star game ever with a pre-show featuring Yogi Berra, etc.
B)the road to the world series, which was constantly surprising
C)The World Series, featuring last years last ranked team actually competing for the title. A full, long Series full of fun.

· SNL this year featured some of its best political satire, entertaining musical performances and weekend updates. Poehler’s last year was great and Fey’s constant cameos as Palin were spot on.

– The election. Hopefully progressive politics take hold and work effectively now.

That’s it for 2008 articles. 2009 is here, which means new music, new movies, new events. Articles that are upcoming include the last few book reviews that tie in with “10 Examples of Comic Literature,” articles involving the “Kingdom of God,” and various other theology articles, etc. Stop back by!

Last night I was watching game one of Major League Baseball’s National League Championship series where the LA Dodgers faced off against the Philadelphia Phillies. All of my teams have been trimmed away on the road to the World Series, but if I were to root for a team in this particular game I’d have to go with the Dodgers- – I’ve caught a few LAD games since Manny joined their roster and have liked what I’ve seen. Anyway, it was about midway through the game and the Dodgers seemed to have a lock on the win at 2-0; the Phillies seemed to be getting progressively worse and it seemed certain they were going to lose. So it came time for the new Thursday night edition of SNL Weekend Update, and I changed the channel to that…seeing as how I only get the networks with my antennae, my selections were unusually jam-packed (more on that SNL episode later).
Then, this morning I’m reading the latest sports section and I find out that shortly after I quit watching the game the Phillies slammed a home-run to bring in two runs, tying the game, and they went on to win game one. It seems like that in at least half of the cases in which I call a baseball game and quit watching it, I later find out that I was wrong about the winner and the game turned and went the other way. Finding out about the Phillies victory in this game today made me stop and think about one of the things that makes baseball great– it’s unpredictability. Where in other sports the clock is as much your opponent as the other team, in baseball you only have yourself to blame if you lose. The game will continue until someone makes a mistake. If you tie the game up in the bottom of the ninth, extra innings will sprawl on, untimed, until someone on one of the teams makes a mistake. Thinking about this made me stop and consider baseball in comparison with a few other things.
Baseball is one of the truly great gifts America has given to the world. Another of which is Jazz. Personally, I feel that jazz hit it’s stride starting with Miles Davis’s release of “The Birth of Cool” in 1949 and lasting most strong until after John Coltrane released “A Love Supreme” in 1960. During this period jazz was at the height of improvisation and unpredictability with “bebop,” but it also maintained the melody and beauty in it’s songs. A lot of people often consider the other great American creation to be our Constitution. It’s hard to argue with its presence on such a list, but my thoughts drift to modern American politics in conjunction with my above mentioned subjects–now maybe modern American politics pay attention to the constitution and maybe they do not, I guess that depends on the party and the politician that you look at. But one thing the modern political process does indeed share with both Baseball and Jazz is improvisation– – unpredictability.


So back to that SNL episode. It was great, condensing what’s best about the current season’s Saturday episodes into a short, quick effect. One exceptional skit parodying the latest presidential debate and an extended edition of Weekend Update. This season, the presidential campaign parodies have been classic, the weekend update segments have been hilarious but each episode has been filled with a lot of sub-par skits as well. If SNL wants to keep the viewers they’ve gained (ratings are up 50 percent this season) they need to trim the fat and make all of their output this good. Anyway, during the debate skit, Fred Armisen as Obama said “Now I have to tell you, William Ayers, the domestic terrorist, is my best friend. I only tell you this because I’m so far ahead in the polls it doesn’t matter.” I laughed but now I’m thinking about that remark not so much as a joke, because it is good parody, but in how the real news behind that parody is being used in an attempt to sway the election. It makes me think about that element of unpredictability that modern American politics shares with baseball and bebop. I’ve been close to calling this election at many times; every time I’ve felt the votes were certain to go one way or another things have changed to tilt the outcome in the other direction. Now, after phases of tilting back and forth it seems that current economic issues have shifted the lead in full force to Obama, and I think there is actually a chance a Democratic victory is possible. With less than a month until the election both parties are now going for broke and such a close and hotly contested election is probably not safe to call until the votes are all counted and even then we may have to wait if other recent elections can be cited as examples. The “I’m so far ahead I’m telling you this and it doesn’t matter” joke was funny, but the McCain party scrambles around the real news that inspires such jokes and attempts to use them for all their worth. It’s actually very silly that the Ayers’ relation to Obama has become such a “newsworthy” issue for the McCain-Palin ticket. Ayers was a member of a radical organization in the sixties. He and his group set off bombs that blew up statues in protest of the Vietnam war; no one was killed as a result of the bombs the group set off. Now, it’s fine and understandable to condemn acts of bombing–Ayer’s has expressed mixed viewpoints concerning his such actions, once saying that his bombs never killed anyone but the actions he was protesting resulted in bombs that killed millions. He’s publicly condemned all acts of terrorism; well, it’s understandable to have the viewpoint that such a person condemning terrorist actions and never fully admitting that his own past actions can be considered domestic terrorism as being naive- – but things should be kept in perspective. Ayers never killed anyone. One of his bombs could have gone wrong and accidentally killed someone, so he is guilty of committing actions that were thoughtless. But Ayers is no longer a member of the Weather Underground, he’s an Education Professor in Chicago. He isn’t Obama’s best friend, he’s a man who worked on school boards with Obama and shared his viewpoints on education reform. When Obama ran for senate the first time, Ayers held a “coffee” to show Obama support. Now, how is this such a troubling and newsworthy matter? Is it odd that a man living in the same neighborhood and working on some of the same school boards as Obama would show his support for his neighbor when he ran for the senate? Does it mean that Obama embraced every past decision Ayers made by allowing him to host a gathering in his support? Let’s be honest and reasonable here- – Ayers was a distinguished college professor at this point, not an underground terrorist hiding from charges. I really don’t even want to give credence to such nonsense by discussing it in depth, but these are the types of things that make-up the McCain strategy these days. A recent study reported that nearly a full 100 percent of the recent McCain campaign political advertisements have been negative compared to only 33 percent of the Obama campaign’s advertisements. McCain is on the attack, and his supporters are shouting for blood–at a recent Palin speech a man shouted “kill him,” when Palin railed against Obama, and she never batted an eye. A man stood up at a recent McCain speech angrily shouting and honestly befuddled that “Barack Hussein Obama” may very well be the next president. “How did this happen?” he asked. I couldn’t help but shake my head knowing that worldwide it seems incomprehensible that anyone would logically vote for McCain Palin, yet in several states here in the U.S. millions of people just like that gentlemen feel the exact opposite.
It’s been a wild electoral season. I’ve referenced baseball and jazz in relation to the political race to the white house in that all of these things are rooted in the arrival of the unexpected. The homerun when no one sees it coming, the song shifting when you thought you knew what note it would take next, the shift in votes when the one great moment or one huge misstep occurs. There was a shining moment during the second presidential debate when Obama was asked if health care was a privilege, a right or a responsibility. McCain had already answered “responsibility,” and Obama stated what I had hoped he would state–that health care is a right, and put forth the reasoning for that view with great strength. That’s the note, that’s the homerun I was waiting for. I want plenty more of those so that the focus doesn’t slide all the way into the gutter allowing the negative approaches to work. The reason Obama’s campaign commercials aren’t negative two-thirds of the time are because he has good stated plans and goals– the McCain commercials are left with nothing but negative to say because they have no new and good plans to fix what is wrong with this country: talking the loudest but saying the least.
I’m waiting to see how it all turns out. The road to the White House has been far short of the coolness of Miles Davis or the spiritual heights of John Coltrane, but there have been Charles Mingus-like moments of civil determination and elements of Thelonious Monk’ s off-time yet perfectly-on-time approach and that’s something. I can’t help but think that the road to the World Series is a bit more polite and inspiring at times, though.
*******


That’s it for the central article here. Just want to make two quick recommendations and a brief preview-plug for upcoming blogs. As recommendations, check out “Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power” by Marcus Reeves and “The Power of Progress: How America’s Progressives Can (Once Again) Save Our Economy, Our Climate, and Our Country” by John Podesta. “Somebody Scream” is an good hip hop music study from a sociological perspective and “Power of Progress” is an excellent book detailing important strides made by Progressive Politicians on both parties- Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Johnson, Carter and Clinton as well as missteps made by the emerging conservatives- Reagan, Bush, etc, and it lays out plans for repairing the damage done by those anti-progressive policies.
Okay, coming up soon is a brief article that kills two birds with one stone, acting as a link in a chain between two different threads of articles I’m working on here. Way back a couple of months ago I posted a blog about 10 examples of excellent comic book art and literature. I mentioned that I would periodically publish a book review for each of those 10, and I haven’t done so since my “Watchmen Book Review.” Well, coming up is the book review of “Preacher.” This will be soon followed by the first in a new thread of articles dealing with Christianity. Since “Preacher” touches on a lot of religious themes, albeit controversial and often offensive ones, it’s book review will hopefully help segue into the first of these new articles. The first one will be “Christianity and Homosexuality,” and it will be up at some point in the near future. Thanks for reading.

So fall’s pretty much here even though it’s still hot out and that always signals the return of football and the winding down of baseball. Sure, post season runs through October but those of us without massive cable or satellite know that too often when it’s this time of the year and a small station can show football or baseball games that are running concurrently, much of the country’s going to opt with football. We’ll get the world series at least, it’s the one last big event near the end. I have to agree with many of the commentator’s from the Ken Burns documentary Baseball that there’s just something better about those approximately 30 weeks throughout spring, summer and early fall when baseball is in season. Just knowing there’s a game on somewhere, knowing that you can watch it on TV, listen to it on the radio, go to the park to see it or read about it in the paper, it adds to those weeks and months and helps make them the best part of the year. So, though I could go for pages about what makes baseball the greatest sport to have ever been played, I’ll simply leave you with two things.

First, a picture of a book you should pick up if you’re unfamiliar with baseball and would like to know some of the things about it that aren’t immediately evident when you first start watching it:

You can pick this one up for just over ten bucks on Amazon.com or at your local book shop for not much more, or check your local library.

Next, although most have heard, seen or read it before (and if you couldn’t guess that I would mention it from the picture that’s at the top of this post) I’m going to reprint the classic George Carlin baseball monologue as listed on http://www.baseball-almanac.com. With Carlin’s great wit he sums up many of what baseball fans feel make it the far superior sport.

“Baseball is different from any other sport, very different. For instance, in most sports you score points or goals; in baseball you score runs. In most sports the ball, or object, is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. In fact, in baseball if an offensive player touches the ball intentionally, he’s out; sometimes unintentionally, he’s out.

Also: in football,basketball, soccer, volleyball, and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball and in baseball the ball prevents you from scoring.

In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you’d ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform,you’d know the reason for this custom.

Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football: Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs – what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups – who’s up?

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog…
In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”

…specifically, in this instance, sports.

I’m not the world’s largest sports fan…I love baseball, it’s history, it’s great players and it’s culture, and in baseball season I like to see at least one full game a week; I can take or leave most basketball games, I dislike football but somehow always end up watching the Superbowl, and I enjoy many Olympic events (Specifically Women’s Beach volleyball, but hey), but I would never consider myself a sports fanatic. But recently a few things have made me consider the role sports and athletics play in our society. Bear with me while I mention a few of these incidents and then I’ll try and pull all of this together.

Instance one–at my place of work, a client (or customer depending on how you look at it) began spewing a tirade complaining that people in America are too concerned with “big men throwing balls through little hoops,” and that these people had no knowledge of politics and world events. The next instance that prompted this particular article is the coverage of the ongoing Olympics (as an aside, when Bob Costas was interviewing ‘President’ Bush and began one of his questions with “Even with the problems America faces…” Bush began his reply with something along the lines of “Well I don’t think America has any problems…”– wow). The third event occurred fictionally. I’m currently reading Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday, and in it the narrators’ teenage son says that if you think big, things seem terrible, scary and only getting worse–terrorism, global warming, current political situations…they seem to only get worse and they seem to be unmanageable. But, he says, if you think small–this girl I just met, this movie I’m going to see, an upcoming trip–then things seem great. So the motto is think small.

Now, I feel all of these thing kind of correlate. First off, I don’t think we should only “think small.” It does help sometimes though, because the big issues are always there, and we are tiny next to them. But even when approaching these big problems we quite often must “think small” because we can only solve one bit at at a time-going after the whole thing at once is often too much. But the relevant aspect of this concept here is that to stay sane and to enjoy the time we have on this earth we do indeed have to focus on the little things sometimes. We have to think about our circle of friends and loved ones, our hobbies and interests, we have to soak in our diversions to deal with the cruelties of the world. But does this mean that everyone who enjoys sports or other diversions has no knowledge of politics, world events and serious issues? Not hardly. I recently made my way through the excellent documentary Ken Burns made about the history of the game “Baseball.” The “National Pastime” has showcased the good and the bad of our society and mirrored our progress throughout our national and its own history. It has served as a diversion and a celebration of it’s people and life throughout its entire existence–through the roaring twenties, through the depths of the great depression, through World War II and Vietnam and on to Reaganomics and the high-salaried nineties. Do those that love the game have complete ignorance of the world around them? All of them? No, not at all. Do some of them? Quite possibly, but just like non fans of the game as well.

Political interest and knowledge does quite often seem to be in recession in the US and around the world. Quite often, educated, knowledgeable citizens with an understanding of politics, history and the true needs and concerns facing our population seem to be able only to shake their heads in bafflement as the popular votes and opinions weigh in. But I also feel that many of the brightest and most knowledgeable know that it can’t always be only a constant focus on the issues or they’ll go crazy.

I’m not about to claim myself as being one of those “best and brightest” but I do think I have a general understanding of politics and cultural issues. I do read about what’ s going on in the world, talk about the issues and think about what should be done, but I also divert myself quite often. I love baseball, like I said. I also love films, music, books, beer, friends and comics (a great and underrated genre unlike any other–mixing aspects of film, episodic television, literature, high art and pop art, and which I’ll be addressing ten excellent examples of the genre in my next article). I feel that diversion like this serves a great purpose. These things often are much deeper than they appear on the surface and can reflect the issues that may be bigger than they are in their own way–and if we didn’t have them to lead our attention elsewhere, from our own problems, worries and also away from the societal problem and worries occassionally, we may all very well go crazy together. As for the “big men throwing balls through little hoops” guy, he seemed nice enough, and I’m sure he’s disgusted at the current situation in the world–but I’m also sure he has some sort of diversion as well even if it isn’t sports.