Friday, November 21, 2008

What fun! Two new addictions.

I discovered this site, "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks the other day, which appealed to my love of the obsessive hunting of grammar mistakes by people who should really be working. This - this - is why we got our bachelor's degrees.

This also led me to the Fail Blog, which was another quick add to the Bookmarks column. Enjoy.

Also, Ben Affleck's Keith Olbermann impression is priceless.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The very definition of the word "pluck."

I would doubt this is real, but I suppose that it's possible it could be. One way or another, it's pretty funny:

A man tries to pay off his debts with an MS Paint drawing of a spider.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Top 100 Albums Of All Time (#80-71)

80. John Mayer – Heavier Things (2003).
I can’t top Rolling Stone’s summing up of Mayer’s career up to this point, so I’ll quote it instead:
“In 2001, John Mayer released Room for Squares, which has since sold more than 3 million copies. Then based in Atlanta, Mayer had recently left Boston's Berklee College of Music. His songs didn't have the fussiness that many of us associate with trained musicians, but there was something correct about them. The fast, epiphanic "No Such Thing," the afternoon valentine "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and the steering-wheel singalong "Why Georgia" all had a very precise mood and their own notion of cool. Neither punk nor prom king, Mayer was a tall kid from Connecticut, driving on the freeways, chasing slippery techno women, inhabiting a world of parents and slipcovers and holidays and gracious Southeastern metropolises; he was smart, inquisitive, articulate, a touch off in places. In post-9/11 America, he could have come straight out of a 1950s J.D. Salinger novel.”

Isn’t that great? My favorite part is that he lives in a world of slipcovers.

As you can imagine, a lot was riding on Mayer’s sophomore effort. Despite expectations from fans to make not only the exact same sort of record, but a record that would, perhaps, change the world – emerging artists love that sort of pressure when entering a studio – he made a record that went out of its way to avoid the hype in its entirety. The record was catchy and melodic, but nothing on the record felt anything like a single – even the songs that became singles felt out of place on the radio, as if pulling them from the record had robbed them of all context. Mayer chose not to abandon his rootsy approach, but rather to expand it, adding colors and tones around songs that sounded like they were written for a solo acoustic sets, and touching them up with his rediscovered blues roots. Each one of the songs is a fragment in a broader patchwork of what feels like a quiet, lonely season in Mayer’s life, time spent reflecting on porch swings and in empty apartments filled with crushed cigarettes (see? I can do it too). The album is much better for the melancholy.

Check out: Unrecognized album highlight “Split Screen Sadness” and the bluesy, horn-accented “Clarity.”

79. Ben Folds – Rockin’ The Suburbs (2001).
The first album from Folds following the break up of Ben Folds Five was, surprisingly, even more accessible than a BF5 recording (it is a general rule that side projects must be much less accessible than the main band’s work, the Raconteurs being the only acceptable exception). Accenting his pounding piano style with wads of electric guitar, the record ended far more driving and slightly less esoteric than anything he’d recorded before. Suburbs is a bright, shiny pop record full of both tongue-in-cheek humor (the ironic title track) and eager sentiment (“Still Fighting It”). Folds tends to write stories rather than songs, but his stories are all so far left of center it’s like entering another world, from a husband dealing with his wife’s psychological breakdown (“Zak and Sara”). to a faded businessman forced into retirement (“Fred Jones, Pt. 2”), to, most bizarrely, the true story of a partygoer who gets high, climbs into a tree, and climbs down the next morning a born-again Christian (“Not The Same”). What makes it work is that Folds never treats any of these stories as anything strange, playing all of them purely for their pathos and sense of loss, which oddly makes them instantly connectable to the listener. By the time Folds closes the album on the most off-kilter of wedding songs (“The Luckiest”), you’ve developed a deep bond with the epically lost subjects of Fold’s songs, and a new appreciation for the guy who wrote them.

A note to people who play “The Luckiest” at their wedding, though: you are not cool. You are not hip. People do not see you dance your first dance to this song and think you are artistic and deep. They just sit and listen to the lyrics and say to themselves “why are they dancing to a song where the guy’s singing about how the girl’s riding by on a bike fifty years into an imaginary future?” It is unwise to confuse your wedding guests this early into a reception. Wait until after they’ve had a couple of drinks, then make it the last dance. Then they’ll think you’re deep. But do not think you are the first to do this. You are not.

Stop playing Michael Bublé seventeen different times during your wedding, too.

Check Out: “Fred Jones, Pt. 2” “Not The Same,” and “The Luckiest.”

78. Jennifer Knapp – The Way I Am (2001).
Knapp has since disappeared off the scene is a wildly dramatic manner – an abrupt career break after this record for “reasons that were personal and would remain that way” ultimately became a permanent condition, and Knapp never returned to the studio or the tour bus. It’s a sad reality since The Way I Am could have been a career-catapulting record, combining Knapp’s ego-less approachability and honesty with some fairly crunchy pop hooks. Slick production on “Breathe On Me” and “The Way I Am” gave Knapp’s vocal a chance to shine among the noise, but Knapp never sounded better than when the trappings were stripped away. “Have mercy on me,” she sighs with sad frustration on “In Two (A Lament).” Only her voice and a few delicate strings are left to carry the sonic weight, and it’s more than enough. Chuck Klosterman wrote once about how he met a female professor once who was complaining that, musically speaking, people considered the male persepective to be general but the female perspective to be personal. Klosterman felt (as do I), that the latter seems preferable to the former. I also feel that this may be because females are much better about getting deeply personal – and I offer this album as exhibit A.

Check out: the two most personal tunes on the record, “The Way I Am” and “In Two (A Lament)” plus rocker “Fall Down,” which opens with the lyric ‘judge me not, ye saints! I’m sober enough to know blood when I see it.’ Who writes songs like that?

77. Barenaked Ladies – Gordon (1992).
One way or another, you gotta admire an album where, when one of the band members decided a song wasn’t working, the band chose playing the whole song naked as the solution. Bam! Double platinum.

Gordon is BNL’s first full-length record, and like most bands, their debut defined the pattern they would follow for their career: loose, fun, inventive, and all over the map. Gordon clocks in at 15 tracks, so they gave themselves room to wander a bit: the album sweeps from a first-person look at Brian Wilson’s depression to an ode to 9th grade foibles to a love song of near-Meatloaf-level epic-ness to a bouncy crowd-pleaser about what a million dollars might feel like (assumably, they later found out). Critics tend to later laud the first album by major bands as important or ground-breaking or the most true to the band’s essence, but Gordon lacks even a hint of self-importance, thrilling instead to merely be gleeful in its own inanity. From the tongue-in-cheek of “Be My Yoko Ono” to the full-on madness of “King of Bedside Manor” (that one’s the naked track), Gordon sought and succeeded at being, above all, good fun.

Check out: Traditional album highlights “If I Had A Million Dollars” and “Brian Wilson,” plus the epic “What A Good Boy.”

76. Taking Back Sunday – Tell All Your Friends (2002).
Ah, my emo phase. Those were the days.

Not much from this period made the list, and this album charts higher than most because it’s simply better. Emo bands were hesitant to embrace their emo-ness, trying to reclassify themselves as some other type of music – ironic that in a genre of music made by shy people for shy people, the bands should also shy away from being classified in the genre those people listen to. Okay, maybe it’s not that ironic. But really, throughout the period a really unbreathable amount of shyness occurred. It was like lifting a rock and watching them scurry sometimes.

Taking Back Sunday never seemed to follow the trend. They embraced the overabundance of emotion in their music with head-on enthusiasm. Emo lyrics were usually pretty plain-spoken and emotionally overwrought, but singer Adam Larazza brought it to a whole new level. In one particularly quoted lyric, he yells, “you could slit my throat, and with my one last gasping breath I'd apologize for bleeding on your shirt!” No poetry here folks. Move along.

Ultimately, that was the appeal – their songs are arguments and pleas set to music, with most of the songs coming from a time when the band was threatening to break up. Each song on the album was from the viewpoint of a different band member, and each band member took part in the songwriting process. I was slightly surprised to hear that – what band actually has all its members write? Not even the Eagles have that. But looking at the album’s song titles: “Cute Without The E (Getting Cut From The Team),” and “You’re So Last Summer,” there’s not a lot of leverage for doubt that this is an album about feeling more than a little marginalized. What better choice for an anthem for high schoolers? I miss the misanthrope passion of those days a little, where every experience was either the highlight of your life a direct punch to the gonads. This album is like that, too.

Check out: Single and album highlight “Cut Without The E.”

75. Sixpence None The Richer – Sixpence None The Richer (1997).
This is one of those records a lot of people assume they won’t like, and the argument against it goes “oh, you only think you won’t like it because of what you’ve heard on the radio.” Which is the classic argument people defend bad albums with. But it’s the truth with this one because the two singles from it are the clear exceptions to the album – the sweet lead single (“Kiss Me”) and the tacked-on cover song that should never have been a single (a decidedly unexciting version of The La’s “There She Goes”). The rest of the record is filled with much darker, more delicate tunes, inspired by a long bleak period in the band’s history following a messy break with their label. Complemented by very organic orchestration, Matt Slocum’s consistently solid songwriting seems sharper here, as if Slocum feels he has something to prove. Generally, that’s a good sign – artists make better albums when they feel like they have something to prove, ideally when they’re full-on pissed off at someone (weirdly, this is equally true in the Christian market). Still, all rough edges are smoothed away by Leigh Nash’s subtle vocal takes, even when she sings “they’re looking for money as they clean my artistic womb,” sounding so delicate that she might break. And you thought you knew this album without ever listening to it.

Check out: The opening trilogy is moody and haunting, particularly the album opener, “We Have Forgotten.”

74. The Juliana Theory – Emotion Is Dead (2000).
Ah. The very beginnings of my emo phase.

I don’t remember how, exactly, I came across this album, but I do know that I owned it without case or liner notes, which probably means that I purchased it from the basement of a small record store near where I went to school, a record store that I would then have classified as “ghetto” and only now appreciate (in these pre-Ebay days, if you couldn't find something unusual, they would take a couple days to use their connections to find it for you). This is early emo, piano and drum loops, vaguely techno influenced, pounding away at minor notes. With a bizarre pop exception (“We’re At The Top Of The World,” a song so relentlessly cheerful that it was played on the the Disney Channel back when they didn’t have endless Hannah Montana reruns to play), the album is aggressively dark, full of open-ended questions no one seems to have any interest in answering. The first album that convinced me that the divide between Christian music and mainstream music might be a lot hazier than I imagined.

Check out: “You Always Say Goodnight, Goodnight,” the sprawling lament near the end of the album.

73. Damien Rice – O (2003).
There are some albums that come out of literally nowhere, and this is one of them. Damien borrowed some recording equipment from a vague connection he had, wrote and recorded the album in the apartments and bedrooms of his friends for a year, and sent it off to record labels. A year later, the album had gone platinum and been crowned by Rolling Stone as one of the year’s best. Now that’s a turnaround.

Rice has his own special brand of songwriting that sounds like he’s permanent singing tunes he’s composed after the third night of heavy drinking after you discover your wife’s been sleeping with everyone you know. Also, you have cancer and you’re having your arms amputated tomorrow. It’s that kind of sad. And that kind of good.

Check out: “Delicate,” the most tragically unhopeful album opener of all time.

72. 2nd Chapter of Acts – Roar Of Love (1978)
This is the wild card on this list, because it’s a concept album about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe recorded by an incredibly uncool Christian pop band (check this out) in a garage with piles of synthesizer five years before I was born. But I read an interview with Jon Foreman once where he pointed to this album as a touchstone in his own musical history, so I think it’s okay. For reasons I cannot come close to intellectually defining, this album remains remarkably accessible today, and is still one of my most played records (I only have so many actual records, actually, so it’s competing with a lot of Beethoven and Smothers Brothers, but still).

Fun fact: this album was produced by a not-famous-yet 80’s superproducer Michael Omartian (Christopher Cross, Whitney Houston, Steely Dan, Rod Stewart), who just produced my friend Matt’s latest record. All its guitar parts were recorded by the also not-famous-yet Phil Keaggy.

Check out: The album only works as one long, continuous play, but its strongest track is Lucy’s plea to Edmund, “Tell The Truth.”

71. Matchbox Twenty – More Than You Think You Are (2002).
There was one night my freshman year of college where something particularly frustrating had happened in one of my classes – it was something typically college angst-inducing, like not getting credit for an assignment or having a professor rip apart an overly-earnest paper I’d turned in. I was cleaning the room that night and griping to my roommate Keith about it when he pointed out that he figured I couldn’t really be that mad about it because in between my complaints, I was still singing along to my CD player. I hadn’t even noticed. It was, of course, this album.

Matchbox was so huge in their heyday that they’ve now become considered vacuous and overrated, but this album was fairly raw and full of crunchy guitars and neo-soul and just generally felt looser than anything they’d ever recorded before. From bouncy gospel choirs (“Downfall”) to swelling orchestras (“The Difference”) to cock-rock stylings (the Mick Jagger co-write, “Disease”) the album felt fresh and, dare I say, somewhat diverse. Ultimately, though, the album was strongest when it focused on Matchbox’s signature arena rock sound (“Soul,” “Could I Be You”), where Rob Thomas could finally unleash his full energies into calling out a bitter message over a cacophony of wailing guitars. Thomas was always at his best at full volume anyway.

Check Out: “Could I Be You,” “Soul,” and “Disease”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cultural Relevance Escapes Us Once Again


Make sure you at least skip through to about 4:30 until the end.

Bonus points if you can figure out whose idea this was, and whether or not the older people though this was a good idea or just got forced into it.

(Yeah, I think so, too.)

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Top 100 Movies I'm Ashamed I Haven't Seen

I saw one of these lists and realized that I, too, am continually paralyzed with guilt that, despite making my living as a video producer and filmmaker, I have not properly entrenched myself in the classic films of yore. Or the popular films of my generation. Or those films that are generally agreed to be pretty crummy but are also considered to be the landmarks of the past 30 years so that it's ridiculous I haven't yet made time to see them (I'm looking at you, Grease).

In order of guilt:

1. The Godfather, Part II
2. Gone With The Wind
3. 12 Angry Men
4. The Philadelphia Story
5. Bonnie and Clyde
6. Blazing Saddles
7. Breathless
8. Dances With Wolves
9. Fletch
10. Goodfellas
11. Rocky
12. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
13. Taxi Driver
14. City Lights
15. Days of Heaven
16. Grease
17. Caddyshack
18. The Last of the Mohicans
19. Manhattan
20. Silence of the Lambs
21. Die Hard
22. Raging Bull
23. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
24. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
25. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
26. Apocalypse Now
27. The English Patient
28. Chinatown (And less embarassingly, The Two Jakes)
29. The Third Man
30. Aliens
31. North by Northwest
32. The Apartment
33. Sunset Boulevard
34. The Grapes of Wrath
35. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
36. Marathon Man
37. A Streetcar Named Desire
38. The Seven Samurai
39. Lawrence of Arabia
40. The Maltese Falcon
41. Rebel Without a Cause
42. Full Metal Jacket
43. The Bridge On The River Kwai
44. All About Eve
45. On The Waterfront
46. Touch Of Evil
47. Harold and Maude
48. Kramer Vs. Kramer
49. Ordinary People
50. His Girl Friday
51. Midnight Cowboy
52. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
53. Dog Day Afternoon
54. Brazil
55. Slacker
56. The Way We Were
57. Doctor Zhivago
58. Coming To America
59. Scarface
60. High Noon
61. Pretty Woman
62. Platoon
63. The Exorcist
64. The French Connection
65. Hannah and Her Sisters
66. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
67. JFK
68. 48 Hours
69. M*A*S*H*
70. Terms of Endearment
71. My Left Foot
72. Waking Life
73. Rashômon
74. The Big Sleep
75. The Green Mile
76. Spirited Away
77. Notorious
78. Monty Python’s Life Of Brian
79. Serpico
80. Stand By Me
81. Harvey
82. All Quiet On The Western Front
83. Spartacus
84. Adam's Rib
85. St. Elmo's Fire
86. Rain Man
87. Air Force One
88. Beverly Hills Cop
89. Total Recall
90. Blues Brothers
91. Stripes
92. Sophie's Choice
93. Footloose
94. The Natural
95. Heathers
96. Natural Born Killers
97. Reservoir Dogs
98. Scent Of A Woman
99. The Seventh Seal
100. Tron

If you feel that I should be more - or less - embarrassed about any of these, feel free to let me know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Obama tries being a regular guy for a while longer."

Good for him.

Also, I will get very tired of this "what kind of a puppy is Obama getting?" story very, very quickly. Though, if I have to weigh in (and I have to), as a good Democrat who just won a landslide victory, nothing would be more appropriate than to head to the pet cemetery and clone the remains of Him and Her. LBJ plus cloning, it's like a two-fisted punch to the Republican face. I don't know what that would look like.

Or, just get a bulldog and put lipstick on it. That'll show 'em.

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Zach Hendricks Studio Pictures

I spent some time in the studio yesterday with Zach Hendricks and his band shooting video while he was recording a new Christmas song. We're going to shoot a live performance of the tune in a week or two and cut it together with this stuff for a sort-of music video.

The song, "Joy To The World," turned out amazing. I lit the studio with whatever lamps I could find lying around and decorated with some half-broken Christmas lights I found in our warehouse. I'm very proud of how it turned out. Here's some still frames from the shoot.

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Oh, a tiny plastic box! I must put my head in it!

Oh no, my head is IN THE BOX!!!! SOMEONE HELP!!!! I'M STUCK!!!!! OH GOD OH GOD OHGODOHGODOH- hey, I'm free.

Ooooh, a tiny plastic box! I must put my head in it.

Thanks to Cute Overload.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

For me, this was their last chance, anyway.

I watched The Heartbreak Kid last night. It's officially time to give up on the Farrelly brothers.

It's been diminishing returns since Dumb and Dumber anyway - that was 1994, by the way - but after seeing Heartbreak so soon after the disastrous "Unhitched," (how can you waste Rashida Jones that badly?) and with approaching projects including a Three Stooges reboot (really!) and a Jonas Brothers movie called Walter the Farting Dog, it's over.

I was never that wild about There's Something About Mary or Kingpin, anyway.

If Tropic Thunder hadn't kicked some serious tail, I would've been very seriously worried about Stiller, too. Before Thunder, do you realize his last good starring role was (depending on how you feel about Dodgeball, I guess) The Royal Tennenbaums? That was 2001. And his part wasn't that big.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Farewell... Michael Crichton, one of the best sci-fi writers of our time. I'll miss you.


Favorite Webcomics

Because of my job, some weeks I spend a decent amount of time on the web wasting time in very short bursts. Working with video, I do some work on my editing program and then hit "render," giving me about two or three minutes as the program converts the video into a watchable format. There's not a lot you can do in that amount of time, so webcomics are a good fit. Here's a top-five list.

Honourable Mention: Questionable Content, which works much better when you read it in huge chunks than it does on a daily basis. I remember I always felt the same about Fox Trot growing up - it wasn't worth following in the paper or online, but it was worth reading the collections when they came out. To that end, I have linked to QC's first comic, and you are welcome to start from there. I'd recommend it as an activity for a rainy day (unless it's thundering, at which point you would be wise to shut off your computer to avoid damage from surges).

Mostly I just made QC an honourable mention so I wouldn't have to hunt through its archives for a good example to put here. Also because I wanted to type "honourable" with the British spelling.

Second Runner-Up: Penny Arcade. It's all a little too much inside baseball to rank in the top five for me, but I subscribe to the RSS feed and always keep up. Gabe and Tycho have been keeping the world informed about the idiocies involved in the world of gaming for so long that their popularity has grown to the point that they are now actually making Penny Arcade videogames on the side. There's a lesson there somewhere.

(click on the images to enlarge)

Honorable Mention:
Married To The Sea. A husband and wife duo who take old Victorian drawings and add new captions to the photos. A fun concept that works even better in the reality than it does in theory, MTTS is loaded with fun comics to post around. like this one:

5. Piled Higher and Deeper. This guy started a webcomic about being a grad student in 1997. Seriously, 1997. I don't know if I even really knew what the internet was in 1997*. I was still in middle school, playing NBA Live and listening to Jars of Clay. But there Jorge Cham was, working on PhD comics instead of doing his grad work (he was - surprise! - getting his doctorate at the time). It simultaneously makes being a grad student look both fun and brain-meltingly boring, as his characters seem to spend most of their time putting off work in order to go find free food. Which sounds about right to me.

*The first webcomic was Doctor Fun, started in 1993, by the way.

4. A Softer World. A surrealist view of life done in the most emo way possible, the writers will take a picture, spread it across three frames, and add mental dialogue. You've got to see one to understand:

3. Ctrl+Alt+Delete. More of a traditional comic form, it also works best as a long read on a snowy evening. It follows a completely hairbrained main character as he enacts crazy plans that ruin the lives of his more levelheaded roommate and girlfriend. Naturally, being a webcomic, it's also mostly about video games. One of the characters is actually a combination XBox/robot, which I suppose is a less traditional comic form:

2. Real Life. Loosely based around the life of creator Greg Dean, it stays true to its name as we follow Greg from 1999 - when he mostly sat around playing video games with his friends - to the present, as a full time cartoonist. In the meantime, you could follow him as he went to culinary school, moved to California and then to Texas, and fell in love and got married. Of course, Real Life only extends so far, as the character also seems to find time to destroy buildings from Star Destroyers from time to time:

1. XKCD. The clear winner. The title doesn't mean a thing, the drawing is just stick figures, and it's generally just comics about math, but for some reason it's my favorite thing ever. A former NASA scientist decided to reinvent himself and chose this as his new path. Here's a sample:

Enjoy. Thanks Laura for the request.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I don't think it's possible, but...

It is just now occurring to me that Rove guaranteed an Obama landslide because he still thinks if Obama supporters don't show up to the polls, McCain can win it. Huh.

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Hulk No Vote! Hulk Smash Things!

Someone polled comic book writers to see which candidate each superhero would vote for. Sounds fun, right? Except, of course, the writers really just said the candidate that they would vote for and ascribed it to those characters. So, while it is perhaps likely that Tony Stark (Iron Man) would vote Obama, it seems less likely that Bruce Banner (The Hulk), John Constantine, and all of the X-Men would as well. In fact, it appears that virtually every superhero would vote for Obama, with the Punisher voting for Bob Barr (because he doesn't play by the rules!) and a couple voting for Nader, while McCain and Cynthia McKinney each snagged one vote apiece.

This brings me to my final election question - I have read hundreds of Obama endorsements by bands and movie stars and magazines and web sites and goodness knows what else, and I have read exactly one noteworthy McCain endorsement: Heidi Montag.

So, is there anything, absolutely anything, less cool than endorsing John McCain?

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Exploding Toilets

A few days ago, the apartment complex shut off the water to my apartment in order to do some repairs. By the time I returned to my apartment that night, the pipes had all been fixed and the water was running normally. However, at about midnight I flushed the toilet again and a large pocket of air made a break for it through my commode. There was a sudden roaring noise followed by what I can only describe as what I’d always thought a toilet vomiting might sound like. The air burst into the water tank, made a small chugging noise, then – nothing.

By this time, of course, I was bravely cowering on the other side of the room in desperate hope that my toilet was not about to explode. Once I realized that the danger – such as it was – had passed and there was nothing to worry about, it occurred to me that I had read entirely too much Dave Barry as a child, and this fact was now coming around to bite me. There is only so many times you can be linked to articles like this during your formative years without that making a strong impression on you, and now I seem to suffer from some permanent repressed fear of toilet combustion. This might be the sort of thing that leads me to humiliate myself as I hurl myself to safety behind the hand dryers in some public restroom.

On the other hand, this just might be the sort of caution that saves my life.


The Rationality Project

Part of my Sunday morning responsibilities at the church include getting the donuts and bagels and kolaches for the media team. I have probably done this task a hundred times now, but today was different. Before I can load up a box to take back, I have to empty one and set the donuts out on the table. Today I was doing this and looked down to discover that I had emptied the box from left to right instead of from right to left. I had never done this before. I now tried to refill the box from the opposite side to discover that I almost… couldn’t. My natural inclination to put each item in the exact space I always had was overpowering. An easy task had suddenly become bewilderingly difficult.

This reminded me of a piece by AJ Jacobs I had recently read called “The Rationality Project” about how Jacobs was trying to force himself to go against his natural grain and break all of his cognitive biases, a project he started after realizing the vast illogic of his daily life:
"Your brain is programmed to be bigoted and confirm stereotypes. It’s easily fooled by anecdotal evidence. Or a pretty face. Or a guy in a uniform. It’s a master of rationalization. It believes what it hears. It overreacts. It’s hopelessly incompetent at distinguishing fact from fiction.

I’ve had enough. I’m going to try to revamp my brain. Bring it into the modern era. I’m going to root out all the irrational biases and Darwinian anachronisms and retrain my brain to be a perfectly rational machine. I will be the most logical man alive, unswayed by unconscious impulses.”
Jacobs, naturally, fails wildly at this, but of course that’s the point. Jacobs is a man of near-paralyzing obsessive-compulsive disorder, and as a reaction to this, he enjoys messing with his neuroses by channeling them outward. His two best sellers, The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, are both nothing more than carefully documented experiments into the living lives other than his own – lives free of his own obsessions as he tries on the obsessions of others.

Having read both books – and in case you hadn’t gathered, this is all a roundabout way of getting to a requested post from my brother - I’m entranced by the concept. Jacobs throws himself into each yearlong project with unforced enthusiasm, with the knowledge that his weaknesses are ultimately his strengths. His compulsions keep his nose to the grindstone because work feels less like work when it becomes an obsession. He enjoys seeing what it’s like to experience something to its ultimate degree: a lesser writer would read all of the A’s in the encyclopedia in order to write a magazine piece, but Jacobs spends a year reading the whole encyclopedia in order to see how his life changes.

I enjoyed both The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, but I preferred Living Biblically because it of course hits closer to home for me. It’s hard to see concepts inscribed in ancient times have any effect in the modern world, so its cathartic to see someone else try to transpose those questions (“who is my neighbor?”) into a modern setting (“who is my neighbor when I’m stuck behind the Loud Phone Talker at Starbucks? What if I were to cut him into 13 pieces and send him to every cell phone service in America? Would that be acceptable?”). Plus, Jacobs has a fine sense of his own ridiculousness, so when discussing his own foibles, nothing seems off-limits. For example, in this latest article he puts duct tape over his glasses in order to avoid seeing the his waitress so that how attractive she is doesn’t affect how he tips. Now, picture this guy trying to obey every rule in Leviticus.

10-4GB Recommends: The Know-It-All and The Year Of Living Biblically.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Houston Astros Vs. Texas Rangers

I’ve missed my imaginary deadline, but we’re getting close to the end of the post requests. So even though all-request post month has continued on beyond the end of the month, we will finish them all.

The Astros and the Rangers are one of the few examples of competitive teams that operate in the same state without having any sort of real rivalry with each other. In fact, though I am certain both Astros fans and Rangers fans would argue this point, neither team has any sort of major rivalries of any kind. Whenever a divisional rival comes to town, there’s a small uptick in fanbase excitement, but nothing out of the ordinary – a good measuring stick is if your fanbase gets more enthused about a matchup with the Yankees than it does about a matchup with your “rival,” then you don’t have a rival.

Still, a lot of that is brought about by the fact that until quite recently, the Rangers and Astros never played each other. Interleague play has allowed the teams to start facing off against each other, and so hopefully a rivalry would begin to flourish. Rivalries are good for teams. It helps foster team spirit, increases attendance, and makes even unsuccessful seasons have moments worth getting excited about. This is why college football has so many rivalries – for hundreds of teams, there’s nothing else all year to care about.

The Rangers/Astros rivalry games have been dubbed “The Lone Star Series,” since it would look good on a TBS promo, and each year the winner gets a large silver boot as a trophy to take home and unenthusiastically display. Also, it gives TBS something to run graphics on top of when it gets back from a commercial break (“Coming up on TBS… Those crazy cops are still up to their hijinks! It’s Police Academy 3! Then - the rest of that Steve Harvey episode we accidentally played during the ALCS! Right here on TBS. Very funny.”). While the winner of this series decides who gets the boot each year, it doesn’t decide which baseball team is more awesome. No, that’s for me to decide. Right now.


Let’s start with the basics. Both ballparks have their own unique charm. Ranger Stadium, built in 1994, resembles Ebbets field from the outside, with its red brick façade and sweeping arches. Inside, the ballpark feels open and faintly majestic, with a distinctly classic style to its look. Despite it’s retro styling, Ranger Stadium seats 48,000 people – over 6,000 more than Minute Maid and over 8,000 more than Fenway even after the considerable renovations Red Sox management has added in the recent years.

Word is you can see the drug busts from the 3rd base upper deck.

Minute Maid Park, however, is a bit of a bandbox, full of quirks and gimmicks. From Tal’s hill – a sharp incline at the end of centerfield leading up to a bizarrely in-play flagpole – to the cream-colored arches overlooking left field, to the replica train (part of the ballpark used to be a train station) above the wall that chugs back and forth after every home run, towing behind it what looks like a boxcar full of pumpkins (they’re actually oranges), the park gives fans plenty to marvel at. A giant roof encases the field most of the year – living in Houston necessitates it – but when open it provides a clear view out into the city, giving the nosebleed seats in particular a spectacular view. However, when closed, Minute Maid loses much of its charm, and feels closer to what it is: an almost new park (built in 2000 and unfortunately titled Enron Field) crowded with knick-knacks that haven’t been around long enough to cause anyone nostalgia. Still, with the roof open, Minute Maid is one of the premier parks in baseball, so: the Astros get points for upside while the Rangers get points for scope and consistency. Advantage: Tied.

Good thing we got here early enough to miss traffic.

Not an even remotely difficult choice here. Ranger Stadium is located outside of Arlington, a short drive from Dallas and sits alone on an otherwise bare hill. There is no reason to go out by the stadium for any reason other than a baseball game. That’s not how stadiums should be, unless I’m going to the Field of Dreams field.

It looks more welcoming from down there.

Minute Maid is located in downtown Houston, a short walk from dozens of bars and restaurants, a natural piece of Houston’s landscape and skyline. It makes parking a nightmare, but that’s part of the fun – the off chance you find a cheap spot a short walk from the ballpark makes hunting around seem an adventure. Plus, Ranger parking is viciously, unnecessarily expensive, for the simple reason that if you don’t park in their spots, where else are you going to go? Huge Adavantage: Astros.

Team History: Yet another easy one for the Astros, which is a little sad. After all, the Astros have never won a World Series and once had the ugliest uniforms in baseball history:

Yeah, that’s right.

Still, the Astros have made it to the playoffs nine times, six since ’97, including a World Series appearance in ’05. Those are good numbers. The Rangers have only appeared in the playoffs three times, have only won one game, and have never won a playoff series – the only team never to do that now that the Rays have come alive. The Rangers are a career 500 games below .500, and they are the oldest franchise in all the four major pro sports leagues to have never appeared in the league's championship. Yeesh. The Astros have retired the number of nine of their players, while the Rangers have only three numbers retired – Jackie Robinson’s (every team is mandated to retire his number), Nolan Ryan (the Astros also have his number retired) and manger Johnny Oates. As a consolation, the Rangers have sent four players to the Hall of Fame to the Astros none, but this is no real prize as it only means they had these players at the very end of their careers. All of them played primarily for other teams, including Ryan, who played approximately twice as long (and several times as effectively) for the Astros. Also, two recently retired Astros, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, will also be heading into the hall as soon as they qualify for consideration. Huge Advantage: Astros.

Team Nickname: Rangers has a slight cool factor over the Astros, since Astro sounds a little dorky – you never want your nickname to be primarily famous for being the dog’s name on a Saturday morning cartoon. Also, the Rangers were originally the Senators and wisely changed their name when they arrived in Texas, but the Astros were originally the Colt .45’s and completely illogically chose to abandon the name. I mean, look at this logo:

You would not want to play this team.

Such a shame. Advantage: Rangers

Current Team:
The Rangers this past year were an interesting team, with half a dozen strong power hitters making things awfully fun to watch. Josh Hamilton’s resurgence from drug addiction, plus Milton Bradley finally realizing his considerable potential, plus a home run-hitting pair of middle infielders, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. All four made it to the All-Star Game this year, and the Rangers were one of the top run-scoring teams this year. However, their pitching swung from horrendous to atrocious and back again throughout the year, and they finished . The Astros season was more straightforward – they showed spark in the early part of the season, led by a career year by Lance Berkman. Still, they faded early and didn’t come around until late in the season, when it was too late to change their fates. Still, they ended up … and should be in strong contention for a wild card spot next year. They’ve got a slight leg up on the Rangers, and unless Texas drastically improves its pitching, it’s advantage: Astros

Each has its share of crazies, it's share of loyal fans who ride through good and bad seasons, and also its bandwagon fans who only jump on when the team is good, but having been to both stadiums in both situations, I’ve got to give it to the Astros. They have a larger, more passionate fanbase than Texas does, and you feel stronger that the Astros are really their team through thick and thin. I feel the Rangers are probably third in Dallas’ heart, behind the Cowboys and the Mavericks, while the Astros are only in competition with the Rockets for Houston’s affections. Advantage: Astros.

Well, I thought that would end up being much closer that it actually was, assuming at least some of those categories would swing the Rangers’ way, but it’s a pretty clear victory for the Astros. So, when ranking franchises, regardless of how this sad little Lone Star Series turns out, it’s the Astros who are clearly top dog.

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