Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Interlude from procrastinating on figuring out my gross taxable income and also from tackling von Trier

The two pundits (whom I still semi-read) I find most irritating right now are:

Mickey Kaus


Gregg Easterbrook.

Both bloggers are New Republic alumni, and neither has shaken that magazine's narcissistic obsession with producing Interesting Iconoclastic Opinions (IIO). Skilled practioners of IIO, like hunky wonk Michael Kinsley, bolster their goofy-legged stances with careful research and unassailable logic. Then we have knee-jerk contrarians like Kaus and Easterbrook, who offer little but their own abiding affection for their "unorthodox" positions.

Kaus is a preening, monomaniacal jerk. His entire blog is now devoted to Hating John Kerry, which wouldn't be so bad if (1) Kaus doesn't keep bringing up that he's a Democrat; (2) if he's actually has substantive critiques; and (3) if he'll willfully overlook the flip-flops and blatant pandering of politicians he supports (because his "Democratic friends" don't), like Ahnold.

However obnoxious Kaus is, though, he can occasionally tear some establishment reporter a new one, though he seems to specialize in eviscerating the NY Times and the LA Times (why? because his "Democratic friends" read those papers!). Easterbrook is also a monomaniacal narcissist. Except instead of snark, ol' Gregg traffics in earnest indignation. He's the contrarian professor to Kaus' contrarian wisecracking drinking buddy. Okay, so Easterbrook isn't quite as monomaniacal as Kaus, and Easterblogg has interesting posts on science news and sports. But a regular feature is his laughable defense of Bush's environmental policies, which are exercises in self-delusion.

More than that, Easterbrook holds the distinction for being the only columnist whose idiocy provoked me to fire off a letter to the editor in the last year. My letter, like my other four letters to TNR, didn't get published, alas. (But hey, I can self-publish now!) Anyway, that letter attacked Easterbrook's notorious slime of Kill Bill Vol. 1. For those of you who follow blogosphere/journalistic controversies, you might remember the firestorm surrounding Easterbrook's use of anti-Semitic language in condemning the producers of Tarantino's splatterfest (in the Likudnik TNR of all places!). For my part, I wasn't so much interested in the anti-Semitic charges as I was in the complete idiocy of Easterbrook's comments on Kill Bill. Here's a guy who had no clue on film history, film grammar, or anything else cinema-related who somehow believes he's got the authority to make pronouncements designating which films are worthwhile and which worthless as art. I was absolutely flabbergasted by his arrogance. At the time, my conclusion was to lament the downside of blogging, which inspires bloggers to opine on everything under the sun, even things they know not the first thing about. (For example, I know nothing about being fey, or fey people, or fops for that matter, but I still deign to make snarky comments about them!)

Lately, Easterbrook's on this anti-9/11 Commission kick. His position is that anybody who claims Bush could've stopped 9/11 is off their rocker because there was no way he could've invaded Afghanistan. (This is the reasoning taken up by some wingnuts, too, I hear, though I stopped reading many of these wingnuts for fear of being infected by their obviously contagious dementia.)

All I can say in response to Easterbrook is: What?!?

The criticisms put forth by Clarke and others isn't that Bush could've killed Osama and destroyed Al Qaida if only he'd pay attention. No, it's that, given all of the information presented to him, why didn't he do more? Why didn't he "shake the trees" and post alerts to the FAA and hold meetings with "principals" to gather all this material? After all, we know two of al Qaida members are in flight school in the US, Osama wants to hijack planes, etc. Meanwhile, back at the ranch...Dubya continued his long-ass presidential vacation, more evidently concerned with fishing and stem cell research in August than vigilantly protecting the homeland.

Easterbrook is getting snookered by Bush into changing the topic ("if we *knew* that they would attack the WTC on September 11, we would've acted"), which is not the sign of a first-class mind.

The most incisive pundit out there right now is William Saletan, who once again broke it down for us. Broke what down? Why, Shrub's pathetic press conference of course, and how his answers reflect his utter contempt for facts. I'm getting tired of hating the guy, but everyday something comes up where I have to ask myself: how did these third-rate hacks, led by an inane (okay, "incurious") chimp, get to run the most powerful country in the world?

Yes, I shouldn't even be reading these people. That time could be spent teaching geometry to inner city youth. I know.

(The above annoying parenthetical exclamations are meant to be a parody of Mickey Kaus!)

Monday, April 12, 2004

Favorite albums of 2003

In a typical year, my CD buying habits will consist of completist purchases (Sinatra's Capital records), canonical albums (Love's Forever Changes), random acts that I get into for a month or so (Fantastic Plastic Machine; The Orb), random classical albums, and catching up to records I missed out in the late Nineties while toiling away at torts and contracts (U.N.K.L.E., Mos Def). I used to buy maybe four or five new albums a year, but last year I became much more "contemporary" in my music listening, primarily because (1) half of my time is spent driving, the other half at work -- hence the need for aural distractions; (2) the newly discovered pleasures of CD-R; (3) the newly discovered pleasures of P2P; (4) more social outings to see live perfomances. Free music makes the world go round, I tell you.

I spent a good part of the last ten months catching up to post-millennial music. So I haven't always been hip and with it like The Unit, but it sure beats feeling like some washed-up hipster bitching about how some new hot band is just biting Husker Du.

Anyway, in a class by itself (and utterly deserving of its wild acclaim):

01 Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, OutKast. Especially The Love Below, which is like the late-80s Prince masterpiece the Purple One never recorded. "Roses" is dedicated to my loyal reader Sally. Also, thanks to JZ for springing for this...


02 Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins. Oh, Inverted World redux, but why should that be a bad thing?
03 Shades of Blue, Madlib. Tops Guru's Jazzmatazz as the best fusion of straight-ahead be-bop to hip hop grooves I've heard.
04 Haha Sound, Broadcast. Broadcast's Emperor Tomato Ketchup -- more jamming and a richer, warmer sound, and I still dig how Trish Keenan's spacey vocals linger outside the melody.
05 So Much for the City, The Thrills. An Irish band singing about Santa Cruz and Big Sur -- poseurs or not? Who cares, when their shit is so damn melodic.
06 One World Extinguisher, Prefuse 73. The hip hop Fantasma.
07 Give Up, The Postal Service. Eighties kitsch -- OMD synth pop sung by the Death Cab dude who sounds just like the New Order dude. And with that obscure New Order/Smiths-like lyrics to boot. Pretty awesome, especially "Such Great Heights."
08 Neon Golden, The Notwist. I'm hooked on "Consequence".
09 One World Underground, Where Are You Now?, Metric. Ditto "Combat Rock."
10 You Are Free, Cat Power. I don't usually go for Lilith Fair stuff, Chan's wild child volatility is pretty bracing (and sexy). She's no Indigo Girl, that one.
11 Boy in Da Corner, Dizzee Rascal. Some awesome tracks mixed with annoying tracks, all courtesy of Dizzee's alternatingly awesome machine gun staccato flow ("Brand New Day") then annoying stylings ("Fix Up, Look Sharp").
12 Daily Operation, Gang Starr. Old school Gang Starr -- I'm a fan.

A few runners-up:

Transatlanticism, Death Cab for Cutie.
Elephant, White Stripes
The Black Album, Jay-Z
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell [EP], Flaming Lips
The Secret of Elena's Tomb [EP], And You Will Know Us By Trail of Dead

Overrated: Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Belle & Sebastian. Sounds like a bunch of guys whose hands will snap clean off upon lifting a coffee pot. I'm all for fey, foppy music in small doses, but this is like a fucking frilly shirt convention. Maybe I'll give this a few more spins, but right now, it's looking like a fine re-gift item.

Is the Delgados' Hate considered a 2003 release? If so, I'd have it in the top 15 somewhere.