Friday, May 14, 2004

Blogging DeathMatch

Just discovered Iron Blog, a cross between Iron Chef and Crossfire. Ridiculous, but at least here's some cross-party dialogue instead of the usual blog echo chamber.

Also in this vein: The New Republic v. National Review on Iraq this week. Boot this wingnut's ass back to Saturn, Ackerman, yeeeeaahhaaahhhhhh!!!!! Ooops. Sorry about that outburst.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Coachella -- all play and no work

105 degrees. 3 hours spent in the parking lot. Disgusting $8 cheeseburgers that wouldn't be serve in prison. 2 big stages. 3 tents. 50,000 concert goers, many decked out in passe trucker hats, ironic t-shirts, or ever trendy 80s ruffle skirts, sauntering across a grassy polo field at any given moment.

Tents, palm trees, and a shit load of humanoids. Posted by Hello

I suffered in Coachella, but that suffering was redeemed. Redeemed first by The Pixies, who shook our spines with a tight, demonic set culled largely from Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. When the surf riff of "Here Comes Your Man" comes on, everyone was buddy in Frank Black's hands. Only disconcerting thing is to discover your snarling hero now looks like a dead ringer for Brando in Apocalypse Now. Nor have the years been kind to Joey Santiago and Kim Deal. The Pixies emerged a little later than Sonic Youth, but looking at 'em you'd think they were contemporaries of Steely Dan. That little reality check aside, it's a night for the ages. (Hardcore Pixieheads can check out their set list and download MP3s from the show here.)

Other bands I checked out on Saturday included, in order:

* Kinky: Latino party band delivered a good time, as promised.

* stellastar*: some powerful drumming mixed with what seemed like a pedestrian new wave sound, but hard to tell when you're dangerously short on oxygen. Bailed after three songs.

* Q and Not U: Subject of much hipster buzz after their set, this post-punk trio had some catchy tunes but too lyrically bombastic for my taste.

* Beck: Braving Q but Not U to worm our way into the small "Gobi" tent for Beck, I couldn't leave even though I almost died of dehydration. Beck was making a special guest appearance and graced the stoked crowd with a gorgeous acoustic set (his attempt at innovation -- plugging a gameboy into his synthesizer -- flopped due to equipment failure). Mostly covers and stuff from Sea Change ("Lost Cause", "Guess I'm Doing Fine"), along with the song I most wanted to hear, "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes" from Eternal Sunshine.

* Death Cab for Cutie: Melodic emo on a sunny day with palm trees as a backdrop. In truth, Death Cab was not especially memorable, but it's a nice break from the claustrophobia induced by fans in the Beck tent.

* Savath & Savales: brainchild of Prefuse 73's Scott Herren, this ethereal downtempo band, a cross between early Stereolab and Thievery Corporation, is fronted by some hot Euros and made for nice lazy afternoon listening.

* Stereolab: one of my favorite live acts, I was only able to catch the tail end of their set due to conflict with the Pixies. They didn't disappoint.

* Radiohead: Thom Yorke recovered from his cold just in time to deliver another abstractly beautiful set that used the same visual effects as their Hail to the Thief tour last year. They even played "Creep".

Biggest regret of the festival: skipping out on Kraftwerk (see below). Ended up sitting in the parking lot for three hours instead. Jo can attest to my constant bemoaning of this, eh, Jo?

My big regret -- robots at Kraftwerk! Posted by Hello


* The Thrills: Their Beach Boys-inflected album was one of my favorites last year, but they're merely passable live, their lulling guitar licks more suited for an afternoon drive.

* 2 Many DJs: Barely sampled this mash-up act. Not impressed by the two minutes I heard.

* Sage Francis: Jokey hip-hop fusion with a political twist. The East Coast rapper tried to stir shit by knocking down West Coast hip hop, and that didn't sit well with the 120 lb white emo boys populating the tent. Those white boys would've thrown down had they remembered to bring hairnets to keep that well-coiffed hair in place.

* Belle & Sebastian: the soothing pastoral sound makes for a fine backdrop, but aside from the absurdist portraitures I liked in If You're Feeling Sinister..., too precious for me. Bailed after 45 minutes to check out...

* Dizzee Rascal: who appeared to have delivered an urgent, rousing set, but the echo in the tent made the young cockney-accented rapper's stacatto street poetry completely unintelligible. Rolled with the rhythmic energy of the set, but I had to mentally fill in the words from my memory of Boy in Da Corner.

* Air: you wouldn't think they'd work live, but they thrash up and stretch out that dreamy atomospheric sound we've grown to love. They jam. Mostly played songs from Talkie Walkie, and ended with "Sexy Boy" from Moon Safari. Too bad no "Playground Love", my favorite Air song.

* Prefuse 73: my favorite set from Sunday came from the aforementioned Scott Herren, who cut together some dark, sharp breakbeats with unexpected melodies and innovative hip-hop samples. Cool lighting, too. Can't wait to see him at a club.

* Flaming Lips: All stunts and gimmicks. Wayne Coyne stuck himself in a bubble and rolled into the crowd. When he emerged, he sang four songs, one of which, "Fight Test", is one of my all-time favorites. Pity the rest of the time Coyne overloaded on his "New Sincerity" shtick, including delivering a rambling anti-Shrub screed that made even this vociferous Bush-hater impatient. A disappointment.

* Mogwai/Danger Mouse: Short on time, so I didn't see that much of either act. Mogwai's dense tapestry of sound was impressive in a cerebral kind of way. Heard some interesting mash up of hip hop and Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" coming out of the Danger Mouse tent. Wish I had more time to see them.

* The Cure: In between years is more like it. Sadly, their time has passed, but they just keep playing and playing and playing. Sure, you get that nostalgic kick when one of their signature hits like "Just Like Heaven" or "Why Can't I Be You?" kicks in. When "In Between Days" and "Love Cats" (a wonderful surprise) came on, all those long-repressed memories of high school came rushing back. But their mopey alterna-goth sound had become enervating, especially coming after innovative, progressive acts like Prefuse and Air. Robert Smith spent a bulk of his set playing tedious guitar solos on their new songs, all of which were instantly forgettable. I had more fun singing "Love Song" in Koreatown.

* Le Tigre: Now that's more like it. Innovative visuals (the best videos of the entire festival) matched with witty absurdist anthems and hilarious choreography. Wished they ran longer than The Cure rather than the other way around.

Also wished I saw Broken Social Scene (I dig their album), Muse (who apparently were terrific), !!!, Kool Keith, MC Doom, Elefant, Basement Jaxx, and more of Danger Mouse and Mogwai. But conflicts, late starts, and nature calls got in the way.

Next year's wish list: OutKast headliner; Replacements reunion; Stephen Malkmus; The Delgados; New Order.

My bud Andy booked an luxurious pad in Palm Springs, about 20 minutes away, decked with a heated pool and hot tub, a widescreen TV, and stocked with food and beer.
Having 20 or so of my closest pals that enhanced the experience immeasurably. Even the irrepressible Sally Yeh made it across the country. If only my law school pals weren't all in the East Coast, Alaska, or campaigning their asses off, it could've been one big party, or rather one bigger party.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Vetting the Veep

According to Bloomberg services, Kerry's down to five candidates to be his running mate.

As we go through these choices, I see three significant criteria for the VP nominee:
(a) Will the candidate make a good Prez? (It's shocking how often this rudimentary yet crucial point is ignored by pundits and even by candidates themselves (e.g., Dan Quayle, '92).

(b) Will the candidate help politically more than other contenders?

(c) Is there a decent risk that this candidate might actually hurt the ticket during the campaign?

Running the finalists through my own analysis, I would rank them in the following order:

    (1) Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark. Odds 3-1. Nobody's working harder. From being anointed the Dem rebuttal speaker to Bush last Saturday, to drafting a defense of Kerry's war record in the NY Times, to penning this learned and persuasive thinkpiece on Bush's failure to follow Reagan's example in his Iraq strategy, the general's waging a multi-front war all by his lonesome.

    A few slips aside, I still believe he was the best candidate of the nine contenders for the reasons I stated earlier, and his credentials are even more vital as Iraq has become the defining issue of this campaign. More than anyone else running, Clark had been dead-on from the beginning about Iraq. By virtue of his prescience and experience, Clark's got more credibility than anyone else in the Democratic party attacking Bush on foreign policy, and his presence on the ticket will make a strong statement that the Dems are serious about doing Iraq right. Electorally, he's from Arkansas, which currently has Bush/Kerry in a dead heat. He's a moderate Southern general, providing that all-important "balance". And he'll further boost Kerry's military suck-up campaign and provide an even sharper contrast with the chickenhawks.

    Drawback: somewhat gaffe-prone and thin-skinned, not good characteristics for an attack dog VP.

    (2) Sen. John Edwards. Odds 3-1. If Iraq somehow gets "taken off the table" (unless Bush cuts and runs, the only plausible scenario is Iraq "fatigue" among voters), then Edwards would be by far the best choice. He's the winning face of Democratic populism -- served with loving spoonfuls of charm. He's got the best economic pitch of the Dems, but he strikes me as a little lightweight given the state of affairs. North Carolina is a strong lean Bush, and it's not clear that tabbing Edwards would automatically flip the state to a toss-up.

    The strongest rationale for picking Edwards is that he appeals to pseudo-South areas of swing states, like southeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Another good reason is he'll bring his potent charisma and sweet talk to the table to complement Kerry, a man poorly versed in the seductive arts. But will Kerry spurn him like a jealous rival? Is a boyfriend, rather than an Oliver Wendell Holmes-type, what we're yearning for in a Prez in this age of anxiety? I gotta think not. I like Edwards, but he's just a tad callow for this climate.

    (3) Gov. Tom Vilsack. Odds 10-1. Don't know anything about this guy, except he's adopted. And he's a likeable governor from Iowa with solid political skills. Iowa's now a swing state, and clearly it's a state that gets Kerry giddy, but is that enough? Apparently Vilsack's appeal to Midwesterners has played a big part in landing him on the short list, along with his executive experience. His pick might generate some excitement just because he's such an unknown, but he seems a bland pick.

    (4) Sen. Bob Graham. Odds 15-1. This guy scribbles down everything he does in his diary ("5:30 p.m.: clipped my toenails while watching Animal Planet, It is hot and muggy."). In other words, he's weird. Sure, on paper, the man is just about perfect. Impeccable national security credentials. Was strongly against the Iraq War. Has been both governor and senator. Still popular in the Sunshine State. But in person, he's weird. Doesn't help that he wears peacock and teal ties which accentuates his off-kilter vite. And he's got all the charisma of argyle socks. Is a 2% boost in Florida enough to get him the VP nod? Time will tell.

    (5) Rep. Richard Gephardt. Odds 4-1. Respected, decent, stolid, steady, beloved by Big Labor, popular in key swing state Missouri and neighboring Ohio. Sure to help in key states and with special interests without the risk of detonating. He's the safe, logical pick for the ultra-cautious Kerry. But he's also got "loser" written in boldface over where his eyebrows should be. Basically the personification of the wooden, old school party man, Gephardt's a dull 80s-style paleo-liberal who nevertheless caved to Bush on Iraq. In other words, he's John Kerry without the war record. He'd make a fine labor secretary in an Kerry administration, but please please please please please don't pick this guy, Big John. Gep's the Ghost of Democratic Past. You might as well go for Fritz Mondale.

Then there's Bill Richardson, charismatic Latino governor of an important swing state. Pretty sure there are skeletons in his closet, or else he'd be in the on the short list.

Lastly, there's the AC-130 gunship of contemporary politics, John McCain. Warhawk Andrew Sullivan, surveying the unmitigated disaster that is the Iraq War, is again beating the drums for another round of Kerry/McCain fantasizing, this time with the fanciful notion that Abu Ghraib might finally push McCain to accept. I think not. If Bushies smearing McCain's adopted daughter to Southern racists didn't drive him out of the party, nothing will.

Plausibility aside, though, I'd love to see this happen; for one thing, I think it'll bring a realignment. Moderate Republicans in the Southwest and Northeast have been trending Democratic, but a Kerry-McCain ticket will finally bring these voters into the fold. Or, alternatively, we'll have a centrist governing coalition, which would be equally desirable. Moreover, few politicians are as widely respected and commanding as McCain. And none are more beloved by the press. Kerry will be showered with two months worth of positive press if he went this route. They'd be an unbeatable duo, a surefire recipe for a landslide mudpie (52% Kerry/McCain, 42% Bush/Cheney, 5% Nader). But that would be way too easy, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Anyone have site concerns?

I've gotten a couple of e-mails complaining about illegible font-size. One of my computers using IE 3x collapses the two columns into an unreadable mess. I'm gonna try to work these kinks out, but let me know if you can't read the site.

(Spent the day trying to clean up code and fix some formatting problems. Hopefully the more eye-catching layout won't hinder functionality.)

Monday, May 10, 2004

Say, did you get a haircut or something?

Blogger finally upgraded to compete with movable type, so I figured I might as well don a spiffier look. Problem is, I don't know jack shit about html, so the whole thing's an adventure.

[NB: Finally installed Haloscan correctly. One problem solved.]

Now I'm experimenting with a three column look with no success. I tried the code from this site, but for whatever reason, it doesn't jibe with the code from this new Blogger template. If anyone has any ideas or can offer any help on code, please let me know.

[NB: Problem solved!]

In the meantime, I'll finally be adding some new content. This will include:

* A long Dogville/Dogshit review, already half-drafted.

* Short write-up of the Coachella Music Festival.

* And finally, my main obsession recently: Abu Ghraib as a sign of the Decline of Western Civilization.

So look for more updates soon.