Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Question, Part I

If I ever end up writing a book, I think that the following question I am going to ask will be a major part of it, if not the only part of it.  The question is Why do certain parts of the world, particularly countries become fanatic about a given sport?  In the next few paragraphs, I am going to try to briefly cover the outline of what I might argue in the few hypotheses I have formed in mulling over the world sporting scene today.
Firstly, soccer.  While it is the most popular sport in the world, there are definitely certain parts of the world in which it is more popular that many others.  So for purposes of my arguments about the sport, I will say Western Europe, Latin America and Western Africa are the areas in which the sport is most popular, especially right now.  No doubt it has gained steam in other regions, but those regions are big fans of other sports, too.
The origins of soccer were in England, but England being part of Europe, and due to its quick spread in Europe, the reasons for its thriving in these regions are probably pretty similar.
My first guess about soccer is that it is a constant battle for space- space to dribble the ball, space to get open, and space you want to take away if you are on defense.  The European mindset also seems to be a constant battle for space.  The Germans have constantly been fighting for it, the Ancient Romans tried to take as much of it over as possible.  And yet now Europe is finding they don’t have enough of it. 
The next thought I had is that with the dimensions of a soccer field being the same everywhere, it would give Europeans a sense of boundaries, which is something they also like.  This nationality belongs here, this religion belongs here, this sport belongs here.  Thus, a field that defines exactly what takes place on it, and what does not
Finally, soccer being such a simple game at heart, it gives a lot of room for creativity.  Europe being a place that emphasizes the individual, or tightly defined region, these individuals and regions could maintain their identities and express them in this sport while still being able to relate to each other on the same stage.
So why did it expand to certain places?  I believe Franz Fanon could explain in some way better than I could why certain sports thrived in colonized countries, but I’m going to try.  The colonizers introduced a sport to the colonized which they imitated because at first they looked up to their oppressors.  But eventually they decided to become better than their colonizers (and certainly in many cases, did).  This is kind of like the way Fanon explains the violence dialectic between colonizer and colonized.
But to apply this to actual places, it seems clear that this was most effective in Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries.  They also seem to the be the ones influenced the most by the Iberian peninsula.  The Iberians, the Catholics who conquered the world the most, probably instilled in their colonies the greatest sense of tradition and loyalty of any Empires in the world.  And so, while these newly independent nations took the spread of soccer and tried to make it their own, they also could not ignore the fact that they were again taking a page out of their former rulers’ book.
Pretty much the same could be argued for the people of west Africa, despite the fact that it was mostly the French and the British who settled that area.  Well, mostly the French.  Was it French Catholicism and loyalty that made these countries love soccer so much?  I mean, I don’t really know what the competition from other sports was, but soccer seems pretty big there now.
Next time, we examine what the rest of the world likes. Hint: it might also be soccer.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Zombie Situation

This week is, I’ve heard, a much celebrated holiday for people in my area and age-group.  And there’s nothing that gets me psyched up for it quite like talking about Zombies.  I’ve definitely been absorbing zombie-related media at a much faster clip than usual recently, in large part because I think they are making a Vampire-esque comeback, only this time among cool people.  For me, the most interesting thing about them is not that they actually kill people, eat them, what-have-you, but how they spread. 
If there was a zombie outbreak, such as the one chronicled in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, that would be the worst disaster to ever befall mankind.  What humans have- what defines us- is our ability to relate to other humans.  The concept of zombies essentially splits humans up, makes them suspicious of each other- not only threatens us physically but psychologically.  And not just psychologically as one country would affect another in a war, but psychologically on the most individual level possible.  No borders between countries, not even us against extra-terrestrials of some kind- humans against each other.
You really get a grip on what’s important when a bunch of blood-thirsty people who maybe used to be your friends are after you.  And I think that’s why one of my favorite movies of the past couple years, “Zombieland”, struck such a cord.  It’s an examination of how humans can survive and even thrive in a situation like that.  There have been plenty of movies where the main characters just go out and kick some ass and take some names.  (That might be why I didn’t love “Shaun of the Dead” that much- or maybe I just don’t like British comedy.)  But to me it made sense, for example, that the loners would be the ones to survive a zombie apocalypse.  At first.  And sure, maybe they’d team up and save each other at an amusement park in a climactic scene where everybody puts the lessons they’ve learned so far to good use.
But a lot of the lessons I learned in that movie can be put to good use.  Cherish the little things. Cardio.  And my personal favorite- the Double Tap.  I’ve tried to make that one catch on, to no avail. Then again, there are certain really bad zombie scenarios that even these lessons can’t prepare you for.
Maybe you’re all alone in the wilderness.  And it’s cold out.  And the zombies are also Nazis. And for some reason everybody’s speaking Norwegian! Okay, so that is the basis for the movie “Dead Snow”, a movie for which Amazing is an understatement.  It does take place in Norway, the zombies run really fast, they want some gold, but really all they want to do is kill you.  I don’t want to ruin too much of it, but suffice it to say, it gave me a really different take on zombies.  Just like World War Z.
This book did several things for me- it clarified what exactly happens to the zombies before they come back from the dead and start eating people.  It also explained a lot of the anatomy and biological facts of them.  They’re not fast, but they don’t breathe air.  And you can only kill them by shooting them in the head.  They are also the bodies of dead people- so the people die, and then the corpse reanimates. You don’t just go from living human to living zombie. But to contradict Dead Snow, they do freeze when it gets cold out. Solid, that is.  So that’s cool.  Finally, it showed me how different countries might react to a zombie outbreak.  China freaked out and made the whole thing way worse.  Israel acted quickly and quarantined themselves.  And the U.S. screwed up at first, but then fought back in some heroic ways.
This blog post has just gone through the roof on the nerdy scale.  And I think Woody Harrelson in Zombieland would probably punch me in the arm for rambling this much.  But that movie is still by far the zombie situation I would choose to live in.  As long as I got “Salute Your Solution” by The Raconteurs playing after I was done kicking ass.  And Emma Stone being there doesn’t hurt either.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Down with High Fives

…Look, all I’m saying is Why would you give a high-five anymore when you could give a fist bump?
            I’ll tell you the philosophy behind fist-bumps.  For a long time they seemed to have a bum rap as something only poseurs or people from California did.  I think they gained more of an acceptance after they became so pervasive in sports.  I remember seeing Graham Lloyd of the Yankees hold (what would come to be known as Holding) a game in the World Series and giving an extended series of fist-bumps to his teammates, and though I didn’t pick it up right then, that’s when it slowly began to creep into my mind to break away from the high-five scene.
            Look, high-fives are great, but they can be way overused.  There’s always that really excitable guy you know who gives high-fives which are way too hard. Yes, The Todd from Scrubs is the most egregious example, but there’s a reasonable chance you knew someone like that in high school.  The problem with high-fives is that you never have the same enthusiasm for the greeting on both sides, or so it seems to manifest itself.
            Not so with fist-bumps, or “pounding it”.  You can get away with a lot less enthusiasm, but still get across the same message to your chums: “I commend you on a job well done. I share in your joy.”  Plus, if you become a person who does fist-bumps, perhaps too often, you are able to send this same message even when you are not feeling as enthusiastic.  And if you do then give a high five, your compatriot will understand just how special of an occasion it is.
            The beauty of them, though, is that not only do they replace high-fives, they also replace handshakes.  When drawn out or added on to, they can create the appearance of a special bond between you and anyone who also subscribes to the “pounding it” school of thought.  In a conservative way they can release the tension of a situation in which neither of the two parties involved are quite sure which method of shared greeting is most appropriate, or in times of limited physical space to acknowledge someone’s arrival or job well done.
            Have you ever noticed how much you miss when you’re in the habit of giving high-fives? Even the best fivers are only about 90% rate of connection.  And even when you don’t get a good high five, there is often the occasional unsatisfying high-five. There is rarely an unsatisfying fist-bump, just because there are so many ways to pull the move off, and they never require that much energy (which is really what this is all about, isn’t it?).
            When I ask you, for example, Where does the dog go? and stick out my fist except with my pointer and pinky out, and, you say The Pound (or don’t) and/or pound it.  Or I stick out my fist and say Potato- and you pound it, say Fries and we each do the hand explosion. My favorite version is to do the hand-explosion, extending past the point of contact, then reverse and scrape knucks on the way back.  Isn’t this fun?
            And finally there’s the PeZ (named after a friend of mine at St. John’s back in the day).  (Hi, PeZ!) So you gotta pound it with fists horizontal, then at point of contact, Lock it up (here you turn them vertical) and put the chains on (hand-open, slide it past point of contact).
Now get some practice in- there’s going to be an exam.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sociality Index

I have to get this down on paper in some ways to prevent myself from going crazy.  The other part of it is that by putting this down on paper, it reveals just how crazy how I am.  So I write this partly for myself in order to show myself at some point down the road how crazy and messed up my mind was at this point in my life. My mom should never read this, for example, because it totally gives fuel to her argument that I care too much about social stuff.  Which isn’t entirely fair, because on the sane level I realize that this whole system and the lifestyle it encourages is the not the right way to live.  And yet the mere fact that I would create something like this, even spend the time to think it through to a point where this is something I could actually implement, makes me very scared for myself.
 To that end, I write this, too, for anyone who might someday read this because they wonder what goes on inside my head.  If you ever did wonder that, this is the most naked I will ever bare my soul, I think.  So know that there are things you worry about that are nowhere near as crazy as what I think of.  And I have been to a lesser or greater extent, I’ve been worrying about this for probably ten years now.  It’s grown so big that all I can do is contain the level of thinking to a reasonable set of rules and expectations for myself.  The better I do in the system, however, the more it encourages itself, so I can’t let it get too out of control.  But I’m getting way ahead of myself.  There are segments of this that will probably just speak for themselves.  This is not a cry for help- it is something I never thought I would write down, but I think it’s a big step in my recovery to think that I’m even at the point where I feel comfortable writing it down.  So maybe it is a cry for help.
 I am a counter.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve counted things in my life in order to measure some imaginary quantity of success in my life.  In second or third grade, for example, I think I was counting, day by day, my record in games for the day. Any games: kickball, checkers, the scrimmages in soccer practice.  And that just got too crazy, even for me, so I don’t think that lasted very long.  But the counting didn’t stop…
 …it simply manifested itself in a different way.  The origin of this system came about when I was first starting to look around in the summer after fifth grade and observe that I didn’t have very many friends.  I was trying to be friends with Brad in fifth because we were on the same bus, but his parents seemed to never actually let him hang out anywhere or do anything.  But I got a couple new friends in sixth- Kevin, and then Justin, who I would stay friends with through about junior year of high school.  Some of my friends from high school may remember him as the “ghetto” friend I had.   My having friends eventually brought about the modern version of this system the summer after seventh or maybe eighth grade.  The Sociality Index.
 The primitive version of this system operated under the assumption that at least averagely popular people are hanging out with friends of theirs at least four nights of the week.  The greater percentage of nights each week (during the summer, of course) I was able to see a friend of mine, the better I felt about myself.  For five summers, I strongly adhered to this standard and probably didn’t fail to achieve the goal more than two weeks out of each summer.  The specifics varied from grading vacation with the family or trips of any kind as neutral days that weren’t counted or actual “Friend Days” that counted towards the total.  Anyway, I am pretty sure I didn’t care too much about this system after graduating from high school and through most of college, just because I have become more confident about the amount of friends I have.  Then this summer came, and I was mostly unemployed, and I guess I just needed something going for me.  In case you were wondering, under even the most strict application of this rule, I aced the summer.  I have really nothing else to do.
  But on a certain level, I became aware of another system brewing in my mind- which I haven’t even tested more than once, because if I had, I would know I have a serious problem.  Here I have to just set it all down, just so I never, ever, ever think about this again because it is poisonous.  Please, I warn you, don’t think about this system afterwards, lest you think about putting it in place in your life.  Especially because I don’t want you to think you are better than me in this system than I am.
  Here it is: the new system would add point totals to each time you Do Something, or DS.  It is a one through five point scale, and the idea is to obtain about fifteen points per week, give or take. (Now that I think of it, that’s pretty high.) This forces you to vary up the different types of Things you Do.  A One is taking part in an event that you don’t really have a social relationship with any or many of the people there.  Two would be hanging out in a non-aerobic activity with one other friend, or a trip with your immediate family.  Three would be either doing something aerobic with one other friend or hanging out in any fashion with two other friends or hanging out with your extended family.  Four is hanging out with more than two other buddies- that’s clearly a different type of social situation than hanging out with two other people.  A Five is a full-on Bash- drinking preferable, but a good time must be had by all. So there you go- the entire sickness of my mind has been bared before you.  Do not let these rules and regulations penetrate your life. And please keep them away from me, too.
Damn you, Economy- see what you bring me to?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Gray Duck Means to Us

                It’s duck season up here in the North (which is to say, the market covered by Fox Sports North) and that means everyone is excited to eat some delicious Teal or Mallard, the former of which I recently found out is very good with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.  But one of the more satisfying aspects of eating duck, of course is the fact that they have been hunted down and brought to your table, and it is this whole endeavor to which Minnesota grade schoolers pay tribute by playing a game known around here as Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.
                It has recently come to my attention that not every state in the union knows the game as such.  In fact, people every other state but Minnesota call the exact same game Duck, Duck, Goose, which is completely wrong.  The game has it’s origins in a very realistic and distinctly Minnesotan philosophy, that we are all Ducks.  We would never single someone out so ostentatiously as to call them a Goose.  Geese and Ducks wouldn’t hang out in the same flock waiting to be provoked by a mysterious hand from above and then run in a very tight circle to track down the target, the It, before It reaches the point from which the race began.  (“It”, suffice it to say, is also a Duck).  A Goose definitely wouldn’t abide by these strict rules.  Geese chase.  That’s why they call it a Wild Goose Chase.  At least, we do up North.  But Ducks follow the rules and know when to give up.  Because they understand that they will not always be the Gray Duck.  They will hopefully be a different kind of Duck, one that does not have to chase It.  We Minnesotans know that sometimes it is simply your day to be the Gray Duck.
                This brings me to the next part of the philosophy.  Though we are all Ducks, we are also all unique.  The tradition of these gamers in our fair state is that it is the responsibility of It to signify to each of the Ducks exactly what kind of Duck they are.  Just because one duck is Gray, doesn’t mean the other Ducks don’t have adjectives.  They all should.  There is the requisite Smelly Duck, Pretty Duck, Ugly Duck and others.  The only reason the Gray Duck is the type of Duck that has to chase is because that is the way it has always been.  It doesn’t mean he or she is any better or worse than the others.  We just need to know that we are being appreciated for our attributes by the It Duck.  And if the It Duck tilts our head back to get a better look at us in order to figure out what kind of Duck we are, so much the better.  We are one community (which is what the circle signifies), but we are also individuals, with names given to us based on the gifts we bring to the table. We watch and wait for the impending race and root for the Gray Duck because one day we may have to be him, and one day he might actually catch It Duck, though the odds are against him.
                Should he catch It Duck, we all rejoice, because there will be a feast of Duck Soup, which is signified by the defeated Duck having to sit in the middle of the circle and be observed by those who he once shared the ranks of.  This is not cannibalistic or barbaric, but it shows that someday we may have to sacrifice something of ourselves for the good of others.  It is not right that some may have to leave us, but that is the way of things, and we know that in some ways, they are still with us, silently staring back at us from the center of our lives.
                 Does anyone have a good Cabernet to share?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sports Agony

Bill Simmons put forward, in Page 2 on ESPN’s website, a very interesting series of propositions about losing, how bad it can be, and who deserves to feel the worst about it.  I have to wonder, given my early conflict between which NFL teams I was going to cheer for, if I have suffered some of the worst defeats in the history of the upper Midwest.
Upper Midwest football has had some bad moments.  I have to acknowledge, first of all, that Brett Favre was a very good QB.  But since he switched allegiances, I have to put a couple of other things about his past in perspective.  Firstly, he was not as big a clutch performer as he is often remembered.  He choked away the last chance he had at a Super Bowl with the Packers.  He lost one Super Bowl to a QB who was undoubtedly one of the most clutch players in the game’s history.  And let’s take a look at the other one, which the Packers came away victorious in.
I have heard it said that Favre wants individual glory wrapped in team success.  His individual glory (the MVP that year) was wrapped, for the one and only time in his career, in the ultimate team success.  And that would normally be enough to say he led the Pack to the ‘ship, but I’m not going to go there just yet.  Look at the rest of the team- probably one of the best teams in Packer history, if not NFL history- yea, I said it.  (First choice, of course, would have to go to the ’85 Bears.  Indisputably.)  Anyway, this team had the No. 2 offense that season, and the No. 1 defense.  How many teams can say they did that?  They had a ridiculous kicker in Chris Jacke, the Minister of Defense, Reggie White, an All-Pro Safety in Leroy Butler and an ungodly receiving corps which included Antonio Freeman, Andre Rison and Robert Brooks.  I could go on and on about the regular season, but the final nail in the coffin for the case against this being just Favre’s team goes by the name of Desmond Howard.  Yup, that cocky, showboating speed-demon of a kick returner- the one who invented the Heisman pose before winning it at Michigan, and the one you’ll see now on College Game-day on ESPN, as chatty as ever.  Also, the only Special Teams player to ever win Super Bowl MVP.  SI Cover, everything- you can practically credit him with that win.  So I will. 
Quite honestly, it’s been a relief having him on the other team.  And besides ’96, let’s just say I’m never on the right side of the border at the right time.  I am currently, and in my re-written, Big Brother-esque version of history, always have been, a die-hard Packer fan.  Have been since 1995 when I realized the Pack was just more fun to root for.  So all of what I’m about to say is completely off the record.
In retrospect, I guess I would say I was a Packer fan from 1995 til midway through the 1998 season.  From then til about the last game of 2003 I was probably more of a Vikings fan most of the time.  Since then- Packer fan.  And I would guess that covers most of high school.  So I would guess that from about 2001, the endish, to the end of 2003 was kind of a gray area.  But anyway, I have been around for most of the terrible stuff.  For the record, Antonio Freeman’s Improbable Bobble (as Chris Berman has called it) was one of the greatest catches I have ever seen.  Off the record, I bawled my eyes out that night after yelling at my Mom that I hated her.  I have learned my lesson- never, ever, ever switch allegiances again.
So the role call for the events that I’ve witnessed goes something like this:  The Packers lose Super Bowl XXXII to Denver.  Me: sad.  Next season, Vikes get Moss, become good.  I trade in the Cheese for the Horns.  The Vikes choke on Falcon meat.  I, however stay with the team.  At some point The ‘Queens go back to the Championship game and are smoked by the Gmen.  That loosens my grip on the Viqueens, and I let go completely just in time to see them lose their all-but-clinched playoff spot to the Cards on fourth and never, while the Pack waltzed in.  The Pack then gave Matt Hasselbeck a lesson in karma, but got the favor returned the next week when Philly defined the phrase “Fourth-and-26.” Despite that being my lucky number, in that context it haunts me.  It would be a couple years before either team played a meaningful playoff game after that.  Then came 2007, which I won’t even mention.  Then last year, I thought I would be a Vikings-fan-for-a-day.  Did anyone else know that in the last three postseasons that Favre has played in, his last pass each time has been an interception?
            As Bill Simmons himself says, “The reason we watch sports is for the losses, not the wins.”  That would make me one of the better football fans around.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Drive You Crazy

This one goes out to all my friends who either just recently moved to the Cities or have been away so long, they will need a refresher course. How to drive in the Twin Cities. And to those of you who argue that I’m not that good a driver, I just say: Have I gotten in an accident yet?
            The biggest key to driving in the Cities, I think, is knowing when to use certain roads.  Everyone has those roads they trust all the time- whether because of a lack of traffic or lights or high throughput.  For me, one of those roads in Cedar Avenue/Highway 77.  It is one of the most underrated roads, because it is vastly overshadowed by 35W.  But it can get you to a lot of places in the southern ‘burbs that are worth going to, and faster than 35.  It has more convenient exits, such as to Crosstown, and, as I just recently realized, fantastic connection to 35E.
            For those in the northeast, the equivalent road has to be 61, which is gets a bad rap as the slower equivalent of 35E.  But in actuality, it, too, can get you where you need to go with better throughput and more frequent exits (which is to say, crossroads).  Nonetheless, it is still a highway and a rather fast one at that.
            Finally, I have to give some love to 36, or as I like to call it, 35W Eastbound.  The connection from that interstate just makes it really easy to get to any of the northeast suburbs (or further) from just about anywhere in Minneapolis.  No need to get on to 694 or travel all the way to 35E.  And most of the time it is not too busy, even during rush hour.
            The funny thing I’ve noticed about the parkways, though, is that they’ve given rise to these drivers I like to call Turtles. Turtles are the opposite of Rabbits: People who drive fast enough that you can tail at a reasonable distance because they will be the first ones pulled over. Turtles are those people that hold everything up.  The speed limit on the parkways says 25, but you can very safely meander most of it going above thirty, which is to say, Over the normal Speed Limit cushion of other roads.  Just like you can go forty over the Ford Bridge without attracting too much attention either.  But Turtles are just a symptom of the problem with the Parkways, which is that everyone on them is either going too slow or too fast.  You go thirty five and people are going to think you’re a speed demon; you go a little under thirty and you become a Turtle.  The key is to just keep it reasonable.  Know the road and drive for the conditions.
            Now it’s time to share a little secret I picked up in my Senior year AP Physics class.  Our teacher, Mr. Brown, always loved to talk about practical uses of Physics that were really interesting, but would never be on any final test.  They spiced up the class and were some of the most useful things I learned at the school.  This tidbit is probably the best, if it turns out to be true.  He was hypothesizing with another student that at intersections where there are magnetic coils under the street to influence when the traffic lights sense a car and change due to the amount of traffic, you could actually manipulate them to your advantage.  If you were to stop the car several car lengths behind the crosswalk and then move up one and stop, and repeat until the crosswalk, you could get it to change quicker because it would think there are more cars.  I have tried to test this theory (but only at night or when there is significantly less traffic).  I’m pretty sure this theory proves true, except you only have to stop once.  I still can’t prove it positively, and it definitely doesn’t work at the busiest of intersections, but it has proved useful.  Whether or not I’m imagining it, it seems I get where I’m going much faster when I employ this method.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Earbuds Anonymous

Hi. My name is John. And I am a music-holic.
            I know it’s not the worst problem you can have.  But it is a little bit of a problem for me. Simply the fact that I can very rarely even do certain household chores without the headphones in, might mean that I should be facing an intervention soon.
            There is hope for me yet, though.  While I so very often need to drown out some of the unpleasantness with what I consider pleasantness, I also realize that there are different ways to make what is from time to time unpleasant, more pleasant.  Talking, for instance.  Just having conversations, whenever they can be started, is very rarely less interesting than the music on my four GB iPod Nano™ that I have heard at least twenty times each.  And I do love the occasional banter, but undoubtedly, there are some situations which don’t allow for such pleasantries or make them really awkward.
            I suppose I should explain somewhat.  While doing dishes I have to wear headphones, because I find the wettening of the hands unpleasant.  I don’t even want to think about how my sense of touch is bothering me, so I drown it out by giving my ears something.  Mowing the lawn also requires the headphones, just because it is so repetitive, but I could do it without them. And most kinds of repetitive, mindless work I feel is acceptable for headphones, without being too anti-social.  And often commuting, if it’s by public transportation.
            I have found another compromise which makes both listening to music and talking very acceptable options.  When I’m in the car, for example, I like listening to the radio. My favorite station is JACK-FM (love their witticisms), but more and more I’ve been tuning in to the Current.  They have such incredible variety and local interest, as a fan of both music and the Cities in general, I can’t turn them down.  But on a road trip of greater length than just the menial day-to-day errands, I have found that nothing beats a good playlist.  Beats having to flip through stations as you meander from one metro area to the next. And you avoid those heinous radio commercials. Nonetheless, some playlists can completely interrupt the whole flow of conversation in a car (if it is going), and so as a whole they should be used wisely.  Thus I want to present the Playlist That Doesn’t Interrupt.  It’s been tried and tested in various social settings, to very little complaint (which is usually the goal), and has even been hailed by some as “the perfect playlist for holding a conversation, but occasionally tuning in to the music that’s playing as well…”  This one, keeping with my road theme, is called Parkway:
            1) “Snow (Hey Oh)”, Red Hot Chili Peppers. 2) “Winter”, Joshua Radin. 3) “A Long December”, Counting Crows. 4) “One Prairie Outpost”, Carbon Leaf. 5) “Viva La Vida”, Coldplay. 6) “Que Onda Guero”, Beck. 7) “One of These Things First”, Nick Drake. 8) “Heard the World”, O.A.R. 9) “Every Morning”, Sugar Ray. 11) “Afternoons and Coffeespoons”, Crash Test Dummies. 11) “Tailspin”, The Jayhawks. 12) “Crazy”, Gnarls Barkley. 13) “Cave In”, Owl City. 14) “When I’m Alone”, Carbon Leaf. 15) “Stickshifts and Safety Belts”, Cake. 16) “Chasing Cars”, Snow Patrol. 17) “Hotel Yorba”, The White Stripes. 18) “Come To The River”, The Jayhawks. 19) “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”, Counting Crows.
            If you think you detect a theme in these songs, you would be completely wrong. This is one of my playlists I didn’t really even spend that much time on.  It was a bunch of songs I felt followed one after the other in a very pleasant flow.  If you don’t like any of these bands, more power to you.  If you don’t know about Carbon Leaf or the Jayhawks, it’s about time you found out, otherwise- your loss.  Nonetheless, I invite any and all playlist suggestions, tweaks, ideas for new ones and reasons for making another.
            Sample disks may be purchased from me for free. And if you enjoy this one, I also have the playlists “Interstate”, “Skid Row” and “Frontage” available and hot off the presses.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why I Love Croatia

My recent affinity for Bing and their unbelievably cool pictures has led me to stumble upon a picture which gave me renewed affection for a region and a country which I think is very underappreciated in this time in our world.  The region itself is the Balkans, the country Croatia, but that wasn’t even the country I saw the picture of.  It was a picture of a coastal town in Montenegro, the newest country in the Balkans, and maybe the world, having gained their independence from Serbia in 2006.  I believe that just about completes the Yugoslavian dismantling, which I am always happy to see a new chapter of, due to my opinion that Yugoslavia was one of the worst ideas for a country ever.  I might have some explaining to do to the ghost of Tito, but there are a couple reasons for this- one of them is that they were put together by the Treaty of Versailles after The Great War, I believe, and there is very little that came about from that treaty which was a good idea- the sanctions on Germany, which just led to the next war; the failed League of Nations, which was actually a good idea, just doomed to fail, and of course Yugoslavia.  Well, we have all these ethnicities hanging out here that we don’t know what to do with… Do you think they’ll mind all being smushed into one country? 
Why would you do that?
All I know is that despite my unfamiliarity with many of the current nationalities now inhabiting the area (who are the Slovenians most like?), I have a more clear understanding that an ethnicity such as the Bosnians, who are Muslims, the Croats, who are Catholics, and the Serbians, who are Orthodox, probably wouldn’t enjoy hanging out together.  Therefore every time I see a new country out of that region, I cheer for their understanding of how silly the original idea was.  But that is not why I now really like the region.  The main answer lies in the one country that came out of that region which I really have to see before I die.  Croatia.
Before I get going on that country, and the little I know about it, I have to clarify that it of course is not the only reason for me to visit that region.  The ultimate Eastern Mediterranean Trip which I have planned takes us from Venice (a part of Italy I haven’t seen) to Croatia (any and all of it) to Montenegro (which I have a newfound respect for) to mainland Greece (I love their food and things are probably a lot cheeper there now) to the islands (one part of Greece I haven’t seen) and finally to Istanbul (not Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople…- thanks, They Might Be Giants).  But to further explain…
Croatia is a country I have to respect for several bare facts.  They are on the Mediterranean.  They are predominantly Catholic (a religion that just has more fun) and they probably have a pretty cool geography anyway.  For a long time now, one of my clocks on my iPod has been set to the time of Zagreb (the capital), which is to remind me that I hope to actually put it to use some day.  I wouldn’t even have to learn more about it than I know now before I go, but everything new I learned about it makes me like it more.  For example, they like soccer so much that a riot outside of a stadium in Zagreb after a match was one of the pivotal moments in the revolution to free Croatia.  They have a really cool flag and really cool soccer uniforms.  And what’s more- this is what I learned from the Bing picture: they have a ritual of creating artificial islands by throwing a bunch of stones into a ship and sinking it in the bay of number of their towns (which is what the Croats did in this particular Montenegran town).
But even more than that- just look at the shape of their country.  It’s like a C.  And that just kinda says that they have to be pretty passionate about their culture and heritage if they are willing to take land that is that spread out and disconnected from itself and create a country out of it.
Definitely going on Bing way more often…

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Battle of "Scrubs"

This fall it seems that each TV show is trying to replace a previous one. Be the “new” this or that.  The Event wants to be the new Lost.  Outsourced wants to be the new The Office.  But despite the unpopular response to the last season of Scrubs, there seems to be a scramble to be the new Scrubs.  And appropriately enough, it’s between the two networks that aired the series.
            Is it fair to say that there is even one show that wants to be the new Scrubs? Yes, because whether or not it will say it outright, there is too much evidence against Cougartown than it can avoid.  You have Christa Miller, playing the same character they played on the show. Courtney Cox (who actually had an arc on Scrubs) leading the show. And the same kind of man-love J.D. and Turk had between Bobby and the bald one. Christa Miller’s husband on the show. Can’t remember his name.  But despite the fact that they don’t work and they don’t have any of the silly fantasy sequences, the actors have a similar chemistry (and one that’s definitely way better than the last season or two of Scrubs).
            Even last year, however, I noticed that there is another show with Scrubsian elements. Community, like the aforementioned, has an institution to tie all the characters’ lives together (and yet it seems like you can pretty much get away with anything at).  Joel McHale is working well as a sort of replacement for Dr. Cox.  He has the wit, charm, and confidence that very few others on network comedy can claim. And the recurring man-love of Troy and Abed helps its case as well. Since you asked, No, the man-love aspect is not the only criteria I use to make these comparisons. There’s also the awkward romantic endeavors between the main character and the leading lady or ladies of the show.
             Speaking of NBC, is anyone as excited as me about the 30Rock live episode? Pretty ballsy.  But if anyone can do it, it’s Tina Fey and crew. That’s not even the show I’m most excited about this fall.  Aside from that and How I Met Your Mother, I would have to say Castle is still doing pretty good for itself.  For those of you who are completely out of the loop, Castle stars Nathan Felion, the guy from Firefly. He’s a bestselling author who helps out/gets inspiration from the NYC police/one especially attractive lady detective.  But that’s all I’m going to say besides It’s good, and you should be watching it.
            Now for shows that suck. First and foremost is Outlaw- I actually started watching it on Hulu because I confused it for Lone Star. The latter was cancelled.  The former unbelievably hasn’t been.  It stars Jimmy Smits, who should not be allowed to lead a show. But the worst part is the concept: A Supreme Court Justice, a conservative, leaves the bench after his dad, a liberal, dies, and he realizes he should be a liberal, too.  Pretty ridiculous no matter your political affiliation. Justices don’t just leave the bench like that, unless they’re retiring. And they don’t really seem to give any reason for his deciding he’s a liberal. This show is entirely inferior to even The Defenders, which I don’t really like that much either, mostly because Jim Belushi doesn’t really work in a dramatic role.
             So if you are watching these shows, or Outsourced, you may have even less of a life than I do.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


            When I was younger, one of the first things I wanted to be was an inventor.  I remember taping a small etch-a-sketch to a giant toy-bucket I had and calling that an invention.
            “What does it do?” I would be asked.
            “Well, you put toys or junk in it and then you can draw what’s inside.”
            A few years later I realized it was pretty dumb, but in my maturity, it was actually kind of cool.  They’re now doing that with all sorts of things- being able to write the name or draw whatever is inside something is the new thing, in a way.  At least in the po-mo decorating world.
            My parents, who wanted even then to cultivate some useful money-making talent, recommended I think about working for 3M when I grow up.
            “What do they do?” I would say.
            “They invent things.  Like Post-it notes.”
            Now, though, in my largely fruitless job search, I have realized that a couple of the things I am most proud of are the inventions that I have recently made.  Specifically the keychain for the Saturn and Cheez-Its & Hot Sauce.
            The story behind the keychain for the Saturn starts at a trip I made up to St. John’s last summer.  It was June, and Crotchy was putting together a high school alumni Frisbee tournament.  It was pretty poorly organized, but it was a great weekend and we had a lot of fun.  Each day after playing, we went down to the beach and swam and got wicked sunburns.  After Saturday’s swim, us guys had to head to Tommy Hall to shower up before the night’s festivities.  I only had my UnderArmour shorts, which don’t have pockets, so I had to figure out some place to put the keys to the car I was incomprehensibly being trusted with approximately a nanosecond after we had purchased it.  As I am wont to do, I’d been distracted by a piece of string I found on the field during the day’s games.  I had picked it up and tied it around my wrist.  It was pretty interesting- looked like a shoelace, maybe, but it was black and white checkered.  On the way to the showers I just tied it through the keychain, then put it back on my wrist in order to keep the keys attached to me.  Yes, I was so tired that I was too lazy to even hold keys.
            My family has since never taken the string off- it’s the only mark of any kind for which we have to identify which keys they are.  And I have since been able to use the string for its original purpose as well.  But it reminds me of a time when I think I was perfectly careless.  I had a paying job, I wasn’t out of school yet, and after making a bad decision (not wearing sunscreen at the beach) I made a good decision.
            Another good decision I made was less serendipitous, and just came from my insistence that there were very few things hot sauce could not make better.  I suppose I had discovered Hot sauce as such at Many Point my second year.  There was very little we didn’t put it on, sandwiches, salads- whatever.  And when we got home, I kept it.  Crystal was good quality, but as I later found out, it was no Frank’s.  The biggest trick to this phenomenon, I think, was spreading the Gospel of Cheez-It/Hot Sauce to others.  Dylan was the first convert, my junior year when he and Marty began living with us.  Since those two items were in our apartment so often, they were pretty inevitable to mix.  He was the first of the roommates to give them a chance.  And since, they have caught on to others.
            I think my calling in life is to continue being creative and making things.  Either making things that I am told to make, or making things of my own volition.  But with as many ideas as I have, I want to make as many of them realities as possible.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Evil Empire That Wasn't

Due to the time of year, and the fact that both of these teams have made the postseason (again!), I am going to force myself to address this subject.  Even if I don’t want to right now.  Even if I’m not really even in the mood to write about baseball because the only thing left to do now that the playoffs are here is play it. But anyway…
            Since my childhood, I had watched baseball during the postseason and always had to have a team that I would root for to fail.  From 1995 to 1999 it was the Atlanta Braves. They were the team the Twins had beat in 1991 and yet they were now doing much better than us during the rest of the decade, they had that annoying chant, they were from the National League, and they were billed as America’s Team. There were plenty of reasons to hate them.  And I still don’t LOVE them.  But after 1999 it soon became apparent that there was no way the Braves were ever going to be as dominant in baseball as everyone was sure they were, starting in the middle of the decade.  In all honesty, the Braves probably could have won about four (4) World Series during the decade. ’96 they should have won, ’97 they should have won; ’92 they could have won and ’91 they could have won.  Maybe even five, then. What’s more, at the coming of the new decade when the tally read: New York 3, Atlanta 1- there was still a debate over who the team of the decade was.
            But by the next year, the Yankees had firmly established themselves as the new dynasty. Which made it so much more fun when they lost in 2001 and then it kinda tailed off there a little, just ‘cause the Angels beat us in ’02 and it would have been more hurtful to them had the Sox won in ’03. ’04 was fun of course and ’05 I can’t really remember. Anyway, the question that I have been leading up to is this: Who is a more enjoyable team to hate?
            It would be a little bit closer of a race if the Braves had been a little bit more successful.  Who wants to hate on a team that has only won one (1) World Series in their past almost two decades of up-until-recently dominance of the National League East and close-to-dominance of the National League as a whole? That would be five Pennants and nine (9) NLCS appearances in ten years. But for them, as I have previously mentioned, it is not entirely about the success that makes you want to hate them. Why do they continue to play with a nickname that references Native Americans (or American Indians, if you prefer) when a hoard of college teams have had to trade in their nicknames for brand-spanking-new ones? (Hint: money.) Why do they continue to control the baseball market for all of the South, while other cities in the South remain completely unsolicited? (Another hint: money) And why did TBS up until recently only show Braves games before trading that strategy in for sub-par, but more wide-spread national baseball coverage? (Do I even have to give the hint?)
            The reason they have all this money is due to consistent winning.  And yet they rested on their laurels, bragged about their 16 consecutive division championships, and sunk into obscurity while the Florida Marlins won one (1) more WORLD championship than them during that span (obviously, without winning the division once).  And there they still sit, with their retiring manager who still only has one world title, content to win the wild card in their rapidly-declining new ballpark named after their television-mogul owner while the once-hapless Phillies take over the division and all of baseball. These guys are doing what I wish the Yankees would have done; but had they, of course, it would have been bad for the entire sport of baseball.  So don’t hate the Braves for what they’ve were, hate them for what they could have- and should have- been (at the very least!): the Rebel Alliance to the Yankee’s Evil Empire.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Coens Place It

            Coen brothers movies are often so good because they examine so closely the idea of place.  And along with place goes culture.  What is it about one place that separates it from another.  While they tackle so many other themes in their films as well, it is obvious much of the time what they are trying to express about each place.  In each statement, one way or another, they are trying to express what makes each place unique.  The answer to each question could be: it’s crazy.  Actually, more particularly, it’s dangerous.  To take examples of three very similar movies they’ve done, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, where art thou? and Fargo, we can see just how these statements play out.
            The Big Lebowski captures the essence of living in Los Angeles, which is that as much as there is always going on, there is never anything to do.  The whole plot of the movie points out just how much something is made out of nothing, simply because everyone is so bored out of their mind.  The Big Lebowski himself is just pent up in his house with a ton of money and nothing really to do, so he tries to con the first bum that comes walking in off the street.  The Nihilists are bored, so all they do is try to make crappy pornos and steal some money.  The Cowboy tries to tell us a story the goes nowhere in order to make Los Angeles sound like a place full of heroes.  The Dude himself might be the most accepting one of the fact that life is so boring out there, because he just decides to smoke, drink, fuck and bowl, and he never even does any work throughout the whole film.  The Dude abides.  He pretty much does have it all figured out.  The moral decrepitude of such a place simply stems from their need for something to be going on all the time.
            O Brother Where Art Thou? has been for me one of their most satisfying movies, and that has to do with the fact that it was a somewhat adapted screenplay.  The Odyssey by Homer, to be exact.  Since they had their basic storyline, the Coen Brothers were free to enhance the setting they chose to put the story in, namely the Deep South in the 1930s.  They capture this place through a lens of the 21st century, so it seems to be somewhat skewed, but it’s able to reconcile itself because the film’s genre could very easily fall under magical realism.  It contains witchcraft, monsters and miracles.  Or it doesn’t.  But it definitely presents this place as something where just about anything can happen.  And it satisfies because as the viewer we want to believe that a place like that existed at some point.
            Since seeing the movie Fargo, every time I go out into the crazy snow and blistering cold, I picture myself in the Coens’ frozen wasteland of this movie.  I thought the movie was okay, and I don’t think it’s great, like other people do.  But it has its moments, and I have changed my mind that it disparages Minnesota.  I think in many ways it captures the essence of Minnesota.  The main character, played by William H. Macy, goes to Fargo, out of state, to meet with some hit men and hire them to off his family.  This is the ultimate act of passive-aggressiveness. He can’t even bring himself to kill them himself!  But he also wants to collect their life insurance, so it’s another example of how we Minnesotans just think we are smarter than everybody else.  And the scene where the guy shoveling snow tells the cop what he heard from a guy at his bar about a murder sums up the point of the movie.  That we Minnesotans just want to stay out of other people’s business- and we “don’t make no fuss”.