Monday, April 27, 2009

reports exaggerate the capability of my hands

i, too, am thick in the semsester-endgame-clusterfuck. i will be back after all my papers are turned in, or more likely, late at night the night before the remaining ones are due. And after the horrifying reality of months with no income sets in.

until then, i recommend not being a douchebag. Seriously. Try it! It's awesome.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

don't know when i'll be back again.

Hello faithful readers,

with the semester coming to a close, papers being due, finals coming up, and me of course being a complete slacker who is behind in all of this work, i am going to be taking a brief hiatus from updating this blog. like, a week or maybe two. however, i leave you in very capable hands with miranda, and i look forward to making further recommendations to you once i have achieved freedom from the constraints of the semester.

one more, before i go, that should be self-explanatory - i recommend listening to sigur rós on vinyl with the windows open and a nice breeze going through the room whilst working on papers and eating fresh strawberries. it's gloriously relaxing and removes the stress from the papers. honestly.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!

Today’s recommendation: a moratorium on musical revisionism.

Before going into this post, I need to get this off my chest: I am an old fashioned, album kind of guy. I suppose in that sense, I have never really fully bought into the digital age. I mean, yes, I own an iPod, and I occasionally will use the shuffle all songs feature when I’m in the car. For the most part, though, if I am listening to music – not just putting music on in the background, but actually listening to it, which is an activity that I am not convinced more than 25% of the populace actually engages in,, but that is the subject for another post – I likely know what it is that I want to listen to, and so that is what I will listen to. Perhaps I am feeling nostalgic, and I want to listen to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. I will not just put on “Tangled Up in Blue” or “Idiot Wind” and move on, I will listen to the entire album. It doesn’t matter that I really, really hate “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” and that that song prevents this from being a perfect album (again, another post) – it is part of the album, and therefore when I listen to Blood on the Tracks, I listen to it.

The whole concept of skipping tracks on an album has always been somewhat alien to me. Perhaps it is due to my musical taste usually lying outside of the sphere of manufactured pop, where only three singles are needed to make an album, and the rest is filler. A lot of the bands that I listen to seem to have more of an album-based aesthetic rather than a singles-based aesthetic, and the albums seem designed to be enjoyed as a whole (otherwise, I would only purchase the singles). Even if I hate one or two of the songs, it is part of the artist’s original vision and who am I to second-guess that?

But second-guessing seems to be done all too often these days. I shouldn’t say “these days,” really – this has been going on at least since the ‘60s, when the UK and US versions of Beatles and Stones records carried completely different tracklistings (and, in almost every case, the original UK version was superior – even in the case of the Stones’s Aftermath, “Paint It, Black” be damned). Now, though, there just seems to be a more malicious edge to it. Then, as now, the rationale came down to money – the UK albums eschewed singles, assuming that the fans already owned the singles. Singles and albums were viewed as entirely different beasts. When the US version of the album would be issued, The singles that had been released prior to that album would be inserted into the tracklisting, at the expense of some album tracks. Under this philosophy, the single was seen as a way of selling the album, the assumption (probably not entirely incorrect, granted) being that if the American record-buying public did not have the instant gratification of a recognizable hit single, they would not purchase the album.

(N.B.: I have not researched this, so this description may be entirely composed of naïve simplifications and misunderstandings, and may in fact be entirely inaccurate. If this is the case, then I want you to please feel free to just turn your head the other way and ignore it; this is not meant to be academic writing, after all!)

This trend seems to have abated quite a bit by the time the 70s rolled around, though it still reared its head every now and then, most famously in the case of the first album by The Clash (do you want to guess how I have that one tracked in my iTunes?) After CDs had been around on the consumer market long enough to feel safe and established (probably the early to mid 1990s), we began to enter a long age of revisionist reissues that is still raging on.

One of the most egregious examples of recent revisionism is The Cure. Their debut single was called “Killing an Arab,” and was based on the novel, The Stranger, by Albert Camus. It is pretty much a narrative clone of that novel, in fact; there really seems to be no racial hatred involved in the title; the novel just happens to be set in Algeria, and the man the narrator shows is, indeed, an Arab. In any case, when the collection Staring at the Sea: The Singles was released in 1986, the band and label were pressured into placing a disclaimer sticker on the album stating that it was based on a novel and that The Cure neither endorse nor condone racial prejudice or violence. Silly, but fair enough.

The real revisionism began with the issue of The Cure’s Greatest Hits CD in November of 2001. “Killing an Arab” was conspicuously absent from this disc. Fair enough, I thought at the time; after all, it wasn’t a big radio hit, even if its status as a fan favorite would likely be enough to warrant its inclusion here. Then, in 2004, The Cure began their reissue campaign of the old albums. When they reissued their first album, Three Imaginary Boys (which had, of course, originally been issued in the US at Boys Don’t Cry with “Killing an Arab” inserted into the tracklisting and a handful of album tracks removed), the song was nowhere to be found on the second disc, in spite of its status as a contemporaneous single. The Faith reissue did include “Charlotte Sometimes,” a contemporaneous single, as a bonus track, so the argument cannot be made that the label chose not to include standalone singles. No, this looks to me like a case of the label trying to act like this song has never existed. Because both Staring at the Sea: The Singles and Boys Don’t Cry are out of print, the song, which is of no small historical importance, remains out of print.

Of course, this is a rather extreme example, and most cases of revisionism are not so political as that. Most of them involve merely tacking bonus tracks onto the end of an album. I am torn over this practice. While having bonus tracks is nice, there is something about the completeness and stasis of the album that is disrupted when one tacks track at the end. In the ‘90s, the Rykodisc Elvis Costello reissue campaign left ten seconds of silence on the disc after the album proper before the bonus tracks began, which at least gave you a subtle aural cue that the album was done. The early-aughts Rhino reissue campaign added several bonus tracks to each release and put all the bonus tracks on a second disc, leaving the album proper, well remastered, on its own, unadulterated disc. This reissue campaign, as well as Rhino’s subsequent Cure reissue campaign, seems to respect the original forms of the albums. (For the record, this particular Elvis Costello reissue campaign may be my favorite reissue campaign ever. We will see how The Beatles reissues measure up this September.)

Rhino is not above making a few mistakes, however; just look at their recent reissuing of the entire catalog by the notoriously reissue-aversive band, The Replacements. First of all, it is incomplete; certain b-side recordings and rarities are missing for no discernible reason. Second, the bonus tracks are tacked on to the end of the album; once again, no respect for the original album. Third, Rhino have seen fit to excise things such as bits of studio chatter at the beginning of some tracks; this is not a big deal to me, and I take no issue with it whatsoever, but some purists who have grown up with these albums have called Rhino out on this, and although this is not my battle, I stand firmly in solidarity with these people. But the biggest problem with this reissue campaign is the way they signaled the transition from the album to the bonus tracks. Here’s how it goes:

  • First, five seconds or so of silence.
  • Then, footsteps.
  •  Next, the sound of a vault door creeping open.

 Yes, seriously. This is what they did. Fortunately, I have Fission on my computer, so I was able to excise this, so that I don’t have to hear these footsteps and vault door opening every time I want to listen to “Answering Machine.” Still, though, I should not have had to do that. The extra sounds should not have been there. They are not cute. They are grating the first time you hear them, and they get progressively worse with each subsequent listen. It’s a shame, because Rhino’s remastering really sounds terrific on these albums (Tim and Pleased to Meet Me in particular really needed badly to be remastered). For the record, the last bonus track on each album ends with the vault door slamming shut and the footsteps walking away. Unbelievable.

So here is what I am proposing: why alter an album that has already been established? As much as I enjoy getting more songs, I also want to respect and preserve the album. When bonus tracks are to be had, record labels can follow the model Rhino used with The Cure and Elvis Costello and put the bonus tracks on a second disc. Or they could issue a CD of b-sides and rarities, or a double CD, or even a box set. Either way, this tendency toward changing the albums as they were originally recorded and released seems to me tantamount to disrespect for the artists, and disregard for the art they produced.

I had some more thoughts, but they are gone, and this is already three (single-spaced) pages in word, which means I should have stopped long ago. I will be expanding this into a longer and more academic think piece on my solo blog in a couple of weeks, so hopefully those thoughts will be back by then.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Here comes that awful feeling again.

A simple one today:

Today, I recommend not being sick.

Being sick sucks.

Therefore, not being sick is mind-blowingly awesome.

It's a radical concept, I know. 

I'm sick. I'm miserable.

It sucks.

Real post tomorrow, maybe? In the meantime, please continue to be excellent to each other.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


It's been a long day, Internet, and my energy is fast waning.

I have always wanted to say, "fast waning."

But I will press myself to get today's recommendation to you.

Today's recommendation is.... Freecycle.

Freecycle is a loosely organized network of local groups dedicated to recirculating Stuff. You want something? You post and ask for it. You got something? You post and offer it.

I know, I know, our blog is now in danger of turning into one of those oh-so-trendy personal finance / thrift blogs. Well, I was cheap before cheap was trendy, and I can tell you that no matter how many coupons you clip, free is still cheaper.

I've been part of several different Freecycle groups in 3 different states (and, where I went to college, we had a Free Table that sort of worked the same way). While occasionally they get overrun with greedy people asking for ridiculous things (WANTED: UNLOCKED 3G IPHONE), I have never had a negative Freecycle experience.

Over the years, I have been gifted the following from Freecycle:

A hamper
Sheets & towels (today! I got these today!)
Countless books
A decorative rug
Kitchen stuff
and that's all I can remember right now.

I have also given away lots of things, and in doing so discovered the real, important part of Freecycle. It's not just about Stuff and getting tons of free shit. It's about building a real community and engaging in face to face interaction and using this to subvert consumerist, homogenized culture.

So join Freecycle today. Chances are you probably have some crap you need to get rid of; chances are greater there's some crap you need or want but probably shouldn't buy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

be excellent to each other.

i kind of had a whole conceptual recommendation post planned out for tonight, but recent events have curbed that for the time being.

today, i recommend respecting your fellow human beings and treating them with the dignity and respect that they deserve and with which you yourself expect (and rightfully so) to be treated.

the anonymity of the internet, unfortunately, leads some entitled/insecure people to inflate their own egos ignore their own problems by lashing out at others and trying to strike at their vulnerabilities. and, let's just lay down the guidelines here and agree that this is NOT COOL. people say some pretty unforgivable things from behind a keyboard and thousands of miles of wires, and i for one am sick of it.

i refuse to bring myself to the level of these people, but honestly, when you see people wishing for slow and painful deaths, it can be really hard not to give in to the instinct to try to hit them where it hurts also. so instead, i'm just going to take the high road and call them out on their shit. 

i doubt any of the people this post was written about (and they know who they are) read this blog, but on the off-chance that they do: life is so much easier and more pleasant when you don't push everyone else away. i promise. you should try it sometime.

oh, and also, in case anyone who prompted this recommendation is reading: i expect that i will not have to write another entry like this. i mean it.

in the end, apparently we have something to learn from keanu reeves. who knew?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sure is nice to be able to see the floor again.

Today’s recommendation is going to be a quick and self-explanatory one: clearing out clutter.

Tanya and I have had a 2-bedroom apartment for the past two years. For virtually that entire time, the small second bedroom has been a room for storage of my guitars, records, CDs, and desktop computer. As I accumulated more “stuff,” that stuff ended up accumulating in the room. Eventually it got to the point where the room was a disaster of clutter and junk through which one could not safely walk without breaking something or running the risk of tripping and seriously injuring oneself.

Lately, between my growing desire for more privacy (ever since the breakup I have more or less been spending all of my time at home out in the living room or dining room), and the fact that I have a BRAND NEW STEREO (expanded recommendation coming soon!), I have been wanting more and more to finally remedy that room. Well, today, faced with the prospect of researching Shakespeare or writing about critical theory, I finally decided to declutter.

It is a process, of course. I had a LOT of shit in here. But, I have thrown out probably about three tall kitchen garbage bags worth of crap. A lot of it was stuff that I found amusing, or sentimental, and still had some meaning to me… but I had come to terms with the fact that I no longer needed it. One can’t spend all of one’s time dwelling on a past that is out of one’s reach, to which one cannot return. That’s what the next 8 months need to be about – jettisoning that past. Getting ready for the future (ready for the world about to come).

There’s still a lot more left to go through and throw out. Boxes of stuff in the closet I need to sort through. But, the room is almost to a point where I feel comfortable sitting in it playing my records (have I mentioned how great my stereo sounds?), almost to the point where I wouldn’t feel embarrassed having friends in *to show off my stereo, of course).

Post Script: And before anyone scolds me on my comment about throwing things out… I’ve also been recycling what I can. I’ve only genuinely been trashing things I can’t recycle around here.

in case of food flare up, unplug unit

We're back to typical gloomy, totally-devoid-of-sun-weather and I'm back to my usual mopey, totally-devoid-of-productivity habits.

Lucky for you, I don't consider this blog actual productivity.

Today's recommendation is NOT BUYING THE BLACK & DECKER TOAST-R-OVEN.

This is a moderately expensive toaster oven from what you may consider a respected brand.

It is also guaranteed to kill you in a fire.*

At least, that's what almost just happened to me. I put my vegetarian pop tart in and put it on light toast, and jumped in the shower. I realize that you are supposed to hover, concernedly, near the toaster oven. That's not how I roll. I double-checked to make sure it was on toast.

I got out of the shower very quickly when i smelled smoke.

The toaster oven is charred and the pop tart is worse. Smoke was everywhere. I had to close the cat in the bathroom and open all the doors and turn on all the fans.

The problem was, the toaster didn't turn off when it was finished toasting. This is really stupid, considering I've only had it a few months and don't really use it that often. I looked up the warranty information (none that I could find) in the instruction manual and then...

It was then that I remembered I'd had terrible experiences with Black & Decker before. In 2007 I got a small coffeemaker, the kind that fills up a coffee tumbler. It was great for a week & then suddenly stopped working. After a bunch of frustrating phone calls, the powers that be at B&D decided that if i shipped it at expense to them they'd send a new one.

I did so, and thus began the great Warranty Headache of 2007.

2 weeks later a package arrived. It was not the same coffeemaker; it was a crappier model that retailed for half the price of the other one. I called them to point this out and they said that if I shipped this back at expense they'd send me what I'd originally ordered.

It was finals, I was applying to PhD programs at the time, I was about to go out of the country - this made me livid. I needed coffee and I had no time for this crap. Finally they said I could keep that one & they'd send the original one.

It arrived while I was in Germany, and nobody signed for it, so it got sent back by UPS.

Thanks, Black & Decker.

I guess the real question is why I ever bought the toaster oven; the answer is probably "It was the cheapest one in target."

Well, never again.

Dear Black & Decker:

You now owe me a toaster oven AND a coffee maker.

So let's revise my Recommendation.

Today's recommendation is don't ever buy anything from Black & Decker unless you want to die a fiery, non-caffeinated death.

*n.b.: HYPERBOLE. I did not actually die in a fire today. The real danger is smoke damage and wasting $50 on a piece of stupid crap.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

That's nothing, you should have heard my rendition of "My Heart Will Go On"

Today’s recommendation is perhaps a bit crass, in a way, but it is crass with good intentions and in a selfless way. Today, I recommend donating to my autism walk.

I will spare you the statistics, which you likely have already heard countless times and can look up easily anyway. The fact of the matter is, this is a disability that we really don’t understand as much as we should. It has a huge effect on those who live with it, and for the number of people diagnosed with autism, it’s truly puzzling how little funding is available for research.

I have been working with individuals diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities for nearly nine years. About six years ago I first became involved with N.A.A.R., which later merged with Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is currently the nation’s largest autism awareness and advocacy organization and is the major sponsor of the autism walk.

As you can see from the page, I have set a high fundraising goal for myself, but I believe that I can do it with your help. I also wish to call to your attention my two incentive campaigns. The first campaign is a donation-matching campaign; I will submit my personal donation to match the largest single donation I receive from any individual up until the evening before the walk. It’s pretty straightforward; I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Note the qualifiers: single donation and individual. Corporate donations, including employer’s matching charitable gifts, do not apply to this campaign, and a series of small donations will not be aggregated for these purposes.

The second incentive campaign, from my point of view, is the interesting one: if you donate to my fundraiser, I will play and sing a song for you. Any song that you like. I will compile all these songs onto a CD (or, hopefully I will have enough donations to make it a double-CD or even a box set!), which will then be distributed as a gift to everyone who has donated. This is my third year running such an incentive; two years ago, I covered songs at open mic nights for donations. Some of the songs I played included “Fire in Cairo” by The Cure and “Sexyback” by Justin Timberlake. Seriously, this really happened!

Last year, I recorded two EPs of cover songs. Covers included songs by Coldplay, Okkervil River, Shearwater, *Nsync, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and Phil Ochs, as well as The Most Unwanted Song. I believe I still have a few copies of these EPs lying around, so if you want one of these, please let me know in the comments. Those requesting old EPs will waive their request for this year’s set, unless they make another donation.

Note that I do reserve the right to set a price on certain songs; if a song is ridiculously difficult to learn/perform or has the potential to be highly embarrassing, I may need a more substantial donation than the minimum in order to fulfill the request. Also note that multiple donations will give you multiple request credits.

So go! Donate! E-mail me your requests (I’d prefer to keep the requests a secret so people are surprised when they get their CDs, so I ask that you do not leave requests in the comments)! Help me reach my fundraising goal! Earn your good Samaritan points for the day!

Hopefully I will be back with a real recommendation tomorrow!

it's been a long cold lonely winter

Good morning, Internet. It's a sunny Saturday as I finish my coffee and think about how next to procrastinate on my mountain of work. No better way than Recommending Things to People, right? I'm really good at it.

I was going to recommend Hiring Me for Summer Work, but that seemed crass. You and I barely know each other, Blogging Audience; who knows if we'd work together well?

So today's recommendation is... going outside and enjoying the extremely rare beautiful weather.

8 months ago, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, which has pretty awful weather. I was surprised by how completely awful, and varied in its awfulness, the weather is. This town / state / region of the country is pretty unremarkable otherwise. But no. in the past 8 months, I have been hailed upon, tornado sirened-at, flooded, snowed, sleeted, frozen, and forced to exist under a grey, depressing haze of ominous clouds. Granted, I have been told that true natives everywhere complain about the weather. I have also (somewhat condescendingly) been told that "nobody moves to the Midwest for the weather." Well, this may be true, but I still have the right to complain about it. Besides, I went to college in stunningly-beautiful Sarasota, Florida. Of course my weather standards are high.

But today is beautiful. It's warm, but not sweltering and disgusting. It's sunny, but I went outside and didn't get sunburned.

Go get on it. I don't need to say anything else. Get off the Internet and go play.

See you tomorrow, loyal blog readers.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Do we look like the kind of store that sells "I Just Called to Say I Love You?"

Hello, interpeople. I’ve been neglecting to greet you in my posts lately. I apologize to be so rude and thoughtless. I don’t want the five of you or so who read this and wait with baited breath for each day’s new recommendations to think that I take you for granted. (N.B..: I am including Miranda in that estimate of five people. Prove me wrong.)

Today, in conjunction with/in honor of Record Store Day, I am recommending supporting independent record stores.

When I first starting purchasing my own music (first two CDs I purchased: Out of Time and Automatic for the People by R.E.M., both purchased at the same time!), I never gave much though to where I was purchasing it. One place was as good as another, I thought. Of course, when I went to a local chain called Tunes, I did notice that he selection was much cooler and more varied, but at that point I did not think of choosing a location from which to purchase music in terms more complicated than convenience, proximity, and cost.

I think it was around the time that I discovered and started hanging out in my dearly departed Full Circle Records in 1998 or so that I began to think about what I got from independent record stores as opposed to the Best Buys, Circuit Cities, Sam Goodies, Tower Records, et cetera. The fact that the owners took the time to talk to me and get to know my tastes and recommend things that I might like, and that I could strike up a conversation with random customers, sparked something in a part of me that had never quite been touched in that way. Before I knew how to articulate it as such, Full Circle had become a source of community for me. That was what I loved about it – it was so much more than a record store. It was a place to hang out with friends, to make new friends… and, of course, to discover some really, really great music.

Like all great things in life, it had to come to an end eventually. I worked there for a while, and I loved getting my pay from Mike just to turn right around and hand almost ll of it right back to him. It was at Full Circle that I first started purchasing vinyl, that I ordered most of the Mountain Goats and Red House Painters and Elliott Smith and Elvis Costello catalogues, that I would have debates with Scott or George (well, a debate with George usually just involved vehement repetitions of contradictory positions with no reasoning involved). I shot some video of my friend Bob's band, The Young Professionals, at Full Circle. I played my very first “show” at Full circle, probably also setting the record for the longest show Full Circle has ever hosted. I played the last show that Full Circle would host before closing its doors. Anyone who was paying attention would have seen me shedding some tears during my truly horrendous butchering of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” at the end of the show. Somehow, I knew that Full Circle closing marked the end of a lot more than just Full Circle.

After Full Circle closed, I started going to Mars Red records in Haddonfield. The owner, Scott, was a great guy. Unfortunately, it was not more than a year and a half after I discovered Mars Red that it, too, closed its doors forever. I will spare my analysis of what has happened to create such a state of affairs; that is not the point of this entry, and would probably be better suited to my solo blog, if I ever get that one off the ground. But, all finger-pointing aside, I am now in the unenviable position of not having a good independent record store to call my own. I really don’t like Tunes very much; it is rather impersonal and geared increasingly toward the mainstream, and its chain status, regardless of the fact that it is strictly local, is a turn-off for me. AKA Music and Repo Records in Philadelphia are just inconvenient to get to, and have a bit of a slick, glossy feel to me. Princeton Record Exchange is kind of far and is sort of oppressively overwhelming, intimidating, and impersonal. Vintage Vinyl is even further and kind of has the same feel. Bloomington is fortunate to have a great independent store in Landlocked Music and a truly mind-blowingly awesome shop in T.D.’s CDs and LPs, but I won’t be moving to Bloomington until January.

These places are true sources of community for music lovers, and they have been and are drying up at an alarming rate. It is up to us music lovers to take a stand and save them. I’m not going to engage in hyperbolic and George W. Bush-esque rhetoric about the big box stores being the enemy and supporting them being tantamount to treason, but, well, I suppose I have already put the suggestion there, haven’t I? I know that the economy is in shambles and that expendable income is hard to come by these days, so I’m not taking the hard line here and demanding that everyone drop everything and immediately spend $200 at a local independent. However, I am imploring everyone, when they want to purchase a new record, please consider not going to Amazon or iTunes or Best Buy or wherever you would normally shop for such an item. Instead, visit an independent record store. Go to your usual haunt. If you don’t have a usual, just pick one. Talk to the employees. Start a conversation with a customer. Independent record stores are one of the few kinds of retail establishments in which you can strike up a conversation with a complete stranger at random and not be thought crazy. It’s a pretty magical thing.

And, with tomorrow being Record Store Day, seriously, what better time to start? I know that I had a pretty good time with Anthony on Record Store Day last year, traipsing to AKA and Repo in Philly, Princeton Record Exchange, and Princeton Record Exchange. I came out with all kinds of cool loot last year, including Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’s “Cold Son” 10” single, a 12” EP of Arthur Russell covers including Jens Lekman, and 7” singles from Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M., The Breeders, and the Black Keys. Tomorrow’s list of exclusive releases is a completely tl;dr clusterfuck of amazing releases, which promises some hard decisions on my part. Among the highlights:

  • A box set of Jesus Lizard 7” singles
  • An exclusive Flight of the Conchords single
  • An Iron & Wine live album
  • Two Sonic Youth split singles!  (one with Beck, one with Jay Reatard)
  • A Flaming Lips/Black Keys covers split 7” (FL do Madonna’s “Borderline,” BK do a Captain Beefheart song)
  • A live Pavement album recorded in 1997
  • A My Morning Jacket live EP
  • Reissues galore!: Jane’s Addiction, MC5, The Smiths, and more
  • New 7”s from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, the Decemberists

And there will be more that I will find interesting, I’m sure. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s likely recommendation, listening to 5 days worth of new music.

* * *

N.B. Miranda has directed me to an interesting interview with a gentleman who has made a film on the state of the independent record store. He shares some of my ideas about the record store being a community space beyond just a retail space. You can find it here.


I haven't been feeling very well this week. I have a terrible cough (which I suspect is due to allergies) and creeping feelings of terror, related both to the upcoming months of no income and the final papers I procrastinate on.

I thought about recommending "better shuffle algorithms for CD players," because my 3rd-hand 300 disc changer seems to favor the crappiest stuff in there, and it annoys me.

But I'm not even sure if they actually work on an algorithm.

I was going to recommend a short Russian film I really liked, but I can't find it on the Internet anymore, so that's out for today.

Therefore, instead, today I am going to recommend...

Holiday from Rules.

I am recommending a film called Holiday from Rules, from 1959, not an actual holiday from rules. Sorry, anarchists!

Ken Smith, in his brilliant 1999 book Mental Hygiene (which you can buy here; i should really formally Recommend this to you someday), says this about it:

"An omniscient narrator with magical powers grants the wishes of four bratty kids by teleporting them to a tropical island where there are no rules. [...] As in Lord of the Flies -- which this film suspiciously resembles -- the little children quickly become dirty, hungry, and physically battered, and their anarchist Eden falls apart. Holiday from Rules conflates happiness and conformity (as do many films from the 1950s), but after the kids have been slapped around a little, they're more than willing to see things the narrator's way.

(pp. 158-159)

Well, sort of. In this short film, things fall apart and centers do not hold. On one hand, it's a critique of anarchist theory. On the other, it is a very effective form of birth control; seeing these whiny kids will make you want to abandon any children you do have* and spit in a corner, vowing to never have any more.

But - seriously. NO RULES? Then why don't they just fly off the island? Unbreak the kid's arm? Isn't saying there are no rules a rule in and of itself? I just don't get it.

But it's okay. Watch the film and have fun and remember, rules exist to keep us safe.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

i got some credit in the straight world.

Today I recommend taking a day off. From anything. (Actually, I guess I recommended that yesterday.)

Okay. Take two.

Today I recommend: checking your credit report.

I had never done this before. It’s not that I didn’t care what my credit rating it; it was just that I was not concerned. I was secure in the knowledge that my credit was good. I paid my things on time. I didn’t abandon debts. I had gotten into some situations when I was younger, but I had resolved it all, and it was all old enough that it should have been off of my report.

A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to check my credit reports as a way of procrastinating from actually doing anything productive, i.e. schoolwork. What I found really shocked and amazed me.

The first one I ran was through Experian. Experian just had a staggering amount of blatantly false/inaccurate information about me. I’m talking:

  • 4 alternate forms of my name, two of which were just wrong and which neither I nor any or my family members had ever used.
  • 3 SSNs on file for me, besides my real one.
  • 1 address in the boondocks of NJ. Neither my parents nor I have ever resided at this address.
  • Countless (okay, about 7) accounts that were not and never have been mine. Many of these were either accounts belonging to my father or joint accounts he shared with my mother. Several of these were opened BEFORE I WAS EVEN BORN. Experian even acknowledged that they were opened before I was born, and that it “may be suspicious.” Amazing how it just blatantly tells you, “Yeah, somebody fucked up and this can’t possibly be yours, but we’re going to hold it against you anyway.”

I filed disputes with all of the incorrect information on Experian, then moved on to  TransUnion. TransUnion’s free service is very helpful, in that it will actually supply you with your report for all three credit reporting agencies. TransUnion was also the most accurate of the three with my records, although I still found a lot of my parents’ accounts somehow tied in to my identity. Still, though, the fact that they had the most accurate records of the three was tied in to the fact that my numerical score with them was also the highest.

I’m warning you all now – EquiFax is a pain in the ass. It’s a good thing TransUnion allowed me to view my EquiFax report, because EquiFax did not seem to allow me to generate a free report. EquiFax’s website seems to imply that one is only entitled to a free online report if one was recently denied credit. Otherwise, I was free to request a hard copy via mail. Fortunately, I already had the report from TransUnion, so  could just take that information and dispute it online, right?


In order to dispute something online with EquiFax, one needs to have gotten their report online from EquiFax. Something for which I was not eligible.

Oh well, there’s always telephone.

Right, except that in order to dispute by telephone, one must already have a report number. One obtains a report number from… that’s right, you guessed it, opening an online report from EquiFax.

At least they allowed me to print out a PDF and write in my information and EVERY DISPUTE I wished to make. By hand. I couldn’t even type into it and then print it out. Fail. EquiFax is quite obviously the least user-friendly and most behind-the-times of the three agencies. 

Perhaps it is not coincidental that my EquiFax score was the lowest of the three. Like, depressingly low.

So basically, after being responsible and working my ass off to keep up with this stuff and rebound from some mistakes I made years and years ago, it was a real revelation to find that my scores, which I had assumed were safely in the at least moderately high range, were just scraping along in the acceptable range (and one of them not even). All due to misinformation, mistaken identities which should never have been an issue, and some off-the-wall random errors that seem to have come from absolutely nowhere.

I’m waiting to get all of this straightened out. I’m already so stressed out with school and with work, It’s really taken a mental/psychic toll on me. I suppose the lesson/moral here is that it is your right to view your information on this shit and to make sue that everything is nice and accurate. If you don’t do it, nobody is going to do it for you. These companies, it goes without saying, don’t care about you and will not hesitate to crush you given the chance. Don’t let it happen. Be assertive and call these companies out on things when they need to be called out.

Now, more than ever, we need to stand up to these corporations and claim the rights to which we are entitled. If we don’t, who will?

*                        *                        *

N.B.: Do not make the same mistake I did and go to each credit reporting agency website individually. It would have saved me a lot of trouble last week had I seen this before I did so. In any case, I have already cancelled the “free trials” of the services that are rather bogusly associated with these agencies, since I have already gotten the information I wanted out of them. At least for next year I know about this truly free consolidated report.

all alone in a room following lines on maps

Good morning, Internet. Today's post will necessarily be short, due to my getting far behind, or at least, feeling far behind, in my task of writing papers. So, this post will not be tl;dr. Rejoice!

And hopefully it will even be useful or awesome!

Today's recommendation is... the World Map Shower Curtain by Saturday Knight Ltd.

Perhaps you agree with me: You need a shower curtain. Perhaps now, you try to take showers, but water gets everywhere, and it's very easy for people to peep on you. Or maybe you are just looking for the perfect decorative-yet-educational accent in your bathroom.

The Saturday Knight Ltd. World Map Shower Curtain is the answer, and more!

Combining the practicality of a shower curtain with the usefulness and awesomeness of a map, this shower curtain might just enable you to be awesome at Jeopardy.

The thing is - and this is the reason I'm recommending it - this isn't just any map. it's a subtly, yet highly political one. This map shows lots of contested principalities and regions - Tibet, Lesotho, etc. - and makes the daring move of making Georgia in the same color as Russia, implying unity. These are subtle, yet daring moves for a map, and unusual ones for a shower curtain map. not that I'm an expert on shower curtain maps, but it certainly seems unusual to me that they would be this political about it.

Why should you care?

It's a fact - Americans are provincial. They rarely use maps and even more rarely study geography. In many places around the world, people think that Americans are characterized by their lack of curiosity about the world. I challenge you to fight this perception!

Even if you disagree with me on the necessity of improving America's international image, or if you are a past winner of the National Geographic Bee, you will certainly agree with me that staring at this brightly-colored, cheerful map as you brush your teeth (or, whatever) will help you learn new stuff, and learning new stuff only has benefits. For instance, you can win bar trivia games, impress friends, and someday even start a blog of your own!

PS: I am in no way affiliated with Saturday Knight, Ltd., and don't know a thing about them that I couldn't find on Google in about 10 seconds. I am getting no sponsorship or anything from them. I just really like this shower curtain. Um, is that weird?

You can buy one here, among other places.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

durch jede stunde

Good morning, Internet. I feel my recommendation yesterday was somewhat contentious, so I will try to err on the side of bein' classy this morning as I finish my coffee, hoping to spill as little as possible on me, and comb the classifieds for jobs.

Today's recommendation is... The poetry of Gottfried Benn.

I know what you're thinking. I've never heard of this dude! Who cares?

Benn (1886-1957) was a German poet, obviously, who was also a medical doctor. He was interested in the hideousness, corporeality, and viscerality of life. So if you're a CSI fan, or extremely Goth, how can you not love work such as:

LITTLE ASTER (translation by Babette Deutsch)

A drowned truck-driver was propped on the slab.
Someone had stuck a lavender aster
between his teeth.
As I cut out the tongue and the palate,
through the chest
under the skin
with a long knife,
I must have touched the flower, for it slid into the brain next.
I packed it up into the cavity of the chest
among the excelsior
as it was sewn up.
Drink yourself full in your vase!
Rest softly,
Little aster!

If you can read German, you're in for even more of a treat (no disrespect for Ms. Deutsch; I just think the German original is even more stunning). Benn has an entire body (pun intended) of autopsy poems. Please understand, it's not just the SHOCKING!!!!!! gimmick of the fact that the dude wrote poems about autopsies. It's the overall dark world-view, the quiet wonder and beauty that battle with his cynicism in a hard job - that's what does it for me. Benn practiced medicine, and poetry, before World War I. He lived through both World Wars and the balkanization of his country. His work reflects and anticipates major stylistic movements within European writing - expressionism and Modernism, for instance. He has numerous important prose pieces that dealt both with cultural politics and literary criticism.

And yet for all this, he is fairly obscure, especially in America (don't even get me started). That's why I reiterate today's recommendation: look at some of his poetry.

This bilingual edition of his selected writings is a good place to start.

this site has a lot of PDF's and so forth of his work, even though the site frankly skeeves me out (and i feel the translations are not very good).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A delicious, delicious cornucopia of fail.

Today’s recommendation: Gimme Pizza.

Preface: Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a real problem with different food items touching on my plate. I would also make a huge production out of making sure that I kept everything separated at all times. Holiday dinners were always the worst, purely due to the volume of food. While my family members would be piling their plates high, intermingling everything, I’d be the one carefully compartmentalizing my plate – I’d need to make sure that the corn was not in the mashed potatoes, et cetera. I know the old argument – it all gets mixed together after you swallow it anyway. My counter argument, though, has always been that your taste buds are on your tongue, and that you can’t taste it once it’s mixed together in your stomach. I’ve relaxed a bit on this, but I still have a tendency to compartmentalize my plate when preparing it. I wonder if my fascination with this video is in any way linked to this tendency.

I don’t know what to say about this that you can’t piece together by yourself after watching it. And watch it you must, although you may have some sort of violent physiological reaction to the very idea of watching it. True enough that this stuff is anathema to most sane people. But trust me on this one. You must watch. And watch. And watch again.

During the first viewing, you are likely petrified in horror and revolt. You want to look away, yet you can’t. The clip has an odd magnetism about it. During the second viewing, you find that the maddening refrain has caused you to start involuntarily tapping your foot or nodding your head. By the eighteenth viewing, you are starting to come to terms with the fact that you have a problem. Hopefully, somebody who cares about you has already initiated an intervention.

This clip comes from one of the Olsen Twins’s video releases, You’re Invited to Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Sleepover Party. I have seen the entire video, and this is the most noteworthy sequence on the video. I don’t think I can properly articulate why I love this video so much, and consequently I will not try. I just want to bring a few things to your attention:

• Was the cameraman really standing in a rowboat on a choppy sea while filming this?
• RACIAL STEREOTYPE ALERT: note that it is the token African American girl who suggests the fried chicken. Just sayin’.
• Those “fried green tomatoes” are not fried. At all.
• “We’ve got mega munchies.” I don’t think I need to comment on this.

That is all. Nothing else needs to be said, as the video speaks for itself. Enjoy. Discuss. Rinse. Repeat.

conspicuous consumption begins within you

Hello there, Internet. I'm not sure at what point today I'll post this, so I will refrain from temporally-bounded greetings.

I soldier on with final papers and the general malaise that I like to call "semester endgame clusterfuck blues." On top of finishing papers, grading my students' work, and worrying about the world, I am also scrambling to apply to jobs.

Anyway, without further ado...
Today's Recommendation is....Watching horrendous reality shows about FrankenFamilies on TLC.

Yes. I know. I am able to hide my true love for reality television under the guise of being a "media scholar." You may not be in this situation, although I hasten to point out that since I am a media scholar, watching this crap is the sort of thing that passes for "pleasure time" in my life. But read on.

TLC used to be The Learning Channel. Now, apparently, they are trying to be The Life Channel and thus, approximately 90% of their programming revolves around baby shows and freak shows portraying ginormous families (the other 10% involves fashion crap). Because clearly, this is the best way to Celebrate Life: portray hideous American excess by showing us super-sized wealthy families and how they do such-and-such activity with ZOMG SO MANY PEOPLE!

I am being unkind when I say these shows are freak shows, but let's call a spade a spade. I am referring, of course, to the following TLC offerings: Jon & Kate Plus 8; to 16/17/18 Kids & Counting, and to Table for 12. These are shows that fetishize large families. And not kinds that involve selfless people adopting tons of kids - no, not at all. I mean people who:

1. were intent on reproduction at all costs - This is the subject for another post, but I feel that invasive fertility treatments are more of a class marker, an attempt to demonstrate class and social standing than anything else;

2. who would not selectively reduce when they had high order multiples - their
choice, I'm not criticizing that at all - what is important to realize is how these shows present these people as martyrs for not/making that choice, and never portray anyone who makes different choices (such as someone who chooses to adopt special-needs children, for example). It is in keeping with TLC's subtle rebranding into what is effectively the Anti-Abortion Network.

3. who subscribe to completely bizarre, marginal ideologies, such as the completely insane and hypocritical Duggar cult from Arkansas, who adhere to the "Quiverfull" movement and don't believe in hand-holding before engagement or kissing before marriage, even though they cake makeup on their daughters for all their one-on-one interviews.

Now, let me say right off the bat that I have some unpopular opinions, especially for someone who doesn't have any kids, and I really do want to qualify that, because maybe if I ever have children (which also means adoption), my opinions may change. I believe strongly in adoption. I think that overpopulation is a huge crisis, and one few people want to address. I know that climate change is a big problem, and Western levels of personal consumption (including: food / food miles, medical care, etc., as well as cars and the other crap you buy) are largely to blame.

Frankly, I don't know how people can have 10 kids and still get to sleep at night knowing there are babies starving elsewhere. I barely can sleep at night knowing this; apparently the guilt is dissipated if your DNA is personally consuming 10 times as many resources as it would be. Hell of a legacy.

I also want to qualify this essay by noting that I'm sure all the families involved are good people who simply want only what's best for their kids, although the reality show structure / editing often does not portray them that way (Kate Goselin, I am looking at you).

Anyway, so that's my position. It breaks my heart that instead of portraying some people who very worthily adopt special-needs children, TLC instead persistently focuses on wealthy products of IVF and other fertility treatments. If they are to be the "learning" channel in name, it is too bad that they cannot be so in practice by presenting things that are really in the public's best interest to learn about (e.g., the environmental impact of having enough kids to have 2 softball teams). It is too bad that they reinforce the American dream-world that ignores virtually everything outside its own borders.

Moreover, the shows really have no redeeming features other than the fact that, at least within America with its shrinking family size, they are freak shows. The editing style fetishizes shots that emphasize, holy shit, that's a lot of people: sped-up footage of a long line of people walking out of the house. CLose-ups on feet as they do so just so, hey, in case you weren't paying attention? That is a BIG family. Pop up stats smarmily informing us how many diapers have been tossed into landfills due to these people, or how many pizzas they consume in a sitting.

So let's examine each of these shows briefly, and then I may or may not make another recommendation...If you're a hater, keep in mind that I'm writing about these shows because I watch them, and that in and of itself is a punishment.

Jon & Kate + 8: Institutional Child-Rearing

This show horrifies me. Not just the fact that they have 8 kids, not just the fact that they built a set into their home to enable their reality TV dream, not just the fact that TLC seems to subsidize every aspect of their McMansion-y's the fact that, at least the way the show portrays them, the children are not allowed to have m/any individual personalities. Or just to be children. The high-strung, castrating Kate Goselin freaks out whenever the children, you know, act like children, spilling ice cream or stepping in mud or something. The children dress alike. The children receive the same Christmas presents. The children are only "the children."

I guess my interest in this show revolves around how stunningly banal it is. Once you get past the ZOMG 8 KIDS factor, there is nothing remotely interesting about these people, other than the fact that the parents gleefully seem to play their faults to the camera, bickering constantly. The only reason this is not a collection of incredibly boring, yet professionally-produced home movies is that there are ZOMG 8 KIDS.

16,17,18, whatever kids and counting
I really don't understand what TLC is doing with this show, because lately, the editing and time slot (right before Toddlers And Tiaras, the subject of another blog rant) seem to suggest camp. The non-diegetic sound effects, the Jim-Bob-and-Michelle-visit-a-head-shop episode, the constant professed cluelessness / "innocence" of the Duggars - it all seems to come across as rather mean-spirited on TLC's part.

I have always had a healthy disgust for the stunningly self-righteous, self-absorbed, holier-than-Thou media whore Duggars. Their reality show reads as an ethnography. An ethnography about a primitive group of people whose income essentially comes from providing media to the mainstream, all of which they sneer at and think are going to hell and live a worthless existence (as well as selling used cars and being landlords, presumably to the same hell-bound people). A lifestyle of "modesty," which like I said earlier apparently involves caking makeup onto 11 year olds, selling images of your kids to the entire nation, and fetishizing the virginity of all your children on public in camera. A lifestyle that involves prescriptive approaches to family life, complete with recipes for barf-inducing "American casserole slop" like - get ready with your barf bucket - tater tot casserole. Yes, with Velveeta.

Anyway, again, the show basically revolves around the trope of ZOMG WE HAVE TO KEEP CHANGING THE NAME OF THE SHOW BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM and then the whole Fundamentalist Quiverfull vaguely-separationist aspect. The Television Without Pity forums skewer this show way better than I ever could, so I'll leave that to them and again say: the show is exploitative for all involved. I don't know if that makes it brilliant or dangerous, or maybe both, but frankly, I think these people get way too much attention as it is, and if you are concerned about the overrepresentation of Fundamentalism in American cultural politics, the best thing to do is to ignore crap like this.

Do as I say, not as I do, and I'd love to hear suggestions for better things to watch on Tuesday nights on basic cable.

Table for 12
The newest of TLC's FrankenFamily lineup, this show is the only one that deals with a seemingly middle-class family. Because it's the newest, I've only seen a few episodes. They're from South Jersey (I'm from northern NJ and Thom is from South Jersey), so I guess I'm predisposed to like them more, but at the end of the day it's the same thing as the other 2 shows. The show's episodes do little more than answer gawker questions like, "How do you do _____ with ZOMG TEN KIDS including one with cerebral palsy?" This show at least addresses children with special needs, and I think TLC should be commended for that. However, at the end of the day, this is still another freak show based on scale. Nobody's interested in watching a family of four have a pizza dinner; a family of 12 does it and suddenly, you get a reality show.

I do want to reiterate that my problem is not with any of these families' lifestyle choices. I really believe that like virtually all parents, they truly have what they think is best for their children in mind. My problem is with TLC for reiterating, fetishizing, and promoting this stuff as though it's perfectly natural, feasible, and sustainable. I think most people realize it's not, but TLC could use its position to promote more positive change in the world. They could add shows to their lineup that promote more sustainable lifestyle choices, or that address issues of world poverty and empower the viewer to take action, even by doing something token like donating to a charity. I realize it's a classic liberal move to tell people what I think is best for them, but that's not really what I'm doing. I hope. I think. I think most people will agree that the problem of world poverty is serious, and that it needs to become real to people - even Americans, who mostly experience the non-American world through the television set. I think TLC can use its position as a popular network to actually help people learn about things - not just Big Serious Issues, but, geez, I, at least, would appreciate some shows about basic home plumbing skills or how to hang a picture frame or how to mend clothing or just, you know, Things I Always Wanted to Learn But Got Cut Out of my School's Budget when I was in High School.

Ahem. Breathe. Sorry.

While I hate to resort to contemporary mainstream media cliches like "in these times..." Well, in these times, while our conspicuously consumptive way of life has clearly been demonstrated as environmentally and economically unsustainable, I don't think these shows need to show the BIGGERBETTER American way of life. I don't think I"m an authority on What America Needs, but I'm American, and I personally would strongly prefer to see shows privileging adopters, rather than those who reproduce like bunnies, everything else be damned. These shows are about the (human) Hummers of basic cable, when what the public is interested in is the Prius. God, I can't believe i just used car metaphors.

Therefore, my nefarious, secret recommendation is...Write to TLC and ask for programming that does not fetishize conspicuous consumption. Ask for shows that valorize the heroes who take in the children nobody else wants, or at least programming vaguely in keeping with their name as "The Learning Channel."

And, I recommend you keep reading, because eventually I'll talk about the train wreck that is Toddlers & Tiaras.

wow guys! this is so totally tl;dr. Thanks if you read all this.

Monday, April 13, 2009

spin the black circle.

Hey everyone. I just had a superlatively shitty day that involved severe headaches, a massive one-hour clusterfuck of timesheet fail, leaving work early, finding that I wasn’t leaving work early at all (long story), probably having my car hit in a parking lot (another long story), and being surrounded by police cruisers in my parking lot (don’t even ask). The point of this preface is just to say that if it seems like my writing is lazy or not up to snuff, or like I’m phoning it in today, that is why.

Basically, one good thing happened to me. One thing. Okay, so I’m exaggerating. But still. I received a shipment from UPS today. There were three things in this shipment. I am going to write about one of those things. Today, I would like to recommend to you the Audio-Technica AT-PL120 Direct Drive Professional Turntable.

Some background would probably be prudent at this point. For at least the last 10 years, I have been using an Aiwa compact bookshelf system for my home listening needs. It was an all-in-one system – tuner, dual cassette deck, 5-disc CD changer, and a turntable. None of the individual components were really remarkable in any way, but overall it was a solid little system with some decent speakers. Plus, it had a turntable, which was quite uncommon in those days – hipster vinyl fetishizing culture had not emerged yet back then, but since I constantly hung out in an independent record store that dealt in vinyl (R.I.P., Full Circle), I had become enough of a record geek to get really into vinyl.

Anyway, a couple of years ago the CD changer started to go. By this point I was buying things on vinyl whenever I had a chance, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I reserved listening to CDs for the car or, if it was absolutely necessary to listen to a CD at home, I would use the computer. Not the ideal setup, especially when I was used to the sound of vinyl on some fairly big speakers, but I was willing to deal.

When I moved into this apartment a couple of years ago, I tried listening to one of my tMG tapes and found that now the cassette decks had gone to pot. Oh well, I thought, I still had the turntable. Of course, it did sound to me like perhaps the drive mechanism was starting to go in the turntable, as the pitch seemed to increase after a few minutes of play – almost as though the drive on the system took a few minutes to warm up and get itself up to speed. Again, I dealt with it.

When I mentioned the state of my stereo to my parents, my father gave me an old Fisher receiver and cassette deck that he had lying around in the basement, saying that they were good components with a lot of power. I don’t doubt that they were good components in their day, but unfortunately, when I got them home and tried them, I found that the cassette deck had completely died, and the receiver had completely lost sound in the left channel.

At Christmas, my parents gave me some money for the specific purpose of either getting my existing stereo equipment repaired or helping to purchase new equipment. I put the money aside as I tried to decide what my next step would be. As I tried to decide, I purchased yet another cassette deck from Goodwill, testing it at the store first to make sure the machine functioned. It did, so I brought home a Pioneer deck. I finally hooked it up and tied it out last week, when I decided to give a listen to a Franklin Bruno cassette I had recently purchased on eBay. It sounded beautiful for about the first half of side 1. Then, the warble as the drive mechanism began to steadily slow to a halt….

I think as soon as that deck died, I had made my decision. In a rush of depression or mania (I’m still not quite sure which it was, really), I went and pretty much purchased an entirely new stereo system (I am keeping the old speakers for now) component by component, using both the money my parents had given me and leftover tax refund money. Due to availability, user reviews, and price, my system will be a bit of a Frankenstein, with three different manufacturers being represented. But when it is done, it will be glorious.

So all of this brings us up to the actual recommendation – the turntable. There’s a catch, however: the receiver I ordered does not actually arrive until Thursday, thanks to FedExFail. In other words, I have not properly experienced the turntable yet. I have been able to hook up the turntable to the computer and listen through laptop speakers, but, as has already been discussed, NOT THE SAME! But, I can give a conceptual/anticipatory recommendation, anticipating the further recommendation of stereo equipment that is almost sure to appear on this blog at some point this weekend.

I can try to describe to you the graceful sleekness of the tone arm, the gentle bend that looks so unnatural but so zen-like at the same time. I can try to convey to you the tactile pleasure of setting the tone arm balance, which is something that I had never done before, having only ever owned cheap, low-end turntables. I was not even aware of such a thing until today!

I can try to make you understand just what that feeling is when you actually lift the tone arm, transport it over to the spinning grooved platter, and gently let it down onto the disk. It’s almost like a spiritual experience for an agnostic, really. There’s a solemn reverence to it. It feels almost like a ritual. Those first few crackles before the first note sounds? Those are perhaps my favorite sounds in the world.

I can try to make you see the device the way I see it. How skeletal it is. Its leanness – how is something that can look so unsubstantial be so solid and heavy? The cartridge and headstock look to me like components for a scale model of an alien spacecraft. This machine is a wonder of design and style and utilitarianism.

The thing is, I can try to tell you all of this stuff, but in the end I can’t help but fail. This is the kind of stuff you can’t tell somebody. One either already knows it or one don’t, and if one doesn’t already know it, then one never will. All hipster fetishizing aside – there is something almost sacred or holy about pulling out a piece of vinyl, laying it on the platter of the turntable, and lower the stylus into the groove. This is why I’m always tempted to buy vinyl reissues of albums I already own on CD. CDs just feel so cheap and crass and impermanent next to a good record.

Okay, so this post is truly all over the place, so I should really wrap it up. I do want to add that this turntable has tons of additional features, which you can read about on the product page linked above and which I will probably blog about this weekend. Also, I should point out that I have plugged the turntable into the computer to test it out. The line-level output seems a bit loud – I obviously won’t be ripping any of my vinyl for portable listening through the direct input. But, even in this inferior listening situation, I can already hear how superior this turntable is to any that I have ever owned. Before beginning this entry, I listened to side 1 of Grizzly Bear’s Sorry for the Delay, and this blog was written to the tune of the No New York compilation and Cat Stevens’s soundtrack to Harold and Maude (which, for the record, sounds fucking amazing, even on these tiny speakers – such a rick sound!). All this bodes well for the arrival of the receiver and the experience of actually listening to these records on a real stereo system. N.B.: I did not pay $400 for this turntable, as the product page would have you believe. Based on just these results, however, I would be willing to do so.

And just take a look at it. Isn’t it beautiful?

here they do it spiritually.

Good morning, Internet! I'm sitting here with my coffee, pondering what it is I should recommend to you today. After all, I'm trying to stick to no more than one (1) recommendation a day; therefore, they're all very special.

And it seems my better half way outclassed me yesterday with his totally incredible, well-written, well-argued post arguing for human rights. So I feel the ante's been upped. I watched a movie yesterday, in the hopes that I could recommend it to you, but it was truly awful. All you need to know about Venom (1982) is: Klaus Kinski sort of stars in what could be called Snakes on the Thames.

Hmmm...Kinski...always makes me think of Werner Herzog...oh! Of course!


Today's recommendation is: Stroszek (Herzog, 1977).

Oh, the love poems I could write about this film. Oh, the incomprehensible over-educated squealings I probably will write about this film.

I saw Stroszek for the first time in the second semester of my first year of college in the first film class I ever took, and I could argue that it's one of the main reasons why I devoted my life* to film. There are many early examples of this; I will recommend each of them to you at a later date.

I had seen Kaspar Hauser in high school (It was one of about 10 "foreign" VHSes our local Blockbuster had), but I had no idea who Bruno S. really was, and it barely penetrated my entitled skull that it was the same director.

But seeing Stroszek on a big screen like that in the teaching auditorium - complete with the faded color palette, the impossibly vertical shots of Berlin, the expansive horizontal shots of Midwestern USA - really changed something for me. At the time, I wanted to be a lawyer or a translator or something, something having to do with words (and, implicitly, power; I did grow up in the suburbs of New Jersey). All was words to me, and I knew plenty, in several languages.

I couldn't have explained it this way at the time, but the film showed me the fallacy and weakness of language. The primacy of jargon in the film, of specialized and privileged languages, demonstrate to me the privilege of the image, which in turn somehow filled me with hope. Auctioneers, prison officials, bankers - it didn't matter what they were saying; you could figure it out from the image. For the first time in my life, words seemed a weak failure. They do right now.

Maybe images are in and of themselves simply another language; I don't know. A greater encompassing universe existed outside of the artificiality of words. This had always been true, but I had never noticed until I'd watched that film.

Herzog's mordantly funny dirge for the American dream was resplendent with tacky roadside Americana, hyperbolic accents, and anonymous countryside, but it also showed seedier parts of Berlin life. Only subtle aspects of the film are temporally-bounded at all - fonts, cars, hairstyles - so it seems a general paean to 20th century Americana, or at least, a very specific kind of Americana - one that may or may not have actually existed. One you see hints of in abandoned roadside stands and places where newer paint is peeling. The characters in Stroszek - Eva, Bruno, and Scheitz - move, cross an ocean, dream big, and the same systems, problems, and power structures follow and consume them. It was both incredibly depressing and awesome, in the old-fashoined, awe-inspiring sense. The world created was so perfect, so believable, so close to mine, yet different. I could watch the sad stories forever.

The film seemed charmingly enamored with its subjects. I really don't believe that Herzog had an exploitative intent. The sadness and absurdly tragic trajectory of the characters' lives seemed, to me, somewhat affectionate.

I don't know what it says about me that I can't find this film as anything but life-affirming and quietly wondrous of the big, big world, that it fills me with a conviction that most of us have a strong survival instinct no matter what - but there you have it.

I won't wreck the ending for you, but I think you will probably disagree with me after you see it. But if you see it after reading this I have more than achieved my goal.

*measured in terms of X, where X = years of educational attainment AND units of tens of thousands of dollars of educational indebtedness.


I had no way of knowing it when I first saw this film, but the year after I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to go to Germany. It was a strange and alienating year, full of drifting, being privy to much I could not understand, and twice during that year I spent months living in Kreuzberg, one of Bruno's old haunts. I never saw Bruno, I'd wander through the alleyways, getting slightly lost, always imagining I could hear sad accordion music just in the next courtyard.

The New York Times had an article last Christmas about Bruno, complete with a video.