Monday, September 28, 2009

Zing from PJ

The first reading is for the jokes, the second is for the point. There's no other way to put this, PJ O'Rourke hands Jimmy Carter his ass in this editorial piece. Best line: "And when it comes to repression of Latinos, Cuba takes the gold, tyrannizing 11,184,022 out of 11,184,023 Cubans."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Give Me a Sign"

...Baby One More Time - Fountains of Wayne

Book Rundown

These are substantially easier to write than full reviews. Maybe someday I'll read something really excellent again and say something lengthier.

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin - The first novel in A Song of Fire and Ice, this volume has the reputation for being the medievalist fantasy that destroys all cliches, revitalizes the genre, best since Tolkien, blah blah blah. Martin develops a very large cast of lords and ladies and sets them scheming for control of the Seven Kingdoms. It's brutally violent, sexually frank and doesn't so much blur the line between good and evil as obliterate it - individuals may be vicious or virtuous, but all political groupings are selfishly ambitious. The characters are fascinating, though their relations and titles are extremely confusing and those the prose is merely serviceable, there are passages of great wonder and moral fiber. Unfortunately, the novel ends just as the major powers have really been sent into play and so feels incomplete. The POV changes with every chapter, and many chapters end with cliff-hangers, so that one must often read several chapters further for resolution. This is a gimmicky way to pace the novel but incredibly effective, as I regularly read more in my sessions than planned. I've already reserved the second book in the series. Worthwhile

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris - The humorist's droll collection of personal essays is delightfully understated, self-depreciating but not apologetic, and absurd but not strange. Thanks to my sister for introducing me to Sedaris. Worthwhile

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - It was popular, I was suspicious, the masses were vindicated. This is an engrossing story that encompasses many of literature's greatest themes: love, honor, betrayal, country, family, atonement. Themes and plot elements are familiar but not cliched. The novel becomes rather too self-consciously literary toward the end, creating heavy-handed parallels to earlier scenes, and its explanation of evil seems to be that sadism is for sadism's sake but it retains a devastating impact even in these last chapters. A rare contemporary novel that actually deserves its audience. Worthwhile

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bizarre Cover Week

This week's songs will be unusual cover versions.

(They Long To Be) Close To You - Isaac Hayes

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Quest for the Perfect mp3 Player

After 22 years of indigence, I am finally beginning to make my fortune. For several summers prior, I enjoyed gainful employment, but the money I earned was instantly claimed by tuition bills. Given that the government likes to fund PhDs in the sciences and that I am mooching off my parents for shelter and food, I have little incentive toward frugality. I suppose I do need to buy a car, since my father informs me that this aspect of my mooching must end soon. So, I am going to splurge and buy myself a brand new 120 GB Zune.

All the ignoramuses in readerland are undoubtedly asking why I would even consider purchasing a Zune when I could get a rockin' iPod touch. The Zune has several advantages so significant that they make me question why Apple has sold a single device. Most importantly, Microsoft offers a nifty service called ZunePass that allows unlimited music downloads to the device for a monthly fee of $15, the cost of 1.5 iTunes albums. Apple baffles me in coaxing consumers to continue paying for music on a song by song basis. The Zune's hard drive is also twice the size of that of the largest Touch.

Many people consider a 120 GB hard drive excessive and these people do not understand that excess is my goal. I hope to store on this device a recording of every worthwhile piece of music ever recorded. I want to indulge in complete Zappa discographies and obscure compilations of George Jones B-sides. I want to be able to choose amongst 5 different interpretations of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. I want to cackle with glee when someone else is DJing from my Zune and asks "30,000 tracks and you couldn't find it in your heart to include even one by the Red Hot Chili Peppers?" Frankly, I'm concerned that 120 GB is not nearly enough space to indulge my musical gluttony.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Best Sale Ever

Lately, we've been getting a lot of instruction at work in "suggestive selling," the practice of persuading people to buy more than they intended to buy upon entering the store. I've discovered that I have a remarkable talent for it, exemplified by the following episode that took place yesterday.

Three customer service employees walk into the bar. I greet them. They are clearly discussing orders amongst themselves and I here one of them mention our new Belgian waffles. I say, "When you eat one of those waffles, it's like there's a party in your mouth, and everyone's invited." They each purchased a drink. They each purchased a waffle.

"Counting the Cattle as They Go By the Door"

I'm on a mission to convert as many Jack Johnson fans as possible to Nick Drake fans.

Free Ride - Nick Drake

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"In The Same Hospital Where Biggie Smalls Died"

Is Kanye West a kind man? Does a bear crap in a toilet? Does my sympathy for Taylor Swift make me any longer to play one of her songs?

through the wire - kanye west

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grad School Update

In the past few weeks, I've taken further steps toward applying to grad school, including registering for the GRE and narrowing my list of schools. I've decided to apply to eight schools: Ohio State, U of Illinois, U of Wisconsin, Cornell, UPenn, Columbia, Harvard and MIT. Eight seems a bit excessive to me but given the dearth of graduate admissions stats available, it's hard to gauge my odds for the more selective programs, and even to know which those are.

I had two primary criteria for narrowing my list, and will use those same criteria when selecting a school this spring.

1. Quality of Program - I want to become the best chemist I can, and I believe that the key to achieving that goal is to train with the best chemists working in my area of interest - organic reactions and synthesis. While all the programs on my list have many esteemed professors, five of them: U of Illinois, U of Wisconsin, Columbia, Harvard and MIT are home to many world-class scientists doing truly innovative research in organic chemistry. I would be thrilled to be accepted to any of these programs. Within this criterion, it's also extremely important that the professors respect students. I've heard horror stories of professors making 3 AM phone calls demanding that experiments be performed immediately, and of students regularly reduced to tears by their advisors' cutting remarks. I want professors who demand a great deal, but who are also reasonable and kind. Quality of research and treatment of students are equally important to me.

2. Location - Four years in Williamstown were great, but I'm ready for reurbanization, preferably in the Northeast, where most of my friends are, but within a long day's drive of Cincinnati. This is, however, a slightly less important criterion than the above.

Combine the two and my top choices are (in no particular order): Columbia, Harvard and MIT. I do intend to visit any programs to which I'm accepted, and I can't really say what my preferences are until then.

"When the Pulpit Meets the Sword and the Poet Has Been Bored"

In all honesty, this comes from one of my five favorite albums of the decade. Junior spring, there were weeks where I listened to nothing but this and Captain Beefheart. My friends loved me.

Idle Songs - Frog Eyes

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Decade's Best?

I didn't expect the list until the end of the year, and it actually sneaked past me, but Pitchfork published its list of the 500 best songs of the decade about a month ago. I'm restricting my commentary to the top 20 tracks on the list. Obviously, my list would have been better, would have taken a narrower view, and wouldn't have given a rat's rear about a song's importance, only its quality.

That said, of the top 10 selections, 7 are good choices, 2 more are justifiable and 1 is unacceptable. I would have been shocked if the editors had selected anything other than "B.O.B." as the top track for all the reasons stated in the article. Look at this song as political anthem, genre-mashing exercise, MC concerto or just jock jam and it always appears a masterpiece. In my view, "Paper Planes" was the only other serious contender for the slot. "All My Friends," "One More Time," "Idioteque," "My Girls," "Neighborhood #1", great songs all, and none could have been released at any other time. I've got a serious beef with "Get Ur Freak On," whose incessant 4 beat jingle ensures it permanent rotation in hell, and not the good hell where AC/DC is the house band. My complaint about "Maps" is that its a great song delivered by pedestrian musicians. Karen O draws out her inner Joni Mitchell where she should channel Janis Joplin. Ballads like this should grab the gut, and mine's always been a bit beyond its reach. I'm most ambivalent about "Crazy in Love," which has an undeniable mothership of a beat, but also demonstrates the virtual irrelevance of the vocalist in contemporary chart pop. Any mediocre singer could vocalize over that beat and the song would remain the same.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the list is its accessibility. Pitchfork has long had the reputation for indier than thou snootiness, and perhaps in response to those charges, they've developed a soft spot for some mainstream pop in the past few years. Sometimes this has gone horribly wrong (see: Hollaback Girl) and sometimes it's led me to reevaluate artists I'd dismissed (see: Justin Timberlake, another irrelevant singer making some great tunes). Of the Top 20 tunes, I'd count 15 that should be familiar to anyone who pays a decent amount of attention to popular music, and 7 that my mom has probably heard. The daily record reviews still tend toward the esoteric, but come any sort of retrospective list, and the site always goes softer.

One last note: At #21 sits "Since U Been Gone". I suppose they felt like they needed to acknowledge the existence of American Idol, because I can think of no other reason why such lame pastiche would make the list at all. It is, however, the exception that proves my rule, because Kelly Clarkson is a far better singer than Beyonce, Rhianna or Justin Timberlake and her song is easily the weakest of the group.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Preseason Standings Picks

Without discussion, here are my predictions for final NFL standings this season.

1. New England
2. NY Jets
3. Miami Dolphins
4. Buffalo Bills

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh
2. Cincinnati
3. Baltimore
4. Cleveland

AFC South
1. Indianapolis
2. Houston
3. Tennessee
4. Jacksonville

AFC West
1. San Diego
2. Denver
3. Oakland
4. Kansas City

Wild Card Weekend: Cincinnati vs. Indianapolis, San Diego vs. Houston

Conference Semi-final

Indianapolis vs. Pittsburgh

San Diego vs. New England

Conference Final

Indianapolis vs. San Diego

Conference Champion: San Diego

NFC East
1. Philadelphia
2. Dallas
3. NY Giants
4. Washington

NFC North
1. Green Bay
2. Chicago
3. Minnesota
4. Detroit

NFC South
1. Carolina
2. New Orleans
3. Atlanta
4. Tampa Bay

NFC West
1. Arizona
2. Seattle
3. San Fransisco
4. St. Louis

Wild Card Weekend: Chicago vs. Arizona, New Orleans vs. Green Bay

Conference Semi-final

Chicago vs. Carolina, New Orleans vs. Philadelphia

Conference Final

Carolina vs. New Orleans

Conference Champion: Carolina

Super Bowl Champion: San Diego

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"I Ain't Fallin' Asleep, I'm Fadin' to Black"

Point One: Authenticity is extremely overrated in popular music.

Point Two: Drive-By Truckers' music is so good in large part because it sounds a couple of thousand times more lived-in than contemporary mainstream country.

Goddamn Lonely Love - Drive-By Truckers

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Brief Word About the Big N

Heading back to work tomorrow for week number two. It's been pretty enjoyable so far, seeing as the store isn't actually open and we've just been tasting drinks and giving freebies to store employees. In this and all future posts, I will not mention the name of my employer for fairly obvious reasons.

In my brief tenure here, I've concluded that the store would not be an awful place to find an eligible bachelorette. First of all, the store employs many attractive young women, all of whom work in other departments. Secondly, competition for these women from other male employees seems minimal.

"He Keeps His Eye on the News"

Colin Zeal - Blur