Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you in the mid-Atlantic and eastward are enjoying 2010. 2009 was a good year in a lot of ways, but difficult in others. I'm looking forward to a new year and a new decade, and in order to keep myself accountable, I present to you here three new year's resolutions I intend to keep for myself. There is a theme:

1. Bike to work (to downtown St. Paul from south Minneapolis) on Bike to Work Day.
2. Ride in Southwest Community Education's annual Midnight-to-Dawn bike ride.
3. Always get to the gym enough times each month to get the health insurance discount on my membership fee.

Hopefully having concrete goals (metrics!) rather than a vague notion of "work out more" will help me. Measurement is useful.

Someone from Grinnell linked to this piece on how to make resolutions, which I liked. It in turn linked to the One-Minute-Rule, which I really like and hope to implement.

Anyway, masturbatory self-improvement aside, I hope you all have a fine new year. Don't take any guff.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Good news, everyone!

(Some of you may have heard about it in person or on Facebook. Apologies for the repetition.)

I got some good news on Christmas Eve. I received* a letter from the MN Board of AELSLAGID stating that they need $132, because that's the license fee to be a registered professional engineer in the State of Minnesota, which was pertinent because I passed the PE test in October! I guess the 36 hours of review class and 78 lbs of books worked. And my knowledge of things such as vertical highway curves (pictured) won't be tested again any time soon.**

This is all very good for a host of reasons, but here's an interesting one: because a coworker and I passed this exam, it keeps alive a streak at our company. In the history of our firm, no structural engineer in its employ has ever failed the PE exam or its historical equivalent. I mention the historical equivalent because the firm will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010. So the pressure's off.

* ...and promptly dropped in the snow off my front stoop and had to retrieve with a pair of scissors...
** Note: if you have questions about vertical highway curves, I can recommend some people.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Obama joins the Advent Conspiracy?

"Isn't there anyone [beat] who knows what Christmas is all about?!"

"Sure, uh... Charlie Brown. I can, uh, tell you... what Christmas is all about.

Uh, lights, please?

Let me be clear: there were, in that same country, shepherds. abiding in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night..."

Anyhoo, I don't think if Charles Schultz had studied 21st Century consumer trends and personally cast a group of kids with attitudes towards Christmas as much like Lucy ("I never get what I really want: real estate") or Sally ("All I want is my fair share. All I want [breathe] is what I have coming to me") as can be found, he could have set up and scripted this mayonnaise:

I actually prefer the unedited transcript. This exchange reads better than it sounds. A tip of the hat to Kotaku anyway, since that's where I saw this first.

If I don't post again in the next day or two, Merry Christmas, everybody.

If you're looking for something Christmassy, you should know that someone has posted the entirety of A Muppet Family Christmas on YouTube in HD. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pinko notes

Here's a handful of things that would have been dangerous (at least professionally) for me to have expressed during large portions of the 20th Century.

1. This video has been bouncing around the liberal blogosphere (I watched it at Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog). In it, Rachel Maddow picks apart the arguments of Richard A. Cohen, an author and therapist who treats patients who don't want to be gay. His writings have been repeatedly cited by the Ugandan proponents of laws to criminalize and severely punish (including the death penalty) homosexuality in that country. Maddow clearly disagrees with him, and does not mince words, but is well-prepared, specific and respectful, letting him defend himself and his work to the extent that he can. Imagine the alternatives, an O'Reilly or Olberman type, hectoring their guest without letting them get a word in, or an overly-deferential Meet the Press kind of exchange that takes the guest's qualifications and assertions at face value.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Update: SIDEBAR! Pastor Rick Warren, who has also drawn flak for his associations with the Ugandans pushing the anti-gay legislation, to his credit, has strongly spoken out against it.

2. The American Civil Liberties Union has lost the financial support for the next year of a major donor who would have been giving on the order of $20 million. The ACLU's annual operating budget is apparently only about four times that, so this is a huge hit for them. The organization is a truly non-partisan one; if you have political opinions of any kind, chances are they've been fierce defenders of and litigants against people with whom you hold common cause. They've taken up causes to the agitation of conservatives and liberals alike. But I am of the opinion that their work, to "defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country," is vital.

If you want to help support the ACLU, you can donate at their web site. As a commenter at Balloon Juice points out, if you give, you get to call yourself a "card-carrying member of the ACLU." And then George H.W. Bush can repeatedly point that out as if it's a bad thing when you run for president against him in 1988. I was a member for a year or two early in the decade. Perhaps it's time to re-join.

3. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) fisks the NYTimes op-ed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) defending his amendment to the House health care bill regarding coverage of abortion.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What you like is who you are

So suggests High Fidelity, which is apparently my favorite film of 2000. Specifically, Rob (John Cusack) says, "what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films -- these things matter."

You may already be familiar with Flickchart, a site that applies the mechanic of Kittenwar to the rating of motion pictures.* You are shown the posters of two films, and you click on the film you prefer. You do this a lot and it slowly, over time, builds a list of your favorite movies.

Sometimes, you are presented with movies that should never be compared (The Passion of Joan of Arc vs. Bio-Dome). Sometimes you are presented with a difficult choice based on which one you love more (a common one on the site for this is Ghostbusters vs. Back to the Future, which is easy for me: Ghostbusters by a mile). Sometimes, you can't decide which movie you dislike more (Star Wars Episode I vs. Episode II) Sometimes, because a particular movie just hasn't been put up against movies you prefer, it might stay artificially high on your list for quite a while. V for Vendetta is nowhere near my favorite movie, but it was positioned as such for about a week after I first signed on (it now sits at #283, which still feels stupidly high).

As my list took shape, I started to worry a little bit about the picture that was emerging. If what you like does define who you are, then according to Flickchart, I am a nerdy male in his late 20s or early 30s. Dingdingdingding!

I consider myself someone who enjoys movies and has sought to see a wide variety of films. Yet I am struck by how parochial my list of favorites is turning out to be. My top 20 matches in large part the current top 20 aggregated from all users both at Flickchart and at the Internet Movie Database (I do have my limits -- The Dark Knight or The Shawshank Redemption as the greatest movies ever?**); let's just say there is a high incidence of Tarantino and early Lucas.

Even looking year-by-year, I'm finding my favorites very predictable when considering the "nerd canon" of films. I'm feeling like I have a demographic predisposition.

I've decided that my second-favorite movies of these years tend to be somewhat more eclectic and unpredictable. So, subject to a handful of gigantic caveats***, here are my second-favorite movies of every year since I was born:

1979 - Alien
1980 -
1981 -
The Great Muppet Caper
1982 -
1983 -
Trading Places
1984 -
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [Seriously?]
1985 -
1986 -
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
1987 -
The Untouchables
1988 -
My Neighbor Totoro
1989 -
Do the Right Thing
1990 -
The Hunt for Red October
1991 -
Beauty and the Beast [yeah, that's right]
1992 -
Hard Boiled
1993 -
Groundhog Day
1994 -
The Shawshank Redemption
1995 -
1996 -
1997 -
Austin Powers
1998 -
Dark City
1999 -
2000 -
2001 -
2002 -
Infernal Affairs
2003 -
City of God
2004 -
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2005 -
Caché [which I've seen twice, but only on an airplane]
2006 -
Casino Royale
2007 -
Michael Clayton
2008 -
2009 -
A Serious Man

Based on these and my above comments, you may very well be able to extrapolate my favorite movies in many of these years.

Please share some of your second-favorite movies in the comments!

* A tip-of-the-hat to fellow Grinnellian Adam Kempenaar and his cohost Matty Robinson at Filmspotting for making me aware of the site.

** I realize I'm making a false equivalence of community-proclaimed favorite and "best," but that's unfortunately how Flickchart, at least, describes it. The IMDB at least just calls it "Top 250 as voted by our users."

*** Caveats:
1. Remember, these are in terms of "movies I enjoy and hold as favorites," not "movies I think are 'better' movies."
2. Several of my yearly lists aren't really settled yet.
3. Flickchart defines the release dates of some end-of-year Oscarbait movies as being the beginning of the next year. Thus they call There Will Be Blood, for instance, a 2008 rather than 2007 film.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Marriage Equality in NY

I know you can't swing a dead cat on the internet today without hitting this clip of NY State Sen. Savino, but it is such a good speech that if one of you few who read this blog haven't seen it and watch it here, then the relink is worth it. As you may know, the NY legislature earlier this week voted to approve gay marriage in the state, as they have done twice before. Yesterday the state senate took up the measure. Sadly, it was defeated, 38-24.

Two of the more interesting reactions I've read to the vote are:

Here, a good overview of the vote and the background to it from Gay City News. I guess a number of Republicans had privately expressed their support for marriage equality. Not a single Republican voted for it. And several of the nay-voting Democrats have benefited greatly from gay support. As Andrew Sullivan notes, all but one (the Democratic Pentecostal minister from Brooklyn) of the Nay votes did not say a second word about their vote on the floor.

Here, where DougJ at Balloon Juice, a Democratic resident of a Republican-represented district of Upstate NY, expresses his confusion about why his otherwise gay-friendly Senator would vote against this. He correctly points out that fighting equality isn't just socially backward; it's economically backward.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Annotated Beukemix, 2009

Liner notes! As usual, the links are to mostly-representative versions of each song, which may not be the exact version in the mix. And the visuals may just be somebody's World of Warcraft interpretation of the song. Be forewarned.
HS = Horn section
HC = Hand claps

1. The Underdog – Spoon
I don't understand how this wasn't the opening track on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The pounding opening track demands that you batten down the goddamned hatches, because here comes the album. (HS, HC)

2. Après Moi – Regina Spektor
It doesn't feature any of her trademark glottal stops and has less vocal bending than some of her songs. But it starts with just her and the piano and adds instruments, to a chamber ensemble at midsong and a full orchestra at the climax. And it's in three languages (including a refrain in her native Russian)! Sold! The xylophone bits sound very Saint-Saëns/Danse Macabre. (HS)

3. Watching The Detectives – The New Standards
Elvis Costello's original version of this song was spooky in its own way (thanks mostly to the backup vocals), but this cover is darker and more menacing. I know that the song has a meta-narrative to it, that the "she" who is watching the detectives is doing so on TV, but this version makes it sound more like she is a character in Twin Peaks. Cellophane-wrapped, indeed. The New Standards are a Twin Cities jazz combo made up of Chan Poling of The Suburbs (and Mr. Eleanor Mondale), John Munson from Semisonic & Trip Shakespeare, and Steve Roehm on the vibes. They've released two albums of pop music covers that I stumbled upon in the last days of 2008. They are excellent. (HC)

4. Ulysses – Franz Ferdinand
Another fine, clockwork beat from Franz Ferdinand. Seems to be more James Joyce than The Odyssey, although of course the former was informed by the latter. (HC)

5. I Feel It All – Feist
After hearing her on The Current for a couple years, I finally listened to The Reminder, and really liked it, in particular this song and 1234. I think 1234 went into the mix cd penalty box at some point in the past year, so I went with I Feel It All. (HC)

6. It’s Not My Birthday – The Fluid Ounces
Easily the best song on a They Might Be Giants tribute album called Hello, Radio.

7. Behind Blue Eyes – The Who
I always liked this song, but I learned to love it playing the drums on it in Rock Band. Keith Moon gets to sit quietly for several minutes as the song slowly builds, and then has a minute-long frenzy, and then stops.

8. Five Years – David Bowie
My favorite Bowie songs, from before he went to Berlin and shouted at microphones from the other end of a concrete room, are cinematic and emotionally exhausting. Like this one. Here are two excellent live versions: Bowie on TV in 1972, and with the Arcade Fire in 2006.

9. Use Me – Bill Withers
This year I joined the horn section of an R&B band. The band played this song, but it was one of only a few in our repertoire without horns. So why pick this one? The riff and the drum rim knocks at each chorus would be enough, but what puts this song over the top is the hand claps. There are three of them, and they occur once. The only song I know of with more effectively restrained use of hand claps is Elvis Costello's "Welcome to the Working Week," which has two, right at the end of the song. (HC)

10. Boombox – The Lonely Island ft. Julian Casablancas
This is the only really funny song off the Lonely Island's album that hasn't already been an SNL Digital Short. My favorite line occurs at the end of the bridge. (Not counting the drum-machine hand claps on this one.)

11. For Once In My Life – Stevie Wonder
The Robinson Caruso Organization rehearsed this song a couple times this summer. It may in fact now be in our repertoire (I've been on hiatus). I hope so, because it is amazing. (HS)

12. Flathead – The Fratellis
My friends Joe and Troy both repeatedly extolled the quality of the Fratellis. They're a Scottish band, practitioners of rock music that is fun and doesn't take itself too seriously (thanks, Allmusic!). I swear I'm not purposefully selecting songs that were in iPod commercials, and haven't even seen the one with this song. Honest. (HC)

13. Main Theme from Dark Of The Sun – Jacques Loussier
This was in Inglourious Basterds. It is good. (HS)

14. Reckoner – Radiohead
This song, especially the a capella break, stunned me into putting down the sandwich I was eating to give it my full attention. And I like sandwiches.

15. All My Friends – Franz Ferdinand
This summer, Pitchfork put together a list of the Top 500 songs of the '00s (with additions expected at the end of the year). The original of this song, by LCD Soundsystem, was #2 on the list (between Outkast's B.O.B. at #1 and M.I.A.'s Paper Planes at #3, both songs on past Beukemixes). I prefer the Franz Ferdinand cover, which was a b-side to the original's single.

16. Hey Bulldog – The Beatles
When The Beatles: Rock Band was released in September, this was the only song in the game I didn't know. It was also the first song the game selected for me to play. It's off of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, and one of only two songs original to that album that are worth a damn (the other is "All Together Now."). I actually like the edit that the game makers made to the song: near the end, when McCartney yells "Quiet! Quiet!" the song ends immediately instead of fading out.

17. I Cut Like A Buffalo – The Dead Weather
This is the third distinct band featuring Jack White whose songs I've put on Beukemixes. He could've gotten on last year's for his duet with Alicia Keys if their song from "Quantum of Solace" hadn't sucked.

18. While You Wait For The Others – Grizzly Bear
Heard this on the Current. It's bass-heavy and atmospheric, and thereby right up my alley.

19. You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute – Flight of the Conchords
My favorite song from the second season of FOTC (although Too Many Dicks On The Dance Floor and Demon Woman come close, too). In an interview, Brett describes the song thusly: "It was just doing a song like 'Roxanne,' but it's got a judgmental—it makes a lot of assumptions about the profession. Singing a song about prostitution, like 'I'll stop you from being a prostitute with this song.'"

20. Heaven Can Wait – Charlotte Gainsbourg ft. Beck
I added this to the mix last night after seeing the video on Andrew Sullivan's blog. The lyrics sound like classic Beck, and come to think of it, the visual oddities, which I guess are all actually culled from internet art images, could have also been taken from lines crossed out in the margins of Beck's notebook ("pancake astronaut skating on burgers"?). (HS)

21. My Lover’s Prayer – Otis Redding
Being in Robinson Caruso has deepened my appreciation for the output of Stax Records in general and Otis Redding in particular. I first sought out this song after hearing it on the Sopranos years ago. Over Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law was spinning songs on his laptop, this one popped up, and I decided it would be a fine way to end the mix. (HS)

Horn Sections: 6
Hand Claps: 5
Horns win!