Friday, December 04, 2009

Best of the Decade - Albums

As another cross blog venture, my good pals at The Philosophy of Time Travel and LastBestAngryMan have invited me to participate in a number of top 5 lists as this decade draws to a close. We have very different musical tastes in terms of our favorite stuff, but I also think we all are willing to listen to a lot of different stuff so there is some crossover.

Lists like this are by their very nature completely subjective, but the point has always been to simply tell everybody they are wrong about everything.

5) Kid A by Radiohead

This album represents for me the height of Radiohead's greatness - better than everything that came before and much better than everything that has come since. They take their first steps here into really stretching into experimentation but still keep some pop hooks, and the result is just tremendous. Everybody knows at least one or two songs by Radiohead just from osmosis, but what is interesting is that all these years later, you still have a chance of hearing something from The Bends or OK Computer on your radio but very little chance of hearing anything from this album which surely must be their best.

4) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

This album is for Wilco what the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock must have been like for T.S. Eliot: once you produce something this good, how can you live up to it again? Keeping with that analogy, we still haven't seen Wilco's equivalent of The Waste Land. They are still making great music (and I just saw them in concert this year incidentally), but they've never been able to replicate the heights of fancy and genius they hit with this album early in the decade. That's not a knock against the band as few have ever hit heights like this. From the very beginning lyrics: "I am an American Aquarium drinker" you know you are going to get something a little bit different - but through it all it remains a coherent, sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful work that stands as something to be listened to from beginning to end.

3) Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Vol 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness by Coheed and Cambria

Rock Band was basically the greatest thing to happen to these guys in terms of popularity as the fantastic track "Welcome Home" from this particular album is featured in the game, and was also featured in the preview for the movie "9". But more than just that particular single, this is the 3rd album in a series of 4 that comprise an entire sci-fi rock opera by the group, telling a singular tale that, while often clumsy/impenetrable in terms of narrative, serves to tie the whole project together in a single thread. This 3rd volume is in my opinion the strongest with so many great tunes that stand alone, but in particular "Ten Speed (Of God's Blood and Burial)" and "Apollo I: The Writing Writer" rise to such bizarre heights of creativity in subject matter while at the same time keeping coherent metal hooks - it's just brilliant stuff all around. All 4 albums are terrific, but this one for me is the best of the project.

2) Takk.. by Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros stands alone in their own category of music making right now for me insofar as I firmly believe they are the most important band out there today. You could argue there are other bands that are better but the reason Sigur Ros is so essential is they are in the unique position of being legitimately popular. How this, by pop standards, weird group from Iceland became pop icons is completely lost on me but I'm totally okay with it because it really shows that all is not lost - people WILL listen to truly great music given the opportunity. If you had told me when Agaetis Byrjun was released that "Svefn-g-englar" would feature prominently on an episode of the TV show "V", I would've told you that was patently absurd. It was very difficult to choose between this album and () (also called "Two Sausages Kissing" in jest) only because () was probably more important for the band's development, but I've listened to Takk.. too many times not to make this the album I choose. I remember hearing Glosoli for the first time when I saw the band in concert - they were touring just before the release of Takk.. - and having my mind utterly blown. When I think of the Platonic model of "hope", I think of that song.

1) Lateralus by Tool

This is bar none my favorite band, and this is my favorite album by that band. I get it that Tool isn't for everybody (just people who know what they're talking about), but it is tough to find a musician anywhere who won't at least admit that these guys are all absolutely ridiculous when it comes to the technical talent on display at every instrument in this band. Perfect Circle is a nice project for Maynard and I enjoy them, but this is where Maynard's home is, and this is where he does his best work. It's amazing that this album came out in 2001 and nothing has come out that has been better, including Tool's own 10,000 Days which, while awesome, didn't quite hit the level of Lateralus simply because track for track there are absolutely no weaknesses on Lateralus. Perhaps the way I can most easily sum up the level of this band is to relay this story: after seeing this band in concert with one of my friends who is a musician, he simply turned to me and said "Well, that was intimidating." Indeed.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Chat Log

Some context for below - tonight the local minor league team, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, are having "Cowboy Monkey Rodeo Night", which involves monkeys dressed as cowboys riding on dogs.

This led to the chat below with a good friend:

me: tonight is awesome

  Cowboy Monkey Rodeo night + fireworks

  Monkeys in cowboy outfits riding dogs

Friend: shouldn;t they be called Dogboy Monkies?

me: Cowboy Monkey will lasso you good for suggesting this

  they don't round up dogs

  they ride them

Friend: yeah true

  what do they round up? Squirrels?


me: what they round up are good times

  Goodtimeboy Monkeys

Friend: now that would be illegal - making monkeys round up squirrels while riding dogs

  then - you feed the losing team to a shark

  THAT'S good times

me: I don't want to live in a country where you can't watch monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs herding squirrels tossing them to sharks

  and you can quote me on that

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


One of the many things that makes baseball the greatest sport in the world is that it represents stability - every March, players start training for April. Every April, thousands of fans show up for Opening Day at their respective ballparks, filled with the hope of possibility - even if their team is predicted to lose 100 games this year, it hasn't happened yet: everybody starts 0-0.

As the oft maligned former commissioner Bart Giamatti said: It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.

In other words, it appeals because there is so little about the game that ever changes. It is as familiar as the spring, as familiar as the sun rising and setting.

When Harry Kalas died yesterday, it surprised me that it hurt. It didn't seem to me at first like I had any right to really be affected: after all, I didn't know Harry personally. I never met the man. I was just a Phillies fan, one that probably took him for granted too often like many others, so used to him calling the games that it didn't even cross my mind that someday, he wouldn't be around to do it. Harry called every Phillies game of my entire life - his presence was as ubiquitous as the Phillies themselves, as baseball itself.

I stare out the window at what is a gloomy day here in Delaware, and I know the spring will come. I know that everyone will eventually move on, myself included, because baseball, like life, goes on.

But for right now, for this moment, Harry is gone, and with him the spring and the promise that both it and baseball bring. The promise they represent - that there are windows of opportunity in life where anything seems possible - for now seems to have disappeared.

The feeling will pass, as all things do, and no matter how much we might want things to stay the same, no matter how much we might want to turn on the game tomorrow night and hear Harry call it, comforted by the familiarity of it all, it won't happen. We learn to adjust.

Baseball represents that too, you know: the game may not change, but the people do. It's not a bad thing or a good thing, it just is.

Right now though, I just want it to feel like spring, the way it did on Sunday when the Phillies won and Harry called the game, and everything was exactly as I thought it should be on an afternoon in April - and now can't ever be precisely the same again.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

5 Most Anticipated Films of 2009

I absolutely love movies, but I dislike going to the movie theater. In the past 2 years I've seen maybe a half dozen movies in the theater, and very rarely will I go on a busy movie day (like a Friday night) if I go at all. I like a nice Sunday matinee, but really with TVs and DVD players being what they are, with all of the easy access we have to movies via Netflix, movie channels, TiVo, Netflix on TiVo, etc. it just seems kind of silly sometimes to go to a movie theater when I (personally) can be guaranteed to enjoy the experience at home. Going to the movie theater is not a sure good time, mostly because of the occasional rudeness of other movie-goers.

But sometimes you just can't avoid the hype and you find yourself unwilling to wait for the DVD release.

My buddies at LastBestAngryMan and The Philosophy of Time Travel agreed we would all post our top 5 most anticipated films of 2009. Here's the top 5 movies I'm most likely to see in the theater in 2009, which by proxy means they are the most anticipated:

5) 9 - This film will mark the real feature film directing debut for Shane Acker, who really cut his teeth doing animation with Weta during the Lord of the Rings films. Here's the deal with this one - Acker made a 10 minute or so short film around the concept a few years ago. The movie is embedded below. The film coming out in theaters this year is the whole story. The visual style is super cool and I'm always a fan of animation in all its incarnations.

Short film "9":

Feature Film Trailer, featuring a terrific song by Coheed and Cambria:

4) The Lovely Bones - There are two big reasons I'm looking forward to seeing this. Number one, the book is absolutely terrific and for me exceeded the critical hype. Number two, Peter Jackson is directing, and the material from the book is something I think he could prepare a feast with. No trailer available yet.

3) The Wrestler - This movie is technically out right now in the US but only under limited release. I check every weekend to see if it is out around Delaware but so far no luck. The number one reason I want to see this: I haven't seen a Darren Aronofsky movie yet that I haven't loved. I also have a soft spot in my heart for the material here because when I was a kid I was a huge fan of pro wrestling. There's a lot of Oscar talk swirling around Mickey Rourke's performance in this one, if that kind of stuff matters to you.

2) Public Enemies - It's a 1930s crime drama starring Christian Bale and Johnny Depp directed by Michael Mann. If you need any more explanation than that I have no idea what to tell you.

1) Watchmen - I'm worried about this movie. Really, really worried. There is a very good reason that Watchmen is the only graphic novel on Time's 100 greatest novels list: it is an absolute masterpiece. It is also really, really complex and has always seemed like it would be a nightmare to faithfully translate to the big screen. We already know that at least one key element (the Tales of the Black Freighter framing device) will not be in the movie. There are more and more reports suggesting that the ending has been changed. The director's original 3 hour cut was apparently loathed by the studio and who knows if it will survive tampering. The whole thing is a recipe for a colossal disaster.

But I had a lot of the same skepticism with Lord of the Rings, and boy was I completely wrong there. This easily gets #1 because it is probably the only movie I will definitely see this year in the theater, and that's because there's no way I'll be able to avoid it. A great deal of my friends love the graphic novel as much as I do, and I'll be unable to avoid discussions of this movie when it is finally out.

Hopefully they will be discussions about how we were totally wrong about all our concerns over the movie.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Peace Team

You don't need to know the ins and outs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to know that it's bad. In fact, it has been so bad for so long that whenever another bombing or act of terrorism is reported, it just seems to roll like water off a duck's back for most folks.

It says something when a story of cooperation is more unexpected and surprising than a story of people blowing each other up. It says something sad about the way things are there. But it also says something awe inspiring at just how far some people will go to try to change things, even on the tiniest of levels.


When you say "football", people from different parts of the world will think of different things. Most, of course, will think of what we call in America "soccer". In Australia though, they think of their own variation of "rugby" - Australian rules football.

In 2002, Australia hosted the first ever Australian Football International Cup. The idea was to promote interest in the sport in other countries by hosting a tournament that Australia itself would not participate in. It's the kind of thing I can't imagine America bothering to host - we'd want to win our own tournament, after all. But since Australia has the only professional league for their unique sport, it made sense to sit out this tournament because winning was almost guaranteed. Why not give other teams playing their sport in other countries a chance to compete and measure their talents?

The tournament was enough of a success that it was hosted again in 2005, and now it will happen a third time here in 2008. This year 16 teams from around the world will compete for the trophy, the most since the tournament started.

When you look at the list of teams competing, one jumps out at you: Peace Team.

A strange name for a side participating in a rough and tumble game.


In January of 2008, Australian football legend Robert "Dipper" Dipierdomenico, along with some other league representatives, presented the rules of the game to a room full of 100 young men. Out of that 100, 40 were selected to participate in a 3 day clinic to learn the basics of the game.

The unusual part of the story: these young men were a mix of Israelis and Palestinians, and the clinic was in Jerusalem.

Perhaps crazy enough was the idea of getting a team of men completely unfamiliar with the sport ready to compete internationally in just under 8 months.

But even crazier was the idea of trying to do it here, with these men.

The team faced complications trying to train that would be completely unheard of elsewhere. The coach's instructions needed to be translated to both Hebrew and Arabic. The team was shut out of their Israeli training facility for 4 days during a visit by President Bush when all Palestinians were denied access, including Palestinian members of the team. Team members received threats from both sides of the conflict, either enduring the usual hate from one side or being called "traitor" by the other. Palestinian team members needed to obtain work permits for every training session, sometimes traveling upwards of 4 hours through various security checkpoints.

The pressure was too much for a number of the players. Some of them, facing threats from their own friends and neighbors, left the team.

In spite of all of this, a few kept practicing. A few kept playing. In spite of the lack of a proper field (they played on soccer fields) with proper goalposts (they had none), they kept learning.

The first time the team had seen real goal posts was when they arrived in Australia a week ago.

They play their first match of the tournament today against Great Britain.


New Zealand and Ireland will be the favorites going into the tournament. The Peace Team will probably be lucky to win a single match.

But win or lose, they will do it together.

"Everyone knows the story in Israel and Palestine, the occupation, the killings, bombings, we came here to show the people, we came for the peace, we need the peace," says Palestinian ruckman Fares Switte.

In January, it's not likely Fares Switte knew what a ruckman was.

But then again, in January, the whole notion of a team like this was pretty unlikely too.


After the tournament is over, the players on the Peace Team will return to their normal lives. They will return to face the same strife and conflict they faced before they started playing together.

They might even return to find themselves reviled in their own homes.

But they'll return changed in this small way, knowing this simple thing: if we can play together, we can live together.


Note: For a tremendous introduction to the various factions and pieces in play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I can't recommend the game Peacemaker enough. It is easily the most engaging introduction I've ever seen, better even than any book I have read on the topic.

And yes, it has a Mac version.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympics, and Liquor

It's an ever shrinking world.

On the one hand it means we tend to fight a little more over resources that we all need.

On the other hand, it means we have a better opportunity than ever to learn to live with each other.

I'm a big fan of the Olympics. I'm talking about an event where we get to see sports that we probably won't see for another 4 years, but with a built in rooting interest. We root for our country. We root for the human interest stories. We root for the ideal that we can all, just maybe, get along for a couple weeks.

Of course the ideal is not reality. The Olympics are bringing some of China's questionable government practices out into the world spotlight. The games are sometimes overshadowed by stories of the conflict in Georgia.

In spite of these things, sport goes on. The beauty of sport as a fan is that, for the duration of the match, game, whatever, you aren't thinking about those things. It is not a good idea to ignore what goes on in this world. But it's not a bad thing to set it aside once in awhile.


Imagine you've got a tumor in your belly growing so large that it begins to push all of your internal organs, liver, intestine, kidneys... all to the sides of your body.

Imagine that the hospital that is trying to treat you has just been taken over by a group that is likely to kill you if they see you.

Imagine that it doesn't matter anyway, since the doctors have told you there is nothing they can do to save you.

Imagine you are two years old.

This boy exists, and he lives in Iraq, the child of a Sunni family whose hospital had been taken over by Shiite militia.

On the other side of the world, in Boston, someone hears of this, a wealthy, 85 year old liquor tycoon whose own son died of an incurable form of cancer.

The world is shrinking.

The elderly fellow from Boston pays for the young boy's family to fly to Jordan where there is a very dim hope of treatment with the tumor so far advanced.

The doctors in Jordan do not know what will happen, but it is the only hope.

It is not a miracle what happens next. A miracle would be something that defies all explanation.

I don't yet believe that acts of human kindness defy all explanation.


The pursuit of athletic excellence is an ideal, just like the pursuit of global peace. They may both be fleeting things sometimes, but that doesn't mean they don't occasionally exist, even if only in very small batches.

For just a few moments, when Michael Phelps breaks another world record, for a fleeting moment he is the pinnacle of athletic excellence.

For just a few moments, when a young Iraqi boy walks out of a hospital in Jordan after treatment paid for by a elderly man in Boston, they are world peace.

The world is shrinking. And it is not a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Big 3-0

Aaaaand we're back.

So as of today I am 30 years old. Things couldn't be better.

I've written before about what I think the advantages to getting older are and I still stand by those things. Bill Watterson once suggested that people who remember childhood as an idyllic time were probably never children, and that's a statement I agree with. It's not like being a kid was bad (it wasn't), but it's a pretty amazing (and sometimes scary) thing to have a modicum of control over your life.

I also maintain it is awesome to be able to have the authority to scold those younger than you are. Age is the type of completely arbitrary authority that just increases with every passing day. Just this morning I pulled into the parking garage at work and there was a young fellow blasting music out of his car. Just the fact that I could legitimately think to myself: "That young punk, what's he doing playing music at that volume this early in the morning" and actually have a small part of that thought be automatically accurate (the part about him being "young" compared to me, not necessarily the part about being a punk, he's probably a real swell kid, I mean after all he is arriving at work at 7:30 AM just like I am, probably during his summer vacation) is the type of thing that I find internally amusing enough to keep me in a good mood.

So, where have I been these past several months? Well, I haven't been doing anything particularly epic. Since getting married, Jules had been busy studying for the Delaware Bar Exam (a 3 day test which she finished taking last week, results in October) and I've been doing... whatever it is that I do.

And frankly that's what I LIKE doing. There was a time in the heady days of my youth (you know, like 8 years ago) where I would have been terrified of the notion of working a 35-40 hour a week job, settling in to some kind of routine. Now it's really what I enjoy most. Some of my best times are just relaxing at home talking to Jules, reading a book or watching baseball on the tube together. I'm a much more boring guy than I used to be, but I consider that to be a good thing.

So why haven't I been updating the blog then? What's the excuse? Well, there really isn't any. But I've been thinking during all those months I haven't been writing about what this blog is exactly. Is it a journal? Is it a blog about games? Shouldn't it have a theme of some kind?

And I've kind of decided that there are enough blogs out there that spend their time discussing games, and enough blogs out there that are just journals. There are enough blogs out there that complain and mock various things, and really I'm not as good at any of that stuff as they are.

So as of today, I'm going to try something new with the blog. I'm going to go for a general theme of optimism. A general theme that says "life can be pretty cool." That may still involve games that I think are fun and self-deprecating personal anecdotes and some of the other random stuff I throw up here... but the gist will be the type of kerfuffle that puts a smile on my face.

We'll see, maybe it will put a smile on yours. And if you got this far, thanks for not unsubscribing from this thing.