Archive for December, 2004

More award winning editorials from the NY Times

The latest David Brooks column continues the awards for the year’s great essays. They are not linked in his article this time. I will include links to the ones I could find below. So far, I have read only the Gladwell one on drug costs in the United States versus everywhere else. He makes some good points although the essay lacks some analyses I would like to see. Americans tend to favor new drugs that cost more than they do elsewhere while older drugs cost less in the U. S. I had a hard time gathering how those tendencies balance.

“Holland Daze” by Christopher Caldwell

“World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win” by Norman Podhoretz

“A Fighting Faith” by Peter Beinart

“Victory in Defeat” by Neal Ascherson

“High Prices” by Malcolm Gladwell

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Michael M. on December 28th 2004 in General

Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

I looked at Zulkey today, now yesterday, and found an interview with Jason Trachtenburg of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. I remember seeing the Conan episode mentioned in it. I caught the show at Mad Art Gallery on November 1.

The show was great fun if not for exactly the reasons most shows are. Some parts were straight funny or clever. Others were terribly amusing for how annoying or awkward they were. Jason is a jet engine. He talked nearly the whole time. He talked too fast. Sometimes he would not be quiet. He would harp on jokes that were losers with the crowd. Everytime he changed from keyboard to guitar, he said, “Now let’s turn things over to our guitarist,” and vice versa. People were noticeably pained after a few times. Their annoyance was gloriously hilarious. I looked over to see the exasperation on my friend’s face several times. When we talked about it on the drive after, she downplayed it. Maybe I overestimated. It was plainly evident in plenty of others. Some people in the audience enjoyed it, probably the children who got to their siblings through annoyance. Others were transported backward to the other end of such a relationship. What or whether only children feel is beyond me.

In a particularly fun segment, the band stopped playing music for questions and discussion. Jason challenged Beatle Bob to a Beatles trivia competition. The crowd asked the questions, quite difficult ones, and whatever Beatle Bob’s faults, he demonstrated great knowledge of his eponymous band. Jason did not do too badly, but he talked about his poor performance then and for the rest of the show. He punctuated every pause with how he should have known better than to challenge Beatle Bob or how he knew the answer, but could not quite summon it. It was devilishly funny, not exactly schadenfreude, but something akin both from his struggling and the crowd’s reactions.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the show came when the floor was opened for questions. Someone went on the attack against Beatle Bob and asked what radio station employs him. Evidently, Bob is notorious for lying to visiting musicians to get admission and merchandise. Sometime during this period, Bob told a story about tricking a door guard with a story that he was with a band to sneak into a TFSP show at SXSW. The crowd split over the question. A few people booed, and somebody shouted, “Leave him alone!” Others appeared anxious to hear an answer. The shouters won. No answer came. I learned a little more about the mysterious figure of the Saint Louis concert scene.

Rachel is a fine drummer and a darling. She answered a few audience questions about herself and drumming articulately, especially for a middle school aged girl. Her stage reactions, ranging from excellently timed interjections in the banter and gags to seemingly genuine expressions of rolling eyes or impatient waiting, were fun and charming. I wish she had a regular gig in town. What a cool girl!

I realized that I hardly mentioned the music. It is serviceable. I would buy another ticket, but not a CD.

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Michael M. on December 27th 2004 in General, Live, Music

I do like Garden State.

I just saw a commercial for Garden State‘s DVD release on Fox. I hope Zach Braff has more personal projects. I think a friend of mine from home might know him from college, but I have not asked. While chasing tangents, I enjoyed the music. The Postal Service version of “Such Great Heights” is much better than he Iron and Wine one. The song is I-IV-V and key of C as I found sitting with my guitar, making it a boring acoustic song. The electronic version adds much. I saw a good interview on the web with the members of the Postal Service discussing how they composed songs by correspondence, hence the name. The music throughout the movie draws well from modern popular music.

I really enjoyed the movie except for a few aspects. It left me in pensive mood. The psychiatry in the movie clashes a little with what I remember for psychiatry class. The lack of religion in the movie is remarkable. Endurance is a welcome message of the movie. Religion seems worth mentioning in that context even if the characters are not people of faith. Braff spoiled the symbolism of the abyss by having his characters comment on it. There is a magic to unspoken communication, and he ruined it then. Does Sam represents salvation in herself versus a partner with whom he should continue their relationship because he has found the fortitude to try? Natalie Portman herself was wondeful. However much the distinction makes sense, the movie errs toward the first possibility. Individual people never respect such line drawing, though. Why should I demand it of movie characters?

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Michael M. on December 27th 2004 in General, Movies

I do not like The New Yorker.

The New Yorker is attitude exceeding content. This review of the The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker fits well with “The Other Sixties,” one of the essays featured in the David Brooks column I blogged yesterday. Lamentation of demise of popular American high culture holds appeal. The seduction of the idea might far exceed its truth, though. I was not there. My parents did not even know each other in the early 1960s. I rarely read The New Yorker or anything. It usually sits underneath Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly when I do sit to read magazines. My rankings might be peculiar for my demographic group. I know at least one New Yorker subscriber who knew nothing of Harper’s until I mentioned my preference for the latter. Maybe that part is just one upmanship by me.

I always feel suspicious when anyone talks about past glory or current decadence. That skepticism extends to The New Yorker. The fact that I am not a New Yorker also plays into my feelings. The tension of Mississippi and everywhere else in the world matters. Notably, Harper’s was edited by Mississippian Willie Morris during one of its runs. My parents gave me Terrains of the Heart for Christmas. I rarely feel the tension between New York and everywhere within the text itself when reading The New Yorker. The linked review discusses the cartoons in terms of how ridiculous the educated elite can be and the twisted pleasure of self mockery. The people whose ridicule is more honest hardly make a footnote. They are occasional good story subjects. Good story subjects seem less likely to make it into the magazine as discussion participants. I imagine that many of the contributors and workers hail from distant regions, but I get the feeling that they all were baptized in the Hudson first.

Is there a sweep toward open discussion brewing? Is the blogosphere playing a role? I, a science student, regularly read the blog of a high school friend who now studies theology. I doubt that I would ever read the fundamentalist parallels to Harper’s or The New York Times, whatever they are. Enough people are complaining about smarmy carping for something good to happen.

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Michael M. on December 27th 2004 in General

NY Times Christmas treasures

David Brooks’ column features links to several essays. I enjoyed “Faculty Clubs and Church Pews” by William Stuntz, an evangelical Christian Harvard law professor. I am only part way through one of the others. For all the religiosity of TBN on television, I enjoyed some Josh McDowell segments. (I also enjoyed the laying of hands and the carrying of refrigerators, but for other reasons.) Stuntz argues that evangelical Christians should engage in the wider public intellectual community and that the academic elite should take a more open approach to viewpoints from beyond the horizons from the ivory tower. My experience at the academy often reveals terrific, even ridiculous ignorance about Christianity. I heard bad ideas about Roman Catholicism and evolution. It is as if they do not know how to google religious topics.

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Michael M. on December 25th 2004 in General

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from its wee hours. I am headed to the land of Nod after midnight mass. In the daytime, we will celebrate with the extended family. My family gave me some good looking books and CDs that I look forward to enjoying and possibly blogging, and they seemed to like my gifts. I hope you, reader, have fun holidays.

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Michael M. on December 25th 2004 in General

Christmas on the way

I am enjoying doing very little of anything at home with my family. Today we had lunch at Nyla’s Burger Basket, famous as Britney’s local favorite. The owner certainly likes Britney. The walls feature plenty of pictures and posters. We all had hamburgers. Next time I will try the fish. I would like to eat beignets before leaving.

Nothing will continue tomorrow. We will head to Clem on Christmas Day. I have not seen any extended family since last Christmas. It ought to be a nice day.

On the disappointing side, the weather has turned cold. I wore shorts on Wednesday, and it was about 70. Now it is freezing. The forecast call for continued cold over the weekend. I probably will leave before it is warm again. I had looked forward to a respite from the chill of Saint Louis.

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Michael M. on December 23rd 2004 in General


I spent Saturday running a few errands. I returned my crummy paper shredder to Wal-Mars and then bought a new one the next day on sale at OfficeMax. I became more conscientious about personal information since an identity theft a few years ago. Then I went to see the new Apple Store Saint Louis Galleria. The 20″ iMac is nice. As anyone would expect, the mall was crowded on the last weekend before Christmas.

Then I saw Lightning in a Bottle, a blues concert documentary, at the Tivoli. On the whole, it was very boring. There were some good moments. I feel ambivalence about the blues on the whole. The series on PBS last year left me with similar feelings.

Now I am headed home. Writing while riding down Interstate 55 is fun. I look forward to a few days of family and relaxation. After the cold turn in Saint Louis, the warmth of the sunny South is welcome, too. I will wear shorts as many days as possible.

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Michael M. on December 21st 2004 in General

John Hurt, Scissor Sisters and Apple Store

This John Hurt is a person, not a sentence. I had it on my mind for a few years to listen to his recordings. 1928 Recordings was a terrific library find. Although his music, life and career parallel many blues stories, I found something new. His guitar style shares much with ragtime or stride, and his voice is high and sweet. Accounts I found portray him as a slight, gentle man. The songs include familiar folk songs and his original compositions. The lyrics follow some fun trends. Some are double entendre; others are religious. I have to stop by the library to borrow some additional CDs I requested.

I saw the Scissor Sisters last night at the Pageant. It was a fun show. They were entertaining and thoroughly raunchy. I feel like their show will gain steam with time as they develop more showmanship. The show is already a spectacle. I think they have room for more.

The Apple Store Saint Louis Galleria grand opening is today. I plan to see the store later this afternoon while running errands. An iPod was going to be my big Christmas present. With MacWorld coming soon, I probably will wait to see what new products Apple announces.

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Michael M. on December 18th 2004 in General, Live, Recorded

Adult Swim and Brazil

Some friends from work got me to start watching Adult Swim. I highly recommend it. The wonder of MythTV lets me catch the shows without wrecking my sleep schedule any worse than I already do. Sunday night included the Sealab 2021 episode I have been waiting to see. Marco and Debbie sing “Aguas de Marco” at the end. I saw the commercial with the song several times before learning about the show. The song is available for download at the Adult Swim downloads page, but it is not the full song.

The theme song is available there, too, or here at the song page of Calamine, the band who wrote and recorded it. The dedicated fan site Pod-Six has a music page with these songs and more.

Hearing “Aguas de Marco” reawakened my ignorant and stumbling Brazilian music search. I found the self-titled Bebel Gilberto album at the library on my walk home. The “Baby” remake seems to be the only song I already knew. I looked for the Os Mutantes version, but I found no Os Mutantes CDs. Tropicalia Essentials, a compilation including another Os Mutantes song and another version of “Baby,” is in the catalog. Maybe I will get it next.

Even though I understand very little of the lyrics, I enjoy them. It was clear that the “Aguas de Marco” lyrics begin with a little list even though I could pick out little more than “pedra” and “caminho.” Babelfish translations, although goofy, let me get both the gist and the individual words even if they obfuscate the levels in between. There are some handy extensions for Firefox for translation. My g-g-g-grandfather immigrated from Portugal or maybe the Azores. Such a tiny fact is enough for my imagination to fly. The music itself makes me want a guitar with catgut strings.

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Michael M. on December 14th 2004 in General, Music, Recorded

66 pound tumor

A Boing Boing story points to an article about a 66 pound tumor. Wow. It was not malignant. I think the patient should be in good shape. Wow.

The other good one was on the sensory homunculus. My graduate student softball team was the Mighty Homunculi. We had some great jerseys designed by a classmate. They featured a similar figure with a huge bat and a huge glove.

My own life has consisted of heavy doses of lab and relatively little else. Lab has been good except that it made me miss frisbee. Experimental science is just that way. Now I need to buckle down and thoroughly analyze my data.

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Michael M. on December 13th 2004 in General

Confocal microscopy and science education

I am using a confocal microscope for the first time in my life. There is nobody here as clueless as I about using one, and I now wonder how I have worked here so long without performing a single scan. So far, it has gone surprisingly well. I made these slides at the end of October and did not examine them until today. I found more cells than I can image. My inexperience at spotting good cells probably has some negative consequences, but I still had a good time.

The Young Scientist Program neuroscience teaching team is heading to a local school tomorrow afternoon. I will join them for the first time even though I should have participated long ago. It ought to be fun. We will run demonstrations for the students. It has been a long time since I have entered a school classroom.

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Michael M. on December 7th 2004 in General

Week and weekend

Last week started with the same bang that will conclude this one. I expect some more long days at the end of this week. They were fairly productive, and I think this set of experiments will be busier.

My attempt to go to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Friday failed. The concert was at 10:30 AM instead of the usual 8 PM. With my plans shattered, I went to the school holiday party and managed to salvage some fun from the evening.

The winter has crushed many of my outdoor activities. Saint Louis winters are too cold for me. Coed flag football came to a fun conclusion last week. We lost in the semifinal round. The other team just beat us although we played a good game. We played on artificial turf. I never had before. The weather was freezing. I found ice in my shoelaces when I took off my cleats at the end. I made my share of the mistakes although I was happy to catch a pass.

Saturday frisbee was much better. For early December, the weather was marvelous. Everyone was in shorts after a little while. The sun was very low in the sky. Eyefuls of sunshine blinded me several times when I turned to look for the frisbee. One time I only noticed the frisbee as it hit my left hand. Most others, it simply disappeared. I am very fortunate to have found the group. Everyone is fun and relaxed. The games are inclusive. A few players are very good. I am slowly learning to throw a reasonbly good forehand. We spent nearly three hours out there. I was good and tired by the end, and I was a little sore for the past couple of days.

Saturday nights, KWMU features some excellent radio programs. The tail of American Routes was good. World Cafe had a few alt country tunes that I did not recall hearing before. Wilco‘s “Hummingbird” and the Jayhawks‘ “Blue” were highlights. I might have heard a little of “Hummingbird” before. The Beatles’ influence is almost too great. “Blue” is made by the harmony. I tried to play it on guitar. The chords I found seem off just a little. I wish I had a RadioSHARK, a Mac and an iPod to keep me from missing the shows. MythTV does not support radio time-shifting so well right now, but I just found MythFM. It looks abandoned.

The Triplets of Belleville soundtrack has dominated my listening lately. “Attila Marcel” and “Jazzy Bach” are my favorites. The French obsession with lyrics seems much less than the American one. I eventually found lyrics, and the Google translation was good enough to get the gist. Is there more Beatrice Bonifassi available? My attempts to find more about her music have been mostly unsuccessful. I know that Benoit Charest is her husband, and the library has no other listings for either. I read that she performed the song at the Academy Awards, but I have not found an audio or video recording. The movie should have won.

Some Popeyes have spicy strips. I found them at the one on Gravois a month or so ago. Neither the Kingshighway or Manchester location seems to have them. The website lists them. They are a weaker substitute for Cajun Nuggets. I sent a request to bring back Cajun Nuggets. Despite telling everyone in Saint Louis who does not run away about the wonders of Popeyes, I do not think I have made a single convert. Most people cannot understand how to “unleash the awesome.”

I began the big task of cleaning up my place after months of neglect. I managed to strip a gear in my paper shredder before finishing. It looks irreparable, so I will have to buy another. I used all the hanging file folders I bought filing the piles of paper I had built around the living room. Maybe I can reach a presentable stage before the end of the year.

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Michael M. on December 6th 2004 in General, Music, Recorded

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.