I don’t watch much TV. (And, no, it’s not because I feel snobby and superior or that TV is beneath me. I’m sure the shows you love are wonderful, really. I’m just hoping to reduce the percentage of my waking life spent staring at screens, not increase it.) In the past 10 years, I’ve really only glommed on to two programs: Arrested Development (which I hope no crabwalk.com reader needs to be told is the greatest use of moving-picture technology in recorded human history) and, this fall, Mad Men.
Mad Men, for those unaware, is a funny drama set in the offices of a Manhattan advertising firm in 1960. It’s fundamentally about the transition from the button-down ’50s to the revolutionary ’60s. That and great period atmosphere. And smoking, and three-martini lunches. The actors are all-around fabulous, and in great Eisenhower-era clothes. (The show also features January Jones, who may well be the most beautiful woman I’m not currently dating. And ladies, you get plenty of eye candy too, primarily in the form of hunky leading man Jon Hamm.)
Anyway, I mention all this because (a) reruns of the first season start in mid-January on AMC, (b) there will be a DVD, probably around the same time, and (c) Rich Sommer, the actor who plays the most likable of the testosterone-laden office boys (and lighting the cigarette above), has a blog.
Pretty interesting Authors@Google talk by official genius George Saunders. (You do know about the @Google talks, right? In which people of note or accomplishment — novelists, journalists, politicians, techies — speak at Google HQ and the results are recorded for free Interwebs distribution? An excellent way to waste a few hours.)
I’m not a Saunders obsessive (and he does inspire those), but he’s a very smart guy and a funny writer. Here’s one quote (about 10 minutes in) that meant something to me, as someone about to go spend three weeks reporting in Africa. He’s talking about his first real journalistic assignment, when a magazine sent him to the bizarro futureland of Dubai and told him to write something interesting. He had some rough ideas on what to do, but he didn’t want to get too constrained.
Before you go on a trip like that, as a writer, you’re anxious, because you don’t want to screw it up….for a writer, and I suppose for any creative person, the anxiety takes the form of massive conceptualizing on the front end — you want to know exactly what you’re gonna do before you do the trip. So for me the thrill was to have this sort of package story…and to go there and see the way it’s disrupted in reality. [Emphasis mine.]
A good lesson for me, at least, and I suspect other folks too — create a mental story line, yes, but search primarily for ways it’s wrong. I think that’s an excellent way to work in cases where your knowledge base is small (which it necessarily is in any parachute foreign correspondence).
Reminded me a bit of this Robert D. Kaplan piece from a few years back. (“The best writing, literary or journalistic, occurs under the loneliest of circumstances, when a writer encounters the evidence firsthand without anyone of his social, economic, or professional group nearby to help him filter it, or otherwise condition his opinions.”
Here’s the essay Saunders reads at the end.
While I’m linking Authors@Google videos, I’ll also recommend Friend of Crabwalk Rolf Potts, who has his usual sound advice. He also had a nice piece recently on his purchase of some prairie land in Kansas — plus this accompanying slideshow.
I’ve got 52,146 songs in iTunes, so for me the best source of undiscovered musical pleasures is shuffle, which often uncovers songs I’ve never heard before. Such is the case with my favorite song of the hour, “No You Can’t Take Them,” by The Clouds. (Free MP3!)
The Clouds aren’t really a group — they’re a project of an Indiana artist named Stuart Hyatt who, in 2004, traveled to York, Alabama and decided to turn the mostly black town of 2,800 into one big band, bringing random citizens into the studio to record what he called “avant gospel.”
You’ll hear the classic elements of Irwin Chusid-style outsider music, plus a lovely sort of light, airy pop tone. The vocals are a line of kids describing the things most important to them, a list that includes an uncle, a clarinet, a chicken, and a cell phone. (The lyrics are the town’s sixth graders’ responses when asked what they would want to take to a desert island.) But the scene stealer is whoever sings the chorus, which starts out each time with a gloriously nasal, helium-filled “Noooooooo!”
Basically, this song is like a big hug, from the 1974 cast of The Electric Company.
Memo to Jamie Aron, AP Dallas sports writer:
Point 1: Seriously, get a new schtick to describe the voice of Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson:
“When [former coach Don] Nelson returned, he realized his players were responding to Johnson’s Cajun twang better than his Midwestern tone.”
“Johnson came away from a film session with some raspiness to his Cajun twang.”
“The answers will come not from their billionaire owner or their German superstar, but in the Cajun twang of their coach, Avery Johnson, aka ‘The Little General.’”
Point 2: Avery Johnson does not have a Cajun twang.
First, Avery is from New Orleans, where they speak with a completely different accent than Cajuns do. New Orleans accents sound like Brooklyn shipyards of the early 1900s more than than they sound like Cajuns — who live more on rural prairie land over 100 miles away, with a big honkin’ swamp separating them. While the popular imagination thinks of New Orleans culture as “Cajun culture,” they’re really quite separate — each lovely in its own way, but different. The only things Cajun about New Orleans are the signs put up for tourists in the French Quarter.
Second, Avery is black. Cajuns are the descendants of white Frenchmen kicked out of Canada 250 years ago. There is no definition of the word under which Avery would qualify as Cajun. And even many blacks who do (unlike Avery) come from the Cajun part of the state resist being lumped in with “Cajun culture.” See, for instance, this NYT article on two black groups (Creole Inc. and the Un-Cajun Committee) who aim to differentiate themselves from Cajuns:
”Almost all you hear is Cajun, Cajun, Cajun,” said Adofo Harmon, the Lafayette tax accountant who founded the committee, which claims several dozen members, all blacks. Among them are some top officers of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. ”I’m not a Cajun, never had any of my ancestors intermix with them or anybody else,” Mr. Harmon said. ”I’m all African descent, and I’m insulted.”
Third, Avery just doesn’t sound Cajun. He sounds weird, but not Cajun weird. This is Avery:
This is a strong Cajun accent:
Best sentence in this pretty good NYT profile of Mike Huckabee:
A man who looked like Dick Cheney did a sedate version of the Chicken with his wife, who also looked like Dick Cheney.
It’s a bit late, but here’s a great joint interview in New York with Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, the two ’70s Harlem drug kingpins portrayed in American Gangster. (Lucas = Denzel Washington, Barnes = Cuba Gooding, Jr.)
Great Michael Lewis piece in Portfolio on fellow south Louisianian Blaine Lourd — although, actually, it’s about index funds and the efficient market hypothesis. But not many people would want to read a piece on index funds and the EMT, so there’s lots of other fun stuff mixed in.
(For what it’s worth, the official position of crabwalk.com is pro-EMT, pro-indexing, anti-active management, and pro-DFA, the financial advising firm that gets mentioned prominently in the piece. I’m pro-DFA (a) because I think the Fama-French model is correct and (b) I like to imagine it’s actually the NYC dance-punk label DFA that’s doing the investing.)
I did my once-a-year check on my stocks last night and, if anyone’s interested in the crabwalk.com Way of Investing, I’ll be heading into 2008 with FUSEX, VEMSX, FSIIX, VWO, IFSM, VBR, and EFV. All are the sort of low-cost, broad-asset-class index funds Lourd would approve of. (The first three of those aren’t my ideal choices, but they’re the best indexing instruments available in my 401(k), which is where most of my savings rest. They end up skewing my portfolio a bit more large-cap and a bit more growth-over-value than I’d like, but not by too much.)
By the way, this Michael Lewis interview is one of the best in the @Google series — he’s much more open and engaging than most. Also useful if you want to hear what an unreconstructed New Orleans accent sounds like. (UPDATE: It appears that Lewis gave two different lectures at Google and I linked to the wrong one; I meant this one. I don’t mean to say the other one is a bad talk, just that I haven’t watched it.)
A new album from American Music Club — the band whose track inspired the name of this here web site. New lineup — the two essential AMCers, Mark Eitzel and Vudi, are still there, but the rest of the band is new, members of L.A. band The Larks. (Who sound…competent, if uninteresting.)
AMC was once my favorite band in the world, circa mid-’90s, and after a decade of blah solo releases, they reunited for the surprisingly excellent Love Songs for Patriots in 2004.
And there’s an MP3: “All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco.” It’s…eh. A little poppy and light for my taste, sort of 60 Watt Silver Lining-era stuff. If that’s what the rest of the album is like, it’d be a shame, I think — I loved the return to a rougher, fuller, dark sound on Love Songs — but Mark’s earned the right to make the album he wants, I guess. (Quoth Mark: “I did a tour with Spoon a few years ago, and played a bunch of old American Music Club songs, and they were dark. I just don’t think I’m in that mood anymore. I like that The Golden Age is loose and upbeat.”)
Mark’ll be touring (sans AMC, but with Will Johnson and Vic Chesnutt, among others) this fall — stops in Boston Feb. 14 and Denton Feb. 23. Bonus video of Mark playing “Sleeping Beauty” in fine voice on TV in Ireland:
There’ll be no more Moon Handbook South Pacific, the author is sad to report. Sales of the 8th edition are less than 40 percent of those of the 6th edition. The blame goes to the Internet (i.e. people who believe they can get all the travel info they need online) and to the new guidebook megalith, the Lonely Planet empire, which has evolved from scrappy backpacker underdog to the field’s dominant force.
When I first started traveling overseas, in the late 1990s, I thought LP was best of breed — I typically brought two guidebooks on each trip, and the Lonely Planet was always the better of the two. (And for the record, I used the Moon in French Polynesia in 1999 and don’t remember being particularly impressed. Then again, I was pretty clueless back then.)
But in recent years, Lonely Planet guides do seem to have gotten slicker and less useful. In Zambia, the Bradt guide was much better; in Nigeria, the Rough Guide was much better. And check the crappy reviews of the Brazil LP. For Morocco, I’m trying the Rough Guide and the Cadogan.
For a few minutes last year, I planned on writing a travel guidebook for my native south Louisiana. Although the idea was eventually abandoned, in retrospect it fits well with my tendency to invest energy in industries of shrinking relevance (newspapers, literary fiction, etc.). Maybe I should start manufacturing buggy whips, or learning the art of VCR repair.
Oh hell yeah I owned this on vinyl. Bought from the Wal-Mart in Crowley, La., circa 1981. It was easily the most most punk think in my house. (To the extent that covers of Queen, the Cars, Tom Petty, and Billy Joel could be considered punk. And seriously, three Knack covers?)
Found while searching for something else: The best headline in New York Times history.
Dogs always make me think of Queens, too.
Not a bad first sentence either: “News just received from the Anglican minister at Moose Factory…”
This map indicates the incidence of UFO sightings across America, broken down by county. Darker areas mean more reports of strange cigar-shaped objects floating silently in the sky and, optionally, anally probing their observers. Lighter areas mean fewer.
There is only one conclusion to be drawn from this data: That the Cajuns of south Louisiana, who inhabit what is apparently the most UFO-free zone in America, are the nation’s most reasonable and logical people.
I don’t like Aesop Rock and their white-college-boy-rap fellow travelers as much as my alleged indie cred should dictate, but I dig this track (and its Halloween-inspired video). That would be head Mountain Goat John Darnielle on guest vocals (!) about three minutes in.
The trailer for Juno, coming out Dec. 14. There’s a non-zero chance it’ll end up being too mannered and self-conscious and grad-student’s-first-screenplay for it to be likable, but I’m hopeful. Great cast: ex-Arrested Developmenters Michael Cera and Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Rainn Wilson, and Ellen Page (who I just confirmed via Wikipedia is nearly 21 years old, thus rendering my total crush on her slightly less creepy).
A brief interview with Cera and Bateman, in which we are again teased with promises of an AD movie:
Got my passport renewed the other day. Apparently I’ve aged a bit over the past 10 years.
I’m sad to retire my battered old passport, my companion to so many wonderful places. This is a sacred document, the ne plus ultra artifact of my transformation from shy small-town Louisiana boy to shy small-town Louisiana boy who can sometimes convince employers to pay for him to go places!
I was kinda pissed when the feds returned it to me punctured haphazardly by four unartful punch-holes. I’ll miss its permanent curve, molded by countless days in my pocket or waist wallet. I’ll miss the way the plastic over my photo long ago bubbled away from the rest of the passport. Sniff.
Here, in chronological order, are the stamps I accumulated over the past decade: France (1998), French Polynesia (1999), Pitcairn Islands (1999), China (1999), Ireland (1999), Britain (1999), Germany (1999), China (2001), Japan (2001), Britain (2003), Zambia (2003), Nigeria (2005), Argentina (2005), Uruguay (2005), Chile (2005), Japan (2005), China (2005), Brazil (2006).
(From this list, it becomes clear that I travel a lot more in odd-numbered years. Nothing so far for 2007, though. Although have I mentioned I’m heading to Morocco for four weeks at the end of the month? I am headed to Morocco for four weeks at the end of the month.)
Also, have you seen the new passports the feds started issuing this year? On what used to be the tastefully uncluttered visa pages, it’s filled with the most over-the-top imagery you could imagine — huge bald eagles, noble farmers driving oxen, cowboys driving cattle, locomotives conquering the wilderness, a grizzly bear with fresh-caught salmon in its jaws. It’s like stumbling into an episode of Wagon Train. It just feels so…Colbert.
Joshua Benton is the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, among other things. Before that, he was a staff writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. (More.)
Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer. In many cases, they may not even be mine.