Tuesday, March 31, 2009

on the krispy kreme challenge.

One of my great friends, with whom I work, told me this weekend, as we were getting ready for our first basketball game of a new season (which we won! One victory for the perpetually winless team! This should be counted as the totality of our season) about this thing that he'd heard about on ESPN that morning, called the Krispy Kreme Challenge - a race that's popular at NC State from a bell tower that they have to a nearby (relatively so, at least - it's 2 miles) Krispy Kreme. The point of the race is to go the 2 miles from the bell tower to the Krispy Kreme, eat a dozen doughnuts, and race back to the bell tower. The winning runners, of course, do this in a ridiculously quick time. (As in, more quickly than I could run four miles without eating a dozen doughnuts in between. And I do consider myself a runner at this point. Sick.)

As I was watching the video he e-mailed a bunch of us (embedded below), I got to thinking: We could easily do something like this in ABQ. However, the combination of facts A) I don't want to be a merciless jockrider and, B) I'm proud of the work that my brother did with organizing his Earth Day bike ride led me to wonder: How long would one have to stick with this kind of idea before ESPN comes a'calling? Apparently for the KKC, it only took five years? Now, I'm not knocking anyone's commitment, because that's a hell of a thing to take under your wing when no one else is talking about it the way they are now, but, let's be honest - relatively, that's not a lot of time.

What can we do to capture the massive amount of goodwill that ABQ's built up insofar as our healthy population while still keeping an edge to it? I've talked previously of aping one of Portland's more famous rides but I'm not sure that's the kind of thing I'd stake my future name on. We could ride through the arroyos, but that's sure to be shot down by the more-responsible types. We already have the La Luz trail run which is amazing, don't get me wrong. But I'm looking for something a little more...quirky. Let's make this happen.

Monday, March 30, 2009

on asymmetric friendship.

Via @hv23 I got this great article on the state of digital friendships, the business relationship between Twitter and Facebook, and the ways in which those relationships are changing right now and how they'll continue to change. I think this is a great article that says a lot of intelligent things, but I want to say some things responding to it. First of all, let me be upfront here, I don't have a Facebook account and probably won't be getting one any time, much less any time soon, even though I fully acknowledge its important place in the digital world nowadays. However, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what it is and how people use it, mainly because I've been online for more than ten years now, I'm an active Twitter user, and I was on MySpace when MySpace was Facebook.

So, this whole idea of asymmetric friendship is a really cool one, but I wonder if perhaps it's not as real-world-based as the author imagines. The thing about real-world friendships is that they do require work. The whole theory of digital friendships and the non-reciprocation idea is that digital relationships aren't supposed to emulate real-world relationships too closely. First of all, I think it's been clearly established that people are tremendously different online than they are in the real world. I mean, that's an oldie but goodie at this point. But the fact that we're only now starting to realize that relationships can mirror in different ways, I think, might be a bad thing. I mean, granted, this is a different interface...didn't we realize how different? I think this is one of the first really cool steps that's taking us in new directions of what the Internet is actually going to become.

That being said, Twitter didn't invent the asymmetrical relationship. I know for a fact that LiveJournal's had it since its inception, and even played around with various terms for it at different times. At first there was just friends, which seems to be the curse of MySpace (and the way Facebook is currently operating). Then, there was lists of mutual friends, and friend of lists, all of which were customizable insofar as which ones you wanted to show. This, in retrospect, seems like an obvious move, and something that we all should have thought of, but it never bothered me when I was heavy into MySpace-ing, because A) I never thought about it, and B) I'm not sure how many people I'd want to become friends with (so to speak) that I wouldn't expect to friend me back. Even with the bands that I would eventually add, it was not just a nice thing to see them show up on my list, but it gave that feeling of community. So it's not like MySpace was totally in the wrong, and Oh My God, what were they thinking, or anything like that. It's just that, now, when we've seen the different model, it seems so obvious that this is the way it should have been the whole time.

This revisionism, however, is important to see as a digital-only relationship. There's no way that my real-world friendships could survive in the manner of my Twitter account, or even of this blog. I read some blogs that I'm interested in, but that doesn't mean that they read mine. I subscribe to some Twitter feeds that I'm interested in, but that puts no obligation on them to read or subscribe to mine. Obviously, this is the very meaning of the asymmetric friendship model.

Real life, however, is much more symmetrical. There has to be some kind of reciprocation with real-world friends, otherwise much of the relationship is lost. When a friend e-mails me to ask what's going on, I reply and ask them about their life, and it continues in turn. This, then, seems to explain why babies perpetuate babies: when one couple has a baby, and they continuously send out baby updates (the pictures, the e-mails, the cute videos, the cell phone pics, etc.), it turns the relationship of a real-world, normal, friendly relationship upside down. All of a sudden, one person is doing all the broadcasting, and others are doing nothing but receiving. It's the nth degree of having that friend who always needs someone to listen, but turns out to be a really crappy listener themselves. We're not surprised at that friend, but there's a reason most of us only have one; he or she upsets the balance of our expectations.

Thus, the bottom line for me: I'm interested in questioning what all this asymmetry is going to do to our real world relationships. If people come to accept and even embrace this digital model, will it become more tolerable in real life? Or, perhaps even more alarmingly, are we simply creating a new socially-higher class? Just like movie stars started their ascension in the 1940's due to the perceived distance between the screen (Hollywood!) and our small towns, will this new ratio effectively enable cult status? Surely, not everyone on Twitter is going to have exponentially more Followers than they Follow. Will these people (and there'll be plenty of them) turn into the new media? And despite the fact that there will be more of them than before, will that hegemony be a bad thing? Can we avoid what we seem to be overcoming, or is it just the beginning of a new cycle?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

on letters to the editor.

Almost every single letter to the editor that I've ever written has been published. This isn't bragging, but rather, I'm just trying to question, I wonder how many they refuse? Loyalists will recognize my question from a while back, but it's been picked up by the Alibi now. (I didn't even see it in print, but had to be told by one of my friends that it was in there. Thanks Pam!)

Check it out here or pick up a copy of last week's Alibi if they're still available to see my name in (the dimmest of) lights. Hahaha.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

on the odyssey years.

Quite a while back now, there was an interesting post on what this columnist is calling "The Odyssey Years" - it's a cliched enough concept, I'll grant you, especially in this economy (see, for example, the numerous stories TIME magazine has done on the phenomenon) but I thought that Mr. David Brooks did at least a couple interesting things in his spotlighting.

First of all, however, the story is basically claiming another spot in the traditional development cycle, and I think we can all agree that it's obviously so. Most of the young people that I know are either fully immersed in this stage, or have just recently passed though it. I'm really not sure if 'just' having a kid puts you past this stage, since the wandering (mentally, not always physically) parents are sort of en vogue right now. (This brings up a good question, though, insofar as how do we actually measure the progress through the stages of development? I mean, clearly, a person is [at least physically] done with being a teenager when he or she turns 20. However, the same cannot be said for the period of adolescence. Is a person still an adolescent if they can vote? Sometimes! What about when they can drink? Again, sometimes, most definitely the answer is yes. However, there are many cases of kids as young as 15 or 16 being in the post-adolescent stage. Frightening.) Regardless, as a young person at the tail end of this stage (I think) it seems clear that many of my contemporaries don't feel the pressure to do everything their parents did right now - even if that pressure still manifests itself just as strongly, just at a later date.

The good things about Brooks' article: First of all, he does a good job of stating a few things that might otherwise have value judgments attached to them. The fact of the matter is that more people live together now without being married. Depending on your viewpoint, you could see this as a bad thing (the crumbling values of America!) or you could see it as a logical reaction to the rising divorce rate (don't wanna get divorced? Stop getting married so soon!) - either way you cut it, it doesn't change the fact that it's happening. Additionally, it's good to see the digital world being remarked upon casually (a drop of Facebook here) without spending the whole article lamenting the fact that young people today don't value good penmanship.

The simple fact is that the world is changing in a rapid manner. This is most obvious when we look at the digital world, and it's been remarked upon by minds far greater than mine, so I won't spend time laying out the obvious ways in which first the Internet itself, and now social media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. are changing our lives. It's an easy game to fall victim to - pretending that we can tell how the future is going to be. But we cannot. All we can do is remark upon that passage of time and wait and see what those changes will transform our world into.

The generation that is coming to fruition now will be more connected (to each other!) than any generation of the past. They will feel more comfortable telling secrets and they will expect to know much more. What this will do to the world at large...will be an interesting development.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

on gran torino.

Spring Break is here!

The hallowed time that every teacher prays for as we progress through the Spring Semester, where student and teacher alike get a break from each other for a period of at least a week. We've been counting down the days amongst my friends and it's not much of a secret that the kids do the same. Spring Breaks means many different things to all of the different people I know - vacation or celebrating birthdays elsewhere or the more traditional approach - just getting wasted - but for me, the guy who hates to go anywhere, Spring Break has always been a great time to retreat for a while. I like to sit out in the sun, watch some basketball, catch up on all the work I have to do, and take care of any other business that I've been pushing off.

This Spring, that's meant taking in a few movies.

Gran Torino was getting a lot of press a while ago, and as always I'm late to the party, but that doesn't mean I don't have my own things to say about the cinematic experience. Clint Eastwood almost always does a good job and he continues that trend here.

The story concerns Walt, whose wife just passed way, and whose neighborhood is quickly going the way of reverse-gentrification. (Or is that, actual gentrification? These things get so confusing when we don't know who we're supposed to blame. Hah.) Walt's old school. I mean, like, crazy old school. Walt doesn't hesitate to sling racial slurs at people, and he basically sits on his porch all day, drinking PBR.

However, when rival gang factions culminate in a fight next door, Walt steps up and does the right thing (even though he doesn't do it because it's the right thing) and breaks up the melee. Because of the good things that he's done, the neighborhood feels a debt of gratitude toward him, and the walls start to break down. It's a great exploration of the psyche of someone stuck in his ways.

That being said, it's also a tough watch. It's extremely difficult to watch the hatred with which Walt has gone though his life. It inflicts every single detail of his life, from his children to his grandchildren, to even his deceased wife's opinion of him. Clint does a great job of showing all of this in every aspect of his acting job.

The editing, though, does leave a bit to be desired. There is some dialogue in the very beginning of the movie that seems more than a bit extraneous, shedding light on what the perceptive viewer will infer on his or her own. These sorts of mistakes are repeated semi-frequently throughout the movie, with Walt's sons often being used to mouth interpretations of events that we should have picked up on our own. This is, to be honest, the only real flaw that I found with the movie, though, so I guess I can't be all that disappointed.

Gran Torino is a great view and I'm sure that you all want to see it or have already done so. If you haven't, get a mosey on. Bottom Line: Four and a Half Stars (out of Five).

Monday, March 23, 2009

on march madness.

At this point in my life, I can't really imagine not filling out a March Madness bracket. And I know that the basketball I talk about here is usually only related to the Association or the teams that I myself coach, but it seems like it'd be silly to just let the occasion pass without a little bit of talking about it. So, even though I don't want to get into it, let me just say this:

After the first round, I racked up 24 points. Not spectacular, but I would have;have 39, if we were playing by the upset special method. Again, not spectacular, but worthy of a spot at the table, right? Round two netted me 22 points itself, for a total of 46, with no points coming to me in the upset manner, and (dare I say it?) hardly any available anyway. (Yes, this has been discussed.) This seems like a strange year, what with the afore-mentioned lack of upsets and all, but me and my Zags are just plenty fine with that, thank you very much.

Although I sit in the rear of the middle of the pack for now, I'm happy to report that all four of my Final Four picks are still very much alive, looking fine, which leads me to have confidence in the future rounds. It's anyone's game and that's what the fun is, at least partially, about.

Enjoy the madness.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

link of the day.

Cracked puts together some great lists, usually of things that are very quirky, but every once in a while they hit on something that's not only engaging in the quirky way, but teaches us some things that otherwise we wouldn't have even though about.

This list is one of those times. Check this out to find out the Top 5 ways that Common Sense lies to you. And think about how often each and every one of us engages in all of these.

Probably not every one every single day. But enough to make you say, Hmmm.

Monday, March 16, 2009

on failed models.

I want to say something about failure.

I want to say how failure is not always a bad thing, how we learn from our failures and how, when we are learning anything, it's a much more important fact that we get back up than when we fall. I want to talk about the poster that a lot of teachers have in their rooms about how, if you fail, you're in good company. I want to talk about how this mindset that so many people have nowadays, where failure is ... um ... a failure (not to be too on the nose about it) is utterly and completely flawed.

But I'm afraid that I can't say any of this as eloquently nor as succinctly as Jay Smooth put it in the video below:

So I'm not going to repeat any (much!) of what he said.

Instead I'm going to talk about how the company that I work for, which I suppose could (and should?) be called the government has failed at its job. Their failure enables our failure. And by our, I hope everyone realizes: I don't care nearly so much about others' failure as I do my own. By my work failing me, I am failing. And this doesn't necessarily bother me, in and of itself. However, the fact that I'm failing and being disallowed to pick myself up again to try anew is almost a damning reality for me when coming to terms with my current employment.

We have to test students. Everyone accepts this fact. There has to be some way to measure whether a student is at the level they should be at, some sort of gauge to see if they should continue forward in their education, or be held at a constant point. (Hopefully this constant isn't too constant, but rather, merely temporary.)

This, prima facie, is a good thing. The more consistency we have across the board, the easier it is for the most people to succeed. And success is what we are after.

However, the tests that we are using (and the tests that we have used in the past) are far from perfect. Very few debate this, as perfection, it turns out, is a rather difficult thing to attain. We strive to make them the best they can be, while being fair and accessible to the most number of people as often as possible, and then we figure we've done our job.

Tests, I'm not sure if you remember, though, are usually not any students favorite thing. In fact, as chances would have it, they're usually the farthest from favorite thing, even for the students who do well on them. There are all kinds of various reasons for this (test anxiety, societal pressure, parental pressure, peer pressure, school pressure, etc.) but they all amount to the same thing: everyone knows that tests are (ultimately!) how we gauge whether you're doing a good job. Some people are naturally blessed when it comes to test-taking and some are naturally cursed. This leads to an interesting phenomena where (otherwise-regarded) smart kids perform poorly on tests and (again, otherwise-regarded) dumb kids perform fantastically on tests. There's very little to be done about this, I mean, we can't alter humans' DNA (not yet at least) and studies are pretty wildly varying when it comes to strategies to battle these feelings on an individual basis. So, again, what do we do? We try as hard as we can, and when things are still messed up, we just figure, well, we've done our best. We hope.

I'm here to tell you that hope is not getting the job done.

We have failed in our tasks.

When a kid can fail my class for three straight 9 Week grading periods and there is literally no option to retain that student because, "their test scores are too high," we have failed.

This is not a personal complaint about any one student. This has happened time and again (in fact, this time last year, I wrote a letter to the Editor about it) and it will continue to happen. The people who populate the field of Education have all settled. They've said to themselves, "This is the way it's always been," or, "Well, maybe some of the younger generation will fix it." That is not the way!

We have to decide what's more important: keeping a student engaged in class and experimenting with innovative techniques in the hopes that some knowledge will take hold, or passing a test. If the test is all a student needs to succeed, if this is how they are judged, why should we, as teachers, not merely teach the test? Why should we try anything different? If this is the most important thing, let's all get on board!

It is because none of us really thinks this is the most important thing that this is not the case. There is nothing wrong with admitting this is a failure. The important thing is to let go of this failed model and move forward from here. Something has to change.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

link of the day.

I found this preview for a movie that actually looks awesome at one of the newest blogs that I'm checking out on a regular basis, Live from APT which maintains that it is not a basketball blog, but features a whole lot of it, in addition to hip-hop and pop culture, with a healthy dose of politics. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

on twitter.

Back-to-back blog topics that can start the same way:

Everyone seems to be talking about Twitter. Herein, a sampling:

Turns out, Google was maybe going to buy it. That now appears unlikely.

Jon Stewart admits that he has no idea what it is, but proceeds to mock it in the way he should.

Even Doonesbury ran more than a week's worth of strips about it.

All of this pales, however, until we look at the members of the government using and talking about Twitter.

When I first started using Twitter (yes, I use it), I thought that everyone would just use it the way it was billed: "What are you doing?" I used to update when I was going to the gym, when I went out to dinner, etc. I think that's not really how it's used by those who are controlling its destiny now, though.

First of all, it's an ideal way to linkbomb. When something is funny, Twitter is a great way to get it out to a wide variety of people. When something is noteworthy, the same thing applies. However, insofar as describing it as micro-blogging, I'm not sure if that can possibly be correct. It's pithy, and I get that that's an area rife for making fun of, but good things can come of brevity as well.

However, Twitter's real value, I think, has not yet been discovered. When I first heard of Twitter, I thought that it was technology perfect for keeping secrets. With direct messaging, the ability to opt out of the public timeline, and the never-ending supply of new user names and accounts, it seems like it's just begging for some sort of illicit activity. (Remember when everyone was up in arms about how The Departed showed how the criminals are now using text messaging? Yeah, this is even better!) Affairs just got dirtier, politicians got a little less trackable, and secrets got a little more confidential, ironically, by semi-airing themselves.

These kinds of things are interesting to me. Why is everyone interested in Twitter right now? It seems, ultimately, like it's just the next trend. Remember MySpace? Yeah, me neither. But even before that, we had Friendster. And, seriously, no one remembers that. These things come and go. Web 2.0 was hot for a while, but now it's kind of ubiquitous in the way that no one feels the need to flaunt the tag anymore.

So, I guess, what it comes down to is, why should anyone care? Is there any real use to it? For me, there is. Since I've signed up for and started actually using Twitter, I've spoken with my BFF significantly more. (We'll see what he says.) But I would imagine that this is how people who were amped to get back in touch with their long-lost high school buddies felt about the social networks. That didn't apply to me because, honestly, anyone that I really missed and wanted to talk to, I was already talking to. But I can see the appeal. The bonus to all this is the potential for networking. If this was something that I was actively trying to do, I'd have to clean up my Twitter a bit (just like there's a difference between my work e-mail account and my personal one) but it'd be totally possible. The fact that it's so hot now means that it's an ideal way to network, but don't get it twisted, there's also a downside: that same hotness means it'll burn twice as bright but for only half as long. Anyone who's interested in the next big thing might as well, in my opinion, skip Twitter and jump on the next beta. It'll be here before we know it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

on watchmen.

Everyone's talkinga about Watchmen. In case you've been living under a rock, Watchmen is, according to TIME magazine, one of the 100 best novels ever written. And it's a comic book.

Watchmen is, to comic book fans, the Holy Grail. There can be no exaggerating its importance, not only to fans of the form, but to the genre itself. And so, while growing up as a comic book fan, there were many times where I was duped into thinking that Watchmen, the movie, would be made. These, of course, proved to be mere teases, but when Zach Snyder said that he wanted to do it, and that he was attached to it, and that he was going to do it, we all kind of got excited.

And justifiably so. He's done a pretty good job at what he's been allowed to do. So hopes were high.

As the reviews have poured in over the course of the weekend, and even before, there was (and is) a lot of worry and disappointment. People say the movie's too long. People say the movie misses the mark. People say the sex scene is disruptive. People say the movie is dated. People say fears of the Cold War are silly. Even FreeDarko got into the mix, tweeting like a madman, ranging from calling the source material (or maybe just the existence of Alan Moore in the 80's) "merely precocious" to re-iterating an earlier claim that Watchmen "is [his] DNA."

This is obviously not something that anyone's taking lightly. Even non comic book geeks like Straight Bangin' are getting in on the act. Watchmen is a big deal, even if people want to treat it semi-dismissively. (Which is not to say any of the examples I've listed above are doing so.) Watchmen, as the culmination of a meta-analysis of a genre, will always be important to thinkers in other fields, even if they're not remotely interested in comic books in and of themselves.

And that's what makes Watchmen the novel that it truly is. Watchmen is important because it's a meta-analysis, an in-depth look at the genre itself. It was the first time that comics had truly done anything of that sort, and it still stands as a shining example of what a comic book can truly be when it turns that academic eye toward its own form. The psychological effect of the book cannot be overstated: it changed an entire medium for more than a decade; Watchmen cast its shadow over the rest of comic creators in what could conceivably be called the most important development in the field since the invention of the superhero.

But what does any of this have to do with the movie? Everything!

Watchmen the movie is a culmination (not the culmination, but merely a culmination) of the meta-analysis that the graphic novel began. I'd argue that without Moore's original work, we never would have gotten the Batman movies from Tim Burton, which led to the Batman atrocities by Joel Schumacher, which led to the moriortum on comic book movies, which lead to X-Men, which led to Spider-Man, which led to Sin City, which led us to 300, and...well, you can see the circle that I'm drawing. Clearly, not everyone is going to agree on the order, nor with the claim that some of those were necessary. However, I think it's important to look at this arc as a whole when looking at Watchmen the movie.

All of this kind of ignores a central point, though: is the Watchmen movie any good? I say hell yes. And I'm not the only one! Amidst the chorus of disappointment at the movie, there's plenty of people that are really happy with it. The plot deals with almost all of the good stuff from the graphic novel without being overstuffed (and at 2.75 hours, many people already claim that it was) while also keeping some of the smaller stuff, albeit in a much-smaller way. (See the side DVD and the barely-noticeable characters in the background). The plot stays in tact, despite my hearing plenty of worry from fanboys who were upset about an apparent change of the novel's ending for the film.

I am here to tell you that those people who complain about the film's ending are those who pick nits. This is the smallest of all complaints and it really makes no sense to complain about! The change is a good one, befitting the movie version and the current atmosphere of our world. This is a ridiculous point to complain about.

All this being said, the only area that I wish they'd developed a bit more was the relationship between the Silk Spectre (both of them!) and the Comedian. It was such a rich area in the novel that it's hard to get the full meaning from the film.

All in all, I'd have to say that people who read and loved the comic will probably (if they're not screaming fanboys) enjoy the movie. Those who didn't read the comic might like the movie, depending on whether they're feeling an exploration of the genre that day or not. And for those who read the comic and disliked it? Well, stay away from the movie. Easy choice. But for anyone who is looking for something that would have been absolutely ground-breaking and amazing were it not for the over-proliferation of super comic book movies (see two of the best movies last year, for instance) this is the movie for you. Try to think about the fact that the comic this movie is based on was written 20 years before any of the good psych stuff it's based on was. And then think about the difficulty of adapting that story to modern times, while still keeping it grounded in the anachronistic style that gives it its very existence. It's not an easy task. And yet, the film manages to do a good job.

Bottom Line: Four and a Half Stars (out of Five).

Monday, March 9, 2009

on it's blitz.

The new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album drops digitally tomorrow. This is a whole-hearted recommendation for you to pick it up. You can stream it from MySpace in its entirety in the meantime, and it's definitely already leaked (as this is why they've been moving up the release date, in an attempt to combat the lost sales). Go listen to it. But it. It's good.

The lead single Zero got all the press, but I'm here to tell you this album is yet another one where YYY delivers. They've got the goods and they have since the beginning.

However, with this moving up and all the good confusion that it entails with the consumer, the question really becomes, to me, why are they still on a record label? Why are they releasing the record in a physical form at all?

"Heads Will Roll," the second track on the album, deserves just as much press as "Zero" got. The idea of Karen O and Co. becoming a new wave dance-pop-synth group is nothing new, but I think this is their most declarative statement in the affirmation of that idea ever. Nick Zinner, who kills on guitar for the group, has always seemed to me to be a more traditional punk shredder, but he's never been afraid to indulge in some of the more quirky things about the group. This has almost always worked out in good fashion for the band.

As I've already said, the record is out tomorrow in digital form, but won't be out physically until March 31. I cannot understand why they wouldn't do some emulation of the new model and just drop that. They've certainly got the indie press in their pocket pretty well enough to manage it.

I didn't ever get their EP - Is Is but with the success of this album, I'm thinking that I'll have to pick it up. This makes three solid releases from the group, a 100% satisfaction rate. Their second effort, Show Your Bones was lauded by tons of critics when it was released, but didn't go on to sell many copies. In my mind, it's only gotten better with time.

"Skeletons" is perhaps my favorite song on the record, but then we have to deal with this kind of odd issue when it comes to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They got famous as a semi-punk outfit, with Karen O taking the place of the insane lead singer, but a lot of their more well-received songs tend to have this pop radio sensibility to them. "Maps" was huge and only got bigger with its inclusion on Rock Band and it's kind of weird to think that that's what a large percentage of the population thinks is the main style of the band. However, I've also noticed that the last tracks on each of the albums have been a kind of big thing (on Fever to Tell it was "Modern Romance" and on Show Your Bones it's "Turn Into," even though the deluxe version concludes with "Deja Vu" which kind of kills this) and It's Blitz continues this with "Little Shadow." The last track is just as important as the first, really, and the fact that they've ended all three of their albums (if we're knocking off the deluxe version of SYB) with these slower (almost ballad-y?) songs speaks to that same willingness to operate outside of any box that anyone else seems content to shove them into.

It's Blitz is a great record that once again shows the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as not only a truly dedicated group of musicians, but people who are willing to experiment and play with their sound to make something new and exciting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

on kat's letter.

Recently, as though she had been reading my blog or something, Kat Strudel sent me this amazing letter for my birthday.

I thought it was great enough to take several pictures of it, the first two of which are of the outside. Kat's an artist (in the truest sense of the word) so she likes to make the stuff she sends me stand out a bit. As I've mentioned before, people love getting mail, and when it's not just the same old, same old stuff, that's even better.

The back of the envelope, just like the rest of it, was rad. She's got a great eye, and captures zeitgeists very well, which is a great talent to have, especially if you ever want to market your skills as opposed to quote-unquote just make art.

My favorite part, though, was obviously the card itself. She wrote on the inside that she made the card with some of her students, some of whom, "didn't recognize the cassette tape." This shocked me and made me sad for several reasons.

I've always been a big fan of the digital age, and I got rid of my CD's quite a while ago, via this company which will let you trade in your CD's for an iPod (or several, as was my case, after about twelve years of HARD CD collecting). I'm not ashamed or embarrassed about the fact that some of my students cyber-stalked me and found my MySpace, and I know that at least a few of them read this blog. In fact, today, at my Staff Meeting, I got quite the impression that my boss is reading my blog. I love all of this. I don't regret or retreat from the digital age, I fully embrace it. If that means that I won't get to some points that those with more ambition and less character than me will, I accept that.

But, on top of all this love for the 21st century, I can't help but recall fondly the 90's. When I was a kid, I made tapes of my favorite songs from the radio, because that was the only way I could. My friends and I would make tapes of our favorite CD's and we would wear the tapes out from listening to them. (I think I still have two taped copies of ...And Out Come The Wolves because that was, literally, the biggest album of my life.) And so, to hear that there are kids who don't even recognize the outline of such an iconic part of my childhood... Wow. It's tough. I'd imagine that it's how some of my elders felt when I told them that...Well, to be honest, I don't know. I'm not trying to be cocky, but...my mama raised me the right way. We listened to records. She taught me about old movies. She taught me to appreciate the old stuff, even if I was a jackass teenager for a while about it.

The point being...I hope there's more people like my mama out there that teach their kids about the past, even if they don't get to appreciate it themselves. We've lost so much already, let's at least acknowledge that it was here. Shout out!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

on mwc gamesmanship.

Just a quick note to say that, while ESPN might not even have a preview up for this game, it's a big deal in the land of Albuquerque. There's been tons of local ink spilled on what could turn out to be one of our biggest games in recent memory. So I'll be going red tonight, using my Lobos tickets to scream my lungs out. Over and out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

on the dream hunters.

As part of my preparation for my Ash Wednesday that started recently, I read a crap-ton of comics. (As is to be expected.) One of those comics that I read was the entire four-issue run of Neil Gaiman's The Dream Hunters. You'll notice the link takes you to a book on Amazon - the version I'm talking about is a comic book adaption of a book that a comic book writer wrote. Confusing, I know. (As a sidenote, I'm pretty sure that I got Johnny the book version a couple years ago for Christmas.)

The Dream Hunters was luscious. Seriously, the artist on the project P. Criag Russell works some amazing magic. The project could have easily devolved into a too-wordy Gaiman look - something that isn't all that infeasible, especially given that the Sandman himself doesn't appear until issue three. But that doesn't happen, thanks to the great pencils that take us from monk to fox to badger in issue one to ancient Japan in issue two, all the while looking gorgeously vivid.

The story it tells, it turns out, is a complete fabrication of Gaiman's, which didn't surprise me, but apparently did a lot of the people who bought and read the book. To that, I say, goodie for Gaiman. Anyone who thinks that we're really just now discovering new stories from way back in the day (much less waaaaaaaaaaaay back in the day) clearly didn't learn the lesson of the Sentry.

The story itself reads like a classic Gaiman love story (as I typed that, I wondered, "Has there really ever been such a thing?") wherein we have the combination of many distinct elements that come together successfully in a way that is much more than the sum of their parts: the Dreaming, making an appearance in issue three, makes sense of some of the magic that we've seen in issue two, but nothing is ever said about the fact that the fox and badger from issue one apparently have powers of their own, speak with humans, etc. These are all things that we're just kind of supposed to accept, and we do, because they're all presented so seamlessly.

As a whole, the book seems criminally overlooked, as I can't really find a lot of mention of it here on the Web (while the one real thing that I located I can't read because of Lent, so I can't vouch for what it's saying) and I know that I didn't hear a lot about it as it came out. I'll have to talk to the guys at my LCS when I go in next week, but it wouldn't surprise me to hear that it had a lukewarm reception, as Gaiman's recent success has seemed to make it a bit passe to like him - which is ridiculous. The Dream Hunters is rad and I'll be picking it up in TPB form when it's out so that I can have it in class for my students - they'll dig the hell out of it.