Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stealing Thunder

I know that few of the people that read Kat's extremely popular blog also read mine, however, I did want to be the first to unveil her cutest bed creation ever!
I don't have the receipts to know what it cost and I don't want to, but just bask in the cuteness that is a yellow Anthropologie bedskirt, green with white polka dots Isaac Mizrahi Target sheets and a soft cotton Navy blue comforter. And, of course, a poodle with X-ray eyes.
I'm not even sure if I'm still qualified to lay in the bed because of my overall lack of style and couture (whatever that means), but I'll have to talk to Kat.
And to close, here is a photo I took this morning while at the laundromat washing and drying the metric ton of linens Kat has accumulated in her neverending quest for CTE (cutest thing ever!). Needless to say, the soda machine company could use a remedial currency spelling course.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Third Reading Circle (Of Hell!!!)

Today's review is of two recent books that focus on baseball - although to varying degrees. Feeding The Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top by Seth Mnookin is a detailed history of the Boston Red Sox from their purchase for a record $660 million in 2001 to their World Series victory in 2004 and beyond. While generally they cannot match their hated rivals for soap opera, Mnookin shows enough behind the scenes vignettes to make it clear that there was always a lot going on in the Sox clubhouse and in the front office. It seems amazing that the team was actually able to play well on the field, considering the distractions, but in 2004 the Sox had the correct mix of "Idiots" to ensure that nothing bothered them.
No detail is spared and the Boston media doesn't come out looking too good in the book, but at some times a reader feels that maybe they are missing the forest because every single detail of every single branch of every single tree is being described. One of the important points of contention in the book revolves around a proposed trade for Larry Bigbie, yeah, that Larry Bigbie. The guy I hadn't thought of in about five years - if I'd even thought of him at all. While it is nice to know the backstory about such an interesting team, one feels like if there is an overarching theme or synthesis that allowed the 86-year-old streak to be broken, one has no idea what it is. But then again, I may just be a poor audience for good writing. I can recommend this book, Hard News, also by Mnookin, and his blog, which is great because it takes the New York Times' baseball writer Murray Chass to task for his nonsense.
It is quite illuminating to read the book now - as the Sox streak toward what could be another championship. It seems general manager Theo Epstein and the front office learned a lot from losing in 2003 and even winning in 2004. The current Red Sox are heavy on pitching, have good guys to put around Manny and Ortiz and seem to be focused on little beyond winning games. (Schilling can still be a bit of a pain, but clearly Beckett is the #1 now, which is good). The '07 Sox are a sabermetric dream and have their pitching in order - whereas the Yankees have kept buying bats with little concern about who is actually on the mound.
Now the heartbreak will probably be worse this year if Boston doesn't win the series because they are so good, but the management has set up a team that can compete long-term. While 04 was crazy, 07 seems relatively sane. I like Boston's chances even more this year, and maybe that is just what the book meant for me to figure out.
In the last reading circle (which I'm sure you all read numerous times and took notes on) I criticized the book that focused on too many different topics and lauded the one with focus, well this week, the tables are turned, because while I like "Monster," I'm going to recommend Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler. The book is about just what the title says, and while I haven't visited New York and was not around in 1977, I feel like I know quite a bit more thanks to Mahler. Reading the tales about Ed Koch, Reggie Jackson, the blackout and the Son of Sam effectively brings one there to feel the heat and fear the looting.
As a baseball player, Jackson was a force that I never really got a handle on because I never saw him play and didn't quite understand the mystique. But reading the book reveals a conflicted character who had a perfect foil in Billy Martin. The trope is that only teamwork can deliver championships, but Mahler shows that the Yankees Steinbrenner purchased in 1977 who not pulling in one direction (more like about 10 different directions), but had the talent to overcome this fact and win. I wouldn't recommend it as a training manual, but it is a fun read. And it briefly includes Murray Chass (from 30 years ago doing his same job) seemingly a little bit better at that time.
Some of this territory was covered in Spike Lee's film (or joint, if you will) Summer of Sam, which I saw, but don't really remember that well. But the sections on Berkowitz are limited in the book, which focuses more on the mayor's race, the blackout and the Yankees.
For those who prefer the written word in visual form, a miniseries adaptation of the book will be airing on ESPN starting next month. Of course, remember this is ESPN, the studio(?!) that brought you Junction Boys (horrifically unentertaining, according to those who braved it), Playmakers (cancelled at the NFL's urging if ESPN wanted to keep airing the league's games), A Season on the Brink (which included Brian Dennehy eating his way through all of Canada's scenery as Bob Knight) and probably some other bad ones I'm forgetting.
However, the cast sounds somewhat promising, especially John Turturro as Billy Martin. Shooter McGavin as Joe DiMaggio? Maybe not, but DiMaggio isn't really a huge part of the book. I can't really recommend the series or not recommend it, but at least you have the information.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Second Reading Circle (Of Hell!)

I have made it known that my interest in the NBA is over, but some, for good reason probably, believe that I will relapse. As part of the cleansing process to ensure the end of my fandom, I chose to read two books devoted obsessively to the topic as sort of a "you have to hit rock bottom first in order to get cured" gambit.
The books were Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania by Warren St. John and To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry by Will Blythe. The beauty of writing reviews of these two books is that once you've actually listed the titles, you need only about 100 more words and you're done.
Hammer is the story of how St. John followed the Alabama Crimson Tide football team around during a season among the group of RVers who traveled to all of the games. It is a rollicking account that shows a rather absurd level of fanaticism on the part of the fans. Of course, these are the same people who showed up 92,000 strong at the recent Spring Game to get their first look at the spawn of Saban. St. John's book is simply a lot of fun. The tales of drunken Tide fans is enough for numerous laugh out loud moments that are the kinds of stories one sees on Cops. Despite the cursing, the drinking, the spitting, the fighting, racism and the all-around distasteful activities of those portrayed, St. John shows that at heart they love their team. They are driven (literally hundreds of miles each weekend) not first and foremost because they hate the other side (although they do), but it seems rather because they love the Tide.
This reason for being a fanatic, love rather than hate, isn't the point of Blythe's book. He is looking at why hating Duke is for him, a UNC grad, basically nothing more than a bodily function. Excusing the double negative, he can't not do it. But being driven by hate isn't a happy experience - it makes wins relief and losses tragic. Blythe has to live this fact for every UNC game and especially their clashes with Duke. While his book is more of a "writerly" investigation (longer, more flowery, more likely to invoke the memories of dead relatives) it isn't more fun.
St. John captured what it is to be in the moment - to be a fan when your team surpasses even your wildest dreams. Blythe focuses on being outside the moment and thinking of the myriad twists and turns that can turn happiness to disgust.
While nothing in either of these books can be considered healthy, I think love is better on the soul than hate. I can recommend both for an interesting read, but if you only have time for one, go with RJYH.
So where does that leave me? I never hated any of the teams in the NBA - I just liked the Suns the best because they were a good and entertaining team. But I think my interest has ended. A positively atrocious NBA Finals closed the book on my fandom for the Suns, the league and probably televised basketball in general. I think I'll always enjoy playing, but I don't think watching will ever be what it once was.
Letting go isn't easy, but reading the stories in this book make it easier for me to let go. I don't want to be anything like what I was reading about.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Am I Listening to a DiePod?

Significant other has been giving me a hard time lately that the songs on my iPod are emo trash filled with angst that makes it sound like I’m a goth teen who is about two inches away from taking my own life. I agree with this to an extent, but, thanks to a good amount of free time, wanted to scientifically discern whether the music I like is truly as sad as she believes. With this on our plate and my return to school on the horizon, it’s time to go straight into academic journal speak – let’s roll!

The music that a person enjoys is often cited as a telltale signal of the kind of person they are, whether their penchant be for heavy metal, easy listening, country music or pop. One type of music that has become quite popular among 12- to 18-year-olds who dislike the rules and structure of their current living situations is called emo. While emo is not necessarily short for anything, the main consideration that leads something to be deemed emo is overt emotionality, often beyond a level that is normal or healthy. To “be emo” or “like emo music” can be considered a putdown, especially when leveled at 26-year-olds. While emo applies to many things, its main connotation is to music.
The goal of this study is not to analyze whether the music collection of J. Gautreaux is emo. The subject admits that at least to some degree it is. The goal is to find whether said collection is so extremely emo that it would lead the subject or any other listener to at least engender thoughts of suicide. This thesis, put forth mainly by Kathryn Gautreaux nee Krouse, is that spending any significant length of time listening to Gautreaux’s music, such as on a long car ride, would force the listener to ponder ending his or her life. Gautreaux denies that this is the case. This academic study aims to statistically analyze the collection in an effort to gauge which person is right.

Literature Review
There is very little literature presently about this topic. There are serious articles about rock music and whether it has led young listeners to commit suicide, but this is a fun endeavor, and we don’t really want to go there.

Methods and Data
The data was analyzed using a simple five-point scale. The music program iTunes allows users to rate songs on a scale from one to five stars. This scale was used as a way to rate the songs on how much they led a listener to want to kill him or herself.

The Wrist Slit Rating System:
1) Japanese television: Super happy magic fun time!
2) Pretty good … pretty pretty preeeeettty good: Pleasantly optimistic
3) Stuck in the middle with you: could easily go either way
4) Cleveland Cavaliers basketball: sad, depressing, painful
5) Goodbye cruel world: razor blades, nooses, guns and a bottle of Jack Daniels

The author (Editor’s Note: That’s Jeffrey, but don’t tell anyone, kay?) went through a total of 652 songs and provided every one with a rating. As is clear to anyone familiar with the Bell Curve, many of the songs ended up with a three. The aim was to stay largely in the center with twos, threes and fours, and only provide a one or five to songs that clearly deserved it. To prove the point, all songs who received those scores will be listed – some with accompanying rationale.
Once every song had a score, they were placed in order by ranking and counted. These counts yielded the final results.
Readers can feel free to disagree with the ratings, and the author admits that in some cases he may be misreading a song that is actually sad or vice versa. The focus mainly in creating the ratings was on lyrical content. A song can sound happy and be the opposite lyrically and vice versa, so while the tune obviously plays a role in how people digest music, the author did his best to divorce himself from that and consider mainly the lyrics. And, last caveat, the author normally has no clue what many of the bands in his collection (such as Tapes ‘n Tapes, Wilco and others) are singing about.

Analysis and Results
The average score when all 652 ratings were tabulated was 3.3. Obviously, this shows that taken as a whole, the entire catalog of Gautreaux’s music leans more toward angst than sunshine. But it is our belief that Gautreaux nee Krouse would have expected the average to be much closer to four. The totals broke down like this:

1: 14 songs
2:137 songs
3: 195 songs
4: 271 songs
5: 35 songs

The songs that earned a rating of one were these:
Rock this bitch – Ben Folds
The Luckiest – Ben Folds
The Infanta – The Decemberists
Happy – Jenny Lewis. Anything else would have been difficult just based on the title.
Happy (reprise) – Jenny Lewis
I Am Somebody – Jurassic 5
Quality Control – Jurassic 5
Twin Cinema – The New Pornographers
Sing Me Spanish Techno – The New Pornographers
Dance All Night – Ryan Adams
Life is Beautiful – Ryan Adams
Just Drums – Tapes ‘n Tapes
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Crazy About You – Whiskeytown

Highlights among the songs receiving a two:
Bright Eyes – Bowl of Oranges. The only Bright Eyes track to receive a rating higher than a three.
Hands Down – Dashboard Confessional. The happiest rating for this band. While this song is clearly very upbeat, the author couldn’t give it a one because of a technical term he dubbed “pussiness.”
Hiro’s Song – Ben Folds. The author wanted to give it a one because it’s actually about a middle-age Japanese guy having a super fun magic affair with a teenager, but, of course, it ends badly and cannot be higher than a two.

Highlights among the songs receiving a three:
Take It Or Leave It – The Strokes. The author found this song to fully encapsulate the idea of being right in the middle and receive a rank of three. Clearly, it could have gone the other way.

Highlights among the songs receiving a four:
Faithless Street – Whiskeytown. The author procured this song from eMusic off of a compilation album called “No Depression: This is What It Sounds Like Volume 1.” But actually listening to the song leads one to consider the title in error, and thus it receives a four. (Editor’s Note: The author knows, or at least found out during his research, that No Depression is an alt-country magazine that put the compilation together, but he nonetheless found it humorous and wanted to include the anecdote, actual facts be damned!).
All the songs in the collection by Wilco. The author just put them here because it was never clear in any of the songs what was being evoked or what was going on. But overall, the themes seemed to be dark.

The songs that earned a rating of five were these:
If You Can’t Leave It Be Might As Well Make It Bleed – Dashboard Confessional
Several Ways to Die Trying – Dashboard Confessional
Neon Bible –Arcade Fire
Ocean of Noise – Arcade Fire
(Antichrist Television Blues) – Arcade Fire
Silver Street – Ben Folds live album
One Down – Ben Folds live album
Fred Jones Part 2 – Ben Folds live album
Fred Jones Part 2 – Ben Folds album version
Brick – Ben Folds live album
Brick – Ben Folds Five album version
Boxing – Ben Folds Five
Late – Ben Folds. A song to remember Elliot Smith, who committed suicide.
Reinvent the Wheel – Bright Eyes. Also believed to be a song to remember Smith.
Gold Mine Gutted – Bright Eyes
Four Winds – Bright Eyes
Lua – Bright Eyes
Lua – Bright Eyes, off the Keith and Shaleah wedding CD. Gautreaux had this song twice, and thus, both had to be counted.
Landlocked Blues – Bright Eyes
Waste of Paint – Bright Eyes
Amy in the White Coat – Bright Eyes
Devils and Dust – Bruce Springsteen
At Conception - Cursive
So-So Gigolo - Cursive
Into the Fold - Cursive
Bloody Murderer - Cursive
What Sarah Said – Death Cab for Cutie.
A Cautionary Song – The Decemberists
Remember His Name – Jurassic 5
Sylvia Plath – Ryan Adams. The biggest slam dunk among a lot of slam dunks.
The End – Ryan Adams
Set Yourself on Fire – Stars. It actually calls for suicide, and thus must be included, regardless of content.
Romulus – Sufjan Stevens
You’ll Have Time – William Shatner
Star Witness – Neko Case

Discussion and Conclusion
There is a plethora of death, murder, crime and despair among that last list receiving a five. And while critics like Gautreaux nee Krouse would point to this to prove their overall opinion, Gautreaux points to the overall rating of 3.3 to show that the good and bad are marginally equal. Three-tenths is a small percentage (only 1/16th) on a five-point scale.
While this study question likely cannot be answered definitely – subjectivity plays too large a role to say for certain whether one person’s music makes the average listener want to swallow a cyanide pill – this analysis finds that while darkness outweighs light, listening to Gautreaux’s iPod would not make a person want to take his or her own life. Thus, calling his iPod a DiePod is neither accurate or correct.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Reading Circle

I just finished A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein, the bestselling sports book of all time. It was its fame as a great sports story that led me to want to read it. For the last few years I've sort of felt like a person who hasn't read To Kill A Mockingbird - you know you should have read it a decade ago, so that has sort of kept you from even reading it now. However, since I have spare time - it's seemingly all that I have lately - I decided to revel in the books series of Knightmares (did you see what I did there? Yeah, that's why I'm a writing legend in my own mind.)
Anyway, the book is good but not great. I think so many people read it because it is like watching a car crash. Following Bob Knight around would be frightening. When you are finished with the book all you've really found out is that Knight does care about his players and he cares that they graduate, but you also konw that he is an extremely moody psychopath.
You can also see - even in 1985-86 - what is still Knight's problem in the college game. It doesn't seem that he can recruit or that he cares to. What is interesting is that it seems that Knight would be a better NBA coach than in college. In the NBA, he wouldn't have to worry about getting his players to class or about ensuring he had good players, he could do what he clearly likes - just coach the game. That is why he enjoyed his time as the Olympic coach in 1984.
ASOTB discusses Knight getting Isiah Thomas, but beyond that he shows little interest in recruiting. The best part about reading the book 20 years later is that it talks about Knight recruiting Damon Bailey when Bailey, now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, was only an 8th grader. Check that, Bailey was a middling point guard for IU, but Knight clearly loved him. Knight has yet to make a splash on the recruiting trail at Texas Tech, and I don't know if he'll be able to. The bottom line is that this book is scary. I don't know how Steve Alford survived - or why he would ever talk to Knight after what he dealt with. The book also clearly foreshadows Knight's future meltdowns, however, it doesn't take a psychic to know he would go over the edge.
If you care about sports non-fiction and haven't read this book, you should. Otherwise, your resume as a hardcore sports, and especially basketball, fan is in jeopardy.
Final note for those who may think it: Yes, obviously Knight would have a tough time coaching in the NBA because young men being paid millions of dollars wouldn't put up with his nonsense the way college players do. Maybe a team Knight coached would have to circulate its players out every four years no matter what. However, the underlying point about Knight just wanting to coach basketball, I feel, is accurate. In some ways, Gregg Popovich does a bit of a Bob Knight impersonation with the Spurs, but he is different in some important ways - such as not quite as moody and prone to bouts of craziness.
Final, final note: Coming into the halftime show, ABC chose to play Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" over the highlights. What does this mean? Is it A) support for the Cavaliers and their fans and their dream of winning four straight, B) a ploy to keep fans watching by encouraging them that one of these games will actually deliver something watchable or C) a wry meta-comment on the Finals' horrible television ratings by using the song that accompanied the final scene of the Sopranos finale? Choices or your own explanation is welcomed in the comments.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lemmon Trip

We went up to the top of Mount Lemmon on Saturday - a total of 9,157 feet above sea level. The final climb isn't done by vehicle, but rather by riding the chair lift that it used during the winter by the skiers at Ski Valley. It was rather an impressive site since you can look down on all of Tucson. Photographic proof is available at the Flickr site here.
By the time we reached the top, it seemed like we could no longer be in Arizona. The cactus, scrub and overall brown-ness of the Grand Canyon State had given way to conifers, lush green grasses and temps about 20 to 30 degrees lower that reminded one of Colorado. It was quite interesting to find a place so different so close by.
So far, Tucson seems like a great place. I'll have to do all of the cool stuff this summer, and there seems to be a lot of it, so I can ignore it and consider it passe for the next three years. But Kat and I definitely would like to camp at Mount Lemmon sometime in the fall. However, there are bears, so be warned.
This morning we took a hike in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. It was a nice stroll and there seemed to be quite a few people taking advantage of the good trails. However, there are mountain lions, so be warned.
And also recently, we took Lucy and Lily to an off-leash dog park near our home where Lucy had a good time romping with the other dogs. Lily seemed more interested in romping via Kat's arms, but I think she'll get used to it. However, there is unwanted humping, so be warned.
I'll try to bring you more of the interesting things I find in Tucson, but thus far, I can say without a doubt it seems like a great place. Kat and I will enjoy exploring more of it.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Here we are

Kat and I are now in Tucson and enjoying the new apartment. When we tell people we live in Sabino Canyon, they tend to raise their eyebrows, signifying that they are trying to figure out whether we are rich, insane or both. This is definitely a beautiful area. The views are amazing, and the vistas are so sweeping, it is almost difficult to capture it on camera.
The apartment complex is nice, and Tucson seems great. The weather has been spectacular, and we have had a great time at the Tucson Museum of Art, the Tucson Botanical Gardens and even the Tucson DMV.
A few shots of Tucson as well as a bunch of good ones from Lloyd's graduation are now up at my Flickr page here.
There is almost too much hilarity to cover over the past few days. Simply my driving a 26-foot U-Haul truck from Yuma to Phoenix and then to Tucson is enough for a WB sitcom. I managed to not crash or kill anyone, but I was hardly sad when I turned it back in.
I've been doing a lot of document shredding, looking at lots of help wanted signs and eating at Chipotle. It has been tiring, but Kat and I are excited about what Tucson may bring. It seems like a great place. We hope to be very happy here.

It begins

Tucsonic Boom opens with a bang. Here is video I shot of the hat toss at the USAFA graduation. I thought I didn't get this, but when I uploaded the camera I was pleasantly surprised to see I got it.
Elliott is somewhere among that mass. I was unable to get any Thunderbirds, so you'll have to be content with shadows of Thunderbirds and the sound of them flying overhead. This opening post will be followed soon by a monster moving/Tucson/new apartment post, so this is simply a tease. Enjoy.