or we could just give Predator some tax breaks

Well, Christmas has been successfully completed. I went to parties, ate holiday-themed foodstuffs, and visited a whole bunch of relatives. All in all, it was a pretty nice time.

I also managed to have a traditional Jewish Christmas with Matt, Brian and Spencer, first at the third annual Christmas Eve visit to the Red Room and then with a meal of Chinese food and a screening of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, which was totally great. If the “requiem” in the title had you worrying that this would be more of an art-house flick, let me encourage you to give the movie a chance anyway. Sure, it’s kind of a think piece. But that one time when the guy gets acid blood dripped on his arm and he’s all like AAAH AAAH AAAH and then his arm falls off and his kid’s right there? And then it gets worse? Pretty awesome. Also, all of that happens in the first five minutes.

But it did get me thinking. I found myself discussing politics at various points during Holiday Family Time, and frequently trying to explain why I didn’t think my relatives should be as favorably disposed toward bold truth-teller Ron Paul as their initial impression of the man had left them.

Ezra already did a much better job of this than I ever could. But, predictably, some of the Paul supporters in his comment section remain unconvinced. I mean, sure, there might be some minor downsides to dismantling our already meager social safety net, adopting a set of monetary policies that most economists think would be disastrous, and in general returning the most brutal excesses of rapacious late nineteenth century capitalism. But that’s all a small price to pay for the satisfaction to be had from an intellectually consistent political philosophy, right? Besides, Paul’s supporters have got a blimp. It seems like you’d have to be pretty on top of things to have a blimp.

But AvP2 has provided what I think is a compelling argument against the Paul platform. Consider this: if Dr. Paul is keen to remove us from our foreign entanglements and dismantle the Department of Education (take that, tyranny!), what hope do you think there is for the Bureau of Secretly Nuking Small American Towns After Alien Invasions? You think you’re going to be able to fund that after getting rid of the income tax? Please.

Now I know that I’m likely to get some Paul supporters showing up in comments, arguing that perhaps we’d actually be better off without faceless government bureaucrats deciding in secret whether to rain nuclear death upon small town America. To this I can only say: go watch Alien vs. Predator: Requiem and then get back to me. I’ll admit that I’m not all that familiar with the complete works of Friedrich Hayek, but I would be surprised if it deals adequately with how the state should respond to rapacious space invaders with mouths-within-mouths and acid for blood.

Big government: it’s the only way to be sure.

biting the hand that downloads you

Last night I stumbled across HBO’s half-hour promo for season 5 of The Wire. Previous seasons have addressed the police, local politics, unions and schools. This season is supposed to take a characteristically blunt look at the media. The preview was, uh, surprising — for a couple of reasons:

  • Joe Klein is featured as the voice of downtrodden journalism! For some reason he was selected to express the concerns of the in-the-trenches, unheralded-hero reporter. My journalist friends assure me that this was an especially inspired choice for representing those who are asked to “do more with less” (after all, he apparently makes do without fact checkers).
  • David Simon does not care for the internet. Yeah, superficial attention was paid to the increasingly hard-headed, businesslike approach of the news industry. But that complaint’s well-worn and was consequently skimmed over. Mostly, the writers and talking heads from the Baltimore Sun seemed eager to complain about newspapers’ willingness to give their content away on the web. That they consider this a strategic mistake rather than an inevitable capitulation demonstrates an understanding of the world that’s uncharacteristically shallow for something associated with this franchise.

Of course, it’d be dumb to write off the coming season on the basis of a promotional special. David Simon’s political philosophy seems to run more along the lines of “everything’s fucked, all the time” than toward simple scapegoating. So perhaps the carping crammed into that thirty minutes was simplistic by necessity.

But the promo was still discouraging. I worry that Simon’s writerly pretensions might make him unduly lionize the big city newsroom, an environment that seems like a lot of fun for entitled smartasses who self-describe as “scrappy”, but which increasingly seems like a 20th century quirk that’s no longer economically sustainable. I admit I’m as likely to bitchily lament the loss of a free ride as anyone — but then I’m not a journalist, and I haven’t got a TV show to run. Those who do saw fit to include in this promotional program the Sun’s television critic, who cites the paper’s employment of only one such TV critic as evidence of newsprint’s decline. To this, one can only say FUCK YOU: the internet has made it very, very clear that having opinions about TV is not something for which people need to be compensated. The amount of self-awareness on display in the promo show was less than inspiring.

So I confess I’m a little worried. Simon’s provided cutting, complex critiques of police, politicians and schools. And admittedly, he’s done this despite his co-creator Ed Burns having a personal stake in two of those three systems. But I wonder if Simon will be able to confront these simple facts: that business models based on the difficulty of distributing information are no longer viable; and that the media’s vulnerability to competition from amateur blogospheric efforts is, rather than an unfortunate cosmic injustice, almost entirely the result of the industry’s failure to implement a proper meritocracy. The fifth season promo’s inkstained hagiography was not encouraging on this score.

The Wire’s different and great because it seems more honest than anything else on television. But this season’s the first in which its creator is going to be writing about himself and his friends. I imagine they’ll probably pull it off, but the early signs are not good.

do as the man says, Nintendo

This is very, very neat, and I’m desperate to see it show up in, say, a new version of Time Crisis. Be sure to watch until at least 2:45.

The man behind it, a Carnegie Mellon doctoral student named Johnny Lee, has a number of other awesome Wiimote-related projects and has been getting attention from Hackaday and MAKE as a result. All his stuff is open-sourced, too — Windows-based, unfortunately, but it looks to me like the Wiimote is doing most of the heavy lifting in these applications (although Lee’s demo apps are certainly plenty polished-looking).

defiant orthodoxy

Ryan disagrees with my Christmas rock boosterism. I’ll just go ahead and quote the whole post:

I have to tell you guys, I am not a fan of Christmas rock songs and/or modern interpretations of old Christmas stand-bys. Why is this? I don’t know. Pretty much the only departure from Burl Ives’ old school standards I’ll tolerate (love actually) is Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. Although I do like the Velvet Fog doing “A Christmas Song.”


This may have something to do with a deep sense that Christmas is actually a celebration of the past more than anything else–not something to be modernized. Or it could just be the long, looooong list of abominations resulting from contemporary acts doing Christmas songs.

Naturally, I feel differently. To me the Christmas standards don’t feel so much classic as they do dated. They were a part of my childhood, so of course I enjoy listening to them for the sake of nostalgia. But I think that it’s wrong to consider them as the ur-Christmas songs. “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Rudolph” — those were the songs that constituted a departure from the past, as song & dance men cranked out superficial, secular story-songs in tandem with the rise of the Christmas-Industrial complex.

In some ways I think the best of the new songs actually harken back to the pre-ditty era of Christmas music. Not because they’re reconnecting with the holiday’s religious aspect, but because the songs are able to tap into a pool of surprisingly universal experience. With partial apologies to my Jewish friends, there are plenty of emotionally resonant aspects to this time of year that we’ve all felt: wintery quiet, loneliness, warmth, grandeur, joy. I won’t sit here and pretend that Maybe This Christmas XXIV brings tears to my eyes, but it’s likely to be a hell of a lot more artistically successful than a song about a magical snowman.

hey, have some Christmas music

When it comes to holiday music I am, let’s face it, kind of an idiot. Thematic appropriateness can make me completely forget about how good a song actually is. All I can do is apologize to those who’ve been subjected to the resulting playlist atrocities.

With that said, this (via Stereogum) is a really goddamn good Christmas song:

Frightened Rabbit – It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop

The greatest Christmas rock song of all time, is, of course, The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, but this entry from Frightened Rabbit has quickly vaulted into my number two spot — evidence, perhaps, of the weakness of the field. But there are a few others that I think can be defended in the clear light of day, even when judgment is unclouded by wood smoke and wassail.

There are some obvious ones. John Lennon’s “So This Is Christmas” and Run DMC’s “Christmas Is” are both classics and so hardly worth mentioning. The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” is just as good but more often neglected, which is a shame. And U2′s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is pretty damn great — it’s probably my second-favorite U2 song behind “Red Hill Mining Town”, if only because when Bono cracks up mid-verse you can tell that for at least three seconds he’s not trying to save the world. Unfortunately, the music blogosphere considers U2 so desperately uncool that I can’t find a playable copy of the song on the Hype Machine. But if you’d rather listen to Death Cab For Cutie’s awful, awful cover, there are about a zillion copies available. It is, if nothing else, a useful demonstration of every single thing that’s wrong with Ben Gibbard and his mostly-fine band.

Those are all very well-known songs, though. Here are three more that, while not exactly obscure, haven’t entirely made their way out of the Christmas compilation ghetto. But they’re all genuinely good songs (if not very creatively titled):

The Raveonettes – The Christmas Song

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Christmas All Over Again

The Dismemberment Plan – This Christmas

success!

I got my FON router and Arduino to talk to each other, and I’m pretty excited about it. You can find the details here if you’re interested.

Put in simple terms, this lets me translate any information I can pull from the net into physical action. There are limits, of course — can I stream WOXY or play YouTube clips through an Arduino? No. It’s a much simpler device than that — one that’s basically capable of reading and sending a little more than a dozen low-voltage signals, and about half as many low-voltage analog signals.

But you can get a lot done with these seemingly humble capabilities. I could control appliances; I could wire it into an RC car’s remote control; I could use it to open and close my garage door over the internet; I could monitor the temperature in my apartment and send myself an email if the furnace broke.

I’m aiming for something simpler to begin with: the analog display of some interesting online information, courtesy of some cool-looking gauges. If anyone’s got a line on awesome-looking vintage electronic equipment that I can tear apart, please let me know.

it’s all true

Yup, Jonah Goldberg is doing a Q&A at the L Street Borders exactly one month from tomorrow — I came across the sign earlier today. I wonder what kind of crowd he’ll attract. Hopefully one that contains a lot of angry, half-drunk history professors.

I have never uploaded a photo containing so much detail or with such care

the year in whining (also, music)

Jeff has commanded that year-end lists be produced; let it be so.

Actually, though, I can’t recommend too much. There were a lot of albums that I wanted to like but ultimately found disappointing. Okkervil River never grabbed me after the single; neither did The National. Patrick Wolf wears out his welcome after the first three songs. Le Loup’s album is more of a one-trick pony than was initially apparent. And although I love a number of tracks on Dan Deacon’s album (mostly the ones where he keeps his mouth shut), I found “Wham City” and its ilk to be really grating. Jens Lekman’s too precious, Polyphonic Spree evolved one album too late, Los Campesinos couldn’t seal the deal and Of Montreal proved to be astoundingly irritating. Man, there’s no pleasing me! It seemed like a year of singles, with precious few full-lengths worth listening to end-to-end.

But there were a few albums I couldn’t help playing over and over. This list isn’t going to blow any minds, but I enjoyed writing it out. Y’know, for posterity.

Arcade Fire — Neon Bible
Predictable, I know. Well, so’s the rest of my list. I’m putting this first, though, because it’s the one I feel most lukewarm toward. It’s full of good music, but it’s fundamentally a betrayal. AF’s first album was all about their fear of growing old, growing callous, feeling less. They howled and screamed and swore that they’d figure a way out of it. Then they didn’t. Thanks a fucking lot, guys. That the only track recapturing their original manifesto — “No Cars Go” — was a new version of a song from their debut EP only added insult to injury. Still, they make some awfully pretty sounds.
Feist – The Reminder
It’s really good. C’mon, you’ve seen the ad. Who are you to resist?
The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever
It’s just a consistently good rock album. If you ask me, an inability to say more than that makes for a relatively rare sort of endorsement.
Stars – Up In Our Bedroom After The War
Maybe I just didn’t understand Stars when I listened to their last album. Or, more likely, maybe I was just clinging to the pretension that I’m not the sort of guy who listens to musical theater voluntarily. Well, I’m over it. This album isn’t uniformly great, but it has enough standout pop songs that the rest can be considered pleasant-enough glue. After all, you’ve got to have some quiet solo pieces to kill time while the stagehands move the set around.
The Wombats – Girls, Boys and Marsupials
Alright, so this technically came out in 2006. But their stuff is just now trickling out in US releases, so I feel alright about mentioning it. This is what I was hoping to hear as I diligently listened to the Arctic Monkeys and Cold War Kids. Between The Wombats and The Cribs I guess this year found me in the mood for bratty English vocals. The songs are funny and clever and dumb, and awfully good.


And yes, I’m still mourning the Unicorns.
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Far and away the best album of the year — for me, it’s really not even close. I think I once drunkenly described this album as “economical”, and I may as well stand by that. Everything is so well-constructed, every gesture placed with such casual perfection that it’s tempting to conclude that it couldn’t be more than a cold architectural exercise. But when faced with the opening Motown chimes of “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”, that idea melts away. Also: points for brevity.

This year was also the first in which I listened to much electronic (or at least non-rock, non-rap) music. I’m not straying too far from my familiar pop pastures — RJD2, Ratatat, Diplo, the aforementioned Mr. Deacon, that sort of thing. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know very much about the genres contained under the electronic umbrella, and probably need to spend some more time listening diligently and uncritically. But I’m trying, at least a little. I realize that millions of club kids can’t be wrong. I’m the one who’s wrong.

With that said, Pitchfork’s list of the year’s best songs still baffles me. “All My Friends” sounds to me like a not-that-good Franz Ferdinand song and little more. And somewhere around the fifth minute of Battles’ “Atlas” I get real sick of hearing plodding repetitions of melodies that could be ably picked out on a keyboard with two fingers. I’m of the opinion that Daft Punk made their point a while ago and should now be polite enough to leave me alone.

My lack of patience is probably to blame. If you set up a melodic pattern I want my expectations of how it’s going to progress to be promptly defied. Going through the motions for an extra measure or two earns my boredom (and ill will) very quickly. Perhaps this consigns me to a life of listening to variations on the same tired three minute pop song — I realize that a very limited bag of tricks is being used over and over again to surprise and delight me. But so far I’m not sick of it.

Finally, one last bit of carping: I’m really surprised that the M.I.A. juggernaut continues to roll along. It seems like a transparent case of style over substance to me, but people really seem to dig her stuff. So I’ll say that I think I must be missing something and hope that my half-earnestness counts as personal growth.

at least the title is descriptive

Kind of funny: reading Michael Arrington pissily explain to everyone how the unauthorized use of a photographer’s photo in a satirical video is “fair use” and getting it all totally fucking wrong.

At least he had the good sense to back off, in comments, from his ludicrous initial argument: that the fair use exception for satire allows any copyrighted material to be used in the parody — regardless of whether it’s the subject of the parody or not. If that were the case, Mad Magazine could probably enjoy a sales bump by including burned copies of Photoshop as inserts.

But even in his new, more moderate position (fair use by fiat), Arrington is still wrong. It’s an increasingly common mistake: folks use a low-fidelity version of a copyrighted work for illustrative purposes within the context of a larger original work and assume it’s okay. It sure seems like this should be okay — it’s not the main point of the work, it’s just decoration. And it was so easy! I’m all for making this sort of thing kosher when employed by noncommercial projects, but right now it’s not. It’d be nice if Arrington was a little less preachy when talking out of his ass.