Monday, November 30, 2009

Brace Yourselves, Girls: Bar Politics

I was recently in a bar with one of my best friends and former roommate of four years, innocently enjoying our beers and catching up, when a drunk guy approached us. This is not an unusual occurrence, given our surroundings, but what he said to us was. Taking in our answers to a few random questions he posed (yes, we lived together, and yes, we actually were just discussing adoption) he assumed we were a couple. We did not try hard to deny this, mainly because that saved us and him a lot of time and energy if he was looking for a hookup. It did occur to us that he actually may have been, in his drunken stupor, convinced that if he kept talking to us and buying us drinks that we would make out, but we knew that was not going to happen so we judged him to be essentially harmless.

He ranted and raved in our favor, going on and on about how we should be allowed to marry and adopt and we cheered him on. And then he stood up and announced, “I should be allowed to marry this pole if I wanted.”

Pause.

I pointed out that has nothing to do with gay marriage. He continued as if I had said nothing, and went on a gleeful diatribe on how anyone should be able to marry whoever and whatever they want, regardless of the other party's ability to consent. Farm animals, inanimate objects, whatever. And at this point we were both chiming in, mainly for the benefit of the rest of the bar patrons, all of whom were now watching us intently (and as I later learned, taking bets as to whether or not my friend and I were truly a couple), saying over and over that allowing gay marriage is allowing two consenting adult human people to marry and gain all the tax, medical, and next-of-kin benefits married people possess. His passionate entreaties to the government to allow anyone to marry a pole or a Great Dane did nothing but relegate gay people to inanimate objects and pets, and we were increasingly uncomfortable. Unfortunately, we were also unable to leave due to the beers we’d enjoyed before he intruded on our perfectly lovely friend-date.

Encouraged by our earlier positivity and disregarding our very sudden and severe change of tone, he continued to spout half-liberalisms, thinly disguising a vast ignorance that forced me to wonder just how many people in the world consider themselves forward-thinking simply because they discharge these snippets of liberal foil, barely covering a whole casserole of ignorant, backward ideologies. And then I guess we were friends by now, because he moved past his faux-pro-gay cheerleading and brought out the big guns. Assuming, at this point, that we were Super Liberals (what does that even mean?) with a steadfast We Are The World mentality, he decided to really test us and asked our opinion on miscegenation.

Don't... read it again. Just, trust that you read right.

We gaped at him. And he kept. Talking. Quickly covering his tracks(?) and saying the following: "Of course you love diversity, right? I love diversity. Well if you mix the races there will eventually be no more diversity so you're losing that thing you love so much. What will you do in the future when there's no diversity? What will you love?"

At this point all our words were gone, vanished, vamoosed from our brains and mouths. I wish I'd been able to speak, because I would have at least been able to tell him that what he said doesn't even make SENSE, and that more genetic mixing leads to more diverse people, and less genetic mixing leads to the Hapsburgs. To my credit, that particular night I was completely unprepared to get into such a political debate. You know, the kind that spirals so completely and immediately out of control that it ends up in racist drivel. And the worst part about all of it is that this guy thinks he's forward-thinking. He thinks he's really well informed on all the hot-button socio-political issues, and he's out there, talking to people, making decisions, filling the collective unconscious with his burbling, bumbling ethos.

What I'm really saying here is that they're out there. Those people exist, and they are out there, and they are at the bar, waiting for you to get tipsy so they can babble at you for four hours straight when you where just trying to have a nice night out with your friend. It's real, girls.

Brace yourselves.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Soul Mix #1

During a discussion with Jason about the hypothetical best song ever, I offered to make him a mix of some of my favorite soul songs. Unsurprisingly, this is pretty heavy on Stax and Motown, but I fit in some of my favorites from the Eccentric Soul series by the Numero Group label. The charm of those compilations is that the tracks range from highly polished to defiantly odd, but most of them are quite funky.

1. Sam Cooke - Chain Gang
Sam Cooke may have my favorite voice of all time.

2. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - Mickey's Monkey
3. Rufus Thomas - Can Your Monkey Do the Dog
Two dance craze songs, one Motown, one Stax. These type of singles were Rufus's bread and butter, but the Smokey's song is just as enjoyable.

4. The Performers - Mini Skirt
5. The Mad Lads - I Want a Girl

6. Marion Black - Who Knows
I originally heard this sampled by RJD2, but the original, on the first Eccentric Soul compilation that profiled the Capsoul Label, is dark and fantastic.

7. Freda Gray and The Rocketeers - Stay Away From My Johnny

8. Renaldo Domino - Not to Cool To Cry
I actually saw Mr. Domino live just a few weeks ago as part of the Numero Soul Review, and his voice is still smooth as sugar. The combination of the earnest/sad/awesome lyrics, and the ambitious arrangement that make this one of the best things on any Numero compilation.

9. Carla Thomas - I Like What You're Doing (To Me)
10. Mary Wells - Two Lovers
Two songs about Jekyll/Hyde type boyfriends. While this is possibly Carla's best song, Mary Wells was one of the more underrated singers on Motown. Hence the inclusion of a second Mary track later in the mix.

11. Booker T & the MGs - Time is Tight
I don't want to give away too much of what would be on my list of the best songs of all time, but this is absolutely one of them. Everyone knows "Green Onion," but I like this tune more. It has this laser-like focus, and the band effortlessly makes a few simple riffs into something great.

12. Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay
The song that inspired the discussion that inspired the mix.

13. The Bar-Kays - Soul Finger
14. Little Stevie Wonder - Fingertips (Part 2)
Two utterly joyous songs, the first has a live feel to it and the second is a live reissue of an earlier single. Note that is says "Little" Stevie for a reason - this was recorded when he was still a teenager. You can see why Motown re-released this song as a live version. The tune itself is nothing special but the energy on the track makes it something special.

15. Otis Redding - Try A Little Tenderness
Do I like this more than Dock of the Bay? Maybe just a little bit. Is it objectively a better song? Probably not.

16. William Bell - You Don't Miss Your Water

17. Eddie Floyd - Knock on Wood
This is the original song that you may know as the old disco hit. This version is fantastic too, especially the horns. This is a wonderful horn chart.

18. Mary Wells - My Guy
19. The Temptations - Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)

20. The Four Mints - Row My Boat
Another Eccentric Soul song, and this one is just super smooth. You could sneak this right onto a Motown comp and no one would be the wiser.

21. Ray Charles - I Got A Woman
He's got a woman, she's probably not a gold digger. Kanye has a different woman, that woman may be a gold digger.

22. Jr. Walker and the All Stars - Shotgun
Up there with "Fingertips" as one of the most raucous songs Motown ever put out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Facebook and Death

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and whatever future sites and technologies replace them, we will all be acutely aware when every single person we know dies.

At the moment it's not so obvious. Most of the Facebook generation is young, and the individuals who use these online tools are the ones more likely to be able to afford a computer and so less likely to be living in conditions that make them more likely to die young. (Got that?) But in twenty years or so, when our generation starts heading into late middle age and heart attacks and strokes begin to take their toll, it will become an increasingly regular occurrence to find out, via Newsfeed or Tweet, that someone you once knew passed on. The kids you went to high school with and haven't seen since that reunion. The ex, or the weekend fling, whom you stopped talking to long ago. The former co-worker (the one you flirted with, the one you rivaled with), your former best friend's boyfriend's kid sister, your college professors.

It will be strange, I imagine. It will be the saddest part of our wide-cast net of human awareness. It is easy now - or used to be easier - to travel through life as if walking through woods; your nearby companions are right there with you, and some friendlier acquaintances and more distant relatives are occasionally obscured by the trees and undergrowth, and way off in the distance showing their faces only when crossing a meadow are those folks you only maintain the most casual of contact with. On such a passage, a distant individual might stop appearing for years (or for ever), and you'd never know the difference; they could just have taken a slight detour behind the thickets. Your view allows some knowledge that there is a whole world out there, but it is mainly a personal, close-knit journey.

Thanks to these social connection innovations, the path we take, or will take, will be more like that on a great, flat plain, or maybe inside an infinitely large glass building with see-through tubes and bridges everywhere, or even on the inside of a Ringworld. You can see for miles and miles, and there are a LOT of people out there; only the horizon obscures them from view. If that fellow you friended after talking music tastes with at the bus stop twenty years ago and never spoke to again suddenly drops down dead, you can see it happen even at that great distance; especially because you can see all the people closer to him turning their heads, like rubbernecking on the highway.

As we get older, there will be more and more bodies littering the clearsighted landscape. (In this metaphor, there may still be distant forests in which the older, unconnected generations are walking largely unseen; only the younger generations traverse the vast plain, at least at the moment.) Mortality everywhere. I suspect, and I hope, that it will actually bring us all closer together - if your traveling companions drop off while tramping through the woods with you, you're suddenly alone; but in this wide-open landscape, you can see that way off over there are some other folks looking lonely, and you can cross the distance to join them.

The only question is, as this blogger asks, is if we'll be able to control the social-network announcement of our own deaths. As she points out, an individual might not want to have their Facebook page memorialized or their friends to announce their passing online. Do we have the right - or ability - to take ourselves out of the landscape? As social networks become more prominent, does a person have some (legal or moral) propriety over their cybersphere presence? Most likely, no matter how strenously a person objects, in the near future no one will be able to prevent their online presence.

Stuff to think about. And if you're curious, this article describes the current Facebook policy towards death of a member.

So, to sum up plainly: I think it’s highly likely that in our futures we will remain continually aware of the basic life-status of nearly everyone we ever meet; at the very least we’ll be aware of anytime someone dies. In the past, someone you lost touch with would simply disappear from your sphere of knowledge and you’d probably never find out if they outlived you or not. Thus, we’ll see far more death than any previous generation. But at the same time – I hope – this will ultimately make us less lonely and more connected.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

TG RoundTable's Thanksgiving Special

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time of sharing, a time of caring, a time of football, family, and stuffing your face until you overdose on tryptophan and pass out. This week These Gentlemen gather Round the Table to recieve extra helpings of Thanksgiving questions.

First course is, of course, what are you thankful for?
Second course, what is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
And dessert (or third round of the first course, or lunch for the next three weeks...) what isn't but should be a Thanksgiving tradition?


David Pratt

The question of what I'm thankful for gave me far more trouble than I had anticipated. Everything I thought of at first seemed either shallow or cliched. Of course I'm thankful for friends and family, it would be crazy and ungrateful of me not to be. I'm thankful for the things that entertain me like the internet and video games, but it seems self-centered to me to list that as a thing I actually give thanks for. Does it cheapen my friends and family to group them in with the meaningless diversions I surround myself with? Would saying I'm thankful for the hard-hitting ultraviolence of God of War somehow raise to the level of my thankfulness for my sweet and thoughful girlfriend? Thanksgiving has always been a source of aggravation for me in that respect. Do I get judged based on the things I'm thankful for? It's really kind of frustrating. Not because I'm unhappy that I have so much to be thankful about, but because it makes me feel more than a little introspective to express it.

Now my favorite Thanksgiving dish, that's another story. My Dad's wife makes this chocolate pie every year that I happily drive back to New York for. It's so delicious. You don't understand. I can't rightfully put it into words, but if I could it would be something like aggglllomnomnomblllarrrghnomnom. She's started just making an extra pie so that everyone has enough after I eat half of the first one.

And finally, the one Thanksgiving tradition we don't have that I would institute would be returning a parcel of land to Native American ownership every year. Since I don't think the rest of the country would go for that, I would just make it so the entire Presidential cabinet plays a game of football on the White House lawn. Teams would be President and Vice President and they pick who they want one at a time, like junior high kickball. Winning team spends Thanksgiving handing out food at a soup kitchen - the losing team cooks for them.

I'd also encourage changing the dish from turkey to something beef-related. Turkeys do us no harm. Cows are actively trying to kill the human species. Which is not to say I won't still eat delicious turkey, I'd just rather be using the time to save mankind.


Daniel

Okay. Part one.

I'm thankful for so many things, but the one I feel like highlighting is my health. I got sick recently, it ended up being nothing to serious, but I had no insurance at the time and was starting to get scared I had the ole H1N1. So many thoughts went through my mind: how can I afford a doctor visit? What if it gets worse? How am I ever going to get covered after this? Turns out, my fever went down fast and was gone in just two days. But it scared the hell out of me.

Favorite Thanksgiving dish, that's an easier one. It'd have to be the marshmallow yams. Does everybody else have those too? Man, they are AMAZING.

One Thanksgiving tradition my family has (that everyone else's should) is after dinner, we all play three or four rounds of Balderdash. Everybody always complains that they don't want to play, but then it's always a good time. I think every family should adopt this tradition. Because I know what's right for you, America. Come get some.

Jason Heat
pie





Alex

So this roundtable is kind of a tough one for me. A couple of weeks ago, I would have been thankful for the prospect of being able to cook Thanksgiving food myself, having no family-induced stress, and getting to spend a large portion of the day watching football while naked (oversharing?).

Now, I have a much more cliched list of things I'm thankful for- I'm glad that my friends are so supportive and willing to listen to me talk way too much. I'm also quite glad that my parents decided not to go away for Thanksgiving, so I can drive to Ohio and at least have my typical relax-with-my-parents Thanksgiving, complete with whatever delicious food my mother decides to make. And since she feels bad for me at the moment, she's even throwing in pumpkin pie, something which she personally can't stand.

Ok, so part two. I do love turkey, but I think my favorite Thanksgiving dish is this apple-cranberry casserole that my mom makes every year. It's great because the crumb topping lets me pretend that it's basically oatmeal, which means I end up eating it for breakfast for the next week.

And part three. I honestly have no idea what non-Thanksgiving thing should be part of the tradition, but I know that I would prefer if travelling weren't so traditional. That's mostly because it tends to be a bad experience for me, like the year that I drove to Philly with my mom and brother, got an ear infection on the way there, had to stop at a hospital, and ended up sleeping in the van that night because traffic was so bad and there was nowhere to stay. Not fun. And yet, I had to argue with my parents to let me drive to Ohio alone instead of flying this year... I must be deranged.


Stephen

I am thankful for those who are close to me. I'm thankful for my lovely girlfriend, my family, my friends, and of course, my cute little dog, Arty.

My favorite Thanksgiving dish is stuffing. I really like stuffing. My face. With stuffing.

My idea for a new Thanksgiving tradition? Thanksgiving is fine. Just leave it alone people. Free ipods for everyone. There. Thanksgiving just got better. Unless you work for Apple. In which case you're probably all like "damn." But eventually a better ipod will get invented. It would probably be best to time the release of a better ipod to occur on the day after Thanksgiving. But it's going to suck for Apple in October and November, because nobody is going to buy an ipod, because Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


Max Nova

1. As always I thankful to be alive, and I am thankful for music.
2. It's a tie between stuffing and mash potatoes.
3. Everyone should celebrate Buy Nothing Day on the day after Thanksgiving.






Brett

1) What am I thankful for?

The usual stuff like family, friends, food... fun... foosball... freedom?... funk... ... ... French fries... ... foil? It's useful. -More Seriously, the Breadth of Possibilities of Time and Space, by which at any moment I could turn the corner and meet someone new or have some adventure. Or slip and fall, but hey.

2) What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

Mashed potatoes. I am far too lazy to make them during the year, nor do I favor the insta-variety. So it's one of the very very few times I get to eat 'em.

3) What isn't, but should be, part of the Thanksgiving tradition?

Pretending to be someone else at the table and saying what you believe they are (or should be) thankful for. Maybe even each person at the table getting this treatment from every other guest.


ali d

1. I know it sounds corny and trite, but I'm incredibly thankful for my friends and family. I moved down to Silver Spring over the summer, and am surrounded by so many wonderful and fun people who constantly challenge me and keep life interesting. I live with my best friend. I'm dating the best guy I've ever known. My parents are supporting my dreams. My baby sister lives down the street. I have a fantastic new brother-in-law. Life doesn't get much better. I'm also so thankful that I'm working enough to support myself. I feel very lucky to get as much work as I do in such a jobless economy.

2. I'm sure people are expecting me to talk about Thanksgiving desserts as my favorite dish, but I have to say, it's all about the brown foods for me at Thanksgiving. Turkey (dark meat - no contest). Stuffing. Rolls. And what makes sweet potatoes so delicious? That's right, it's the brown sugar. Mmm. I might go into a tryptophan coma just thinking about my monochromatic TGiving plate.

3. Remember all those years ago when the Native Americans shared their crops with us, and thus we didn't all starve and die out and that's why we have Thanksgiving in the first place? I think that in between the parade, football games, and Christmas specials, we should be reminded that this holiday all began with a simple act of sharing.



B.Graham

Ah one: I am thankful for a regular paycheck, and to have healthcare. I'm really, really thankful to have healthcare. I am thankful for the people around me, ie my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my cats. I am thankful that the aforementioned people (with possible exception of the cats) are so very patient with me and love me unconditionally for who/what I am. I am thankful to be living in 2009 and not any time before now, and I am so incredibly thankful for the internet. Especially at work.

Ah twohooo: Green bean casserole. Hands down. I could eat green bean casserole every single day of November and the beginning of December. I am this specific because, like pumpkin pie, green bean casserole is meant only for Thanksgiving and can only be consumed on or around its designated holiday. I think the wait makes it all that much tastier and wonderful come this time of year.
Man I am so pumped for green bean casserole.

Ah three. Ah three: In the nature of that single day in which puritans and Native Americans (NOT Native Indians) got along and broke bread together, I think we should have something along the lines of a nation-wide "peace be with you"-type moment, in which we would all just make an extra effort to smile and say hello and help our neighbors. "Oh, I see you are struggling with all those packages as you try to open the door, can I get that for you?" "Hello, I noticed that we've been neighbors for two years and we've never formally met. Here's a cake I baked." "I see that you have a two babies and a stroller/are pregnant/are old. Take my seat, please." Ideally, it would help alleviate some of the tension/stress of the upcoming holiday season, and maybe eventually bleed into the rest of the year.


And with that, I hope you’re sated, because that’s all we’ve baked. After-dinner mint, anyone?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh, Hello!

Today, on Thanksgiving Eve, These Gentlemen give thanks for new members. We also give thanks that said new members have been so patient, for in the haze of work, school, and holidays, we have not yet given them their due: the Introduction.

Alex Keiper - Alex is an actress and freelance costume worker in the world of D.C. theatre who is currently rehearsing the role of Emilie for Greenbelt Arts Center's production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Alex escaped to the University of Maryland in College Park from the small town of Piqua, Ohio, where she was an avid dancer and show choir participant. She spent a year in New York City after graduation pursuing work in art galleries and theatres, but finding the job climate less than favorable, has moved back to D.C. to try her hand in the District, working toward her certification as a yoga instructor in the meantime. She brings to the Gentlemen a degree in art history and a fabulous fashion sense (including an unparalleled love for corsets and handkerchiefs).

Brett Abelman - Born and raised in the D.C. suburbs (mostly in Gaithersburg), Brett is also a University of Maryland grad, holding degrees in theatre and English, the job market's enemies. Currently a Gentleman of Leisure, Brett spends most of his time pursuing his passion: creative writing. Focusing mostly on plays (his play "The Old Man of the Sea of Stories" recently won the Audience Choice Award for Rorschach Theater's Myth Appropriation series) and some prose fiction, he hopes one day to write for video games, as he sees the medium as the storytelling of the future. Futurism and speculative fiction are also topics he hopes to tackle here at These Gentlemen, and he looks forward to playing devil's advocate to our arguments. You can also read more of his work in his story-a-day blog, http://larondeinfinite.blogspot.com/


We look forward to hearing Alex and Brett's fresh voices on the blog, and thank them for waiting for us to get on the ball. We hope that their addition will lead to a resurgence of spirited and sustained discourse, only on These Gentlemen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Satisfaction Guaranteed

This should get to be the sports story of the year. After getting drubbed 9-1 by my Spurs on Sunday, Wigan Athletic are refunding the ticket cost for all of their traveling fans out of their players pockets.

I'm of two minds about this. Obviously it sets an amazing precedent, and given how bad Wigan were, no one is stopping them from doing this. Plus just imagine if even one of the big US banks said, "We're not just giving up our bonuses, our top staff will all give back their salaries for the year." What if the Redskins refunded fans money for their losses earlier this season? It could be a better world. Maybe we'd even start paying teachers decent salaries, and calling our parents more, and Glenn Beck would just vanish.

But look at it another way. Imagine you were not a partisan supporter of either team, but just went to White Hart Lane to catch the game because you enjoy soccer. You got an amazing value for your money -- 10 goals, and an astonishing 5 by my man Jermain Defoe, with some able help from the future of English soccer, Aaron Lennon. If anything they should have started charging an extra quid or two on each patron after about the sixth goal. Plus, there are crazy scores in college football all the time. Even good teams get played off the field pretty regularly (hello there, USC!). And you don't want your fans asking for their money back after every loss. Maryland Football would go bankrupt this season.

The important thing, though, is we really improved our goal differential.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Got a Case of the Mondays?

Drank too much this weekend? Sitting next to that co worker who chews with his mouth open and clears his throat really loudly? Still somber after the Redskins held the Cowboys to one touchdown and STILL didn't win the game? Don't worry. These Gentlemen has you covered. Enjoy not one, but TWO brand new videos hot off the reels from Chicago.





And don't worry, only six more games and the 'Skins can take the rest of the year off!

--Daniel

Sunday, November 22, 2009

So I watched an episode of Glee

And it was pretty enjoyable. Hell, even when the teacher came in and announced "This is Ballads Week," I figured, eh I'll still give it a fair shot. The song choices themselves were mildly amusing, except for an excruciatingly bad version version of "Lean on Me" which was as awful as those holiday Gap commercials (and I reaaaaally don't like those ads).

But Sarah mentioned something midway through the episode that explained a lot about why I rather liked the show - the creator of Glee is the same fellow behind Popular, a very odd and often unexpectedly great show that was on the WB during the height of their teen phase. The joy of Popular was that it was often divorced from reality but could get a bit serious at the moments when it mattered.

Glee has the same sensibility, plus there are the songs, which people seem to enjoy. Both shows are unconcerned with creating this sort of hyper-reality that Dawson's Creek and it's ilk aimed for. Everyone on that program had a graduate degree-sized backstory and was fully formed right from the start. Everyone in Glee, from what I could tell, is pretty one-note, but that's not necessarily a problem. A good writer can get characters out of that cul-de-sac and that seems to be what's happening in the show, at least in spurts.

But will I keep watching it every week? Probably not. For now i'll stick with 30 Rock.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

History of the Electoral College Part 3: 1820-1832

1820

Winner - James Monroe (228 out of 231 electoral votes)

Runner-Up - None


This would be the third and final time in American history wherein a candidate ran effectively unopposed. Following the collapse of the Federalist Party, there existed no body stable enough to present serious opposition to the candidacy of of James Monroe. He and Vice-President Daniel Tompkins did not even run a campaign, as their victory was assured from the moment of their nomination. Though there were some Federalist holdouts whom refused to cast their votes, Monroe nonetheless carried the election in a landslide. America was at this time in "The Era of Good Feelings," an extended stretch of single-party politics.

So set in stone was Monroe's re-nomination that only 40 delegates from the Democratic Republican party even bothered to attend the caucus. Several states went unrepresented. Also in this election, changes in the country brought about a shift in the electoral college. Massachusetts lost 7 of its electors due to the Missouri Compromise, which had created Maine out of a large part of its territory. In Mississippi, one of the electors died before being able to cast his vote, bringing about the rare circumstance of a state casting only 2 votes when they are entitled to 3 at a minimum. It was also the first time Mississippi participated in a Presidential election, as well as Illinois and Alabama.

At this time, the issue of slavery was beginning to heat up in America. The Missouri Compromise established Maine to balance the number of Free States and Slave States. There was a growing rift in the country over the issue, one with no easy resolution in sight. America was also fresh off the heels of the Panic of 1819, its first major economic crisis. 190 years ago, the country was in the grips of an economic meltdown brought about by speculation and failing banks. Bankruptcy and unemployment reached previously unknown levels.

Still, the political system remained intact, and James Monroe would go on to sign the Land Act of 1820 and the Relief Act of 1821 to help the struggling economy. The Panic ended in 1823.

William Plumer of Massachusetts cast the sole dissenting vote in the electoral college. He did so by voting for then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Some suggest he did this to ensure that George Washington would remain the only President ever to win the entire electoral college. Others think it was to draw attention to Adams for a future candidacy - which would in fact be the case in 1824.


1824

Winner - John Quincy Adams (84 out of 261)

Runners-Up:

Andrew Jackson (99 out of 261)

William H. Crawford (41 out of 261)

Henry Clay (37 out of 261)

In a complete turnabout from the events of 1820, 1824 was a bitterly contested 4-way race by the Democratic Republicans which would splinter politics in America once more.

The numbers here clearly point to a victory by popular Tennessee Senator Andrew Jackson. However, due to the nature of the race and the requirement for a majority rather than plurality, the vote was decided in the House of Representatives. Let's take a look at how each candidate measured up.

John Quincy Adams was the current Secretary of State and former Senator from Massachusetts, as well as being the son of former President John Adams. He had become a Democratic Republican after the collapse of the Federalist Party, and still enjoyed much support from old Federalists.

Andrew Jackson was a hero of the War of 1812 and popular in the South. He was an early favorite to win, as his fame was widespread in the nation. He did in fact take the electoral college and by many accounts the popular vote as well. During the election he was the sitting Senator from Tennessee.

William H. Crawford suffered a stroke in 1823, and though he recovered by the election his chances had been crippled. He was a former Secretary of War and current Secretary of the Treasury. His method of nomination was considered to be undemocratic by many, as it was done by a sparsely-attended Congressional Congress.

Henry Clay was the current Speaker of the House, also known as "The Great Compromiser." His support was mostly in the west, with John Quincy Adams enjoying far more popularity amongst voters that might have otherwise gone for Clay. Still, his role in this election would be pivotal.

When the results were tallied, none of the candidates had sufficient support from the electoral college to claim victory. Thus for the first time since the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, the Presidency was determined by the House of Representatives - the same House wherein Henry Clay currently served as Speaker. As he received the fewest number of electoral votes in the nationwide election, his candidacy was revoked, leaving only Adams, Crawford, and Jackson as eligible candidates. As Crawford trailed both by a significant margin, it was in fact a battle between the Secretary of State and the Senator from Tennessee.

Henry Clay was no admirer of Andrew Jackson, and is quoted as saying "“I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy.” His political ideals fell far more in line with those of Adams. Thus he threw his support in behind the Secretary of State, cementing his victory.

This action is also noteworthy for a statement, allegedly from a member of Congress, which began circulating before the results of the election were revealed. In it, the charge was levied that Henry Clay had been offered the position of Secretary of State by John Quincy Adams should he support his candidacy. Sure enough, when the results were determined, Clay was indeed picked for the now-vacant slot. Adams and his three predecessors had all served as Secretary of State prior to being elected President, and the position was assumed to be a stepping stone for the highest seat in the land.

Andrew Jackson was astonished and outraged by the results, and would spend the next four years railing against the audacity of Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams. This set the stage for a rematch in 1828. It also ended the Era of Good Feeling, as the division between the Democratic Republicans would splinter the party into factions. From Jackson would rise the Democratic Party, and from Adams and Clay the National Republicans and the Whig Party came to be.

Electors during this period were chosen as follows:

Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia chose electors by statewide vote.

Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont had their electors chosen by state legislature.

Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee were divided into electoral districts, with one elector chosen by the voters of each district.

Maine had two electors chosen by voters statewide, and one elector chosen per Congressional district by the voters of each district.

Of course in 1824, it hardly mattered, as the election was decided by debate and backroom deals rather than democratic vote.


1828


Winner - Andrew Jackson (178 out of 261 electoral votes)

Runner-Up - John Quincy Adams (83 out of 261 electoral votes)

Andrew Jackson had not run a strong campaign in 1824. This coupled with the fact that it was a four-way race negated his chances for victory. As the only person now running against the incumbent President, he managed to win practically everything that had gone for Crawford or Clay in the previous election.

Jackson's support was wide-ranging and powerful. Thomas Jefferson, whom had been in favor of a Crawford victory in 1824, reversed his opinion after seeing the current administration in action. He feared for declining States Rights and the growing powers of the Federal Government, and believed Jackson was the one hope left to reverse that trend. John C. Calhoun, then serving as Vice President of the United States, also threw in his support behind Jackson, becoming his running mate. The newly-established Democratic Party began spreading across the country, attacking Adams wherever it could.

Adams responded in kind, with a mudslinging campaign the likes of which had not previously been seen. Jackson was called an adulterer for his marriage to Rachel Jackson, whose divorce had not yet been finalized when she married Andrew Jackson. His habit of dueling and executing deserters while in the military was also called into question. The charges of adultery caused Rachel much distress, and infuriated Jackson.

It was too late for Adams to save his Presidency by 1828. He accomplished few of his goals while in office, due largely to the opposition he faced in Congress. Many members of his cabinet were Jackson supporters, and his high tariff policy and non-expansionist attitude towards Native Americans were highly unpopular in the South and West. The Democratic Republicans lost control of Congress to Jackson's Democrats in 1826, and the Presidency followed. Adams won New England and a few other states, but Jackson took the remainder of the country.

Rachel Jackson, in constant distress over the campaign which slandered her name so often, died of a heart attack two weeks after Jackson's victory. Andrew Jackson was heartbroken, and blamed Adam's campaign and Henry Clay for her death. Quoth Jackson; "I can and do forgive all my enemies. But those vile wretches who have slandered her must look to God for mercy."

Electors in 1828 were chosen as follows:

Delaware and South Carolina had their electors chosen via State Congressional appointment.

Maryland and Tennessee were divided into electoral districts, with electors chosen by voters from each district.

Maine had two electors chosen by voters statewide, and one elector chosen per Congressional district by the voters of each district.

New York had one elector chosen per Congressional District by the voters of that district, and the remaining two electors chosen by the other electors.

All other states chose their electors via popular vote.


1832


Winner: Andrew Jackson (219 out of 286 electoral votes)

Runners-Up:

Henry Clay (49 out of 286)

William Wirt (7 out of 286)

John Floyd (11 out of 286)

Andrew Jackson was the current sitting President. His first term in office was marked by an aggressive attack of the National Debt - indeed, by his second term, Jackson was the first and only President to pay it off in its entirety. His image as a man defending the common people grew rapidly as he fought against large banking institutions.

Henry Clay was a sitting Senator from Kentucky and had served as John Q. Adam's Secretary of State. He was easily chosen by the Republican convention as their Presidential nominee.

William Wirt was a successful and very well-reknowned lawyer whom had also served as the United States Attorney General. He is often credited for making that position one of importance.

John Floyd was a former member of the House of Representatives and at the time of the election sitting governor of Virginia.

The follow-up to Jackson's defeat of John Q. Adams had him finalize his revenge against those whom had wronged him. As the candidate for the newly-formed National Republican Party, Henry Clay received hardly a fraction of the support Jackson was able to draw up.

A political standard established in 1832 which still exists today is that of the National Convention. The Congressional Nominating Caucus had fallen victim to the changing times, and now each political party held their own convention to determine a nominee. Baltimore was the host of the very first, organized by William Wirt's Anti-Masonic party. Maryland's capital also played host to the Democratic and Republican conventions when they followed suit.

The campaign focused on Jackson's policies. Distrustful of banks and paper currency, Jackson had come down hard upon the National Banking system. Henry Clay took the side of the Second Bank of the United States, hoping doing so would curry favor in its home state of Pennsylvania. He spent a great deal of the bank's money and published a number of inflamatory cartoons abuot Jackson to make his method of governing appear monarchial. This failed, as Jackson successfully conveyed to the people his belief that taking apart the bank was in their best interests. Clay won only a few states, and Jackson took most of the country.

For the election of 1832, Electors were chosen as follows.

Maryland was divided into electoral districts, with one elector chosen per district via the voters of that district.

South Carolina had its electors appointed by the state legislature. All of South Carolina's electors voted for John Floyd.

All other states had their electors chosen via statewide popular vote.

Friday, November 20, 2009

One Year Old

It passed us by a bit, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that as a site and a group, These Gentlemen is now just over a year old - and I think that's pretty cool, and pretty impressive. In the course of the past year, a lot of writing has been done on a variety of subjects - with thought, care, and craft going into each piece. We've had periods of great output, and we've had periods with not a lot to say - but every time we catch the bug again and I read something truly great on this site.

With a year under our belts, a lot of thinking has gone into what our purpose and priorities should be - and as often as they've changed in the past 365+ days, and as often as they will continue to do so, I think the core goal remains the same - to have an outlet for people with great intelligence, insight, and heart to respond to the world around them in a way that excites, elucidates, and affects. To create a forum for discussion that might not otherwise exist. And to try and aspire to the status of A Gentleman - one who thinks about himself, others, and their place in the world; cares about art, culture, and the society that surrounds it and the people who live it; that treats others with honor and respect, even in the face of honest differences.

I want to thank our current roster of writers who find the time, in spite of being starving artists, overworked law students, momentous activists, and generally busy people to take the time to share as often as they can.
They're all good writers and good friends - honor them by commenting. A lot. We feed on the stuff.

As for me, I promise to take this one year marker as a moment to reinvest in this site as something to cultivate and make a priority, and to take a more active presence with my writing once again.
I think we can up our game.
So I'm stepping up.

And in honor of a year's worth of writing here is a sample of some of my favorite TG posts over the past year. If you're new to the site, please take the time to check them out. They give a great sense of what we're about.

- Max Nova, our most stalwart writer, starts us off proper - saying good by to G.W.
- Happy Birthday
- An Open Letter To The Company That Rejected Me
- Hunting The World's Most Dangerous Game
- The Sad Strange Tale of the Girl with Red Hair - Part 1, Part 2, and Responses 1 & 2 & 3
- A Moment in Time
- Art & Death
- The Debut of SharkBear (or the Impossible Argument)
- Jason and David go the the Movies
- New Year's Resolutions
- The Top 5 Rich People Most Likely to Pull Off Being Batman
- No Holds Barred
- Turn Off the Lights
- Why I Don't Play Risk
- On Volunteering
- Where the Hell is Matt, the Dancing Man?
- Getting to Work
- 25 Facts by Michael Phelps
- TG The Movie - 1 & 2
- It's True
- Sesame Street Sure Grew Up
- Francis Warner
- We Hate 'Heroes'
- When You Need Help Just Call
- Urinal Etiquette
- The Story of Reginald P. Banker or It's Hard Out Here For a Pig
- And This is Not Our Fate
- A Guide to Tipping
- The Most Interesting Man in the World
- The Turkish Guide to Beard Grooming
- Obama vs. The Prince of Pop
- Auto-Tune the Nation
- The Subliminal Apology of Starbucks
- Traffic Atrocity
- Musical Artists of the Decade 1, 2, 3, 4 and Post-Script
- How it Makes You a Weapon
- Where I Live - South Jersey & Maryland
- The Case for Universal Health Care
- A Letter to the NFL

Here's to another year - And a new Gentleman, Brett Abelman, who will be joining us shortly.

Rock on.

- Jason

Michigan vs Ohio State or "When Did this Become a Sports Blog?"

Tomorrow, for the 106th time in the storied history of both programs, The University of Michigan and Ohio State University football teams will meet on the field of play to battle for Midwestern supremacy in what is commonly referred to as one of the greatest rivalries in not just college sports, but the entire sports world.

When I was in college at the University of Michigan, this was a holy day. I say that with no irony or sarcasm whatsoever. The day of the Michigan vs Ohio State football game was a different day, the air tasted a little sweeter on the walk to the stadium, the fans cheered a little bit louder when the players took the field; it was like any football Saturday in Michigan, but at the same time, unlike any football Saturday in Michigan. It was the best day of the year.

And now, with the game just one day away, I couldn't care less about watching the game, or it's outcome. To quote the Joker, "I mean, what happened?"

If you'd told me when I was a freshman in college that in just six years, this rivalry would become so lopsided that I would be willing to bet my life savings on a Michigan loss, I wouldn't have believed you. I wouldn't be able to conceive the idea of a completely non-competitive Wolverine team, one that not only wasn't nationally ranked, but sat at the bottom of the admittedly awful Big Ten Conference. But, sure enough, Michigan football has fallen on hard times, and the question now is not if U of M will beat OSU tomorrow, but if they'll ever beat them again.

The fact of the matter is, a rivalry is only a rivalry if there's a chance either side can win. In talking with two of my Ohio State supporting "friends," both agreed that it's just much more exciting when the outcome isn't easier to predict than whether a fat kid is going to go up for seconds at an all-you-can-eat buffet. With so much history between the two teams, and so much bad blood, the least both sides can give us is a close game.

So tomorrow, when I wake up late, maybe missing the start of the first quarter, and end up turning off the game when it gets out of hand in the third, and Michigan's defense (which starts two walk-on players) proves once again that their biggest problem is having no basic knowledge of the game of football, maybe I'll throw on some videos of Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Elvis Grbac, Tom Brady, or Braylon Edwards, and remember when Michigan and Ohio State actually gave the people of Ann Arbor hope, instead of a reason to say "better luck next year."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Best Songs of All Time (Of All Time!)

I've been thinking a lot lately about what are the best songs ever written.

Obviously, this a pretty subjective question. My favorite song is certainly not your favorite song, isn't likely some dude in Arkansas' favorite song (but man, if he is a Matt Good fan, what are the odds?). But still, within the threshold of our western culture, in our shared language, is there one song or some songs that stand head and shoulders above, that EVERYBODY agrees are pretty fantastic pieces of craft, their favorite or not?

The kind of song that you never turn off if it comes on the radio, whether you've heard it a hundred times or the first in a long while. A song that gets stuck in your head and won't go away - but not in an annoying 'god save me from my brain' way, but a hummable friend keeping you company? A timeless song - not connected to a specific era or genre, though it may be a product of both, but who's resonance comes from the simplicity, power, and beauty of the music itself, not it's cultural contextualization. A song that never loses the poignancy of it's lyrics or feels musically out dated - that stays relevant because it has perfectly tied into some basic human truth through words, rhythm, and melody. Songs that cross taste, genre, style - that a fan of rap, rock, country, or classical can all still enjoy and feel connected to.
A perfect song.

A song like that is few and far between, but I have some suggestions - songs that may earn the title of the actual best ever written.

* OTIS REDDING - THE DOCK OF THE BAY
Maybe a perfect song, from opening to end. A wistful tune that has just enough nostalgia to feel comfortable and familiar, but enough momentum to push forward. A brief pause of reflection before the next chapter, and one of the catchiest tunes ever commited to recording. As Otis whistles off, his character walks away onto the next stage. Both relaxing and active, it's pretty perfect, and just pretty in a simple way.

* BILL WITHERS - AIN'T NO SUNSHINE
Similar to the song above, Ain't No Sunshine just gets in your head. Reflective, sad, and true without ever being emo - the way Otis perfectly captures wistful, Bill does melancholy. Poetic lyrics, a slow measured build and a subtle crescendo to the breakdown with a tune that comforts even as it takes stock of your broken heart. That last vocal flourish lingers like the adult love this song is about.

*VAN MORRISON - MOONDANCE
And what Bill Withers does to melancholy, Van Morrison does to romance. From the deft touch of every note to the unrefined sensuality of his absolutely expressive voice, this is a song for lovers, building to the moment where the mood changes. What it lacks in overt sexuality (it's not the song for the actual act) it revels in flirtation, touch, and a journey of attraction. The ensemble is tight, the tune captivating - this is a song to listen to, dance to, experience.

Those are my three perfect songs, according to the criteria I laid out for myself. They may not be my favorites, but they are flawless songs that I think can strike a chord in any listener.
Other strong candidates I've heard include The Cure's Love Song and/or Just Like Heaven, or Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, and I'm still thinking about those - they just might make the cut, especially listening to Floyd while I write - but these are the three I stand by now.

- Jason

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The (Possibly) Worst Rule in Sports

(Well okay the worst rule is probably injury time in soccer, but really in the vast majority of games it's 1 minute for the 1st half and 3 minutes for the 2nd half barring anything strange happening. But I digress ...)

One of the goals of most sports is not to let refs determine the outcome of the game. But there's one rule in football that drives me nuts: automatic first downs given on some penalties. Sometimes it doesn't matter, a personal foul will result in a first down more often than not, but other times a ticky tack foul will change the course of a drive.

Let's a take an example. On first down the QB bobbles the snap, drops the ball and falls on it to recover the fumble. Now it's 2nd and 16. Next the QB takes a good snap, but gets sacked. Now it's 3rd and 21. Of course the offense dials up a pass play, and 10 yards down the field a corner brushes against a receiver. That's a five yard penalty -- and a first down!?! How is this in any way correct? The severity of the penalty should determine the thing for itself. There's a reason why a personal foul is 15 yards and offsides is 5. But no, the league has created a secondary value system where by some fouls are more equal than others.

The whole thing just makes me want to ...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Letter to the NFL, Halfway Through My First Season of Watching Football

Dear NFL,

I want to be paid $100 million to lose at football. If you needed me to, I could lose every game.

I’m actually brilliant at losing at football; it’s a special skill I’ve always had. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve never won a football game in my life. I’m 5’3” and at least a little bit out of shape, so if I was drafted, I would be sure to get injured almost immediately. I could sit out of practices because of my injury, and then I’d really be set to lose beautifully come game day. I don’t even know all the rules so you would be sure to get lots of yellow flags on my behalf. I could break rules, step outside lines, excessively celebrate, and fumble like the pros.

I’m especially good at fumbling; that’s where my true genius lies. The ball would never touch my hands if I had anything to do with it, and if it did I would make sure it slipped out of my fingers before I ever hit the ground. I would give back to the fans, too: I would make sure to wear giant diamond earrings while on the field to prove to my viewing public that I’m spending my $100 million well. If there is anything I can do better than lose at football, which I highly doubt there is, it is spend money.

So NFL, if you’re looking to draft a player who can lose beautifully and gracelessly, for I’m also no amateur at the well-placed tantrum, and who can spend all of my money before you unceremoniously drop me once I’ve gotten one too many concussions or you’re tired of the on- and off-field antics you originally condoned, then I’m your man. Or woman, as it were.

Which brings me to the selling point of a woman on the field. Imagine the hordes of fans who would buy tickets just to show up and boo! Imagine the football Barbies, the sold-out pink jerseys, the media circus! Sports journalists are bored of the 24-hour news cycle of football players shooting themselves in the leg and dog fighting. I know you’re not used to doing business this way, but just think of the dollar signs! I deserve every penny of that $100 million; in fact *I* feel a bit gypped, but I’m willing to go out on a limb for you. I’ll put my incredible losing abilities on the table for only a short time, though, so you’ll have to act fast, and preferably in the most rabid, classless manner possible. I’ll be waiting for your call.

Thanks,
B.Graham

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who's in Your Full Circle

On Saturday, at the kind invitation of Jason, I attended to the Who's In Your Circle even at Woolly Mammoth - which consisted of a performance of the play Full Circle and a multi-room discussion on the nature of Woolly Mammoth's mission, purpose, art as part of the institutions 30th anniversary.

I won't talk too much about the show except to say that it was really wonderful to see a theater company try to user all of their space from the lobby to the stage of the main theater in amusing and unexpected ways. I said to Jason afterward that although it worked well in this context, it would have been an amazing first show in the Woolly Mammoth space.

The discussions, afterward were really got me thinking (as I'm sure was intended). The main discussion that Jason and I sat in was on the nature of the audience. To quote the question: "Who should our [ie Woolly's] audience be, how does their identity impact our work, and what would it take to get them in the door." The focus of the dialogue was more on the first point of the question, especially because Woolly and DC are unique entities.

Many of the folks began by suggesting that Woolly's audience should better represent the city, demographically, and trumpeted the idea of outreach. But it's not quite that simple. Should there be more theater performances for young folks or different communities? Yes, absolutely. Is it Woolly's place to do all of this outreach? For the most part, probably not. Woolly is not an institution that is about easy art, their slogan is "Defy Convention". In that sense it's more like the Velvet Lounge than Nissan Pavilion.

Often, but not always, good art is about challenging the audience and Woolly unambiguously focuses on that challenging art. But are there still ways for an institution to reach out and get people crossing boundaries? How about events that bridge different art forms. Could you do a series of one-acts along with a few bands in between? Sure. Or you could bridge the theater crowd. How about selling discount tickets that have a show at Woolly and a show at Shakespeare Theater? Get the older crowd seeing a Woolly show and the comparatively young crowd at Shakespeare.

One really important point from the discussion came when one participant admitted that honestly she doesn't go to many shows at Woolly shows. Not every theater, or concert, or book, or art gallery is for everyone, and no amount of outreach will get a "perfect" audience. I don't think in a million years theater and classical music will skew as young as rock concerts and movies, but if you work hard and promote right you can get attention and the adventurous people will find you. The Wordless Music Series is the best example I have in music, a half-classical half contemporary series of shows that, while skewing rock, is still getting the indie kids to see string quartets.

Sorry, My Banana Wasn't Ripe Enough, So I Won't Be Able to Write Today

My roommate is kind of a big deal. She writes copy for a DVD distribution company where they love and respect her for something I've known about her for years: she's a damn good writer. You know those blurbs on the backs of DVD Collection covers describing 8 hours of content in three intriguing sentences? She writes those. She can make a companion pamphlet to a documentary on Darwin clever and entertaining. Her work is often laugh out loud funny.

And it always starts with the first sentence.

She and I discussed this phenomenon recently (and not for the first time). She was working on an assignment that only had to be a few paragraphs, but it had taken her a week to get it done, because she couldn't think of a good opening line. Once she finally came up with a pleasing starter, though, the entire project seemed to write itself in two short hours. She and I are very similar in that respect.


Writers are funny creatures. We all have our own methods for getting the work done, and often without the method, there's no writing. It's an equation with 16 different variables that can only be solved on a Tuesday when there are nimbus clouds present. And that's provided the neighbor's cat didn't give you stink-eye the night before.


I've had two posts for the blog rattling around in my head for the last three weeks, and I'd really like to see them written. Every time I sit down to work on them though, I'm stymied by that intro. I try to write an opening that will grab our readers, but I keep ending up with clunky sentences that I hate. I cannot stand the thought of exposing them to public assessment.


The rational part of my brain tells me that it doesn't really matter all that much. This isn't my job. It doesn't have to be perfect, and I don't have to love it. It's just a place where I can express my thoughts. Provided I post them. But before I can post them, I have to write them down. And to write them down, I have to start with a good opening.


And so I sit silently. Stuck. Bah.

Artistic Patronage

A couple of weeks ago there was an NPR story that I heard part of, but when I went to look it up later I couldn't find it anywhere online. Since then it's just been floating around in the back of my head. Instead of leaving it there, I figured I may as well share my half-thoughts on this half-story.

In this particular NPR interview, performer Amanda Palmer was discussing her practice of appealing directly to fans for monetary support. She wrote this post on her blog, arguing that artists shouldn't have to rely on a middleman. On the radio, the discussion veered more towards how such practices could affect the artistic integrity of the performer. While the idea of the 'starving artist' is a vaguely romantic notion, audiences might be less fond of the reality that those artists do require food, and money to buy that food. Though theoretically, if the audience members are the ones enjoying the art, then it only makes sense that they should also be the ones to support the artist.

The whole discussion really reminded me of something that happened while I was riding the subway last spring. It was a Saturday morning, and a young man stepped into the car with a cello and began playing. Unlike many of the roving entertainers who serenade passengers, this guy was incredibly talented and actually made the ride more enjoyable. Oddly, he did not have a hat or a cup or any other receptacle for money. Despite this absence, a woman took some bills from her purse and attempted to give them to him. He continued to play, completely ignoring her, and she finally slipped the bills between the strings and the neck of the cello. The musician still refused to acknowledge her. As he moved to get out of the train car, the money fell from the instrument. Again, he ignored the passenger who picked up the money and tried to hand it to him. Clearly he was not trying to profit off of his art.

So that incident was on my mind while I was listening to Amanda Palmer talking about auctioning off her possessions to fans in order to raise money. Does it lessen the art's worth to put such a direct monetary value on it? It seemed like the cellist thought so, based on how insistently he refused the proffered money. Personally, I think his reaction was a bit ridiculous. It would have been much less awkward if he had just accepted the $3. But if the point was to just play for the beauty of the music, then clearly he made his point. For Palmer, however, her art is also her business, and it's time that audiences accepted that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Pains of Success

As I write this, Liverpool have blown another game (fun fact: I started writing this a week ago, and Liverpool had done the same thing), with an anemic draw against Birmingham. Today it was a tie, but add their weak league performance to their flailing Champions League performance and something is wrong with the 'Pool this year.

The issues with Liverpool is more than a bad run of form early in the season (Man United are often slow starters, and you don't hear anyone calling for Sir Alex's head). And it's not just that they haven't won the Premier League in almost two decades. It's that they've come into almost every one of those seasons thinking that this is their year. And this wears down a team and it's fans. Not every team gets undone by this mentality, though. The aforementioned Manchester United, the LA Lakers and the evil Yankees all have a certain calm about then, they've won before and they'll win again. Maybe not for a few years, but winning comes naturally.

This win-every-year mentality seems to be a big issue with college football teams. There are a number of teams who feel it's their birthright to be in the national title game every season. Nebraska, Oklahoma, Miami, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, USC, and so on. Most of these teams will still win 8 or 9 games every year, but for fans, anything less than undefeated is a wasted season.

If you're USC, you're more likely to choke to a second-tier PAC 10 team than to win the big one. If you're Oklahoma, at least your team will choke in a big game. I'm not sure which one is more painful, but these regular trends of falling short don't seem to really change peoples expectations. There's something to be said for the Georgia Techs and Oregons of the world. To USC, a trip to the Rose Bowl is just another trip to the Rose Bowl. For Oregon, it's something special.

Surrender Dorothy

Ding, dong, the Washington Area Sniper is dead.

I remember being fifteen, fresh and staggering from 9/11, ducking and weaving at the gas station, missing school, searching the roads for (suspicious?) white vans. There was no white van; only a blue Chevy Caprice and a lot of residual terror. I still do the duck and weave at gas stations sometimes when I'm alone. When I'm not alone sometimes I still comfort myself with, "If I get shot, maybe one of these people will see which direction it came from." Maybe that person will be caught eventually, too.

John Allen Muhammed was killed today, by lethal injection. He died without expressing remorse, and I can't help but feel little to no remorse for him. Because he died knowing he was going to die. He wasn't cleaning out his car, or mowing his lawn, or sitting in his taxi, or walking toward his seventh grade homeroom.* He was laying on a cot with a room full of witnesses, possessing the ability and the power to meet death head on, if he so chose.

I was listening to the BBC today when they were talking about it; that's how I found out. A country an ocean away told their perspective, and it got me. The BBC asked its reporter who had lived here for several years, lived here through the three week reign of terror that felt so much longer, and they asked for his version of the story. He said even here, even in this culture of violence, people were shocked at the cold, absolute randomness with which the sniper chose his victims. John Allen Muhammad nearly shut down one of the most, if not the most powerful city in the world for three weeks. Then the reporter said, when they asked if this was out of the ordinary in light of the recent events at Fort Hood, that "spree killing of this kind of nature seems to be... an acknowledged way of expressing anger in this country." He didn't want it to be so, but he wouldn't be shocked if something similar happened again, and soon. And as much as I want with everything in me to disagree, I can't. Because here it is again. And again. And again. And John Allen Muhammed is dead, but do we feel any safer for it?

Surrender Dorothy is still, if you look hard enough, spray painted on a bridge crossing 495 near the Mormon Temple. Meant as a prank on the Oz-looking building, I can't help but wonder if it doesn't reflect how we feel as a city: disoriented and afraid, and so very, very unsure as to which way to go from here.






*The boy in middle school didn't die, but I can't imagine he left this ordeal unemotionally scarred. I didn't leave this ordeal unemotionally scarred, and I was a high schooler in a totally different county, who never even got shot at.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Throwball

I found myself pondering professional football today. Why have so many non-NFL attempts at professional football failed? The XFL flamed out it one season. NFL Europe died a slow painful death. And then there's Arena League which took this year off (never a great business move, even in a recession), so we'll see what happens in the future.

But there's no good reason why a second tier football league, played during the off months can't succeed. I understand the usual argument - College Football is the minor leagues. Well yes, but from all these colleges you get a huge pool of talented players who will never play in the NFL. There is enough talent there to support a moderate sized second league. Find the next 16 cities that don't have football teams and put teams there. Run the season from March to June. That's all it takes. The NFL has spent the last few years rekindling it's love affair with England, but in reality they're just giving the many many ex-Pats living England a chance to see a game in person. That's all well and good, but Roger Goodell is just leaving easy money on the table.

If the NFL wants to expand properly, they'd can the overtures to Europe and set up a second tier league to rake in additional money, attendance and hype year round. Would the quality be a bit lower? Yes. But people watch ACC games, right?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Context

So the Navy's newest battleship, the USS New York, has a bow built from steel salvaged from Ground Zero. According to naval officials, this symbolizes the fact that the United States will always persevere.

Does it, though? To me, that symbolizes more than perseverance. It symbolizes aggression. So much more than "We Shall Overcome," it seems to tread near the bounds of "An Eye for an Eye." The bow of the ship, the sharpest, most intimidating part of the ship, the part that cuts through the air and casts a long shadow over any unlucky smaller vessels that get in the way, is the part that is made from the once-office building steel. This does not, to me, connect in any way to the World Trade Center and what happened in 2001. It connects to what happened after, most definitely, but when I think of the steel from the World Trade Center, the actual metal that held up the buildings when they were standing, I don't think of what happened after. I think of what it was before, and I get uncomfortable. The people who died in the towers on that day were not, as a group, associated with the military. They were largely white collar office workers who were not prepared to be martyrs or symbols. They were victims of overwhelming hatred and violence, and to associate the memory of that terrible day with our own military might just seems wrong in some way.

To take the steel from what was an office building that became the site of a terrible, world-shattering tragedy and reuse it to create a memorial is a beautiful idea. It symbolizes rebirth and gives the phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes kind of imagery that we as a still hurting society need. But to put it on a battleship? That says something entirely different, and not altogether benign.


Friday, November 6, 2009

People Should Know Better By Now

I think we've reached the point now in human development where people should have enough common sense to never ever conduct a phone call in a public restroom. It's 2009, folks. In 20 years will be sending text messages with telepathy, but until then, you're making everyone uncomfortable when you answer your phone in a bathroom.

I realize that there will always be people checking their blackberry's in the stalls, or answering their cell phone in the comfort of their home bathroom, and that's kinda like rooting for the Cowboys. It's not cool, but it's not like your committing incest or anything.

But public bathrooms, that's a no go. I'm not going to go so far and say "There should be a law ..." but if you see if happen in the future, give that person a really dirty look.




[Somehow I bet like 5 of the Gentlemen will probably reply, "But wait, I do this all the time!"]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Read more about people reading more

In this world of crumbling economic everything, convincing anyone to buy anything in physical form is at best difficult and at worst a soul-crushing reminder of why the entire human race it utterly and completely doomed (the same sort of effect when you read the comments thread to any Washington Post political column). But I will make a pitch anyway - more people should be reading literary supplements and book reviews.

Yes, they are a dying breed, the Washington Post's book section was swallowed/merged/smushed with the Sunday Outlook section resulting in something that was neither Outlook nor Book World, but the real book reviews that remain are worth reading. The heavy hitters are the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books (it's a different publication, I swear), the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. They're all leftward slanting (the TLS is less so) but hey, back in the dark ages before the internet, folks used to read up with less disdain for the other side of the aisle.

So here are a few reasons to subscribe to these fine publications -

* Review Aggregation is Still Worthwhile - To switch tacts a bit, there's a reason why a publication like Pitchfork exists. Most people, even those who really like music, don't have the time to wander the internet endlessly looking for mp3s of the newest, hippest, most Brooklyn-ist bands. It's nice to have 5 competently written reviews in one place five days a week. And this holds for most forms of media that exist in great numbers - reviews are still worthwhile to warn people about the crap and steer people to the gold.
Can we get by without movie reviews? Perhaps. The number of movies showing in national theater chains is pretty limited, and most people know if they want to see Saw IV without reading A.O. Scott's dissertation in the NY Times. But for books and music, there's still way more of both out there than any one person can consume, and so reviews are still valuable.

* Great Writers Read and Write About Other Writers - A regular criticism of the NY Review of Books is that it's just a group of like-minded writers writing about each other. But that's too simplistic - it's valuable because there are a diminishing number of places where one can find the sort of mini-dialogue that comes from a great review.
Many of these reviews also offer up fine jumping off points to broader reflection. While some reviews focus intently on the work at hand, others leap from one book to another in order to present a broader coverage of the topic at hand.

* You Can Get A Lot of Info Even Without Reading the Books Reviewed - Although I get ideas for books to look for from these publications, what's just as valuable to me is that they offer a lot of information on things that I'll probably never read. I don't see myself reading any author's diaries or much ancient history in the near future, but I'll certainly read through and enjoy a review of these things.

* Reflection is a Good Thing - I like blogs, I read blogs, I write for this blog, but there are times when I don't want to read a dozen speedy quips or opinions. A carefully researched piece is still a worthwhile enterprise. I don't know what will happen to newspapers, but magazine style research and review will (hopefully!) always have value.

* Retro is Always in Style - And nothing is more retro than reading words on printed paper, right?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Aladdin Added to Do Not Fly List

There'll be no party in Agrabah this week.

These Gentlemen learned today that popular Arabic hero Aladdin has been added to the
notorious "Do Not Fly" list, preventing him from flying into or out of American airspace.

The discovery came as the famed lamp-rubber attempted to board a Southwest Airlines flight bound from New York to Paris, where he had hoped to catch a connecting flight back to his fictional homeland. Instead, he will be forced to remain in the States for weeks, if not months, while his status is cleared. When questioned about whether or not his ethnicity had anything to do with placing him on the list, officials quickly denied such allegations.

"There was no racial profiling at all in this case," insisted FAA spokesperson Richard Brown. "The man has a criminal record, plain and simple. We have him on film for everything ranging from shoplifting to wrongful imprisonment."





Riff Raff, Street Rat, Terrorist


When asked whether or not the wrongful imprisonment charge applied to his sealing Jafar, the evil wizard whom attempted to usurp the throne of Agrabah, inside a magic lamp, Brown refused to comment.

Also compiling Aladdin's woes; allegations of harboring known fugitives. His relation to the so-called "King of Thieves" has been a brick wall in attempting to discover whether or not racial profiling was at the heart of his being placed on the "Do Not Fly" list.

"According to our information," Brown said, waving a VHS copy of 1995 Disney Movie Aladdin and the King of Thieves, "this guy has major relations to known terrorists. Not just his dad, that talking parrot is really shady, too. We're just doing what we feel is right to protect the American people."

"I think it's plain to see what's going on here," said Sandy Vazheen of the ACLU. "Does Ali Baba get detained when he travels overseas? Does Sinbad? No. Because they're wealthy citizens, whose fantastic adventures across nightmare-infested lands yielded them treasure beyond human reckoning. This is an example of a poor Arabic man being profiled because he can't afford not to be." She pointed to Aladdin's noted works of selfless charity, such as giving his bread to starving orphans, and releasing a Genie which could have easily made him a prince again. "Also, Ali Baba killed like, forty guys," she added.

Crocodile-teared pundit Glenn Beck has already weighed in on the developing situation. "Look, I'm not saying Aladdin has ties to al-Qaeda. In fact, I don't think he does! But it's a matter of what he hasn't done more than what he has. We're talking about a kid who had three wishes in his hands. Did he wish for American soldiers to find Osama bin Laden? No, he did some mumbo-jumbo with princes and elephants. It's all highly suspect if you ask me, and I just want him to show us the proof he has no terrorist connections. That's all I'm asking for, the proof." Beck then refused to respond to questions over whether or not he raped and murdered a young girl in 1990.

Even the President has commented on the situation, which has drawn national attention. "This is an unfortunate turn of events," he conceded, "my daughters, Sasha and Malia, were heartbroken to learn that Aladdin had been subjected to a full cavity search, one in which the Federal agent involved refused, even after repeated pleas, to remove his wedding ring. But we must acknowledge that we need to keep America safe. And sometimes keeping America safe means locking our fictional heroes in an airport for an indefinite amount of time, like Victor Navorski from that Tom Hanks movie."

When questioned whether this would strain U.S. ties to Agrabah, President Obama pointed out that Aladdin's native land only exists in the hearts and imaginations of Disney fans everywhere, which only further complicates his legal status.

As for Aladdin himself, he is deeply disappointed by the turn of events. He issued the following statement from his temporary residence in the men's bathroom of John F. Kennedy Airport. "I only wanted to return home to my princess, Jasmine, and pet monkey, Abu. I could send for my flying carpet, but they don't even let me in the post office. Plus, there's a reason I took a plane over in the first place. You know what it's like traveling over the Atlantic at 15,000 feet riding a Persian rug? You freeze your nuts off, that's what it's like."

He, too, feels his ethnicity is the core issue at hand. "Would this have happened if I were from somewhere else? No, I don't think so. I never see Prince Eric being held for questioning. Hercules? Tarzan? They never even go through customs, man. No, this is all about where I'm from, not what I've done." He then added bitterly "Next time, I better use a nom de plume."

Aladdin is currently awaiting an appeal on his status from the Department of Homeland Security. They have issued a public statement denying that any delays in processing the appeal are due to Jafar having been a prime investor in Halliburton.

In the meantime, the swashbuckling hero of Arabic lore can only wait and pray to Allah, just not out loud.