Monday, April 30, 2012

I'll take Manhattan

Getting news of the TOC is like 1844 all over again. No Translatlantic cable laid down yet, so you sort of have to wait for the clipper ships to sail in. I have some interest in seeing who goes where, and I’d like to see my horse do well in the race. But at best you might pick up an odd tweet or something. Official news? Dream on. Maybe if they charged more they might have the resources!

Oh. Right. I forgot myself for a moment. It’s TOC. What was I thinking?

I planned on doing all sorts of debate work over the weekend, and went to NYC instead to see the Steins' collection at the Met. How come I’m not buying works of art for a hundred bucks that people turn around in a few years for the down payment for their house on the Riviera? Amazing stuff. They got in with Matisse and Picasso early on, although Hank was about a dozen years older than PP, who was in his early 20s at the time in question. PP fell out of the womb with a paintbrush in his hand. While plenty of artists demonstrate their talent at a young age, PP was the most prodigious (as in, child prodigy) I have ever seen; stuff he was doing in his teens would make most old masters quit. I don’t know if that’s true of Matisse. In any case, both of them were experimenting like mad, but then again, they experimented like mad from the beginnings of their careers until the end. I don’t think either of them is easy to like, much for the same reasons that historically they were not immediately taken up by the critics. They sort of make you do a little work, and it might take you some time to figure out what the fuss is all about. At the moment I tend to be a little more taken by Hank, but that may just be my personal passing fancy. It doesn’t matter. Both of their reputations are secure despite what I might think of them. Anyhow, the Steins got in on the old ground floor, so to speak. (As did the Cone Sisters, who had a similar exhibit last year or so at the Jewish Museum.) Makes you want to live in Paris and have a lot of money in the good old days. Then again, I wouldn’t mind living in Paris and having a lot of money today. Maybe I could buy some hundred dollar paintings.

Everybody in Manhattan was dressed to the nines for some reason. Granted it was coming on Saturday night, but it’s not as if I haven’t been in the city before on a weekend. When I say people were dressed I don’t just mean they had buffed their tats. They were really putting on the dog (and there’s an expression I haven’t heard in a while). Gowns, hats, little girls in fur, the works.

Also, people were shopping. These were the ones who hadn’t buffed their tats, the tourists on Fifth Avenue. What, exactly, is the appeal of these stores that are in every mall in America? The guy in Hollister’s without a shirt is that big an attraction? I mean, they were lined up for him. But people were carrying bags, too, from every store that, as I say, is everywhere else. Maybe these people were just foreigners, and they don’t have malls in Foreignlandia. I don’t know. Business was booming, though. There was no question about that.

I love roaming around the city. The perfect day is rolling in whenever, seeing some art, and then strolling about until overtaken by starvation, then having a really good meal you can’t get at home. Pure bliss.

Neal Stephenson

If you like really, really long books, then look into Neal Stephenson. Our first exposure was Cyrptonomicon (1168 pages). Loved it. Then there was the Baroque Cycle (2256 pp), and Anathem (981 pp), both of them enormous fan favorites. We haven't read Reamde yet, and can't decide whether to read the physical book that we have on our shelf (1056 pp) or listen to the audiobook, which we have on our iPhone (38 hours and 34 minutes). We can recommend Snow Crash with only two reservations: it's got a lot of Sumerians in it, and it's only 440 pages long, a veritable short story by Stephenson standards. They have the original of one of his manuscripts at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. It's about as tall as an eighth-grader.

Stephenson has a new project with some fellow writers...

Yeah, book trailers are dumb. The ones that are good to watch seem totally removed from the act of reading. Oh, well. We'd read NS no matter what he does, or who he does it with. We just have to remember to set aside a few weeks in advance.

[Video via Geek Dad.]

The Rothschild behind Thelonius Monk


She's known as the Jazz Baroness. Charlie Parker died in her apartment. She lived with 306 cats. Twenty-four songs were written for her. She raced Miles Davis down Fifth Avenue. She went to prison so [Monk] wouldn't have to…

Who was this woman?

Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, or Nica as she was known, was a true Rothschild, although the family disowned her.

On her way to the airport after a visit to New York, Nica stopped to visit a friend, the jazz pianist Teddy Wilson, who played her a recording of "Round Midnight" by a then unknown jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk. Unable to believe her ears, she listened to it 20 times in a row and was bewitched. Having missed her plane, she never went home again. Abandoning her husband and five children, she moved into a suite at the Stanhope hotel and set about trying to meet the man who had made this extraordinary record.

Hannah Rothschild has written a book about her family's black sheep, and in telling the story of Hannah's fascination with Nica, interviewer Rachel Cooke tells us as much again about the whole, rather bizarre, famous family. Despite being a big Monk fan, we knew nothing about the Baroness (but then again, we tend to mostly listen to the music, not the tales out of school). But this is huge. She really did take the rap for marijuana found in the car when she was driving with Monk, at a time when just driving around with as a mixed couple (Hannah doubts that they were intimate) was crime enough.

This is a most amazing article. Nice and long, for the weekend. Hannah Rothschild on Nica: 'I saw a woman who knew where she belonged'

Ladies of Spain need not apply

Let's set the mood:

That is the Main Squeeze Orchestra. While their accordion skills are clear, Grinwout's is especially impressed by their ability to stomp on the floor at the appropriate moments. If you doubt their seriousness, check out the shopping page on their website, where you can buy their music, of course, but are too late for the t-shirts or the thongs, which are all sold out. (So much for our plan of Main Squeeze Orchestra thongs for all the women on our Christmas list this year.)

Needless to say, the accordion is not a simple instrument when it comes to image. Ezra Glinter, writing in the Paris Review about his visit to the shop of Walter Kuehr, the accordion impressario who is conductor of Main Squeeze, puts it this way:

Many accordionists mentioned the need to overcome the perception of the instrument as a joke, and the difficulty of being accepted outside niche musical communities. “When you play an instrument that can cost as much as a compact car and has more moving parts than one, you want to be taken seriously,” one player wrote in an e-mail. Another confessed: “We are lonesome cowboys, I guess ... We fight prejudice that the accordion is a cheesy instrument that can only play polkas for retired people.”

In some circles the accordion is beyond cool. In others, it is not. Grinwout's, which seeks out unusual music, is still on the fence. We can listen to album after album of zydeco, for instance. But, well, there's those polkas for retired people: we live in fear that some day we'll wake up wanting the early bird dinner at 4:30 so that we can get home in time to watch reruns of Lawrence Welk. In other words, it's not that you're born that way, but some day you just turn that age.

It's scary. Read Big Squeeze (there's a Welk clip) and see for yourself. Your day will come!

Quick take - Technicolor

Glorious Technicolor... It was a subtractive, three-strip dying process. It was not color film!

How Technicolor created ruby slippers without using color film.

Legend is that Oz's color work was a test for GWTW. Could be. They're both...glorious.

Willie Nelson

Born April 30, 1933, Nelson has been a musician pretty much all his life. And all kinds of a musician. A Grand Ole Opry musician, an original country outlaw, a pop balladeer, jazz—you name it. He's sung for the IRS and Farm Aid, wrote Patsy Cline's "Crazy," fought for marijuana legalization and the environment and been honored by just about everybody who has honors to give out. All we can add to that is a short video biography:

Happy birthday, Willie.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Best of the week

8 famous women writers in New York City—Dorothy Parker, Zora Neale Thurston, Shirley Jackson, Gael Greene, Patti Smith, Susan Sontag, Tama Janowitz and Kate Christensen

Coke bottle vs. chainsaw, etc.—Mesmerizing slow motion video of really dumb actions.

Coney Island—Another mesmerizing video of the amusement park to the accompaniment of Debussy.

Another movie worth missing—A writer under the influence experiences the Wrath of the Titans (the movie, not the real thing)

One of the great adventures of all time—Grinwout's watches the space shuttle sink into the sunset. [Sigh.]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Another movie worth missing

Bad movies may not make for great watching, but writing about bad movies tends to be quite entertaining. We have to admit that it barely registered on us that there was a new Clash of the Titans movie (it's called Wrath of the Titans). We had barely understood why the astonishingly mediocre original Clash had been remade in the first place, must less followed up. We did, like everyone else, hear that great line, "Release the Kraken," bellowed by Ralph Fiennes (or was it Liam Neesen, who like everyone else we always confuse with Ralph Fiennes?), which sort of became a mantra for, well, releasing whatever local krakens we might have lying around. Then again, when it comes to krakens, we're willing to argue at great length that there is no "kuh" sound at the beginning of the word Cthulhu, going by the pronunciation of chthonic, but that's another story entirely.


Writer Brian Phillips, taking painkillers to ease the harm caused by his having busted his arm toppling down some stairs, decides to go to the cineplex to see a movie. Wrath of the Titans is his choice:

Perseus (Sam Worthington) would be talking to Zeus (Liam Neeson) about what Hades (Ralph Fiennes) said to Ares (Edgar Ramirez) about Phrygian dating sites, when suddenly Worthington (Perseus) would be snatched up into the air by a two-headed fire-breathing demon-dog (MacBook Pro) and hurled into a marble column (Doric). Beast-swarms of various descriptions kept pouring out of the mouth of Tartarus, right toward me, in 3-D. There were monsters in the depths... They take a lot of damage, these heroes.

I wouldn't necessarily call his article, Atlas Drugged, a movie review, but I would call it great entertainment, way more entertaining, I'm sure, than Wrath of the Titans. Will there be another [Blank] of the Titans? I can't imagine why.

Quick take - Klimt

Gustav Klimt: What's the secret to his mass appeal?

One of the great adventures of all time

This is the real deal. For some of us, it's the end of the end. The magic is over. Space travel, the future we were promised, has been put on hold.

It was May of 1961 when Alan Shepard was shot into space in a tiny capsule on the back of a Redstone rocket. He could just as easily have blown up on the launching pad. I watched it, as did most of America, as it happened. Life stopped. They brought a television into my 7th Grade classroom, which was a big deal in and of itself. We held our breath and prayed. It was a Catholic school, so praying came naturally, but I’ll bet that everyone who watched it was praying. There were no atheists in American on that bright spring morning. It was only fifteen minutes, and it was suborbital, and we watched it from beginning to end, and even though Yuri Gagarin had outdone us not too long previously, it was still the beginning. Space had arrived.

Keep in mind that scientists had been working on rockets for quite some time now, and the idea of space flight was a public obsession. That was the definitive frame of the future, that we would fly out into space and learn and explore. We would break away from the Earth. It was the next step in our evolution. Schools that weren’t heavily teaching the sciences and creating the next generation of engineers to make this happen were not doing their job. We were coming off a decade of B movies where all the space travel was by metaphorical communists disguised as aliens, come to destroy the American way of life. The next decade would bring Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the American way of life would be as pioneers of the galaxy, and space was the final frontier.

When Apollo 11 landed on the moon that night in July in 1969, the dream was a reality.

The shuttle was to be the next step in this process. We would build a space station in permanent orbit, and travel to and fro in our shuttles with little or no fanfare, and this would be our launching pad to the planets. And from there…

The shuttles started flying in 1982. They ended last year.

The idea of space and pioneers and frontiers inspired more than one generation, but for so many reasons, we look elsewhere for our inspirations today. Perhaps the core reason is that, when you come down to it, the rewards of a space program are pretty small in terms of practical benefits. You put a lot of money in, and you don’t get a lot of money back out from it. The original space race was motivated by global Cold War politics, and money didn’t matter. But sooner or later there are just so many resources, and one has to decide how best to use them. Space, which for all practical purposes was for pure science, was not one of those best uses.

Pure science is the same as pure art. You don’t do it to make money. You don’t do it for glory. You don’t do it to beat somebody else at it. You do it because it’s there, and because you have to. Art for art’s sake. Science for science’s sake. Philosophers can attempt to explain these, but we intuitively know them for what they are. They are the best, and most difficult, aspirations of the human spirit, to know and to create beyond what has even been known or created in the past. And it diminishes us when we cut off an outlet to those aspirations. The end of our dedication to space is one of those cut-offs.

Space will continue to happen. Private enterprise will give it a shot. Other countries than the US, as part of their development and self-determination, will give it a shot. Eventually the US will probably get back into it with all heart and soul and give it another shot. It’s not over, not by a long shot. But it is hibernating for a while.

So today was one of those really sad days, where we know that we have lost something. But only for a while. Kids will visit the Enterprise on their school trips to Manhattan, or roam through the Air and Space Museum in Washington, or visit any number of other science venues throughout the country, and the dream’s embers will continue to glow just a little bit. And from those embers, some day new flames will rise. So while shedding a bittersweet tear for the lost dreams of the past, one holds on to the promise of new dreams for the future. As JFK put it, It is one of the great adventures of all time.

An adventure postponed, for the moment.

This Ain't No Game?

That's the tag line for the film Super Mario Bros. Of course, the problem is that Super Mario Bros is a game. It's got cute plumbers and cute settings and cute mushrooms and even cute boss villains. It's all bright shiny colors, and you hop around from place to place, occasionally calling out an Italian-sounding "Whee!" It was the emblematic Nintendo game (and still is, although it's got some friends now, like Link). And it was all the rage in 1991, when everyone in Hollywood and their mother wanted to make a movie out of it. It was Hollywood, after all, and they'll make a movie out of anything, if they think they can make money from it.

The prize went to what I guess we might call the wrong people. The filmmakers were thinking of creating a dark film for adults; had they ever actually controlled a little Mario on their video screen? Were they totally out of their minds? And what was Nintendo's feeling about all of this?

It turned out that the company actually had little interest in a creative partnership. For Nintendo the whole thing was an experiment and they believed the Mario brand was strong enough not to be derailed by a movie... After Nintendo sold JoffĂ© and Eberts the rights for a song — around $2 million — Hollywood was [in an] uproar. No one could quite believe that these two filmmakers had bagged the most sought after brand name of the new decade. Little did the studios realise that they had had a narrow escape.

The movie was one of the classic bombs of all time. But while some classic bombs just sort of dive a natural bellyflop, Super Mario Bros was a disaster of more complex, and entertaining, proportions. The movie might be a dog, but the story of making it is anything but. It's called Why the Super Mario Movie Sucked, excerpted from a book by James Russell.

New Blogger worse than Old Blogger. Just like New Coke. Feh!

I can’t for the life of me figure out why the posts here, which I write willy-nilly but like to post at 7:30 pm, and therefore schedule for that time, are not being posted automatically, while the Grinwout’s posts, which I set for automatic publication at roughly three-hour intervals during the day, roll out without a hitch. (And yes, I know that the previous sentence would get me in trouble with a lot of present-day English teachers who think that commas are the tool of the devil, but I maintain that each one is in its proper place and that the sentence parses perfectly.) Maybe Google just likes Grinwout’s more than CL. Could be. I guess for the time being I’ll just post the damned things as I write them. There’s no real reason not to.

Speaking of Grinwout’s, if you’re reading this in Lexington because you’re bored because they couldn’t find a round in which you were even remotely preferred, go read that instead. It’ll hold you for a while.

You might have noticed in the comments that the uninymous Glenn explained that in his region, there is little or no difference between the speech and debate experiences. I think that this is widely true. Or at least in many regions, work is done to minimize the differences. I know there are regions where students debate one half of the year and speechify the other half of the year, and the tournaments are designed to make that a reality. I remember talking with a displaced Texan (I think it was a Texan) who said that at his local debate tournaments they worked in extemp somehow, an all-in-one one-day affair, and I really liked that but it would be hard to do the same here. We kicked it around, however, for a possible MHL event some day. I bemoan the lack of a need for debate students, at least LDers, to know what’s going on in the world. If they do, it’s a lagniappe. Even PF only requires that you know about the topic at hand, but at least a little preparedness doesn’t hurt, so that when the new topic is released you are not totally clueless. One of the things I’m working into my new curriculum is not a recommended program for keeping up with the news but a mandate. Anyhow, the idea that one could go to a tournament and do both a debate activity and extemp on the same day is mighty appealing to me. The students might not embrace it so gleefully, however. Or the judges, for that matter. Oh, well. What's the Coachean Life if it isn't full of dreams?

What's an audience to do?

There is a growing tension in the performing arts between desperately wanting an audience and bemoaning its behaviour. Symphony orchestras, regional theatres, ballet and opera companies across North America are feeling stiff competition to lure ticket buyers who they believe are increasingly distracted by interactive entertainment and social media. But when those sought-after new audiences do show up, they don’t always behave the way that venerable institutions and veteran audiences expect.

So writes Kate Taylor for The Globe and Mail. And what she's saying does not apply solely to Canada. It seems like forever since we could go to the movies with the expectation that people would quietly watch the movie. Since when they watch movies at home they chat their way through them, come and go to and from the kitchen a half dozen times, Google the cast members that look sort of familiar on their iPad, and generally act as if the movie isn't on in the first place, they figure they can do the same when they're sitting in front of you at the Cineplex. But no, I didn't come today to hear your opinion on the movie, at regular intervals, when you're actually bothering to watch it and not getting up, again, for another ten gallon tub of popcorn. And are your kids really playing with their Gameboys during this whole thing? Why did I decide to go to the movies, when I could have waited a couple of months and watched it in blessed peace?

And that's recorded entertainment. How about live entertainment? Apparently, that's even worse. There are real performers up there, trying to do their thing, and here you are, wondering if you're in one of the tweet seats. And because live entertainment is, as a general rule, expensive, there have indeed developed a slew of general rules of behavior that you, noob that you are, may not know about, or if you do, may not wish to follow.

It's a jungle out there at the old philharmonic.

Venues that want to bring in new, younger audiences to replace the fossils that have previously been occupying the seats, and keeping their mouths shut as they have done so, don't have any easy answers yet. Taylor's article, Quiet in the audience, please, puts it all in perspective.

So what are you? The stolid establishment? Or the nouveau tweeter?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I have to admit that I sort of rushed through that latest True Tale of Debate Adventure. I didn’t even put opening music on it; to be honest, I’d forgotten how I had done so previously. Needless to say, O’C complained about the veracity of part of it. He wrote me a note saying that he had gone to the desk clerk on that fateful night, rather than the desk clerk going to him. Curiously enough, he did not take me to task on this: “He ripped open his shirt to reveal the gold key hanging down his neck and, also, his rippling muscles and Situation-like abs.” I guess that part must have been true.

The world at large seems to be heading down to Kentucky today or tomorrow, at least according to Twitter and Facebook. The annual pilgrimage, I guess, but mostly by the same annual pilgrims. I’m certainly not the only person who has noticed this, that for all its hifalutin goals, it’s pretty much the same player schools year after year. This is not because they are deliberately exclusive, but because there aren’t that many high schools out there with the money to support a national team of any sort whatsoever. People complain all the time that sports teams get all the gravy, but how many high school football teams are in Texas this week, New York the next week, Minnesota the next week, and Chicago the week after that (more or less—maybe every two weeks)? There’s nothing wrong with this; more power to ‘em and all that. But it shouldn’t be ignored. TOC is an extremely parochial event, for all its ecumenicalism. Life tends to be like that. Life is not fair.

Of course, those same schools are, undeniably, good, mostly run by excellent, competitive coaches. That’s part of it too, don’t get me wrong. I have a feeling that if you put, say, Aaron T in a desert surrounded by literally no one under the age of twenty, in a couple of years he’d have somehow created a debate team out of the palm leaves that was qualified for TOC, NDCA, NFL and the Vatican. He’d still need a couple of bucks in his back pocket to help the cause, though. Just sayin’.

One has to wonder, what do these great coaches do that the rest of us aren’t doing? When O’C and I talked about the future of TVFT, interviews with AT and others were on our mind. If we can pick their brains a bit, maybe we can find something useful for the rest of us. Can’t hurt.

Spending your next $400K

Actually, the Aventador LP 700-4 costs a mere $379,700. This special edition, the Aventador J, exactly one of which was made in six weeks for exactly one customer, will probably run you a little more.

We found this via Complex Rides. They're big on cars, obviously, which puts us CRV owners to hanging-head shame. On the other hand, Grinwout's is beginning a collection of roller coaster videos that do pretty much what this simulated car ride does (but with, let's admit it, less reused footage—there's a little fakery going on in this one—sexy fakery, but fakery nonetheless). We think that you can probably buy your own roller coaster for the cost of one of these cars.


There's something about 3D that Grinwout's finds intrinsically uninteresting. Oh, it's fine for a gimmick, but when push comes to shove, it just isn't all that great. First of all, there are plenty of people who can't watch 3D movies without getting a headache, and others whose vision is such that they can't even see it. Under the best of circumstances, let's admit it, it isn't all that good, which doesn't help. There's a lack of naturalness to the visuals you're seeing, and it can keep you from enjoying the movie. The funny thing is, while we can watch a black-and-white film and immediately accept its reality, with 3D, which is geometric progressions more "real," it feels less real. On top of that, you have to pay a premium for 3D movies in the theaters.

And now TVs are coming out in 3D. The ultimate promise is that we won't need special glasses some day. My question is, do I have to? Can't I just skip this so-called innovation? My mind works pretty well with black-and-white movies, and I can't once remember thinking to myself, if that had only been in color... Come to think of it, remember colorization? Casablanca in living, breathing imitation Technicolor? Bleeeech!

David Bordwell explains why this is happening the way it is, going back to 2005, when James Cameron and George Lucas were touting 3D as the coming thing to theater owners, and warning them to get with the program. Now Cameron is back, and he's doing it again!

Having pressured exhibitors to go digital and 3D, Cameron is now asking them to change their equipment to permit him to shoot in a new way he likes better—and to compensate for a deficiency in the 3D system he thrust on them. But he assures them that revamping their projectors is merely a matter of “little tweaks . . . tiny things that make it better.” He has claimed it’s a matter of a software upgrade... You have to give Cameron credit for chutzpah.

Are we being Luddites about this whole thing? Is someone about to take the colorized version of Casablanca and release it in 3D because otherwise, how could we possibly enjoy it?

The future is still unclear, perhaps. To understand the present better, read It’s good to be the King of the World..

Quick take - End of civilization as we know it

Shame on you, America: 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians' Gets 3 More Seasons.

How to pick a college

Grinwout's has a close relationship with a lot of high school students, so the idea of picking the right college is an important one. Some Students occasionally work hard to get good grades to get into the school of their choice. So the school has to be the right one. Does it have the program that will get you into your chosen career? Does the school have a good record sending students on to prestigious postgraduate programs? Or most basic of all, can you afford the tuition?

Of course, there are other considerations. Witness 25 Insane Reasons Why Kids Don't Like Certain Colleges. Sometimes you decide against a school because the travel expenses are too great. Then again, from this list, there's a better reason: "Professors look like homeless people." That and 24 more reasons of similar depth.

Thinking about college soon? Or have a kid who's doing so? Get your excuses in line now!

Ma Rainey

The Mother of the Blues? She claimed to have invented the term. She also claimed to have invented Bessie Smith, although Smith may already have known exactly what the blues were and how to sing them when the women met probably some time right after WWI.

The early blues recordings sound a little less than appealing to modern ears. These folks were essentially performing into big eardrums like on the old phonographs, rather than microphones, so the music is there, but not the impact. Imagine this music live and in person, with bigger than life performers. Ma Rainey was big in her day, and her fame was real enough to warrant a US Postage stamp in 1994. Short of setting down to do some serious research, it's hard to get too much real information on her for our purposes. Did she record with Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, for instance? You can track that down for yourself. The informative data on YouTube (Slowtubbi has a lot of music on his YouTube page worth checking out) makes various claims about her lifestyle that make her even larger than the larger than life she already was. And of course there's the August Wilson play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which portrays the recording scene of the day, and brings yet another version of Rainey to life. It's all a musicologist's job, but if you want to know the blues, you've got to know what was going on early in the 20th Century, not just with the lone guitarists that seemed to spring up in the South, but the bands who were turning that music into what would soon be jazz (and later, rock).

Ma Rainey was born on April 26, 1886(ish). Here's just one number. "Booze and Blues." That about sums it up.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why PF?

From the comments: “What made you move from ld to pf as opposed to ld to extemp and congress?”

The short answer is that I don’t know much about Extemp and Congress, and I’m very tied into the debate circuit. But there’s also a long answer.

LD and Policy, and now PF, are a way of life, at least around here. After one gets one’s feet wet as a novice (and, for that matter, occasionally even then), tournaments are multiple-day affairs. They require travel, planning and commitment. They are not an extracurricular activity so much as a student’s total non-class life. You can’t do it by popping in now and then, because your competition is way too dedicated and they’ll eat you for breakfast. You’ve got to dig in as much as they do. And you’ve got to do it weekend after weekend, all over the map. This kind of debate will subsume your life. And I consider that a good thing.

Around here, speech is maybe twice a month, one-day affairs within relatively easy driving distance, punctuated by the occasional college event. Debate is every weekend, somewhere, at some level of intensity. Not that everyone does every weekend, but a lot of people come close. They sort of have to.

I’ve always maintained that while the forensics activities themselves certainly have value, all the other things required for getting into those activities also have value. You can’t be a regular participant at debate tournaments without the ability to organize your life to do so. You have to get all your other work done to make it happen. You have to show up when and where you’re supposed to show up, week after week, tournament after tournament, meeting after meeting. This generates life skills that you will have to learn, if you haven’t already acquired them. The intensity of debate, and the frequency, solidifies those skills. Speech, because it is less ubiquitous and simply doesn’t take the time aside from the activity itself (I would imagine the strong extemper spends every bit as much time on prep as the strong LDer), doesn’t have that intensity aside from within the rounds themselves. It’s the travel, the planning, and the resulting competency that I value from committed debate. They’re just not part of speech, at least around here. And Extemp and Congress are lumped in with the speech tournaments, not the debate tournaments; I understand that it’s different elsewhere.

So it’s not the activities themselves, it’s the attending hoo-ha. In fact, I’m rather fond of Extemp and enjoy judging it at the occasional District tournament, but it’s just not where the action is for the debate life in the northeast.

Music Man Murray

Last week was Record Store Day, a tip of the hat to a dying way of life. It's not so much that people don't buy records anymore as stores don't sell them. Companies don't manufacture them. Most people don't really care about them. Having lived through LPs and then cassettes and then CDs and now mp3s, Grinwout's has collected and recollected over and over again, leaving some behind, taking on new tastes and ideas in the next iteration. Lately we've been falling into movie soundtracks, starting from Yo-Yo Ma's Ennio Morricone album and just growing out of there. Some people, however, don't simply get into the music they're into, or move from music to music. They are collectors. And the mark of a true collector is completeness. Otherwise there's no point in collecting.

Music Man Murray's collection is complete. Or at least it's large. A two-story exhibition space of half a million records. Plus an off-site warehouse. This man has been collecting for years.

The collector is both conqueror and liberator. Of any given specific set of like objects, Murray tells me, “You have to have everything.” That is the mark of the true collector: you must possess a private Manifest Destiny, a fetish driven by rivalry, competition. The problem is that Music Man Murray’s rivals just aren’t coming anymore. There aren’t the same obsessive people out there working hard to track down, say, every last acetate copy of Hedda Hopper’s radio program “Hollywood Magazine” (which, incidentally, Murray pulled for me from a pile near his desk). As Murray says, they just stopped coming. So the flicker in his eyes snaps on and off, like a pilot light not finding gas.

Unpacking Music Man Murray: My visit with one of L.A.'s last great record collectors, is a piece by C.P. Heiser in the LA Review of Books. It's a piece on this one man, and on a certain kind of person we don't see much anymore, but at the same time, it's about collectors in general. They are among us. This is how they think.

The documentary should speak for itself:

In defense of My Little Pony

MLP is not new. The toy—always the toy comes first—was introduced in the early 80s, originally as My Pretty Pony. Whatever. They were colorful, they came with accessories, and they were marked with symbols on their flanks. Their target audience of little girls ate them up. They hit the TV and movie screens in the mid 80s. Somewhere in the 90s they all galloped off into the sunset, and we figured we'd never see them again.

We were wrong.

According to Wikipedia, Grinwout's source for all things related to MLP, we are now in the fourth generation of ponydom. Normally this would escape the notice of most adults without young children, except that this time out MLP has spawned the notorious Bronies, grown men fans who—while presumably living in their parents' basements when they're not trying to figure out what kind of work they're out of—are eating them up.

Todd VanDerWerff, while not necessarily standing up for the Bronies per se, does stand up for the present TV show, which he claims is the best program available for today's kids:

What’s wrong with telling our kids that there’s nothing more wonderful than the moment when someone says they’ll love you forever, even if that’s an impossibility, given who we are? What’s wrong with telling them that doing good things is something that will have impact far beyond yourself and your immediate friends and neighbors? And what’s wrong with believing in these things just a little bit yourself?

Forget about Bronies. Or better yet, incorporate them into your thinking. Check out VanDerWerff's article on The A.V. Club.

Coney Island

In its golden age, Coney Island was a vast dream world comprising a number of parks, a magnet for New Yorkers seeking otherworldly entertainment. It was something of a permanent world's fair, with rides and curiosities from around the globe, including a small incubator baby farm for premies. Honky tonk eventually took over for one reason or another, and nothing much was left of the place but Nathan's and the Cyclone, both of which have the virtue of being, in their own ways, best of breed (although riding the Cyclone in a car alone will leave you bruised for weeks, while eating a Nathan's hot dog alone will probably cause no detectable physical damage). Talk came and went of rebuilding, of tearing down, of anything to bring it back. Lately it has been brought back a bit, with some new rides and a bit of cleaning up. Disneyland it isn't, but it's getting close to being Coney Island again.

Watching this video will make you want to go. Part of its magic is the juxtaposition of the unlikely music, which proves how important music can be in setting a mood. Even when the visuals are the diametric opposite of Debussy, it feels way more like Debussy than Luna Park: Coney Island Love Letter.


The First Lady of Song

5003 people liked this video when I grabbed it. 27 disliked it. If we can get the names of the dislikers and send them to Mars, we will improve the Earth enormously and find suitable astronauts for the long haul at the same time, without having to worry too much about having them return. Win-win, if you ask me.

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917. To suggest that her voice was the greatest jazz instrument ever will cause most fans to not even bat an eye. In the clip above, she's shaking it up. How about going a little mellow?

At Grinwout's HQ, there are about a million Ella albums. But we have no compunctions about which to recommend: her Ella and Louis collaboration albums are required for all desert islands. Alone, go for the Cole Porter. If you need a big band, then it's her album with Duke Ellington. Then again there's the Joe Pass albums toward the end of her career. And of course—

Hell, we can't pick. There was never a bad one. We're going to need a bigger desert island.

Thank you, Ella, for all of it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In which we continue to push you-know-what

On Grinwout’s:

I continue to pump them out, and seem to be getting a little traction. More people read this, though, than that, for some reason. Which means, if you’re one of those who aren’t following it, that you’ve missed things like a life-sized replica of the Starship Enterprise, Daffy Duck’s finest hour, a working version of WDW in Minecraft, Haruki Murakami, Tim Curry, a lost Monty Python travelogue, and the price of bootleg liquor for the Algonquin Round Table. Not to mention my sterling commentary on all of these things; maybe I should put up a subhead, “It ain’t just links!”

The url is
The RSS is feed://
The Twitter feed is @grinwouts
The Facebook page is

I’m not sure about keeping the fb page, but everyone says that one must. Of course, everyone also says that one must do it in Google+ and, heaven forbid, Pinterest. I looked at Pinterest for a few minutes once and ran away screaming, so it might take some time for that to happen. However you view it, please go like it on Facebook (even if you detest it with every fiber of your being). Apparently if the page gets enough likes, I get to do more interesting stuff with it, and I’m curious to see what. The other thing is that whenever anyone likes the blog itself or a given item via fb, it gets on their feed, which gives it more exposure.

Which raises the question (note correct avoidance of the phrase “begs the question”), why am I doing this? I’m obviously not in it for the money. As I’ve said, I just got into the habit when I was doing it for the DJ. It’s nice not to have to tow the DJ line with it, meaning more fun stuff and occasionally NSFW language (albeit never NSFW content, because of the tender age of some of my followers who do, nonetheless, swear like fishwives) and fewer guides to parenting. I mean, can you affored to miss videos like this one:

Come on baby, let's do the twist

I watch this video, and I feel as if it was recorded on another planet:

When Dick Clark died last week, plenty of people wrote up his story, which in fact was very simple. He was a smart businessman who started out in music and went on to build a fantastic television empire. He wasn't a musician; he just happened to see his chance with American Bandstand, and he took it. Not that he didn't do well with it, but it could just as easily have been a hog auction show, if that's what the traffic would have borne. Not that Clark wasn't, we are sure, a fine fellow. But the teens of the Bandstand era didn't exactly relate to him; it's just that, you didn't not relate to him. He didn't represent the music, but nor did he represent the older generation. He was neutral. Probably anyone who was not neutral couldn't have pulled it off.

What he pulled off is what you see in the Chubby Checker video. Groups came on the show and lip synched. That was the live portion. The rest of it was just listening and dancing to records. What makes Chubby extra interesting is that he doesn't just stand there and mouth the words. He throws in the Twist. Which is why the video feels like it was recorded on another planet, a planet where they had dance crazes that took the nation by storm.

It wasn't all that long ago, folks.

Chubby Checker's reminiscence is at Let's Do the Twist: Chubby Checker Remembers Dick Clark. It seems that it was Clark who invented Chubby Checker, so to speak.

That was some planet!

Henry Mancini

For a while, Henry Mancini was ubiquitous. It seemed as if he had written the music for every television show and movie there was. If you know him for nothing else, you know him, first, for "Pink Panther" (you'll have to go there, because embedding is disabled), and second, for "Moon River." But that just scratches the surface. I think he did write the music for every television show and movie there was, at least most of the good ones, at least for a while. He had the knack for catchy tunes, but more than that, as Christopher Bray puts it, he had the knack for writing music that pulled you in:

Mancini liked to call his theme tunes question marks—pieces of music that made the audience ask “what’s going on here, and what’s going to happen?” They worked by wrong-footing the listener, by fooling you into thinking they were going to go one way when all the time they were sneaking over somewhere different.

The music for Panther definitely does that job. On the other hand, "Moon River" is very much a song, Mancini's contribution to the Great American Songbook, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Here's the original (plus some extra stardust from Ms. Hepburn—the interwebs are choked with AH tributes):

The song is simple and straightforward and haunting. When Dr. John released his album of Johnny Mercer songs, he talked about that simple phrase, "my huckleberry friend," as being pure Mercer. Definitiely, and yet, I personally don't even know what it means. It is pure Mercer though, pure southern (although AH is anything but). Dr. John's version of the song shows how malleable Mancini's music is (and a lot more southern):

Bray's article about Mancini starts by critiquing a monograph he doesn't seem all that fond of, then he goes on to give us a bio of the composer, and some meaningful thoughts on his career in music and where he fits in the world of pop. Read Crossing You in Style, then go listen to a lot more Mancini music. You'll enjoy it.

"The Closer" for the preschool set

Grinwout's enjoys "The Closer," with Kyra Sedgwick and her L.A. homicide team. We've been catching up with it on disk (because we hardly ever watch anything when it's on; that seems so... common). I'd recommend it to anybody, or at least I thought I would until I saw this video. It's sort of hard to imagine the Venn diagram of people who watch both "The Closer" and "Sesame Street."

Then again, it is pretty funny. And yet another video to watch when we should have been doing something—anything—else. This one was via Criminal Element, which makes the Venn diagram even harder to imagine.

Coke bottle vs. chainsaw, etc.

We live in a world where people spend amazing amounts of time watching dumb videos when they should be doing something—anything—else. This is one of those videos:

The warning at the end not to attempt any of this, period, is probably worth repeating, but only if you're a total lunatic. The bottle of wine in the microwave had me ducking away from my computer screen.

This is from a Danish TV show, courtesy of the ever reliable, whom we can thank for making us watch this when we should have been doing something—anything—else.

Just pointing this out

Shirley MacLaine was born, most recently, on this date in 1934.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I’ve managed to move my brain so far away from NDCA that it might as well not have happened. A couple of posts didn't go up, though; blogger is going through a revise again. Oy. Anyhow, I just threw them up, so to speak. I know there’s stuff I intended to talk about, but it’s out of my head now. Life has gone on, I guess. Having to make up a day at the DJ didn’t help. By the time the weekend strolled around I was zonked. It’s a good thing I’ve gone on that golf sabbatical: I just don’t have time for it anymore. Which, of course, is why I went on the sabbatical in the first place. Can say that I miss it, to tell you the truth.

The New York State Forensic League finals are this coming weekend. This is a speech event as far as I’m concerned, and the Sailor-Speechos looked mostly ready to me. I will not accompany them; they have their own coach, KS, to attend to their every need. I’m just hoping they return triumphant.

I should get back into working on the cur this week. The Sailors (debater quadrant) have met with the principal to work out details of recruitment at the middle school, and with any luck, they won’t scare too many people away, and we can start rebuilding next year. It would help if I had something to train them with. I could train LDers till the cows come home, except the cows came home a number of years ago and I’m now totally at sea once we get past novices. I am going to have to get into more PF rounds and actually watch things go down, though. I learned everything I knew about LD by judging; tabbing doesn’t train one comparably. I’ll just hand myself a ballot now and then so I don’t get too lost.

The season won’t be officially over until Bean Trivia, which will transpire a week from this Wednesday. I’ve got a couple of new categories (“Which one doesn’t belong and why,” and “Your Mother Should Know”) that I’m looking forward to. Plus there’s some old standbys (how could I now do it without a category called “Obligatory Disney Category”?). O’C seems to be on the line for Ask Cruz lifelines; I’ll see if Kate can do it as well. I’d love to have a lifeline called “Are You Feeling Lucky, Punk” where someone Googles the answer using only the feeling lucky button (we did that my last RR at Lex). Unfortunately there’s no wireless at the Hud de la Hen. So it goes. I’m torn between the top prize of either a gigantic foam thumb or a leftover bag of dirty laundry from last year’s Bump lost and found. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Roger McGuinn

The Byrds first hit big with Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," if not inventing at least popularizing what was called folk rock. Group leader Roger McGuinn, known back then as Jim McGuinn, cut quite a figure with his twelve-string guitar and his dark rectangular granny glasses. After their initial folksy start the group got extremely unearthly with "The Notorious Byrd Brothers," which they followed up with one of the best country albums ever, "Sweetheart of the Rodeo." It's hard to imagine now how groundbreaking that was, the idea of the most psychedelic group around suddenly going into the purest country. (By the way, it's still one of the best country albums ever.) From folk rock to psychedelic rock to country rock. It was quite a journey.

McGuinn, true to his folk roots, keeps going, most notably with his Folk Den site. You can listen to a lot of classic music there, free for the taking. He talked recently to NPR about this, the Byrds, and among other things, covering Dylan:

"... I've gotten his words wrong before, and he got mad at me. One time we did a song, a country song called "You Ain't Going Nowhere," and I reversed the order; I said, 'Pack up your money and pick up your tent.' And about six months later he recorded it, and it came out 'pick up your money and pack up your tent, McGuinn.'"

If you've lost track of McGuinn, catch up: The Byrds' Roger McGuinn Works To Preserve Folk Music

[Via Boing Boing.]

8 famous women writers in New York City

Dorothy Parker (pictured below), Zora Neale Thurston, Shirley Jackson, Gael Greene, Patti Smith, Susan Sontag, Tama Janowitz and Kate Christensen—eight writers of different times, of different styles, of different interests, of pretty much different everything. Brent Cox puts together an article explaining and comparing what it was like for them to live in New York City. Because, let's face it, if you want to be a writer, you have spend at least some time in Manhattan. Right?

Day jobs were needed as the women got their careers started, and some were writing-related, and some were real stinkers. The rent was murder, of course, and it still is. Just about everything is more expensive than anywhere else. Cox is especially concerned about the financial picture. Think about Dorothy Parker and company dining at the Algonquin:

Amidst the wisecracks and the bon mots hurtling back and forth, the room that held the Round Table was a restaurant, providing sustenance to the well-heeled clientele (and the Round Tablers). While Dorothy was more likely to rely on the charity of the hotel, happy to have a famous/notorious regular, the blue-plate special (half of a spring chicken, two veggies and French fries), was going for $1.65 in 1927, the height of the Round Table's fame. Convert that into 2012 dollars and you get $21.59... The bootleg Scotch that Dorothy's first husband would pick up to keep the couple lubricated in 1922 was going for $12 a quart (a princely $162.62 in current dollars).

Prohibition was expensive!

Check out What It Cost Eight Women Writers To Make It In New York.

Happy Birthday, Person Who Doesn't Exist!

A complete calendar of the birthdays of fictional characters? One can never for a moment doubt the usefulness of the internet. The folks at have done the heavy lifting of this one. This week, we'll be celebrating the birthday of Willis from Different Strokes, Monica from Friends and, today, Jin Kazama from Tekken (and yes, I have no idea who that is either). Want to know who shares your special day? Exclusive Infographics: Fictional Character Birthday Calendars. [Via Mental Floss.]

Hollywood's first great on-screen interracial couple

Shirley Temple, born April 23, 1928, is still alive and, one hopes, still kicking. Maybe not as she once did, but we'd understand that. She was one of the top box-office draws of the 30s, and was often paired with dancing partner Bill Robinson. This is one of their best:

They really were one of the movies' first interracial pairings, in a time when any but the most subservient of black faces were absent from the mainstream. One could say that a mature and polished performer like Robinson being matched up to a little kid is somehow off, but this was Shirley Temple we're talking about, and she was the big time. And the real deal. Not to mention that almost any excuse to capture the amazing Robinson on film is a good one, but the thing is, Temple was pretty amazing herself. She really could perform like a trouper, as her scenes with Robinson demonstrate: she's in there with him all the way. There were good reasons for her popularity.

As with most child stars, the fact that she aged gently slowly moved her out of motion pictures, but she never lost her charm and personality. She hosted a television anthology show in the 50s, and most famously proved that there was life after show business by being appointed US Ambassador first to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia.

Happy Birthday, Shirley Temple, one of the last of the great movie legends.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I wouldn't want to judge a round that would want me as a judge

My favorite moment at NDCA was semis. The problem was, we were short a judge. If there’s one thing the group needs to do in the future, it’s insure that there’s a slue of neutrals for late outrounds. In the event, we only had two such floaters, and they were conflicted by their work with one of the teams.

Nails were bitten.

On Sunday night I planned the two semis panels based on hopes and dreams, essentially praying that a couple of people would be there who had no reason to be there. Unfortunately, because they had no reason to be there, they weren’t. At which point, choice of judges devolved to the warm bodies present. I had one backup, and he went right in. And then there was one more hole. The good news was that a judge who had been preffed was available; the bad news was, both teams had struck him. Well, at least it was mutual.

I could not overlook the fact that another potential judge was available. Yep. There was always me…

So I strolled into the round where the two debaters were waiting, and gave it to them straight. They could have the judge they both struck, who, in fact, was an expert policy judge, or they could have me. The benefits of the former, I explained, was that he might understand some of what they were saying. The benefits of the latter, as far as I could tell, were nonexistent. After a little consulting of paradigms, they chose the policy judge. A neutral party who observed this little interplay claimed that I did sort of use my innate persuasiveness to push them in that direction. But let’s face it. The very last time I judged an LD round was, mirabile dictu, the semis round at NDCA 2011. In that, to me, legendary contest, I awarded my ballot to the debater who uttered the most words that I understood—words, not sentences. If I remember correctly, I think the number was 16, but it could have been less. I mean, if you were on the $ircuit, would you want me for a judge if you could avoid it? I know I wouldn’t. I would argue till the cows come home that there is a role for judges like me, but not in a national semis round at this level. I don’t have the technical chops for it, and why should the debaters whose entire tournament has been based on their technical skills suddenly have to forego them?

Oh, yeah. I also managed to duck out of judging. This was not my specific goal, but no action is so horrible that some good doesn’t come out of it.

As I say, this needs to be avoided in the future, and the only way is either hire muchos judges or, as TOC does, set aside late-round panels in advance of the contest, so that people are there who need to be there.

NDCA: The Vegas side

I posted a bunch of updates via @jimmenick on Twitter, which I just removed from the right-hand column here; it seemed to conflict with the script for the Grinwout’s feed, for one thing, and I really don’t tweet much, for another, because it’s just not in my DNA yet. Anyhow, I wanted to talk more about Vegas.

I’ve been there before. The first time was 1955, the most recent in 2005, so although I’m hardly a habituĂ©, I’ve got some sense of the place, especially how it has changed over time. In the beginning, downtown was central, and one spread out a ways to the strip, where the more resort-like casinos existed. That was the Rat Pack era, when Vegas meant headliners or (usually naughty) variety shows. Nowadays the Strip is the center, and it’s headliners, extravaganzas, and naughty shows. There are seven Cirque de Soleil venues, for instance (including one that is naughty), enough presumably for every taste. At one point, the lure of the place was supposed to be family entertainment, and there were all sorts of rides and amusement park attractions, but that’s mostly gone now. The thing is, a family destination has to be family at its heart; Vegas merely added a subset of the familial, which wasn’t enough. Vegas, at it’s heart, is adult entertainment (in the non-naughty sense, although inclusive of the naughty), mostly stuff that adults do that children don’t. There’s a few things left now to entertain the young ’uns, but mostly there’s restaurants, shows, shopping and gambling, and those are aimed at the over-21 crowd. So be it.

After I arrived on Thursday and settled into my hotel, the Luxor, which is at the top (or bottom) of the Strip, I put on my feet and started walking. For the curious, there is a lot to see, running the gamut from genuine Monets to flea-bitten Mickey Mouse impersonators. I consider it best to accept them all, rather than seeking out one’s usual norm, because Vegas by definition is all of them, and excluding any of them misses the point. Let it all wash over you: that’s what Vegas is all about.

In the space of about five hours, I ranged from faux King Arthur, where they had a Spongebob Squarepants attraction (very Arthurian), New York New York with its taxicab roller coaster, a Henry Moore sculpture, “A girl in your room in 20 minutes” brochure hander-outers (all looking like Mexican immigrants), the Eiffel Tower, Venice complete with gondoliers, an Apple Store where I bought a connector for my iPod to the rental car aux plug, a son et lumiere of the history of Atlantis (which failed a few minutes after it started), a bar based on Coyote Ugly, a chichi mall where everything costs too much right across the street from a downscale mall where everything probably still costs too much but it’s all crap as compared to designer labels, Spiderman and Batman in need of losing a few pounds around the middle, twin Michael Jacksons, the MGM lion, and a parade of tourists that would amuse anyone absent all these other attractions. There’s no uniformity to the passing parade, unlike in, say, WDW, where everyone seems to be a fairly overweight British family. This is more like walking the streets of Manhattan, except marginally more English is spoken.

How can you not enjoy something like this? You don’t have to do anything except soak it in, and if you like, think about it. Wonder over the amount of noise that is generated in the casinos: I happened to read that there is statistical data that proves that people gamble more if there’s a racket going on, which surprised me, unlike the fact that if you’re gambling they will ply you with free liquor. That made sense; I do the same at my monthly poker games. (“Hey, Mike, you need another beer there, don’t you, buddy?”)

I didn’t do much more than my Thursday afternoon and Friday morning strolling, in terms of pure Vegasiana. That was enough. I like gambling but I’m too cheap to do much of it, and after I won a few bucks I stopped, and that was that. I did notice that there was no free wireless in my room at the Luxor. Is there really anyone physically in Vegas and also on Facebook? No one over the age of 21, and that’s a fact.

Go look at #ndca2012 if you want to see my Vegas pix, and comments as they happened.

Charlotte's Web

"Some pig..."

Of all the books I have read that were written for children, either as an adult or a child myself, many were very good. But only a few were, and are, special. Shockingly, to anyone who looks up at the logo for this site, the Alice books were among those special ones. I first read them as a teenager; I haven't stopped reading them yet. I don't think they're particularly satisfying when read aloud to younger children; it's hard to follow the logic and language unless you're reading them yourself. Maybe Victorian children were smarter than kids in my day. In any case, the impression the Alice books have had on innumerable writers and artists is undeniable. And they are, ostensibly, children's books.

Special in a different way is Charlotte's Web. I read this for the first time when I was reading it aloud to my daughter when she was quite young. I had read White material before that was intended for adults, but never his works for kids. I expected it to be good. I didn't expect it to be so affecting that I could barely speak the last words of the book because I was reacting so emotionally to them. It might have something to do with being something of a writer myself, on top of everything else. In any case, those last words have never left me.

Amazon's Omnivoracious, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the book, has brought forth the original catalog copy from 1952. If you're a Charlotte fan, it will give you a nice warm glow to read it. If you're not a Charlotte fan, you obviously have never read the book, and you need to drop everything and do so now.

David Sedaris

Most of us probably come to Sedaris first as an audio experience, maybe hearing him on This American Life, as likely as not with the Santaland Diaries. You immediately know that you want to hear more, so you seek out the audio versions of his books, and discover that the one or two stories you've heard before were not flukes. He is an expert performer of his own work, either cold in a studio or hot in front of an audience. He doesn't have the vocal chops of, say, James Earl Jones, but if Jones were reading Sedaris, it just wouldn't work right. Then again, Sedaris would have been a lousy voice actor for Darth Vader. But he's perfect for David Sedaris, and that's more than you can say for a lot of writers and their own work. His writing just happens to translate perfectly to his voice.

This wouldn't be terribly notable if it wasn't for the fact that Sedaris as a writer, absent his reading aloud his material, is very strong. You can read his stories without listening to them, and without even trying to imagine his voice in your mind if you already know it, and the stuff is really good. He's a good writer and a good (albeit limited) performer both. Pick whichever pleases you, but you won't go wrong either way.

If you're unfamiliar with Sedaris (how could that be?), you might want to start with a By the Book interview with him in the NY Times:

Boy, did I have a hard time with “Moby-Dick.” I read it for an assignment 10 years ago and realized after the first few pages that without some sort of a reward system I was never going to make any progress. I told myself that I couldn’t bathe, shave, brush my teeth or change my clothes until I had finished it. In the end, I stunk much more than the book did.

More Bond. James Bond.

James Bond goes on long after the passing of creator Ian Fleming (right) in 1964 (the year the film Goldfinger was released). Bond was iconic to begin with, or at least once Fleming got the hang of the character. In the first couple of novels the author seems to be finding his way, but by the time he got to Moonraker, he knew what he was doing. There is a combination of plot and explanatory detail that normally readers would find annoying, but with Bond, the explanatory detail is the liquor he consumes or the cities he visits or the cigarettes that he smokes, all of it relayed in a professorial matter-of-fact style that ultimately set the character as not real to anyone, but at the same time, more real than real. Hyper-real, in other words. There was never a spy anything remotely like the fictional James Bond, who became the quintessential version of what what we think of as a spy. How many other characters can you think of that have both outlasted their author and outlasted their fictional portrayers? In the movies Sean Connery was the quintessential Bond just as Bond was the quintessential spy, but that didn't stop Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan or Craig. Nor will it probably stop the next fellow.

The novels too went on after the novelist died. Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and others have taken on the task of writing Bond novels, most recent among them being Jeffery Deaver with Carte Blanche, a reboot of sorts. Carte Blanche can be recommended to the most die-hard Flemingian Bond fan as a very good Bond novel, but at the same time, it is also a very good Jeffery Deaver novel. The author was obviously allowed to write his own book, rather than trying to imitate the original.

Next up to take on Bond will be William Boyd, a rather marvelous author in his own right, known for An Ice-Cream War and A Good Man in Africa, both Grinwout's recommendations. He comments himself on his license to write a William Boyd book, plus some other extremely interesting things, in a Telegraph interview: William Boyd on challenges of writing the latest James Bond novel. It's definitely a must for Bond fans.

Of course, the one character that does come to mind as comparable—actually, the one who probably sets the standard for outlasting creator and portrayers—is Sherlock Holmes, the quintessential detective to Bond's quintessential spy. There are some fun takes on the twists of the Holmes legacy at Sherlock Holmes’ Odder Fodder: Curious Books Featuring the Great Detective. Looking for the Holmes guide to self defense, for instance? This article will lead you to it.

It's been a while

Posting the latest Tale of True Debate Adventure reminded me that I have a whole slew of audio for those whose lives are lacking in Coachean entertainment. The list is a little funny in a way, because some of the really old stuff is totally outdated, but most of it is classic fiction that will never die (at least until I stop paying my annual hosting fees).

The link is

By the way, most of the material there is also available in written form. Especially note that there are more written than recorded Nostrums, if you get into the series and demand to find out what happens to everyone. Not that you ever will, but it will be better than nothing.

George Takei

Is George Takei the most interesting veteran of Star Trek? Today's birthday boy (4/20/37) was interned with his family during WWII, he was student body president of his LA junior high school, he was one of the first Japanese actors to build a career in post-war Hollywood, and eventually served as a Lieutenant on the Starship Enterprise on The Original Series. As true connoisseurs know, he was promoted to Captain after TOS ended:

Of course, his greatest fame was from TOS, where he worked with the only other contender for the most interesting Star Trek veteran, a relationship he describes here in his predictably gentlemanly fashion:

As a measure of cool, he's done voice work on everything from Archer to Scooby-Doo to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Having served both masters, so to speak, he is the voice of reason in the ongoing war between Carrie Fisher and William Shatner on which Star X is best. And he's also a noted advocate of gay rights.

Did we mention he's also one of the funniest people in the universe:

Happy birthday, George Takei.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tales of True Debate Adventure!

This week's episode: "Bronx XXIII."

(This story is not exactly nonfiction. Facts have been rearranged, modified, and occasionally completely ignored in aid of providing a more satisfactory narrative.)

(Those who wonder why Cruz speaks with an Irish accent need to study the collected works of JM more carefully, or, preferably, get a life.)

RIP Levon Helm

Who would win?

Darth Vader vs. Voldemort. Sauron vs. Voldemort. Batman vs. Spiderman. Dracula vs. the Wolfman.

The adolescent imagination is filled with these sort of pairings. What would happen if you threw a hero or villain from one imaginary construct against an opponent from a different construct? The Grinwout has sat on long bus rides with high school debaters who can conduct a conversation along these lines for upwards of five hours. This is why the Grinwout has noice-reducing headphones.

But the idea of mixing and matching is not a new one. Universal Studios did all the early horror movies like Frankenstein and Dracula and The Invisible Man, and after they exhausted all the possibilities of return, revenge, son of, bride of, mother-in-law of, etc., they went to mixing them up against one another. The natural outcome of this was that teams of what were once collective nightmares found themselves in battle with Abbot and Costello, and losing. It was not a pretty sight. Then again, when I was in fifth grade, House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein, where the monsters were so numerous they had to take a number, were the hit of the playground.

The issue is the imaginary construct. As Stephen Padnick explains at, some characters exist in their own singular construct, especially in movies:

Crossovers don’t really happen in films, outside the horror genre... The protagonists of long running film series rarely meet either. James Bond never hit on Sarah Conner to the disgust of her son. Indiana Jones did not team up with Rick Blaine to punch out Nazis while Marion Ravenwood drunkenly sang Marseilles, (though how cool would it be if they did?). Even superhero movies, which are almost as old as superhero comics, basically assume that their hero is the only superhero in the world, and their superhero origin is the only source of supernatural power.

This is not the case in comics, where all the characters exist in the same universe, and cross over all the time. Which is why we have the Justice League and the Avengers. In fact, each individual comic nowadays is simply one episode of the narrative that crosses all the comics of a particular publisher. I recently was checking out a Green Lantern narrative on my iPad that, if I were to have purchased it, would have covered dozens of comics across multiple venues, and it took about three spreadsheets and an extra can of Red Bull to even begin to figure it out.

Inspired by the upcoming Avengers movie, the first to provide celluloid crossover, Padnick parses it out in The Avengers, the Argonauts, and the History of the Team-Up.

The worst travelogue ever

Thank you, Dangerous Minds, for digging this one up. Apparently it's quite rare: It was screened before The Life of Brian, but only in theaters in Great Britain and Australia, where boring, groan-worthy travelogues were still being routinely shown prior to feature films. (More details are on the DM site.) I started watching it thinking it was just a bad travelogue, and then you start getting into it, and it gets really bad, and then... Watch it.

Tim Curry

April 19 being Mr. Curry's birthday, could we be amiss posting this?

Or this?

He's also had a rock career (without makeup):

The possessor of one of most mellifluous speaking voices around, he's done seemingly endless animated voices, originated the title role in Amadeus and the part of King Arthur in Spamalot on Broadway, and even done video games. The man does not seem to take a lot of days off.

Happy birthday, Tim Curry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Robert Caro

The Power Broker is the best biography I have ever read. Let's get that out of the way first. And I've read, and loved, a lot of biographies. But never have I come away from a book with such a strong feeling of knowledge of its subject. Robert Moses was a most amazing figure, a strong-arm character, a conniver, a dreamer, very much the power broker as the title says. He built big, and often terribly wrong. I don't think I would have liked him as a human being. I've often wondered if author Robert Caro felt likewise.

After Robert Moses, Caro went on to Lyndon Baines Johnson, a similar figure in many ways, especially in the manipulation of power. I read the first volume, and I've been waiting for Caro to finish ever since, but every time a new volume comes out, it is not the last. I've given up. I'm going to get the ones that are out there on my Kindle and have done with it. By the time I'm finished with them, with any luck the final volume will be out. The (presumably) penultimate volume is coming out in a few weeks.

But, well, that Kindle... There's the rub. Publishing is changing these days, and the Grinwout is in the thick of it. Publishers don't really know where they're going with digital products, but they're going there a mile a minute. One fear is that we are creating a business of publishing—fast and electronic—that will no longer be able to support garganutan projects like Caro's LBJ biography. And the world will be a lesser place for it, if that is true.

[Knopf editor Sonny Mehta] pulls each of Caro's books off his shelf, The Power Broker and the first three Johnson volumes. He stacks them on his desk like blocks, resting his hand on top of the pile, saving a place for the next one. "I can't imagine this being done or even attempted by anyone else," Mehta says, almost to himself. "He's given over so much of his life to another guy." It's not just Caro's single-mindedness that makes repeating The Years of Lyndon Johnson a modern impossibility... Books like Caro's don't make corporate sense anymore, if they ever did. They require not just staggering investments of time but also of money, of jet fuel and paper and cloth. There will be five books now rather than four — and in the beginning, there were meant to be three — partly because they became victims of their own physical scale.

This is from a profile of Caro by Chris Jones in the May 2012 Esquire, The Big Book. It is required reading for anyone who cares about words, and how they are disseminated.

Just as an aside...

Finally something on VB that I not only understand, but agree with, Adam Torson's article on humility.

Everyone in debate should read this, and act accordingly. 'Nuff said.

Keith meets Mick

Mick is the greatest R&B singer this side of the Atlantic and I don't mean maybe. I play guitar (electric) Chuck style we got us a bass player and drummer and rhythm-guitar and we practice 2 or 3 nights a week. SWINGIN'.

Letter of Note printed Richards's letter to his aunt, He is called Mick Jagger, and as we ease into the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones, and various reports come and go about their touring again, or not, and recording again, and not, and for that matter, talking to one another civilly again, or not, it's fun to recollect that at some point in rock and roll there were no Rolling Stones. At one point in classical music there was no Bach or Beethoven either, so everything has to come from somewhere.

As Richards describes in Life, the group came together over classic R&B and some serious record collecting. In the early 60s, if you wanted music, you didn't bit torrent it when the spirit moved you. You had to haunt the record shops, and for the Brits, that meant scouring through not just records but imports to boot, and, for that matter, 45s, the one-song singles. Albums weren't the thing yet, although they did exist. Being a music fan was work, but it was worth it because it got you past the mainstream into where the action was. And, if you were lucky, it helped you create the Rolling Stones.

Richards's autobiography is highly recommended, but I would suggest you forego the paper version and acquire the audiobook, which he reads some of, along with Johnny Depp (and another narrator of less fame, but much ability). It's a worthwhile combination of performance and content, which as has been noted on earlier posts, is what audiobooks are all about.

The meaning of the Marshall amp

"If it's too loud, you're too old." And, by now, probably half deaf.

I have been to plenty of rock concerts. At some of them, you couldn't really hear the music, which does seem to lessen the quality of the experience. It wasn't that the music was too soft to hear: it was too loud. The recently deceased Jim Marshall, creator of the Marshall amp, can be directly tracked as the source of volume in stadium rock. Like most people, I knew that there was such a thing as a Marshall amp, so I marginally understood why his passing was noted. An article by William Weir explains it:

Marshall...had the fortune of having a 20-year-old Pete Townshend for a customer. Townshend told Marshall he wanted to hear himself over The Who's audience and rhythm section. Thus was born the first 100-watt amp. Add to that two cabinets, each bearing four speakers—together, the components came to be known as the Marshall stack—and Marshall secured himself a permanent spot on any history-of-loudness timeline... Townshend's wish to hear himself play over his bandmates and audience was certainly a reasonable one. But his discussing it with Marshall—who could actually do something about it—might be the moment arena rock was born, and the start of a widening divide between audience and performer.

In other words, it was the beginning of the battle of the bands versus the listeners' eardrums: How the Marshall Amp Changed Rock—and the Meaning of 'Loud'.

The book tour

If you're going to write a novel, which is an endeavor of great discipline, you're going to imagine a number of things. First of all, you're going to imagine that your book will be a bestseller, and you'll make enough money to give up your day job at the widget factory to spend the rest of your free time playing golf with Jame Patterson down in Palm Beach. Then you're going to have to believe that your great success means that your hungry fans want to meet you in the flesh and listen to you read from your future classic.

It is nice to dream.

A number of writers have finished their books, and with varying degrees of success (and I'm not sure how many rounds on the links with Mr. Patterson) gone on tour to promote their work. The results, as repaired in The Awl, have been mixed:

No one has heckled me yet, although I did have one guy at a reading come up to me and start asking me questions about the technology of the TM-31 and how it works and it took about five minutes for me to realize what was happening—it was about the time that I noticed how glassy his eyes were—and then he finally just came out and said it: he was a time traveler, too, and he wanted to know if I could do it anytime I wanted or had to use the machine the way I described in the book.

The title of the piece is self-explanatory. It's fun even if you don't have a bestseller in your personal oven: Nine Writers And Publicists Tell All About Readings And Book Tours.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Haruki Murakami

1Q84 was Grinwout's first exposure to Murakami. It's a multi-narrative novel in which time shifts from the contemporary year 1984 to the year 1Q84, and unusual things ensue, including the sudden appearance of a second moon. It's a book unlike any in our previous experience; we followed up with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It's a dual narrative this time out, from the same narrator in different, inner realities.

Intriguing stuff.

If you start to dabble in Murakami, you can't help but want to know more. This BBC program is intriguing on its own, and quite representative. (Via)