February 27, 2003
Vinyl Siding

Vinyl shelf A-G, starting with Air and ending with Galaxie 500.

Our ongoing saga of music storage continues and this week, record shelves arrived. This is fortunate because we are people who like vinyl.

It's a habit I can't give up. I grew up listening to records (back when you could still buy LPs for $6.99 and up) on the worst stereos imaginable. Then there were all those days at the radio station with the legions of QAX records. Then there were the halcyon days of the early and mid-'90s, when everyone else unloaded their vinyl collections for CDs and you could fill in your collection at Reckless for cheap or at the old Galgano's on Irving Park for $1 an album.

In recent years, I've lost patience with the format, but I never lost my "High Fidelity"-like obsession with the records. They've moved from apartment to apartment with us and now they are properly displayed at last.

This has given forth to some internecine marital competitiveness between E. and I as we try to out-hipster each other ("You have Fishcotheque by the Jazz Butcher and I don't? How did that happen?"). While he was busy filing his Nurse with Wound albums, though, I quietly resurrected the albums I was ashamed of owning.

Yes, it's out of hiding for the Fixx and Genesis and that Who album nobody liked. And what ever happened to my copy of Ghost in the Machine? Let them go proudly amid the '80s college rock and '90s indiepop and decades of R&B and soul.

In a way, it's good to be old and not care about the relative coolness of your record collection.

Perhaps not quite old enough, though. Let pause a moment and consider the records nobody wants...

"Whose copy of Bert Kaempfert and Roger Williams' Magic Moods is this?"
"Not mine."
"Must have belonged to your parents."
"Must have belonged to your parents!"
"I don't think so..." etc.

Posted at 08:43 PM
February 25, 2003

I didn't watch the Grammys, because I don't really care about them. But I did enjoy reading the recap .

I realize big-name Hollywood stars don't need my sympathy, but I did sorta feel for Dustin Hoffman messing up:

8:07: Hoffman, seeming dazed (let's hear it for "Bruce Springstreet!"), announces that for the first time the Grammys will proceed with no host, and therefore, no laughs.

Know that feeling you get when you blurt out something and the words come out intolerably screwed up, it's like time slows down and you can hear yourself saying it, but it's wrong and who said that anyway?

It's happened to me and believe me, although it's embarrassing enough to say it in front of millions of network television viewers, it is even worse to make that mistake in front of your eighth-grade class. Which is what happened to a friend* of mine who delivered his line in the class play as "Look, it's Fled Frinstone!"**

* This was not me. I did not have lines, although my humiliation quotient was suitably high because, for reasons that were never explained, I was forced to appear in crowd scenes dressed as a nurse.

**I don't know why Fred Flintstone was making an appearance. I hope we didn't have to pay an appearance fee to Hanna-Barbera.

(As you can see, some of us haven't gotten over the memory yet.)

Posted at 07:48 PM
February 24, 2003
Film Farm

A weekend of films here at B&W:

On Friday, saw Talk to Her, a film everyone seems to be talking about. It's been a while since I saw an Almodovar film, and somehow I expected something a little more zany and a little less...icky. A film that made me feel misanthropic--not an optimal outcome, at least for me.

On Sunday, saw A Skin too Few, a documentary about Nick Drake. Since there's very little footage of Drake himself, and not that many photographs, the film is more of a meditation than a documentary at some points. There's lots of contemplation of the English countryside, rain sliding down the window, etc.

When it gets down into the nitty-gritty, it's quite fascinating: I was interested to hear one of the engineers talk about the individual components of recording one song. And there's a sad, ghostly moment where Drake's sister plays a tape recording of their mother singing a song she wrote, a voice of the past of the past.

On the whole it's an affecting movie, although I would have like to have seen commentary by one of the many Nick-Drake-influenced bands out there today. This would help dispell Drake's despairing assumption that he'd never managed to reach anyone, which is mentioned several times. Oddly, Paul Weller makes what amounts to a celebrity cameo to fill this role, seeming out of place.

Posted at 06:01 PM
February 22, 2003
Don't Tell Me; I'll Tell You

While buying a book at Borders last night, the cashier asked if I wanted to be on the Borders e-mail newsletter list.

I said no, but the question gave me pause. While I understand the general idea, I can't imagine why I would ever want to receive a newsletter from Borders, or B&N, or any bookstore.

I want:
a) bookstores to be open when I'm around and need to buy presents or magazines;
b) bookstores to carry books and magazines that I might want to buy
c) as little conversation about these processes as possible. I don't want things to be suggested and I don't want to hear about promotions, events, and sales. I want to buy things when I want them and otherwise, I want to be left alone.

And yet, instead of being left alone, I am deluged with communications from stores and businesses, all clamoring for a piece of my consciousness. If I let them all in, my mental space would be more crowded than North Center real estate (that was a little North Side joke for my Chicago friends).

But this is hard hearted, isn't it? Poor vendors, they're just doing their jobs. Perhaps the next time I go to Borders, I will ask if they would like an e-mail newsletter from me. If they want to cater to my needs as a consumer, they'll have to read it. It will tell them what they need to know about me, without going into sticky details like my income level and personal e-mail address.

Welcome to the February 2003 issue of the B&W Report! Here's what you need to know to serve me better:

After a lackluster January and a cold-ridden first week of February, consumer spending in the B&W sector unexpectedly went on the upswing in the middle of the month. Officials attribute this peak to a very cute beaded sweater in that shop in San Diego and an unfortunate series of events that caused my wrist watch to end up in the washing machine.

Experts predict moderate growth in spending in March, depending on the weather and the international situation. If all goes well, B&W might invest in some new spring clothes. If the political situation gets much worse, however, expect B&W spending to go into a slump and me to go to bed early.

Trends to watch:
B&W needs to learn about non-profit globalization, a term we believe may be an oxymoron, but for which we await confirmation;
B&W has had enough of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck;
B&W wishes it had more time to listen to music, practice for dance class, and finish reading a book. It wishes it could spend less time sitting in the car and in the airport;
Long term indicators are positive for detangler, Chanel No. 19, and gardening equipment.

That's it for the B&W Report. See you next month. And remember, don't tell me...I'll tell you.

Posted at 11:47 AM
February 20, 2003
Unbearable Lightness

For the last two days, it has been light outside when I've left work, and the temperature has been above freezing. This causes unaccustomed lightness of heart here at B&W. Indeed, it makes us feel all swirly and girly and like going shopping.

If you are not feeling swirly and girly, you might need to skip this one and go here.

Despite the current grim political situation, or perhaps because of it, I am seeing hope for better days in the shopping mall. Surely there's no problem, or at least no outfit, that can't be solved with the right strappy high heels. And how bad can the situation be with a new skirt, especially one that has flowers, or maybe pleats? And if mankind can create a raincoat that needs doesn't need to be handwashed in the bathroom sink, as my current one unfortunately does, surely we can work for world peace.

I look forward to shedding the winter wear for more festive clothes, even though the temperature won't go up until June. Oh, and Chicago dwellers? Two things we won't need to see again next year: the hat with ear flaps and anything Burberry. Really, I think we are all over these--and I do mean over.

I will be sorry to put aside my own hats, however. This year I bought a couple of sporty caps, which I've been wearing (one at a time) at a rakish angle, in what I find is sort of a Brandy-like way.

As bizarre as this is, it doesn't bother me as much as the day in 1995 when I wore a different hat and was likened to Hillary Clinton. Does this mean there's a little Brandy in me? Well..perhaps there is in everyone. If there's no Brandy in you, there may be a little Hillary. And what'll you do then?

Posted at 09:03 PM
February 18, 2003
For Those That Still Want It

This is the worst time of year--this last dogeared bit of winter.

It just feels like it will go on forever. Spring will never get here.

And stupid things keep happening, and everything I touch breaks. Everything seems heavy.

And then there is a song like this....

Each evening the sun sets in five billion places,
Seen by ten billion eyes set in five billion faces,
Then they close, end the day, and wait for the dawing,
But the daylight and sunrise,
Are brighter in our eyes...

And it all seems larger than life to me
I find it rather hard rather hard to believe.
So I stand as the sound goes straight through my body,
I'm so bloated up, happy, and I throw things around me.
And I'm growing in stages, and have been for ages,
Just singing and floating and free.

Something tells me I will be listening to a lot of The Chills this week.

Dum de dum dum
Its a heavenly pop hit
For those that still want it.

Thanks, Mary, for sending all the way back in 1990.

Posted at 09:36 PM
February 17, 2003

Over at Pickhits there's a good recap of the panel on copyright we attended this weekend.

Eric has done a good job of describing the issues discussed, as well as some of the concerns I have working for a non-corporate publisher and trying to navigate copyright law daily. There's a real us-versus-them tone to the rhetoric that I find troubling.

I learned a lot from the panel and they were all well spoken. I admit that there was a second there when I felt like my mother as I noticed they all all slouched on stage with the worst posture imaginable. Apparently public intellectuals can't or won't sit up straight. Not that it matters, but good posture does give the illusion of engagement with the audience and all that jazz.

Next week: The Importance of Clean Fingernails.

Posted at 06:54 PM
Festival of Soup

Hey everybody! It's time for soup.

2 cans beef broth, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 lb cut-up roast beef from the deli (sliced thick), 1 potato, various carrots, celery, peas, corn, and barley. Toss in a smidge of soffrito and a bunch of pepper; cook for an hour or so, and you are there.

This post brought to you by the Friends of Soup. Void where prohibited.

Posted at 06:41 PM
February 16, 2003

A few random shots from yesterday's peace march:

This was, perhaps, my favorite sign.

It's really hard to take meaningful crowd shots from street level, so most of these represent what I could see around me. Alas, I'm not acrobatic enough to climb up on roofs and suchlike, as some more intrepid types were doing.

It doesn't actually say "No Bloop for Oil" although that would be a far more entertaining slogan.

The march was in West Rogers Park on Devon Avenue, in a largely Indian/Pakistani neighborhood. Although this location is no doubt laden with symbolism, most of the neighborhood denizens looked on without reacting, or hurried on with their daily activities. Not that I blame them; it can't be easy to have your neighborhood flooded with well-meaning lefties, especially when they all need places to park.

I was trying to shoot the sign that says "Duct Tape for Peace" unsuccessfully, evidently. Ironically, a lot of people think Eric and I live in Logan Square, so consider this disinformation.

Newspaper reports are placing the turnout in the thousands, although it's hard to say how many people exactly were there.

This guy had the right idea.

Temperature yesterday was in the 20s, and my, it was cold.

Sadly, today's Chicago Tribune led with accounts of the New York and London protests and relegated ours to the Metro section. *tsk*

Posted at 04:49 PM
February 15, 2003
Duck or Duct?

I still have a lot of questions about our nation's newest mania for duct tape. We'll step aside from the weightier questions for now (Can aerosolized microbes survive when it's below freezing outside? What about my office downtown, where it's ALL windows? Will we be so busy freaking out that we'll forget there's a war coming on?) and move to the one that's really bothered me: duck or duct?

In my previous post I wrote "duck" tape because I remembered reading somewhere that "duck tape" was actually the original name and if I can't be correct, I want to be right. (This is not a license to start up that lowercase-spelling of "Internet" argument again, by the way.)

But everyone else in the world seems to be spelling it "duct tape" and so I went searching for a beter etymology. What I found is not necessarily better, nor is it strictly an etymology, but it's entertaining.

Jim and Tim, who are apparently the Duct Tape Guys, say that:
During World War II, the American armed forces needed a strong, waterproof tape to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. Because it was waterproof, everyone referred to it as "duck" tape.

Johnson and Johnson's strong military tape made the perfect material for binding and repairing the duct work. By changing the color of the tape's rubberized top coat from Army green to sheet metal gray, "duct" tape was born.

According to Jim and Tim, 2003 is the official year of Duct Tape. I'm not sure how this happened. Maybe the terrorist scare is part of an elaborate PR plan.

In contrast, the dictionary seems to feel the duct came before the duck.

Even before the hysteria this week, it seems people have loved duct tape. They have compiled lists of 211 uses for duct tape:
26. Taping annoying people to walls, floor, ceiling, or bed.
83. Use instead of nail polish.
104. Cook a baked potato in it.

There are song contests about duct tape (sing):
Duct Tape, Duck® brand duct tape
It's the only way I can keep him from being a jerk
Duct Tape, Duck® brand duct tape
Keep up the good work

Foreign policy aside, even the French are getting in on the act.
D'abord, savez-vous ce que c'est que le duct tape?

But nothing beats American creativity. I give you the inevitable art projects....
Gravity-Defying Duct Tape: Off-the-Wall Ways to Hang Around

...And those crazy kids. These enterprising students made Elizabethan-era costumes out of red and yellow duct tape.

Ewald and Mace rolled in their moms and grandma to help make their prom formalwear. In all, it took 35 rolls of yellow, black, white, and red duct tape and 50 hours of work to create the regal duct tape duds.

I leave you with a lovely photo of the duct tape prom outfit. It'll have you rethinking your own wasted youth, that's for sure. See you in the hardware store!

Posted at 04:50 PM
February 12, 2003
A Fig for Me

I had a few days off from my usual media exposure and inevitably found all heck breaking loose. Rational adults around me were suddenly talking about buying duck tape and plastic wrap, as if ordinary life was morphing into some perverse Christo project.

I haven't figured out all the logistics yet, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share this, one of the first Weblog-type articles I ever read, back in late 2001. In those nasty, anxiety-ridden days, it was one of the few things that made me feel better. It's still timely today:

So we keep reading the news. We open our eyes. And then, in spite of that, we grab our coat and shades. Maybe they’ll get us tomorrow, sitting in a bar, ordering our pints of beer, our glasses of seltzer. Suddenly a flash. Our drinks explode in our hands, tables splinter, our feet and hands are found a block away. Or maybe we’ll make it out, only to die beneath a falling safe. Or maybe we’ll fall in love and die of happiness.

Posted at 10:33 PM
February 07, 2003

Met you on a traffic island. We were there all day in the middle of the world's highway.
Summer left its light green lipstick on our faces, took us to all the pretty places.
Highway 405 will take you from the Boom Boom Room to Interstate 5 which goes right to the San Diego Zoo.

Off to San Diego for a few days. No more updates until the 13th, more than likely. In the meantime, I leave you with this photograph, which I found in a used-bookstore copy of Chips off the Old Benchley, a birthday gift for my dad.

What's going on here? Why is that kid flailing? We will never know.

Posted at 08:55 PM
February 06, 2003
Friday Is Punk Rock Night

Posted at 06:30 PM
February 05, 2003

Sometimes being on listservs pays off just in terms of finding really nutty stuff. Found via the Marchlist:

I would like to welcome you to my BLING BLING web page. The purpose of my web page is to explain to those people of the world who have yet to either understand or experience BLING BLING what exactly it is to be BLING BLING.

What makes me bling bling
I am on the Princeton Swimteam!
I am all about tiger pride!
My favorite food is icecream
Dance parties!

It strikes me that this exercise would be a great icebreaker at parties. For instance, my list would read:

Je parle Francais.
I have cool toys on top of my cube.
My car pre-dates the Clinton administration.
Dance parties!

What makes you bling bling?

Posted at 08:18 PM
February 04, 2003
Kids Today, Revisited

Much has been written about the city's two "newspapers for young people" and what their existence heralds. While their publishers, the Tribune and Sun-Times, say that the "news lite" approach functions as a way to appeal to people between 18 and 34.

I still see a lot of people reading these on the train, so there may well be a market for this. It's always bothered me, however, that they've never bothered to explain how these papers serve as "gateway drugs" to grown-up papers. Less satisfactorily still, they've never managed to explain away the insulting assumption that the kids need to have their news dumbed down.

A couple of articles this week have provided some interesting comparisons. Newsday reports on "Why Won't Johnny Read?":

"The traditional media aren't relevant to the lives and lifestyles of the young," said John K. Hartman, a journalism professor at Central Michigan University who has spent more than 20 years studying the news habits of young adults. "They like it fast and quick. They want the headlines but not the details. They haven't been brought up with the idea they need to be fully informed," the 57-year-old said.

In contrast, Columbia Journalism Review talked to 13 groups of journalists under 30 about what their "Dream Newspaper" would be. The results are a lot more interesting than anything we're seeing in the Reds these days...

On the one hand, The Dream Newspaper would never “talk down” to its readers or “dumb down” information in a misguided attempt to reach young people. On the other hand, the paper would not assume that readers know everything—the complete history and play-by-play of events in the Middle East, for example.
“All efforts to cater to this demographic include being stupid,” says Creative Loafing’s Andisheh Nouraee. “Newspapers assume our generation wants nothing more than fluff, twenty-four-seven entertainment. That is flat-out wrong.” Rather, The Dream Newspaper would include more examination of pop culture—or, as our City Pages group puts it, “more subversive analysis of pop culture.”
There were several calls for magazine-style, narrative pieces. “Narrative journalism brings people into stories,” says S. Mitra Kalita, twenty-six, a business reporter at Newsday. “We should make stories about the Middle East so engaging, so novel-like that you can’t help but read them.” Our group from City Pages favors articles that “describe the hell out of” a place or a scene. “The more a writer can hang out with a band, a politician, a policeman, and experience what they’re experiencing, and then paint a portrait of them, the better,” says Melissa Maerz, twenty-four, a City Pages music editor. Longer, narrative pieces could be serialized, several groups suggest, like Thomas French’s multi-part pieces at the St. Petersburg Times.
The Dream Newspaper would up the flippancy factor, and embrace a conversational tone and less formal language.
The Dream Newspaper would place more value on—and take more time with— caption-writing, says our group from The Oregonian, because “young readers are visual readers.” (But it’s a mistake, Sung says, to think of “our generation being unable to comprehend something if it isn’t in full color with cute captions and screaming headlines.”)

Granted, the young journalists are a self-selecting group of people who like to read. But the message they're sending is that they, as readers and writers, need more challenge, not less--delivered in a new-school, rather than an old-school way.

The Dream Newspaper sounds pretty good to me, too.

Posted at 08:43 PM
February 03, 2003
I Meant to Say That

Saw this quote in the Chicago Reader, of all places, and couldn't stop thinking about it. Speaking is Mark Crispin Miller, author of Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder, on GW Bush:

"He has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he's speaking punitively, when he's talking about violence, when he's talking about revenge. When he struts and thumps his chest, his syntax and grammar are fine. It's only when he leaps into the wild blue yonder of compassion, or idealism, or altruism, that he makes these hilarious mistakes."

Now, I'm not about to claim I've never made a mistake when speaking. I still have nightmares about some of the embarassing things I've said over the years. But I started to wonder about this quote--if it was true. Best source I could find to check is the Slate "Complete Bushisms" page. While there are some notable exceptions to the rule, it is true that he seems to stumble on the language of abstracts more often than not.

This discomfort may explain a quality that E. and I noticed the other night--the refusal to admit that Americans are not of one mind about many issues, including the apparently imminent war. "If he could at least admit there are differences of opinion, I'd feel better," E. said. But the capability to recognize dissent may require a subtlety that a) wouldn't serve the current agenda and/or b) just isn't there. Nothing's scarier, in a way, than to look at all the options and recognize that points of view other than yours may be valid.

Of course, I could be completely wrong.

Posted at 08:25 PM
February 01, 2003
12,500 Miles Per Hour

The news about the Columbia from the NASA Web site is pretty dry:

A Space Shuttle contingency has been declared in Mission Control, Houston, as a result of the loss of communication with the Space Shuttle Columbia at approximately 9 a.m. EST Saturday as it descended toward a landing at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. It was scheduled to touchdown at 9:16 a.m. EST.

According to the announcement the shuttle was traveling at 12,500 miles per hour this morning when it broke up.

We saw it take off on Jan. 16 as we drove through central Florida on the way to my grandmother's nursing home. Or rather, we saw the trails of smoke it left behind, one straight white line up into the blue sky. It lingered for a long time as we drove past the orange groves and the clear-cut swampland.

We were glad to see it, my family and I. Nobody wanted to make this drive. Grandma has been going farther and farther away from us for some time. At 94, she is receding fast.

But just for a minute, there on the highway, we all got to think about something else. We watched the sky and imagined the astronauts in the wild blue.

I left the nursing home expecting that I would never see her again.

But I never dreamed they wouldn't come back.

Posted at 04:29 PM