Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New music from Grizzly Bear

Heard this song today on KEXP:

Couldn't find the album track on YouTube, so you'll have to settle for the Late Show performance. They're now officially one of my new favorite bands.

Swine flu, schmine flu

Yes, the possible imminent pandemic is scary, but all is not lost. Sen. Arlen Specter provided some honest-to-God good news today, just to balance things out. Best of all, hearing about Specter offset the irritation I felt upon seeing a completely-not-kidding "Palin 2012" bumper sticker on the way home from work. (Confidential to the driver of that car: C'mon, have some taste. I'd even rather see "Jindal 2012.")

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Frere-Jones on Gaga; Talbot on "neuroenhancers"

The artist I first encountered on C89.5 gets the New Yorker profile treatment this week. (I've had "Poker Face" stuck in my head, off and on, for longer than I care to admit.) Also worth reading: Margaret Talbot's piece on the off-label use of Adderall and other "neuroenhancers." Particularly interesting is the following passage, which echoes the dilemma I faced before going on Lexapro:
Chatterjee told me that many people who come to his clinic are cognitively preoccupied versions of what doctors call the “worried well.” The day I visited his office, he had just seen a middle-aged woman, a successful Philadelphia lawyer, who mentioned having to struggle a bit to come up with certain names. “Here’s an example of someone who by most measures is doing perfectly fine,” Chatterjee said. “She’s not having any trouble at work. But she notices she’s having some problems, and it’s very hard to know how much of that is just getting older.” Of course, people in her position could strive to get regular exercise and plenty of intellectual stimulation, both of which have been shown to help maintain cognitive function. But maybe they’re already doing so and want a bigger mental rev-up, or maybe they want something easier than sweaty workouts and Russian novels: a pill.
My conundrum, like that of the woman Chatterjee cites, was of the chicken-and-egg variety. Maybe regular exercise, a better diet, and, say, a healthy dose of Landmark Education would have done the trick -- or maybe I needed a chemical boost before I could even muster the energy to try any of those strategies. I had to decide, before using medication, whether I was a member of the "worried well" or genuinely unwell and in need of pharmaceutical intervention. The result has been a mixed bag -- Lexapro is hardly a cure-all -- but I don't think I'll ever regret giving it a try.

Things that go bump

As I wrote last fall, my complicated relationship with the horror genre goes back to my childhood, when I was petrified by even the trailers for horror movies, including this little gem from 1989:

The other night, I discovered Kindertrauma, a wonderful site that riffs endlessly on the theme of formative horror-movie upset. Also traumatic for me, by the way: 1988's ghastly Killer Klowns from Outer Space:

Best movie kisses

I'm starting a list; feel free to offer suggestions. (Thanks to Kate for recommending Amélie.)

Meds for anorexia?

Damn, things have changed since I was a teenager.

New glasses!

I literally can't remember when I got my current frames, which means replacing them is long, long overdue. My exam is Tuesday, and my new glasses should be on my face shortly after that. I have a feeling they'll take some getting used to, but hopefully the adjustment period will be relatively quick and painless. (Thanks to Reed for taking the photos with his cell phone.)

R.I.P., Bea

Mentioned in a Rufus Wainwright song, beloved by millions, Bea Arthur has moved on to the great retirement community in the sky. Thanks for all the laughs, funny lady.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

iPhone apps are not parenting manuals

Some app designers really don't like kids.

Less meat, more meet

As my research for the Birthright article continues, I'm finding a lot of interesting stuff about various organizations' attempts to attract unaffiliated post-college/pre-family Jews -- aka the hottest demographic in the world of Jewish outreach. A recent story in The Baltimore Jewish Times has some noteworthy things to say about what young Jews are and aren't looking for in community. To wit:
The alumni surveyed in all four cities said they would like to be more involved than they were in Jewish life. Most preferred small gatherings to large, anonymous “meat market” Jewish events.

“They’re happy to eat free food and drink free beer at those big events, but they don’t feel it meets their needs to find Jewish community,” Chertok reports.
This certainly echoes what the Kibbutz is trying to do. Nice to see it validated in print!

Another unconventional romcom

Paper Heart joins 500 Days of Summer among upcoming films with a common purpose: enlivening that (arguably) stalest of genres, the romantic comedy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Listen up, vegans

Michael has put forth the following tip on some excellent animal-free bargain chow:
At the Hopvine Pub, on 15th E. and Republican, they have a special on--baked polenta with wild mushrooms and tomato sauce, spiced with cardamom and anise. It's delicious, it's vegan, and it's $5. They're adding it to the menu soon, hopefully for that price, but it's a really good small meal. I repeat: $5.
Next time I'm on the Hill, I'm totally there.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Will the last film critic in America please turn off the projector?

The list, compiled by Movie City News, is sad but not surprising. I've long said that the full-time critic circuit is like the Supreme Court: Somebody has to die, and you have to be in the right place at the right time, and you have to know the right people. Only the rest of the analogy breaks down, because you may no longer have a job for life.

Moishe House D.C. in the news

The delightful house that put me up during the Inauguration just made The Washington Post. The article makes some nice points about what draws twentysomething Jews to Moishe House events rather than other Jewish groups or shul, including this one:
"No one is asking you for money or your time, or telling you to get married," Adam Gerber, 24, said at a recent dinner. "It's just about having a good time with other Jews."
Speaking of Moishe House, I just discovered Stranger writer Eli Sanders' 2007 piece on the subject, and it's a gem.

Et tu, Sparkle Motion?

The direct-to-DVD "sequel" to Donnie Darko makes its ignominious debut in 7 days, 1 hour, 17 minutes, and 20 seconds. The trailer doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


In the course of researching an upcoming Jew-ish.com article on Birthright, I came across a provocative open letter by Jack Wertheimer. It's interesting to read a more conservative voice than I'm used to hearing around the Kibbutz, especially one that refers "a heartbreaking reflection of what intermarriage has wrought" with zero irony. I also find it intriguing that the anger of Jews like Jew-ish.com editor Leyna Krow and myself, who find the notion of marrying Jewish out of a sense of duty preposterous at best and oppressive at worst, is matched by Wertheimer, whose most revealing passage might be the following:
Your wish to create a Jewish identity mixing multiple religious traditions is a fantasy, and you know it because of the very ways you think about yourselves—“Frankenjews,” “mongrelized” are terms you employ to describe your fractured selves.
Indeed, what many people who were born and raised Jewish wish to create is not a solely Jewish identity but one that integrates multiple spiritual and/or cultural traditions and is thus syncretic by design. If that's folly, then Wertheimer's conservative stance is simply a typical attack on postmodernism and multiculturalism -- liberal relativism, in other words -- in Jewish clothing.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Yes, please

YouTube's embedding code is being weird, but here's a link to the trailer for 500 Days of Summer. Two of my favorite actors in an indie-spirited romantic comedy? Sign me up.

Sorry, I can't not love him

I mean, look what he does. What other president has risked protracted constipation to eat matzoh along with America's Jews? None that I recall. You rule, Barack.

Print journalism: zero to tacky in 2.5 seconds

Thanks to Sheri for the tip-off on this hair-raising story, which should be hard to believe but unfortunately, in these crazy times, really isn't at all.

God's song

Heard this today on KEXP. I've long been fascinated with songs that explore religion from a secular or semi-secular point of view that isn't essentially disrespectful -- that is, music that asks spiritual questions thoughtfully, even when there's anger in the asking. (XTC's "Dear God" is a fine example.) "Letter From God To Man" certainly succeeds on that level, and it provides a nice contrast to one of my favorite songs, Randy Newman's "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)," in which the Lord is portrayed, as I wrote in 2005, as "a cackling sadist who gets off on our misguided need for him." I like the vision, in "Letter," of a Deity who's willing to share the blame for humanity's troubles but unwilling to shoulder all of it. That's a God I could at least consider believing in.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

NWsource peeps

Geoff Carter, who took this terrific picture, couldn't have said it better on Facebook. I love these folks, too.

More praise for "Adventureland"

I've said my piece, but now The Stranger's Paul Constant has added to the widespread critical acclaim for this great little movie. In case I didn't already mention it, Adventureland is one of the better date movies to come out in a while. (Since Definitely Maybe, perhaps?) Anyway: Run, don't walk.

Monday, April 6, 2009

15 minutes

Guess who's featured on Jew-ish.com editor Leyna Krow's captivating photoblog? I'll also be included in a soon-to-be-published point/counterpoint piece in PresenTense magazine. Some other character will sing the praises of Hebrew school, and I'll voice a dissenting opinion. Good times.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Julia and Byron"

Another fine piece of New Yorker fiction.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Solitary men

What do I enjoy reading about in my leisure time? That's right: torture. Specifically, solitary confinement, the subject of Atul Gawande's excellent article in a recent New Yorker.


I loved it. I loved Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and the wonderful supporting cast, including Ryan Reynolds in a plum role and Freaks and Geeks alum Martin Starr, who is never less than fantastic. More important, Adventureland offers an extremely well-blended mix of wacky comedy, subtle character- and situation-based comedy, and surprisingly affecting, even occasionally wrenching drama (mostly of the romantic variety).

I've never seen a movie that so accurately captured the bittersweetness of the midway lights; since Adventureland takes place primarily at the titular Pittsburgh-area theme park (it's called Kennywood in real life), we get some nice dusk and night shots of the illuminated rides, a sight I've always found lovely and poetic, though I'm unable to say why. Greg Mottola's film expresses what I've so often failed to about the lights by folding those gorgeous shots into a story that's funny, happy, and sad in roughly equal proportions. The whole thing just hangs together beautifully, and I found the love story at its center truly moving.

The trailer sells the movie as a farce in the Superbad vein, which is to be expected: Mottola was that film's director, too. But whereas Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg cowrote the previous film, Mottola gets the sole writing credit for Adventureland. Eisenberg's performance evokes certain aspects of Michael Cera's in Superbad, but Eisenberg has a better touch with tart dramedy (as he demonstrated in 2005's The Squid and the Whale), and he and Stewart both get to show off their considerable acting chops, particularly in scenes that find them heartbroken with each other, disappointed but still hopeful beneath the pain.

The spirit of Superbad's few poignant moments finds fuller expression in Adventureland's low-level melancholy, which grounds even the most ridiculous comic scenes in something real. The contrast between the indignity of jobs like the ones at the park and the erudition of the workers -- Starr plays a Russian literature major who orients Eisenberg's character, an Oberlin graduate who majored in comparative literature -- makes for satisfying comedy, but it should also ring true for those who have found themselves in jobs that they'd previously considered beneath them.

I don't want to spoil Adventureland's graceful conclusion, but I will say that when a movie like this manages such a believable, uncontrived happy ending, it's done something few films of its type are capable of. This movie made me very, very happy at a moment in time when I really needed it, and for that I'm enormously grateful.

(One last thing: For those still in mourning for Freaks and Geeks, Adventureland delivers a solid dose of consolation, thanks in no small part to series alums Mottola and Starr. This is precisely the kind of movie I hoped they'd make.)

"ER" series finale

Still have to see it. My computer is nearly four years old, so I'm not sure it can handle NBC's online playback, but I'll figure something out. I might end up borrowing Tamar's shiny new PC. During my first year of college, I loved gathering with friends in a dorm lounge every Thursday night to watch ER, and I have very fond memories of the Doug Ross era and the much later episode in which Dr. Greene finally succumbs to brain cancer. (Not that it was a happy episode, just a solid one.) I'll also have to see the recent installment that catches up with Dr. Ross and Nurse Hathaway, who apparently ended up working together at a Seattle hospital (though presumably not Seattle Grace). I love series finales, which tend to bring even ailing shows back up to par, and since ER has been on for literally half my life, it'll probably pack a little extra emotional wallop.

Oberlin on the big screen (sort of)

You'll notice in the trailer, right after James has been hung up on after describing his road trip, that he's wearing an Oberlin College T-shirt.

Which means I need to see this movie now.

Hurt feelings

Still reeling from a close encounter with anti-Semitism, a first in my life. Maybe I'm making too big a deal of it, but I haven't experienced that level of malice since middle school. I have some idea about what inspired my harasser to go on his tirade, but I haven't an earthly clue what I could have done to merit this kind of viciousness. All he's achieved, besides seriously bruising my feelings, is making me feel prouder to be Jewish and inspired to try to be a better person than I currently am. I guess I'm not sure how to unload the kind of burden his comments placed on me, but I'm hoping that talking and writing and channeling my anger into productive activities will help.

On the plus side, Flight of the Conchords' "Hurt Feelings" seriously cheered me up.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Obama to Queen: Have an iPod

The BBC reported today that President Obama gave the Queen of England an iPod as a gift. Listeners were then treated to a short medley of three of Obama's favorite songs (a list of them was made available to the media during election season): "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye, "I'm on Fire" by Bruce Springsteen, and "Ready or Not" by the Fugees. I beamed as I listened; it's hard to believe I actually like most of the music our president does. Here are seven other songs he digs:

The Rolling Stones - "Gimme Shelter"
Nina Simone - "Sinnerman"
Kanye West - "Touch the Sky"
Frank Sinatra - "You'd Be So Easy to Love"
Aretha Franklin - "Think"
U2 - "City of Blinding Lights"
will.i.am - "Yes I Can"

Let's forgive him that last choice, shall we? "Gimme Shelter" and the Nina/Kanye/Aretha trifecta pretty much make up for it anyway.