Saturday, December 11, 2010

O Tannenbaum

So this afternoon I had a small realization. Last year I can't say I was ever really in what I think of as "The Christmas Spirit". I enjoyed the holiday. It came, it went, turkey was had and presents exchanged. But something was missing, and I couldn't figure it out.

As much as anything else, Christmas is about ritual. Its why when we start dating someone new, everything about their family's Christmas sounds completely crazy (Jamie's family has a quiet family event. When I was growing up, you could expect up to 12 people sleeping in the house on Christmas Eve. I didn't sleep in my own bed on Christmas until the end of college.).

The ritual we decided to forego in 2009 was a tree. I think Jamie and I have had a tree in every apartment and house we've shared. As a kid, everything about the tree was part of the holiday ritual. We did not go as a family to the lot and pick out a tree. We pulled the branches out of the boxes, laid them out according to size (marked by a dab of color at the aluminum stem of the branch) and then began putting the thing together. It took forever just to get the branches on, let alone getting lights strung (we had no fancy pre-lit trees in those days) and ornaments hung.

And then, we all had to stand back, look at the tree, and notice that, yeah, that thing really listed, and we'd maybe get a new fake tree next year. Which we finally did when I was a Junior or Senior in high school.

But, man, you should have been there for the great "The Clapper" experiment of 1996. Let's just say that having a device that uses sound to turn the power on and off in the same room where you're watching football and basketball for two weeks straight makes for a magical Christmas tree. (That said, my Grandma loved standing up at night and "clapping" the Christmas tree off.)

Anyhow, last year after we got Scout, who is a very sweet but very nervous dog, we decided not to put up our fairly sizable fake tree. She might eat branches or ornaments. She might knock the tree over. We didn't know. Also, we were kind of glad not to lose the square footage in the middle of the house.

This year we actually decorated the front and inside of the house Thanksgiving weekend (another ritual), but... its just been off again. Our stockings are up, the nutcrackers are in place, the garland is out... but once again, I just didn't really feel like it was Christmas time. Even after going shopping for a good chunk of the day.

And I realized: maybe I need to decorate a tree. Maybe that's just part of the deal. If I don't assemble a fake tree and place ornaments upon it, maybe my Christmas engines simply won't fire.

Anyhoo... this evening we went out and got a small tree that we can place on a side table. It had sort of plastic legs you slide into place, and it doesn't exactly require assembling, but something like it. We put on some carols and put some ornaments on (its much smaller than our usual tree). Jamie sang a song or three.

The tree is now decorated, complete with Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and GL. Its got a star and a menagerie of animals and these nice glass orbs Jamie bought a while back. And I'm already feeling much, much better about Christmas.

I also have two UT sports ornaments. And as I was hanging them, I made a little promise to myself that these were for better luck next year for our mighty Longhorns. I confess, I even rubbed them for good luck.

That's what this time of year is about. Saying good bye not just to this year, but looking back at all the years, all the memories you unpack, with hope for better next year.

A Christmas album was playing, the dogs were settled and snoring on sofas, my lovely wife was under a blanket and reading, and I sat back in the glow of the lights, quite content.

And then I read this bull@#$%.

%$#@!!! %$#@ity @#$% %$#@!!!!!!!

UT's defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, is leaving to become head coach at the University of Florida. In my book, this is a total disaster. He was supposed to be staying at UT and make millions of dollars and then take over when Mack Brown retired. But, ohhhhh no. UT had to have a 5-7 season, and Mack Brown isn't leaving on that note, so you bet Muschamp started looking around.

The guy is a great coach, he may well poach some of UT's better coaching staff that remains in the wake of the coaching resignations and firings the past week or so following the Longhorn's 5-7 season. Muschamp won't be here to recruit for 2011, and our defense was barely holding on, as it was.

My magical UT ornaments did NOTHING.

Stupid 2010. Stupid 2011.

Friday, December 10, 2010

NathanC Helps You Pick Out Your Holiday Tunes

We have a brief window here for enjoying the sights and sounds of the Holidays. A while back at our links site I mentioned a list of Christmas music suggestions I'd seen at the always-trustworthy Pop Culture Safari.

Click here to visit that list.

Do not proceed until you've read the column.

Okay? Okay.

A lot of good stuff in there.  I just don't think its Christmas without the Phil Spector Christmas album.  Spector may have gone bonkers, but:  (a) he knew how to get a great sound (b) he knew talent (c) he knew how to cut a Christmas album and (c)  The Ronnettes. 

I have many trusted sources when it comes to music, but I figured that I should look to one of our specialists in such matters. Already Mrshl weighed in with recommendations for the Holidays from Sufjan Stevens and Low.

Corpsman NathanC is very knowledgeable about music of many genres, loves Christmas, and, honestly, works in radio. So while you may like your stuff... let's give Nathan a little benefit of the doubt. Man has paid his dues.

Nathan and I had an email correspondence over a few days, and Nathan's end went like this:

Nathan: Okay, so I finally got around to checking out that list. Man, I can find no fault in *any* of those Christmas music picks on the blogger's "main list." My top choices are the Phil Spector album, which captures the essence of Christmas in the big city. It feels very modern and classic at the same time. I have the Wynton Marsalis album, and can attest that it is a swingin' affair. Much better than an album of Wynton's original compositions (sorry Wynton), which I find to be too often academic.

(The League says: I don't think this is on the album, but diva Kathleen Battle does Christmas with Marsalis and Co., and its worth a listen)

Of all the modern crooner/swinging Christmas records, my favorite has been Diana Krall's "Christmas Songs" from a few years ago. The arrangements are terrific. And I fall in love with her when her voice cracks during "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

I don't know that I can add more to what this fella says about the albums, other than to recommend a "buy" on the Spector, Presley, Guaraldi and Sinatra albums. Must-have for ANY Christmas collection. As for the Chipmunks, you'll be okay with the one song. And buy Diana Krall's CD.

(The League Says: Elvis Costello is a wise man.)


Re: Bob Dylan's "Christmas In the Heart":

Far from the "What the hell?" reaction most people had to this album, I felt Bob Dylan's choice to release a Christmas album to be inspired. Dylan's voice has always been unique, but since "Time Out of Mind," it's lowered into a grizzled drawl. His past few albums have been somewhat inspired by old-timey and regional music (note Dylan's favored Col. Sanders suit and tie, too), and so I feel his present demeanor and style fits within the context of a Christmas record. The arrangements on Christmas in the Heart only amplify the fireside feel. It's like your kind uncle full of eggnog singing.

(The League Says: Here's some of that album!)

By the way, those Christmas song compilations that Target puts out ("Jingle Bell Rock," "A Traditional Christmas, Vol. 1," etc.) every year are great. I always pick some up for half-off after Christmas.

Was Nat King Cole on that guy's list? If not, for shame!!!!

Who are my favorite Christmas song interpreters of all time?

In no particular order:

Nat King Cole
Frank Sinatra
Doris Day
Ella Fitzgerald
Diana Krall
Elvis Presley

(The League Says: For The King, we post video. Respect.)

My favorite Christmas song? Of course, it's Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song." It doesn't order you to deck the halls, to jingle bells, or anything like that. It just reminisces about the many sights, sounds, and smells of the season, and wishes you a Merry Christmas. Which is what we all want, isn't it?

(The League says: We agree that this is absolutely top notch. Here's The Velvet Fog himself)

And Finally:

The Beatles Christmas recordings are charming if you're a big fan of the group. But after 1965's record, they start to get very, very zany, and work better if you're under the influence.

The reviewer used the word "melancholy" to describe "Christmas Time is Here" by Vince Guaraldi. To quote The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

And I just checked his list again. He *did* skip Nat King Cole! Heresy!

The League Says:

We've got our own favorites and we'll be back with them soon!

Conan O'Brien Ponders DC C-Listers, goes Super with Bruce Timm

By the way, that's DC Animation legend Bruce Timm helping out Conan, not just some grunt from the animation department.

Its kind of funny. After a while, you forget how these characters look to the world on first blush.

For the record, I don't know if I'd go to the mat for any of these characters except Captain Boomerang. He's been one of my favorite DC characters since the Suicide Squad days. He's back in the new Flash comics, after being dead for a few years.

A little note: Bat Lash is a "Maverick" knock off, but still entertaining. He doesn't get much attention these days, but about three years ago had a limited series. Space Ranger = Generic sci-fi guy. Just be glad it wasn't Space Cabbie, because, yes, there is such a character. I can't say anything in support of Ultra.

I'd also point out that not only is Enemy Ace name checked, but there's a reference to the forgotten mini-series "Guns of the Dragon". I've only read issue 1.

Goodnight Dune

This almost makes me want to borrow a kid and read a goodnight story.

here for a few more

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Short Post

Alas, I had to spend the evening writing our family Christmas letter for this year.  So, no real post.

Also, I must now spend time further investigating the magic that is Kanye West and his new album.  And, Ninja Assassin is on HBO, and its sort of distracting. This movie has really embraced how much blood there is in the human body and the various spray patterns you're likely to see from Ninja weapons. 

Here's Kanye's video for Power.

I suggest blowing it up to full screen size.

I always like when I can't quite get my head around what an artist is doing. And maybe I'm overthinking Mr. West's work, or maybe not. But I figure its 2011. Go big or go home.

For the Runaway short film, go here.

I'm going with spelling it "Hanukkah"

Happy Hanukkah, amigos!

Today is the last day of the festival, but I wanted to wish our readership, Jewish and not-Jewish alike, a happy Hanukkah. 

We hope everyone is enjoying the Holiday season, and we hope those celebrating Hanukkah had a great one.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Walking Dead" reminds me what drives me nuts about Zombie fiction on a weekly basis

I like the TV show "The Walking Dead".  Its well acted, the producers treat the subject with respect, the show does its best to use the Zombie Apocalypse as a spring board for observing humans under pressure, the cinematography is okay, and the moral and logistical dilemmas are interesting.  I'm on board.  Mostly.

But, man...  sometimes its hard to buy Zombie Fiction.

I won't go into the logistics of zombie metabolism and how the only Zombie movie I've seen handle the logical endgame of zombies logically was 28 Days Later (organic things gotta eat.  Either the zombies start eating each other, or its a wildfire that will burn itself out).

Nor will I go into how I suspect anything as virulent as Zombie-ism, and that requires a slow death to take effect and renders its carriers nigh-mindless, would likely get quarantined and shut down within two days.

I also won't get into the logistics of the unlikely the spread of anything beyond a localized zombie outbreak would be (do zombies fly on international flights?  If so, the TSA really needs some improvements.).

The one thing I've learned about Us since 9/11 is that if we think a situation is getting slightly outside our comfort zone, we will freak out.  Fear of death (especially of a death that would lead to a wretched, rambling undeath) is an incredibly powerful force.  I mean, it rains a little and traffic gums up for hours.  We think teeter-totters are too dangerous for kids.  Heck, we're currently deciding its not big deal to let perfect strangers take nude pictures of us so we can get to Vegas without having to drive.  And we certainly don't have any problem throwing anyone who is not ourself under the bus in the name of self-preservation.

So when I see a touching scene of a woman still cradling her sister ten seconds after she's gone full zombie and the slightest nip means the same awful fate for her?

1)  We have a pretty good understanding these days of how infection is spread.  If we're willing to stand on the other side of glass in hospitals for newborn babies and send Purell sales sky rocketing when a few people have the flu, I don't see people anybody lovingly cradling their blood-soaked loved ones.  And much like 28 Days Later, if any blood did get on you, you would freak the @#$% out.

2)  I don't know how many people would really sit around and wait for someone infected to slowly die, metabolize, and become a zombie.  Especially while holding or touching that person.  Walking Dead and other shows suggest that we'll all sit through the transformation of our loved ones (or even friendly acquaintances) right up to the point of zombification.  I believe a few people would want to do that, but in any kind of group?  The first rule is going to be "we don't wait".

3)  People are going to let the ones with the least risky plans take the lead.  Given what we now consider completely normal in the name of "national security" and the siege mentality we've agreed to live under in - surprisingly mundane aspects of our lives because its "safer" than if we didn't agree to the changes- suggests we want someone else telling us what to do in high pressure situations.  When you're in the zombie apocalypse and someone suggests "anybody who gets bit gets a bullet in the skull" and you parse it logically, you're going to agree.  And when something bad happens to Uncle Louie, you're going to fall back on the fact that we all agreed, the decision was made when he threw in with your group, and that he's gotta take a bullet.  There not going to be teary scenes as you help guide Uncle Louie to the sweet zombie beyond, and, likely Uncle Louie is going to be onboard with a quick exit.
And I assure you, if you're in my Zombie Apocalypse survival group, anyone who gets so much as a nip is getting a bullet.
And, no, the Zombie Apocalypse scenario is not going to wind up looking too much like a democracy.

4)  There will be safety in numbers, so I don't see people deciding to break off because of philosophical disagreements (unless there's a critical mass willing to give up their safety).  This is going to lead to some bizarre set ups for survivors (which is what I think Walking Dead is sort of trading on as a show, its just not gotten to the tragically pragmatic part quite yet).  

Now, I understand that this stuff (the cradling the zombie-bit sister, carting around a nigh-zombie and leaving him alone with worried looking colleagues) is done for dramatic effect.  Its also done to get the same emotional impact you get when you want to stand up in a theater and tell the co-ed "don't go in the dark room!  The killer is in there!", but...  it always takes me out of the scene.  It just always feels like "hey, somebody here would surely say something."  And, honestly, at this point in my zombie media consumption, I've seen the slow death a dozen times.  I'm more interested in seeing the scene play out where Alpha Leader tells mourning sister "you don't get to stay with her and hold her.  We're not going to let her suffer for hours or days until she turns.  She's laying there until she's passed out, and then we're finishing her and burning her."

As it has appeared in most movies, Zombification isn't a flu.  It isn't even something a lot tougher you can possibly beat with medicine or recover from.  It has 100% chance of killing the carrier and 100% chance of that carrier getting up and rabidly attacking anyone they can reach with their teeth.  I don't even see survivors taking the chance of spreading infection by burying the corpses when the bodies can decompose into the water table, and/ or lie dormant and/ or dig their way out.  I see a lot of pyres happening.

Sure, I've got an Omega Plan in place for Zombie Apocalypse.  Lets just say it doesn't end with sunshine and roses for anyone involved.  And, frankly, I don't really get how and why the nuclear options don't ever appear in zombie movies.  Instead, its almost always scrappy survivors squabbling and trying to figure out what to do with the dead weight victim who will inevitably turn and cause drama.

I do get that part of Zombie fiction is that everyone second guesses the solutions and opinions of those trying to survive.  But at some point, you do sort of get tired of characters doing something because it sounds good in a writing room and not because it seems... true.  Even true to a premise as far-fetched as zombie apocalypse.  Its a concern with a weekly show that it will rely on "dramatic" scenes to keep the juice flowing and get those tears out of the audience.  And I'm not sure how long an audience is going to stick with "Cruelly Pragmatic Survivors of the Apocalypse".   

While I am very much enjoying this season of The Walking Dead, I'm beginning to remember why I quit reading the comic book series upon which the show is based after the second volume.  At some point, I just quit buying some of the story.  I haven't watched the season finale yet, but did watch the 2nd to last episode this evening.   Looking forward to the finale, and I have high hopes that the show is going to last long enough that we'll see all kinds of variations and reactions to Zombie Apocalypse.

Noir City Christmas

There are many reasons I wish I lived in San Francisco/ The Bay Area.  Its prominence as a world hub of innovation and technology.  The amazing mix of cultures.  Sea lions.  So many sea lions.  Architecture and history.  Increased opportunity to pop in on Steven and Lauren and eat all their food.  Could secretly live in Dug and K's basement for weeks before they'd notice.  Local law-enforcement's encouragement of recreation of scenes from "Bullit".  All the sourdough and Rice-a-Roni one could eat.  Would see it on local news when Mythbusters finally accidentally blow themselves up.

But today:  I wish I could be in town for the Noir City Cruel Yule and back again in January for the Noir City Film Festival

What better way to ring in the holidays than with dangerous dames, pistols and tough talk?*  If you're in the Bay Area, I highly recommend checking out the programs Eddie Muller and co. have put together to keep one of the great cinematic traditions alive.

*actually, this may be my Christmas with Jamie, anyway

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Birthday to The Dug/ Pearl Harbor Day

feliz cumpleanous, a ti
Happy Birthday to The Dug, who each year is reminded that his birthday marks a great National Tragedy and the beginning of years of grueling war with our colleagues in Japan.

Well, here's to another fantastic year for Dug and to the heartbreaking loss we faced on this day.  Let's celebrate/ mourn!

Monday, December 6, 2010

You're on your own.

I'm tired and I think I'll go read and whatnot. You're on your own. The remote turns on the cable and the TV and there's diet soda in the fridge.

Also: Jon Hamm has a good job. I think he knows that.

Shut up, Jon Hamm

I am pretty sure you won't finish reading this meandering blog post

It would be bad form to not have a post ready for a Monday, but I'm kind of running dry at the moment.  Bear with me.

The weekend 

The holidays are here, and that meant Saturday we were able to attend a lovely get together at Matt and Nicole's place.  Sweaters were worn, cocktails embibed, and a cold front hit just before the party, so it didn't feel odd or unseasonal. 

I learned a lesson in trying to be a safe driver:  if you're planning to cab it around town - do not decide its time to call a cab at 2:00 AM on Saturday night/ Sunday morning during the middle of holiday revelry.  They will never, ever show up.  And you will spend an ugly hour regretting that last cocktail with SyFy Channel on mute showing some horrendous movie with Alan Cumming painted blue, and Jamie just staring at the window and repeating "where are they?", only to give up and force a sober Nicole to drive you all the way back to your house at 3:10 AM.

Today was fairly lazy.  Played with the dogs.  Read.  Cleaned up a bit.  Walked the dogs.  Fixed the fence.  Slept for a while in the afternoon, facedown on the sofa.  Denied the fact that I need to go to Lowe's and do a few last bits of Christmas shopping (I am way, way out ahead on Christmas shopping).  Met up with Matt and Nicole at a sort of Italian bistro near Nau's, ran into Keora and Laura (wife of SimonUK). 

And now I'm sitting in front of the fake fire with sleepy dogs. 

Big 12 and Longhorn Football

OU won the Big 12 Championship, which is secretly good news to me (as OU is my second favorite college team, but we do not say such things in Austin). 

And it looks like UT's long-bemoaned Offensive Coordinator, Greg Davis, will be leaving UT's coaching staff by hook or by crook early this week. 

I don't know much about Davis.  He doesn't get in front of the mics or cameras very often, but I know that in a city that screeches to a halt on game days, I have never heard one person who didn't second-guess or immediately leap to chip in to question Davis's coaching and play calling.  That's not an exaggeration for dramatic effect, that's a fact.  And it seems that UT's great recruiting of the past 10 years finally wasn't able to overcome the deficit in offensive coordination.  At some point, you can't have 100K people in the stadium all slapping their foreheads, and everybody but the Offensive Coordinator knowing that the play called was not going to work.

That's not to say people aren't warily eyeing Will Muschamp (UT's Defensive Coordinator), his millions per year and the fact that UT oddly already anointed him Mack Brown's successor despite the fact that Brown isn't scheduled to retire or leave Texas.  I don't think Muschamp is on the chopping block quite yet, but if UT is giving up as many touchdowns next year as they did this season?  That sweetheart deal is going to dry up pretty fast.

Anyway, strange days for Texas football.

On the positive side:  Looks like Oregon will challenge Auburn for the National title spot!  Very happy for our man in Oregon, Fantomenos.  The Ducks have been building to this point for a while, and I'm personally planning to dress in green and watch that one.

Jackie Chiles returns

Back in the 1990's Seinfeld was (and still remains) one of my favorite shows.  Many will remember the OJ-case inspired character, Jackie Chiles, loosely based on now-deceased showboating attorney Johnny Cochrane.

A colleague of The Signal Watch is a contributor to award-winning legal blog Abnormal Use, which recently swung an interview with the actor who portrayed Jackie Chiles, Phil Morris.  We encourage you to read the interview

I confess that, yes, I do still watch Smallville on the CW (I'm quite a fan of Ms. Durance who plays Lois.  Rowr.).  For the past few years, Morris has guest-spotted on the program as J'onn J'onzz/ John Jones (aka:  The Martian Manhunter), and he's been a real highlight in a show that I usually enjoy semi-ironically (because, man, Smallville...).  I figured it was too much to ask that they spin the character off into his own, better show, so I take what I can get.

You can also see Morris in new clips as Jackie Chiles on Funny or Die!

Congrats to Abnormal Use for a great 2010!

Spider-Man play suffers another injury

An actress playing a major role as a villain suffered a concussion when a rope smacked her in the head.  This same actress has to sit in her harness 6 hours per day. 

I really do think people will turn up to watch the show, but its for the same reason you go to NASCAR races: horrendous accidents.

Never Assume

You people can enjoy the malarkey that is The League in small, bite sized chunks and opt in or out of dealing with me as you please.  Even Jamie has the option to tell me to shut it, and/ or leave the room.  But there is a person who does not have any options.  8 hours per day, 5 days per week, my officemate (who also reports to me in the org chart) has to sit and listen to whatever I say.  And I kind of just talk.  And talk.  And talk and talk and talk and talk and talk all day every day.

And its kind of unfair.  Literally nobody else on the planet has to put up with my monologuing or fear for their livelihood.  And so it came to pass that I was completely under the impression that my officemate and I were on the same page that KANYE WEST IS THE GREATEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED, EVER.

Apparently, not so.  So, if anyone else has some ideas for what to get an officemate for Christmas that isn't the new Kanye West album, please let me know.