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"Before you know it as the years go by, you're just like other people you have seen, with all those peculiar human ailments. Just another vehicle for temper and vanity and rashness and all the rest. Who wants it? Who needs it? These things occupy the place where a man's soul should be." -- Henderson the Rain King

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Pirate Coast

Book #43 of 2005 was The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 by the wonderful offbeat history writer Richard Zacks.

Pa-Pa-Pa-Pirate Coast tells the story of William Eaton, a man chosen by Thomas Jefferson to lead a covert mission to incite a civil war in Tripoli and attempt an overthrow of the Bashaw Yussef Karamanli, a man holding nearly 300 U.S. sailors as slaves. There are lots of politics in play between the various parties (especially between Eaton and Jefferson) which really adds an extra dimension to the story . One of the beauties of the book is the way Zacks explains each man's motivations and perspective as events are unfolding. By understanding the complexities you get a much better idea of the full picture of what happened during the mission and where it succeded and failed.

Before I read this book I had never heard much of anything about William Eaton or the U.S. battles with Tripoli. Did you know that in 1801 Tripoli became the first country to declare war on the United States? The war also inspired the famous 'from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli' line found in the Marines' Hymn. Not knowing anything about the history of the events actually made the book all the more interesting as it ended up reading a lot like a great fiction book where I wanted to read more to find out what would happen next.

I'd definitely recommend The Pirate Coast, though if you haven't read any of Zacks' previous works I'd start with The Pirate Hunter first. Both are excellent, but I'd have to give a sleight nod to The Pirate Hunter as it's just a wonderful wonderful book and would be tough to beat. An Underground Education is also a fun read but it's more of an encyclopedia of interesting facts than a book you read from front-to-back.

You can read an excerpt from the The Pirate Coast here.

The official site for the book can be found here.

For a more detailed review I'd recommend checking out Blogcritics.

Fair Ball

Book #42 of my 2005 50 book quest was Bob Costas' Fair Ball: A Fan's Case For Baseball.

The first thing you should know about the book is that is was originally published in 2000. Although some of the content has aged well other parts feel outdated a mere 5 years later. I guess things change more quickly in baseball than you might think. Unfortunately, another side effect of the book's age is the fact that there's no mention of topics like the impact of steroids on the game, which would be a no-brainer to cover if Costas were writing the book again today.

If you can get past the fact that the book is slightly dated, it's still well worth the read. Costas shares some excellent ideas on revenue sharing, how to more fairly balance player salaries, and ways in which the playing field could be levelled so that it's not always the same 4 or 5 teams going to the playoffs year after year (though with Moneyball we've lately seen how some small market teams have been able to compete regularly by managing their money well and staying ahead of the market). A lot of Costas' ideas revolve around the fact that baseball teams and the players currently want to function as an unregulated free-market economy when it's really in the best interest of the league to collaborate and set limits on the market to ensure the overall healthiness of the sport.

Another area Costas makes some interesting observations is on the way baseballs playoffs are currently structured. He argues that the current system devalues the regular season by making the pennant races less interesting. One great proposal he puts on the board is to eliminate the wild card in each league and have the team with the best record in each league get a bye in the first round. How great would it be if the Yankees and Red Sox were currently battling it out to see which one team would get to the playoffs? Instead it's likely they'll both end up making it and the AL East race will be pointless. By making each playoff game more important and the pennant races more exciting Costas argues you could more than make up for any lost revenue from eliminating one of the first round series.

Costas also argues that the first round series should be extended from five games to seven, as it's too easy for a weaker team to pull off an upset in the shorter series. This will be put to the test this year when the Cardinals are likely to play the Padres a team which they are currently 17-games better than. Though the Cardinals are clearly a better overall team in a five game series anything can happen. In Costas' world the Cardinals would probably be getting a buy and the Padres would have to knock off the Braves in a seven game series to move on to the next round.

All in all a good book and well worth a quick read if you're a baseball fan that's interested in the business side of the game.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Austin City Limits Wrap-up

We are back from our Austin City Limits trip. As always it was an excellent vacation.

The weather this year was a bit painful as we had record breaking heat compounded by dusty fair grounds due to the lack of rain. Can't complain too much though as it was much better than it could have been given that Hurricane Rita was barrelling towards Texas just as we were making our way down there.

We managed to catch quite a bit of music at the festival. Bands we saw included (in the order we saw them): Leo Kottke, Mofro, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Built To Spill, Buddy Guy, The Frames, Death Cab For Cutie, Fiery Furnaces, Jet, Drive-By Truckers, Oasis, Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, and Wilco.

Arcade Fire blew everyone away when we saw them last Wednesday here in Seattle, and then proceeded to bring the rock again at the ACL fest. If there's a better live band out there right now I don't think I've seen them. Other highlights included excellent sets by The Decemberists and Wilco. The lowlight was definitely Oasis who sounded terrible and not in a funny Oasis is so crazy sort of way but rather in a Oasis really sucks now sort of way. Austin 360 has a ton of write-ups on the festival and links to about a bazillion blogs that probably have way more interesting festival coverage than I have time to write here.

Aside from the festival, we ate some great food, visited the Texas State Capitol Building, hit the Texas State History Museum, made our first trip out to Lake Austin and did some quality Austin shopping. I've uploaded a bunch of pics from the trip to Flickr, so check 'em out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Best T-Shirt Seen at ACL Festival

This was the best t-shirt that I saw at the ACL Festival. Counter-counter culture. Nice.

Friday, September 23, 2005

ACL Is On Like Donkey Kong

Despite Rita's best efforts, we made it to Austin and are kicking it at the festival in the SBC tent. Looks like it's all systems go here and that we won't get much if any bad weather from the storm.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Arcade Fire

At the show now. Wolf Parade is rocking the theramin! Nice!

Addendum: Arcade Fire was excellent. Best show I've seen in a long time. They capped things off by marching off the stage and performing in the lobby of the Paramount during their last song.

Jacksonville City Nights

You can stream the entire new Ryan Adams' CD Jacksonville City Nights on Scenestars. Early impression is that it's pretty solid. Sounds more like old Whiskeytown so far than anything he's done since Gold.

Austin Bound!

On Thursday I head out for the Austin City Limits Festival. I'm very excited about the trip this year and am looking forward to getting back to lovely Austin to spend some quality vacation time.

The ACL line-up looks pretty deep so it should be a steady dose of great music. Bands I'm particularly psyched about include The Drive-By Truckers, Wilco, Fiery Furnaces, Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Oasis (I'm hoping to see a brotherly brawl), Steve Earle, and Lucinda Williams, but there's plenty of other people I want to see too.

Before heading down I'm actually going to be seeing Arcade Fire at the Paramount here in Seattle on Wednesday night. Maybe I'll just start following them full-time and call myself a Fire-head or something.

Anyways, I doubt I'll be posting from Austin as having an internet connection would just tempt me to do real work. This will likely be my last post until I get back, until then go read John Moe's blog...it's way better anyways.

John Moe Rules

John Moe is one of the funniest men alive. Check out his latest:

'THIRTY-NINE QUESTIONS FOR CHARLIE DANIELS UPON HEARING "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" for the First Time in 25 Years.'

Genius. Pure genius. You can find more of Moe's work on the McSweeney's web site and on his blog.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Insomniac Reader

Book #41 was The Insomniac Reader: Stories of the Night, a collection of short stories edited by Future Tense Books publisher/Powell's Bookstore employee Kevin Sampsell.

Far from being a cure for insomnia, The Insomniac Reader features a riveting collection of consistently solid stories that are bound to keep you up all night. The stories explore the often sordid and always strange things that happen in the wee hours of the night while most of us are at home sleeping comfortably in our beds.

Contributors to the collection include fellow blogger Jonathan Ames, Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Found Magazine creator Davy Rothbart, T Cooper, Aimee Bender, Dan Kennedy, Dave Eggers (writing under the pseudonym Lucy Thomas) and many others. My favorite stories were Ames' 'Everybody Dies In Memphis', Monica Drake's 'Gymkhana', Michelle Tea's 'Fourteenth Street', Richard Rushfield's strange 'Stalker's Paradise', and Marshall Moore's 'The Right Way To Eat A Bagel'.

For a more detailed review check out The Austin Chronicle or The Portland Tribune

Dave Eggers Reviews Bumbershoot Show

Also in The Stranger this week is an article by Dave Eggers reviewing the audience that attended the 826 benefit at Bumbershoot two weeks ago. Looks like all told we raised over $40,000 for 826 Seattle! Awesome!

Drunk of the Week

Every week our local alternative paper The Stranger prints a Drunk of the Week article. They're usually moderately entertaining, but this week's award nearly made me bust a gut from laughing too hard!

Bug Me Not

Ever tried to read an article on a newspaper site only to find that the site requires you to register before you can view any of the content? Well I have and it always annoys me. Luckily there's a wonderful site called Bug Me Not where people post shared usernames and passwords that you can use to access these sites. The time it takes to look up the username/password info on Bug Me Not will more than be made up for by the time you save by not having to delete spam later. Even better, if you're running FireFox they even offer an extension that goes right onto your right-click context menu. Nice!

National Talk Like a Pirate Day

Don’t ye forget. Today be National Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arrrr!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

It's Great To Be A Florida Gator

Gators 16
Vols 7

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Florida Football With Urban Meyer

One of my greatest recent discoveries is that I now get the Gators highlight show 'Florida Football With Urban Meyer' on my Comcast Digital Cable. Yes, even out here in Seattle I can now have Breakfast with the Gators on Sunday mornings. It is most excellent if I do say so myself. I'm really looking forward to watching it this week since it should be great watching my boy Urban break down the highlights from a victory over the Vols.

If you don't get the show or can't bear to move from your computer chair to your couch, I also found out you can stream it from the web here. Go Gators!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Last.FM Top Artists

After about a month of listening accounting for 565 tracks this is what my Top 25 artists list looks like on Last.FM. I'm currently working through archiving all of my old music, so it skews a bit towards older stuff, but all-in-all it's probably a pretty reasonable representation of my listening habits.
  1. Wilco
  2. Whiskeytown
  3. Pixies
  4. Grant Lee Buffalo
  5. Uncle Tupelo
  6. bloom.
  7. Damien Jurado
  8. Bob Dylan
  9. Frank Black
  10. Now It's Overhead
  11. Neil Young
  12. Nirvana
  13. Clem Snide
  14. Lucinda Williams
  15. Hank Williams
  16. For Squirrels
  17. Steve Earle
  18. Johnny Cash
  19. Son Volt
  20. Gillian Welch
  21. Holopaw
  22. Centro-Matic
  23. The Beatles
  24. John Vanderslice
  25. Old 97's

Monday, September 12, 2005

Books #1-40

40 down, 10 to go!

  1. What's the Matter with Kansas - Thomas Frank
  2. How We Are Hungry - Dave Eggers
  3. The Wilco Book - Wilco
  4. The Polysyllabic Spree - Nick Hornby
  5. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
  6. Ticket To Ride - Larry Kane
  7. Hobart #4 - Various
  8. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #15 - Various
  9. Forced Entries - Jim Carroll
  10. Imperial Hubris - Michael Scheuer
  11. The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
  12. Platform - Michel Houellebecq
  13. Slapstick - Kurt Vonnegut
  14. Fever Pitch - Nick Hornby
  15. Poets on the Peaks - John Suiter
  16. Cannery Row - John Steinbeck
  17. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs - Chuck Klosterman
  18. Waxwings - Jonathan Raban
  19. So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star - Jacob Slichter
  20. Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer
  21. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail - Hunter S. Thompson
  22. Invisible Monsters - Chuck Palahniuk
  23. The Devil Wears Pinstripes - Jim Caple
  24. Stranger Than Fiction - Chuck Palahniuk
  25. Naked Pictures of Famous People - Jon Stewart
  26. The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck
  27. Haunted - Chuck Palahniuk
  28. Thirteen Days - Robert F. Kennedy
  29. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
  30. Founding Brothers - Joseph J. Ellis
  31. Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
  32. Like A Rolling Stone - Greil Marcus
  33. Superstud - Paul Feig
  34. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #16 - Various
  35. Killing Yourself To Live - Chuck Klosterman
  36. This Is Burning Man - Brian Doherty
  37. Aliens of Affection - Padgett Powell
  38. In The Country of Country - Nicholas Dawidoff
  39. The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem
  40. CivilWarLand In Bad Decline - George Saunders

CivilWarLand In Bad Decline

Book #40 of my 50 book challenge was CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders.

CivilWarLand consists of a six excellent short stories and a novella titled 'Bounty'. Each story is set in a future The Philidelphia Inquirer describes as 'a nightmarish post-apocalyptic world that might have been envisioned by Walt Disney on acid'. If you dig Aldous Huxley and Kurt Vonnegut (and I do) then you will probably find this book right up your alley. I enjoyed it quite a bit and will definitely be reading more of Saunders books when I get a chance. I've already picked up a copy of Pastoralia.

While all of the stories in the book were interesting, I think my favorite was "The 400-Pound CEO". It was originally published in Harper's Magazine and won a National Magazine Award for fiction in 1994. I can't find a free excerpt of the story online, but you can listen to it being read on NPR's This American Life here.

On a side note, while I was looking around online for info on the book I stumbled upon the fact that Ben Stiller is currently working on adapting CivilWarLand In Bad Decline into a feature film. Weird.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Highway 61 Revisited - Revisited

The new issue (#100) of the excellent British music magazine Uncut comes with a cool CD of covers of all of the songs on Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisted. Well worth the $8.95 cover price if you can find a copy.

Track List

  • Drive-By Truckers - Like A Rolling Stone
  • Marc Carroll - Tombstone Blues
  • Paul Westerberg - It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
  • Richmond Fontaine - From a Buick 6
  • Willard Grant Conspiracy - Ballad of a Thin Man
  • American Music Club - Queen Jane Approximately
  • Dave Alvin - Highway 61 Revisited
  • The Handsome Family - Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
  • Songdog - Desolation Row

ASSSSCAT on Bravo

The Upright Citizens Brigade's hilarious ASSSSCAT improv show was filmed for a one hour special that's been airing on Bravo lately. You can watch a few bonus clips from the show online here. Hopefully it'll get picked up and turned into a regular series cause UCB frickin' rules.

In other UCB news their movie Martin and Orloff is coming out on DVD on September 20th. I've got my copy on pre-order, can't wait to check it out.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O'Reilly Too!

This was by far the coolest shirt I saw being worn at Bumbershoot this year. Turns out they even have a website too. Nice!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Pontevecchio Italian Bistro

Tonight we ate a wonderful dinner at the Pontevecchio Italian Bistro in Fremont. I ordered a mushroom ravioli and an Italian red wine both of which were quite good. The atmosphere was the thing that makes the place great though. It's run by a really friendly owner from Italy and features leisurely but attentive service giving it a very Italian feel. Luckily for us it also turns out that Friday nights are Opera Nights so tonight we had the added benefit of a live opera singer serenading us as we ate our meals. The singer was quite good, apparently she performs at Benoroya Hall from time to time. Anyways, all in all a very enjoyable dinner. We'll definitely be going back.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pixel Revolt

I ran out today to buy John Vanderslice's new cd Pixel Revolt after hearing "Continuation" on KEXP. What a great song! I can't find a legit stream/download of the song anywhere, but with a little effort you can probably find it on the KEXP archive (or you could always just listen to a clip on iTunes/Amazon).

It's also worth checking out JV's website as he has a bunch of free MP3's for download, including two tracks from the new album and a live version of my favorite JV song Do You Remember?.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Fortress of Solitude

Book #39 of 2005 was The Fortress of Solitude, and it officially kicked my ass. Weighing in at a hefty 511 dense pages, I thought for awhile it was going to single-handedly derail my hopes of making my 50 book goal. Perseverance eventually prevailed though and I'm now proud to proclaim victory as I have finally finished this bad boy.

It would be hard to describe the book in a way that doesn't sound cheesy. It's the story of a Dylan Ebdus, a young white boy growing up in a predominantly black part of Brooklyn in the 1970's. Dylan becomes friends with his black neighbor and fellow comic book fan Mingus Rude (note the Bob Dylan/Charles Mingus dichotomy). The book follows their lives growing up together, and eventually going their own ways (Dylan on to college and a successful career and Mingus into a life of crime, drugs and prison). In a weird twist, Dylan obtains a ring that gives its wearer superpowers such as the ability to fly or turn invisible. Mingus and Dylan use the ring occassionally thoughout the book (its powers change over time), but its presence in the novel seems very understated compared to what you what expect from a superpowered ring. I suppose there's probably some kind of symbolism going on there, but it was never quite clear to me exactly why the ring was really a necessary plot device and if it was going to be a part of the story why it wasn't a bigger deal that they had it.

All in all, I don't know yet what to think of this one. I enjoyed Lethem's writing style and found his prose interesting. The book has great characters and paints vivid images of growing up in New York City, but the superpower thing really threw me for the loop. Everything in the book is realistic and believable except for the superhero piece (perhaps that was intentional?). As I was reading I thought that it was going to turn out that the ring didn't actually have any magical powers and that it was just the kids imagination mixed with their desire for better lives, but never in the book does Lethem do anything to dispel the idea that he expects us to believe that their powers are real (you gotta love fiction). I think this one is going to take awhile to absorb before deciding whether it's one I would recommend.

You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Longer more detailed reviews can be found here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bumbershoot - Day Four

Sadly, today was the last day of what turned out to be a wonderful Bumbershoot 2005.

Bands Seen Today
The Decemberists, Okkervil River, Aqueduct

Highlights

  • The Decemberists - They played an excellent set starting with the 19 minute epic 'The Tain' and ending with crowd favorite 'The Mariner's Revenge Song'. Definitely a band I'll make an effort to catch again the next time they come through town.
  • Okkervil River - The O.R. (as I affectionately dubbed them today) played a solid high-energy show. I've already gone on about how good their new album is, but one of the other things I like about the O.R. is that they really seem to enjoy playing live shows. That may seem like something you'd just expect from a band, but it's really surprising how many groups just seem to go through the motions when putting on their shows.
  • Aqueduct - Only caught a couple of songs, but one of them was a cool cover of the Geto Boy's Office Space smash "Damn It Feels Good To Be a Gangsta". Nicely done boys.

Non-Music Highlights

  • Hanging with friends - We spent most of the day hanging out with great friends and relaxing. Can't beat that.
  • East African food from Horn of Africa - The only time I ever see these guys is at Bumbershoot (apparently they are from Portland -- damn you Portland why must you be so cool?), so I always make a point of getting some yummy spongy bread and ice tea.

I posted a few pics from the weekend on Flickr (see Flickr links in the links on the right -->)

Bumbershoot - Day Three

Today was probably the best day for seeing music at this year's festival.

Bands Seen Today
Son Volt, Damien Jurado, Math and Physics Club, Mary Gauthier, Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter

Highlights

  • Damien Jurado - I heart Damien Jurado. If there is a more underrated musician in the music industry I can't think of one (though I grant you that if they're really underrated I may have never even heard of them making it unlikely I'd be able to think of them at this very moment as I type this entry...but I think you get my drift). Damien's set today was excellent as always mixing a nice blend of solo stuff with rocking out full-band style.
  • Mary Gauthier - Mary Gauthier wins the "Artist who I don't currently own any albums of but will soon" award this year. I swear she sounds like Lucinda. She played an excellent set at the Backyard Stage entertaining me to the point that I almost missed out on Damien Jurado because I didn't want to leave until she was done playing. Reader's Digest calls her 'America's Best About-to-Hit Country Star', and as you know if Reader's Digest says something it must be true.
Non-Music Highlights
  • Today was pretty much all music all the time, so I'm not sure I have a good non-musical highlight. We had a yummy dinner at Racha Thai after Son Volt...does that count?

Bumbershoot - Day Two

Day #2 was light on musical content, but that was more than made up for by 826-a-palooza. In the morning we volunteered answering questions about 826 Seattle at the McSweeney's booth in the Ink Spot. In the evening we helped collect donations at the 826 fund-raiser in McCaw Hall.

Bands Seen Today
Death Cab For Cutie, Mike Doughty, IQU, and Sarah Lee Guthrie

Highlights

  • IQU - A Japanese electro-pop band from Olympia featuring a theremin, a keytar, a talkbox, a turntable, and more beats than Kanye could shake a stick at. These guys always blow me away and their set at the EMP was no exception.

Non-Music Highlights

  • 826 Seattle Benefit - The 826 Benefit was hosted by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), and featured readings by Dave Eggers and Sarah Vowell. Daniel Handler made a great MC, as his dead pan comedy was just the right tone to keep the show moving along. Dave Eggers kicked things off reading a hilarious piece written in the voice of a dog named Steve, and was accompanied by Ben Gibbard on acoustic guitar. That was followed by a short set by Mike Doughty including a guest appearance by Daniel Handler tearing it up on the accordion. Sarah Vowell was next up reading a historical piece about the evolution of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", complete with musical interludes by Death Cab For Cutie covering the various iterations of the song. The show wrapped up with a short set by Death Cab including an encore in which everyone came back on stage to play a rousing rendition of "Hungry Like The Wolf". In addition to being a blast to watch, the fund-raiser was also a big success raising over $18,000 in donations for the 826 program!
  • Flatstock - Flatstock is a giant rock poster convention featuring the works of several billion artists (or several dozen at least). I try to pick up a poster or two every year so I'll have something to put on the walls of the house I'll never be able to afford due to my poster buying addiction. The one I got this year was a Wilco poster from Red Rocks (which I think I called Bed Rocks when I ordered it...man I feel like an idiot) by The Heads of State (see below).

Friday, September 02, 2005

Bumbershoot - Day One

Today was the first day of Bumbershoot 2005!

Bands Seen Today
M. Ward, New York Dolls, and Chris Stamey (only a couple of songs)

Highlights
  • M. Ward tore it up tonight. I've seen him play a few times before, but never on electric guitar with a full band. Ward is a great live performer and was on top of his game tonight. The show also put the Backyard Stage in the early lead for retaining its position as the best stage to watch a show at Bumbershoot.
  • With David Johansen's glam-factor at an all-time low, I thought the Dolls were a bit of a disappointment, but it was worth going just to see their cover of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart".
Non-Music Highlights
  • The Ink Spot has a bunch of displays of hand-made books, broadsides, and other cool stuff. It's also home of the McSweeney's booth where I'll be volunteering tomorrow!
  • The T-Shirts this year don't suck. I've been going to the festival for 7 years now and had never seen a t-shirt design that I liked, so I decided to go ahead and take the plunge and buy one today.