Best … blog …ever …

Why? Because it’s not real, and yet it’s totally believable.

The blogger? Dwight, from The Office.

Sure, it’d be interesting to see Pam blog, though at some point she’d inadvertently reveal her feelings for Jim, and until then, you’d see a lot of frustration between the lines.


Premise Beach

For those who’ve never seen Brevity is … wit or its “55 Fiction Friday” feature, this is a good place to start.

Between that and the McLuhan bit, I’m obviously in the mood for some good absurdist escapism.


Classic moments in media metacriticism (aka "funny stuff")

XM has added a Canadian-centric comedy channel, which explains why I’ve just run across an old song by a sketch comedy group called The Vestibules.

The Ballad of Marshall McLuhan (MP3 available here) is a play on the name “Marshall,” telling the tale of the media theorist’s efforts to tame the Old West. It’s the best take on McLuhan since the man himself popped up in a theatre lobby to silence a pretentious academic in Annie Hall.

For those who don’t want to download the MP3, here’s the punchline (select the text):

And he called out for Marshall McLuhan. He said, ‘Marshall, I don’t agree with your description of television as a tactile medium in a context of a visual notion of causality.’ So Marshall shot him.”

Yes, I know — I’m a geek.


I know you are, but whiskey tango foxtrot?

If you’re a hipper person than I, you may already know about the Great Blog Pissing Match of the moment. It’s an unlikely faceoff — Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams vs. biology professor Paul Z. Myers. The topic: Evolution vs. intellectual design.

Well, not exactly. Adams started it by bemoaning the amount of misconceptions in the whole evolution-ID discourse as most of us poor laymen know it. It’s not really a brilliant post — his last three paragraphs couldn’t be more misguided — but somewhere in the mess, there’s an interesting point about the difficulty of getting a rational opinion in the midst of an emotional argument.

Dr. Myers didn’t take too kindly to this. In a classic case of using a bazooka to kill a mosquito, he mixes sound refutations of Adams’ scientific flaws with a few straw man arguments, determined to bring the man down with his blog post. He takes Adams’ use of the word “Darwinist” to imply that Adams has adopted the Intellectual Design school’s terminology — after all, anyone who’s been following the debate would know that. Then there’s this:

Umm, OK…so Adams begs incomprehension. If that’s the case, why is he making the argument? I guess because, as he says at the beginning of his essay, ignorance “doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion.” Give that man a mirror!

But did Adams have a passionate opinion?

Well, now he might, but it would be about Myers’ reading comprehension skills, not Intelligent Design. His response is both amusing and withering, and he distills his point nicely:

Both sides misrepresent the others’ position (either intentionally or because they don’t know better or because of bias) and then attack the misrepresentation. Therefore, neither side is credible (to me).

To nit-pick, that point wasn’t completely clear in his initial post, and he did say a few things at the end of said initial post that would make any rational biologist a little cranky. But both posts make clear that his problem isn’t so much with the basic point of evolution but with the hysterics that override rational thought on the matter, and he holds up Myers’ post as evidence.

So Myers offers a response that makes you wonder if he took that same all-science, no-humanities curriculum that drove Lazlo to the tunnels in Real Genius. He has five bullet points, all misrepresenting Adams. He follows up the next day, telling all of Adams’ “followers” (very few of whom, as far as I could see, expressed even the slightest bit of advocacy in Intelligent Design — and I’m sure Adams and the bulk of his fans would disavow anyone who did) to get lost. Take a hike. He still doesn’t see that the discussion is less about evolution than it is a metadiscussion about the discussion itself, and he accuses Adams of “peddling dumb ideas.”

It’s really a classic case of two people who think they’re arguing opposite sides of a point when, in reality, they’re looking at two different bodies of evidence. Myers thinks Adams is being intellectually dishonest because he didn’t find the reputable scientists. Adams is saying he found a bunch of stuff that was intellectually dishonest, and Myers isn’t helping matters.

But then Adams makes a muck of things himself with a bizarre rant about credibility. To me — and apparently to several of the people who made comments — it reads as if no one who studies a topic can be credible on that topic because they will develop preconceived notions. Somewhere in Paris, there’s a guy in a coffeehouse spouting post-postmodernist thoughts along these lines, and we can only hope the rioters burned his car last week.

But don’t tell Adams that, or else he’ll make it clear that you’re just an idiot who misunderstood him.

There are two possibilities when someone claims to have been misunderstood. The first is that the listener wasn’t paying attention or lacked the power of comprehension to understand it. The second is that the writer didn’t explain his point.

So we have someone who didn’t understand the initial point arguing with someone who refuses to explain his subsequent points, and they’re too busy accusing each other of intellectual dishonesty or cognitive dissonance to see what they’re doing wrong, even as those of who have left comments try desperately to slap them back into the sensible world.

And that, to me, is why the blogosphere gives me a headache.


Saturday Night … CLEAR! … guh-thunk … Live

It’s all too obvious to watch the current Saturday Night Live and draw a contrast with the 1980s special NBC aired this weekend. The buzz right now isn’t good, from the ever-snarky TV Squad to the wholly unwarranted rip from Lance Armstrong’s hometown paper.

And it’s always in vogue to say it’s not as good as it was in the old days. My dorm had plenty of idiots who would wander into our commons room while we were watching SNL, proclaim that it sucked ever since Belushi (John) left, and wander back out, leaving us to enjoy Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks at their peak.

These people are usually wrong. Sometimes, they have a point.

Yet here’s what we learn from the 80s special: The show is going to have peaks and valleys. Even good years have bad patches. If you ever happen upon an entire show with the original cast, you know what I mean. Good sketch, so-so sketch, bad drug humor, musical act, bad drug humor, so-so sketch, credits.

Being an SNL fan means taking the bad with the good. It’s sketch comedy. The “bad” comes in five-minute doses. It’s not like being stuck in a theatre watching Cocktail. Trust me — I’ve been there.

All this said, SNL needs a shakeup.

It may be more a question of attitude than personnel. The show this year has been sloppy — bad performances, uneven writing, technical glitches, etc. They’re trying to bring in new cast members, and yet Amy Poehler seems to be on screen for 89 of 90 minutes. (I like Poehler a lot, but her characters run together when she’s in every single sketch.)

The new cast members — even “new” guys who are in their third seasons like Kenan Thompson — need more time, and that may mean pushing out a couple of the veterans. Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell are in their eighth seasons, which equals Phil Hartman’s tenure. As Hartman’s Clinton (or maybe Darrell Hammond’s Clinton) would say, “That is wrong. That .. is .. just … wrong.”

(Speaking of Hammond — I don’t mind that he’s hanging around for Season 11. As it stands now, they can’t afford to let him go.)

Individually, I like this cast. It’s just too large, as is the writing staff. Don’t have 50 people throwing out off-the-wall ideas in an attempt to make something catch Lorne’s eye. Have a smaller group of people who know that what they do HAS to be good.

Forget the “featured player” caste system. Cut four, five, six people from the “main” cast, shove the four featured players into the main cast and make them all contribute.

They still might need a breakout person. No one’s going to be lining up to buy the “Best of Will Forte” DVD. (OK, I might, if it’s big on Tim Calhoun and light on “The Falconer.”)

They’ll also need to can a lot of the recurring characters. Debbie Downer was great once, not so good twice. I’m always up for seeing Hammond’s Chris Matthews yell back and forth with Forte’s Zell Miller, but they can only tap that well so many times. Besides, they may never top Forte/Miller yelling about running up to a tsunami and punching it in the face.

It’s tough to say “clean house.” They’re still putting out a lot of good sketches, like Lance Armstrong’s attempt to write a song for Sheryl Crow or the “Good Morning Meth” sketch from the Jason Lee episode. (The skateboarding monologue in Lee’s hosting stint is one of the best monologues ever, seriously.) But then again, that was true of the disaster years as well.

Because there’s one thing that’s always true of Saturday Night Live. It beats the hell out of MAD TV.


XM in depth: Channel 12

OK, it’s been a while since my last entry in the tour of XM’s music channels, and I’d better hurry, since I haven’t decided whether I’m re-upping my subscription at the end of the year.

On to Channel 12, X Country, which was actually one of my presets at one time but not one I checked out that often. It’s modern, progressive country, which includes a fair amount of decent stuff and should be an interesting ride.

Lonesome Goat, Nicotine — Bluesy, with a rollicking acoustic bass line and shimmering guitar lines. Sounds like they had two distinctly different lead lines in addition to an active bass, so it’s a little more chaotic than a typical rockabilly song. Not a bad start.

Poco, Shake It — This could easily pass for an Eagles song — vocals even sound a bit like Don Henley. In fact, there is some overlap between the band’s personnel and The Eagles’ ranks, though in a country-rock band dating back to 1968, that’s inevitable. AllMusic.com isn’t kind to this 2002 effort, but I wasn’t as disappointed.

Derailers, Your Guess As Good As Mine — Chorus sounds exactly like Achy Breaky Heart. That’s unforgivable.

Phil Lee, A Night in the Box — This ode to having sex in a trailer has some solid guitar work, even if it’s a little too easy to picture people line-dancing to it. Gotta like a guy willing to admit his place “smells like socks.” Guess he knows he’s a good enough guitarist to make up for it.

Staid Cleaves, Breakfast in Hell — Supposedly live at XM, and it sounds pretty good. Mostly simple vocal with strummed acoustic guitar and some lead guitar that’s subtle in the verses before unleashing a couple of tasteful breaks. The lyrics try a little too hard to tell a sad tale of hard-working people down on their luck.

Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, King of the World — Rivals Bon Jovi’s mid-80s work in terms of fitting cliches into a song. (Thank you, ancient Rolling Stone review ripping Slippery When Wet.) Mercifully short.

Robert Earl Keen, Tom Ames’ Prayer — At first, I thought this was Tori Amos’ Prayer, which would have been interesting. But this one is intriguing on its own merits. One verse compares praying to begging, and I have to admit that’s how some denominations sell it. (I won’t name them because I don’t want my comments to turn into a nasty theological debate.) The fiddle trades solo licks with the low strings of an electric guitar, and everyone involved can play.

Neal Coty, Tainted — It opened like Weezer’s overplayed Beverly Hills (surely they have better songs than that on this release?), and Coty sounded like John Waite at his pre-emo worst on the bridge. Add the line “it was my heart you were screwing,” and you have a train wreck.

Hal Ketchum, Don’t Let Go — Straight out of the ’40s in its corny stop-start action and insincere vocals, but overproduced like it was straight from the Meat Loaf catalog. The backup chorus chants “Oooo-eee” and “Awww, shucks!” The guitar riffs are boring by any standard. Another recipe for disaster.

Steve Earle, Once You Love — Not one of his best. It’s a mid-tempo ballad with plodding tom-toms and dreary steel guitar.

Dave Alvin, King of California — Strange one. A slow song built on fast acoustic picking. It’s at its best when the lead guitar and drums kick in. Sadly, they drop back into the background most of the time. The pieces of a good song are there. I wonder if Alvin would consider taking another shot at recording it.

The Flatlanders, Whistle Blues — As you can guess from the name, it’s a little cliched. A few neat twists, like the ghostly effects, but not enough to make this worth a second listen.

Daddy, Cold Chill — A mid-tempo effort with some strong riffs and a slow, menacing bass line. Not a bad way to end.

I can listen to this stuff. Still not looking forward to “Hank’s Place,” which is next.