Sunday, January 18, 2009

What a Strange Trip It's Been

Somehow it's been almost exactly a year since I posted on this blog, which makes it no blog at all, but a dead url taking up space in the ether. 2008 was a... ah... a year. The Magazine is still going well (check it out here: online and print redesign coming February 11!), the MBA is steadly nearing its end (only two ball-busting classes and a week in China to go), and the wife is still radiant, of course.

For those who care, a very brief rundown of 2008:

Death: My grandmother, Nonee, RIP.

Divorce: Not for me, but in the family. It's a dirty business, but I think everyone is stronger for it and, in the end, happier.

New House!: The blessing of the year. We bought our dream pad in April. Love. It.

Victory!: Nichole's high school broadcast media group won a national championship in November for their biweekly news magazine, Central Intelligence. On a smaller note, GO Magazine won a statewide award from the Missouri Association of Publications last March for Best Writing.

New Dog!: Albert now has a littler, twin Yorkie sister. Her name is Abby. This is a fairly recent happening. Recent as in yesterday.

New Job: I'm now teaching an adjunct course in the Drury English department, molding young minds in the ways of editing and publishing (the department wanted a practical outlet for them... and GO Magazine is that practical outlet. Who knew?). It pays to stay in the loop at your alma mater... and to live two blocks north of it.

Friends: We've swiftly moved from the "everyone's getting married" portion of our lives to the "everyone's getting preggers" portion of our lives. The news in the fall that bff Nathan and lovely wife Danielle are due to have a Baby Swick in May was 'cause for joy round these parts. Leave them a comment. N8, of The Drinking Bird fame, is a far more diligent blogger than I. Other close acquaintances had lovely children in 2008. No, Nichole and I are not joining the party quite yet, but the word "procreation" has at least entered our lexicon, which is a big step for us.

So much more, but I'll leave it at that. Please forgive me for my absense. I can't promise that this blog will be a frequent update on your RSS feed (for the few of you who bothered to add it in the first place), though I do plan on requiring my students to start their own blogs, which could inspire me to take better care of my own.

And, for obvious reasons (i.e., because I'm not running much right now) the focus will drift away from physical fitness. Unless I start running again, of course.



Friday, January 25, 2008

When The Cat is away

Mrs. Running Commentary is away on one of her semi-annual teacher trips out of town, so I'm going through my own attendant semi-annual bout of insomnia. (Not that anyone should envy her--she's in Miami, Oklahoma with a squad of cheerleaders attending a big-time high school basketball tournament which Central High School's boys and girls basketball teams are a part of. She--aptly, I suspect--describes Miami and her hotel as the "Final Pit of Hell".) I just can't seem to sleep when she's away. Bed's too damn cold.

So I'll use my late-night wakefulness to catch you all up on my feelings about this blog's two main themes:

No, I haven't given up on the whole "I'm a marathoner" bit. No, I haven't done any significant training since the October 20 marathon in Kansas City. A more-than-busy work schedule, MBA classes and cold weather have seen to that. But I'm not giving up, nosirree. My hopes of running the Go! St. Louis Marathon are probably out the window, but I'm looking at a race in June, as well as a November gallop in my buddy N8's hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. Plenty of time, right? Right. I've got $130 in gift certificates to Ridge Runner Sports burning a hole in my pocket, and I can't wait to go buy some gear. The comments are wide open if anyone wants to give me some encouragement. *Crickets chirping*


It's been a strange off-season for the Cardinals. I must admit it's going to be odd to watch games this season knowing Scott Rolen is gimping around in Toronto, while Jim Edmonds is sharing time in San Diego's crowded outfield. I liked the Rolen trade; indeed I was glad to see it. They Birds picked up a 30-homer--if equally gimpy--guy in Troy Glaus, and got rid of a player that, frankly, I was a bit tired of. My feelings on Edmonds are documented here. The rest of the moves I am lukewarm about. Matt Clement seemed like a decent low-risk signing, Cesar Izturis is a stopgap. I rather liked the signing of Josh Phelps. The guy was the Yankees' starting 1B on Opening Day last year, I think, and came into the league with Toronto as a highly-touted prospect. Seems like a potentially good utility player, and some 1B insurance in case Pujols's elbow really does require surgery at some point.

I notice I typed that sentence with no hisrionics. That's because I'm, for all intents and purposes, writing this season off. The Brewers, Cubs and Reds are improved. St. Louis is not. A year of system-building seems like the prudent move, and I'd rather celebrate for five years between 2010-2014 than for one year now. It'll give me a chance to watch the game for the game, instead of riding like a madman on every pitch. I'll get just as many thrills watching the Springfield Cardinals from my grandpa's sweet-ass box seats as I will shaking my head at the Big Birds from my couch.

Aw, who am I kidding? I'll still watch Fox Midwest like a madman, but I've always said the upside of being a pessimist is that you're constantly either being proven right or pleasantly surprised.

Lookit that. Just five minutes of typing about the Cardinals and I'm sleepy. Ambien is missing a great marketing opportunity with this year's team, if you ask me.



Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We'll never quit Heath, but Blunt will quit Jeff City

Couple of big-time afternoon stories:

I'm not much for pining over Dead Actors, but Heath Ledger's passing was a kick in the gut. Talent--so much of it--left unused just sort of does that to me. He was a father and son; his family are the true mourners. Fans should simply be happy he left characters like Ennis Del Mar behind for posterity. Brokeback Mountain might have been overwrought Oscar bait, but the characters were divine. The tabloid blogosphere is agog with sorrow, rumors, and, if you can believe it, quite a bit of gay-bashing. Some people are just f***ing insane.

On the political spectrum, Matt Blunt is not running for a second term as Missouri's governor, a move that would seem to indicate some major jump in the political heirarchy: Local pundits have him as a possible No. 2 to good buddy Mitt Romney should he win the GOP nod for the White House. Others have him playing "family guy" for a few years until it's time for him to inherit his dad's U.S. House seat, or possibly even run for U.S. Senate.

Of course, it could also be partly attributable to the fact that Boy Blunt's (or Roy's Boy, or Boy Blunder, or whatever silly name Democrats tabbed him with from the start) first and only go-round as Missouri's governor was largely a disaster; his popularity fell immediately with unpopular Medicaid cuts all the way through the open-records scandal currently taking up so much newsprint in our state (News-Leader op-ed editor Tony Messenger has done a great job covering it). Well--he's been a disaster for everyone not wearing Balanced Budget Blinders (which I hear you can buy from vending machines outside most local Auto-Magic locations, as well as on eBay).

I interviewed Matt in 2004, while he was running for Governor against Claire McCaskill, and actually found him fairly well-spoken and congenial--at least over the phone; far less slippery and a little more direct than his old man, whom I also interviewed a couple of times. Roy brings in lots of dollars for this part of the state, and say thank'ya, but he's politician through and through. He also does not have very pleasant breath--or maybe Wilson's Creek National Battlefield just serves stinky coffee. Who knows?



Saturday, January 19, 2008

Wading around in the political muckity-muck

As a magazine editor/media member, it's sort of been ingrained in me to not wear my politics on my sleeve. My role is not one of persuasion--at least not in matters of elections--it's one of information and "equal time", as it were. GO Magazine does not endorse. Yes, GO Magazine tends to poke fun at the conservative mindset and ebrace more liberal tenets, but that is our niche. Not once have we come out for or against a particular candidate in a local or national election, and we're not going to start now.

It's a tough thing for media members to do, separating their personal and professional opinions, and not all succeed. One co-worker from early in my career whom I respected very much was essentially dismissed from her job (or walked away following an ultimatum, I heard the story second-hand), over her vocal political stances during the 2004 presidential race. On the other side of the coin: During that same race I worked at a publication where management allowed one staffer (whose job had nothing to do with politics or even news) to write an 800-word Hannity-inspired rant calling out a reader (a reader!) who wrote in in support of a liberal candidate or issue. I only share this story because both the writer and the manager in question--both of whom are very good people--are no longer working at that publication, and it serves to illustrate the conflict many members of the media deal with in political matters.

It's perhaps even more of a conflict at GO Magazine. As a somewhat off-the-cuff, progressively minded magazine (we do a Sex Issue and were a sponsor for PrideFest last year), I think people expect us to officially back a particular party or agenda, but this we cannot do. Our readers still need a fair shake, both sides of the story, and we will always do our best to give it to them. Making fun of Lee Greenwood, or coming out in favor of gay tolerance or environmental protection, is NOT the same thing as supporting all Democrats, as much as some people would like to think otherwise.

Oh, but I do have personal opinions; thankfully, this isn't GO Magazine's blog, and it's only with a slight degree of professional apprehension that I say a Mike Huckabee presidency might be one of the worst things ever to happen to the Oval Office. Worse than W04. Worse than Billy's blow job. The man is ignorant--if you're still considering voting for him, I urge you to Google "Huckabee+homosexuality" or "Huckabee+AIDS" (there, I just did it for you.) He is simple. The only things going for Huckabee are the fact that he often comes across as affable (which you can't say for any of the other GOP candidates, or most Dems for that matter) and he kinda looks like the offspring of Kevin Spacey and Droopy Dawg.

I'm not going to share my thoughts on other candidates, save one. I'm 95 percent sure I know who I'm going to vote for on February 5, but that decision is my own. I'll just say it won't be Huckabee, and leave it at that.

I will say this: I have thought for several years that this country is in no way, shape or form finished talking about race, or quit of the demons that have haunted us for better than 150 years. The '60s were 40-plus years ago. The Rodney King trial almost a decade and a half ago. Most of us have acquaintances or family who will still drop the N-bomb from time to time (or other various racial slurs). The more confident among us speak up, but what do most of us do? We roll our eyes, or turn away, or pretend we didn't hear their hateful talk.

I think Barack Obama has the potential--whether he's taking the oath of office in 12 months or not--to restart the race conversation in America. When that ignorant acquaintance says something awful, I think more Americans will speak up now that legitimate black candidate is in the collective national consciousness. I wish Obama himself would address the issue more openly. Yes, Hillary Clinton will re-open the conversation about sexism, to a lesser degree. It will be welcome--but in my eyes not nearly as urgent. I thought we were ready to have this race conversation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but when the dramatic pictures--read: dead bodies and flooding--went away, Anderson Cooper and friends left the Big Easy to rot in its own backwater, returning only once every year in late August or--God forbid--the day another storm takes aim at southern Louisiana. Spike Lee, Tab Benoit and others have tried to keep the cry going, but it's falling on mostly deaf ears. We missed that chance, and it's not just George Bush's fault.

I hope we don't miss this chance.



Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My 10 Favorite Movies of 2007

Thanks for indulging me in one final "10 Best" post. I meant to get all of these up before 2008 officially began, but it didn't happen.

Like my book list, I only need to have seen a movie for the first time in 2007 for it to make my list. I'm doing good to make it to a movie theater a half dozen times a year.

10. The Simpsons Movie
I saw this one at the Springfield, Missouri premiere in July, one of 13 such premieres held in Springfield's around the country. We didn't win the "big official" premiere, but I'm glad. The hoopla would have been excrutiating--more than it already was. The movie was funny, but six months later I remember very little about it ('cept for Spider-Pig). It's so much easier to just watch the TV show.

9. Lars and the Real Girl
I reviewed Lars for GO Magazine, and gave it one of the more fawning reviews I've ever churned out. After reading a few more--some glowing, some not--I don't really feel much different. Sure, it was unrealistic. Most towns would have someone who shacks up with a sex doll committed, but the glory of this movie is that it's in a universe delightfully paralell to our own.

8. Mystic River
The only story to show up on both my books list and my movies list, I managed to catch all of Mystic River on my contraband pay-per-view (before Mediacom wised up and learned how to block LG TVs' descrambling powers. Boo). It's powerful, full of good actors (Tim Robbins as a sad sack? It works) and actresses. Who knew Laura Linney could crank out a Boston accent?

7. Air Guitar Nation
This was shown at Landers Theatre prior to the Ozarks air guitar finals, which I had the privilege to judge. It follows two Americans on their journey to Scandinavia (Sweden I think?) for the world air guitar finals. It's a relatively flawless documentary, full of characters you actually remember, which is a feat for any film.

6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
This was my least favorite Potter book, but the movie was superb, if not the best of the bunch to date. It appears young Hermione (Emma Watson) took some acting lessons, and now that they've locked the kids up (figuratively) for films 6 and 7, there's no worrying whether it's going to be their last films or not.

5. Knocked Up
The first of two pregnancy movies on this list, Knocked Up is one of those movies you can watch over and over, picking it up at any point and simply enjoying it for the laughs. Sure it's crude at times, but it's likeable... you never feel bad for any of the characters and the humor is never uncomfortable (See: Borat, 40-Year-Old Virgin).

4. Stranger Than Fiction
With this film (which I think came out in 2006, but I didn't rent until last spring), Will Farrell does what Adam Sandler and Jim Carry never could--pull a 180. This film is touching, funny, and gives one of the best lessons in humanity that I've ever received in a film. Plus, Maggie Gyllenhaal wa actually kinda hot for a change. Maybe it was the tattoos. Or the baking.

3. Half Nelson
Another one I rented a bit late. If Ryan Gosling was superb in Lars, he's a revelation in Half Nelson, which takes every formulaic "teacher" movie you've ever seen and stand it on its head. As the husband of a high school teacher I'll just tell you--while teachers don't commonly freebase in a locker room, Half Nelson is a heckuva lot more realistic than Freedom Writers.

2. American Gangster
Ever couple or three months, I'll take my dad to a movie. Dad is great, but (and I think the doctors would back me up) semi-narcoleptic. He can and does fall asleep at the drop of a hat. But Gangster--once it was through its kinda-confusing Act One setup, was a simply fantastic film. Denzel is always better as a "bad" guy, and there was even a Cuba Gooding Jr. sighting (as rival Nicky Barnes. The best movies make you want to leave the theatre and do something: After American Gangster I wanted to make millions dealing smack. Oh well.

And my number one movie of 2007...

1. Juno
I know, it's perhaps predictable. But I've simply met (and heard of) too many pregnant teens--hell, teens in general--not to find Juno MacGuff, Paulie Bleeker and friends delightful. Maybe it's their names. The glory is in the small things; for example, the worst day of her life happens while she's wearing a Slinky T-shirt. Juno is what happens when you take the innocent whimsy of Napoleon Dynamite, cross it with the ironic self-awareness of Fight Club (in fact, Ellen Page's voiceovers truly reminded me of Edward Norton's Narrator) and add a dash of the Griswolds.



Sunday, December 30, 2007

My 10 Favorite Books of 2007

Unlike my previous list, I don't require books on this list to be new. I do have to have read them for the first time, though; I repeated two of my faves this year: The Stand, which I read every five years or so like clockwork, and The Gunslinger. They don't appear on this list.

There's a slight chance I'll finish Frank Deford's sports novel The Entitled before tomorrow night, but only a slight one. It would require an afternoon sitting on the couch, and not scooting around Springfield to some family function or another, something I seem to be incapable of allowing myself and my wife to do.

Here's the list, yo.

10. Antarctica, Kim Stanley Robinson
I've always been a lukewarm fan of sci-fi. I don't have the time to dig into Asimov or the whole Dune series, but I really enjoy Bradbury and some other sci-fi classics. I truly enjoyed Robinson's Mars trilogy; this one was not to that level. The story was sort of perfunctory, though the vivid description of the wasteland-that-isn't-a-wasteland of Antarctica was impressive.

9. The Hours, Michael Cunningham
I'd already seen the movie, so the "it-all-congeals" ending was sort of muted for me. The excellent prose, as would befit a Pulitzer-winning effort, can't really hide the pretension.

8. A Painted House, John Grisham
Okay, so it's John Grisham; this book is no great shakes. But the story is different from his usual unlikely-hero-in-the-South formula, as it is told from the perspective of a young boy in a hard-times cotton family in rural Arkansas, circa 1952. It is, I suspect, largely an autobiography. You can tell Grisham wrote this book for himself, rather than for his publishers.

7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
Told from the POV of an autistic teenager, this book is an interesting look at what an author thinks might be the inner workings of an autistic child's mind. That there really is a mystery to figure out--and that it has nothing to do with the dead dog found in the neighbor's yard--is all the more compelling because the kid never really suspects what he's on to... and since it's told in the first person, neither does the reader.

6. Lisey's Story, Stephen King
I read pretty much everything the man writes. Obviously I'm not highbrow, obviously; thankfully, I'm also not pretentious. This one seems to be an ode to King's wife, Tabitha. The plot feels almost pre-autobiographical: A tortured but brilliant novelist dies, leaving his wife and her formidable sisters to pick up the pieces and deal with a psychopath. Lisey's story has strong characters and gives an interesting (to avid readers) glimpse inside the mind of a brilliant but tortured novelist. But his greatest tale it is not.

5. Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
I missed out on the book club discussion on this one at The Moxie (they showed the movie, which I've yet to see, late in 2006), but the book was one of the more unique I've ever read, full of wry humor and some very significant moments. The flashbacks are distracting, but vital; stick with it. I highly recommend this book for people who are stuck on a single author/genre. Safran Foer defies convention.

4. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
One new year's resolution for 2007 was to read more books by and about women. Mission mostly accomplished, and it's all because of this book, which fell into my lap on loan from a friend. Anyone interested in historical fiction or the Old Testament will relish The Red Tent, as it focuses on the clan of Jacob--primarily his four wives and only daughter, Dinah--and the events that tore the family apart and led to the famous beating of Joseph in his coat of many colors. It's obviously fiction, but the story has the feeling of being intensely researched.

3. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane
Mystic River isn't so much a mystery as a tragedy. I had the case of Katie Marcus's murder solved a good 200 pages before the detectives did, but it didn't decrease my pleasure in the book one iota. It's a great character study, as well as a relationship study: fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, and mostly, husbands and wives. It's also one of the few instances where a movie--by Clint Eastwood--makes a very suitable replacement for a book. But don't let that keep you from checking it out at the library.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
It wasn't the best of the Potter series--that honor goes to the sixth book, The Half-Blood Prince--but it was a more-than-satisfying end to what will probably go down as one of the most beloved series of all time (Frodo and Gandalf might have something to say about that now, but not in 50 years). My only real gripe: Rowling should have taken another 10 or 15 pages for the epilogue. After 25,000 pages, couldn't you give us readers just a bit more falling action? (And I'm not talking about that Dumbledore was gay stuff, either.)

1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
I reviewed The Road on this blog, so I won't deconstruct here. But damn, what a read. I'm interested in seeing the movie, starring Viggo Mortensen, which should begin shooting pretty soon. McCarthy is all of a sudden the new black in Hollywood; his No Country For Old Men is getting rave reviews in theaters, and is on my 2008 reading list. If you haven't read The Road, put it on your own.

Any suggestions for my 2008 list? Post them in the comments.



Friday, December 28, 2007

My 10 Favorite Songs of 2007

And so they begin: My "Best Of" lists for 2007. These have become as ubiquitous around this time of year as Christmas carols and hangovers, but for those of us obsessed with pop culture and list-making, they're like cocaine; you can never get enough, until you do. Fortunately with these lists, you don't die.

I start my wrap-up with the best single songs I've heard this year. I must admit, Top 40 radio and iTunes have killed the album. I think music is still best enjoyed in chunks, 12 tracks in a row, often telling its own story. Unfortunately, I can't think of 10 new albums I've listened to straight through this year. The short list includes the Silversun Pickups' Carnavas (came out in 2006, ditto with Wolfmother's self-titled effort); Son Volt's The Search; Kanye West's Graduation; and the Foo Fighters' Echos, Silence, Patience & Grace. Some singles from those discs appear on this list.

Rules and qualifiers: Albums have to have been released this year (it won't be so with other lists, because I make the rules here). This list will also put asunder any indie cred I might have with friends and readers of my magazine... not that there was much to begin with. I listen to things as they come across my desk or my XM Radio. If there's a lot of Top 40, well, I am married to a high school teacher.

10. "Long Walk Home", Bruce Springsteen
My earliest memory of music is The Boss's "Born in the U.S.A.", when my parents were little older than I am now, and over the last 25 years, Springsteen has changed right along with America. He still rocks, but he's more of a statesman of music than a rock star. And the band backing for this song is almost as good as the song itself.

Choice lyric: "Your flag flyin' over the courthouse/Means certain things are set in stone/Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't"

9. "Dance Floor Anthem", Good Charlotte
This is the one I'll take heat for, no doubt. Good Charlotte blows, I know that. But this song was in my head all the way through my marathon, which makes it special, if not good. It's just got a catchy chorus: It makes me want to be 19 again. Still, Joel Madden is kinda funky looking; and he knocked up Nicole Richie.

Choice lyric: "She calls him up/She’s tripping on the phone now/He had to get up/And he ain’t comin' home now/He’s tryin' to forget her/That’s how he got with her/When he first met her/ When they first got together"

8. "Empty Walls", Serj Tankian
What a voice; what an act. And the video... sheesh. Just watch.

Choice lyric: "When we decline, from the confines of our mind/Don't waste your time, on coffins today"

7. "The Great Escape", Boys Like Girls
God, another teeny bop song. I really like this one; I've had times this year when I felt misunderstood, or just wanted to drive until I hit a border or the ocean. This song sums up those feelings nicely.

Choice lyric: "Watch it burn/Let it die/Cause we are finally free tonight"

6. "Girlfriend", Avril Lavigne
I'm starting to get embarrassed. Still, something about this song reminds me of my wife. In a good way.

Choice lyric: "Don't pretend I think you know I'm damn precious/And hell yeah I'm the motherf'n' princess"

Embedding was disabled on YouTube (probably because Avril likes to rip off other people's beats and then overprotect her own stuff), but here's the link.

5. "Roc Boys", Jay Z
If American Gangster was one of my favorite films of the year, this song has to be one of my favorite spins. I love pretty much everything Jay Z does, because he's everything I'm not.

Choice lyric: "Let your hair down baby, i just hit a score/pick any place on the planet, pick a shore/take what forbes figured then figure more/cause they forgot to account what i did with the raw"

4. "All Your Words", Starrfadu
The only ballad on my list is also the only local tune. There weren't a lot of Springfield bands to put out honest-to-got albums this year, but And Yes... Our Thoughts Were Elsewhere was a good one. I like this song. It's sad, but kinda perky.

Choice lyric: "Maybe we're both crazy/and it's plain to see with you and I/that we ain't getting nowhere tonight"

No video online, but here's a link to the band's MySpace page. Listen to everything, for reals. You might recognize one of the songs there, "Let It Out" was used in a 2007 Kleenex commercial. No joke.

3. "The Pretender", Foo Fighters
The Foos have taken over the role The Counting Crows held until I was 25: The role of Favorite Band. I'd listen to Dave Grohl play the slide whistle. This is the most ass-kicking song they've put out in some time, and surpasses any the hard stuff on 2005's In Your Honor. Grohl will never be the icon Kurt Cobain was, but he's surpassed his blond ass as a musician. Great video too; Green Day would do something similar.

Choice lyric: "The secrets that you keep are at the ready/Are you ready?/I'm finished making sense/Done pleading ignorance/That whole...defense"

Another damn "no embed" video, but here's the link.

2. "How Far We've Come", matchbox20
Another band and lead man that gets better with age, though they're hardly the Foos. This is my favorite matchbox song. It never lets up, and I can see it being a theme song for a movie version of The Stand, my favorite book, because it seems to evoke the apocolypse. The video would indicate it's about social change. Wusses.

Choice lyric: "I sat down on the street, took a look at myself/said where you going man you know the world is headed for hell/say all goodbyes if you've got someone you can say goodbye to"

1. "Stronger", Kanye West
I love everything Jay Z does, but I'm awed by almost everything the Louis Vuitton Don cranks out. "Stronger" might be the most technically flawless song of 2007; the production is second to none, and Kanye's rhymes leave me slack-jawed, like Eminem's used to before he quit recording and I realized life was too short to listen to shi* that doesn't make you feel good (even if it makes you laugh). Kanye is king.

Choice lyric: "Bow in the presence of greatness/Cause right now thou has forsaken us/You should be honored by my lateness/That I would even show up to this fake shi*/So go ahead go nuts, go ape shi*"

I'm sure there a billion quibbles, and a billion great songs out there I haven't listened to. One of my many new year's resolutions is to dip deeper into the great pool of music. Trouble is, the good stuff is just so hard to find anymore, so middle-of-the-road fans like me are left singing along to Avril. Sigh.