March 30, 2009

Crime, grief and bank takeovers

On November 4, 1991, my little brother was born. I was at home though, sitting at my kitchen table, staring into the plastic wrap of a gift basket. At the same time, no more than 300 miles away Oscar Bills, Jr. was shot to death in his driveway. He was in his twenties, like I am today.

I always find it a little eerie when I discover something horrible happened during a time where I can match my exact whereabouts to the event. When you become aware, it's kind of like you momentarily draw a link with the victim or the victim's family. You become witness, at least in some strange way, to something terrible and your brain isn't quite sure how to react.

I found out about Oscar Bill's murder after listening to episode #342 of This American Life ("How to Rest in Peace"). It was easily the most disturbing episode I've ever listened to, but interesting nonetheless. In it they reference to this article in The Atlantic (1997) about the families of murder victims. It's long, so if you don't have some time to spare I'd wait till the weekend.

"She came out of the neighbor's house and asked, "Is she dead?" Al said, "Yes," and Harriett blacked out. Moments later she heard horrible screaming and wailing, like the sounds of a wounded animal way off in the distance, and then she suddenly realized that the sounds were coming from her, that she was screaming and wailing and pounding on Al's chest. In an instant she came to, and saw that Al was sobbing..."
The story talks a lot about grief, which was consequently a huge part of the theme in TAL #342. The article begins with a note on America:
"Americans are fascinated by murders and murderers but not by the families of the people who are killed -- an amazingly numerous group, whose members can turn only to one another for sympathy and understanding."
The story made me think more about a crime reporter's role in telling those types of stories. NPR actually hosted a roundtable of crime writers in July 2008. They spoke a lot about how race affects their jobs, but also a bit about their actual work routine. One of them said:
"My passion was to cover the communities where the crime happened, rather than the crime."
I like that statement. It's true, reporting like this should be more about how it affects the community you cover, not just the defendant, and certainly not just the crime. Maybe this is a common point, and I'm just new to thinking about it. But it's something I want to remember when I go into the business of journalism.

I am an avid fan of The Wire (Omar! Word). It's a television show about crime in Baltimore, Maryland - which superficially got me obsessed with following The Baltimore Sun. I recently ran across a Sun blog post entitled "A Reporter's Lament" (just one of the posts at the Sun's crime blog).

They post about a lot of things, including how they (the reporters) see themselves as part of the community, their dealings with police, what the murder numbers mean for individual communities, and even a few personal stories from the job. In one post they linked to this man, a retired police captain turned citizen-crime blogger (remind anyone of a particular character in The Wire?). He has a different perspective, and it's interesting to compare some of his notes with those authored by the newspapermen.

It's all fascinating. Hearing these people and looking at their crime maps (2006), it makes me super-curious and even more interested in covering these types of stories, at least for a bit.

Photobucket NPR: Anatomy of a bank takeover
Photobucket NYT: New 1 in 8 Million profile

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March 29, 2009

Complaints & Bailouts

This weekend I told Katie we were too young to put up with bad service and crappy restaurants. But I think the saying is usually employed by old folks -- they don't take no gruff and their time is short, right?

Either way, we're on our way to forging a no-nonsense policy.

Over the summer, we walked out of Ike's in Minneapolis because of a dirty glass and some deceit about their offering breakfast. This weekend we walked out of Red Chopstix, a new Staunton restaurant, because it was buffet-only, had seating like a cafeteria, and felt a bit like a sauna.

And in honor of Hunter S. Thompson, we penned three energetic complaint letters. PDFs:
+ Tribe hummus
+ Wendy's

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Let There Be Rock

I know I posted a DBT song a few weeks ago. Overkill?


But this time, there's a purpose: I risked life and limb to see the Drive-By Truckers in St. Louis on Saturday (there was a big snowstorm which I hit just around Sullivan...pulled over at a truck stop cause I couldn't see and read the Post-Dispatch and drank coffee).

Anyway, short review:

Unlike other bands, who nurse beers onstage, the Drive-By Truckers take swigs right from the Jack Daniels' bottle.

If you've listened to their music, it makes perfect sense. Alt country/Southern Rock. Heavy on the "Southern" part.

Patterson Hood has a thick Alabama accent which makes for awesome onstage drunken rants against right-wing politics.

Mike Cooley doesn't say much, he just stands there, smoking cigarettes and playing lead guitar. Sometimes, when he's not singing lead, he becomes a rock icon and steps to the front of the stage to let girls (and, maybe more often, 20-something males with beards) ogle him. He's not really the rock star type, he looks more like Thurston Moore than Eddie Van Halen, but he can shred.

Shonna Tucker is the "sex symbol" on bass, but she can actually play. And sing. And write. A nice contrast to Hood and Cooley's grizzled whiskey voices.

They ripped through about 17-20 songs in two hours. I lost count. But a few highlights (just pretend there are all from my show): "Hell NO I Ain't Happy," with requisite audience singalong; "Let There Be Rock" (which is NOT an AC/DC cover); "Where the Devil Don't Stay" with a sweet bottleneck/slide guitar solo from the THIRD guitarist; "Lookout Mountain," obviously, the best hard rock song they've recorded; and the already-embedded "Ronnie and Neil," their paean to all things Skynyrd (and Neil Young).

In short: the Drive-By Truckers prove that indie kids need to stop being afraid of classic rock. Because they have a foot in both camps.

Hood explains in the "Let There Be Rock" video, as well as on the entire Southern Rock Opera album, that yeah, a lot of classic/Southern blues-type rock sucks (like Kansas). But there's a certain authenticity to a lot of it. Just a bunch of unpretentious dudes playing the only music they really know how.

It's kind of their M.O.-they're trying to defy the stereotype that the type of powerful blues/country based-music has to be played by a bunch of dumb hicks. Or the general stereotype that all Southerners are dumb hicks.

I could go on, but their albums (especially Southern Rock Opera) explain it better. Go listen. You'll want to pump your fist and sing along. You might not even realize what they're doing (to the genre, to the stereotypes, to you) before you're hooked.

It's totally worth a snowstorm, that's for sure.

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March 26, 2009


We pulled off a decent spread on The Beat and The Bench. Couldn't use as many photos as I wanted...and somehow The Beat story's last column was a little higher than I thought...but it still looks alright.

Read the article.

It was all worth it for this quote:
They despised Mu Alpha.
"They sucked. I’m sure they still suck," said Frank. "They were really lame and extremely conservative. They were the kind of people who would be in Latin class and recite Latin with a British accent. They liked to take their shoes off. Just lame, offensively lame. I’m sure they still are."
Also check some of these out:

Photobucket A nice way to look at front pages
Photobucket TED: Getting energy from kites
Photobucket Check out this documentary
Photobucket Fresh Air: Mexican Media Baron and the Cartels
Photobucket The newspaper response to Craigslist: fight back

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March 23, 2009

Above the fuited plain?

If there ever was a candidate for inclusion on Tony's old "America the Beautiful" poster, this is it:

(Historic Route 66; exit 153 off I-44 in Buckhorn, MO)

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March 21, 2009

Spring Break Dinner


I made dinner for myself the other night. Just a pretty simple pasta dish with a white cream sauce + peppers, onion, basil, and oregano. Garlic bread and Newcastle brown ale on the side to compliment.




March 19, 2009

Derek Copp

I just read the story on Econ's reading list side-bar about Derek Copp

That's frightening. That could have been us in college. The worst part is that, on the newspaper's website, some people left comments blaming Derek for the incident and saying that he deserved to be shot because he is a "drug criminal." Not only did police shoot, without declaring themselves to be police, an unarmed college student for having "a few tablespoons" of marijuana, but some people think they were justified in doing so.

The best part, though, and the part that clearly identifies that drug task force as dull-witted amateurs, is that they did not call Derek's parents. They shot an unarmed college student in the chest in his own apartment, and then left him uncharged in the hospital to call his own parents six hours later. At least they took him to the hospital, I suppose. But that's heartless. "I'm so sorry, we shot your son by mistake," would be better than, "What the hell, let's go have a beer."

I had thought the situation in Michigan would be improving after the last election. At least it sounds like his university is supportive.

March 18, 2009

Interesting New Dreams

First and most recent: a zombie dream. My first. Being chased around a house by a bunch of zombies. One of them, their leader, but also somehow an authority to me, told me I couldn't leave until I had a "brush with death." This apparently meant that I had to spend seven seconds in each room with the zombies, under the assumption that during that time one would brush against me. I finally escaped, and, wouldn't you know it, the car wouldn't start. Of course it was Vanessa's car, not mine. But it sent me rolling absently in the vehicle towards the meandering zombies, then I woke up.

And, a few nights before that, I had my second Edgar Allan Poe dream. The first consisted of seeing Poe at a conference, and failing to approach him. He was eight feet tall.
This time, Poe was about two feet tall, in the form of the Poe action figure that stands on my writing desk, watching over my craft. Anyway, this two foot tall Edgar Allan Poe opened the door to my closet outside my room and turned to look at me. Apparently this was a very audacious and horrible thing, because I flipped my lid and began shouting at him. He seemed very rebellious. Little boob.

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March 14, 2009

This just in

This crazy discount store in Waynesboro just got in a shitton (truckload) of fabric from a bankrupt store in NYC and it's making for a wonderland.

The store owner measures and cuts himself. Because he wants to move the stuff, he's throwing in extras for free and selling most everything at $2/yard. And it's really good stuff. Katie and I made off with about 13 yards for $19 (see above).

If anybody is in the market for any fabric in the next month, send a "search order" my way and I'll check his store first. Solids, linen, canvas, burlap, shiny stuff, sheer stuff for sexy bras, dress pant material, etc.: it's all there. We'll probably be heading back Sunday as well.

UNRELATED: Some new ties:

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March 13, 2009

Familiar faces in the crowd

Pitchfork Media's Twitter page background is a photo from the stage where Mission of Burma, Yo La Tengo, and Os Mutantes rocked out at the 2006 festival.

Check out the far left of the photo for a glimpse of yours truly.

The only other face I can make out is Tony's brother Juan, but there must have been at least a dozen Hillsdale people there.

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March 11, 2009

"Double boiled" pralines

Our cooking has slowed down a bit in the two months since our previous cooking post, but because it's been that long, we've got some stuff to share.

We're learning a lot about ingredient portions and putting together a nice set of staple items. My birthday grill arrived today too, so look for some grilling action before too long. In addition to everything that follows, there are more cooking photos at the Din Din album.

Couch potato

Salmon rub w/ garlic broccoli

We learned a lot about pralines from Linda's praline site. Unfortunately, that was after we'd basically made a batch of crunchy sugar mounds.

Sweet potato carrot "Superbowl" soup
Never did get around to photographing the final blended soup...

Thai spaghetti

Brownie cupcakes in a cone

Spinach and bell pep quesadilla

Cookies 'n Cream cake

Potato chip and dill encrusted salmon

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March 10, 2009

Sad confirmation

Cheez balls are dead and redacted from Planters history.

You can petition for their return.

Oddly enough, when I searched "cheese balls" a few weeks back Google referred me to the Wikipedia entry on skee ball.

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March 8, 2009

Lookout Mountain

Sometimes, while driving along the Ozarks, I can kind of relate: that's a long freaking way down. On a certain road that goes over a certain hill (bluff? mountain?), I can see the entire town lit up at night. Highlights: the movie theater marquee. And aircraft towers.

(Does anyone remember the show that this was supposedly taken from, "Fox Rox"? I don't, at all, but it looks solid...)

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March 1, 2009


“How do you puncture pop consciousness with a tune anymore?” Bono said later over a pint of Guinness in the restaurant of the venerable hotel Claridge’s. “That’s actually your first job as a songwriter.”

A conversation with Bono is a free-associative adventure. Between thoughts about the album he dispensed fascinating digressions, casual but carefully placed on and off the record. He gave a full-voiced demonstration of Italian opera vowels and Frank Sinatra style — heads swiveled nearby — and mused on cathedral architecture; he described encounters with presidential candidates and plans for his future columns on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. He spoke fondly about his band mates as characters he’s still trying to figure out, about songs as bursts of serendipity and about what he wants in a performance: “spastic elastic energy.”

Then he mused about stealing the production style of Queens of the Stone Age and rambled on and on and on.

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