Monthly Archives: January 2009

I planned some posts about Obama’s unmanned drones, how Updike made adulthood seem so lousy to me as an adolescent, why I feel embarrassed for Michael Steele, and how in just four days, Facebook has decimated my productivity (Scrabble anyone? No really: ANYONE?).

Maybe later. The fam is at a puppet show this morning, affording me a rare chance to listen to whatever I want.

> The Wedding Present – Crushed
Kev lent me his cassette version of Bizarro, my formative and still favorite WP album. Bitterness with a ferocious beat. Picture me jamming up and down Hiawatha.

> Mission of Burma – Academy Fight Song
The eponymous collection of MOB’s first EP and album connects all the dots for me: what Wire wrought, where Yo La Tengo picked up, how arty doesn’t have to mean self-conscious.

> Jason Lowenstein – Circles
Even avid Sebadoh fans (I’m one) ignored the bassist’s solo album when it popped up in 2002. I got my late reward in the dollar bin at Cheapo last week. Imagine 10 solid Lowenstein tunes a la “Bakesale” and “Bubble & Scrape” not intercut with Lou Barlow’s sniveling.

> Sleater-Kinney – Wilderness
I remember the angry letter S-K posted when this album leaked in ’05. They were right to feel so righteously wronged: it’s spilling over with heart—and pummeling, dissonant guitar, which I love.

> A Certain Ratio – Do the Du
The Hosmer Library in Minneapolis is some renegade musicologist’s pet project. The shelves are clogged with CD rarities in every genre like this collection of ACR early tracks. They pioneered all the tricks !!! and Rapture copped later.

> King Brothers – Monster
Japan. Enough said.

After a three-day weekend, I expect to come home to stuff that urgently needs my attention. This time, there’s just one voicemail. From Kevin:

Can you make an invitation for the 1st Annual Phoebe Cates Film Festival next Saturday? Let me know.

With this simple request, my week is redeemed.

PROJECT UPDATE, 1/27/09: Turns out the whole screening is on RCA videodisc; what a geeky delight. Invitations go out today.



1) Soft Drink Generator: Can do

2) Fuck You, Penguin: Cute abuse

3) World country quiz: I’m not even going to say how bad I did

4) David Lee Roth soundboard: Oh God

5) Nothing Is New: Unexpected aesthetic finds


1) Marbles – Red Lights

Featured in the upcoming Brain Lapse, issue 1 (from the creators of Rock Mania)

2) MC Chris – Nrrrd Grrrl

Found on the eye-searing WACTAC blog

3) Mountain Goats – No Children

A meditation on love and loathing

4) T. Rex – Baby Boomerang

Dedicated to Lola Plum (dob 1/11/09)



Jorge, Jenna and the 100-minute layover in Minneapolis.


Upstairs-downstairs at the Stevens-Alms


Iowans Without Borders, Ben Graeber and Julia Graber (not related).


Learning to Skype with our correspondents in Lake Oswego, OR.

Central Corridor Light Rail, when it opens, will be a triumph of civic cooperation and long-term thinking. Creating this kind of infrastructure is never easy (they were nutting out details of a more modest light rail line in Seattle in the mid-90s; that line finally opens this year). Neighborhood advocates, businesses on University, the U of M and others have compromised their narrow interests (willingly and not) so that we might have an efficient link between downtowns.

So when I heard Bill Kling, president of Minnesota Public Radio, use taxpayer-supported airwaves to encourage people to derail the agreed upon LRT route on his organization’s behalf—long after the deadline for these objections—I was pissed. As of yesterday, MPR’s ultimatum has managed to delay the project groundbreaking from spring 2010 to late summer. Today’s Strib makes it sound like MPR is compromising (they won’t continue to push for a reroute for now, just more intensive noise mitigation), but the damage is done. The delay they’ve wrought could seriously hurt the project, which depends on federal funds that may go away if the timing changes.

I realized long ago that our listener-supported NPR affiliate doesn’t get who—or at whose discretion—it serves. MPR is the noise problem that needs mitigation.

I’m someone who doesn’t buy much, which could be seen as a liability in my profession. How am I supposed to persuade anyone to purchase things if I can’t persuade myself? I think of it more as an occupational side effect. Thinking and writing about products is my 9-5, so it’s “happy hour” when I can ignore them.

That said, this little font movie made me (almost) reach for my wallet.



Merchandise that hasn’t lost its power to seduce me: record albumsart books, whiskey & doughnuts. Enjoyed together, when practical.

It took a decade, but I’ve adjusted to mobile phone culture. I’m less outraged by loud, public/private conversations. But here at the café this morning, there’s a dude talking to his Mom at full volume about being visited by her spirit, how he feels God when he hugs her, and other excruciating details of his spiritual existence. The Tom Waits on the stereo can’t begin to drown him out.

This pulls so many of my triggers at once, I feel paralyzed, unable to type. When his call eventually ends and I can bring myself to stare, I see he has a white cane. And I switch to being annoyed with myself.

The off-handed “How’s business?” has taken on urgency lately. Demand feels steady around here (knock on wood), but that only underscores a nagging realization: while we brace for economic calamity, nobody seems to know how hard it will hit, what it will feel like or how to soften the blow.

The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan’s 2005 farmers’-eye-view of the dust bowl catastrophe, captures the edgy mood at the unraveling of another boom era. By 1930, the price of grain in the U.S. had fallen by 1000% from ten years before, and farmers responded by tripling and quadrupling their output, deepening the crisis. Nobody knew when to cut their losses or how much worse things could get:

The world economy was a mess … A stiff American tariff on imports — a demand of industry in a time when the government rolled over for every whim of big business — sent the European economy further into a tailspin. On the giddy ride up, there had been no cop, no regulator to enforce basic rules of an American economy that had become the world’s biggest casino. Real estate in Florida, oil in Texas, wheat in Kansas and stocks on Wall Street — they all had their time when gravity was willed into oblivion.

With hindsight, the bad decisions of the 1920s and 30s seem glaring (Hoover rejected a proposal for the goverment to buy surplus wheat that could have propped up struggling farmers and fed the growing ranks of hungry Americans). But who’s feeling confident that today’s random acts of bailout and mad rate-cutting can avert disaster? In Paul Krugman’s “nightmare scenario”, even “swift action” may be too little too late:

It takes Congress months to pass a stimulus plan, and the legislation that actually emerges is too cautious. As a result, the economy plunges for most of 2009, and when the plan finally starts to kick in, it’s only enough to slow the descent, not stop it. Meanwhile, deflation is setting in, while businesses and consumers start to base their spending plans on the expectation of a permanently depressed economy — well, you can see where this is going.

History suggests we can’t.