Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012 YearEnder

I haven't posted anything on this cherished old blog since last year around this time. I come back to continue a tradition that actually dates back a full decade. I've sent out an annual email to friends and colleagues filled with shtick meant to summarize the year in the rear-view mirror. As in years past, I've held back the personal sections in what follows below. But this is otherwise what spilled out in my 10th Annual YearEnder. I hope you enjoy it. Oh, and if you scroll down to my "2011 YearEnder" prior post, you will find links at the bottom of that offering that go all the way back through.
2012 As A Series Of Snapshots
- Mitt Romney lost. Michael Dukakis gleefully handed over the "Worst Candidate Ever" sash and tiara. Ann Romney regretted ever bothering to learn the names of their gardeners, housekeepers, chauffeurs, stable hands, dog groomers, elevator operators, moat diggers, and son wranglers.
- Lance Armstrong got outed years after taking countless performance enhancing drugs and doing every ugly thing possible to deny it. Finally affirming what so many had known for so long - that guy's got real ball.
- The UK politely hogged the spotlight through much of the year. London's Summer Olympics unfolded famously well, while the tabloid paper "News of the World" folded poorly. Kate & Will went topless, then got pregnant. Andy Murray actually wins something, the real Queen and the new James Bond earn raves, "Downton Abbey" thrilled the equivalent of PBS tote-baggers in 100 countries.
- The prematurely lionized David Petraeus got blown off the road to the White House in 2016 after news of an affair with his crazily fit and creepy biographer came to light. The entire gallery of flawed characters largely faded from memory by year's end. Yet the buried lead still stands out for me - one driven, often shirtless FBI agent pulled off a professional hack of the CIA Director's email. Welcome to the New Normal.
- Big Bird was the most discussed "Sesame Street" character this campaign cycle. Besting the usual top Muppet, Grover Norquist.
- "50 Shades of Gray" by E.L. James became the biggest publishing phenomenon since the "Twilight" series. Millions rejoiced in the practice of openly reading porn in public.
- Facebook's IPO flopped. Mark Zuckerberg quickly got married. The things some people do to come up with ever more clever status updates.
- NASA pulled off a stunning landing of their "Curiosity" rover on Mars in the same year they mothballed their Space Shuttle fleet to star in a series of commercials for Toyota.
- Sandra Fluke's birth controlling zeal offended Rush Limbaugh. Leaving him no choice but to not-so-subtly mention her youth and sexual self-empowerment. It was all just a big misunderstanding. Because inside Rush's head, it started out sounding like a compliment.
- The flaming cartwheel of horrors in Syria finally drove the community of Nations to intervene militarily. Didn't we? Really...not yet? Wow, we suck.
- The U.S. Postal Service threatened to shut down thousands of small town offices while a paralyzing drought this past summer decimated crops across huge swaths of America. Thankfully, the U.S. Congress stepped in and helped people where and when they needed it most.
- Gun control was on everyone's mind after an unthinkable tragedy. Then a metaphorical squirrel ran by, causing the nation to lose focus. But then gun control was on everyone's mind after an unthinkable tragedy. And then a metaphorical squirrel ran by...
- Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's previously unnoticed genius with ad copy was revealed when he coined the phrase "fiscal cliff" and thereafter changed how we all looked at...I'm not sure, floor wax or something. Doesn't matter, really. The important point being that Bernanke is Don Draper. 
- The Mayan calendar's much anticipated date for the end of the world passed without incident. Presenting the worst forecasting job since the collective freakout about Tropical Storm Issac scuttled the opening of the GOP's National Convention in Tampa.
- Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a hot-air balloon 24 miles above the Earth, pulled himself out of a death-spin while accelerating to speeds over 800 miles/hour, landed safely and became an international hero. Amazing. But his 84-year-old "coach" free fell for 17 seconds longer when he jumped from the previous record height of 19 miles. In 1960. Who the heck is that guy? No, not Hugh Hefner.
- The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that "Obamacare" should stand. Opponents prepared to target the thing next closest to Obama's heart and legacy. So all you fans of "Bracketology" heard it here first.
- The tragic killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya became a means by which some asked hard questions about the loss of life in foreign danger zones. Wouldn't it be nice if some small part of that outrage could be focused upon the 310 Americans killed in Afghanistan just in 2012?
- Much of the northeastern U.S. suffered through the onslaught of Superstorm Sandy. One bright spot appeared for some when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's brash and candid style elevated speculation of his future viability on the national stage. Reaction to his stance on that stage was already tested prior to the 2012 Election. Is this sounding like a series of subtle fat jokes? Sure, Christie's what some might generously call "a little husky." But the YearEnder works best when it doesn't sink to that level. Although once you lean that way, pretty much everything starts sounding like a rip. See what I mean?
Comeback of the Year
The NFL's regular referees returned to work after an inglorious lockout. Prior to them coming back to work, the much maligned replacement refs had a thankless job. Which is why I won't thank them.
Lexicon Addition of the Year
Acronyms really failed us this year. I saw their unattributed ubiquity as a wave that broke in all sorts of directions. A few of the most egregiously overused and under-explained examples were YOLO, LIBOR, and SOPA. It's been a very long time since I went to journalism school, but even I remember that part of the job is to provide the appropriate context every time a new acronym is used. As much as I'm entertained by texting lexicon entering the mainstream, too much is too often left for the reader/listener to find on their own after the fact. KWIM?
Trend of the Year
Kickstarter blossomed as a means of crowd sourcing artists across a wide spectrum of proposed projects. While it certainly shouldn't be expected to fully replace the legitimate role of other private - and, yes, public - funding for the arts, this avenue exist added an option for creatively proposed projects. Abuses and bad ideas occasionally get teed up. The overall trend, however, rose to be accepted as a net positive.
A Few Picks For My Favorites of 2012
TV - "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" might seem like a rather pedestrian pick, given all the inspired shows that kept on rolling along impressively this past year. But Jimmy's uncanny good musical impressions and boundless likeability make him my fave this year. I even let our 7-year-old daughter occasionally watch him play games with guests and some of his crew's instantly classic skits. Of which there were many. This show should only get better as they step forward and beyond the usual formula.
Music - It was a great year for things both Northwest-y and indie - two of my favorite musical flavorings. Which is partly why I've settled upon Seattle's own Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for this year's fave with their independently produced album "The Heist". Unceasingly "posi" - that's "positive" which can be an insult but shouldn't be. Filled with hooks and catchy beats. I met Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) at a lit event two years back after he slayed a cold room full of folks who wouldn't know hip hop from head cheese. No offense. Really liked him then, love him now. Bonus points for the lyrics on "Thrift Shop" and the timely sentiment behind the anthemic "Same Love".
Books - An exceptional year for fiction. Yet no "book" did more to push the physical and conceptual boundaries of how to tell stories than Chris Ware's "Building Stories". Ware packaged 14 separate graphics and text experiments in a box that looks like a board game. The characters can get mopey and his intricate drawings might have you looking for a magnifying glass, but the stories unfold like mysteries with no beginning or end. For those looking beyond the conventional, I can think of no better ground-breaker from the past year's releases.
Film - For all the prestige films left to be seen at year's end, I doubt that I'll find a tastier treat than Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom". Young love never felt so weirdly authentic. Everyone's great and not a detail is out of place in this fully realized alterna-world.
Person o' the Year - Nate Silver. Not only did he completely nail the entire election in terms of predictions, he wrote a best-seller that makes statistics seem entirely cool. For all the time spent discussing polling numbers in politics, it's quite refreshing to take stock of who gets those numbers right. Silver nailed it, with a humbling lack of spin.
Live Performance - I saw my first live story slam put together by the good folks at "The Moth" in NYC this past October. The energy absorbed from this amateur storytelling competition led to a pair of my many New Year's Resolutions: 1) Always throw my name in the hat, no matter what's at stake and 2) Never show up to an open mike without at least something prepared. The larger point being you should love "The Moth" and I hope you soon get the chance to experience one of their shows live.
Audio - A recent but already white-hot podcast love affair of mine is with Julie Klausner - a fellow ginge and the truly hilarious host of "How Was Your Week". This podcast might just hipcheck aside all those allegedly funny shows coming from comics who couldn't hold Klausner's hair while she hurls a steady stream of culturally astute awesomeness. Very New York-y, best when she's just riffing right off the top before her interviews, not for everyone but oh-so-perfect for many. Including me.
Sports - R.A. Dickey is a baseball pitcher who won 2012's National League's Cy Young Award, published a memoir, starred in a documentary about his favorite pitch, and consistently entertained me whenever he did press for those or other endeavors. Because knuckleballers make so many baseball people nervous, the New York Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays. Which gives me one more cool Canadian thing to root for in 2013. The story of Dickey's evolution proved as refreshing and unique as any in sports this past year.
Killer App - "Made in the USA" became more than just words on a label for me in 2012. If Apple can feel the heat and subsequently move some manufacturing back home, that kind of pressure on American corporations must have legs going forward. I believe that appeals to this sort of patriotic pride can cut across the biggest political divides we have. So long as the products rock. I think that app works on whatever platform you might prefer.

2013's Not-entirely Baseless Predictions
- Even if the idea was stolen from a very clever musician, the game "Rate 5 Things" becomes the Nation's new favorite pastime. Here's how you play:  list five unconnected things and rank them in order. Up, down, by weight, height, karmic value - you and your friends are the unimpeachable judges in this competition. "Rate 5 Things" is part clever-off, part Rorschach test, and can be all sorts of fun. Here's a suggested test grouping to limber you up - Earl Grey tea, a monocle, Samuel L. Jackson, a hammock, and Kansas City. Got it? will with practice. Oh, and I plan to ascend the ranks of the newly formed Rank Professional League (RPL or "Ripple") and compete for the RPL's inaugural National Championship.
- Iran's Presidential election in June results in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being forced from office due to term limits. He begins the transition to a new role in Iranian society - morning talk show host and style maven.
- "Maker" culture and the widening practice of using increasingly accessible technology like 3D-printers and laser cutters to, well...make stuff crosses over from the geeky fringe to the mainstream. Soon everyone will be inspired to "print" little epoxy dinosaurs and two-inch-tall Eiffel Towers for their junk drawers and workplace window ledges.
- Silvio Berlusconi returns to the job of Italian Prime Minister. Proving yet again that he truly is political herpes.
- In a rare example of successful group therapy, the simple advance of time vastly thins the ranks of triskaidekaphobiacs (those fearing the number 13). A lobbying effort to properly rename the 13th floors of countless hotels takes hold. However, the burgeoning confidence of triskaidekaphiliacs goes a step too far. Their desire for a National Holiday (on 13/13/13 meant to build upon the informal success of the 11/11/11 and 12/12/12 celebrations in the past few years) manages to only pass the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Clint Eastwood gets so sick of people making empty chair jokes at his expense that he decides to turn into the skid. He opens an unfinished furniture store in Carmel with the game changing idea of incorporating a paint-it-yourself cafe and gallery. "Eastwood's Paint Your Wagon" is a concept store that both softens his increasingly irascible side and lets the public in on his secret love of DIY home decor. By year's end, hugely successful franchises have opened in 14 States and two Canadian Provinces. In a change of faith, Clint chooses to donate all the proceeds to philanthropic causes, steers away from politics, and smiles every time he sits down on one of the new stools he painted to match the color of the marble on his breakfast bar as he looks out at the Pacific.
- Members of the Russian protest band Pussy Riot license their name and trademark balaclavas to the band One Direction for the massive re-branding needed for a rushed second album.
- Paul Ryan's wounded pride from people poking fun at his little lie back on the campaign trail about running a marathon in "two fifty something" pushes him to train and aim for entry in the Boston Marathon. He gets really bad shin splints and a mild case of plantar fasciitis, but still manages a respectable 3:48 and change in a flat, late-summer qualifying marathon. When he learns he's still over 30 minutes slower than Boston's qualifying time for his age group, Ryan eliminates Medicare and Medicaid funding for all of Massachusetts in a hidden line-item tucked into a Commerce Department budget rider. Then he lies about it, claiming he has a wedding the weekend of the Marathon back in Wisconsin so he couldn't run that stupid, liberal race anyways.
- The season finale of "Buckwild" (MTV's latest reality show phenomenon) garners the highest ratings for any program in the history of basic cable television. West Virginia's Tourism Board reports an annual 200% increase in first-time visitors, while the state's hospital emergency rooms bemoan a 350% increase in patient visits for the year.
- The African warlord Kony stages a comeback when he's paid handsomely by Donald Trump to search for Obama's ancestors in Kenya.
- Justin Bieber finally lends his monumental Twitter influence to a political issue away from his Canadian homeland. The Bieb implores his minions to call their "congresspeeps" after stepping up to the mike with the following debate changing Tweet: "det ceiling haters. democrats, republicrats - lets come together and raise tha roof. #momoneylesproblems #BELIEVE" Immaculately, the debt extension passes.
- The future looks bright for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not only does he get to show off his nation's improved status with a G20 Summit in September, and jauntily prepare to host the Winter Olympics in early 2014. This year Putin also woos back home a trophy wife that all of Mother Russia embraces - Anna Kournikova.
- Kim Jong Un leaves the family business, after being approached to collaborate on an album with South Korean pop personality Psy (whose "Gangham Style" became the biggest viral video of all time in 2012). Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen ("Call Me Maybe" was equally ubiquitous this past year) is brought in to lend her talents on one song, but instead falls in love with what she sees and hears happening in the studio. The resulting album is an international sensation. In turn, their home countries sign a trade agreement that directly leads to the North Korean people being saved from the previously intractable cycle of drought and famine. This new power trio appear to be shoo-ins for the Nobel Peace Prize by year's end. 
Which somewhat sadly brings me to the end of this thing. Meaning what you've seen here is not only my 10th YearEnder in the series. This is the last one I plan to write. My YearEnder Ender, if you will. It's certainly been an exercise that I've enjoyed, and the replies have been a joy to read over the years. Who knows - resurrection may be possible. Life's more fun that way. But by these means and in this context, I offer a fond farewell. Look for me in other formats. Maybe even face-to-face. I would very much enjoy that. Be well. Go Pack Go.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2011 YearEnder

The New Year presents us all with the opportunity to look back before plunging into what's next. I've been putting together the following - my Annual YearEnder - since 2003. And even though I'm not posting regularly on this beloved ol' blog, I plan to come back at least every year around this time to put up what I send out to friends (minus the personal bits). If you like what you see, there are links that follow for my earlier YearEnders. I hope you enjoy whatever you manage to get through - there's plenty here to consume, but I believe you'll agree it was time well spent.

2011 As a Series of Snapshots
  • Atlantis flew the last Space Shuttle mission (in place of the intended Endeavour). Ending a thirty year program of 135 missions, which held aloft the dreams of millions like me who couldn't even pull together the grades to get into Space Camp.
  • Our military's most adept soldiers and commanders found Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, did what they do under the cover of night, and then plunked him somewhere in the Indian Ocean. I'm still awestruck by the almost utter lack of triumphalism that followed that adventure.
  • Kate & William done got hitched. Pippa ascended to the throne of "World's Hot Lit'l Sis" while Harry retained his title of "World's Skeeziest Bro."
  • Europe got all wobbly amidst a debt crisis seemingly caused by antiquated, carefree countries like Greece and Italy not acting more like their stodgy, persnickety peers in Germany and England.
  • Japan suffered through a massive earthquake and overwhelming tsunami, resulting in the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. I'd bet that somewhere out there is a screenwriter who pitched this same cataclysmic set-up to Jerry Bruckheimer and got the reply "nah, too over the top".
  • Rupert Murdoch's UK tabloid - "News Of The World" - folded after a massive and repugnant phone hacking scandal. If I was an editor in charge of writing the obit for that rag, I'd have used: "Rupe Duped, James Blames, Hacks Whacked". Good riddance, to the bloody lot of them.
  • Anthony Weiner wins the 2011 Brett Favre "No Good Can Possibly Come From Taking A Picture Of Your Junk, Much Less Texting It To Someone" Award. My bet is next year's winner will use Instagram.
  • North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, died. We were told that our intelligence services didn't see it coming. While, yes, I realize he was a short man, is it too much to ask that we step up efforts to track the leader of the (second?) most insane country on the planet with nukes?
  • Along with its "Arab Spring" predecessors, Libya came largely unhinged and morphed into a form of leaderless chaos. In so many ways, this seems like merely a placeholder for whatever description of this transition comes next.
  • A series of repeated standoffs and a continued game of talking points brinksmanship cratered the U.S. Congress's approval ratings. In fact, more Americans currently favor a shift to Communism than the Congress we've empowered. Inexplicably, re-election for around 90% of them should still be a breeze.
  • The Iraq War ended. I feel like the Nation should have at least baked a cake or put up a banner. Is this how people acted in 1975 after seeing those helicopters pull the last people off the Embassy roof in Hanoi? Different circumstances, to be certain. Regardless, I hope I'm not alone in asking to see plans respectfully proffered ASAP for a memorial to the fallen soldiers from this shared and shaded era.
Comeback of the Year
It's been tried before, but I noticed a mass exhumation of 1980s nostalgia and revisionism in 2011. Not just at Sarah's Dance Party, although our collective pink collar was truly popped for that one. I'm also talking about the throwback sound of bands like Cut Copy and M83 who released some of the best music of the year, the neon-infused look of super-cool movies like "Drive", the wall-to-wall fun sub-referencing in a book like Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, the Steve Jobs-inspired memory lane strolling, even the early signs of a possible collapse for the current Russian system of government - it all adds up to some serious deja vu.

Lexicon Addition(s) of the Year
"Occupy" anything and/or everywhere. The Vancouver-based magazine "Adbusters" should be given origin story cred for coining the phrase. But this is one of the most striking examples I've ever seen of a new usage being taken to a truly transcendent level.

Trend of the Year
Protesting in public proved to have an actual impact on the course of governing. Sometimes. Nonetheless, the simple act of marching in the street evolved all around the world in 2011. And now that this Genie has wafted out of the bottle...

A Few Picks for the Best of 2011
  • TV - No show took more chances and offered more random, hilarious rewards than "Louie" on FX. Creator/writer/director/editor and namesake comedian Louis C.K. is just getting better. Even while the creative landscape in TV fills to bursting with quality shows.
  • Movies - There are always movies still on my "must see" list when the time comes to hork up the YearEnder. That cop-out excuse should not detract from my appreciation of the surprising and delightful "Crazy, Stupid, Love." If I could bottle up the essence of the entire cast, I'd drizzle them over my oatmeal and in my coffee each morning. I've been waiting for Steve Carrell to find a role like this since the last time he played Produce Pete on "The Daily Show". If you possess the capacity to love, test its vitality with a viewing of this movie.
  • Sports - The ForeverSconnie side of me wants to say that the Green Bay Packers ruled supreme over All in the Land of Sportiness this year. Because they've had one helluva year, starting with a stunning run to the last Super Bowl and continuing through the entirety of this NFL Season. Yet however much it pains me to say so, the World Series Champs from St. Louis earned this particular YearEnder nod after their epic end of season and post-season run. The Cards were pure sporty goodness. Now never do that again, mm'kay?
  • Music - Bon Iver's second full-length, eponymous album is a thing of richly-layered beauty. So many acts put out great stuff this year (including Seattle's Fleet Foxes and Shabazz Palaces, just to name two worthy competitors for this heralded honor). Regardless, Bon Iver always floated back up to the top of my playlist. Call me out for my obvious bias (much of what Justin Vernon creates for his band is done in a converted vet clinic in tiny Fall Creek, Wisconsin). But give it a chance if you've not yet done so.
  • Books - "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach fills the roster spot of a very popular novel that then might not garner the literary plaudits it should. Here again, the Wisconsin connection played a small part in raising its position on my radar. Still the beauty and ease shown in the storytelling made me really take notice. All those hard slog years of writing for Harbach must now feel like time well spent.
  • Journalism - For those who care to notice, "long form journalism" emerged as a category in 2011. It was packaged as Kindle Singles or served up by new platform players like "The Atavist" (for iPad or other devices). Not long ago, this was just called magazine journalism, by my estimation. Nonetheless, the "Vanity Fair" piece by Keith Gessen about Chad Harbach and the future of publishing was a trend setter in this category of journalism. No matter what it's called.
  • Killer App - Siri. That one time when I asked my new phone for "record stores" near my location and Siri made a joke about asking HAL for help? Oh sure, I'd been hooked already. But it was then that I knew voice recognition was WAY cooler than I'd realized.
  • Radio/podcast - I run way too many miles, all the while listening to podcasts and, more recently, books on tape. Of all the shows in my regular rotation, "Studio 360" is the most consistently creative and almost always proves itself worth the time. Kurt Andersen retains a lifetime pass from me for "SPY" magazine. He's still prone to some big swings and misses (his most recent "Vanity Fair" piece on how our culture has been stuck in neutral since 1992 is the most glaring example of one of those). But the dood is an interviewer with a serious twinkle in his Dadaist eye. Subscribe now, if you've not already done so.
  • Celebrity flameout - Maybe an omnipotent power took a peek at the spreadsheet listing in-no-way-deserved salaries of this planet's celebrities in 2011, then decided to give Charlie Sheen a much needed karmic haircut. If that were so (and PLEASE let it be) I'd bet the house on who's due next - anyone even vaguely connected to a Kardashian.
  • Person of the Year - Mohamed Bouazizi was the Tunisian fruit vendor who died last January 4th after setting himself on fire. This unthinkable act launched a movement that toppled governments. I can think of no more influential person on the planet in 2011.
TwentyTwelve's Largely Baseless Predictions
  • Donald Trump publicly proposes to Sarah Palin. I'll paraphrase - "If you do me this honor, it'll be huge." Never one to avoid flirtation, The Sarah joins The Donald for pizza, leads him on for months, and still rides off toward the horizon with Todd on a brand-new, solid-gold snowmobile. Cut to commercial.
  • The Denver Bronco's quarterback Tim Tebow retires from football before next season after being moved to a back-up role. He's immediately drafted to run for President on the Teaparty ticket (renamed the Tebow Party). No one on his campaign bothers to read the Constitution until two weeks before the election, missing that whole age requirement part. Unbowed, Tebow vows to proved the doubters wrong at his first debate. At which he assumes his now famous "Tebowing" position on the stage for ninety minutes and refuses to answer questions. In the end, the doubters win. Again.
  • China's crackdown on artists finally causes the ground the shift in unprecedented ways. Recently jailed writers (such as Chen Xi and Chen Wei) along with the genre-bending master Ai Weiwei (currently fighting trumped up tax charges) manage to spark something cloaked deep inside an ancient culture disguised as a young nation of 1.3 Billion people. No jokes here - just a ballsy prediction. With the acknowledgement that upheaval there will eventually wash up on the shores of every nation across the globe.
  • Afghanistan maintains its position as the most soul-draining and intractable foreign policy entanglement in American history. An open-ended base of operations in Central Asia? No empire can sustain that for long. This coming year opens a road to bring 'em all home. Now wouldn't that be a stimulus package?
  • President Obama's glide path to re-election weathers newly minted allegations of drug abuse when he's seen sporting a nicotine patch while playing a game of H-O-R-S-E with reporters. The manufactured buzz passes quickly.
  • The ongoing pop culture love affair with the undead shifts again. Zombies (who had replaced vampires) make way for the embrace of these renewed, terrifying, lifeless vessels. Ventriloquist dummies. It's Howdy Doody Time, 2.0. The taglines almost write themselves. "The hand goes in. The gloves come off." Bada bing, bada boom. You're welcome, Hollywood. 
  • The massive success of "The Book of Mormon" inspires a slew of lesser knock-offs bound for Broadway. "Battlefield Earth: The Musical" ruins the party for religion-fueled, theatrical comedy for years to come.
GOP Candidates Nomination Odds
As a quadrennial YearEnder bonus heading into a Presidential Election year, I feel as though I should update the line on the various candidates. This should not be seen as an endorsement or encouragement to gamble on politics. A split of all winnings, however, will not be refused.

  • Mitt Romney (3 to 2) If you believe the polls, Mitt's always had the inside track. He's also always been this cycle's Dukakis. His over/under percentage for the general election is 30% (translation: we're bound to see a third party materialize).
  • Jon Huntsman (8 to 1) From the family that brought us the Styrofoam hamburger clamshell (seriously - look it up), this Huntsman is as clean as an Amish laundry basket on Sunday morning. He speaks Mandarin fluently, he has an attractive & articulate trio of daughters, he's the best retail politician in the field and an endless quote goldmine. In other words, he's too modern for most. And Huntsman once mentioned lyrics by Nirvana during a GOP debate (again, seriously). Ready to peak at 11% in New Hampshire.
  • Ron Paul (1000 to 1) He'll start off strong by tying for the lead in Iowa. Then his previously unclaimed son - Rand Paul's twin brother (RuPaul) - will expose the family secrets on Valentine's Day. By year's end, Ron resigns from the House and moves to a bomb shelter just outside of Waco.
  • Newt Gingrich (10,000 to 1) Over the next year, Newt struggles through more peaks and valleys than a 100-year-old sherpa. Eventually, his Tiffany's credit line gets revoked - crushing his credit rating. For a short while, Newt and Calista show up periodically on QVC, hawking commemorative plates featuring history's greatest debates. One day they wake up broke, friendless and with a garage full of plates absolutely no one would buy. Then an odd little thing happens - their marriage somehow grows stronger. The happiness they find by focusing all that love they have to give upon one another would never ever have been possible in that stuffy old White House. Newt learns, at long last, that sometimes you have to lose it all in order to win at something truly important. So maybe that was the reason Newt ran the way he did, after all.
  • Rick Perry (A million to 3. No, maybe 2. Wait...3.) Contrary to everything I've said about him since he became Governor when Dubya resigned to run for President, his timing isn't always great. In this cycle, he begins to peak again in late November. Which prompts him to claim, "I'll be back in 2014." Perry's next campaign never materializes.
  • Michelle Bachman (14 bazillion to 1) Really? Do I need to justify this? OK - let's just say she's a longshot.
  • Rick Santorum (Infinity to negative infinity) Dan Savage still gets credit from me for the single most cleverly planted political timebomb in history. This man-on-dog just won't ever hunt, no matter when he peaks.
  • Herman Cain (suspended campaign) He's currently only in the running for spokesperson jobs held by ex-NFL Coach Jimmy Johnson (for ExtenZe) and that couple still sitting in (separate!) clawtooth bathtubs.
With all that said, let me offer up a favorite toast in the immortal words of Colonel Henry Blake - here's looking up your ol' address. May you be grand in all gestures, as the New Year unfolds.
Ever -

As promised, the following links will take you back to my prior YearEnder work.

2010 YearEnder
2009 YearEnder
2008 YearEnder
2007 YearEnder
2006 YearEnder
2005 YearEnder
2004 YearEnder
2003 YearEnder

For my recent stuff, you can always follow me over on my new "book in progress" blog. The work I'm doing there is quite different, but still comes only from me. Thanks for reading. Rock on.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 YearEnder

It's been a few months since I posted anything here.  In the past, I've always put up my YearEnder for public consumption.  It just seems appropriate to still do so.  All the family stuff has been taken out.  This is the meat in the sandwich.  I hope a few things ring true for you.  Or at least that the points I scatter somewhat all over the map hit the occasional mark.  Rock on, 2011-style. 

2010 As a Series of Snapshots
  • BP unleashed an underwater oil volcano that erupted for months, yet has already been mostly forgotten.  Proving that with a few ads and some rudimentary misinformation, 50 million barrels of the crudest oil can be miraculously turned into fish food and corral fertilizer.
  • Sandra Bullock managed to win an undeserved Oscar and a nation's misplaced sympathy almost simultaneously.  While Jesse James' inexcusable infidelity managed to at long last give Nazi-friendly, goth tattoo models/strippers a bad name.
  • Sarah Palin’s achieved what for some was a stunningly irksome degree of financial success.  Which was only dwarfed by every single person working on Wall Street.
  • Tiger Woods spent a whole lot of solo time working on his swing, while Elin Nordegren finally got around to reading Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy in the original Swedish.  In so doing, they each found their bliss.
  • Afghanistan became the Larry King of redundant, soul-draining foreign entanglements.  And even Larry knew this year was the time to say that enough's enough.
  • A plucky bunch of Chilean miners came up with a unique but ultimately unsuccessful way to avoid the Great Recession.
  • The political fulcrum story of the year was the "big C" conservative shellacking of the "shrinking L" left.  And the most vocal part of that Teabagging, pendulum-swinging movement is only going to demand more attention in the next political cycle.  Be careful what you wish for, America.  Check back in a handful of months from now and we'll see how this latest hopey, changey thing is working out.
  • Conan O'Brien was forced to trade in a barely drivable talk show vehicle with three former owners for the equivalent of a 1992 Ford Taurus SHO with 212,000 miles - a late-night gig on TNT. 
  • Elena Kagan joined Sonia Sotomayor as the two Obama appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court.  They both bat left, throw down the middle, and impress the scouts entirely.  Although their lackluster contributions to this year's Supremes Secret Santa gift exchange left plenty of room for creativity and studiousness.
  • Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held rallies in our Nation's most storied public park. Beck claimed to gather like a billion people on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to tell them something unintelligible about George Soros. Subsequently, Stewart and Colbert proved little more than it's still too early for a Father Guido Sarducci comeback. 
  • Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere, suffered an earthquake that severely damaged well over half of the nation's structures and left over 200,000 people dead out of a population of 9,000,000.  Followed by the usual aftershock of our collective brief attention span and a distinctly human inability to know what to do about such tragedies.   
  • Spain won their first ever World Cup, held in South Africa (the first African host nation).  The biggest stars of the event turned out to be a (murdered!) octopus in Germany and a cheap plastic horn with an pornographic sounding name.  Oddly enough, precisely matching one of the predictions from my last YearEnder.
  • Barack Obama got popped in the kisser while playing basketball, requiring an array of stitches.  The other elbows he took all year long left no such visible marks.  But they'll prove much harder to repair.
  • Our troops began to leave the active theatre in Iraq, moving toward the expected full withdrawal date of 2011.  Aside from the tens of thousands of military trainers, supporting personnel and diplomatic staff required to operate our fancy new Embassy - the largest maintained by any nation in any other nation on the planet.  Not that anyone's counting anymore. 
  • Blogging ended.  For me, anyway.  Been there, overdone that.
  • George W. Bush's memoir fell a bit flat.  He even included that ol' "miscarried fetus kept in a jar to scare the kids as they struggled with adolescence" chestnut.  Please give a curious public something they haven't read in every other Presidential autobiography next time, won't you?
Comeback of the Year
Brett Favre's shamelessly returned in the worst shape of his career for his final NFL season.  Controversy ensued when poorly staged and not at all flattering self-portraits of his, um, Little Quarterback emerged.  Forever replacing jokes about his wavering retirement decisions with ones that pivot upon sexting pictures of his junk.  In other words, not all comebacks are good ones.
Lexicon Addition of the Year
LeBron James' NBA free agency decision was boiled down to his proclamation of “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”.  Unsurprisingly, whenever a derivation of that phrase is now used, LeBron gets a cut.  So think carefully before you tell your manager at Cinnabon that you're "taking my talents to the Verizon kiosk".
Trend of the Year
The troubling reality behind mining “rare earth” elements.  These gnarly bits are essential to manufacturing everything from cell phones to green energy technologies and have names that sound straight out of a James Cameron movie (dysprosium, terbium, neodymium, europium, yttrium). Add in that they're crazy toxic, much of the mining is done illegally by criminal gangs and the fact that China has the market locked up like a hooker in Charlie Sheen's hotel suite.

A Few Picks for the Best of 2010
This year with an added honorable mention in each category, hereafter tagged "the UnderDoggie".
  • TV – I'm left standing behind “Mad Men” as still the best show on TV.  This season’s effort by Jon Hamm as Don Draper was the most twisted, beguiling yet.  The episode ("The Suitcase" - regarding a Samsonite campaign) where Don got drunk with a fearlessly ambitious Peggy (the amazing Elizabeth Moss) equaled the best hour of filmed entertainment offered this whole dang year.  And the UnderDoggie goes to “Louie" on FX, orbiting closely around the actual life of my favorite comedian, Louis C.K.  The series started very small.  Then grew a massive pair and went far out beyond the margins of what's been seen before in a sitcom format.  Find it.  You're welcome.
  • Movies – “Black Swan” was the very best I've seen thus far. The director, Darren Aronofsky, is the scariest and most surprising thing to come out of Dallas since Jerry Jones’ last three facelifts.  That pesky voice in my head desperately wants Natalie Portman’s fabulous scarves collection. She's also destined in the very near term to become the biggest female movie star on the planet.  UnderDoggie – “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” - the most underappreciated movie of the Year by miles.
  • Sports – The San Francisco Giants and/or the New Orleans Saints.  Hard to bitch about sports with stories like these around.  UnderDoggie - Canada's impressive job hosting the Winter Olympics when Vancouver appeared to be hovering somewhere in the mid-60s.  Fahrenheit.  I haven't the foggiest idea what that would be in celsius, eh?
  • Music – Kanye West’s new album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" was far and away the best, most album-y, album of the year.  The arrangements, the beats, the featured performers, the flow.  This one’s for the brilliant douchebag.  UnderDoggie - the adorably dour, Dylanesque Swede stage-named The Tallest Man On Earth (Kristian Matsson) stayed in our CD changer more than anyone or anything else this year.  His full album, "The Wild Hunt" is the best of his stuff you'll find out there.
  • Books – “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart was the freshest thing I read all year.  A near future dystopian novel hardly stands alone these days.  But Shteyngart's unique timing and playful humor lightens and lifts the set-up perfectly.  His was also the best reading of the year I saw (at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle's increasingly posh yet still hilariously Scandinavian-dominated neighborhood, Ballard).  Rest assured, there were plenty of others that would have been brightened considerably by a drunken crowd and at least one accordian.  My UnderDoggie goes to Tom Rachman's "The Imperfectionists".  His darkly drawn characters working to stay afloat in a sinking, stinking newspaper stuck with me like no others encountered this year.
  • Killer App – Wikileaks.  After only 4 years old, they're already on the brink of taking down governments. Let's see Google try that.  Or, please, let's not.  UnderDoggie - Groupon.  If your city doesn't offer them yet, those days are coming soon. 
  • Radio/podcast – After years of not paying much attention to them, the rock 'n roll culture program "Sound Opinions" became a podcast that I absolutely never miss at least part of.  Jim and Greg's recent interview with James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem was the best chat about music I've heard all year, and they never fail to pick great stuff out of the bins I'd otherwise pass by.  The UnderDoggie goes to "The Moth" - the inconsistent storytelling podcast that is more hit than miss.  And sometimes a total homerun (Michaela Murphy's "All Star Game" being the best example that comes to mind from this year). 
  • Journalism - General Stanley McChrystal lost his job as our top commander in Afghanistan for, as best I can tell, not knowing that "Rolling Stone" magazine was in the business of writing down the stupid things he said.  The other game changer scoop offered was McChrystal's affinity for Bud Light Lime.  Talk about a case of "don't ask, don't tell".  UnderDoggie - Ken Auletta's piece ("Publish or Perish?") in "The New Yorker" about the arrival of the iPad and what the competitive differences between it and Amazon's Kindle might mean for the future of publishing.
  • Celebrity flameout – It seems almost unfair to pile onto the keeled over mess that is Lindsay Lohan.  But she's absolutely in a class by herself.  Aside from spending half the year in rehab and jail, her gig appears to now only be method acting prep (heavy on the "meth", but pretty equallly focused upon the "odd") for a starring role in her own autobiography.  She makes Joaquin Phoenix and Christian Bale look like they're mailing it in.  Sadly, Lindsay's also my dead pool pick for 2011.  In spite of all that, if she had a Farrah Fawcett-equivalent poster, it would be hanging above my bunk bed.  Right next to Lee Majors in his red track suit.  The UnderDoggie is awarded to Miley Cyrus.  In advance for 2011.  And 2013.
  • Person of the Year – Dan Savage for initiating the inspired public service campaign for young gay people that served up proof that “It Gets Better” in the face of daunting, classless idiocy.  And the UnderDoggie goes to former JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, for offering proof that in those cases where it won't we should all consider options that typically say "don't go there".
 TwentyEleven’s Largely Baseless Predictions
  • The next Presidential election is already boiled down to two remaining Republican challengers before the first Primary vote is cast in early 2012.  A robotic re-election campaign for President Obama prepares to face either the Former Governor/Current Curmudgeon George Pataki or the Current Senator/Former Skull Model John Thune.  My money's on the skull guy.
  • Taylor Swift steps up her ravenous trophy hunting by bagging a Timberlake, a Clooney, a Nicholson and a Bridges (Lloyd, which is all the more creepy given that he’s been dead since 1998).
  • A new form of creative American austerity becomes all the rage, driven in part by Lady Gaga’s game-changing meat dress worn at 2010's "MTV Video Awards" show.  Consumers hungry for deals will eschew designer labels, choosing instead to make their own clothes with whatever they find lying around the house. 
  • Kate Middleton and Prince William's royal wedding becomes the most watched televised event in history, surpassing the Apollo 11 moon landing and the finale of "M*A*S*H*".  Even during Prince Harry's 20-minute best man toast where he jokes about William's hair loss and some of Kate's "experimentation" in college.  The world feels a bit icky for like a week.
  • A retro mania for the Muppets sweeps the Nation.  Once more, characters with vivid, unnatural skin tones and exaggerated, childlike emotions warms the hearts of kids young and old.  Until people begin to realize how similar they are to the new Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). 
  • The trendy embrace by kids of SillyBandz is replaced by the new gotta-have-them craze – HamHandcuffs. 
  • Facebook fails in its broad assault meant to combine all our disparate forms of messaging.  If I'm to believe their current plan, my next YearEnder might be automatically pulled from all my emails and texts, along with possibly all the long forgotten notes scribbled on cocktail napkins stuffed in the pockets of old coats dating way back to the elder Bush's Administration.  I may not have rowed crew at Harvard, but I think I also have a case for why Facebook might lose on this one.  Too much, too soon.
  • The cast of “Jersey Shore” is kidnapped by North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-Un, to feed their tasteless, limitless cheese output to a hungry nation.
  • Justin Bieber defies expectations and records a polka album.  You get it as a joke birthday present, but end up really liking it.  Then you hear it playing at a Starbucks while you're waiting on a caramel latte.  You cry just a skoch.  Then walk out, totally forgetting your drink order.  And the rest of the day pretty much goes like that.
  • And the anniversary of 9/11 becomes a moment for all of us to pause and consider just how much - or how little - can be accomplished in a decade.
Whew.  So let's just call that my spin on 2010.  I wish y'all the best in the year ahead.  Be most excellent.

Ever -

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Big Sign Off. No, really. I mean it this time. last thing. Or maybe three. But then that's it. I promise.

Before I move on, a few last reviews are pleasantly stuck in my craw that simply must billow forth.  Three reviews total.  Jonathan Franzen's new novel, the film "The Social Network" and the generally undisturbed state of the State of Wisconsin.  On some level I will do a great disservice to everything I've written here over the last nearly 6 years unless I offer something on how I experienced them all.

Franzen's novel "Freedom" has received more advance blather and inspired more critical backflips than any book in years.  I can only imagine what sort of team of publicists his publisher employed on this roll out.  No expense has been spared, no media placement seems too far afield, no advertising crossover will be neglected.  Hello, Orpah.  On steroids.  Yet none of that means a damn thing when it comes to the book itself.  I'd be wasting everyone's time if I tried to sum it up better than the masterful Michiko Kakutani did back a few months in the NYTimes.  But I will offer my own rating - a larded and fried yet not especially fulfilling C.  Skill counts for a lot.  There should be no surprise in my concession that Franzen has skill up to and coming through every available orifice.  Yet in the end, there's only one way to judge a book outside of all the out-sized praise and obligatory book club choice-worthy guilt applied in heaps.  In effect, any reader must ask whether the book was a pleasure to read - no matter what form that pleasure might take.  In that, "Freedom" is most certainly a disappointment.  And given all the bunk piled on top of Franzen's efforts which I surely hope he did not ask for, I don't expect his work will do any good for the field from which novels spring.  If anything, such poorly-paced, over-stuffed compendiums of properly topical references bore the snot out of readers and probably make it tougher for unnoticed writers to get traction in even a small way.  Just imagine how many editors and assistants had a hand in this puppy.  Not that I begrudge Franzen his stranglehold on the zeitgeist.  I just hope people take the time for pleasures that don't require a front-page spread in "TIME" to break through.  If you have limited time for reading, don't bother with this one.  Oprah makes mistakes, too. I still typing out loud?

"The Social Network" is equally everywhere, although in a totally different realm of exposure.  The subject (Facebook, of course) and the world's obsession with it makes this film the least surprising hit since the invention of fried dough.  I will concede that it is truly entertaining and paced with the sort of bracing mastery that movies just don't bring all that often.  My rating is a snarky B-plus.  The only cut against the grain of praise from me comes in the form of that moment when I realized how much of a trifle this whole Facebook obsession represents.  Namely (spoiler alert, without details) when Justin Timberlake's character gets in trouble.  If you haven't seen it, you won't be surprised in the least.  But the point of my snark is that when the bloom comes off his rose, the whole doggone movie looks about as epic as a six-month dental cleaning.  There's no denying that Facebook is a killer, ubiquitous app - worth bazillions and growing everyday.  And somewhere out there right now, there's another complex prick working on a better next-biggish thing in his dorm room that will also become a verb in just a handful of years.  That thing will be worth two-plus bazillions.  The people behind it will do stupid crap.  We'll be told that the mere existence of "it" says something about all of us.  And on and on and on.  I'll just bring it around and say that as far as popular entertainment goes, "The Social Network" is the full hoot.  Harvard hasn't looked this sexy since the invention of beer.  Still, the movie's the artistic equivalent of a full run through the tasting menu at a smoking hot new tapas bar along with a few pitchers of awesomely strong sangria.  The next day, you can't stop talking about it while knocking back coffee after coffee with an unhealthy mix of Advils and vitamins.  Then something comes up.  Life goes on.  And you forget what the big buzz was or even if you really remember what happened.  Still, go see it.  It's delicious.

Finally, some of you who've read what I've put up here over the years might care that I had a recent week-long spin through my homeland - the often time-capsule authentic seeming State of Wisconsin.  I saw loads of good people, most of whom seemed surprised to see me looking leaner yet not at all meaner.  I hung out in all sort of old haunts.  In effect, I had a just-long-enough trip down memory lane without anything like a bucket list or totally killer mix tape personal soundtrack swelling in the background.  It was just great to see Sconnie in the fall.  So there's no better time for me to fully acknowledge that I'm moving on.  This is truly it for andthefamilybuick.  I've done what I wanted to do here.  After today, you can continue to follow me in perpetuity at my website - don't laugh, there's not been much focus on the there there.  Thus far, at least.  Don't expect to see another blog from me.  I've sometimes loved the gig.  I've also sometimes hated the gig.  But the gig is up.  Thank you so so much for reading.  The archives will stay up so long as there's a Blogger (thanks to them for all the hosting over the years!).  So please search what I've done here before.  I hope you'll look for what I do in the future.  The books are coming, I promise.  One last thing - please know that I do this for you.  I'll always try to remember that.  Come what may.  Rock on.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Timm's Hill as seen from Hill of Beans

Back home in Ogema in the fall, there's no place better to see than Timm's Hill. And on a morning like the one I saw earlier today, I'm left wondering if there's a more beautiful place in the world. If you do destination travel, you can't do much better than staying with the Blombergs at High Point Village. My highest recommendation. And not just in terms of Wisconsin elevation.

Forest canopy on the trails near Timm's Hill

Our newly listing Swedish barn (built in 1890)

The business end of the family farm's barn, certainly looking the worse for this year's wear.

Hoping the barn won't add a new obstacle amidst the curves of Forest Drive.

Seeing the barn's tilt from the emergency anchoring side.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Moving on. But not before seriously looking back.

I've been in a bit of a culture vacuum over the past week.  Or maybe lazily pushing one around.  I won't say that what I've been reading and listening to sucks.  But another stretched vacuum analogy might apply (not much worth picking up has appeared before me).  So instead of reaching too far, I'd like to digress and give an update on other things.  Especially since this will be one of my last posts here.  For real and forever.

If you've paid attention to what I've written here over the years (dating back to the beginning of 2005), you know a few themes dominate.  The personal side has always featured Maya, from before birth to the now fully dynamic life of a proud kindergartener.  The opinionated address of all things political has always been fair game.  And cultural notes of particular interest to me get reviewed.  Like countless blogs, I don't get paid except for a pittance of advertising.  Some very limited (but appreciated) notice has come my way.  But blogging is a largely one-handed juggling act.  After a while, you sort of run out of tricks and have trouble keeping it fresh for those kind enough to stop by and watch.

I've had other concurrent blogging projects - most recently my running blog that has tracked my day-by-day kvetching about training for the Twin Cities Marathon.  The energy that goes into each and every of these outlets doesn't spring eternal.  So the waxing and waning is probably what has driven my traffic up and down over the years.  With that as an awkward pivot, I've decided to shut it all down.  Leave the archives up for posterity.  And move on to the projects that really deserve my attention.  I've got two novels to edit and sell.  Ideas for two more, plus a grand non-fiction history that I've been researching for most of my life.  Plans, I tell you.  Glorious plans.

Before then, I have a slew of things to see and write about here.  Tomorrow morning, I leave for a solo week-plus trip through Wisconsin and the Twin Cities.  A trip down memory lane, plus a wide range of new trips along that path.  I plan to take lots of pictures, ask lots of questions (or others and myself), and soak up as much of the autumn landscape as possible.  I've always adored the fall in Wisconsin.  So please check back for some fresh stuff.  I think it will be worth your time.  And thanks for doing so.  Rock on.

Friday, September 17, 2010

From St. Paul to "Lisbon"

It's way too easy to join the eruption of literary praise surrounding Jonathan Franzen's new novel.  Just as it's equal parts self-promoting laziness to piss all over what Franzen's accomplished.  I'm still in the middle when it comes to this event, er, book.  Mainly because I haven't finished "Freedom" and I've not exactly felt driven to devour it whole.  And while I'm still a big big fan of Franzen's talents, I'd like to take a slighter different tack.  One utterly without plot spoilers.  Namely, I need to say something about what Franzen offered up for his authorial lecture in Seattle earlier this week.  In short, it was a gawddamn travesty.

Big books, thankfully, still can garner big spotlights in the right places - no matter how much that list of places is dwindling.  Nonetheless, that was the case in the way Seattle Arts & Lectures promoted Tuesday evening with Franzen at Benaroya Hall.  It was my first visit to that symphonic wonder.  Gorgeous, filled with warm wood and all the glitter of money donated from the largess of what's now a different economy.  Franzen remarked himself after being bathed in a typically laudatory intro that "wow, this is a big room."  And Seattle's book-thirsty population (real or imagined) really showed up in its best dress fleece and tweediness.  You could practically feel the intellectual lust dripping off the seat backs and gumming up the floor throughout.  Bookish horndogs are so adorable.  So all Franzen needed to do was give a coy turn of the shoulder or bare a subtly original angle.  In which case, he could have serviced every single sizable IQ in the place simultaneously.  Instead, he read (from old, unedited notes) a "talk" he'd delivered in Germany last year.  Some won't fault the dood - he admitted as much himself, making the obvious joke about how Seattle's so full of bibliophiles that he couldn't do a regular book tour event here.  But I can't be so kind.  As much as I admire Franzen's work and the exposure he brings to the general craft of novel writing, he couldn't have underwhelmed the room more if he'd cinched up the chastity belt wrapped 'round his wit and sprayed us all down with an ice water firehose.  Well, maybe that's a bit stretched.  Let's just say that a full price ticket general admission ticket ($30 frickin' bucks - still a chafe at half price) proved about as stimulating as a handjob in a glove factory.  I'll come back to review the book next week.  His work should merit this double billing.  But that SAL event was a disgrace, dood. 

On another level of satisfaction, the new album from The Walkmen ("Lisbon") has offered up one of those rare surprises that keeps me going back to my record store week after week.  These guys know how to tunefully kvetch and lament.  They also know better than most acts how to craf compelling songs and deliver them with full gut emotion.  I'm intrigued by what they've done here.  My rating for this album - an impressed and curious B-plus.  Heading north, I expect.