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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ridiculous Questions for Important Musicians (and Others)

Posted by on Sat, Dec 27, 2014 at 2:15 PM

RIFF RAFF He wanted to be Michelangelo. The Ninja Turtle.
  • RIFF RAFF He wanted to be Michelangelo. The Ninja Turtle.

The 2014 highlight reel, from Sharon Van Etten to 2Chainz, and everyone in between.

50. Will there be mud baths and juice bars? You bring the mud, I'll bring the bath. Actually, don't bring mud. —Snoop Dogg

49. What time is it for you? It's a hundred years in the future. Yeee. Neee-neee. —Yo-Landi Vi$$er, Die Antwoord

48. Will you marry me? It's my day off, so no marrying today. —Sharon Jones

47. Have you ever fended off a charging rhino with your beard? Yes. That was the late '80s. —Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top

46. I picture you soaring through the air like a giant eagle. Or maybe you're something odd, like a gopher. I like the idea of the golden eagle. —Yanni

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Our Critics' Picks for Today

Posted by on Sat, Dec 27, 2014 at 12:29 PM

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HATEBREED'S WORKING-CLASS HARDCORE

Hatebreed and Co. @ Studio Seven
For the past 10 or so years, Hatebreed have been criticized for essentially making the same album. Sure, their stripped-down, “caveman” brand of meat-and-potatoes, chugga-chugga metallic hardcore has become a signature formula, but god damn it, it’s an awesome formula. Hatebreed don’t claim to be the most progressive or thought-provoking of metal bands—leave that to the Deafheavens and the Liturgys. Instead, Hatebreed simply make working-class beat-down hardcore filled with fist-pumping anthems, crushing breakdowns, and catchy riffs. If this sounds like your jam, show up early for American Wrecking Company, a local band who sound similar but inject just a tad bit more melody. KEVIN DIERS

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XOVER'S UNRULY NOISE

Xover @ Blue Moon Tavern
Saturday night’s all right for frightening… people who can’t handle noise. Coming all the way from Sardinia, Xover (Danilo Casti and Travis McCoy Fuller) generate a refined, oft-morphing stream of sanity-threatening drones, glitches, bass brutality, and hammer blows that could be the output of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop run through a blender or a seminar in audio S&M. and this is just scratching the surface of their abundant work. Any way you slice it, there’s a madness to Xover’s methods. LA’s Present (not to be confused with the Belgian progressive unit Present) are an amalgam of several unruly styles: prog rock, noise, Crass Records–saluting punk, grindcore, black metal, 20th-century classical, and more. The avant-garde can always use more beautiful chaos, and Present, bless their perverse hearts, are doing a bang-up job of bringing it. DAVE SEGAL

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Friday, December 26, 2014

The Song of the Day Is Claude François' "Reste"

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 5:21 PM

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There are certain songs I find myself obsessed with—a lifelong fixation that will cause me to attempt tracking down EVERY recorded version of the song.

Well, this month I've been obsessing over Claude François French language, Ye-Ye version of the Four Seasons' slightly-underneath-the-radar track, "Beggin'!" Welp, TODAY I finally got my copy of the "Reste" EP! For those of y'all NOT in the know, Mr. François' was a massive pop star in France up till his untimely death in 1978 (he died after accidentally electrocuting himself while taking shower). Oh, he also wrote "Comme D'habitude," a song we all know best as "My Way."

The last time I was hung up on a version of this song was sometime in the '90s. I spent a month playing and replaying Timebox's take on "Beggin'." Um, I played the single till its glossy black, styrene grooves were turned a dull, ashy white. There's another version of the song I'm itching to own—the Shocking Blue's groovy version, but it was an LP only track, I think, from their 1974 album, Good Times. The last time I chased the LP it was selling for about $200, which is currently slightly over my "Beggin'" budget! Oh, also, I know there was a recent, radio-hit version, but it never really moved me.

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Now Enforcing: Conservation of Ann Hamilton's Art Animals

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 5:10 PM

This was Ann Hamiltons installation at the Henry Art Gallery today. Who knows what it will look like tomorrow?
  • All photos DQ/JG
  • This was Ann Hamilton's installation at the Henry Art Gallery today. Who knows what it will look like tomorrow?

When Ann Hamilton's installation the common SENSE opened in October, the humble yet renowned artist explained to me that she wanted people to decide for themselves how many prints of dead animals they'd tear off the museum walls to take home.

Hamilton had placed dead and preserved animals on a low-resolution scanner, often bellies down, and printed the images on warm, unprecious newspaper stock. She then hung them in piles on the wall, and anyone was welcome to walk away with as many animals as desired.

The idea was that as the exhibition went on, the animals would become increasingly extinct. We'd get to see which ones disappeared the fastest, and to wonder why. The last page of every pile is blank.

Today, there are a few blanks—and in the case of one pile, somebody even tore off and absconded with the blank final page. (I'd love to hear the story of where that page ended up.)

But mostly, the piles are still plentiful. They're plentiful because the museum, presumably with Hamilton's blessing, instituted a rule, expressed in several signs, instructing visitors that they're only allowed to take home one animal print.

What greets you at the front desk. There are two more of these signs at the gallery to the animal prints galleries.
  • What greets you at the front desk. There are two more of these signs at the gallery to the animal prints galleries.

"People were slinging them over their arm," guard Mat Whiteley told me today.

That's what happened at the very beginning. Crowds at the opening were hoarding animals, seemingly thoughtlessly, like shoppers with shirts draped over their arms on their way into the dressing rooms.

The museum was afraid the prints would run out quickly and more meaninglessly than Hamilton intended, Whiteley said.

But at this point, "it would be interesting to see more of them disappear," he said.

Andy Le works the front desk and he agreed that Hamilton's original intentions aren't quite coming through given the added rule. Instead, there's a sense of enforced plenitude.

"It would be interesting to make people aware of their consumption but not to limit them," Le told me.

Maybe the rule will change again. It would be more interesting, I think, if it did. (If I can, I'll also ask Hamilton herself what she thinks of all this.)

This is the kind of exhibition that gets more interesting with use. Layers emerge.
  • This is the kind of exhibition that gets more interesting with use. Layers emerge.

When you can only take one, sometimes you change your mind halfway through tearing, leaving your second-choice animal looking like a collage of itself. That's an interesting phenomenon that would probably be happening less without the only-take-one rule. But even without the rule, Hamilton is really succeeding in making the marks of human touch visible in the art. There's a note at the start of the exhibition that quotes her talking about how reading a book doesn't leave marks. But visiting this show can.

The exhibition will last until April, and it will change all along the way. If you've seen it once, you really should go again. This isn't the kind of exhibition a critic should write about only once either. Frankly, the exhibition is more interesting today than it was in October. Edges of images are curled. New experiences in the other sections await, too—new texts are added throughout (they are submitted continuously on Tumblr—join in), or maybe you just didn't see everything last time because there's so much to see. I don't recall seeing a 1904 photograph of a malamute named Bob on either of my previous visits.

This picture of a woodpecker is 7-year-old Adebeys choice. Guard Mat Whiteley says hed choose the same picture. Adebey likes the woodpecker because its wings are
  • This picture of a woodpecker is 7-year-old Adebey's choice. Guard Mat Whiteley says he'd choose the same picture. Adebey likes the woodpecker because its wings are "cool and pretty." Mat likes the woodpecker because of the composition. I'm still a sucker for a picture of two tiny monkey-like hands reaching upward in an expanse of blank space.

As the other animal prints are torn away, these piles of pictures of humans grow. These pictures are taken in the museums lobby. Anyone can pose. The parts of the picture that appear in focus are the parts that touch a screen; its a special camera technology based on touch.
  • As the other animal prints are torn away, these piles of pictures of humans grow. These pictures are taken in the museum's lobby. Anyone can pose. The parts of the picture that appear in focus are the parts that touch a screen; it's a special camera technology based on touch.

Songs Named "Boxing Day" Are More Interesting Than Boxing Day Itself

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Relevant to my interests.
  • Relevant to my interests.

Happy Boxing Day! I googled Boxing Day this morning, assuming there would be some fascinating history there and half wondering if actual boxing was involved at all. It turns out it has nothing to do with actual boxing, and the history of Boxing Day is waaaaayyyy more dull than expected (“Boxing” refers to literal boxes, which sometimes held gifts for people in service positions and zzzzzz…).

Thankfully, I noticed the “related searches” at the bottom of my screen and realized Blink-182 has a song called “Boxing Day” (??!). What other Boxing Day songs are there? A Spotify search comes up with quite a few (to be fair, Boxing Day is a wicked cool name as far as official government-approved bank holidays go).

Please enjoy this handful of songs I found called “Boxing Day.” There were a lot more, but I got discouraged by the amount of bad techno and jazz.

"Boxing Day" by Car Seat Headrest

"Boxing Day" by Dark Horses

"Boxing Day" by The Pineapple Thief

"Boxing Day" by Naboa

"Boxing Day" by Blink-182

Savage Love: Only the Lonely

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 4:30 PM

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I'm a short guy and I need advice. I don't want a small paragraph's worth of advice, like you gave "Below Their League" a few years ago. I need advice beyond "Women like men taller than them, get over it!" I get it. I'm short (five foot two), and most women are taller than me. And women like tall dudes just like I like slender women. Fat women may have it hard, but at least they have their fans and their own sex-object abbreviation: BBW. But where can a short guy go to feel appreciated? Is there an abbreviation or a dating website for us?

Jesus Christ, I'm Lonely

"Below Their League," who wrote to me in August of 2010, described himself as a short, slender guy who was only attracted to tall, butch women. He longed to be held in the strong arms of a woman who could snap him in two—and he wasn't having much luck. This was the totality of my advice for him: "Most women prefer men who are taller than they are. It's a sad, unavoidable fact, BTL, one you'll have to accept (just as I had to accept that most men prefer women), and you'll have to search harder for the lady/lady arms of your dreams. Not much else you can do about it"…

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BitLit Is an App That Would Convert Your Print Books Into E-Books If It Worked Properly

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 4:25 PM

When Jeff Bezos decided to improve on Sony's e-reader technology, I'm sure he had something like BitLit in mind. Hell, I bet just about everyone who reads e-books has wished for an app like BitLit. The premise is ridiculously simple: the app urges you to take a so-called "shelfie," which is to say you take a picture of your bookshelf. Then, the app identifies all the books on your shelf from the photograph. In theory, the next thing that's supposed to happen is BitLit would then link you to links for free downloads of e-book editions of the books on your shelf, or it would at the very least link to the cheapest available e-book edition for sale.

BitLit is available in beta version as an iOS app or on Android. I just downloaded the app and tried it out on my Nexus 4. The process of uploading photos to BitLit couldn't be any easier; the app talks you through the whole process. (Unfortunately, the app forces your phone to use the flash when it snaps the photos, and the glares on the spines in the photo might interfere with the identification process.) I captured two shelves' worth of books and then was told to wait 15 minutes for BitLit to process the images.

The good news is, BitLit did a fairly good job of identifying books on my shelf. Here's a screenshot of my phone:

No, my shelves arent alphabetized. The shame, the shame.
  • pbc
  • No, my shelves aren't alphabetized. The shame, the shame.

As you can see, most of the books are identified perfectly. But not all of them. The copy of Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks's 2008 James Bond novel, is misidentified as Summer of Faulkner; As I Lay Dying.... Other books on the shelf are equally mislabeled: Ethan Canin's America America is read as Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and that same edition of Gravity's Rainow is also recognized as a book titled Luuurve Is a Many Trousered Thing, by Louise Rennison. But of the two shelves, only two books were identified as e-book editions available through the app: I could buy an e-book edition of James Kelman's Mo Said She Was Quirky for $1.99, and I could buy an e-book of Web 2.0 Solutions, which is a book that is not on my shelves, for $4.99. Out of dozens of books, only two were successfully linked. The rest of the identified books I could put on a "wishlist," supposedly for a day when e-book editions will be available for sale through the app.

Supposedly, once BitLit finds your free books and offers them to you, you are supposed to "take a photo of the cover of your book [to prove you own it] and sign your name on the copyright page in ALL CAPS," at which point the e-books will be e-mailed to you. I can't verify if this process is as easy as they make it out to be, because none of my books were recognized—even the titles that are in the public domain and available for free online, like the Mary Elizbeth Braddon novel.

But this is a beta version of an all-new app, and I'm sure BitLit will improve as it matures. (Or, and this is the more likely course, until BitLit gets bought by Amazon and is eventually incorporated into the Kindle ecosystem.) Part of the reason why e-book adoption hasn't matched the astronomical mp3 adoption rate is that there's no way to "rip" the books you already own into e-book format, the way CDs could magically become mp3s in a matter of seconds. One day someone is going to make an app that allows you to digitize your shelves with a modicum of effort. On that day, e-books are sure to experience another surge of growth.

Benedict Cumberbatch Can't Quite Save The Imitation Game

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 3:30 PM

Blimey, it’s a computer!
  • Blimey, it’s a computer!

Alan Turing was a mathematician whose work laid the foundation for modern computing. His team was instrumental in cracking previously unbreakable German codes during WWII, part of a highly classified project that remained confidential until years after his death. The bulk of The Imitation Game—an Alan Turing biopic boasting a fast-paced, Swing Kids–meets–John le Carré tone—is set during WWII, as Turing and his team of geniuses race to build a machine that can crack the world's most sophisticated code.

A zippy nostalgia suffuses these segments of The Imitation Game. Director Morten Tyldum makes air raids look like promotional posters, bombed cities like postcards of ancient ruins. The Imitation Game saves its real stakes for Turing himself. Flashbacks reveal his childhood as a tiny, brutally bullied genius at boarding school; flash-forwards to the 1950s gradually reveal Turing's future, and his treatment at the hands of his own government. It's an effective structure: When thoroughly grounded in Turing's influence and his contributions, the details of his life are even more heartbreaking…

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You've Got About Two Weeks to Read Inherent Vice Before the Film Adaptation of Inherent Vice Comes Out

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 3:26 PM

People who have seen Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice seem to fall along two strident lines: on one side, there are the people who think the movie actively doesn't care about its viewers, and on the other, there are the people who think the movie is a dense and slyly comedic wonderland that demands multiple viewings. Which side will you be on? Hell, I don't know. You'll have to decide for yourself.

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Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether Inherent Vice floats or sinks on Rotten Tomatoes. For me, the best part of Inherent Vice the movie's high-profile release is that Inherent Vice the novel is currently climbing the bestseller lists of local bookstores. If you got a gift certificate to a bookstore this year, you might want to consider cashing it in for a copy of Vice in paperback. Even if you've never read Pynchon, or even if Pynchon's later work like Mason & Dixon and Against the Day scared you off, you'll be pleased to discover that Inherent Vice is Pynchon's most accessible work in years.

I reviewed the book back when it was released in 2009, and the pleasures of the book seem pretty similar to the positive reviews of the film. Inherent Vice is Pynchon at his pulpiest and most cartoonish. The book is simultaneously a slick ride through pop culture and a dirge for the love generation at exactly the moment that it gave up on its principles. From my review:

Pynchon has clearly read a lot of mystery novels of questionable provenance—everything about Vice, from its ugly, neon-lettered cover to its down-on-his-luck private investigator Doc Sportello, positively reeks with the pungent odor of the dime-store gumshoe thriller. It begins, as all good mysteries do, with a woman from Doc's past ("Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she'd never look") wandering back into his life with a problem in tow. Vice is set in the late '60s and Doc is an unrepentant, dope-smoking dropout, the backwash of the Woodstock generation. He smokes his joints down to nothingness—you could condense Vice into a 50-page treatise on the handling of roaches—and his memory is a clouded, cottony haze.

The adaptation of Inherent Vice will hit Seattle screens in the first couple weeks of the new year, which means you've got a couple weeks to slurp down the novel before the movie comes out. It's a fun reading experience with some fascinating contemporary cultural commentary layered beneath the detective tropes; I'd wholeheartedly recommend it.

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What I Learned from Walking Around Lake Washington in Two Days

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Im grateful to live in a city where a scene like this is just a short walk away from civilization.
  • pbc
  • I'm grateful to live in a city where a scene like this is just a short walk away from civilization.

One of the high points of 2014 for me came in May, when I walked around Lake Washington in two days. (I've alluded to this walk before.) The first day, I walked from Capitol Hill along the south edge of the lake to Bellevue, where I stayed in a hotel for the night. That leg was 31.64 miles, according to my trusty pedometer. The second day, I walked from Bellevue along the north edge of the lake and then down the Burke-Gilman Trail. That was 29.2 miles. Walking sixty miles in two days is not nearly as tough on a body as running a single marathon; my toenails didn't fall off, my nipples didn't chafe, I didn't have bad blisters at the end of the walk. The next day I was a little sore, but not as much as you'd think. (Admittedly, I was prepared for the walk because I walk a lot every weekend; I try to do at least twelve miles every Saturday.)

My intent was originally to stay as close to the lake as possible in my walk, but that soon went out the window; by the time I got to the base of Madison Street and tried to make my way south, I realized that the perimeter of the lake is pretty much entirely surrounded by the houses (and fences) of rich people. For a goodly part of the sixty miles, I was admiring the lake from afar. But there were plenty of parks and lots of opportunities to view wildlife—mostly ducks—along the way; it's not like we live in a part of the world where the people's access to nature is denied. But it's still a little sad that it's impossible to walk around the shore of the lake.

Along the walk, much of my view of Lake Washington resembled this stunning tableau.
  • pbc
  • Along the walk, much of my view of Lake Washington resembled this stunning tableau.

During my walk, I had a chance to appreciate some of the things that the city of Seattle has done right. Compared to the east side of Lake Washington, walking in Seattle is a pedestrian's dream. There are plenty of signs for bicyclists and foot traffic, the sidewalks are well-maintained, and safe passage is clearly marked along the way. On the east side of the lake, especially in Renton and Kirkland, there were very few signs; if I didn't have my phone with me, I would've gotten lost at least three times. Even worse, I dealt with long stretches of road with no sidewalks at all on the east side. I had to walk in the street, with traffic whizzing a few inches from me. I'm tempted to do the walk again next year, in clockwise rotation this time, but those few potentially deadly stretches might deter me from doing it again. I don't want to get Stephen Kinged to death. Too, when I was approaching Bellevue, the walking/biking path was a caged tunnel running alongside the highway. Walking through those paths, with the roar of traffic to my right and the trees separated by chain link fence to my left, I felt a little like a trapped beast. To be fair, there's probably not a lot of demand for the east side to improve their pedestrian pathways; I barely ever saw another human being outside of a building or a car during the hours I was walking around the east side. But that's backwards thinking; if Renton and Kirkland and Bellevue made their cities more pleasant to walk in, more people would walk in those cities.

I love long walks like this because they reduce the city to a human scale. My perception of the city isn't warped to a commuter's view of blurry buildings or nose-to-tail traffic. Instead, I'm forced to live in the bubble of my senses, at a speed that allows me to take in my surroundings. Now, when I'm taking a bus across the bridge to Bellevue, I look at the lake in a totally different way. I know exactly how large it is, because I've walked around it on my own two feet. It's a big lake, but it's not too enormous. You can manage it at a stroll, if you've got a couple days.

How in Blazes Do You DJ a New Year's Eve Fireworks Display?

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 1:45 PM

Seattle New Years Eve fireworks/Shutterstock

The New Year's Eve fireworks display at Seattle Center has a soundtrack, because visuals aren't enough when it comes to celebrating the arrival of another goddamn year. For the second annum in a row, KEXP DJ Kevin Cole is the person providing the music to accompany those psychedelic pyrotechnics. I asked the veteran programmer a few questions about this daunting task. (Note: KEXP will be simulcasting the ceremony at 90.3 FM and kexp.org.)

So, how do you go about selecting songs for an event of this magnitude? What are the qualities you’re looking for in a track? Can you reveal a few things you’ll be airing?
Cole: The New Year’s Eve fireworks was really a collaborative project, between KEXP, firework artist Alberto Navarro, who’s on the front end of innovating and using new technologies in pyrotechnics, and the Space Needle. It’s really an honor for KEXP, as an independent eclectic music station, to be asked to curate the music for Seattle’s biggest New Year’s Eve party. It was also a thrill to be working with Alberto, who is an amazing artist who’s medium happens to be the sky and iconic buildings!

The first thing we did was define the emotional flow of the music and fireworks sequence, from the anticipation leading up to the countdown, followed by a celebratory party segment at midnight, a brief romantic moment where people turn to the one they love and embrace, then back into an ebb and flow of party, awe, and celebration, leading to the crescendo and finale.

The overriding theme I went with for this year’s music was to embrace and celebrate the rich musical heritage of Seattle Center in anticipation of KEXP's upcoming move to Seattle Center. And the history is rich—2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles playing Seattle Center. Throughout the years there have been so many great bands and artists that have played at the Coliseum, KeyArena, Mercer Arena, McCaw Hall, at Folklife, Bumbershoot, EMP, and in recent years the Vera Project. Seattleites all have fond memories of great shows they’ve seen at Seattle Center. KEXP is excited to be moving to the Seattle Center campus in 2015 and to be a part of creating the future of music at Seattle Center.

With that rich history in mind, along with wanting to create an inclusive celebratory mix for the city to enjoy, I picked some of the bands that have played Seattle Center over the past 50 years, alongside some of the big KEXP artists this past year, heritage KEXP bands, and several local artists. I hope people are surprised, delighted, and excited to start the New Year with a lust for life!

What are the biggest challenges to planning a set like this?
The challenges around a project like this are the same things that make it really exciting as a curator—setting the right tone and mood while telling a story in eight minutes. Doing this with juxtaposing musical styles and genres while making smooth segues and edits that make sense. We used 10 songs in eight minutes. I wanted the soundtrack to become its own song, and KEXP audio producer Jackson Long did a great job creating a seamless mix.

What was your set like last year? Was there any way to gauge if people enjoyed it; did you get any feedback? Are you going to change it up much this year?
We received a ton of great feedback for last year’s mix, which included the Ramones at midnight—“hey ho, let’s go!,” Band of Horses, Empire of the Sun, the XX, Pearl Jam, and ending with the local music story of 2013, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and their mega hit “Can’t Hold Us.” This year we have the same set of artistic challenges, but it’ll sound and look totally different. And, hopefully, without the fog!

Things to do on an Airplane Besides Have a Nervous Breakdown

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 1:36 PM

• Order and entire can of fizzy water! They'll give it to you! And drinking carbonated water out of a can is the definition of classy.

• Thumb through the in-flight magazine and keep a tally for every time you see a photo of a white-sand beach, the words "white sand beach," or an article you can't relate to because you're not a tan business man trying to have an affair with someone equally tan and impressed by luxury cuff links.

• Take the "we suggest wiping the sink down for your fellow passengers because we don't have budget for someone else to do it" signs in the bathroom seriously.

• Make up a backstory about your pilot. Does he sound friendly? Does he mumble loudly, pause frequently, and give you unnecessary information about the wind-chill percentage of your destination? Trick question—they all do. Have you ever in your life had a female pilot? I have not and I find that odd and sad.

• Compare the scalps of the people in front of you.

• Read as much of your seat-mate's Dan Brown book as possible without them noticing.

• Take a moment to appreciate the illustrations on the Safety Information card. Someone got paid to draw those little outfits and hairdos.

• If your seat won't recline because you're in the goddamn emergency exit row again, even though you paid the same insane ticket price as the next guy, maybe even more, make a spine-support cushion out of your scarf and any available trash found stuffed into your seat pocket!

Asshole Think Piece Writer Jinxes America

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 1:27 PM

Everything about Michael Grunwald's essay for Politico headlined "Everything Is Awesome!" makes me picture it as the sort of thing people will be linking to ironically after the Great Stock Market Decimation of 2016. I mean, paragraphs like this are packed with what a creative writing teacher would dismiss as being too full of portentous dramatic foreshadowing:

Mitt Romney promised to bring unemployment down to 6 percent in his first term; it’s already down to 5.8 percent, half the struggling eurozone’s rate. Newt Gingrich promised $2.50 gas; it’s down to $2.38. Crime, abortion, teen pregnancy and oil imports are also way down, while renewable power is way up and the American auto industry is booming again. You don’t have to give credit to President Barack Obama for “America’s resurgence,” as he has started calling it, but there’s overwhelming evidence the resurgence is real. The Chicken Littles who predicted a double-dip recession, runaway interest rates, Zimbabwe-style inflation, a Greece-style debt crisis, skyrocketing energy prices, health insurance “death spirals” and other horrors have been reliably wrong.

But it really does highlight the amazing failure of Democrats to get a message across to the American people. Grunwald points out that the deficit is shrinking, but a vast majority of Americans think it's still growing. There are massive problems with the recovery—income inequality, I have said a million times before and will say a million times again, is the biggest problem America is facing right now—but a lot of things in America are going all right, and I think if a Republican was president right now, they'd be hailing themselves as the next Ronald Reagan. Is it a matter of confidence? Is it due to Fox News? Why the hell can't Democrats trumpet their successes?

How to Tell Your Children They Are Not Artists

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 1:15 PM

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  • JAMES YAMASAKI

Before you talk to your kids about sex, you must talk to them about art. Matters relating to sex are easy, because everyone can more or less fuck. Sex, in this respect, is a lot like language. Sex is one of the most animal things a human can do (biological), and language is one of the most human things a human can do (cultural). Language is also for everybody. Art is another matter altogether. It is not as universal as sex or as democratic as language. Which brings me to the first thing you must tell your child about art: Art is not democratic. Meaning: There is no fairness in art.

To get this message across to your boy or girl, I recommend showing them Martin Scorsese's documentary on Fran Lebowitz, Public Speaking. And what does she say about democracy in the middle of this excellent film? That there is too much of it in art, and not enough of it in politics. Give your boy or girl time to appreciate this insight. It's a deep one. Really, why is there so much democracy in the arts? Because the system would prefer that everyone explore their artistic potential rather than their political potential…

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Salt Lake City Airport Update

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 1:00 PM

I know you've been wondering: "what is going on over at the Salt Lake City airport?" Since I have been here three times in the last three days (I spent the 24th in SLC after my airplane flew to Montana, hovered above Montana, but could not land in Montana because we dipped below the reassuring "bare-minimum safety requirements" we were already at), I'll give you the exclusive inside scoop.

BOOKS
  • UNREADABLE BOOKS

• The entire SLC airport is one big closeted dad with 14 children and blindingly white teeth.

• Delays.

• Baby leashes.

• $11 quesadillas.

• Snow bros.

• A Greek "restaurant" with no hummus on the menu, but plenty of onion rings and spaghetti.

• An obnoxious child practicing obnoxious French with his obnoxious mother ("One more time and stop licking your lips, Trevor!").

• More babies and baby luggage than you have ever seen.

• Cellphone rings that are entire songs, left unanswered for the entire song.

Our Critics' Top Picks for Today

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 12:32 PM

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DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE RETURN

Dutchess and the Duke and Co. @ Tractor Tavern
The reunion of the Dutchess and the Duke is one of my very favorite things that happened in music in 2014. No one makes beautifully raw acoustic heartbreakers quite like this two-piece, made up of faux-royals Jesse Lortz (the Duke!) and Kimberly Morrison (the Dutchess!). On hiatus since October 2010, Lortz and Morrison make the absolute sweetest melodies when they are harmonizing together, just the two of them. They’re reunited and it feels so good. And S (Jenn Ghetto) and Ephrata are also on tonight’s bill. KELLY O

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GOIN' TO TACOMA FOR SOME MEGA BOG
Mega Bog & Co. @ New Frontier Lounge
First things first: This show is in Tacoma. But hear me out: Tacoma still has old buildings and an arcade! And I haven’t been to this venue, but maybe we can take its name as an omen (what venues are still open in your neighborhood?). Mega Bog is the project of Seattle singer/songwriter/mover/shaker Erin Birgy. With an ever-changing collection of friends filtering in and out of the band, Mega Bog’s sound varies, but you can probably expect honest and dreamy experiments in pop music that are the best kind of bonkers. Also not to be missed: Brooklyn’s EZTV, who know their way around a melody and make softened power-pop reminiscent of an even more chilled-out Teenage Fanclub. EMILY NOKES

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Al Qaeda Promotes Terrorist Ass Play

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 12:30 PM

I couldnt think of a good way to illustrate this post, so why dont you enjoy this photo of some cute sleeping puppies, instead?
  • adithep chokrattanakan / Shutterstock.com
  • I couldn't think of a good way to illustrate this post, so why don't you enjoy this photo of some cute sleeping puppies, instead?

Now this, written by Jana Winter and Sharon Weinberger for The Intercept, is a lede:

Al Qaeda claims to have come up with the perfect recipe for a deadly bomb, it’s just too embarrassed to tell its legions of devoted followers where they are supposed to place it: inside their rectal cavity. It’s a modern dilemma for a would-be retro-caliphate.

This dilemma is very funny, but the implications are terrifying. What happens if a plane is downed by a terrorist with a bomb in his ass? What kind of security measures would we be forced to tolerate after that?

Lunchtime!: It Takes a Village to Raise a Sandwich

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Every sandwich is an act of trust, which means every sandwich carries with it the possibility for total failure. To make a sandwich, you've got to layer together at least three separate ingredients into a coherent whole. It's trickier than it sounds; not many places specialize in the making of meats and vegetables and cheeses and bread, so at least one ingredient has to be outsourced, leaving a vital aspect of the finished product in the hands of someone else. If you had a sense of every invoice and business relationship and product experiment that went into the creation of a sandwich, you'd probably throw an extra buck or two in the tip cup every time you ordered one out of sheer respect.

Georgetown's Hitchcock Deli (6003 12th Ave S, 582-2796, hitchcockdeli.com) is a huge, clean white concrete box—a storefront this size on Capitol Hill would probably cost you a Ferrari every month—minimally decorated with handsome wood and an anachronistic pay phone on one wall. When you walk in, your eyes are drawn directly to what matters most: the deli case, which displays beautiful meats, cured and smoked in-house. Behind the counter and in the back of the shop, employees slice, massage, and prepare them. People care less about their own children than the staff of Hitchcock Deli seems to care about these meats…

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These Are the Atheist Ten Commandments

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Lo, and the Mythbuster delivered the commandments unto the people by way of a crowdsourcing contest... Boy, it just doesnt have the same ring, does it?
  • jorisvo / Shutterstock.com
  • Lo, and the Mythbuster delivered the commandments unto the people by way of a crowdsourcing contest... Boy, it just doesn't have the same ring, does it?

You've gotta give the Bible one thing: The ten commandments story is pretty compelling, what with the Moses and the mountaintop and the stone tablets and all. The story behind the atheist ten commandments, which involves one of the Mythbusters, a crowdsourcing campaign promoted on Reddit, and a $10,000 prize. Which, you know, is nice, but is kind of lacking in drama. Anyway, here are the winners of the contest:

Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.

Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.

The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.

Every person has the right to control over their body.

God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.

Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.

Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.

We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.

There is no one right way to live.

Leave the world a better place than you found it.

My immediate response is that they're awful reactionary—why even mention God at all?—but then I remembered that the biblical ten commandments are pretty reactionary too. Both you shall have no other gods before me and you shall not worship any false idols are direct slams of other religions, and the top one, which is basically "I'm God," isn't even really a commandment. So on the whole, I think these do the job that commandments are supposed to do: they provide guidelines for life in a preachy tone, and the satisfy humanity's build-in need to see things written out in lists of ten.

Worst Name Ever for Best Restaurant

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 11:17 AM

See, the words silence, heart, and nest in conjunction can cause misunderstandings when placed together. Such as this. This photo of a young couple quarrelling is not what the owners of Silence-Heart-Nest restaurant in Fremont mean. But it is what comes up in stock photography under the terms.
  • auremar/Shutterstock
  • See, the words "silence," "heart," and "nest" in conjunction can cause misunderstandings when placed together. Such as this. This photo of a young couple quarrelling is not what the owners of Silence-Heart-Nest restaurant in Fremont mean. But it is what comes up in stock photography under the terms.

In private, I have not been charitable in my comments while passing by the Fremont restaurant Silence-Heart-Nest. "Who the hell would name a restaurant Silence-Heart-Nest?" has been the spirit of my comments, which are followed by light remorse, because perhaps the restaurant has been named after the dying words of a small and unfortunate child or something.

In my defense, I will simply say that stringing together three nouns and calling them a restaurant is idiosyncratic at best.

However, I would like to point out a few things Silence-Heart-Nest has going for it.

First and foremost, the hearty vegetarian food seems to be widely liked, if not loved. Eat it: Silence-Heart-Nest is open today, regular hours: 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Maybe I will see you there; I have never been, and clearly ought to go. I am told the servers wear saris.

Second, Paul Bobby Constant tells me that Karen Finneyfrock’s novel Starbird Murphy and the World Outside "is about a thinly veiled version of that restaurant. I enjoyed it." Sherman Alexie feels the book is "hilarious, exciting, and as painful as anybody’s teenage years. Read it, please."

Now back to the goofy name. The reason for it is the same reason the servers wear saris: Silence-Heart-Nest is "inspired by" the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, the web site says. "All of us who work here are students of meditation, and study with the Indian Spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy." Sri Chinmoy died in 2007, so presumably they now study his studies rather than with the man himself.

Silence-Heart-Nest is one of a network of Sri Chinmoy-inspired restaurants throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

And some of them have terrible names, too!

See, with Consciousness-Blossoms in Tampa and Lotus-Heart-Blossoms in Kingston, at least you might think that something is happening, as in blossoming, because "blossoms," if you ignore the dash, can be taken as a verb. If you are a literalist when it comes to punctuation, however, you must face the fact that you have been left again with nothing but a multiple-noun string.

The Oneness Fountain-Heart is in New York. Ecstasy's Heart-Garden is in Reykjavik. Ottowa is home to Perfection-Satisfaction-Promise (as in you promise these things will occur through the eating, or as in there is promise that these things might occur while you are eating?). I think my favorite is Victory's Banner in Chicago. It seems Chicagoan, muscular, yet still New Age. There's also My Rainbow-Dream in Canberra: such big talk for food. But maybe more goes on at these places, more than just eating, something more like communing with the universe and people in saris. I am open to that.

Even if I have to take with it a very strange love for dashes.

In the Public Eye, President Obama Has Grown as a Feminist

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Pete Souza's Instagram of President Obama wearing a tiara while posing with a Girl Scout troop is getting quite a bit of circulation this week:

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  • Pete Souza/White House

But I also appreciated this video of Obama at a charity event:

Rather than sorting the toys strictly based on gender lines, as most toy drives do now, Obama made sure to put sports equipment in the boxes set aside for girls. It's a little thing, but it means a lot. Obama has been making feminist gestures like this all year, culminating in last week's press conference, in which he only called on female reporters. Could Obama do more for American women? Absolutely. He should fight harder for reproductive rights. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was just a first step toward gender pay equity, and Obama hasn't followed through on that. But he's come a long way from the presidential candidate of 2008 who shut down a reporter with a condescending "sweetie."

Obama apologized for the comment a day later, but it certainly had an impact in a time when a lot of Democrats were still smarting at the pain of Obama beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. These small gestures mean so much to people, and they demonstrate a deeper understanding of an important truth: if you put more thought and compassion into your everyday gestures, the world will slowly become a better place. In six years, Obama has shifted from casual sexism to casual empowerment. That's a big deal.

The Day After at the Christmas Tree Lot

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 9:49 AM

This morning, at Top Banana in Ballard.
  • JG
  • This morning, at Top Banana in Ballard.

This morning when I passed the Ballard indie produce stand Top Banana, my nose for hard-hitting news set to smelling: What is the fate of all those unsold Christmas trees?

Erik Balderas has worked at Top Banana for 11 years. Every year he manages the tree lot. He told me there are about 75 trees left on the lot this morning. A handful will go to persons of the Russian Orthodox persuasion, who don't celebrate Christmas until January 7. "I give 'em a screaming deal," he says. Anybody can get this deal. You want a tree? "Depends on the person but, you know—20 bucks, any tree you want."

This is what it's like shopping for a tree at Top Banana. It's not expensive and they will negotiate, because Top Banana—year-round—is a classic small business, where the people get to know you, make recommendations, teach you how to become sensitive to a melon; that sort of thing. I had a friend this year who told me she was getting her tree at Fred Meyer because she was on a budget. After we'd both bought trees, mine at Top Banana, I asked her how much hers had cost. It turned out we'd paid the same. You can get a great big tree at Top Banana for forty bucks. The cheapest are $10 to $20.

This year, 40 of the leftover trees in Top Banana's lot this morning will go to a lady who walked in a few days ago, handed over a business card, and said she needed 40 trees for an event, Balderas said.

The rest will either be woodchipped and returned to farms or composted. The trees at Top Banana come from Shelton, which Balderas said is still "considered the Christmas tree capital of the world," even though you get the tax break if you buy from Oregon or Canada instead.

Every year, Top Banana sells about 3,000 trees, Balderas said, and because the profit margin on trees is better than, say, the 19 cents bananas bring in, the year-round business depends on the holiday lot.

Still, the lot could have been empty this morning—it just would have meant disappointed customers, Balderas said.

"We could have sold out on Sunday or Saturday, really, but our boss is somebody who knows there are a lot of people who run late, so he brought in like 80 more trees on Sunday morning," he said.

Whenever you go to Top Banana, you should ask what's good, because they will steer you not only toward but away from things. For now, trust "pears, apples, grapes, citrus is coming up—grapefruit and the mandarins, blood oranges, meyer lemons—and root veggies like parsnips, fennel," Balderas said.

Weird item of the moment: guava.

If you would like to consider a Seattle art installation that some people used to call "jail for trees" as you ponder the prospect of a Christmas tree lot on the Morning After, here is something I wrote about Robert Irwin's Nine Spaces, Nine Trees, which is now on campus at the University of Washington.

The Boxing Day Morning News: Finally, You Can Reserve a Spot on the San Juan Ferry

Posted by on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 8:50 AM

Itll soon be easier to see things like this in the San Juan Islands.
  • Monika Wieland / Shutterstock.com
  • It'll soon be easier to see things like this in the San Juan Islands.

You Can Finally Reserve a Spot on the San Juan Islands Ferry: The 21st century has finally come to the most annoying part of every Northwest summer getaway, according to Jack Broom of the Seattle Times, who writes, "The 'Save a Spot' system, years in the planning, will make reserved spots available on all westbound sailings from Anacortes, and eastbound sailings from Friday Harbor and Orcas Island. Reservations may now be made on those ferry runs beginning with the first day of service, Jan. 5."

Snow Is Coming to the Mountains: The Cascades are about to get some serious snowfall. "Between 18 and 30 inches of snow is forecast in a storm expected to hit Friday night and last through late Saturday night," the Seattle Times says. If we get any snowfall in Seattle, it'll just be a dusting late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, and the rain will wash it all away.

Metro Bus Stabbing on Christmas Eve: According to KOMO, a man boarding a bus downtown at 6 pm on Christmas Eve sat down next to another passenger. "That passenger apparently took offense to how close the man sat next to him, which started an argument. Police say the talk became heated, and at some point the passenger who took offense pulled out a knife and repeatedly stabbed the other passenger." Merry Christmas! The stabber ran away. The story doesn't say how the stabbee is doing.

Journalist Sentenced to Death for Writing About Mohammad and the Caste System: "Mauritania on Thursday condemned a man to death for 'insulting the prophet,' a human rights group said, a day after the country opened the trial of an anti-slavery activist."

A whole lot of people who got video games yesterday were very angry when they tried to go online and play them.
  • Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.com
  • A whole lot of people who got video games yesterday were very angry when they tried to go online and play them.

Sony's PlayStation Network Collapsed Yesterday: Was this related to the release of The Interview? Nobody knows. The Xbox Live Network seems to have suffered similar outages. A hacker group called Lizard Squad is claiming responsibility.

Meanwhile, Terrorists Ignored Packed Screenings of The Interview: A whole lot of people went to see the movie at their local independent movie theaters yesterday. No North Korean terrorists were spotted at any of these screenings, which means freedom wins again.

Atlanta CDC May Have Accidentally Exposed Workers to Ebola: The AP's Lena H. Sun and Joel Achenbach write, "One technician... may have been exposed to the virus and about a dozen other people have been assessed after entering the facility unaware that potentially hazardous samples of Ebola had been handled there. The technician has no symptoms of illness and is being monitored for 21 days." This is not cause for alarm. Do not panic.

Boy, Francis is going to be in for a surprise when he finally reads the front half of the Bible.
  • Philip Chidell / Shutterstock.com
  • Boy, Francis is going to be in for a surprise when he finally reads the front half of the Bible.

Pope Francis Apparently Hasn't Read the Old Testament: In his Christmas Eve homily, the Cool Pope said that "God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience." Which, you know, is a super-cool thing to say! But a couple hundred pages of the Bible suggest otherwise.

Putin Cancels Christmas Vacation for Government Staffers: Russia's economy is tanking, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin is taking drastic measures:

"The Government and its various structures cannot afford such extensive holidays, at least not this year," Putin told government ministers in a speech broadcast on state television. "You know what I am talking about."

Listeria Outbreak in California: Looks like Molly Moon's isn't the only business affected by a listeria outbreak; Safeway grocery stores in California had to recall all their listeria-tainted caramel apples.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sony Has No Balls and Kim Jong-un Has No Anus, a Review of The Interview

Posted by on Thu, Dec 25, 2014 at 3:30 PM

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When Charlie Chaplin's Hitler satire The Great Dictator was in production, the British government announced that it would not allow the film to screen in the country due to an appeasement agreement with Germany. By the release date, World War II had come to the UK, and the ban was lifted.

Will it take a similar act of war to release The Interview? Or is it the first casualty in a new type of warfare? Sony Pictures has been suffering the fallout from an unprecedented corporate data hack, and theater chains developed cold feet after an internet terrorist group calling themselves Guardians of Peace (how can you not at least snicker at that acronym?) threatened action against the cinemas themselves. The result is the first-ever politically motivated cancellation of a major US release, and it appears that no one is willing to commit the "brave" act of simply screening the movie in public, which raises all sorts of complicated questions about censorship, business, piracy, and terrorism.

And then there's the even bigger complication: As a piece of entertainment, The Interview is completely forgettable. Or rather, it would be, if not for the whole end-of-the-world thing…

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Three Snapshots of Close Encounters with 206 Hiphop in 2014

Posted by on Thu, Dec 25, 2014 at 2:15 PM

MACKLEMORE
  • MACKLEMORE

LASER SHABAZZ

On the evening of Saturday, April 26, I entered the Pacific Science Center's Laser Dome with three other writers who had participated in a panel discussion at EMP's Pop Conference. We found seats, gossiped a little, and waited for Sub Pop's preview of Shabazz Palaces' second album, Lese Majesty, which would be released in late July. Then it happened: The place went as dark as the night outside and laser lights transformed the dome above our heads into a universe in tune with the new beats and raps. But more impressive than the movement of the lights and the fantastic shapes they formed and reformed was the fullness of the music flowing from what certainly felt like the best speakers in the region. In fact, after the album's first track, "Dawn in Luxor," it was clear to me and everyone else that the dazzle of the lasers was superfluous. The music and the darkness were more than enough. By the second track, "Forerunner Foray," I understood that we were listening to the best hiphop album of 2014. The event ended with "Sonic MythMap for the Trip Back," a work whose echoes and chants have the kind of sad beauty one imagines can be located at the point where black holes dissociate stars and other astronomical bodies into scintillating streams of matter…

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Kirk Cameron Is the Reason for the Season

Posted by on Thu, Dec 25, 2014 at 1:08 PM

A savior is born! (What? Okay, fine.) Another savior is born!
  • A savior is born! (What? Okay, fine.) Another savior is born!

As you celebrate Christmas (or as you enjoy the blissfully Christian-free streets of Seattle today,) remember that you're only enjoying this holiday because Kirk Cameron saved it for you in this year's hit motion picture* Saving Christmas.

And the only reason you know about Saving Christmas is David Schmader's brilliant review of Saving Christmas, which you should go read right now.

Some people, Kirk Cameron tells us, insist on remaining blind to the holiday's true purpose and holy meaning. I readied myself for the boilerplate screed about the war on Christmas, the secular humanism and multicultural interests strangling Christians' ability to openly celebrate the birth of Christ. But these were not the adversaries Kirk Cameron is concerned with. Kirk Cameron wants to save Christmas from his fellow Christians—specifically, those Christians tempted to dismiss Christmas as a parade of gluttonous materialism built on pagan idolatry that has nothing to do with actual Jesus.

Please, oh, please: if you haven't yet, go read the whole thing.


* The word "hit" here does not denote financial success, merely spiritual success.

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