Archive for March, 2008

Why am I supposed to root for college teams like Maryland and Georgetown?
March 15, 2008

I feel like the Washington Post Sports section wants me to feel sad if Maryland, Georgetown or any other local college team isn’t doing well, and elated if they do do well. Michael Wilbon’s columns say things along the lines of, “This year is a great year for us in the D.C. area. Maryland, GW, and Georgetown are having great basketball years,” when I really don’t see those colleges as of concern to me. I surely can got onboard a winning streak from a Washington professional team like the Capitals or Wizards because I’m a Washingtonian, but am I supposed to be rooting for local college teams as well? Is that the general notion?

I have no affiliation with colleges like Georgetown and Maryland and to be honest, I actively dislike some of them. I take grad courses at Mason, so I’m very much rooting for them, and I took piano lessons at GWU and attended the open jazz sessions so I like them as well, and that’s about it.

I suppose some counterarguments for not caring about local college teams are that:
-You would think that I would naturally form friendships with people from every college over time, which is partially true but not too much
-If and when one of these schools wins big (like Georgetown last year) the town will go wild and I’m free to partake in the enjoyment.

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Georgetown vs Louisville
March 7, 2008

Tomorrow’s game is being touted by the Washington Post as one of the most exciting games of the season: The two best teams in the Big East will play each other in their last game of the season which is a historic first of some sort. I think they might be exxagerating the historic nature of the event, but nevertheless, it should be exciting and fortunately it’s taking place at Georgetown. I believe Georgetown is on Spring Break at the moment, is it not?
Georgetown plays Louisville.

Dengue Fever And Exit Clov At Black Cat, March 1, 2008
March 4, 2008

The local fan base Exit Clov has built is staggering. I always admired the band for their relentless self-promotion — the constant local gigging, passing out fliers and free CDs on street corners — but I only recently realized how effective the effort has been. Buried in as the second of four bands at a show at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Feb. 1, I was surprised by the push to the front and the moving bodies this band inspired (not that they don’t deserve it, just that local acts don’t usually generate such buzz prior to getting national attention). On Saturday, there was, again, a strong Exit Clov crowd as they opened for Dengue Fever at the Black Cat. Those fans are just in their allegiance, but some of them demonstrated a stubborn indifference that serves them poorly. After Exit Clov’s set, I overheard several clusters of their fans debate whether to stay for the headliner. Most of the people involved in these conversations spoke about knowing nothing about Dengue Fever. I tried to will them to stay and learn. Judging from the leaner room when the headliner took the stage, my mind powers failed — or are insignificant.

Live, Dengue Fever didn’t quite match their records. Some organ, saxophone and guitarist Zac Holtzman’s picking were able to recreate some of the Eastern sounds and Ethiopian jazz, but it was largely a ’60s psychedelic garage rock sound, heavy on surf rock. A lot of it sounded like it should show up on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Still, it was an impressive performance. This band weaves various influences — those already mentioned and others like jazz fusion and Bollywood — and sounds authentic, more retro than retro. Singer Chhom Nimol was adorable and in great voice, and her stage presence was as sweet as Selena — at least how Jennifer Lopez portrayed Selena on screen. I’ll admit to knowing nothing about Selena before the biopic. (Cred check: It was on cable and it starred Jennifer “Bosoms” Lopez and I fell asleep halfway through and had to ask someone later that night how Selena was actually killed.) Though the band is touring in support of a record just a few weeks old, “Venus on Earth,” they didn’t focus too much on that material. One highlight was “Pow Pow,” a Ros Serey Sathea cover from their self-titled debut LP, that started out with a burst of punk energy. The lyrics were mostly sung in Nimol’s native Khmer, but judging from the new record, that’s a smart move. Many of the English lyrics on that album seem trite. It’s the one knock on the album, which sounds great. I just prefer it when I don’t know what she’s singing about. One exception is “Sober Driver,” a simple tune about a girl who only calls a guy when she needs a ride and about how the guy is starting to think she might not be worth it, or at least that he’s worth more. Holtzman — sporting the fakest looking real beard I’ve ever seen — and Nimol shared the vocals on that one and the other English-language song with passable lyrics, “Tiger Phone Card.” Those “Venus on Earth” cuts where overshadowed by the album’s first track, “Seeing Hands,” a brilliant, haunting number with a steady groove. The best moment, though, was when the ever-saccharine Nimol pulled two audience members on stage to sing “I’m Sixteen” — another Sathea cover from the self-titled record — with her in Khmer.

For their part, Exit Clov was as good as ever. They keep things mixed up, not playing cookie-cutter versions of their songs. They embellish the songs sometimes, hold back and leave more space at others. While the set didn’t copy the Rock and Roll Hotel show of a month earlier, it did include the same “DIY,” “MK Ultra” and “Moving Gaza” progression late. But it wasn’t a copy, either. They dragged out the intro to “MK Ultra,” which concluded with a somewhat unexpected but welcome and encouraging roar from the crowd (check out the video here), and the post-punk “Moving Gaza” closed with a heavier finish. And I also noted that the band used more violin this time around, giving it more chamber pop moments, which they execute so very well. The band’s seamless blend of rock, post-rock, jazz, neo-post-punk/nü wave, prog and pop was on perfect display. It’s that kind of ear for music that probably leads them to such bills as Dengue Fever.

So I wish Exit Clov luck as they head on the road toward SXSW, and I’m confident they will perk some ears in Austin, in anticipation of their first, and overdue, I’d say, LP. So if you haven’t familiarized yourself with this band, check ’em out when the come home to Iota on March 22. And if you are familiar, don’t leave so quickly when they open for another band — Exit Clov has good taste and they can show you a thing or two you probably weren’t expecting.

Classes I enjoyed taking
March 4, 2008

In today’s edition of the Washington Post within the Metro Section, there was a great article on interesting classes taught at college.
Here are classes I enjoyed taking:

1. Anthropology-The Washington Post quotes a student from 1935 who said that anthropology was a complete waste of time better situated to the 1890s than the 1930’s. Well, it’s the 2000’s and I think it’s back. I got a C in this course because the questions on the tests were so arbitrary and vague but on the flipside, I had an enormously entertaining and funny professor, who did things like do Austin Powers impressions (it was the summer after Austin Powers: Goldmembers) and stick a finger into an electric socket to note the difference between science and religion. There are a lot of disciplines like sociology, psychology, media culture, philosophy, etc. that challenges our way of looking at things, but personally, I feel that the other ones involve a little bit of common sense

2. Urban Geography-I learned the history of the D.C. area and all kinds of fascinating things about how suburbs first came to be formed. Since this course was taught an hour away Mary Washington, where I first attended college; a good amount of our focus was the Washington D.C. area, so we learned about how Tyson’s Corner was once upon a time (not too long ago, 30 years ago) just a soda shop, and now it’s the 13th biggest economic center in the country. We learned all kinds of things like how traffic in 2000 in Manhattan goes almost twice as slow when horse drawn carraiges were going through the streets in 1900; how parking lots are set up because people are unwilling to walk more than 600 feet at a time which is also why malls are set up so that people can’t see from one end to the other with plants in place and all; how glass elevators were designed to protect against rape; how the names of many suburban housing complexes like Pheasant Run, East Meadows, The Woods at Fairfax, etc. reflect the English and later-American traditional dream of owning a little piece of the countryside, even though ironically, the housing complexes are tearing those very same countrysides down. I also did a project with two other guys, both of whom I made good friends with and continue to keep in touch with, where we went into a Salvadorean pocket of immigrants in Bailey’s Crossroads and learned about the community.

3. Cultural Geography-I was a geography major and didn’t regret it at all because that was full of mostly very interesting classes. In cultural geography, we learned about the spread of culture and the class was full of interesting material, such as how music spreads along geographic lines (i.e. rap is found in cities, jazz started in New Orleans and spread along the Mississippi River), how gang culture is exported to Guatemala, how you can mathematically tell about the culture of a place just by looking in a phone book, how different languages can be created by barriers like mountain ranges and oceans.

4. Energy and Transportation-I transferred to James Madison after two years and in order to graduate in two years, I didn’t have room for a single elective, but my senior year, I decided to take this course and postponed graduation for another month anyways. It was the year of Hurricane Katrina and when gas prices started to spike up for the first time, and I thought it would be interesting to understand how it all worked, plus it complimented my urban geography class. The course gave me a C+ (most of these cool classes, unfortunately, resulted in low grades for some reason, often because the “cool” teachers might not have had standardized tests and things which I do better on) and the teachers relied too heavily on google and wikipedia, but we did a lot of interesting experiments, like make our own biodiesel, melt wax, and grow our own ethanol-producing plants. The class taught me where oil came from, how it was running out, and generally scared us to death about how bad the state of our energy resources are

5. Kinesiology-Kind of like an advanced version of P.E./Health at the college level. Two days a week we played sports, so who can complain about that. Being forced to exercise twice a week was definitely a good way to make sure I kept in shape. One day a week, we’d have health but it wasn’t the kind of lame health classes we had in grade school which serve the purpose of warning us of the dangers of drugs and sex. These classes taught us about exercising in ways that won’t result in us getting hurt, dealing with stress and eating nutritiously.

6. Film Courses-Offered at most colleges, these courses helped make up for the difficulty that I had transferring. I met a number of people with like interests, and spent time watching films. These weren’t electives because I ammassed enough film courses to make a minor. Aside from being exposed to some of the best and most influential films in history and getting college credit for it, films can also teaches you a lot about society and history.

7. Band-In between Mary Washington and James Madison, I took a course from George Mason University and thought I might try to do something social while I was there, so I joined the concert band for half of a semester and it was a lot of fun. I was in the band in middle school and a year of high school and I enjoyed it but there was also a lot of pressure to be good and subsequent feelings of rejection for not being that good. When I joined the band at George Mason, I felt liberated from the pressure and didn’t care that I was last chair in my section. That was probably the most fun I had with music.

What classes did you all enjoy taking?

Top 10 films of the year
March 3, 2008

I have not been to the theater to see Cloverfield, Fool’s Gold or Jumper but I have seen No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Juno, and Charlie Wilson’s War in the last few weeks. There’s a key difference between the two films: One set was released in 2008, and one set was released right at the end of 2007, thereby making them eligible for the awards season (Golden Globes, Oscars, etc.). A film blogger who runs the site www.thefilmexperience.net said something along the lines are every film buff knows that the New Year doesn’t start January 1st but rather the day after the Oscars, and that’s more or less how I feel. I try to use the first couple months of the year to catch up on all the good films that were released in the last 2 weeks of December because it’s really impossible unless you’re job is a professional film reviewer or you have a lot of free time on your hands to see all the films worth seeing by the time December ends and trust me, I would bet money that most of you would find No Country for Old Men a far better action flick than Jumper and Juno to be a far more thoughtfully made romantic comedy than Fool’s Gold.

So here’s a rather delayed Top 10 films of 2007 for me:
1. 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold- In this Western remake, Christian Bale plays a rancher who, in order to pay his debts and support his family, agrees to assist in the transport of a prisoner (Russell Crowe) to a train station where he will be taken to prison. “3:10 to Yuma” doesn’t just remake a classic film but it brings the glory of the Western genre back to life, with an elaborately staged shootout scene that trumps the CGI-laden special effects. More than that, 3:10 to Yuma is a riveting and suspenseful morality play with dialogue that sounds outright poetic and excellent performances all around.
2. There Will be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson-This dark tale of capitalism gone awry and lavish period piece has a unique texture and feel to it all on its own. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance and the haunting musical score will stay with you for days.
3. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, Sidney Lumet-Those that group directors like Francis Ford Coppolla, Stephen Spielberg, Roman Polanski, and Martin Scorsese as the aging veterans of the screen forget that they’re the younger generation when compared to 83-year old Sidney Lumet who brought us such iconic classics as Network, Dog Day Afternoon, and 12 Angry Men (a film which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary). Lumet adds to his long list of classics with “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” a smart dark comedy about two brothers who in a bind for cash, rob their parents’ bank. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Albert Finney, Marrisa Thomei, and Ethan Hawke form a great ensemble.
4. Michael Clayton, Tony Gileroy-In this legal thriller that transcends its genre, George Clooney might provide the star power but it’s Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swenton who make the movie. The two play attorneys whose morals go in opposite directions as the stakes are raised in a multimillion dollar class action lawsuit.
5. Charlie Wilson’s War, Mike Nicholls-Unfairly grouped with the mostly unsuccessful batch of films centering on the Iraq war, this film wasn’t as much a scathing indictment of current events as it was a modern period piece and a foray into the craziness of politics with a fascinating character at the center of the story. In the 1980’s, Congressman Charlie Wilson funneled his free time on the job into launching a covert war that changed the course of the Cold War. Wilson is played with the right combination of charm, good intentions, and sleaziness by Tom Hanks and has great odd couple chemistry with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a CIA agent.
6. Great Debaters, Denzel Washington- At it’s surface, the film is just an old-fashioned tear jerker about a team of underdogs beating the odds. At the next level, however, the film is a wonderful portrait of small-town life in a racially charged Texas town at the dawn of the civil rights movement. Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker give two of their better performances and Director of Photography Philippe Rouselot makes the swamplands and dirtroads of Wiley, Texas come to life.
7. Sicko, Michael Moore-Political controversies aside, no documentarian has the power to weave facts and figures into the kind of escapist entertainment that is usually reserved for fiction like Michael Moore. His new documentary seeks to bring awareness for the state of the health system and whether you agree with his side of the story or not, it’s an eye-opening expose.
8. Juno, Jason Reitman-While it seems fairly obvious that Diablo Cody was trying to mimic the style of dialogue in her favorite Independent films, I’m inclined to forgive the script’s lack of originality because the dialogue is better than most of the films it’s copying, it throws in some genuinely surprising tricks, and in the hands of an unlikely cast, it carries genuine emotional resonance.
9. Darjeerling Limited, Wes Anderson-Wes Anderson’s fifth film doesn’t deviate from his usual style so it’s not likely to win over new fans, but for those who can appreciate the rich texture of sights and sounds that make up Wes Anderson’s films, there’s much to love about this tale of brotherly bonding set on a train ride through the Indian countryside. The film is shot on location.
10. Lions for Lambs, Robert Redford-Tom Cruise’s noble effort to relaunch United Artists’ Studios is cinematically sparse but manages to say things that haven’t been said before about the current state of apathy and the relationship between media and politics. The film cross-cuts between three scenes: a story of two soldiers in Afghanistan who commit a foolish act of bravery; an interview between a warhawk senator (Tom Cruise) trying to convince a reporter (Meryl Streep) to sell the war for him; and a conversation occurring at the same time between a professor (Robert Redford) and a disillusioned student.

What exactly does Booz Allen Hamilton do?
March 3, 2008

Today on the taking potshots about employers I know next to nothing about:

I don’t know much about Booz Allen Hamilton, except it might have been smart if they had Mr.
Booz agree to have his name appear 2nd or 3rd in the order of the company name because a) when someone says in shorthand I work for “booz,” it sounds like they’re an alcoholic and b) perhaps, you could get a better website than www.bah.com. Oh please tell me there’s someone who’s last name is Humbug using the company’s server for his website, with a url of bah.com/humbug.html. Booz Allen Hamilton is an incredibly large empire of consultants. I find that funny considering many of the people they hire are young just out of college types. When I think of consultants, I think of a wizened old man or maybe someone like Deep Throat, not a guy just out of college who probably doesn’t remember most of what he just learned.

I seriously would like to know how most of the consultants are more qualified than the people they’re consulting and if that’s not a good enough explanation for the mind-numbing bureaucratic slowdown that plagues Washington: Too many consultants not enough doers.

Disclaimer: I know pretty much nothing about Booz Allen Hamilton, so don’t take this blog entry seriously as a hard-hitting expose on that company.

OK: tune in next week when I attack Freddie Mac, which I originally thought for a very long time was a Fast Food Chain