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Katrina [w/ Updates]

New Orleans lawyer Ernest Svenson's weblog, Ernie The Attorney, was one of the pivotal inspirations for my launching my own pair of weblogs.   Ernie attempted to leave the city in advance of Hurricane Katrina, managed to travel less than 15 miles in four hours and turned back to ride out the storm.   He made it, even managing a handful of posts, but as the city continues to fill with water he is making a break for it.  Here's hoping that he, and all those affected throughout the region, will see their way through this no more scathed than they already are.   No doubt it is much easier to be an optimist from thousands of miles away than it is in the thick of the destruction.

Given its speed and success in rallying donations in the wake of the September 11 attacks and last year's Asian Tsunami, I am surprised that Amazon has not yet launched a page for Hurricane Relief donations to the American Red Cross.   The Red Cross' own servers seem a bit slow just now -- perhaps precisely because of an upsurge in Hurricane Relief donations -- but here is a link to their Online Contribution page.


[083105]: Ernie has made it out of New Orleans and is now able to post again on his own behalf.   He has even found the mental and emotional wherewithal to take an initial run at waxing philosophical over the long-term implications of the past few days' events.   He suggests that "[t]his catastrophe will change America and we don't yet grasp how that will happen."   He is almost certainly right.

Despite the helicopters and other high-end contemporary equipment being brought to bear in the initial phases of rescue and recovery, this disaster feels like something out of another era -- pre-industrial, almost medieval in some sense.  Evan Schaeffer reports on crossing paths with a New Orleans solo lawyer whose escape path led him to St. Louis:

He said that his office had been demolished but even if it had survived, it wouldn't have mattered very much: his practice wouldn't survive in any case.  He said he doubted that some portions of New Orleans would even be rebuilt.  He talked about the refugee camps that would have to be established in other parts of the state.  He criticized the local government for not planning well enough for the disaster and not ordering an evacuation soon enough.  Very angry about what had happened, he mulled over possible causes of action as we talked, more out of frustration than anything else.

While we have taken in any number of displaced persons from abroad over the course of our history, internal refugees is not something we're used to in this country, at least not since the era of the Dust Bowl.   One has to suspect that these events are enough of a blunt force to set our societal tectonic plates to shifting, and that the process is probably already at work, if only imperceptibly.   Where and how those plates will reach a point of rest is beyond my own meager predictive skills.

Don't forget to click through the Red Cross link above before you go.


FURTHER UPDATE - Relief Links [090105]: Amazon -- a bit slower than expected, but better late than never -- now has a direct page for Donating To The American Red Cross.   The extreme slowness of the Red Cross servers over the past few days has been relieved by a new donation site -- linked on the Red Cross home page -- provided by Yahoo.

A growing list of other routes for aid is also accumulating in this post at Instapundit.

Code Crackers

Once upon a time, the entire Los Angeles metroplex was divided into two area codes: 818 encompassing the San Fernando Valley and points north of downtown Los Angeles, 213 encompassing Los Angeles proper, as well as west side communities such as Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.  Compelled by a shortage of remaining numbers, the 213 area was divided: downtown itself held on to 213, while the areas west and south became 310.  Now, 310 itself is seen as about to run out of numbers, and the proposed solution is not a further division but the imposition of a dreaded "overlay," to be known as 424.

FishBowlLA's a report focused on the public health implications of the change:

The California Public Utilities Commission has approved the 424 area code overlay in the South Bay, which means that soon, 310ers will have to dial eleven digits even to call another 310 number.  This isn't a big deal on land-lines, but if you have a 310 area-code cell phone, those extra three digits all the time may end up causing minor thumb cramping over the course of a few years.

Beyond possible repetitive motion injuries, residents of the 310 are in danger of losing their perceived elite status, status that has transformed 310 into something of a vanity area code:

An area code is an identification badge. For example, rural residents of northern Virginia were pleased to be assigned a new area code, 540, that distinguishes them from the beltway-bound city slickers of Alexandria and Arlington, who retained the 703 area code.

Cultural references are ubiquitous.  In the Gen-X movie "Swingers," the protagonist, a struggling comedian who moves to Los Angeles from New York, finally works up the nerve to ask a young woman for her telephone number.  "818?" asks one of his hipster cronies, referring to the area code of the Valley.  His reply, "310," elicits grunts and nods of approval from his friends.  The 818 area code includes Burbank, which is in the San Fernando Valley, while the 310 area code includes Beverly Hills.

This Fool feels the pain of all those put-upon 310ers -- [Did someone say "Three Tenors"?  No, sir, they did not.] -- so as a small palliative to assuage their ills and inconveniences we present the witty and talented John Vanderslice with an aptly named but otherwise altogether irrelevant song:

(from Life and Death of an American Fourtracker (2002), via


UPDATE [083005]: From today's Los Angeles Times, Rob Long anatomizes further the 310 status issue and the social anarchy to be unleashed by 424:

I know how things work here in 310 land.  The outcry against the sinisterly vague 'overlay area code,' which will cover new phone numbers from Malibu to Torrance, is really about the way it will instantly negate the way we figure out where, exactly, you belong in the hierarchy.  How much, exactly, you have in the bank.  The first cut in the social sifting process — 310? 323? Um … 818? — eventually leads to a finer, higher grade of cut.

Don't pretend you don't know what I mean, because I know that you know: You live in Brentwood?  North or south of San Vicente?  North or south of Sunset?  East or west of Barrington?  The Palisades?  Riviera or Huntington?  Which part of Rustic Canyon?  North or south of Montana?  Yoga?  Which studio?  Which instructor?  The big room or the small?

The bad news is, the 424 area code is going to add a lot of time to this Westside catechism.  Because 424 can mean, apparently, anything — from a light-filled Spanish hacienda on Amalfi to a poky apartment in Hawthorne with cottage-cheese ceilings.  Snobbery, like real estate, is all about location.  But the 424 won't tell anyone anything about the price of your house, whether you have a Waterworks toilet seat or if you drive a Prius.

Hey Joe, Where You Goin' With That Cheap-But-Drinkable Merlot in Yer Hand?

I have made many mentions of the Trader Joe's Markets, principally in connection with the phenomenon of "Two-Buck Chuck" and other inexpensive wines.  Today, via Jeff Jarvis (who, true to form, sees it as harbinger of a trend toward "individual blogs keeping a watchful eye on individual companies"), I learned of the existence of "Tracking Trader Joe's," a new weblog by Mike Kaltschnee devoted to -- wait for it -- tracking Trader Joe's.  Why?  Mike explains in his initial post:

I wanted to start another blog, and I was looking for a company that was growing in a competitive market, had a lot of passionate customers, and was doing something very interesting.  Trader Joe's is all of this and more.  It also helps that I shop there several nights a week.

He also reveals that I will soon have to stop mocking New Yorkers and their backward, Joe's-free ways: they will eventually have their very own TJ's store on Union Square, possibly by year's end.


UPDATE [1237 PDT]: Extra thanks are due to the Tracking Trader Joe's sidebar for including a link to, of which I had previously been unaware.   "winejoe" is Joe Coulombe, the "Joe" in Trader Joe's, who founded the company and ran it until 1989.   His site is devoted to posting his reports on his trips to wine-producing regions around the world over the past several years.   The current edition covers Northern Burgundy, where the wine is not cheap, but is often very very good.   He'll return to Australia in September, I see.

Answering the question "Who is winejoe?", Mr. Coulombe reveals the origins of the namesake markets' wine strategy -- and the secret to extracting the best from those low-priced wines:

During my years as Trader Joe, I tasted at least 100,000 wines.  Most of them were not terrific, but on the other hand most samples were submitted by vintners who were desperate for money.  That's how Trader Joe's got those low prices.  That's also how I learned that a lot of wines that are marginal can be very good--if served with the right food.

Field Blend

Herewith, a miscellany of vaguely interrelated wine items, served at room temperature, built up in bits and pieces over the past few weeks until they have burst forth as this loose baggy monster of a post, which launches itself with a few words from Evelyn Waugh:

When wine is truly corky, the cork is diseased and foul smelling, and the wine is more or less tainted.  It should never be drunk in this condition...  It is for this reason that a small quantity of wine is invariably poured first into the host's glass for him to taste...  If the host is so barbarous as to taste and accept a corky wine, all that the guest can do is to refrain from drinking it and never come to that table again.

[from Wine in Peace and War (1949); quotation via the obsessed and seemingly inexhaustible Corkwatch.]

  • Desperately Seeking Closure: Real corks -- the type that are made from the bark of the Cork Oak (quercus suber) -- still hold their own as a method of sealing up a bottle of wine, but they have an ever-growing corps of detractors.  A certain irreducible percentage of natural corks -- estimates range anywhere from 1% to 15% to 20%(!), and there is informed speculation that the number has been increasing in recent years -- will produce the unpleasant "musty wet dog" aromas and flavors of "corked" wine, the wicked handiwork of the chemical 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or "TCA".  The condition only manifests itself after the wine has been bottled, and no reliable method has been developed to detect and eliminate those particular corks that will be found, too late, to have been little ticking TCA-bombs.

Colorful_corksVarious alternatives to cork-made-from-cork have been trotted out.  Synthetic "corks" are popular with the marketing department because they can be produced in a rainbow of colors or elaborately imprinted to coordinate effectively with the rest of the wine's packaging.  They also provide no growth medium for those pesky TCA-generating spores.  Synthetic corks have their detractors, however, including those who claim they don't allow aging, or alternatively allow wine to age too quickly.  Even some environmentalists object to them, as they are not biodegradable.  (Natural cork degrades when disposed of, though it takes a long long time to do so.) 

Taming_the_screwIn the southern hemisphere, the screwcap has been increasingly favored as a cork-free method for sealing wine bottles.  James Halliday, writing in The Australian, reported earlier this month that

[a]nyone wanting to verify the mass migration to screwcap in Australia should simply walk into any large retail shop and see for themselves; 70 per cent of the white wines on display will have screwcaps, and up to 40 per cent of the reds likewise.  Repeat the exercise in a month's time, and the percentages will have increased. 

That comment appears in an article triggered by publication of Taming the Screw (right), a 304-page book devoted entirely to the subject of screwcaps and their use with wine.

  • Not to be left behind, New Zealand has also embraced the screwcap:  The first International Screwcap Symposium took place in Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand, this past November.
  • Fresh from his own recent trip to Austreyelia, UCLA Law's own Professor Bainbridge recently declared that "Screwcaps rule."  [The professor also recently held forth on the cork-spoiled wine problem in response to a cranky winemaker.]
  • Anecdotal Evidence from the IPNC:  On July 31, we had the pleasure of attending the afternoon tasting appended to the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon.  The Celebration itself runs for three days, concluding on Sunday morning.  For those who did not attend the event in its entirety, the 60 participating winemaker pour samples from two vintages (this year it was 2002 and 2003) over the course of four hours on Sunday afternoon in the Eucalyptus Grove on the campus of Linfield College.  Some years, it rains; some years -- this one, for example -- it is sunny and more than slightly hot.  In all years, the selection of pinot noirs from around the world is worth the trip.
    • This was a big year for pinot noir, of course, still basking in the attention drawn to it by the movie Sideways.  The film's director, Alexander Payne, was to have been the keynote speaker at this year's IPNC, and to have MC'd the Sunday tasting, but he canceled his appearance.  This MSNBC report gives a good idea of the event, and includes the intriguing statistic that despite pinot noir's heightened profile this past year, it still accounts for a mere 1.6% of the U.S. table wine market.

New Zealand has become well known for sauvignon blanc, but it is also proving to be a fine place to grow pinot noir.  Six New Zealand wineries were represented at the Celebration this year -- six-and-a-half when you include Gary Andrus' new Gypsy Dancer Estates winery, which produces pinot from both Oregon and New Zealand and which was pouring a delicious example of the latter -- and all of their wines were sealed with screwcaps. 

An intriguing show of mixed feelings toward screwcaps came from the very French winemakers of Oregon's WillaKenzie Estate Winery, who were pouring their lovely 2002 'Pierre Leon' Pinot Noir from a twist-capped bottle.  WillaKenzie is now making many of its wines available with a choice of closures: screwcap or natural cork.   One of the winemakers was heard to remark that given the choice he would seal everything with screwcaps, but that WillaKenzie WillaContinue [ho ho] to use corks for the time being because there are still too many people who simply will not buy the wine without the 'traditional' closure.

  • Enfer Trade Practices:  The screwcap item above from Professor Bainbridge ties into some reported remarks on the topic by Randall Grahm of California's Bonny Doon Vineyard, who now seals all of his wines with screwcaps and has gone so far as to proclaim the Death of the Cork.  Grahm holds forth at length here with at least 20 reasons to cast aside both the natural cork and its synthetic contemporary cousins.   

And with that, we leave at last the subject of wine bottle closures, but not the subject of Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon.  To continue:

Among his many other activities, Mr. Grahm produces newsletters for his winery that are replete with erudition, philosophy and the sorts of pun that demonstrate much too much education on the part of their creator.  Reading a Bonny Doon newsletter, you are just as likely to encounter a Kierkegaard joke as you are a discussion of malolactic fermentation or some obscure grape variety.  (Anyone thirsty for a little Uva di Troia?) 

In the most recent edition, he has outdone himself, combining a fondness for Dante Alighieri with a scorn for current winemaking practice to produce the fiery pseudo-terza rima of Part 1 of Al Dente Allegory's spirited epic, Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno [PDF], in which wicked winemakers who over-oak, over-process or otherwise warp or deracinate the grapes in their care receive the cosmic comeuppance they deserve.

MooseIn this first episode, our hero finds himself in a dark wood, beset by doubts concerning winemaking philosophy and technique.  An immortal Burgundian guide is sent to show him through the circles of winemaking perdition.  They pass through the gates ["ABANDON ALL OAK, YE WHO ENTER HERE"] and encounter the mediocrities, the producers of "wines neither so great nor so wretched/Provoking nothing but yawns," swigging Red Bicyclette whilst surrounded by the symbols of mass production: a Little Penguin, the Yellow Tail kangaroo, an enormous rooster (in Italian, Gallo), the goat from Le Vielle Ferme and, inexplicably, the moose shown at left.  (The illustrations, by Alex Gross, are a treat in themselves.) 

Andre_samsaThe barrel-chested boatman Char-on ferries the travelers to the first Circle, reserved to The Unrated: those great winemakers, like Dante's Virtuous Pagans, whose great wines were made in the era pre-dating the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.  Here, they encounter the likes of the Veuve Clicquot, Jacob Schram, Gustave Niebaum, and a "squat beetle-browed figure, puffing mightily," the incomparable André Tchelistcheff (right).

What lies ahead in future episodes can be gleaned from the helpful map provided as a frontispiece: special circles and torments are reserved for such offenders as Espousers of 'Gracious Living,' Wine Consultants, Wine Conglomerates, and The Manufacturers of Natural Cork and Synthetic Cork-Like Closures, as well as "The Vine-olent" against the grape, against wine consumers ("over-pricers, producers of overly alcoholic, over-oaked, over-extracted wines, . . . Merlot mongers," etc.), and against Bacchus. 

  • No need to travel to the stygian depths to encounter these viticultural sinners.  As Tom Wark regularly demonstrates at Fermentations: They Walk Among Us.
  • Postscript -- Some Political Wine Gossip: Fermentations also reports in a recent post that one of the Napa Valley's newest winery owners is House Democratic Whip and noted Woman of the People, Nancy Pelosi.  She has not stated a position in the cork vs. screwcap debate, so far as I know.

Nothing to See Here, But If You'll Just Step Into the Adjacent Gallery . . .

Dear me: quite the little gap between posts on this weblog, isn't there? 

While you wait for something fresh, you might consider taking a gander at my recently re-configured legal weblog, Declarations and Exclusions, where topics have lately included the limitations of physical force as a tool for dispute resolution and the tragedy of SLS: Selective Literalism Syndrome

Also, we're serving waffles.

What is it Fills Your Hovercraft, My Liege?

From The Secret Lives of Important People by Jeff Vandermeer, fresh and extraordinary scholarly insights concerning that slippery sly boots, William "Da Conqueror" Plantagenet:

I believe, based on my findings -- and certain emanations I felt whilst walking over places William would have trod -- that during the dusks and evenings of his days, the Conqueror led a secret life as an ophichthusanthrope.  In layman’s terms, William led a secret life as a giant eel.  I cannot tell if his transformation was voluntary and he changed only at night so as to keep his ability a secret, or if the transformation was involuntary.  If involuntary, was his transformation tied to the lunar cycles?  To the way in which river water changes from season to season?  Did he only change during the spring and summer, for example?  Did silt or clarity compel or entice him?  It is maddeningly impossible to tell from the written record, or even from anecdotal evidence.

However, that he did change into an eel seems to me to be certain. . . .

Loads o' Little Lit'ry Links

  • For the first time, all of this year's nominees for the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel are were British.  (Oh, look!  Even as I was working on this entry, events have got the better of me: we have a winner!)  Among the [unsuccessful] nominees was China Miéville, for Iron Council, which by happy coincidence is the next book in line on the nightstand. 

Miéville is an exceedingly clever and thoughtful socialist, in addition to being a gifted writer.  I, as you may have deduced, am most assuredly not a socialist by nature.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that socialism, in practical terms, is best kept in the realm of fiction.  Conveniently enough, from 2002, Fantastic Metropolis -- the online journal of speculative fiction and such whose editors include the great Utopian/Dystopian/Multiversalist Michael Moorcock -- revisits Miéville's list of Fifty Fantasy & Science Fiction Works That Socialists Should Read:

This is not a list of the 'best' fantasy or SF.  There are huge numbers of superb works not on the list.  Those below are chosen not just because of their quality -- which though mostly good, is variable -- but because the politics they embed (deliberately or not) are of particular interest to socialists.  Of course, other works -- by the same or other writers -- could have been chosen: disagreement and alternative suggestions are welcomed.  I change my own mind hour to hour on this anyway.

(Miéville list link via ::: wood s lot :::.  And have I ever gotten around to linking that Miéville interview in The Believer?  Thought not.)

  • Sunday's Los Angeles Times Book Review devoted a full page to an appreciation of Theodore Roethke, glancing off of one of my own recurrent themes: the inexplicably low level of attention paid to a certain generation of American poets.

Pity the poets of the mid-20th century.  Dead for only a few decades, Berryman, Bishop, Lowell and Merrill -- to name but a few -- sit in libraries gathering dust.  Time and familiarity have silenced their voices.  The world has sped beyond them.

What does it matter, then, to say that Theodore Roethke was one of the most honored?  To cite the awards he won in his lifetime (a Pulitzer, a National Book Award, a Bollingen) and posthumously (a second National Book Award) only puts the man further behind glass and distances us from the pleasures of his verse.

* * *

Who were the poets of the mid-20th century, and why do they deserve our renewed attention?  They were among the first to see something new, something dark in American life.  In their verse we read a certain dread, an emptiness cut by materialism, by inequality, by the distance between who we are and who we can become.  In their words, their intellect and verse, they tried to explore and bridge the gap.

'Is that dance slowing in the mind of man?' Roethke asks us.  Yes, it is, but to read his poems is once again to be reminded of the song.

Even The Elegant Variation liked this one, calling it "beautifully written once it settles down."  The review ties in to the American Poets' Project selected Roethke, even though the book came out at least six months ago.  While that is a perfectly nice edition, readers with any real interest in exploring Roethke's work can save a few dollars, and get more poetry, by opting for the paperback edition of the more complete Collected Poems.

  • Not to oversell the point, but I have had a sneaking sense for some time that the sort of artistry once favored by those neglected mid-Century poets is still alive and flourishing among the more serious brand of songwriter.  Sunday's Times also touched on that notion in the middle of its profile of Sufjan Stevens.

[T]hough [Stevens] says he feels 'a little isolated,' he's actually in the good company of a growing subgenre of musicians with a pronounced literary underpinning.

There's the New Mexico-based Handsome Family, whose lyricist Rennie Sparks holds a master's in creative writing and has issued books of her short stories.  New Englander Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers is an ex-grad student and a published poet, and the ranks of word-aware, narrative-conscious acts are swelling with the likes of the Decemberists, a group of epic yarn-spinners from Portland, Ore., and the surreally slanted Fiery Furnaces, like Stevens a Midwest-to-Brooklyn transplant.

'I think a lot of people who dream of being writers in this day and age end up writing songs,' observes the Handsome Family's Sparks. 'It's the only real popular form of short story or poetry we have. People who couldn't be bothered to read a whole book can listen and love a little short story within a song.'

* * *

And Stevens has found that his most satisfying songs, the ones that are concise and straightforward, only feed his original ambition.

'They show me how much I want to start writing fiction again…. I think it's possible, but I think I need to take a sabbatical. Writing is a much more difficult, much more sophisticated form than songwriting. Because it cannot be immediately satisfying, it doesn't appeal to the senses the way music does. It requires an investment through the years, and I think therefore it asks for a lot more work, a lot more discipline.'

What I have heard so far from Stevens' Illinois album is remarkable, musically fresh and lyrically ambitious.  His scary and moving song about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy receives attention today from Tim at Pilgrim's Progress (scroll down past the discussion of MTV and the affectation of "unplugged" music) and, for those who want to play and sing along, from stereogum.  Stevens has been making plenty of radio appearances as he tours to support the new record: his recent KCRW turn can be heard/seen via the streams here.

  • From the New Pantagruel, Edition 2.2, Randy Boyagoda on "Moby Dick and the Culture Wars:"

    In a 2004 issue of the Modern Language Association members’ newsletter, then-MLA President Robert Scholes cited Thoreau’s cautionary dictum 'to beware of enterprises that require new clothes' as a justification for encouraging his colleagues to 'be doubly cautious of those who drape themselves in the flag.'  He went on to describe a Signorelli fresco of the apocalypse in which Christ and the Antichrist are painted to look remarkably similar.  During these (last) days, Scholes cautioned by zany extrapolation, we must be especially wary of 'master[s] of spin,' particularly those who attempt to restrict academic freedoms 'in the name of "patriotism" (as in the Patriot Act).'  Erudite extremism from such corners is not surprising.  But a more recent outgrowth of the American academy’s radicalization, particularly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, is the blunt pride and self-valorized defiance with which many prominent humanities scholars such as Scholes now position themselves, their scholarship, and American literature itself against 'patriotism,' the national community, and traditional cultural consensus.  In conservative circles, the politicization of literature is frequently lamented and ascribed, with ample reason today, to puffed-up leftist academics.  And yet, as will be argued, great American literature entered the modern culture wars with the politically charged, unambiguously conservative rise to national preeminence of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, a novel that became an important component of post-World War II patriotism, Cold War intellectual politics, and even the early neoconservative movement.

Woody Allen's Zelig famously became a chameleonic all things to all men rather than admit that he had not read or finished Moby-Dick.  Boyagoda's essay suggests (without mentioning the character) that Zelig in his shape-shifting was merely emulating the novel that had defeated him.  In Moby-Dick, everything is (in Polonius' phrase) "very like a whale," and the Whale is very like whatever the reader wants to find in it.   

In Nevada-da-Vida, Baby

Coming Soon to a bardic cineplex near you: William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Vegas!

Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, two of Britain's greatest Shakespearean actors, are to star in a film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice set in modern-day Las Vegas.

The new £20 million movie will shift the action of the Bard's 1596 play from medieval Italy to the flamboyant Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino in the heart of the Nevada desert.

The new version will keep Shakespeare's dialogue but will unashamedly set the action on the resort's versions of the Rialto Bridge, St Marks Square and the Grand Canal. No attempt will be made to pass off the replica settings as the real Venice.

The project is Stewart's idea: he will be a producer and apparently intends to play Shylock.  McKellen would play the aforementioned Merchant, Antonio.  Other casting is not yet announced.  Presumably, there is no truth to the rumor that Paris Hilton will be signed to play Portia.  ("The quality of mercy?  That's so hot!")

In other Vegas-theatrical news, gaming baron Steve Wynn has let it be known that he will construct a theater at his Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino to provide a semi-permanent home for current Broadway hit Monty Python's Spamalot:

Casino magnate, Steve Wynn, has sealed a deal for an abridged version of the Python's hit song and dance to take up residence at his new Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino starting in 2007.

Spamalot will follow in the footsteps of two other highly-anticipated shows at the $2.7 billion luxury resort: Le Reve, a new water-based acrobatic extravaganza from the former creative director of Cirque du Soleil, and last year's Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q, which will open in the new Broadway theater Aug. 27.

According to the terms of the agreement, Spamalot will run for seven years at the Wynn Las Vegas.  If the show's a success, which seems a foregone conclusion, considering it's impossible to get tickets to the New York installment, the hotel-casino can exercise an option for an additional three years.

Per this report, the newly constructed venue will be called "The Spamalot Experience and Grail Theatre."  It seems to me, though, that Wynn could save himself some money on this project: instead of building an elaborate new theater from scratch for King Arthur & Co., he should just buy and renovate this place.

Not a Machine, Not a Bulletin: Just Soft

Although I have written about new music here, I do not on the face of things fit particularly well in to any of the demographic niches targeted by the typical upcoming band.  How likely is it, after all, that some lads with guitars are going to get together in the garage and say "I've got it: let's make music for insurance attorneys approaching 50 in Pasadena"?  A slim chance, that.  Playing against type and confounding expectations, I will insist that I enjoy discovering new music made by people young enough to be my own children every bit as much as I enjoy returning to the music of my youth and to the music of the decades and even centuries before that.

SoftbandimagelabelLast week, I received an e-mail message from Johnny (John Reineck) of the band called Soft, providing a link to some of the band's music and looking for a possible review and mention here.  This sort of thing happens to real "MP3 bloggers" all the time, but I am not one of those so it was a first for me.  I liked what I heard sufficiently well to pass it along.

Soft is based in New York City but boasts members from Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois and Connecticut.  "Basically," says Johnny, "we're trying to be as different as possible from what's happening in NYC - you'll notice that there are no Gang of Four or Joy Division references in our music . . . "   He is correct.  Other UK stylistic influences are not hard to spot, though, such as the deeper, non-single tracks on The Verve's Urban Hymns, and perhaps some Doves ca. Last Broadcast.  And of course, Soft music is not soft music.

To sample that music from the band's website, you will need to provide an e-mail address; the resulting confirmation includes a link to the download page.

I am partial to the two tracks below -- to which the band provided a link on the original e-mail, but which are currently hidden from ordinary traffic on the band's site.  Yes, friends, these are de facto Fool-ish Exclusives!  "Going Gold" has an appealing sort of Stone Roses/Verve-ish shambling swagger about it.  "Higher" would make a great driving-with-the-top-down song if it were actually on the radio, with just the right level of adrenaline energy for charging through the dog days of August -- not unlike the thwanging guitar chorus that opened "Yellow," back when it was briefly cool to like Coldplay -- a proper kick to the chorus and even some good old-fashioned reverse-tape tricks. 

For your consideration:


Recurrent Obsession Edition -- in which this Fool revisits, with fresh links, subjects that just keep ... pulling him ... back ... in ....

  • At The Morning News, Robert Birnbaum, with a little help from his dog Rosie, produces one of the best, widest-ranging (and longest) of the many recent interviews with Camille Paglia, who is still talking about poetry, the process that resulted in her recent hot pink Break Blow Burn, what's wrong with these kids today, academia, politics, shopping, "and, of course, Camille Paglia."  (Link via The Elegant Variation.)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman Lester Bangs recounts a waking dream:

    I had been there for a while, half-listening and half-daydreaming, when something odd happened: I starting thinking about something that didn't exist.  I was quite clearly recalling a conversation I'd had with Charles Mingus, the room we were in at the time and the things he'd said to me, except that I had in reality never been there and the conversation had never taken place.  I realized immediately that I was dreaming, though I had no memory of falling asleep and had in fact passed over into the dream state as if it were an unrippled extension of conscious reality. So I just lay there for a while, watching myself talk to Mingus while one-handed keyboard bobbins pinged placidly in the background.  Suddenly I was jolted out of all of it by the ringing phone.  I stumbled in disorientatedly to answer it, and hearing my voice the called asked: 'Lester, did I wake you?'

And so begins a long lost -- no longer lost, actually, but still unequivocally long -- Bangs essay based on extensive interviews with Brian Eno ca. 1979.   A must for Eno-philes, especially valuable for its insights into Eno's drift in to, and out of, Roxy Music and the nature of his longtime working relationship with Robert Fripp.  (Link via Coolfer.)

  • Alan Williamson of the *sixeyes music/MP3 weblog (mentioned just below) has begun contributing semiregular "Mercredi mixtape" entries to Torontoist.
  • Torontoist also recently reported the fascinating rumor that Montreal-based fans'-and-critics'-darlings, The Arcade Fire (whose album actually does live up to most of the attendant hyperbole) will soon tour as the backing band for David Bowie.  As good a reason as any to point yet again to George Hunka's Superfluities weblog, which reproduces a photo of a bearded Bowie ca. 1982 when he played the title role in a BBC production of Bertholt Brecht's first play, Baal.  (Bearded Bowie is slightly less rare, and arguably less disturbing, than Bearded Spock.)
  • [Speaking of Montreal: in proper New World French style, its citizens recommend to aspiring hipsters intrigued by the city's burgeoning music scene that they should, please, just go away.]
  • More from *sixeyes:  Alan has also just posted an item on the music of Jim White.  Chris, the noted dissertation procrastinator, also made mention of Mr. White about a month ago at escapegrace, pointing to the documentary, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, in which the singer takes (per the description at the film's site) "a thought-provoking road trip through the American South -- a world of Churches; prisons; coalmines; truckstops; juke joints; swamps; and mountains" and "reflects upon what it is about this baffling place that inspires musicians and writers, whilst at the same time working through his own preoccupations with his muse -- or, as he puts it, 'trying to find the gold tooth in God's crooked smile.'"

    I am quite partial to White's last two CDs -- he is the nearest thing you will find to a country artist on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label and exemplars from those two records are included in that *sixeyes post -- and have been meaning to write about him myself, but I have never gotten beyond the first sentence of a post.  If I ever do write it, it will begin something like this:

If Flannery O'Connor had a brother, and if Flannery O'Connor's brother had a band, then Flannery O'Connor's brother and his band would probably sound something like Jim White.

For now, though, that's all there is.