Category Archives: required reading.

your weekly cheap plug.

This week’s edition of Transit on Thursday (authored by yours truly, as usual) is now up at DCist. This week’s main talking point: are the Red Line’s morning rush hour trains scheduled too close together? (Hint: yes.)

Discuss over there.

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Filed under for the district., here - reality called., required reading.

five goals to erase five years of war.

“Don’t worry,” said Vehgu, smiling as he screwed a seat cushion to its frame and water ran down his face. “The rain will stop, and tomorrow the sun will shine. Drogba will play. And thanks to him, our country will reunite.”

What a fascinating article. Stop reading me and go immerse yourself in the framing of a five year struggle for peace, solved by the simplest of means – a football game between nations.

See? I told you.

There are so many wonderful things about this article. First, I must thank The Beautiful Game blog for even bringing this article to my attention (and keep up the good work – the future of American soccer depends on blogging, I’m pretty sure of it). I don’t usually read Vanity Fair and to have missed this would have been a shame. I’ll tackle the immensity of this piece in two ways: from a soccer perspective and a writing lens, because it’s superb in both arenas.

Initially, I was attracted to this article through my (mostly ridiculous) rivalry with the admittedly formidable striker from the Ivory Coast, the aforementioned Didier Drogba. Drogba ripped the twine an absurd number of times (I want to say it borders on the thirties) in last year’s campaign – most notably the goal that defeated my beloved Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, crashing any hope for the Gunners to take silverware in an otherwise bland season. He is without question one of the best players in the world today.

But Drogba the player and Drogba the man are now two completely separate identities, to millions of Ivorians and now, sitting in Washington, D.C., me. He is little short of a messiah to the citizens of the Ivory Coast, where people “display their Drogbacité – their Drogba-ness.” But it is obvious that whereas the man of the hour David Beckham is as much a fashion model as he is a midfielder, Drogba is legitimately a man for all ages. His words,

“We, the Elephants, all we did was our duty as soccer players, our obligation as Ivorians. We wanted Ivorians to share our dream and see it realized—the return of peace to Ivory Coast. The most moving thing was the national anthem. All the stadium was singing and it was the first time that the two armed forces were together, face-to-face. That was the best moment of my last several weeks.”

portray a sense that the best is yet to come.

I’ll be honest. When scrolling Soccernet for scores, I tend to skim over ones that aren’t that personally interesting. I don’t think there are many people that don’t do this – we all skim stories in the paper because we don’t really care about them. I am sure that this 5-0 tie between Madagascar and the Ivory Coast was no different. But for Drogba, this moment of unification is only the next step, whereas for the remainder of the country, it is a godsend, a miracle delivered by a team in green. Drogba is not finished, and he intends to complete his mission of seeing a unified Ivory Coast with his feet and his words and his actions.

Now I know the magnitude; although why I doubted it for a moment is beyond me.

That inability to doubt is the greatness of this sport – there is such an inherent aesthetic in its components that it is impossible for the game to mean nothing. The players are sculpted from bronze, flying and sliding through the sky and turf, athletes of stature and class. The elements are embraced, not condemned as obstacles – be it snow, or rain, or immense heat, or wind. The green of the grass stains the whites of the players who pour their efforts into the dirty business of defense and guarding their goals. The creativity and agility of the strikers, speeding through the trunks of the opponents is a sight even for the most jaded of spectators. The goals, so precious, bring a jubilatory orgasm of the senses: crowds roaring, the scent of sweat and beer and release, the sight of colors celebrating the thrill of success, together.

So beautiful, it possesses the ability to cease war.

While I may root against him and his teammates in the upcoming campaign, I will always recall his guile and abilities after the match for many years to come.

Mr. Drogba, thanks for reminding me of the beauty.

Now, from a writing standpoint.

So rarely, there are stories that can be told without any work. The writer needs only to allow the descriptions to be written, and get the hell out of the way. Aside from the contextual information that is necessary to explain his presence (i.e. his service in the Peace Corps that familiarized him with the Ivory Coast), Merrill does a fantastic job of getting the hell out of the way.

But that is not to say that he is unimportant – if anything, his understanding of the living relationship between the game, the people, the nation, and the future is the most important attribute of this story. I could tell that he felt it at this juncture:

I remember watching the World Cup when I was young and marveling at Diego Maradona and the furious passion of the players and fans. But it wasn’t until I saw kids playing soccer in my Peace Corps village—barefoot, on grassless fields, with anything that might roll or bounce a bit—that I began to understand…

It is difficult for us writers to keep ourselves completely out of the story (what can I say? We have big egos). All that aside however, this is really the only time that Merrill tosses in his own story, and it only makes it better. He cheers with the crowd, mixed together. A white man from New York who writes for a magazine that is 75% fashion spreads, supposedly unbiased, cannot help but cheer on the movement of something so good.

Mr. Merrill, kudos to you – you left me wanting more, and more I will find.

I could go on, but since this post is already at three pages, I think I’ve staked my claim.

I think I’ll just go read it again.

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Filed under a big scary blogosphere!, futbol., here - reality called., required reading., sport., stories of the year.

some victory, but at what price?

(As a disclaimer: if you read Harry Potter and can keep your love to yourself – this post is not aimed so much at you as it is at those who pontificate the laurels of the series to any and all who’ll listen. And I promise that it’s not all gloating – there’s non-Aaron jerkness at the bottom of the post.)

Attention, all those that worship at the alter of Harry Potter.

I’m serving up a warm, hearty bowl of I Was Right Soup.

Read and weep, as your justification for why these books are even remotely relevant as anything other than a disposable pop culture artifact – equivalent to the boy band craze of the nineties, or everyone’s obsession with grey denim in the eighties – is flushed away.

But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.

Ah, sweet justice. The reason I hear over and over and over again as to why these books are important to society is that “they teach children that reading is fun/important/cool.”

Harry Potter does jack shit to incite children to read. And now, I’ve got the New York Times backing me. Who’s on your side?

But let’s not stop there! Motoko Rich, my new favorite reporter, take it away!

…researchers and educators say that the series, in the end, has not permanently tempted children to put down their Game Boys and curl up with a book instead.

Mmm, more please!

What parents and others hoped was that the phenomenal success of the Potter books would blunt these trends, perhaps even creating a generation of lifelong readers in their wake.

More on this later, but until then…

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of federal tests administered every few years to a sample of students in grades 4, 8 and 12, the percentage of kids who said they read for fun almost every day dropped from 43 percent in fourth grade to 19 percent in eighth grade in 1998, the year “Sorcerer’s Stone” was published in the United States. In 2005, when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth book, was published, the results were identical.

Well, I guess they really accomplished something by avoiding making the numbers slip, right?

Don’t take my word for it – ask Kara Havranek, a thirteen year old from Cleveland:

“I probably won’t read as much when Harry Potter is over,” she said.

So, anytime someone raises that argument that the Potter series has had some magical effect on literature appreciation in young people in this country, I’ll just pull this out and wave it in their face.

But while we’re on the topic, I will try to at least make an attempt at being constructive and give a suggestion to this actually sad story. If you really are interested in improving the culture of reading in this country, there’s a very simple solution: someone – you, me, everyone, and especially the parents of America – needs to get off their behind and give a child a piece of literature, instead of hoping that a pop-fad book will do the work for them. Just like parents need to stop educating their children with television and the internet, they need to stop praying that some wizard will come and do their jobs for them.

This on the same day that parents in Montgomery County are objecting to the teaching of To Kill A Mockingbird in public school, because of the usage of racial slurs. I guess if Harry Potter isn’t teaching kids right, we’re going to go to the public school system, right? Some parents, ugh.

I was right, and enjoyably so. Sadly, part of me wishes I was on the wrong side of this argument.

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Filed under for the district., here - reality called., i hate harry potter., required reading.

guerrilla advertising and you: a love story.

Here’s an interesting nugget from New York magazine contributor Bryant Urstadt on the new wave of advertising. It’s subversive creativity.

And Rapcat.

The feature reminds me of this essay I read  that claimed in the future, everything will be niche marketing to the max – if I recall correctly, the essayist (escaping me at the moment) predicted volatility in the “Latvian dyslexic transsexual” market. Urstadt seems to agree that this is the slope that advertisers are heading down.

…this amounts to the disappearance of a readily available mass audience. The Internet audience is far more fragmented, picking content in nearly random ways, and the barriers to creation have dropped as well. You could be a kid with a guitar or a team at a 12,000-person agency, and you have about the same chances of mass success on YouTube.

So to whom does Rapcat appeal?

I think the answer is everyone and no one, simulataneously, although it all depends whom you’re attempting to attract, and to what you’re attempting to attract them to. It seems as if the basis of this “new” marketing is to simply find publicity and attach your name to it – rather than attaching a name to publicity. (That is to say, creating a cultural phenomenon and then using it, rather than having a internal creation attempt to create that phenomenon. So, for example, Rapcat in a Checkers commercial, instead of Checker’s Rapcat, in a commercial.)

It does smack of non-creativity, though. Isn’t this just the same as someone leeching on to a band because one cool person likes it? Any residual benefits that the kid recieves from being associated with the popular person’s taste in the band is all well and good, but it isn’t as if he or she should recieve credit for having good taste. It’s the same with this, right? The initial firm that comes up with these ideas should be lauded for their creativity (just like the cool kid who first discovers the band), but the companies who simply attach their name should not be labeled risk-takers or groundbreakers, because they aren’t. They’re pretty much just posuers, taking credit for someone else’s actual intellectual work.

The threat to the traditional agency model, with a stable of “creatives” trained to provide print, radio, and television ads to a passive audience, is obvious. If you’re a big marketer, why would you hire an enormous staff at great expense when you could…swing by some cool shop in Soho. The little ad shops, in a way, are just glorified and more corporate-friendly versions of those geeks coming up with stuff in their bedrooms, and it turns out it’s a great way to make an ad.

Is this where it’s headed, then? That in fifty years, we’ll be unable to tell the difference between what is mindless entertainment and what is just another link in the chain to get us to notice some product?

These questions could be asked continuously, and don’t really have any answers.

So, I’ll stop before my head explodes.

I do love the Rapcat, though. Meow.

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Filed under required reading.

mid-afternoon roundup: 6.15.2007

scroogemoney.jpg

Yeah, I missed out on the roundup yesterday. Shockingly, there was work to be done at le gran think tank, and I was the man to do it. But today? Not as productive, although I did rip the pants off the third season DVD of Curb Your Enthusiasm (weekend viewing all set).

So, without further ado. Ahem.

  1. Inbetween roll calls and votes, House and Senate members bathe in cash. See McDuck, Scrooge. [WaPo]
  2. Phew, just in time – hot dog evaluations. But since the guidelines didn’t permit condiments, they all should have scored zero. Can’t eat a dog without ketchup and mustard, man. [Off The Broiler]
  3. Special BoingBoing “Stupid CEO” Edition: Record execs are a touchy bunch, no? [BB] Related: NBC says that people stealing season five of Seinfeld probably a bigger problem than aggravated robbery. No, really. [BB]
  4. Q: How do you hug a man? A: It’s called a handshake, moron. [Pogue’s Posts]
  5. Give us this day, our daily literature: Teddy Wayne on his relationship’s customer service line. [McSweeney’s]

Update: While you’re looking at Wayne’s piece – McSweeney’s apparently has hit some financial trouble, and are having what one could only call a firesale at their online store. Go buy things. I highly recommend Nick Hornby’s essay collection Housekeeping vs The Dirt, as well as The Better of McSweeney’s first ten issues. Both under ten dollars. So, go.

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Filed under mid-afternoon roundup., required reading.

bob barker, as you’ve never seen him.

Full disclosure: I subscribe to Esquire.

(Now that I’ve lost all legitimate claims to elite literacy, let’s move on.)

As part of this subscription, Esquire sends me an email every month or so to plug their website. It’s not a particularly good website. In fact, there’s nothing on the site itself that isn’t in the print version. The digital communications department at Esquire‘s New York headquarters likely consists of one man, taking the hot off the presses edition of the publication every month and copying the lines of text from every story. In essence, the Esquire website offers everything I pay for yearly for free; basically, it makes me feel like a jackass.

But every now and then, I suppose, it’s good for something, something that I miss in the two hours a month I spend reading Chuck Klosterman’s column and reading about clothes that I will a) never possess the means to purchase and b) never wear because they are ugly and I don’t have a 28 inch waist. Never the less, occasionally (read: once every three months, at best), I get something interesting that keeps me opening the email.

Well, today, we can start a new three month countdown, because of this:

I am still sexually active. Just not as active as I once was. I think Viagra does help. You should try it. It might surprise you. And your friend.

Bob Barker: What I’ve Learned

I mean, come on, he’s a vegetarian, too! How did I not know this?

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Filed under required reading.

mid-afternoon roundup: 6.11.2007

  1. Some D.C. public pools open this afternoon; on a related note, area hospitals gearing up for surge in hepatitis patients. [Washington City Paper]
  2. Arsenal has switched over to white away kits. Methinks they look pretty classy, but don’t expect to see me wearing one, because Tottenham sucks. [Arsenal.com]
  3. From one week ago, but an interesting read nonetheless: As much as The College Board would like you to believe it, the SAT is not the be-all-end-all when it comes to college admission. The Post’s Jay Matthews is on the online banter. [WaPo]
  4. Sopranos’ finale fallout. (Yeah, spoilers.) Positive. Negative. Watched the NBA Finals, because that’s what they pay me for. It’s alright, both programs sucked. [Check the Fien Print/Best Week Ever/Salon (subs req.)/Miami Sun Sentinel]
  5. Give us this day, our daily literature: Dave Eggers on childhood’s sweet summer imagination. Also includes references to “First Blood” and “The Karate Kid,” of course. [The New Yorker]

Thanks to flickr user pingnews.com for the shot of not-yet-fallen dominos.

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Filed under for the district., mid-afternoon roundup., required reading.