Music Recommendations!

Perhaps you are lying there thinking, “Gee, I enjoy Sigur Ros, especially agaetis byrjun,  but I want that Sigur Ros sound with a more prog-rock edge and less Hopelandish.” If you are that person I offer to you a band called Mogwai from Glasgow and their extremely excellent album, Mr. Beast. Guitar, Bass, Drum, Piano and Computers! They sound marvelous. The sound is richly detailed and multi-layered and the album goes from alternative to metal to that sort of sweeping soundscape. As a taste, you can watch the video for “A Friend of the Night” from Mr. Beast on the Youtubes. Get thee hence and make with the clicky-clicky. I am completely hooked on this album. You should be, too.

If, for some reason, you have never listened to or heard of Sigur Ros, Youtube hosts full channels dedicated to Hopelandish. Search for them on Youtube and click on pretty much anything.

In a completely different vein that sounds nothing like Sigur Ros or Mogwai, I saw that Since I Left You by the Avalanches has been starting to appear quietly and sheepishly on “Best Of” album lists and this made my heart grow three sizes bigger. If you have never heard Frontier Psychiatrist or listened to the other fine and excellent tracks off Since I Left You, you can watch the video on the Youtubes as well. Yes! A Frontier Psychiatrist VIDEO! GASP! It’s an album that richly deserves to be on the best-of lists.

Great Books

The beginning to this line of thinking starts off in the murky past and bubbles to the surface every once in a while. The latest bubble to surface was after reading David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky,” read only by the intersection of people who enjoy David Foster Wallace’s essays and Dostoevsky, ie: me. While the essay is largely a rant about the insistence of ripping Dostoevsky’s novels out of their place and time and context to “analyze” them properly, I was struck by a part of the argument which shined light on the instinctual fear and trembling when faced with a book emblazoned with the horrible moniker CLASSIC.

CLASSIC is novel death: if the novel a classic, it sits on a shelf in pristine condition, unopened, unloved, and dusty until the end of time. CLASSIC means boring. CLASSIC means slow and ponderous and dull. Never mind that without Crime and Punishment no CSI would run in a thousand time slots across cable a night, or that the book is the original Crime and Procedural Drama; never mind that Crime and Punishment is eminently readable and enjoyable and Dostoevsky is an excellent and fast read; it is *CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and thus it is DEAD ON ARRIVAL.

I blame the teaching method of the novel in high school settings. A CLASSIC novel is “good for you” the same way lima beans are theoretically good for you (I disbelieve this notion). The CLASSIC is foisted upon the unsuspecting the student. “We are READING the NOVEL,” the teacher says. “There will be… A TEST.” The student muddles through the difficult and impenetrable text as if heading through a dense jungle with a dull knife with nothing more than double-spaced typed essays and exams to discover on the other side. Worse, the exam is about themes, themes which may not even be there, themes about stuff, themes themes themes. Themes completely divorced from the time period and events the author experienced. Read the book, do the essays, choke down the lima beans, cough up the words, extract no joy from the novel or the reading experience. Classic novels are not about literature as joy or discovery or experience or history — Classic novels are about WORK and ANALYSIS. Figure it out or fail the class! Must! Read! Book!

No wonder adults take pains to avoid the classic works. Nevermind that classic books are CLASSIC because they are the froth on the pond scum of the book market. These are the books who survive into multiple reprintings through popularity and name recognition. Nevermind that some very popular favorite books today will one day be considered classics and foisted upon unsuspecting high school students to “analyze” with sad little three page, double-spaced essays and no mention of our history. (Cormac McCarthy’s books anyone?) Nevermind that many of these CLASSIC novels were once bestselling mass market genre novels themselves. They are CLASSIC, and thus, they are toxic.

The hold on the imagination is difficult to break. The tensing up, the feeling of dread in the pit of the stomach, the worry about passing the class, the weird nightmares about final exams. My god, will this book be on the final exam? “What if I don’t like it?” you ask yourself. “Am I allowed to put it down? It’s a CLASSIC novel!” You bought it from Barnes and Noble. You’re stuck reading this thing. It’s supposed to be good! “What if I cannot flee?” you think. AIIIIEEEEE! The screams in the darkness! It’s a downward spiral from the book into depression and alcoholism and drugs and prostitution and appearing in a Darren Aronofsky movie and death because you picked up **Hemingway! The End! The End! The End!

I contend it’s all a bunch of crap. We teach the arts poorly in our schools and the novel worst of all. The novel is important and I rail against the insistence on draining the love from the experience. Read the books outside a classroom setting. Think of them as well-written genre novels. Put down the ones that don’t personally work and move on. Treat them like a paperback fantasy novel. I read Dostoevsky outside the context of the classroom. And Joyce. And Shakespeare. And F Scott Fitzgerald. And the poetry of D.H. Lawrence. And a dozen other classic works. I will argue that Gatsby has magnificent set pieces but no plot — and would fail a class, most certainly. But who cares? Read them! Read a book!

(Full disclosure: I refused to take literature classes in college after being branded ‘too stupid’ to take an AP English class in high school. Too stupid translates into ‘having my own opinions on books.’ Per my High School English teacher, I can neither read nor write in any language and I am too stupid to appreciate Shakespeare for what it is — sex romps and overwrought historical melodramas. Damn my insistence on enjoying a genre novel for what it is. And my neverending hatred for Old Man and the Sea.)

* I have read C&P, despite being told I am too dumb to read C&P. It always appears on my top 5 favorite books list.

** This is what happens when you read Hemingway, by the way. Medical fact.


Several years ago I went and got my eyes fried with lasers. I hated glasses and had worn contacts since the 7th grade. I spent some time in college with glasses but the moment I could ditch them I could, and the moment I had the cash in hand to get my eyes fried, I did.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience. I sifted through several different offices offering the procedure. I called the one that had a good reputation and was offering a promotional price. I made an appointment to get my eyes checked. The office was neat, clean and offered a state of the art pod coffee machine. Once I qualified for the procedure, I went and had it done. My eyes didn’t heal right the first time so the office gave me a second round of zaps at no charge. I have had 20/20 vision ever since. I am extremely pleased. I paid largely in cash and financed the rest.

LASIK is the great anomaly of the American Health Care system.

* The procedure, once extremely expensive, is now relatively reasonable because the price of the procedure has amortized over time.
* Prices are well-known and customers can shop based on reputation and price.
* LASIK treatment is subject to open, competitive market pressures.
* No insurers were called or consulted. No one was billed except the doctor to me.
* No insurers dictated which LASIK center I could go to, nor did they have to pre-approve the procedure.
* I paid in cash.

Like electronics, the price of LASIK has fallen and normalized. You can walk into the office, give them money, and get the procedure. It is subject to open market pressures. The pricing on LASIK works and the quality has skyrockted.

Let’s look at my current CT Scan. I have had real problems with my chest (left side) recently. The doctor ordered a CT scan because he was worried about what he saw on the X-Rays. Still is, in fact. However:

* I have no idea how much the CT scan cost but I’m sure I will be billed some random and obscene amount of money.
* The insurer would not allow me to get it at the time the doctor ordered the test.
* The doctor had to get on the phone and give justification to the insurer for ordering the test, causing me to wait 5 days.
* I was not allowed to go to the radiologist my doctor recommended and had a working relationship with.
* Instead I was sent to an office across town that was, to put it mildly, “hinky” and “filthy.” But it was either that or no test because the insurer demanded I see this other doctor.

Reality is this — save the interesting outliers like LASIK, US health care is not subject to market pressures, no one knows how much they actually pay for any of it, the prices for procedures are just made up fictions, and because people (hospitals, doctors, specialists, etc) can make up whatever price they want, the prices for procedures are ridiculously expensive. Hey, if I could charge “a million billion bazillion dollars” for a 15 minute procedure, I would, too!

Anyone who claims that the system is a free market system is selling you something.

Take a look at this post on the WaPo about prices in the US health system. We flat-out spend too much money on health care because consumers are completely divorced from pricing systems. I wonder how much something as simple and straight forward as price discovery on procedures and making those prices public by region and state would change the game.

But of course all we’re talking about is health insurance when we should be talking about health care.


I am totally fascinated by the NY-23 mess of an election.

The Obama Administration took the Congressman from the NY-23 District (R) to be Secretary of the Army and left the seat open.  The New York Constitution sproing into effect and thus the NY-23 District (R) was forced to hold a special election. The GOP put up a regular GOP candidate (Scozzafava) who was on the county council and the Democrats put up a sacrificial lamb (Owens).  The District had gone Republican since pretty much the founding of the country so the election was put down as “Safe R” and we all moved on with our lives — ie, arguing if Chris Christie in the NJ-GOV race is fat or not.

And then the District got carpetbagged.

Scozzafava turned out to be everything the New New NEW John Birch Society does not want representing anyone in the US Congress: (1) female and (2) possibly having air between her and extreme right-wing views.  When Hoffman (Conservative Party — hates the fags, the blacks, the browns, the wimmins, Barack Obama, taxes and the Government except when the Government is giving him free money) showed up he brought the entire Clown Parade with him.  Now everyone — FOX News, Sarah “Tabloid Queen” Palin, idiots on Facebook, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty — all had something to say about that obscure NY-23rd District.

This guy, Dan Hoffman, isn’t from the NY-23rd District.  In an interview with a local paper, he complained that the questions were not provided before-hand (they were).  He has no idea what the local issues for the district he would be representing are and has admitted to not caring the slightest.  He’s being held up as the great head of a revolt against the “Party Establishment.” (Air quotes, air quotes!)  He’s not: Hoffman is bankrolled by the Establishment far more than Scozzafava ever was.  He is a twinkie: he looks like he has substance but in reality he is made of 100% Twinkie Food Product.

Scozzafava quit on Saturday after being tarred as being not “conservative enough” and endorsed the sacrificial lamb Democrat.  Likeliest that will happen: her supporters will just stay home and not vote because only crazy people vote in off-year special elections anyway, so if your candidate quits, why bother?  So one asks: does the Washington Carpetbagger Crew win or do they lose because people from small, quiet districts don’t like being used and write in Mickey Mouse?  We shall see.

And what the hell does an election in an obscure District in New York State mean?  Why does anyone care?  My guess: success here will shove the Neo-Bircher into even more “purity” purges in other districts in 2010 and push the right wing even more right and leave the last of the moderates out in the cold.  They may have some success in 2010 but it will be overturning Rs with Neo-Birchers, not tossing out Ds with Neo-Birchers. I don’t see too many D-R flops with this tactic.  The D in NY-23 never had the slightest chance to begin with, so there’s no contest here between the R and the D.  It was always the R and the Crazy, and Crazy won.

I am picking up the sticky but undeniable whiff of the Goldwater-Johnson Presidential Race of 1964.  Which, in the end is good for my guy.  I guess.  But I don’t relish living through that.