The Next 30-Day Song Challenge

  1. A song you play solely to annoy your spouse
  2. A song you would want played at your disbarment hearing
  3. A song that makes you churlish
  4. A song that fills you with a nameless dread
  5. Your favorite sea-shanty or prison work song
  6. A song that comes to mind when you hear the word “concupiscent”
  7. Your favorite obscure song that you trot out to prove you were into a popular band way before anyone else
  8. A song you used to have as your answering machine greeting back in the Eighties
  9. A song that was forever ruined for you when you discovered your mother also liked it
  10. Your favorite song about architecture
  11. A song you would have wanted to hear in the last scene of The Sopranos other than “Don’t Stop Believing”
  12. A song you can no longer listen to after seeing its title tattooed on some douchebag’s arm in a sports bar
  13. Your favorite song by a band with three or more consecutive vowels in its name
  14. Your favorite song combining Phrygian modality with lyrics about fucking
  15. A bad song you were introduced to by someone who said, “it reminds me of you”
  16. A song you would like to take back in a time machine and play to Vlad the Impaler
  17. Your favorite song by a woman whom you suspect has some really hot piercings
  18. A song played by your cousin in his shitty bar band, the one that still plays “Sex on Fire” in every goddamn set
  19. A song you would use to corrupt a child
  20. Your favorite song by an artist who used to be cool before she had kids
  21. Your favorite song by an artist who used to be cool before he cut his hair
  22. A song you would sing to stave off madness while sealed in a sensory deprivation tank
  23. A song you would like to beat the shit out of someone to
  24. Your favorite song by an artist you dislike not for their music, but for their profound moral failings
  25. A song you would like to have the shit beaten out of you to
  26. A song you would play to clear a house infested with spiders
  27. A song that somehow sounds orange to you
  28. Your favorite song from a band you once pretended to like in an attempt to get laid
  29. A song you hated in your youth but which you have now come to like, and which now serves as a painful reminder of how adulthood has robbed you of everything that once made you vital and interesting
  30. A song you would like to freeze to death to

Truth and Beauty: Tender Is the Night

While traveling in Spain I finally read Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night. It seemed a nice “continental” choice for a trip to Europe.

I have a soft spot for Scott (whom I occasionally call by his first name). Raymond Chandler felt that Fitzgerald just missed being a great writer, and I can see his point: an awful lot of Fitzgerald’s work is either not quite formed (his first two novels, which honestly I have been so far unable to finish) or commercial and vaguely hacky (much of his short fiction, although many of his stories are beautiful and completely honest). Someone once said Fitzgerald is a writer best discovered when young, and as a no-longer-quite-young person, I think that’s true. He has a young person’s longing to be swept up and away, a young person’s ideals, a young person’s eagerness to admire — even to worship — and to mold himself in a beautiful and noble image.

Yet while I am no longer able to look at life quite as breathlessly as his characters do, I sympathize with, and even admire, their determination to live in a kind of refined and rarefied grace. I am nearly Fitzgerald’s age when he died, and I marvel at how strong his idealist streak remained through years that tried him severely. I can’t remember where I read it, but I recall he once described Tender Is the Night as a “testament of faith.” Partly it was simply faith in himself, in his ability to persevere while living with a mad wife, deepening debts and dwindling inspiration. And partly it was faith that the beautiful illusion was still worth cherishing, worth nurturing, worth bringing, however improbably, toward reality. Beauty is truth, as Keats said and Fitzgerald believed, and it’s no coincidence that a Keats verse inspired the novel’s title.

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Airport Security — Solved. (Badly)

Security at the airport is annoying for a panoply of reasons. It’s woefully inefficient, funneling hundreds of people into a narrow pipeline of security stations, which guarantees long delays, missed flights and tremendous irritation. It wildly overreacts to any new botched and half-assed terrorism attempt — is there anyone who truly feels safer knowing his fellow passengers have had their shoes x-rayed? And of course, there is the increasingly invasive searches and surveillance technology, conducted by a bureaucracy that has been allowed to run unchecked and increasingly amok.

We know all these reasons. But there is another reason why airport security is annoying that I think has been overlooked: the anticlimax. Security screening consists of a wait of anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours or more, during which you are forbidden from relieving the tension by joking about the one subject — terrorism — that is on the mind of literally every single person there, which is rather like being forced to wait in an elephant paddock without mentioning the elephant. This is followed by a mad shuffle to dump purses, jackets and laptops into trays, take off shoes and demonstrate that your shampoo and conditioner can’t be used to blow a hole in the fuselage of the plane. All of these things are really only the preamble to the personal screening, in which you either pass through a metal detector or stand in front of a scatter x-ray machine before being summarily waved through.

That’s it?

The reason that this process seems so onerous is that we get nothing out of it — that our time appears to have been frivolously and blatantly wasted. It is hard to think of any routine activity in which so much waiting delivers such little payoff. Therefore, one idea for making security more tolerable and thus, perhaps, more effective is to give people more for their money, as it were. I have a few ideas on this score.

Make the Screening Longer

Yes, this is an insane idea, but given that our present system is so massively inefficient, making it nominally more so in the interests of passenger satisfaction makes some sense. If passengers felt that TSA personnel were really making a big deal out of them — or, if you like, really taking them seriously as a potential threat — they would probably find the process more fair and more justified. My ideas for expanding the screening process:

Personal interviews. Every passenger has to submit to a brief, two- to five-minute interview. These would include standard questions about the traveler’s destination and purpose of visit. The screener would then have the option of exchanging small talk with the traveler, perhaps comparing pictures of grandchildren and such, or of engaging them on the subjects of politics, economics and current events. Screeners could draw upon a list of prepared questions that appear designed to elicit potentially dangerous or subversive views but whose answers would, in fact, be completely ignored, their only purpose being to permit the traveler to express him or herself and to let them know they are taken seriously.

Actors. Airport security suffers from an inherent problem: its successes are invisible. Nobody ever sees a terrorist plot foiled or a suspicious passenger with no carry-on baggage summarily hauled away for questioning. Thus, the common perception is that airport security is a fiction, a charade put on solely to deliver the illusion of safety rather than the thing itself. Well, perhaps it is — and if it is, let’s make it a good illusion. Scattered randomly throughout the day at every major airport should be actors whose sole purpose is to pose as passengers, be “unmasked” as potential terrorists and swarmed by security personnel and then arrested, in as showy a manner as possible. There should be variety: while suspicious travelers will nervously eye the Middle Eastern men, a young, pregnant white woman should suddenly rip open her coat to reveal that she is wired head to toe with explosives, screaming that she’ll blow herself, her unborn baby and all the rest of these goddamn people to kingdom come unless someone gets her ex-husband on the phone RIGHT MOTHERFUCKING NOW. There would then occur the most spectacular display of security prowess as a (carefully rehearsed) crack team of agents wrestle the woman to the ground, disarm her and drag her, howling and shrieking like a hyena on fire, to the nearest holding cell. An agent will then return to assure people that everything was under control and that all were safe. You know what would probably happen then? The whole room would spontaneously break into applause.

A lot could be done with this idea. The TSA could stage foot chases, martial arts battles of a dozen or more combatants, and even mock shootings. You would walk through an airport en route to a flight knowing full well that anyone around was capable of doing literally anything. I don’t think this would make people terribly afraid, but it would make them more alert, and enforce the principle that security procedures are there for a reason.

Of course, these ideas only make a flawed system more tolerable, while actually increasing its cost and inefficiency. So, in the interest of a constructive debate, here are actual suggestions for improving airport security.

TSA On the Go

Have you ever been to an Apple store and noticed there are no cashier lines? Instead, hipsters in black t-shirts and carrying portable credit card readers roam the floor and conduct transactions on the spot, wherever you happen to be. This is how airport security should work. Rather than a thin, urethra-like line feeding a paltry security station, the screening area should be vast and open, with TSA screeners equipped with the latest metal detector wands and other portable scanning gear. They would proactively find travelers in the crowd, quickly check them over (no one’s taking off their fucking shoes, thank you very much) and issue them a signed and dated stamp indicating that they have cleared security and may enter the terminal. No one could board a plane without that stamp, and anyone failing the brief security sweep would be led to a more thorough station — in fact, the same station to which we foolishly submit every traveler today.

Appointments

Taking the Apple store menu even further, why not be able to make an appointment with a TSA screener? I don’t think this would be as efficient as the previous suggestion — waiting rooms always run late — but it couldn’t help but improve the current situation, and people would be in a better mood if they knew that a time and place had been set aside for them. And in fact, there’s nothing to say you couldn’t combine this suggestion with the previous one. Make the security experience more like the Apple store is basically the takeaway here.

You know, on second thought, I’d really rather have the actors.

The iPad and the Dog that Didn’t Bark. (And the Dog that Barked too Soon.)

The product Apple revealed yesterday was largely what most people expected. Called the iPad (well, that name probably wasn’t expected), it is slim and elegant, engineered with meticulous care to do a few things well: deliver the internet, display movies and photographs, play music and serve as an electronic reading device. The latter capability was revealed about halfway through Steve Jobs’ launch presentation, not quite an afterthought but lacking the marquee position of an A-list feature. As Jobs remarked several years ago when dismissing Amazon’s Kindle, people don’t read anymore; certainly they don’t buy books the way they buy music, movies and TV shows. Perhaps this justified the middling prominence of the iBooks application and its accompanying online bookstore, which aims (like the Kindle) to do for reading what iTunes and the iPod have done for music. And perhaps that explains why one of the day’s most significant announcements was made as little more than an aside. “We are also,” said Jobs, not sounding very excited, “very excited about textbooks as well.”

Perhaps Jobs soft-pedaled this announcement because he knew it wasn’t a surprise at all. The night before the iPad launch, McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw spilled many of Steve Jobs’ beans in an interview with CNBC, breezily confirming that Apple was announcing a tablet computer running the iPhone OS, for which McGraw-Hill was collaborating with Apple to provide educational content. It might not appear entirely out of character for Jobs to lop McGraw-Hill out of his presentation, provided it had ever been included — Jobs famously dropped graphics chip vendor ATI from a keynote when they revealed upcoming Mac models before he could. And it prompts a mordant chuckle to imagine the look on Jobs’ face as he watched McGraw blithely steal his thunder. But I give Jobs the benefit of the doubt. It is likely that Apple’s negotiations with textbook publishers are still in progress, and that Apple will formally tout the iPad as an education tool at a later date. Because this arrangement is a very big deal — one that could potentially have a huge impact on both parties.

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Tasting Notes of the Fall Meeting of the Northwest Illinois Scotch Whisky Society

Glen Brae 9 Year-Old

A peaty, smoky, slightly caramel nose gives way to discordant tones of apple, clove, cedar, and introspection. While some of the members present were delighted by its lightness and busy frivolity, your Secretary found it a disquieting dram, apt to give one thoughts of licking an exposed chair in a bus station, or happening upon a nude self-portrait one had no memory of ever taking.

Redpinnock 15 Year Diabolic Reserve

This notorious Speyside malt rarely makes its way overseas, and the Society was truly privileged to be able to sample it this summer. Does this whisky — distilled in casks lined with human skulls, tended to perfection by a master distiller who is rumored to be over 200 years old and completely mad — live up to its reputation? And how! A nose of peat, gravel, rainwater and bone scarcely prepares you for an explosive palette of oak, cherry, blood and iron, leveling off with a strong note of human fear. I don’t mind revealing that this whisky had an extraordinary effect on those in attendance: Mr. Rossini found himself reliving a harrowing childhood incident involving his Boy Scout troop, while Ms. Kreisler began to spontaneously recite what the members eventually identified as the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Dream of the Rood,” a work she claims to have neither read nor heard of before.

Drumnadrochit Single-Cask 12 Year-Old

Despite some tantalizing rumors from our brother chapter across the pond, this is not a whisky at all, but an expression of untempered seawater larded with plant detritus and industrial refuse and allowed to mature, if that is the word, in a “cask” formerly used in the recycling of diesel oil. Further examination determined that the label was printed on an ordinary desktop printer, and that the signature it bore gave a clue to its true provenance. We salute the members of our Edinburgh chapter for another hearty jest at our expense. Such members, being devoid of ordinary human feeling, will no doubt delight to hear that Mr. Evans became violently ill after sampling this libation and was later found to have ingested a nearly invisible plastic filament that became entangled in his lower intestine. We wish Mr. Evans a speedy recovery and hope he is discharged from the hospital in time for next season’s tasting. We wish our Edinburgh brothers and sisters slow, lingering deaths.

Weesleekit Cask Strength (No age statement)

This unassumingly named, and now exceedingly rare, Eastern Highland malt packs quite a “wallop” — as the whisky world learned to its horror last spring, when a stray spark in the bottling plant set off an explosion that demolished more than half of the distillery and claimed dozens of lives. It will be the better part of a decade before the distillery is rebuilt and once again bottling; until that day, savor every drop of this pale, bold, exceedingly powerful dram. A nose of smoke, butane and lots of alcohol sets the stage for a taste that makes up for its complete lack of subtlety with a memorable attack across the palate. As this whisky numbs the tongue within seconds and renders all but the hardiest connoisseurs insensate with drunkenness, it made an ideal conclusion for the evening, which soon gave way to an exuberant revelry rarely to be found at our gatherings. Those photos of the event suitable for public viewing may be found posted to the Society’s website.

Hannoch 18 year-old; Glen Skye Masters Choice 14-year Reserve; Bogmannon Sherry Oak 10 year-old; Windex cleaning solvent (no age statement); Diet Rite Cola (canned September 2009); Dasani bottled water (expires February 2012)

Empty bottles of the above libations were discovered in the morning following the members’ enjoyment of the Weesleekit Cask Strength; however, as no member can recall consuming them, a report on their merits will have to wait for a future tasting.

Tambourine Satisfaction

I could have written “Satisfaction,” but you cats couldn’t have written “Tambourine Man.”
– Bob Dylan, to Keith Richards (allegedly)

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
By Bob Dylan

Driving my broke-down ambulance down Highway 9
Johnny with a bullet wound strapped in behind
The preacher on the radio asked me for the time
And directions to your carnival attraction

The newspaper reporter came down from Bootblack Hill
Said “How’m I supposed to tell any of these Jacks from Jill?”
Then passed me an empty jug and said “Buddy, drink your fill;
Before I have to go and file this retraction”

Oh, I can’t get no satisfaction
No I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try to get you to sign up for any kind of reaction
Oh I just can’t get no satisfaction

When you poured the wine and said “Let me get this right
And tell me how that shirt you’re wearin’ could be so white”
And I told you every shirt’s the same color at night
And you turned so fast I couldn’t see your reaction

Nancy on the shore bidding her sailor goodbye
Came back home to find no one had ever told her why
A sailor would just as soon kick dirt in your eye
As he ever would confess his attraction

I can’t get no satisfaction
I just can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try to get you to sign up for any kind of reaction
Oh I just can’t get no satisfaction

The regimental chief on his way back to the ball
Talked me into giving up my peg and my awl
Gave me a card that said “For a good time, call”
Then ran off to join the rest of his faction

We were throwing dice with a nine-toed freak
Who explained he’d need to see me later that week
“You see, Bob,” he said, “I’m on a losing streak
And the judge, he sent me down for another infraction”

Yes, I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
Because I try and I try to get you to sign up for any kind of reaction
Oh I just can’t get no satisfaction

I woke up in the parlor of Widow Casey Jones
Who gave me a blanket for my back and whiskey for my bones
Took my biscuit roller and traded it for a bag of precious stones
Then went to visit the minister, all laid up in traction

I went to the Union Hall to redeem my ball and chain
And sign the papers to keep you out of the rain
I hung my coat above a portrait of Calamity Jane
And headed out to join the chain reaction

Oh, I can’t get no satisfaction
No I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try to to get you to sign on the dotted line
For any kind of reaction
Oh I just can’t get no satisfaction

***

Mr. Tambourine Man
By Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Let the chips fall where they may, my dear
Because I can go all night
The reason is a friend of mine
Standing there beneath the light

He’s a gentleman of grace and class
And blood beneath his nails
He reads the secrets scratched upon
Your scabby needle trail

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
Shake that wheel for me
I’m not sleeping, and there ain’t no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
Cop a feel with me
In the haze of a drum-skin morning
I’ll keep it tight with you

You strolled in here, a bitch in heat
With Leather Jackie on your arm
And you ditched him in thirty seconds flat
Before he kept you safe from harm

You came aboard the swirling ship
A tar eager to please
Your hands too numb to grasp the rope
That kept you on your knees

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
Shake that wheel for me
I’m not sleeping, and there ain’t no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
Dance this reel with me
In the haze of a drum-skin morning
I’ll keep it tight with you

You’re ready to go anywhere
You’re willing to be lead
They way you lead those ragged clowns
By their tiny little heads

So stand up tall, my wilted rose
For a gentleman with flair
He’ll blow the leaves right off your bed
And leave a smoke ring in the air

He’ll take the diamonds from your sky
And set them on your dainty wrist
Your weariness becomes his mill
Your love will be the grist

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
Shake that wheel for me
I’m not sleeping, and there ain’t no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man
Crack a seal with me
In the haze of a drum-skin morning
I’ll make it right with you