I Don't Get it 4

What do Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Charles Barkley, Ted Nugent and Hannah Montana have in common? All have done time in the "I Don't Get It" spotlight. And who is targeted this week -- in our last installment of 2007? Well, read on and see. And, as always, let me know your thoughts.

1. Blog Readability Test. I get a few e-mails off-line from readers who ask me questions like: "Dr. Distraction, is your blog affiliated with Yale, Harvard or Princeton?" "Sir, you are a wonderful man of arts and letters, I wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for the Nobel." "Sir, I have but three doctorates and have a hard time keeping up with the knowledge you disseminate." So, when I found the Blog Readability Test , I clicked on, expecting Distractions to be off the charts. What I found was this: Distractions has a readability level of (gasp!) Junior High School.

Junior High School?

This treasure trove of intelligentsia -- a junior high level? I checked my wife's wonderful blog Wild About Words. A great blog, but not a giant of academia like Distractions.

And she scored ....

College Level Undergrad.

Come on, have any of her posts sparked anyone to comment on Yeats? Just to feel better about myself, I decided to test it on my son's My Space Page -- the one that has a video of a monkey pooping. And he notched a rating of ...

High School.

I pledge from here on out to continue to cover the fine arts with the wit and creativity you've come to expect. And if I have to throw in some videos of monkeys pooping to improve my score, well I'm willing to do that.

Have a blog? A Web site? Try out the Readability Test and let me know how you scored -- especially if you scored lower than me. Thanks (I think) to The Long Cut (only Elementary Level) for the heads-up on the Blog Readability Test.

2. Wing Bowl on philly.com. I remember the Philadelphia Inquirer for its great writing, editorials and its once Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting. But its Web site has sunk to a new low with its coverage of the inane WIP Wing Bowl, including the video auditions for the Wingettes, which rivals for Howard Stern for low-brow entertainment. What an embarassment.

3. Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback. Near the end of his usually excellent column on CNN/SI.com, King lists his five MVP candidates (actually six, since the fifth spot was a tie). And guess who's not on the list? Brian Westbrook. Unthinkable, Mr. King. I'll give you Tom Brady and Randy Moss, but that you couldn't find room for this incredible talent who is having a season for the ages is just wrong. Maybe Mr. Coffee Nerd had to deal with a bad barista that day. But this snub shows the media's continued contempt for Philadelphia sports teams and their fans. (That's a long rant for another day).

Well, enough of my yakking. Am I off base? Should I have blasted Ted Nugent again this week? What's bugging you? Let me know your thoughts.

Playlist 6 -- Top Songs of 2007

A merry and peaceful holiday to all you Distractors out there!

I've had a wonderful holiday so far, visiting the world's greatest father (as well as the rest of my family). They were my main distractions this past week, so this week's Playlist will be a short one. As promised, it's the Distractions 20 Best Songs of the Year List. Also, please note our newest feature -- the weekly Wikipedia link.

In case you missed it, last week's Playlist included Distractions 10 Best Albums of the Year List.

And over the next week, we'll be back with another installment of I Don't Get It as well as the next Playlist, which will include the Distractions first annual book selections.

Distractions 20 Best Songs of 2007 ...

20. Ian Hunter -- When the World Was Round
19. White Stripes -- Icky Thump
18. Ryan Adams -- The Sun Also Sets
17. The New Pornographers -- My Rights Versus Yours
16. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings -- 100 Days, 100 Nights
15. Okkervil River -- Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
14. Birdie Busch -- Go Go Gadget Heart
13. Arcade Fire -- My Body is a Cage
12. Son Volt -- The Picture
11. Rilo Kiley -- Silver Lining
10. The Teeth -- Ball of a Dead Rat
9. Blitzen Trappen -- Murder Babe
8. Wilco -- You Are My Face
7. Arcade Fire -- Keep the Car Running
6. Bright Eyes -- Four Winds
5. Ryan Adams -- Two
4. Jens Lekman -- Your Arms Around Me
3. Feist -- 1, 2, 3, 4
2. Spoon -- The Underdog
1. Dr. Dog -- Alaska

Agree? Disagree? Did I miss something? Let me know what you think.


Playlist 5 -- Top 10 CDs, Bowl of Cherries, Christmas Ale

Beware: A long post this week. I'm off from work today recovering from getting a tooth pulled, which gave me plenty of time to bask in the Eagles win over those evil Cowboys and to put together this long Playlist, which kicks off with the inaugural Distractions 10 Best Albums of the Year List.

I love end-of-the-year lists. I particularly look forward to following the WXPN Countdown of Top 100 CDs online. It's too late now to make your picks, but you can check out The Long Cut to see his picks.

One of my favorite music/book blogs is the Largehearted Boy. The site is collecting a list of all the year-end music lists online. Hopefully, Largehearted Boy will add this to the growing list. (In the next few weeks, I'll be following with my list of top "songs" and "books.")

Distractions 10 Best Albums of 2007 ...

10 (tie). Spoon -- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; Trans Am -- Sex Change. I just couldn't leave either of these albums off the list, so I cheated. Spoon's latest pales in comparison to Gimme Fiction and at 36 minutes ends much too quickly, but it's filled with the usual angular, catchy tunes Britt Daniel can probably write in his sleep. I don't know much about Trans Am. They're a mostly electronic band that channels Rush as well as Gary Numan. And you'll find songs with huge Sabbath-like riffs. -- all with an indie-rock ethos. Are they paying homage or being sarcastic? I don't know, but I don't care. Sex Change rocks.

9. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists -- Living With the Living. Leo does it again, pounding out another set of catchy personal and political songs. He's growing on each album, too, but can still get downright loud on songs like Bomb.Repeat.Bomb.

8. Birdie Busch -- Penny Arcade. This album reminded me a little of last year's Jenny Lewis solo CD Rabbit Fur Coat, and not just because Busch's first song is Rabbit Foot. This is a quirky, honest, delicate and warm album. Where Lewis leaned a little to country, Busch is more folk. A very rewarding album from this Philly-based artist.

7. Bright Eyes -- Cassadaga. Conor Oberst follows up the classic I'm Wide Awake It's Morning with another winner, moving away from politics into the psychic world. Intelligent songwriting with great arrangements.

6. New Pornographers -- Challengers. Though it lacks the frenetic energy of the Pornographers' previous releases, the hooks and interesting layers are still there. A bit more dense. This is one of those "growers."

5. Ryan Adams -- Easy Tiger. See Playlist 1.

4. Okkervil River -- Stage Names. What a great collection of memorable songs. John Allyn Smith Sails (about the poet John Berryman) eventually evolves into Sloop John B., while Plus Ones name checks numerically titled songs such as 96 Tears and 99 Luftballoons. Great, fun and literate songs.

3. Arcade Fire -- Neon Bible. The album that I most anticipated this year did not disappoint. This is a band with a great future in front of it. Now if they'd only come to South Florida so I could see them live.

2. Dr. Dog -- We All Belong. A friend of mine who saw this Philly band in Orlando said they were a "mess," but what a glorious mess they are. This oddball, but highly talented, group put out an album that exceeded all my expectations from hearing Easy Beat. The great song Alaska has earned them comparisons to The Band. If you like excellent musicianship, fun songwriting, Beatles-based hooks and harmony, you'll love this as much as I did.

1. Wilco -- Sky Blue Sky. Jeff Tweedy continues to surprise. After the noise of the last two albums, he returns closer to his alt-country roots than at any point since the band's first album. These are mostly mellow, memorable songs made even better by Nels Cline's intense guitar work. I have no qualms saying they're the best rock band in America today.

Just about all of these great albums are available at eMusic.

The rest of this week's Playlist.

Calvin Trillin. About Alice. This is a touching book about Trillin's wife Alice, who had it all -- brains, beauty, compassion. And a battle with cancer. It's a short book, yet in those few pages Trillin painted such a complete picture of Alice that I feel like I knew her.

Millard Kaufman. Bowl of Cherries. There are so many reasons I've been eager to read this book. First of all, it's Mr. Kaufman's first book. And he's 90 years old! However, he's had an exciting career as a screenwriter (two-time Oscar nominee) and as co-creator of Mr. Magoo. And this book is published by McSweeney's. So far, through the first 75 or so pages, it has not disappointed. Click the link above to find out more about the book and Mr. Kaufman. And while you're there, check out the McSweeney's store. Great stuff.

Anchor Steam Christmas Ale. It went for $6.25 per bottle at Pizza Paridiso when I was in Georgetown. A little pricey, but well worth it. Perfect beer for cold weather. Goes down smooth and easy with a slight fruity taste. It's a full-bodied beer. For your beer afficionados out there, it's often compared to Jaeger.

Jens Lekman. A Postcard to Nina and Your Arms Around Me. If you're not turned off by Jens' very Morrissey-like voice, listen to the words of these songs. In Postcard, Jens befriends Nina, who asks him to pretend he's her boyfriend so her family doesn't find out that she's a lesbian. And Arms is a touching song that revolves around a partners' warm hug and a trip to a hospital because of an accident Jens suffers slicing an avocado. Great stuff. And yes, you can download both songs and the album Night Falls Over Kortedala at eMusic.

One or both of these songs may make it onto the top songs of 2007 list, which will be part of the next Playlist. So be sure to check back around next week.

Roger and Me. We finally pulled out Michael Moore's first film for our young teens. What can I say? It's only the second documentary (Super Size Me was the first) that they sat all the way through. And they didn't complain. The film made me laugh -- and made me angry, just as it had done the last time I saw it many years ago.

That's all for this week. Now, please tell me: What's on your Playlist? What are you listening to as you drive around doing the last-minute frenetic holiday shopping? What book is in your hands at night as you try to wind down from another crazy day?


I Don't Get it 3

Time for another edition of I Don't Get it, where I drop my positive vibes, if only for a day, and try to figure out what in the world is going on. Do you disagree with me? Then please leave a comment and let me know. Or let us all know what you "don't get."

1. Ted Nugent. It was never meant for me and Gonzos. I'm a liberal vegetarian who likes good music. The Motor City Madman has aversions to all three. But why Nugent now for the I Don't Get it list? The Nuge is such a huge idiot that he could help carry this feature for the next year. But what caught my eye this week was the cover for his upcoming album Love Grenade, which shows all the usual class and taste "Sweaty Teddy" is known for. I didn't want to post the photo on my site, but you can find it, along with some other disturbing images, in Pitchfork's list of the 20 worst album covers of the year. Quick side story: Many years ago, I and a friend of mine tried to make the phrase "Ted Nugent sucks" our standard casual greeting, like "hello" and "how are you." We brought it out at restaurants, record stores and other public places. Unfortunately, it didn't catch on. All we got was a lot stares.

2. Joey Vento. The owner of Geno's Steaks in Philly received national attention when he posted the sign below outside his, ahem, restaurant. The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations charged that Vento discriminated against non-English speakers. The media madness continued this past week when the six-hour hearing on the charges was held.

Here's the issue: Philly's immigrant population has reportedly doubled in the past decade. The Italian Market (home to Geno's and Pat's Steaks) isn't all-Italian anymore. Many of the new immigrants speak two languages, including English. If their English is good enough for them to make an order, let them order. It seems Mr. Vento's problem isn't just with those who don't know any English. He seems to have a distaste for those whose English "ain't as good as his is." It's a dumb business move, but more so it's mean and belligerent. Still, what I really don't get is the amount of support he's getting from the citizens of Philly, as shown in this recent poll by philly.com. Makes me pretty worried about the quality of the people in the city I once (and often, still do) call home.

One more thing: If you're heading to Philly and you must have a cheesesteak, here's my suggestion: Skip the Italian Market and go to Jim's Steaks on South Street. If you see me there, I'll be the one ordering the veggie sandwich.

3. E
agles apathy. All right, I'm keeping up my rant on Philly. Tomorrow is Birds and the Boys. Yet what I am reading and hearing is that fans just aren't excited. Come on guys, it's Dallas we're talking about here. The villians. The bad guys. And look, if you made it through the Marion Campbell and Rich Kotite eras, you've seen much much worse than what we're going through this season. The Eagles are not as bad as they seem. They'll need to make some critical moves in the offseason to improve at a few positions. But I really think the talent level between them and the 9-4 Giants is not that wide. Do I think the Eagles are going to win tommorow? Absolutely not. But I feel that way about most games. Yet, when 4:15 rolls around, I'm going by the TV set (thanks Sunday Ticket!) screaming, booing and cajoling the Eagles to victory. Are you looking for some hope? Iggles Blog gives you four reasons why the Eagles can win.

So now that we ended my weekly rant on a note of optimism. Just three more words to say.

Ted Nugent sucks.


Playlist 4 -- Doing D.C.

This week's Playlist is all about our nation's capital -- Washington, DC. (and, of course, the surrounding area). I've made more than a dozen trips to DC in the last few years for business, but never stopped to enjoy all the great town has to offer. After a couple snow-filled days of work, the wife came up and we had a great weekend.

I'm sure some of you out there have been to DC and have your own favorites. Let me know. And, as usual, feel free to chip in what what you're reading, watching, listening to, etc. this week.

As you'll see, we were just in awe after spending most of the day around the National Mall and the great monuments. But we're going to forever remember this trip for two things:

"It's like anarchy, but with Santas."
duck butts.

For more information, some excellent pictures and a story about which Supreme Court justice with whom we shared our flight back, skip on over to my wife's Web site Wild About Words.

In the meantime, here's this week's Playlist -- some highlights of our stay in DC.

Clyde's in Georgetown. We each had the same dish -- a rarity. The Butternut Squash Agnolotti -- dried cranberries, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, carmelized onion and a cream sauce. Delicious. And great atmosphere. And the waiters carried up to six plates along their arms.

Historical sites. We spent a lot of time walking Saturday, seeing the White House, a couple of The Smithsonian museums, where we saw the Hope Diamond and a great exhibit on Wildlife photography, and the Washington Monument. But I was just wowed by the World War II and Vietnam memorials. Very touching. And I was overwhelmed by the The Lincoln Memorial. I had no idea it would be so huge and inspiring.

Iota Club and Cafe. I really wanted to see some live music while we were there. I was hyped when I saw that the great political-punk group Ted Leo and Pharmacists were playing at the 9:30 Club. I've wanted to see the club and Leo for a while. But it was much more convenient for us to get to Iota in the Clarendon area (just two stops up on the Metro) and, boy was I glad. The Iota is a cool, intimate little club. After veggie wraps and the best french fries I've had in a long time, we moved from Iota's small cafe to the club next door. That's where we saw the incredibly fun and talented Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. The lead singer sounds like a cross between Neil Diamond and Tom Petty and looks like a combination of Frank Zappa and Salvador Dali. The band's set of psychadelic folk-rock was too short (because they were the early show, they were time-limited), but what they did play knocked us out, including covers of Syd Barret and Bob Dylan, and the rousing finale "Alice in Space" that Murphy said his mother called very "Mummers-like." Yep, he's originally a Philly guy.

Orpheus Records. This record store is mostly vinyl with a great selection of rock, jazz and much more.

Cosi. This is a great breakfast/lunch/coffee hangout. It's warm. The piped-in music is good. Great flat-bread bagels.

There is still so much that I'd like to see, but didn't get to, particularly Ford's Theatre and the American History museum, which were closed for renovations. And we did not get to the Holocaust Museum. It's a reason to go back.


I Don't Get it 2

For those of you who missed last week's edition, this is how this feature works: Basically, these are people, events, things that don't make much sense to me. Click on the link to get the full story, or in the case of the first item, a link to the podcast.

1. Charles Barkley. One of my favorite ex-Sixers is losing a round mound of his money gambling. And he doesn't seem to care. Barkley, who admittedly says a lot of stupid things, told Bob Costas on Now: "I love gambling. It's fun. It's exciting. I don't want to leave all the money to my free-loading family ... I want to be dead broke when I keel over." Not only stupid, but insensitive. Think of all the good things that Mr. Barkley could be doing with that money, instead of throwi
ng it all away.

2. Mitt Romney. I really am trying to keep politics out of this blog. Honestly. But I couldn't let this go. I'm not a Romney fan at all, but I've really been disappointed with all the anti-Mormon sentiment out there since he announced his candidacy. So I looked to last week's speech on religion with anticipation. Would he address the issue as JFK did 40 years ago, by stressing tolerance? Would he defend his own faith? What would he say to those evangelicals, some of whom view his religion as a cult? Mr. Romney said a lot of good things, but in the end his speech became simply a plea to those same evangelicals -- just another step in his effort to capture Iowa. A chance to put the discussion of freedom of -- and, just as importantly, from -- religion was lost. Mitt, you are no JFK.

3. Tasteless Christmas decorations. Look, I can get as tacky as the next person. In fact, tacky is good when you embrace it as tacky. But this holiday season, I keep seeing more unknowingly tacky or tasteless Christmas decorations. On my way to work, I saw a yard that has a traditional nativity scene that is bordered by two inflatable penguins. Their cluelessness amazes me. I live on a great block that goes all-out for Christmas and I commend those who take the time to make our street such a wonderland. It really is beautiful. But if you're like me and haven't put out the lights yet, I suggest that consider the energy you can save by not doing it, then taking the money you saved and buy something for someone who isn't as well-off as you.

Think of it as the anti-Barkley action.

What do you think about this week's rants? Agree? Disagree? What do you not get? Drop in a comment and let me know.


Playlist 3 -- 30 Rock, Marah, Lambchop ...

Week number three. Thank you all who took the time to drop a comment. Let me know what you guys are reading, listening to, playing or watching this week.

Here's what's been on my Playlist.

30 Rock. A great old friend asked in one of the comments how I have time for all these distractions. One reason is that, unlike most Americans, I don't watch much TV. (My wife may disagree, but it's true). I have only a couple regular TV shows I watch. And other than to catch up with news or sports, the TV is in the hands of our youngest. And I have to give a shout out this week to one of those few shows I watch -- 30 Rock. It's clever and laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan and the incredible Alec Baldwin. And it just keeps getting better. While most shows were on reruns last week, 30 Rock came through with a classic -- Cougars.

A.J. Jacobs. The Year of Living Biblically. See last week's Playlist.

Marah. This Philly band is a great rock story. They release an album locally that generates some buzz, including the interest of a well-known country rock star (Steve Earle) starting his own label. They release a great album, then get in a tiff with said country rock star. Just as they're near their apex, they head into the studio. They think they have some great songs and they get their hero (Bruce Springsteen) to record with them. The album is a disaster -- commercially and artistically. Their fans revolt. They break up. Despite half the key members moving out of the country, they stay in touch and eventually get back together. With the steady support of a couple well-known authors (Stephen King and Nick Hornby), they continue to build their reputation as a great rock band that kicks you know what live. Their story would make a great VH1 Behind the Music if only anybody knew who they were.

I, of course, dig their references to Philly streets -- South and Christian. And two Philly legends -- the late Hy Lit and Harry Kalas -- appeared on their early CDs. You can find some of their music on www.emusic.com. Check out the albums 20,000 Streets Under the Sky and Kids in Philly.

Lambchop. Nixon. This group (no relation to Shari Lewis) and its album (no reference, as far as I can tell, to our creepiest president) was also part of my soundtrack this week. They're supposedly a country band, but it's not what anyone would think of as country. It sounds like something you'd hear parents in the 70s listening to on an AM station. Yes, there's a country feel, but it's mostly soulful and mellow. Favorite tracks: Up With People, Nashville Parents, The Butcher Boy.

Seahawks 28, Eagles 24. Well, now we all know how to put an end to a quarterback controversy. Start A.J. Feeley. Feeley threw four picks, including the heartbreaker after Brian Westbrook singlehandedly brought us to the brink of victory with an amazing punt return. Well to the Seahawks and their fans, good luck and please beat the Cowboys and Giants if you meet them in the playoffs.

As for the Eagles, I know it may be time to start looking forward. But I'm not ready to give up on Donovan just yet. The injury bug scares me. But if he's healthy, I still think he's our best chance.

Am I stupid for sticking with #5? Let me know. And at least I'm not as stupid as New Jersey columnist Nick Fierro, who says the Eagles should think about trading Brian Westbrook. Mr. Fierro, you are now a finalist for next week's "I Don't Get It."

Madden '07 for the Wii. While on football, I have a quick update from our first Playlist. I've developed a passing game. The season has started. My son and I have taken over the NFC East, replacing the Redskins and the Eagles. He's the Philadelphia Liberty, led by quarterback Donovan McNabb. I'm the Northeast Philly Pretzels, led by QB Brett Favre. (Yes, we're hopeless). Four weeks into the season, the Pretzels are 4-0 and the Liberty are 3-1. The teams have yet to meet head up, but it looks like they're both the class of the NFC.
Here are the scores:
Week 1
Liberty 12, Vikings 7
Pretzels 28, Texans 7

Week 2
Pretzels 15, Giants 8
Cowboys 7, Liberty 0

Week 3
Liberty 21, Texans 15
Pretzels 21, 49ers 13

Week 4
Liberty 21, Jags 14
Pretzels 20, Packers 7

I Don't Get it

I want this to be a positive blog, but every once in a while, I need to share another type of distraction -- some of the things I just don't understand. Things like: Why do so many people care about that celebrity? Why did he do that? What was he thinking? Here are some things that I just don't get.

1. Hannah Montana. Hanna seems like a wholesome girl and that's a good thing. One look at the teen-age girls now tells you what a great role model Britney and Christina were. But I don't understand what's driving grown men and women to do grueling, stupid things and pay thousands of dollars just for concert tickets.

2. Rudy Giuliani. I'm not going to get into politics here, at least not yet. (I know a few of you vote for the bad guys.) Regardless of what you think of Mr. Giuliani's political skills, you can't really believe that he's one of the most likeable candidates? Heck, his grown children won't even talk to him.

3. Palm Beach Community College. I love animals and I think it's great that the college offers pet insurance to its employees. But how can it cover the insurance needs of frogs, then announce that it won't cover the domestic partners of full-time employees? And it wouldn't have cost the college a dime because it pays employee premiums only, not those of dependents. That's just mean-spirited and ludicrous.

Disagree with anything here? Do you get some of these things? Tell me why. Agree? Let me know. Or share something that you just don't get.

I'll be back with next week's Playlist in a few days.

Have a great weekend.