Max Raabe is the cat’s pajamas

palast orchester
Oh. My. God.

Just when I thought my love affair with the Internet might be ending, something comes along to rekindle the old magic, namelyMax Raabe & Palast Orchester. This German outfit specializes in twenties and thirties cabaret numbers but has also been covering current pop songs. Like Oops! I Did it Again by the one and only Britney Spears. I demand that you listen to it right now. Right. Now.

I could only find one US tour date–Sunday, November 21st in Atlanta, Georgia. If there are tickets available, I would seriously consider a roadtrip for this show. I’m not kidding. That is how much I love my new friend Max. Love. Him.

A special thanks to Trout Fishing in South-Central Wisconsin, which has mp3s of Oops! I Did it Again, along with several other Max Raabe tracks:

  • Mambo No. 5
  • We are the Champions
  • Let’s Talk About Sex
  • We Will Rock You.

Free Gumby

gumby in tree

The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz

The Paradox of Choice
Brother Dan S got me Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less for Christmas–proof that someone actually looks at my Amazon wishlist.

The Paradox of Choice, which falls somewhere between a self-help book and a psychology 101 text, claims that the abundance of options available to middle-class Americans is harmful, a counter-intuitive idea in a culture that values opportunities and freedom of choice.

From the book jacket:

Choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

Such a book could easily deteriorate into a gratuitous attack on the free market. Thankfully, Schwartz sticks to describing the negative effects of having too many choices and ends by providing tips for fighting these effects.

The chapter about missed opportunities resonated. A lot. Decision-making is hard because of our reluctance to consider the trade-offs between choices and our struggle with opportunity costs. Add the sheer volume of available alternatives, and decisions become even harder, resulting in this impasse (page 122-3):

[We] imagine alternatives that combine the attractive features of the ones that do exist. And to the extent that we engage our imaginations in this way, we will even less satisfied with the alternative that we end up choosing.

After making his case for the dangers of choice, Schwartz presents several antidotes. The most important point–one that he refers to throughout the book–is the difference between maximizers, who seek the best, and satisficers, their happier counterparts who are content with something “good enough.” This doesn’t mean that satisficers have low standards; they simply choose the first option that meets their criteria.

The Paradox of Choice is so clear and concise that I’m annoyed for not thinking of these ideas myself. Indeed, I was often nodding in recognition as Schwartz described the causes and effects of our ever-expanding array of options. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusion that self-imposed constraints lead to a happier life, the book provides a well-written and fascinating overview of decision-making psychology.

A final note for any maximizers who might be interested in buying this book: it’s available in paperback on January 18th, so hold out for a few days and get a better price.

Boss-across-the-hall update

Very happy news–Mrs. Boss-across-the-hall delivered a healthy baby boy over the weekend (their first child). Best wishes to all! And remember, boss-across-the-hall, that you are entitled to three months of leave.

Camera geeks on Saturday night in Fishtown

Camera geeks on Saturday night in Fishtown

Salvador Dali

Dali Venus di Milo drawers
Visiting the Salvador Dali retrospective at Philadelphia’s Museum of Art made me realize I don’t know much about this strange Spaniard.* I’m more of a Picasso woman, I guess, though thankfully my eyes and other body parts are located in the normal places.

We all know about the melting clocks and the lobster phones, but did you know that Dali dabbled in Cubism, created a rotating hologram of Alice Cooper’s brain, and was obsessed with a Millet painting in which he perceived a woman about to morph into a praying mantis and devour her husband?

Among other things.

One of the exhibit’s sculptures was a Venus dresser (complete with furry knobs). On Saturday night Clair, Special K, and I had a highbrow conversation about this piece, discussing items to put in the chest of drawers. Clair decided that he would put his car keys in Venus’s chest, while Special K opted for the remote control.

Dali might be my new role model. I’m considering embracing Dali’s Paranoiac Critical method and attempting to “systematize confusion and to thus help discredit completely the world of reality.” Dali might have been a raving lunatic, but that last sentence is a damn good mission statement.

*Scott was there too, but he is more worldly than I and already knew a lot about Dali.

Freedom press

broken French press
Behold, yet another reason to boycott all things French. French fries and French toast? Dangerous, artery-clogging cuisine. French wine? Too confusing, what with the labels written in French. But this. This so-called coffee making device is an appalling example of a country in decline. Observe the shoddy workmanship and lack of precision. Not only is this product defective, it is a consumer hazard.

And consider the larger picture. Perhaps this broken apparatus is not merely a simple defect. Perhaps it is part of a larger French plot to eliminate the enemy via glass shards and a lack of caffeine. So be vigilant: check your coffee, chuck your wine, and comb through your camembert.

Testicle Festival

While traveling, it is useful to track down local publications, which provide insight into a place’s character. Last week in Montana, I picked up a copy of Fish Fables, some kind of Whitefish newsletter, and the Independent, one of those invaluable liberal rags with weekly listings and arts reviews.

Fish Fables consists of weird factoids grouped into categories such as DidJaNo and Loony Laws. For example:

  • The first Harley Davidson motorcycle was built in 1903 and used a tomato can for a carburetor.
  • Beer was the first trademarked product (Bass Pale Ale).
  • You know you’ve had too much coffee when you want to be cremated just so you can spend eternity in a coffee can.
  • In New Jersey, it’s against the law to “frown” at a police officer, it’s illegal to sell ice cream after 6 PM unless the customer has a note from his doctor, and it’s illegal to slurp soup. I hope the lovely Jersey-based Soup Lady encourages her readers not to slurp.

The Independent is similar to Philly’s City Paper and has recommendations for events not to be missed. Last week’s hot pick? The annual Testicle Festival:

By whatever name you want to call them–rocky mountain oysters, Montana tendergroin, bulls jewels, cowboy caviar, swinging beef, animelles, or bollocks–just be sure to have a ball at the annual Testicle Festival happening this week at the Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton. Now in its 22nd year, the festival, often referred to as the Testy Festy, has grown to become the largest and most famous testicle festival in North America.

Citizens Bank Park vs PNC Park

Honus Wagner at PNC Park
Even though I had my doubts about Citizen’s Bank Park when it opened in 2004 and still suspect that subsidized sports arenas are not a good use of public resources, I’ve grown to love Philadelphia’s baseball stadium.

On Independence Day, the family had a chance to see the Phillies in another outstanding facility:  Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.  How do Pennsylvania’s Major League baseball stadiums compare?

PNC Park
Let’s start with location.  It’s hard to look at this view of Pittsburgh and not think that Philly missed a downtown and/or waterfront opportunity.  From almost everywhere in PNC Park, fans get a fantastic view of Pittsburgh’s skyline and many bridges.

PNC Park Riverwalk
The playground, the picnic area, and many of the concessions stands face the Allegheny River.  The Sixth Street Bridge (Roberto Clemente Bridge) closes to traffic on game days, and pedestrians can walk right across it and into the stadium.

My only complaint about the stadium itself is its lack of field views from the upper concourses, which of course is one of Citizens Bank Park’s triumphs.   Everything else is gorgeous.

I’m not familiar enough with Pittsburgh to comment on the bars and restaurants surrounding the ballpark, but at least there *are* bars and restaurants surrounding the ballpark.

However, Philly has an edge over Pittsburgh when it comes to food inside the stadium.  Disclaimer: I’m on the two-leg-or-less eating plan, so availability of vegetarian fare and poultry are important factors.

Primanti Brothers "cheesesteak"
My brother enjoyed his “cheesesteak” from Primanti Brothers, but the menu at their PNC Park outpost is limited.  No poultry.  Manny’s BBQ smelled delicious, but he doesn’t offer any turkey.  Score one for Philly’s Bull’s BBQ.

Outside of Primanti’s, Manny’s, and the stand serving Mrs. T’s pierogis, there didn’t seem to be many unique food options in Pittsburgh.  Nothing like CBP’s Campo’s, Planet Hoagie, Tony Luke’s, Bull’s BBQ, the Schmitter, and Chickie’s & Pete’s.  Aramark should consider replacing some of PNC Park’s Nacho Express stands with Polish church ladies cooking *real* pierogies.

Citizens at both ends of our fair state can be happy with their stadium beer selections, but unlike the Philadelphia fans, Pittsburgh folks will have to put their $7 suds on the floor because there are no cup holders in the cheap seats.  On the other hand, Philadelphia fans will pay twice as much for their tickets, so it’s  a trade-off.

Summary: Pittsburgh has a location and aesthetic edge, and Philly wins for food.   I give more weight to aesthetics, however, since you can work around food limitations by bringing your own or eating before the game.  Sorry, Citizen’s Bank Park—I love you, but we put you too far from our downtown and our waterfront.

The Great Pierogi Race at PNC Park

The Great Pierogi Race at PNC Park

Saturday night in Columbiana, Ohio

Saturday night in Columbiana, Ohio