don’t let the bedbugs bite

One more entry in the People Named Josh Benton Who Are Not Me Dept.:

After waking up one night in sheets teeming with tiny bugs, Josh Benton couldn’t sleep for months and kept a flashlight and can of Raid with him in bed.

“We were afraid to even tell people about it at first,” Benton said of the bedbugs in his home. “It feels like maybe some way your living is encouraging this, that you’re living in a bad neighborhood or have a dirty apartment.”

Absent from the U.S. for so long that some thought they were a myth, bedbugs are back. Entomologists and pest control professionals are reporting a dramatic increase in infestations throughout the country, and no one knows exactly why.

Although, you know, I have been having trouble sleeping lately.
If you’re among the 34,927 people who’ve emailed me that story today, yes, I’ve seen it.

tough taks story

Had a strange story-like substance on the front page today:

How’s your geometry? Here’s a test: What equation represents the area of the shaded rectangle located inside this cube? Almost six out of 10 Texas high school students missed that question on the TAKS test this spring. Inside are the eight toughest questions on the toughest TAKS test. Can you outsmart an average 17-year-old?

Now with an interactive test!

MP3 Monday: August 7, 2006

I was surprised — nah, shocked — when I searched the archives and found I had never even mentioned this week’s MP3 Monday focus, the great Les McCann. In the last six months, he’s been in pretty constant rotation at Chez Crabwalk.
As always, the MP3s will be up for one week, so be quick with your downloading.
Compared to What” (live) by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. From the album Swiss Movement (1969).
Les McCann is a jazz pianist. He was pretty traditional in his early years, through the mid-1960s, but with time his music became more soulful, a little funkier, and a little “poppier.” Or, more accurately, more populist. (In other words, what would come to be known as soul-jazz.)
He started emphasizing his gruff voice more often, and in the early 1970s, added more clavinet and Moog-style keyboards. The result was a sound that took a lot from jazz fusion, but didn’t require the intellectual overhead that guys like Miles Davis were at the time.
I first heard of Les when I heard a track of his on KEXP. It sounded interesting, so I threw one of his albums of my wish list tried to remember to search him out sometime. Of course, I forgot.
But a couple years later, I bought a copy of Soul to Soul, a film of ’60s black American musicians playing a concert in Ghana; Les was one of the musicians, and my memory was triggered.
“Compared to What” was Les’ first big hit — both the single and the album went platinum. Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 with his regular collaborator Eddie Harris, it was of the moment — particularly the anti-Nixon lyrics. (“The President, he’s got his war / Folks don’t know just what it’s for / Nobody gives us rhyme or reason / Have one doubt, they call it treason.”) It opens with some spare modal piano that sounds almost Bill Evans-y, but after a minute or so seems to shrug off the pretense and accept itself as a groovy pop song. It’s head-bopping joy from there on.
Price You Gotta Pay To Be Free” (live) by Les McCann. From the album Live at Montreux (1972).
Perhaps my favorite Les track, and the perfect example of his merger of jazz with more popular styles. (Although Nixon fans will again be disappointed.) Sounds a bit like what Stevie Wonder might have been playing circa 1972 had he been about 20 years older. The song was written by a teenager named Nat Adderley Jr., the nephew of the great Cannonball Adderley. Cannonball recorded his own version, now sadly out of print. (Nota bene: While Swiss Movement was also recorded at Montreux, this is from a different date four years later, when Les was a little more funky and a little more electric.)
What’s Going On” and “Shamading” by Les McCann. Both from the album Talk To The People (1972).
Talk To The People is probably his best studio album, I’d say — it came out shortly before the aforementioned Montreux live album, so a lot of the tracks are duplicated. “Shamading” is an upbeat funk number, with that great clavinet sound; it was on record-store shelves at the same time as Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, and both guys were hitting similar territory. (Man, whatever happened to the clavinet? I have trouble thinking of a song that wouldn’t be made better with a little clavinet. Screw “more cowbell.”)
“What’s Going On” is, of course, a cover of the Marvin Gaye classic — slower and looser. Les swaps out some of the anger for a sense of resignation. I love the way that he plays the lead-in to the chorus; when you finally hear the song’s title, it’s exultant.
There’s plenty of good Les to listen to if you’re interested. Along with albums linked above, there’s Another Beginning, Comment, the more expansive Invitation to Openness, the strangely electronic Layers, and the (I think out-of-print) Bucket of Grease and Les is More.

bill buford

Great piece in The Observer on Bill Buford, one of my favorite writers. His book Among The Thugs is one of my favorite pieces of ’90s nonfiction, and his refounding of Granta built a home for some of the best ’80s writers. Buford went on to be the fiction editor of The New Yorker, and his new book is about what pulled him away from that gig.
The author of the Observer piece is Tim Adams, a former Buford deputy at Granta. He wrote one of the better essays in the recent The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, which featured some promising big-name writers (Binyavanga Wainaina, Franklin Foer, James Surowiecki, Jorge Castaneda, Nick Hornby, the obligatory Dave Eggers) but ended up being a bit disappointing. (And that’s beyond the grating condescension of the title.)

john hodgman, demetri martin, and me

It’s very funny to me that Microsoft has apparently hired Demetri Martin to be part of an upcoming marketing campaign. You see, the hiring of Demetri (a correspondent for The Daily Show) follows Apple’s hiring of John Hodgman to represent Windows in their recent “I’m a Mac,” “I’m a PC” commercials. And John Hodgman is, of course, himself a Daily Show correspondent.
But the amusing part to me is that I went to college with both John and Demetri. Not just the same university (Yale) — but the same undergraduate residential college (Calhoun College). Calhoun has, in any given year, about 400 students. It’s strange to think that both John and Demetri — independently selected by rival corporations to represent the same operating system after serving as non-traditional correspondents on the same late-night satirical news program — probably lived down the hall from one another.
(For the record, John was a senior when I was a freshman; Demetri was a junior. I have no memory of John, but I sort of knew Demetri — we were both history majors, so we took some classes together. Still, we’re talking maybe one or two conversations, tops.)
Unsupportable Claim Of The Day: The Daily Show, through its prominent use of Yale grads, is an overt attempt by the university to counterbalance the dominant role that Harvard graduates have traditionally had on televised comedy.
Demetri on Yale: “Take the alumni magazine, if you look in the back and see the class notes of everyone who’s still alive, it’s poetic — you can really see the trajectory of everyone’s lives. ‘So and so is just starting an international relations program at Georgetown,’ that kind of thing. When you’re first out, you’re trying to find yourself, then a few years later, everyone’s announcing their marriages and kids, and then you go back to class of ’60 or something and some guy just bought the St. Louis Cardinals. When you move back even farther, then it’s just about who’s alive and I guess a little before that, grandchildren, family.”
John on Yale: “I for one was certainly intimidated, as I had attended an experimental ‘alternative’ high school program which had many good points, but focused less on the classics of English and American Literature and more on reading One Hundred Years of Solitude as many times as possible. You would think this would at least give me a grounding in what the word ‘chthonic’ meant. But in truth, the first time one of my well-trained classmates spoke that word my brain exploded in fear. Luckily, I knew if I made it, Geo. HW Bush would be handing me 100 bars of gold at graduation with ‘Skull and Bones’ stamped on them, so I took some comfort in knowing I would always be provided for.”