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May 17, 2010 02:36 PM

The first words on the page in the new Vertigo comic I, Zombie are "Eugene, Oregon." The setting is awfully familiar: Hello, Pioneer Cemetery! (To the best of my knowledge, until now, the only zombies roaming the cemetery have been those taking part in one of the zombie walks — or perhaps starring in a Henry Weintraub movie.)

I, Zombie takes its time getting to the messier part of its zombie heroine's existence. Writer Chris Roberson and illustrator (and Oregonian) Mike Allred spend most of the issue setting the scene: Gwen, who's slightly on the sarcastic and cranky side, works in an ecologically friendly graveyard and pals around with a ’60s ghost and a were-terrier. Elsewhere in town, a hot paintball ref has more than the game on her mind when she stops to chat up a lost fella in the woods, and a pair of detectives aren't just keeping their eyes out for misbehaving punk kids downtown.

Gwen looks a little off. Her skin tone doesn't match anyone else's, as is most apparent under the brighter lights of Dixie's Firehouse (another local landmark, renamed). The book's Oregonian palette is appropriately muted and, yes, of course it rains. It's the first issue. Precedent must be set. Allred's art is clean and readable, almost a little spare, but like the issue as a whole, it builds satisfyingly; Gwen's reveal (which isn't much of a reveal, given the name of the book), with rain pouring down into an open grave and an unpleasant meal in our heroine's hands, is set against a page that illustrates the divide in her life: Girl, zombie; self, other self; what she does and what it means.

I, Zombie is a speedy, easygoing intro to a new series; it's light on plot and feels like it's trying to be a little more quippily clever than it is. But the last few pages, as Roberson gets to the real crux of Gwen's complicated existence, have quite a bit of promise. Gwen has to eat one brain each month to keep from going "all mindless and shambling," as she explains — lack of brains is bad for a zombie lass's complexion — but there's a catch.

There's always a catch.

I, Zombie #1 came out May 5. It's a buck at your friendly local comics-purveying establishment.

May 14, 2010 04:02 PM

The New York Times writes today on how a city — "usually seen as an enclave of hippies, marijuana dispensaries and rock climbers — has become a hotbed of capitalism."

No, unfortunately, it's not Eugene, it's Boulder that's become a hot place for high-tech start ups. Could Eugene follow the model?

The NYT notes some key ingredients to success:

• Author Richard Florida's recipe for "talented people and a high quality of life that keeps them around, technological expertise, and an open-mindedness about new ways of doing things, which often comes from a strong counterculture."

• "the mix of money, universities, a high-tech talent pool and appealing lifestyle needed to hatch tech start-ups."

• "allows for lunch-break hikes"

• A University of Colorado "center makes sure that those veterans cross paths with young entrepreneurs. It hosts meet-ups, a campuswide business plan competition and a law clinic, where entrepreneurs get free legal help on things like intellectual property protection."

• "a three-month mentorship program that has taken place in an old gym in Boulder since 2007, has spurred the start-up community’s growth."

• "Several of them share space — tiny offices and a big common room, kitchen and deck — above Aji, a Latin American restaurant downtown."

Interesting. There's nothing about the big corporate tax breaks, chain stores, urban sprawl, big box retail, call centers, filling wetlands, bulldozing riverfront natural areas, reducing regulations, freeways or groveling for exportable factory jobs that has been and remains the focus of Eugene's failed economic development strategy. Maybe Eugene needs a stronger counterculture.

May 7, 2010 04:29 PM

This well-ordered and wisely chosen selection of shorts from Portland's Northwest Film and Video Festival is a promising overview of Northwest short film. Most of the selections are smart, spry and inventive — and a surprising number are animated, all in different styles and with wildly varying subject matter. "The Mouse That Soared," which opens the program, is a playful, vividly colored short that aspires to be one of the brief, wordless pieces that preface Pixar films. The animation is a little high-gloss, but the characters are charming. "Nature On Its Course" is exactly the opposite — a rough-hewn, interestingly textured short about a man, a mountain, a gun and an avalanche.

The dense, shifting imagery of "Endless Tunnel" and the succinct, amusingly dark "Stick" supply even more animated appeal. And then there's "Missed Aches," Joanna Priestly's animated vision of Taylor Mali's "The the impotence of proofreading," a poem about spellcheck, word choice and double entendres, which doubles its humor quotient about every 12 seconds. (The red pen is your friend, indeed.)

Among the live-action shorts, "Damian and Ende" is an appealingly atmospheric, gently mournful piece about the divulgent paths of two close friends. The two-minute "Eros" builds a lushly threatening mood via the careful preparation of an intensely decadent meal. As Rod McKuen narrates his poem "Eros," Sean Nelson (of Harvey Danger, and easily identifiable by his hair) slices, fries and grates a tableful of indulgence, then dips into the medicine cabinet before going out.

“Nous Deux Encore,” a 16-minute piece by Portland’s Heather Harlow, is an effectively pitched love story that tells its end first; using photos and voiceover, Harlow traces a romance that ended too soon. The short, though, feels as if it’s about to end several times before its actual ending, which makes it feel drawn-out.

“Don’t Worry, It’s a New Century” starts slowly, but builds up its idea of “idea recycling” through dryly delivered voiceover that comes from a fuzzy TV screen traveling Portland’s streets by car. Creating new ideas, the voice says, is bad for the environment. So why not just reuse others’ ideas, like, say, recreating a famous car chase with your bearded pals? Watching low-key dudes in nondescript modern cars intercut with scenes from Bullitt is funnier than you might expect.

The Best of the Northwest Film and Video Festival shows at 10:30 am Saturday, May 8, at DIVA. Festival director Bill Foster, filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt and Cinema Pacific director Richard Herskowitz will discuss festival programming following the screening. See cinemapacific.uoregon.edu for more.

May 5, 2010 12:55 PM

After Kip Kinkel shot up Thurston High School a dozen years ago, Springfield never got ongoing funding for more school counselors or better gun laws. But this week, the city got a big new gun store.

Here's a sampling of what you can buy at Cabela's:

"Each model is chambered in 5.56mm NATO/.223 Remington and has a six-position collapsible stock, chrome-lined 4140 steel barrel, 7075 T6 aluminum receiver, hard-coat black anodized finish and comes with a 30-round magazine," according to Cabella's website. A reviewer said he's shot "well over 1,000 rounds" with the assault rifle. "This gun shoots very smooth and is very accurate."

If you're looking for the latest in "home defense" ammunition, Cabella's offers a wide selection, including:

"Extreme Shock" ammo "was engineered for applications where greater penetration is a must. The EPR has greater terminal success when fired through glass or wood. This round has the ability to penetrate heavy skin and dense bone and then fragment once inside the softer tissue of the target." The big box store offers the "advanced" ammunition's "increased terminal success" for as little as $1.45 a pop.

May 5, 2010 10:05 AM

One of the biggest arguments the UO has used for its lavish athletic funding is all the positive national publicity big time sports bring to the university.

Yeah right. In a major story last week headlined "Off-Field Turmoil Causes Soul Searching at Oregon," the New York Times reported on an athletic "program run amok."

The story rehashes a litany of UO amokness for a national audience. Here's some lowlights:

• "six players who were arrested during a span of several weeks"

• "The state attorney general launched an investigation into the $2.3
million buyout of Athletic Director Mike Bellotti, the former football
coach whose 'contract' turned out to be a handshake agreement."

• "The hiring of a basketball coach was no more smooth...the job
search had taken six weeks, or long enough that three players had asked
for their releases."

• The UO "will have to figure out how to make the bond payments on the new $227 million basketball arena."

• "...said Nathan Tublitz, a biology professor and the president of the
university senate. 'The athletic department is out of control here.'"

• "Before Bellotti, the department had been run by its No. 2 benefactor, the booster turned athletic director Pat Kilkenny."

• "Phil Knight, the Nike co-founder — began pouring hundreds of millions
of dollars into its athletic facilities, which are among the most
opulent in the country" and include a "wood-paneled locker room with 60-inch flat-screen televisions"

• UO guard Mark Asper told the Times: "People say, ‘Oh, you guys are a bunch of hooligans,’ and it’s tough because you don’t have any evidence to the contrary.”

• "Coach Chip Kelly...affirmed at a news conference that he had not lost control of the
program. Less than 24 hours later, linebacker Kiko Alonso was arrested
for driving under the influence. The next day, receiver Jamere Holland,
believing Alonso had been kicked off the team, unleashed an
expletive-laced rant against Kelly..."

• "rather than distancing themselves from the behavior of LeGarrette Blount,
whose nationally televised sucker punch of a Boise State player was one
of college football’s enduring images last season, the Ducks
demonstrated in the early days of the off-season that birds of a
feather do indeed flock together."

• "Masoli and James had been arrested before arriving in Eugene. Masoli
spent three months in juvenile hall in 2005 for his role in a series of
robberies at a Bay Area shopping mall. James was arrested in 2008 and
charged with battery and disorderly conduct after being involved in a
fight, but the charges were dropped a year later."

• "The moves appear to highlight an acknowledgment of the gap between how
the university and the athletic department have been run — one beholden
to state lawmakers, the other a seemingly freestanding corporation."

May 4, 2010 01:46 PM

Portland's Mayor Sam Adams supports a city boycott of travel to Arizona as a show of opposition to a new anti-Hispanic law, Willamette Week reports.

No word on whether Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy supports a similar ban because of the law critics have called fascist. Of course, such a ban would be largely symbolic as few city employees travel much to Arizona. A more meaningful gesture may be a ban on purchasing one of Arizona's most controversial exports: Tasers.

Taser International is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Eugene Police department wants to give the corporation tens of thousands of dollars for controversial electroshock weapons that critics say violate basic human rights.

April 29, 2010 05:35 PM

One of Eugene's newest public art installations, a directional pillar at the train station, memorializes a 1997 incident when Eugene police emptied every can of pepper spray they could find on tree sitters.

Here's the art:

Here's a look at what happened:

April 27, 2010 10:09 AM

Pickathon is not your average summer festival.

I'd heard that, before I went last year, but you have to experience it for the difference to really be clear. It's not small — it sprawls over 80 acres of Pendarvis Farm, outside Portland — but it feels small, intimate and unexpectedly comfortable. It's not crowded. It's laid-back, but not super-hippie. You don't go to get all jacked up on cheap beer and fast food; you go to nibble ice cream and maybe find a shady corner of the beer garden to enjoy a microbrew.

(My posts about a Saturday spent at last year's Pickathon are here and here.)

Today, Pickathon announced the last additions to their 2010 lineup, which has Dr. Dog, The Fruit Bats, Punch Brothers, Blind Boy, Cardboard Songsters and Little Wings joining a list that already ranged from Bonnie "Prince" Billy to Portland's Richmond Fontaine and Weinland to Langhorn Slim, The Cave Singers and Black Prairie.

If you see a lot of familiar names on the full lineup, it's because there's a particular overlap between Pickathon's once-roots-oriented, now more broad musical selections and the bands that find a good reception in Eugene. Black Prairie's Chris Funk, who's playing his first Pickathon this year, says via email, "It seems to be a great combination of folk and indie rock, which is basically my playlist. Just enough bluegrass and Americana mixed with indie stars."

Funk says he's looking forward to seeing Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Heartless Bastards, Sallie Ford and others but, he says, "I usually just go to these festivals and wander, just try to see bands I've never heard of."

At Pickathon, that wander can take you to a stage in the middle of the woods and back out again, to where two main stages sit at the base of a gentle slope. Two indoor, barn-like stages round out the places at which bands usually play multiple sets over the course of the weekend. When asked what he's heard about Pickathon that makes is particularly appealing, Funk says, "It's a camping festival on a really great piece of property that is very, very close to Portland. I think if you run out of 'supplies' there is a New Seasons about 2 miles away, but it's got a great view of Mount Hood on this great horse farm nestled into a forest."

"Nestled" is the word that really sets Pickathon apart. You don't feel defensive, like you've got to guard your personal space or keep an eye on your blanket. It might get trodden upon by dirty kids' feet, but half an hour later, you'll be glad those same kids have super-soakers and are pointing them in your direction. You just nestle in for the weekend and forget that Portland is just a few miles away.

Pickathon takes place Aug. 6-8 at Pendarvis Farm outside Portland. Discount tickets are currently $115 (camping included; parking is extra), but will rise to $130 when the discounted ones are sold out.

April 26, 2010 03:13 PM

Where were we? Or rather, when were we? Last month. Let's just cut to the chase.

Between the “Creating a Music Town” panel in the morning and the Jared Mees show, I mostly missed stuff on SXSW's last full day. I went to the IFC Crossroads House and wrote and just missed Frightened Rabbit. I had lunch with a friend — the first real food sit-down meal I’d had in days — and missed the last showing of the award-winning Tiny Furniture. I went to see Fang Island at the wrong time. And then I made my way to the Portland showcase put on by Riot Act, where the weather, dim and damp and colder by the second, made everything feel maybe just a little too much like home.

Jared Mees and the Grown Children @ Liberty Bar
Jared Mees was singing about “Strong Black Coffee” to a small but dedicated gaggle of folks in the Liberty Bar’s damp backyard. I assume most of them, like me, were kind of wishing the drinks in our hands would transform into cups of coffee.

Jokes were cracked about fingers slowly thawing out. The rain stopped for a little while. I admired the coats on those more prepared for the weather and wondered if anyone could focus on anything but keeping warm. The Grown Children were totally charming and not at all restrained by the weather.

Titus Andronicus @ Scoot Inn
Did I mention it was fucking cold? I think I did. I also mentioned this show a lot in this post, which was about Titus Andronicus’ show a week later at a house in Whiteaker — a show which was a lot louder and a lot warmer. But in Austin, in the cold, in parkas and kneesocks and suffering a truly biting wind, TA were fantastic, ferocious and unexpectedly endearing. And the Fortress of Solitude reference in “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” just seemed all the more appropriate.

Gwar @ Mess With Texas
Walking back to the main drag, cup of tea in my hands doing the job of a good pair of gloves, I heard this … noise coming from behind the Mess With Texas fence, on which people were precariously perched. On tiptoes, I peered over the fence — and saw Gwar. They don’t even have to do anything. They just stand there, and their costumes say everything. People were watching from the rooftops across the street; one lucky bastard was perched in a tree. I stayed long enough to watch the band spray the adoring crowd with fake blood. It was loud, ridiculous and incredible. And best watched from a safe distance.

Rival Schools @ Red 7 Patio
To my total surprise, this was one of the highlights of SXSW — a show by a band that broke up after one early-oughts record (clearly, they’ve since reformed). I’ve listened to Rival Schools’ 2001 album United by Fate enough to know that there’s one song on it I always think of as “that one really good Rival Schools song.”

Or so I thought. (Keep reading...)

As it turned out, I’ve listend to that record enough to know most of the songs on it — and most of them hold up shockingly well. The crowd at Red 7’s outdoor patio was mostly male, mostly taller than me, and mostly in some state of shaved-headedness. They were also in a state of modest glee; there was no crazy dancing or even pogoing, but there were more smiles than I’d seen on the faces of any audience all week — and the biggest one may have been on the face of singer/guitarist Walter Schreifels, who has a solo album coming out soon. Some bands seem tired of playing their old songs; he seemed delighted by them. “This is the closest you’re going to get to Quicksand,” Schreifels said, referring to his mid-‘90s post-hardcore band, before breaking into a cover of The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” that worked far better than it should’ve. Schreifels has one of those perpetually hoarse, agonized voices that lends a particular urgency to the band’s every song; if there’s a certain dated, alt-rock feel to some of the guitar tones on United By Fate, that’s just all the more reason to look forward to something new from a band that writes such deliciously terse songs — hardcore past and heart on sleeve.

Joan of Arc @ Galaxy Room
I still don’t get Joan of Arc, and I’m OK with that. Sometimes their music is pretty, sometimes it’s noodlely and proggy, sometimes it veers toward catchy and sometimes it makes me feel inexplicably twitchy. The way people describe it is nothing like how it sounds to me, which is interesting, and a fun experiment in expectations vs. personal perception, but I wasn’t in the mood for arty post-rock (bandleader Tim Kinsella uses “cryptic feyness and poststructuralist lyricism,” according to the Austin AV Club) and was easily lured away by Rumor Fest 2010: Word was that Mos Def was going to be playing at the Mohawk. I hauled ass up the street, only to find that, according to Twitter, Mos Def was currently playing a MySpace show some blocks away. I sulked, watched Death for a little while and then started to fade. Rapidly. I stopped at Japandroids’ show at the Galaxy Room long enough to regiter LOUD GUITARS! SHOUTING WOO FUN TIMES GOOD STUFF HELLO BOYS YOU ARE PUNK ROCK AND I AM TIRED. And then I called it a night, with one last show on the horizon: singer-songwriter Devon Sproule at the Ghost Room the next afternoon, where I sat with a bloody Mary and my laptop and a happy smile; Sproule, a tiny woman with a storytelling, country tinge to her songs, plays like she’s just as lost in her songs as the most deafening rock dude from the night before might’ve been. It was a perfect note on which to end the week.

In closing: Do you know how many bands there are with “bells” in the name? And how many of them I wish I’d seen? To the latter, I can answer, At least two. But SXSW, this first time, is all about the woulda-coulda-shouldas. I shoulda gone to see The xx in a church, Superchunk anywhere, the Dum Dum Girls, Broken Bells, that other band everyone else wrote about (there are about 19 of these). Not that I’m complaining. SXSW was amazing, a learning experience, sensory overload, and I started making rules for next year about two days in:

1: PLAN BETTER.
2: Do not see bands you’ve already seen unless they are really and truly your favorite bands. Go see random shit!
3: Day parties are your best friend. Schedule those like crazycakes.
4: Check in everywhere on Foursquare; that way you have a record, a week later when you think you’ve lost your mind, of where the hell you were. And add notes.
5: There is no try. Just do. You can’t do it wrong, but you can’t do it right, either. There’s just too much. It’s beautiful.

April 26, 2010 03:31 PM

I want a dragon.

That was about all I was capable of saying as How to Train Your Dragon's end credits rolled. My equally enchanted friend and I watched drawings of different dragon species scroll past, debating which of Toothless-the-dragon’s traits were most charming. Was it the catlike head tilt? The attempted smile, in imitation of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the skinny, hapless young Viking who captures then frees Toothless? The love of raw, dripping fish? The reluctant affection? The heartbreaking loyalty? The silent expressiveness?

If you’re rolling your eyes, scurry along, please; no need for that. How to Train Your Dragon, an animated wonder of a film, does have often-familiar, heartwarming themes about individuality, acceptance, teamwork and prosthetics. It also has wicked awesome dragons (two heads! tiny little wings! unexpected full-body fire!), bumbling Vikings and a delightfully smart main female character, Astrid (America Ferrera), who quickly figures out that Hiccup is hiding something. A scrawny Viking whose attempts to help his village usually wreak more havoc than happiness, Hiccup is an unlikely candidate for Bestest Dragon Fighter Ever. But in dragon training — where Hiccup, Astrid, a pair of scrap-happy twins (Kristin Wiig and T.J. Miller), a D&D nerd (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a would-be Casanova (Jonah Hill) are instructed by the enthusiastic Gobber (Craig Ferguson) — Hiccup becomes the star. It’s his mysterious talent for charming the beasts that does it.

And where has Hiccup learned these dragon-taming skills? Why, while bonding with Toothless, of course. Dragon has a passel of exaggerated Viking characters and an equal number of entertainingly varied dragons, but at heart, it’s a boy-and-his-horse (or dog, or whatever) story. It’s just that the horse is a mischievous, clever dragon with an injured tail. The injury is Hiccup’s fault; the fix is Hiccup’s invention. Under everything — the endearing bonding montage; the inventive training sequences; the things that bring Hiccup and his father (Gerard Butler) together and push them apart — runs a thread of personal responsibility.

You can, if you like, just watch Dragon and coo over the beautiful parts (dragons and clouds make an incredible combination) and get a little misty at the heartbreaking moments. But if you take it apart to see how it works, the film — directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, whom we also have to thank for the similarly wonderful Lilo and Stitch — just gets even better. Parallel moments pretty up the structure; characters’ seemingly silly obsessions work out to be quite useful; even the hotshot kid needs a rescue when it comes time for the big battle. Hiccup’s mistakes aren’t without consequence, but they’re not overwrought, either. Nothing is out of proportion — well, with one very sizable exception.

How to Train Your Dragon, which snuck back up to the top of the box office chart this week, is one of the best movies of the year thus far — not one of the best children’s movies, or the best animated movies, or whatever other qualifier you might think you ought to use. It’s simply outstanding. And it will make you want a dragon.

April 19, 2010 12:25 PM

The Oregonian compared local Congressman Peter DeFazio to Bart Simpson in a front page article today:

"In the mold of that other Springfield celebrity, Bart Simpson, DeFazio is an equal opportunity provocateur. He is notorious for coloring outside the lines of the Democratic Party...."

Huh? DeFazio is clearly less yellow and has less hair than Bart.

He may also be less progressive than advertised. The Oregonian notes DeFazio's good grades from the NRA and reports:

"He is a Democrat and calls himself a progressive, but he votes liberal 61.5 percent of the time, the lowest of the four Democrats in the [Oregon] delegation."

Or maybe DeFazio did this O piece to reposition himself rightward so he can run for a statewide race? Does he share Homer's views on nuclear power?

April 16, 2010 10:32 AM

Just look at that burger. Just look at it. Do you want to eat it yet? It’s vegetarian. But don’t let that stop you.

“I started dreaming of opening a vegan fast food burger joint when I went vegan 14 years ago,” says Cara Eddo, whose Eddo Burger food cart debuts Saturday. Eddo’s name might sound familiar; she was Eugene’s Sexiest Bartender in 2008, when she was at The Vintage, making homemade maraschino cherries or limoncello. “I’ve just always made stuff,” says Eddo. “Whatever I’m doing, I always try to sneak food into the process.”

Eddo says that when she went vegan, she realized there weren’t any “quick, really damn good” options for the meat-free. She recognizes that there are many more veggie options these days, but hopes the Eddo Burger — the evolution of which involved “about a million recipes and a hundred dinner parties” — will stand out.

Nearly everything at Eddo Burger is made from scratch using local, organic and mostly gluten-free ingredients. The burger is the centerpiece, but the menu also offers tofu nuggets, sweet potato fries, the “Western Fakin’ Cheeseburger,” breakfast sandwiches, hash browns and curly churros.

Eddo says she’s excited to be part of the Northwest’s growing food cart scene, but her ambitions don’t stop in Eugene. “The ultimate goal is to bring my menu to the entire country, in the form of a veggie fast-food chain, complete with drive-thru/bike thru. I’m serious,” she says. For now, though, the first Eddo Burger opens at noon Saturday, April 17, in the Tiny Tavern parking lot (394 Blair Blvd.). The cart will be open until late evening, and Tiny's is right there for rock and beer, too. EDIT: The Underlings and The Latrines play at 4 pm (’til 6) as part of the opening festivities.

Please go eat a burger for me, as I'm out of town. OK? Thanks.

Eddo Burger | Eddo Burger Facebook page

April 5, 2010 06:16 PM

Forget the sterilized gun sight videos the Pentagon and cable news have fed you. Here's a look at the shocking reality of the Iraq War:

No wonder people hate us.

April 5, 2010 02:22 PM

This is one in a series of posts about the panels at this year's South by Southwest — most panels were part of the Interactive track, but some were in Film or Music. All raised a lot of questions, some of which I've asked below; I hope you'll want to join in the conversation.

The journalism-related panels at SXSW were mostly extremely useful, inspiring and thought-provoking. If they occasionally got bogged down in a sort of woe-is-us rehash of the things that are wrong, and the perceived divides between new and old media, it’s to be expected; we all get bogged down in (and depressed by) those lines of thinking from time to time.

That problem is understandable. What’s less so is the way the broad journalism discussions — the dramatically named Media Armageddon panel, the equally sweepingly titled How to Save Journalism panel — never talked about arts journalism. There was a discussion about film criticism during the film track, and a couple of conversations about music journalism, online tastemakers and such. But arts writing wasn’t part of the broader conversation. I think this is a major oversight, the same way I think the laying off of film critics all over the country was a major mistake. Yes, there are a million bloggers posting about every kind of art you can imagine, especially film and pop music. But the number of voices in the conversation is no reason to step out of it entirely.

Speaking of critics, let’s start with the decade’s most defensive discussion of film criticism!

Keep reading...

Hyperbole in Film Criticism & Analysis (Film track panel)
This panel made me uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m one of the publicist-ass-kissing hacks the panelists repeatedly trashed, but the emphasis on said trashing felt defensive in a strange and unpleasant way. What about the flip side? Which critics do the panelists read? Which currently working writers do they admire? Why?

To be fair, it wasn’t all peer-trashing, and some of that peer-trashing is good and deserved. But the judgemental tone was off-putting. The moderator, Eric Childress (of eFilmCritic), asked the panelists — Cinematical managing editor Scott Weinberg, whose Twitter feed you really should follow; Drew McWeeny, whom some old-time Ain't It Cool News readers may remember as Moriarty; the impeccably dressed and eloquent James Rocchi; Jen Yamato (also of Cinematical); and lone print critic Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle — what the worst trend in film criticism was; where was the follow-up question in which we got to hear about the good stuff? A little less mocking and a little more discussion about what needs to change (and how to change it) might’ve saved the panel from veering perilously close to bitch session territory.

That aside, I appreciated a lot of what the panelists had to say when they did take a more positive tack. I admired the way Rocchi could quickly defuse the group when the conversation got a little too mean-spirited; I think I was the only person who laughed (appreciatively) when he said that part of the joy of the job is “being in a long tradition of people smarter than you.” I was glad to hear Weinberg talk about his position that the people interviewing the actors and the people writing the reviews should be different people. I loved that Yamato was willing, in the face of peers saying Twilight was “culturally dangerous,” to simply say, “I like Twilight.” McWeeny talked about making reviews interesting whether or not readers have seen the film. Rocchi used the apt term “informed enthusiasm” and Baumgarten talked about the idea that a critic is a writer first.

Weinberg argued that words like “possibly” have no place in film criticism, and while I don’t entirely agree, I was glad to see the conversation get particular — and personal. Writing about art is personal; talking about writing about art can be even more personal. I understand the defensive stance. I just wish the conversation were more about changing and improving than tearing down the folks who are doing it wrong. I agreed with almost every point that the panelists made when the moderator asked about the worst trends in film crit — the move toward the binary; leaving out the middle ground; sloppy writing; attention grabbers — and I liked every writer on the panel. So why’d I wind up feeling like theirs was a club I’d never be allowed to join?

(You can listen to a few clips from this panel here.)

Media Armageddon: What Happens When The New York Times Dies
Panel Armageddon: What happens when you go to a panel and it’s a rehash of the same old media vs. new media conversation that’s been going on online for ages? You skip the rest of the panel, which started off on a difficult foot when Markos Moulitsas from Daily Kos said he wanted traditional media outlets to “do their job.” Who gets to define that job? Him? The outlets? The readers?

Props to whoever changed the hashtag for the panel to #endtimes, but I could only take so much rehash of whether or not bloggers could fill the hole left by the imaginary nonexistence of the NYT before I split. Old media has credibility! New media doesn’t fact-check! Sweeping statements help no one! Discuss. (Good notes on the panel are here, if you’d like more.)

Online Tastemakers: Death or Rebirth of Music Curation?
See that title? That kind of title can limit the panel by building an either/or right into the framework of the discussion. What about “What the Web Means for Music Curation”? “Why the Hell Anyone Still Cares About Music Curation is Beyond Us, But We Sure Are Happy About It”? Or “Is there Room for More Than One Kind of Curator?”

I got hung up on the second slide the panel showed, which said something to the effect of “Everyone’s a critic — mainstream challenged.” Hang on a sec. If everyone’s a critic, how is that not a good thing? If you actually mean everyone is thinking critically about the media they consume, it is. And while it’s fine for the mainstream to be challenged by this, I’d rather the mainstream find ways to be inspired by it.

The relationship of the mainstream to the — sorry, I’ve got to say it — blogosphere was something Christopher Weingarten commented on when he said that blogs and magazines are now responding to opinions (rather than forming them, I assume). The cycle is different because of leaks, because of the access (however dubiously legal) so many people have to music. I’m not sure the cycle changing is necessarily a bad thing; we just have to adapt to it, and to understand that people want different things from different outlets. No one source — site, Twitter, blog, magazine, paper — can start every conversation, but there are always new things to bring to it. (And it’s worth remembering, as Richard Nash said during the Q&A portion, that long-form criticism is a cultural object too.)

Anya Grundmann from NPR said that they want to create an experience for people who want to be on top of things but don’t have time for it. Isn’t that what the mainstream media is for in a lot of ways? For the people who want to know what’s going on out there but don’t have the time or the inclination to use Google reader to track a thousand specialized websites and blogs?

A woman in the audience asked, “If everyone is a curator, is anyone a curator?” — a question which got everyone’s attention because if there’s one thing all kinds of media do well, it’s get defensive about our relevance. It’s a valid concern — if everyone is a curator, for whom are we curating? Each other, I suppose, but that’s the fate of music nerds since day one: Music nerds write for other music nerds, not for the people who hear a song on the radio, go buy it, and don’t care what anyone says about it. But this question, and the question in the title of the panel, both get close to a topic that came up slightly antagonistically at one point in the panel: Can anybody be a curator? Who decides? There’s a faction that says no, only some people can do this right. There’s also a faction — and one I more closely align with — that says yes. Yes, but the thing is, it’s work, and not everyone wants to work at it.

Online tastemakers aren’t the death or the rebirth of music curation. They’re a step in the evolution. What we need now is a discussion of how that evolution is continuing: with algorithms and code? With more humans at more keyboards? What’s the next form music writing, and music curating, is going to take? When do you start downloading MP3s with commentary coded right in, so it pops up in a little box in your iTunes? Do we want that? What do we want? Why?