february 2020

On Friday night right after work we drove down to Macon with Will to see Lyle Lovett play at the Macon City Auditorium. I travel to Macon at least once a year for work, but I since I typically stay a a budget motel near the interstate, I've never gotten to see much of the historic downtown area there. We got there earlier enough that we felt like we had enough time to go find something to eat and got to see a little bit of it.

There's definitely a hipster vibe there (on the second floor of one restaurant there was an axe throwing studio), and it looked like there were some decent places to eat. Unfortunately they all had long lines and we had limited time, so after standing in line for a few minutes at one place to see how quickly it moved, we had to head back to the auditorium and try to find some dinner there. All they had was popcorn, nachos, and hot dogs, so I abstained, but Julie and Will each got a hot dog.

It was a really weird, but weirdly intriguing, venue. It's a giant circle with terrible, old, dirty carpet, and a second level of balcony seats that wrap all the way around the edges until they're almost at the stage. I got us seats on the floor because I thought those would be better, but it turns out all the floor seats were just banquet chairs set up on the floor, so there was no elevation to them to help you see over the people in front of you.

Will and I wandered around upstairs in the balcony area, and if I was coming here again, I'd definitely go for seats up there—not only are the rows staggered in elevation, it was also nice and warm up there. On the floor it was freezing because 1) there didn't seem to be heating vents anywhere that I could see and 2) because they propped the front doors open on a very cold evening and the wind was just blowing straight through.

We saw Lovett and his Large Band at the Atlanta Symphony Hall in August, but this was a more intimate concert with his acoustic band that had many fewer members (only one of whom was also a player in his Large Band). They played a lot of the same songs, and he even told some of the same stories, but it was still a fun experience to contrast and compare the two performances. This one didn't feature a drummer at all, so a lot of the arrangement were more bluegrass style, where the bass and the rhythm guitar made the beat. Here's the setlist:

    1. Once Is Enough
    2. Head Over Heels (Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs cover)
    3. Pants Is Overrated
    4. Cowboy Man
    5. I've Been to Memphis
    6. I Will Rise Up
    7. God Will
    8. Give Back My Heart
    9. Queen of No
    10. Step Inside This House (Guy Clark cover)
    11. Private Conversation
    12. Penguins
    13. This Old Porch
    14. South Texas Girl
    15. The Temperance Reel (Luke Bulla cover)
    16. Anyhow, I Love You (Guy Clark cover)
    17. Pantry
    18. Twelfth of June
    19. I'll Fly Away
    20. If I Had A Boat


    21. She's No Lady
    22. That's Right (You're Not From Texas)

He's always so charming in that sarcastic, deadpan way, and the Macon audience absolutely loved him (although I get the feeling that's at least in part because not many acts of his stature travel to Macon these days).

It was still a pretty long show, but not as long as the Large Band performance, which definitely needed an intermission—this was more on the order of a typical longish rock show. It was pretty cool to see him for a second time in six months after not seeing him play live in more than 25 years, and although I'm not sure we'd make an hour plus drive outside the Perimeter to see him again, we'll definitely be buying tickets the next time he comes to Atlanta.

We're 3 episodes into the 10th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm now, and although it's pretty much the same show it's always been, that's actually the problem. I loved this show when I first started watching it back in the early to mid 2000s, but that was a very different time. In the era of Trump, #MeToo, and white privilege, the show's themes of being annoyed by small inconveniences, especially ones that are rooted in contemporary cultural mores (PC is the label used by those who would mock these new understandings of how we interact with people) hit a very sour note.

And it's not just that the show's approach has remained stale—I feel like there is a genuine change in how Larry David and his writers feel about these issues. Before it was more criticizing certain cultural norms by highlighting their absurdities and contradictions; now it seems more blatantly disdainful with a strong undercurrent of real bile.

There are still funny moments/situations, but they are fewer and farther between than they used to be, and the characters in general just seem stuck—while the rest of the world has changed pretty significantly in the past 20 years, these people haven't, and the only reason they haven't been forced get with the times is because of their obscene wealth, which they blithely take for granted. Even if they were likable characters, this would be hard to stomach, but now that they don't have much evidence of heart or compassion to balance out their more insensitive aspects, I'm really not sure why I'm still watching.

I've also been watching Avenue 5, a new comedy/sci fi series about a luxury spaceliner that experiences a navigation error that causes their voyage to take more than three years (instead of the eight weeks it was originally scheduled for). It shares some DNA with Seth McFarland's The Orville, but it's also a little like Gilligan's Island if they hadn't found the island and instead had to live on the Minnow for a year.

I'm not really in love with it, but I'll probably watch til the end just to see how it turns out and if they find their rhythm with the cast and the narrative. I don't have high hopes—pretty much every character is exceptionally unlikable in their own unique way, even the ones we're supposed to be sympathetic towards, and you quickly find yourself hoping for further disasters to kill some of them off. But no luck so far—the most annoying ones persist.

After the Ravens disappointing loss in their first postseason game after a magical, unprecedented regular season, it was hard to get excited about the rest of the playoffs or pick a team to root for, but all in all, the Super Bowl turned out about as good as it could have given that my team didn't make it there. It didn't feature the Patriots (who lost their game in the wild card round), and there were interesting narratives behind the AFC and NFC teams (the Chiefs and the 49ers respectively).

I decided to support the Chiefs for a couple of reasons: their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is another young, dynamic signal-caller similar to the Ravens Lamar Jackson (he's been in the league a year longer than Lamar, and he won the MVP last year while Lamar won it this year) who seems like a genuinely nice guy, and the Kansas City coach, Andy Reid, has been a great regular season coach for a long time who has never won a Super Bowl due to a combination for of boneheaded mistakes at crucial times in playoff games and just plain bad luck.

I also happen to dislike the 49ers: they have a terrible owner, their coach is the brash asshole who, as the offensive coordinator for the Falcons when they played the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2017, allowed a 28-3 lead to slip away, and they were also the team that the Ravens beat the last time they played in the Super Bowl in 2013.

It looked like the 49ers were going to take this one, but as they have done all through the playoffs (and for much of Patrick Mahomes' young career), the Chiefs staged a comeback and ended up winning, giving perennial playoff participant Andy Reid his first championship.

I'm hoping that the Chiefs last couple of years may prefigure the Ravens: Mahomes sat much of his rookie season behind an established veteran, won the MVP in his first full season as a starter, and won the Super Bowl in his third year. Lamar has followed a similar path: he started more games in his rookie year than Mahomes, but that was because the veteran QB was injured and couldn't play. Jackson cemented himself as the starter and the future of the franchise by the end of that season, and led the team to a 14-2 record in this, his second year, on the way to his own MVP award. Now let's hope the Ravens can continue to build around him and take that next step to the championship next season.

I've been out of sorts and under the weather all week, so I've mostly been at home. That works for this time of year—I'm not sick enough not to work, but I don't feel great about going in and spreading whatever I have to others, but pretty much any work I need to do (including collaborative reading of application files) can be done remotely, either online or over the phone.

I generally feel like I'm more productive when I work from home—I start working earlier, I'm more focused, and I tend to make more headway on big projects than when I'm in the office. Part of that is because of the circumstances: part of the reason I'm able to work from home (when I'm not staying home because I'm sick, that is) is because I don't have any in-person meetings scheduled for that day, and of course, having no meetings automatically means there's more time for actual work instead of sitting in a meeting and adding to the task list instead of completing things and removing them. But aside from the meeting component, I also don't get distracted by pop-in conversations and the social elements of working in an office.

Of course, there is value to those interactions as well, and I don't want to discount those. But as a natural introvert who still fondly remembers being in production instead of management, those are less important to me than maybe they should be, so I make a real effort to be available and participate in those because that's what the job/role needs from me despite my inherent proclivities. All the same, weeks like this, where I participate in meetings via conference call (or not at all), lead me to believe that we could do a lot more telecommuting in our office without losing productivity.

The leadership situation at my institution is very, very weird. We're a top 20 school with a good brand name and pretty significant wealth in a great, growing city, which should mean that we're an attractive place to work for faculty, staff, and leadership and that we have a lot of stability. But last October, our provost resigned after a little over two years on the job (he's going to be president at a different institution). This was bad enough—provosts typically serve for at least 5 years, and although anyone who met our provost knew he was destined for a presidency that might shorten his tenure a bit, I figured he'd last at least three years—but barely a month later, our president also surprised everyone with the announcement of her resignation.

University presidents typically serve at least 10 years, and everyone expected her to be here for a minimum of 5+ and stay here until she retired. She was our first female president, had been with the university as a faculty member for over two decades, and had served in a series of increasingly visible roles in university administration, including a two year stint as the provost immediately before being named president. She was a lifer, and it was going to be the capstone of her career. But instead she quit just as we were developing some momentum.

In isolation, this would still be a world-shaking decision in the context of our university community, but on top of the resignation of the provost the previous month (and his similarly short tenure), this has really left us a rudderless ship and we have no clue when we might have our top two leadership roles filled again. They have named the dean of the theology school (who was reportedly on the brink of retirement) to serve as interim provost, while they search for a new president, and the presidential search committee says that they will have a candidate in place by August when the current president's tenure technically ends. Which means that they are either incredibly optimistic (almost to the point of naivete) or they already have someone targeted (possibly an internal candidate, although there really aren't many of those who would be competitive in a national search) and the big show they're making of including the faculty and staff in the search process is even more pointless than it already feels.

And let's say they do hire someone by August, and that that person has a provost they want to hire that the board and the faculty will sign off on so that we have our top two leadership positions filled by the end of this year: even then, it will still likely be mid-2021 before we really know what their agenda is and start to understand how they're going to execute it. Until then, everyone will be in a holding pattern and we won't be able to launch any innovative new programs (academically or administratively) until then.

It's quite a mess during a pivotal time for universities: the demographics are on a steep downhill slope for the next five or six years, and everyone is going to be affected. We need to take action now to ensure our status on the national and global academic stage, and instead we're going to lose valuable time while most our competitors will be ramping up to be ready for the much more competitive environment we'll face in recruiting the best students in 2026.

A couple of weeks ago I went back to my favorite bar on the Decatur Square, Mac McGee. I hadn't been there in a long time—when I've had time to go out for drinks with friends during the week, it's tended to be trivia night at Thinking Man—so I was looking forward to just hanging out with a couple of friends instead of doing a bigger trivia-oriented evening out.

It turns out that in the interim, the bar has been bought and remodeled, although they are keeping the name. I do not like the changes at all. Before it was a very authentic feeling Irish pub, with weird little nooks and crannies, high-backed booths of various sizes, and heavy curtains over the windows to keep out the bright lights from the square. It felt cozy and private even when it was full, and it was like nothing else in Decatur.

The new owner is supposedly a longtime patron of the bar who also happens to be Irish, so you'd think he want to keep all that stuff. But instead he stripped down all the booth walls, removed the curtains, and turned it into more of a sports bar catering to a young weekend party crowd. It's open concept with light from the Square streaming into the space, and it has completely lost all its character.

Plus they fired my favorite bartender, Chelsea, who I can absolutely see clashing with the new manager, a corporate franchise type who would be better suited to running an Applebee's or something (she seemed perfectly nice, but in a perfectly bland way with a terrifying undercurrent of Dolores Umbridge laying in wait for the right time to emerge).

It was still an okay place to meet and have a couple of drinks, but it no longer has the charm that made me fall in love with. I'll probably give it a couple more chances during a quiet weeknight, but even if I get used to it, there's no way I'm going to talk this version of the bar up the way I did the old one.

Julie's birthday was yesterday, and although I couldn't spend the early part of the day with her (she usually works on her birthday if it's a workday, but at the last minute she decided to take the day off and I couldn't rearrange my schedule at that point), I did get off work a little early so we could pick up Will for a special surprise. I took us all to see a Japanese animated film called Weathering You, by a newish director named Makoto Shinkai.

It tells the story of an epic rainstorm that goes on for months in Tokyo, dramatically altering daily life and threatening to permanently flood the city. The fantastical elements come in the form of "sunshine girls", who can cause the rain to stop briefly in localized areas. But they can only do this at the long-term expense of their humanity—each time they call upon this power, they drift closer to becoming water spirits who live in the clouds.

The more day-to-day plot that surrounds the more fantastical narrative could sometimes get a little absurd, but it was easy to overlook these as the characters, each flawed in distinct but overlapping ways, were compelling and likable. Aside from some cheesy J-pop guitar ballads at the end of the movie and some unnecessarily heavy-handed violence in certain scenes, it was a very enjoyable, cathartic experience. We probably all felt it a little deeper than we normally would have because we are experiencing a lot more rainfall than usual over the last month, and it was raining heavily both when we arrived at the theater and when we left (and continued to do so overnight and through today).

I also had a special dinner planned, but because the restaurant I want to take Julie to was closed on Mondays, I let her pick whatever lower-key option she wanted, and she chose Community Q, our favorite local barbecue place. It was a nice day even if Will and I weren't able to spend the whole day with her.

Back in 2017 Julie and I went to a restaurant called Gunshow, one of local celebrity chef Kevin Gillespie's many Atlanta establishments. There isn't a set menu that you order from; instead, each chef makes one or two dishes per night and brings them around to tables as soon as they are ready and offers them to diners. We thought Will might enjoy that experience, but we'd never gotten around to actually planning a visit.

But when my parents gave me a gift card for any of Gillespie's restaurants, that motivated me to get back there, and I figured Julie's birthday would be a good time for a special night out. Unfortunately they weren't open on the day of her actual birthday, so I made reservations for the day after her birthday.

We went early to try and avoid the crowds, but we were still seated at a community table that had five or six people in the other party (most of the tables in there are big community tables). I've gotten better about not being so picky about my seat in restaurants, but I still felt out of sorts at the table for the first few minutes. I got used to it after they brought me my drink, however.

I don't remember a lot of the specific dishes, but there were a lot of interesting choices, and the shareable plates were just about right for the three of us, so we ended up trying pretty much everything on the menu. There were a couple that we didn't get to (we were full by the time they brought them by), but there was only one dish that Julie wanted to try that we had to specifically ask for.

Will has a pretty adventurous palette for a kid his age, so he tried just about everything and liked a decent amount of it. I don't know if we'd return there with him—it was a cool experience, but it's very expensive, and I'd rather go to places like Chai Pani or some of the stuff in Ponce City Market several times over rather than spend all of that on a single visit to Gunshow. I'm sure we'll be back at some point—the food is very good—but it's definitely a special occasion place.

After finishing the Oscar Wilde biography, I wasn't feeling quite ready to return to any of the fiction books I had queued up, so instead I turned a new release by one of my favorite pop science writers, Sam Kean (whose book The Disappearing Spoon documented the history of the periodic table, while The Violinist's Thumb explored genetics). This one is called The Bastard Brigade, and it differs quite a bit from his previous books in both subject matter and format.

Typically he takes a scientific topic and then explores one aspect of it per chapter, not only sharing science background on the subject but also amusing anecdotes about how real people have been impacted throughout history to give the abstract scientific concepts some depth and relatability. In this book, he was covering a much more specific topic with a recurring cast of characters set within a discrete timeframe: the various ways non- or quasi-military operatives attempted to sabotage the Nazi attempts to create an atomic weapon.

In his own comments about the book, Kean likens his previous works to collections of short stories, whereas this one is more like a novel, and that analogy seems appropriate. There are times when he struggles—there's not a discrete brigade suggested by the title, and although sometimes the main characters cross paths, they are just as often antagonistic towards each other as they are helpful.

Although the overall narrative ends up being a little disjointed, there are a lot of fascinating characters in here (most notably Moe Berg, a former MLB catcher with a voracious appetite for books and newspapers turned somewhat successful spy despite his celebrity), and some specific incidents (like the bombing of a heavy water production facility in Norway or the near-assassination of quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg at a scientific lecture) that are rendered in memorable detail.

Will has been taking piano for about 3 years now, most of that time with a local music school that has its instructional space set up in the basement of a church. He takes his lesson at 3:00 on Friday afternoon, a schedule that works pretty well for us since Julie is typically at home on Fridays (and not technically on the clock, although she often uses the day to catch up on reports).

I love listening to music, and I've always wanted to know how to play something, but I've never seriously engaged in an effort to learn. So when I saw that the school had hired a new teacher for piano and guitar and he had an open spot on Fridays at 3, the same time as Will's lesson, I decided to go for it and give a good go at learning to play guitar (chosen partly because I tend to like guitar-based music, and because we already have two pianists in the house).

In preparation for the session, I had to actually go get a guitar, and after doing lots of online research, I settled on a Yamaha FG800, which cost about $200. A week before my first lesson, we took a family trip to Guitar Center to get one. The purchasing experience took forever because it was so busy—who knew what a hot hangout spot Guitar Center was at 7:00 on a Saturday night?—but that was fine with Will, who had a ball going around to all the demo stations and playing with different instruments and devices.

My first lesson was last Friday, and I spend the week beforehand practicing basic chords and trying to build up callouses on my left hand fingertips. The lesson itself went okay—my instructor, who is VERY young, was 10 minutes late—and we went through the first few pages of the instructional book we'll be using, including some basic tips about how to hold the instrument, where to place my fingers on the frets to get the best tone, etc.

I'm a little nervous about it—I don't think I have any great music ability that's just waiting to be unlocked with practice—but I want to get this a real try for at least 6 months to see if I can develop some basic fluency in reading music and applying that to an instrument. This also means I want to be diligent about practicing for at least half an hour each day, which I'm trying to make sure I do by syncing it up with Will's practice times.

We never go out on Valentine's Day—neither of us like the crowds, and we're also usually coming off a nice dinner out for Julie's birthday—but we usually try to celebrate in some way. This year it was made easier by having Julie's mom living nearby now—Will went over to her house to spend the night, and we got takeout sushi and had a quiet night at home together.

Will came back home on Saturday, and that afternoon he and Julie went to Snow Mountain, a seasonal attraction at Stone Mountain where you get to ride on inner tubes down snow covered hills, etc. And on Sunday we all went to church to see Will's second time as an acolyte, which he loves (I think it's the performative aspect that he's really attracted to).

We've done pretty good with getting Will to swim practice twice a week, typically going on Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday. And even though he's in the slowest group, he really, really loves being in the water. Our hope is that simply having more time in the pool will improve his form and his times, but even if it doesn't, it's still a great experience for him—he seems to like his teammates, and he's definitely getting good exercise—they swim pretty much nonstop for the whole hour.

It will be interesting to see how he does when they start having meets, and also to see if he improves once we get back to the summer outdoor league that he's done the past couple of years. But again, even if he's the slowest swimmer on the team, I love that he loves it and that it's got some great side-benefits for him.

My first new music purchase of the year was Pinegrove's third proper album, Marigold. They've been on a weird release schedule—they took an extended hiatus from touring and releasing music while the frontman, Even Stephens Hall, worked through some personal issues, but they kept recording.

Their sophomore effort, Skylight, was completed but unreleased for several months, and much of the work on this album was done by the time they released Skylight and toured behind it (although they didn't play any of these songs on that tour).

Their debut, Cardinal, is one of the best albums to come out in the last decade, mixing alt-country twang with odd time signatures and voluminous lyrics that are densely packed with ideas and metaphors. Skylight was a solid second outing, but didn't build on the band's sound in any significant way, and after listening to Marigold several times, it basically fits in that same category. The production seems a little warmer in some places, and overall it feels a little more folksy than alt-country, but it's still a record that fits very well into their now-defined sound.

My favorite song on the record is "Dotted Line", which is also the opening track. It's a good Pinegrove song in any context, but it has a special place in my heart because of these lines:

Just another day in the polar vortex
Do I do my thing and just keep my head down?
Or do I eclipse back to Atlanta?

Not only do I love the use of the word eclipse here, but I like to think that he wrote this as he was returning to his native New Jersey after the Skylight tour and thinking back to his show in Atlanta, which I attended and which was a truly cathartic experience for the audience and the band. That's probably not true—much if not all of this album was supposedly completed before he played the show I saw, and he also played Atlanta four times in less than a year touring behind Cardinal in 2016 and 2017—but it endears the song a little bit more to me nonetheless.

The weak spots with this album are its length and structure. It's heavily front-loaded with the best tracks, gets a bit more middling toward the middle, and ends with my least favorite song, "Neighbor", followed by a six minute meandering, almost ambient closing track (which is also the title track, although marigolds are also mentioned in the lyrics of "The Alarmist" and "Alcove"). But overall it's a solid addition to the band's catalogue.

We've only got another week left to finish the first pass of reading the 25,000+ applications we receive for our Regular Decision round, and then only two weeks after that to finish the shaping work. I'll be done with my files today, however—the director of selection wants me to be available to help other folks read their files next week (we read in pairs for the first read, as this cuts down on the individual biases of a given reader and keeps us from having to make more changes during the shaping process).

I was fine doing this, but honestly, from a math perspective, it didn't really matter. I'm going to be investing a certain amount of hours reading each week, and whether I finish a week early (meaning other people had to spend more of their time reading my files with me leading up to this week) or I finish with everyone else (meaning the split between my files and the other readers' files is evenly distributed across the entire reading timeline), I'm still going to have the same number of hours to help other people read and I'm still going to require the same number of hours to have other people help me read mine.

I fell in love with of Montreal when they were in the midst of their magical run of releases from Sunlandic Twins to Skeletal Lamping (including their seminal Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and its companion EP Icons, Abstract Thee), and I loved those records so much that I'm likely going to continue to buy everything they release.

Frontman Kevin Barnes is relentlessly creative, and he releases something pretty much every year, but of the five albums released after 2008's Skeletal Lamping through 2018's White Is Relic, two were decent (False Priest and Paralytic Stalks, the two released immediately after Skeletal Lamping) and the other three were pretty forgettable with the odd good song scattered across the track list.

I had pretty much given up on them releasing another life-changing album by the time they delivered White Is Relic, and I was even more put off that it was formatted as six supersized songs that jammed two normal songs together. But I bought it anyway, and quickly fell in love—despite the long song lengths (the three minute Platonic ideal for a pop song is just about perfect for me), it was Barnes' most compelling work in years, returning to the weirdness and the hooks of his best releases.

The two year gap between White Is Relic and their latest, UR FUN, is one of the longest in the history of the band (even when he doesn't release a proper new album every year, Barnes will often release an EP or a collection of outtakes and b-sides), and the longer gestation period had me hoping for another great album to build on White Is Relic's career resurgence. But instead Relic is looking like an anomaly: UR FUN has a lot more in common with the middling records of the last decade, especially Innocence Reaches, another pop-oriented record with a couple of good singles amongst a bunch of fairly average songs.

I love this band the most when they're being as weird as possible, but for a lot of their recent albums, it seems like they're trying to put a weird twist on conventional pop structures. In the abstract, that sounds like something that would appeal to me, but in practice, the records they produce when that's their target are nowhere near as good as the ones where they let themselves completely off the chain. I'll still go see them live anytime, though—that's when their weirdness shines through consistently.

Our big event this weekend was a trip to the Atlanta Zoo with Will and two of his friends, Evie and Anika (they are sisters). We hadn't seen them in a while, but their dad, Clint (a neighbor and friend of mine who usually goes out with me to trivia nights) let me know that he was planning to take them on Saturday morning. We didn't have anything on the schedule and knew that Will would love both a trip to the zoo and getting to hang out with them, so we made plans to join them.

We didn't tell him what we were doing—we just told him we had some errands to run—so he was completely shocked when we pulled into the zoo parking lot. And he was even more surprised when Evie and Anika pulled into the parking spot next to us and started waving to him through the window. They were all so excited to see each other (although it wasn't a surprise to Evie and Anika).

The temperature was about average for Atlanta in February (in the 50s, which is too cold for me), but the sun was out and we kept moving, so I didn't mind being outside so much. Plus there are a lot of indoor exhibits, and we tended linger in those. My favorite was the gorilla enclosure (with a heated indoor viewing area): there were some fascinating social dynamics (fights, alliances, backstabbing, making up) taking place right outside the window, possibly because they had outdoor heaters going in that area.

I thought we might spend a couple of hours there, but we ended up spending more than twice that—the kids were having so much fun and we took our time making our way through the park. We ended with a carousel ride and train ride in the kids area with a quick trip through the gift shop on the way out. It was a pretty good day.

I have finally caught up with the Walking Dead just in time for new episodes to start—I watched the midseason finale of season 10 last week, and the premiere of the second half of the season was on Sunday. But although I'm tantalizingly close to being able to watch the show as it airs for the first time in at least a couple of years (I tend to be about a half season behind, if not more), I'm going to need to take a break from the show, because I've watched way too much of it recently and I'm not super keen on the current main characters or the plot.

I continue to be annoying by the whole Whisperers group, and with the heavy use of flashbacks to tell their stories, and although I usually like Samantha Morton, I really, really don't like the way she plays Alpha. The villains in this show have gotten more and more cartoony as we've gone along, from Shane to the Governor to Negan, and Alpha is the least complex, most psychotic, and most unbelievable of them all. I don't read the comics, so I don't know what comes after the conflict with the Whisperers is settled, but it has already gone on far too long and I just want it to be over.

Also: even though there's still no real reason to ever trust Negan, there's little doubt in my mind that his defection to the Whisperers is his own way of seeking redemption, and that he will eventually betray them for the benefit of his former enemies and captors. What else do you do with him otherwise? I mean, if he was really the same old Negan, he wouldn't be interested in wearing the face of a dead person and following orders, he'd dethrone Alpha and make a new Sanctuary with her people.

We got a good deal on Disney+ (three years for around $150) and have been subscribers since day 1, and I've generally been happy with it. But one thing that irritates me that wasn't clear in the marketing materials that's becoming clear now that it has been live as movies are making their way through the various distribution pipelines: Disney+ will not share content with subscribers at the same time that that content is made available on other platforms where you either buy or rent the content.

It's hard to tell exactly how long the lag will be, but it looks like it will be at least a few weeks (if not a few months). This is just too long—when a new movie is released to streaming from Disney or Pixar, my kid is going to want to watch it as soon as possible, even (or sometimes especially) if they saw it in the theater. If I've made a commitment to your content distribution service, I don't want to have to rent or buy that same content somewhere else during the dead zone when literally every other service has that content but your own does not.

We got a great price, and the existing library of content along with the original content (like The Mandalorian) more than make Disney+ worth the price we paid, and that will likely be the case when our initial subscription expires. But I'd rather pay a couple dollars more per month to ensure that I have access to all Disney-related content on Disney+ the same day it's available to rent or purchase on Amazon or iTunes than have an uncertain (and to my kid, interminable) wait for it it appear on Disney+.

First reads are done for this cycle, and now we have two weeks to shape and sculpt the class before we finalize it and prepare to release decisions. It's always nice to reach this point in the cycle each year—it's a rare period where all the various factions of the staff can take credit for an accomplishment and pause to take a breath before leaping into the next phase of our work.

Another recent album purchase is Swimmer, the latest release from Tennis, a husband and wife team who wrote their first record after taking an eight month sailing trip together immediately following their graduation from college (so of course it's entirely fitting that this latest record came out on Valentine's Day). In case you're not familiar with their sound, they're like if Bernadette Peters had been time-shifted to the 2010s and decided to make a career out of singing yacht rock from her original 1970s timeline instead of being an actor. And I mean that in a good way.

This is their fifth full length in less than a decade of officially being a band, and that sort of consistency and reliability is both one of the band's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this record, but there's very little here I haven't heard on a previous Tennis release. Despite the presence of two or three charming songs on every release that belong with their best tracks (here it's "Echoes" and "Tender as a Tomb"), and little forays into adjacent musical neighborhoods, there's no mistaking a Tennis song at this point, for better or for worse.

For me, this is mostly for the better, but for neophytes, this often means that the templates that defined their sound are to be found earlier in their catalog, which makes it hard to recommend a newer record over one of their first two (their sophomore record, Young & Old, is still the urtext for the band, the record that defines them better than any other). So if you like Tennis, there's no reason not to pick up this record, but if they are unknown to you and you're curious, there are better starting places.

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