Forced Cheer 

News and notes from the long weekend:

- I ate a lot, but not this much.

The free agent frenzy and trade swirl -- Eyre, Bobby Howry, B.J. Ryan, Josh Beckett, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, and so on -- has so far left the Giants in the dust. This could be a good thing. It would have been nice to trade for Thome with $22 million of his remaining $46 million paid by the Phillies, but he really should be in the American League as a part-time DH.

- Matt Morris, San Francisco Giants: I'm starting to let it roll around on my tongue to see how it feels. With Estaban Loaiza now going to the A's, Morris is starting to look like the Giants' main pitching target. If he's healthy, he's a big upgrade from Tomko.

However, I still feel the bulk of the Giants' moves will be somewhat surprising, kind of like Billy Beane trading both Mulder and Hudson last winter. We sort of expected one, but both? Now that the market's been set for starters, Jason Schmidt's final year at $10M+ looks like a bargain. Might he be traded for younger, cheaper pitching? There may also be some significant addition by subtraction (Ray Durham? Pedro Feliz?) to clear the decks for other incoming surprises. Troy Glaus, anyone?

- Small print update: Now reading: former New England Journal of Medicine editor in chief Marcia Angell rips the pharmaceutical industry (i.e., "Big Pharma") a new donut hole in The Truth About the Drug Companies. Don't get angry -- get generic!

Also, I put the new Cowboy Junkies on the headphones a few times this weekend. It's not really new -- One Soul Now was released last year. But that's about the speed I move. I wait until consumer goods are not just retro, but retro-twice-removed before I buy them.

I'm a 15-year Junkie junkie, but these days I circle their new albums with trepidation. They've always played a limited repertoire that verges on generic country-rock, but when they're on, the blandness falls away to dense imagery, arrangements that swoop in from unexpected angles, and a certain morbid wit that runs upstream against their three-chord earnestness. (No wonder one of their favorites to cover is Springsteen's State Trooper.) Unfortunately One Soul Now doesn't meet those standards. The production is too slick by a couple notches, the lyrics often ring precious and forced, the uptempo numbers feel like filler. They've done this before. Some of the tracks on Miles From Our Home are unlistenable; I've never liked the cup-of-coffee cheeriness of "Anniversary Song." They haven't done a front-to-end stunner since Lay It Down (1996), although the extremely dark and dense Open (2001) was underrated and underlistened to.

- No matter how bad the Junkies get, they're a hell of a lot better than the Christmas-themed music I'm already hearing on radio stations and in public places. It's not yet December -- for Christ's sake (and I mean that), does it have to start so soon? When a director of marketing has so obviously pushed a button, it's not holiday spirit, it's retail-sector behavioral programming. But you knew that already. Right?

- When Brian Sabean's kids asked him how to tell if the turkey's done, he pointed to Edgardo Alfonzo and said, "Same shape. Same flexibility. Yep. Stick a fork in it."

- Does anyone want some turkey soup? We've got a lot left.


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