Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Manny

From the New Yorker:
“We were trying to push some edges,” Holly said. “If it weren’t for Holly’s book being associated with a publisher and all that, we might have pushed it even further and had more curse words,” Jay said. One particularly risqué segment posed a personnel problem more pressing than a potential shunning at Shinnecock. “The kid, Dylan, was either going to hump a chair or hump the nanny’s leg,” Holly said. “As a mother, I wasn’t going to ask my kids or my friends’ kids to do that.” Hence, the dwarf. Jay recalled, “We thought, Why don’t we hire a little person? That should get some good laughs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In London - Five From Banksy

Get with the program...

Michelle, Why Would You?

Rhode Island produces the greatest people. The greatest. The greatest.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Aunt Jacky / DJ Youtube

Isn't this exactly what the Internet is for? Democratizing both the creative tools and the broadcast mediums, so that both the talented and under-appreciated, and the un-talented and under-appreciated can get their shit out? For us, the people?

Seriously, Aunt Jacky should be proud. The boys get their hands on ProTools or whatever, cut a really fun track, go out on the street on a Thursday night, film a video with some crazy and charismatic dancing, edit it, stick it on YouTube, and then get a Slate article written about them... well, deserved, and my favorite new Harlem two-step since the Harlem Shake...

On a separate, related note - while walking down Lafayette, after getting a coffee, I noticed "DJ Youtube" scrawled into a bank of posted advertisements. I thought it was the best rap name I'd heard in a while. Well, it takes mixology to the next level, as far as I can tell... although I'm not quite sure what it is and I'm certainly not sure if I like it... but take a look: DJ Youtube.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Penguin, Robot, Monster

First, let's have a little test. See if you can match the pictures above with their corresponding titles below:

"Giving Up"
"Two Penguins, One Hammer"
"Six Penguins, One Hatchet"
"Flashing Santa"
"Astronauts and Baseball"
"Swimmers and Zombies"

Did you do well?

I spent the afternoon in Narragansett, RI, visiting my folks, collecting a few things (CDs that I've recently bought and books that I am still reading, mostly, while the rest stays moth-balled). We took a walk down to the village green, where the Narragansett Art Fair was going on. There was some all-right stuff there - decent photography of New England land and sea-scapes, some nice metalwork and a few nice oil painters, but mostly decorative, nothing surprising. But then I stumbled into Greg Stones' tent. Modestly sized-stuff, but wonderfully detailed and laugh out loud funny. Really, really great. It was a shame that the artist had stepped out, probably for a Del's, but check out his website - there's tons of fun stuff to see. For example, titles I've left out:

"Zombie, Robot, Flower"
"Penguin, Robot, Revolver"
"Monster and Giant Penguin"

And on top of charming paintings, how about this charming About the Artist description:
I am a Rhode Island-based graduate of Bates College who majored in Studio Art, minored in Music, and married a visually appealing smart girl last year. Oh yes, and I have spent the past nine years working as a full-time artist. Why am I a full-time artist? Because I have no other skills. Also, I am extremely lucky, because not only do people like how I paint, they like what I paint, and that makes all the difference. Zombies, penguins, blue aliens, naked people, people flashing animals, barns, landscapes, UFOs, quiet human interactions...all these various elements of my work strike chords with enough people that I am actually able to do what I love to do every single day of my life: watch television. Oh, and paint. I almost forgot about the painting part. Painting. Gotta love it. Good stuff. (Did I mention the visually appealing smart girl? She's my wife.)
I guess the only question left is, JJK, Emster, exactly how many of these paintings and prints would you like as gifts for your wedding?

Held Hostage + Other Topics

RM sends an article from this weekend's NYT. The lede is as follows, and the rest of the article is a fun enough read (as far as kidnapping stories go...). Makes me want to move to China:

AS an American journalist based in China, I knew there was a good chance that at some point I’d be detained for pursuing a story. I just never thought I’d be held hostage by a toy factory.

That’s what happened last Monday, when for nine hours I was held, along with a translator and a photographer, by the suppliers of the popular Thomas & Friends toy rail sets.

“You’ve intruded on our property,” one factory boss shouted at me. “Tell me, what exactly is the purpose of this visit?” When I answered that I had come to meet the maker of a toy that had recently been recalled in the United States because it contained lead paint, he suggested I was really a commercial spy intent on stealing the secrets to the factory’s toy manufacturing process.

“How do I know you’re really from The New York Times?” he said. “Anyone can fake a name card."

And an unrelated note on publishing. Yes, I am maintaining two blogs. No, you don't have to regularly check both. Just this one. If you are reading. Here is what I have written about recently on the other blog:
  • A brief post on moves by social-networking platforms Facebook and LinkedIn to open up to developer communities.
  • A glance at environmental initiatives being speared by China and Google, respectively.
  • A response to an article sent over by RM, exploring how city living can be more environemtnally inefficient than rural living.
  • A query into whether the incentives that drive entrepreneurial solutions to technology problems are really well aligned to the looming global environmental and energy concerns.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Colour Before Color

Had a good night last night, out with KP and TG. Dinner at Empire Diner (just OK), preceded by a couple of galleries, of which the clear highlight was Hasted Hunt and the Colour Before Color exhibit. See it.

Thursday Is For This and That

Here are some arbitrary things to while away your time:
  • NB sends this horrible story which I can't even begin to excerpt;
  • GB sends a crazy story about the "opiod antagonist" Narcon, a controversial drug that can help save lives of OD'd heroin addicts.
  • NYT writes about "Freegans." WTF people? Aren't they just dumpster divers? WTF NYT?
  • Tax standoff in New Hampshire. Live Free or Die, Baby. Quote for my money:
"Everybody feels a tiny bit of embarrassment. This is what we're going to be known for?" Taylor said. "We don't want to be known for this"
Sort of what I feel like about the 21st Century. And America, these days.

Swing Yr Fiery Sword

Lincoln, Karl Lindtvedt, 2007 (courtesy Dust Congress)

Josh Marshall posted an interesting little polemic over on Talking Points Memo the other day that I am going to re-post in full:

(June 18, 2007 -- 02:32 PM EDT)

Thinking back over the blather last week over Sen. Reid's (D-NV) comments about Gen. Pace, it's quite astonishing that the White House could with a straight face attack Reid for questioning Pace's competence only day's after they'd fired him. Think about that. The White House fires Pace as part of its many-month effort to sack everyone from the Rumsfeld era at the Pentagon. And Reid is in hot water for questioning the man's abilities?

But setting aside abilities, politicians can criticize generals. That is after all the very nature of our political system. And it is a symptom of the deeply decayed and desperate state of the Iraq War debate that this is even a question. We are now far past the point of supporting the troops in their mission, ensuring that they are properly armed and protected, or anything else tied to respecting and honoring the overwhelmingly very young men and women who are paying with risk to their lives for the decisions we collectively make here at home.

Now apparently even criticism of the policy/strategy level command in Washington (this is after all what the JCS are) is beyond the pale, a sign of denigration of the military itself.

We can say whatever we want about double standards, that Sen. McCain (R-AZ) said even more to the face of the then-actual commander of American forces in Iraq (Gen. Casey) not long ago. But that's just a partisan distraction.

The real issue here is shaking ourselves loose from the degradation of our own civic and republican collective character that the war has brought us. Some principles are clear and worth repeating: You can't have a war for democracy fought by people whose principles are authoritarian and anti-democratic. It's not a throwaway line or a barb. It's the only pivot around which to understand the Bush years.

A few days ago, Andrew Sullivan linked to this rancid post by Glenn Reynolds previewing the coming claims that the war was sabotaged by the critics of the war who had more or less no power whatsoever during the entire prosecution of it.

But Reynolds' post and all his prefab reader emails should put us on notice that the architects of this and its dead-ender supports plan to lie their way out of this war just as they lied their way into it -- now whipping up a dust storm of rationalizations for their failures, imbecilities and lies much as the original entry into the conflict was floated on phoney claims about weapons of mass destruction and nonexistent ties between the past Iraqi regime and al Qaeda.

The only antidote to the advance of this sort of authoritarian mentality and strategy of organized lying that it is inevitably built on is the truth. Not that we can know the truth ourselves with any confidence or consistency. But we can take stock of the facts of the case as honestly as we can and speak them frankly. And that means breaking out of, ignoring, as many rhetorical bait and switch games as possible.

-- Josh Marshall
Now, I don't often stray too deep into politics on this blog, but this kind of got my hackles up. The most disappointing thing about the last six years, I'm sad to admit, is that the belief that I secretly, and I suppose, naively harbor, that some echelon of society, specifically, of powerful people, are still principled, and by principled, I mean in the old ways - adhering to truth, decency, equanimity - to high-minded, but universal ideals. The shock of the last six years is not that there is a cadre of powerful people adhering to a set of principles opposed to mine, or that powerful people can be arrogant, delusional, deceitful, or any such thing. It's rather the willingness of others to stand by this happens, particularly when nothing much is at stake but their own integrity (I'm talking mostly about senior Senate Republicans, I guess, who, as much as I politically disagree with them, occupy a bit of fantasy, where they are supposed to be the high-minded old gray hairs - conservatives in the sense of traditionalists...)

So it goes, I guess...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Go To Work On An Egg

RM sends me a link to the classic "Go To Work On An Egg" commercials, starring Tony Hancock. The proposed re-introduction of the ads - which are funny, whimsical, absurd, in short, everything you would want a commercial to be - run aground when Mother England decides that an egg a day is, in fact, bad for your health. And then brings the hammer down. Controversy here. Lengthy clips above. Smaller clip here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Potheads Beware: Aliens Will Steal Your Girlfriend

Actually, I'm in total agreement with Seth Stevenson over at This ad is thoroughly charming, and kids shouldn't do drugs.

Kids also shouldn't hire shamanic strippers to help try to holistically heal sick relatives. Like this angry man from Malaysia:
Mokhtar Mohamad Noor, 53, a teacher who wanted his sick wife to be cured, said the healer gave his wife a drink and spoke an incantation before she and some male followers in their 20s and 30s started dancing in the nude, the Star newspaper reported.

"She kept muttering unintelligible incantations which sounded like the singing of Koranic verses," Mokhtar said, adding that the woman sat under a yellow umbrella and the dance continued before he left with his wife, tired of the group's antics.
Thoroughly weird.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rave: Bringing It All Back Home

Enjoyed a nice dinner at Miriam in Park Slope with TL and LC. Quality nouveau Mediterranean cuisine, and following the trend these days, a touch on the pricey side. But within reason. Always good to see those two, and always good to be in a restaurant that plays good music - tonight's highlight being the hushed cover of Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" from Yo La Tengo's President Yo La Tengo.

Which brings me to my all too obvious rave - Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home. On a whimsical walk on Sunday afternoon through the heart of Williamsburg, I decided to stop in to Sound Fix and do what I do best - buy some CDs. Out came Matthew Dear's Asa Breed, which ain't that bad, and Bringing It All Back Home. As I mentioned to TL and LC tonight, my exposure to Dylan has worked its way back in a standard but sub-optimal way: starting with the radio and greatest hits collections, moving through the two critical darlings Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks early in college, and finally, slowly evolving into the completest stance that sees me pick up a new record every few months and give it some honest time - with the last three purchases being Modern Times, New Morning, and, now, Bringing It All Back Home.

All of this for my single point: time spent missing older Dylan records is time wasted. This record is great, from the patter of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" to open, to the lovely "She Belongs to Me," through the slightly revved-up "Outlaw Blues," and the closing "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" the album is pretty well stunning - imagining Dylan sets your mind a-reelin'.

Currently, I am thoroughly enjoying the record, as I thoroughly enjoyed this interview re-posted from the always excellent Dust Congress, about Bruce Langhorne, guitarist on Bringing It All Back Home and inspiration for "Mr. Tambourine Man" (original interview from The Independent):
On the morning of the explosion, Bruce Langhorne recalls, he had been pondering the question of what percentage of powdered magnesium could safely be included in a home-made mix of rocket propellant.

"I realise now that I had one or two gaps in my knowledge of chemistry," he says. "I was 12."

His mother Dorothy was downstairs in the kitchen, working on her own, less hazardous, recipes."I made the rocket using a steel jacket, packed with magnesium and plaster of Paris..."

"With a view to what?"

"I was going to launch it out of my bedroom window to see how far it would get across the park. We were living in New York City, in Spanish Harlem, at that time. I hadn't realised quite how fast magnesium burns. The rocket exploded before it took off. My mother heard this 'boom'. When she came into my (omega) room, she saw I had blown my hand off basically, and my face was all covered in blood. It looked for a while as though I might lose an eye."

Langhorne, 68, is talking to me at the kitchen table in his house at Venice Beach, Los Angeles. He raises his right hand. Its fourth and fifth fingers are intact; the thumb, index and middle fingers are reduced to short stumps.

"My mom told me afterwards that I looked at her and said: 'Well, at least I won't have to play that stupid violin any more.' As a child," he adds, "you are very adaptable."

Bruce Langhorne had already been identified as versatile and highly gifted, but nobody could have foreseen just how successfully he would overcome this early trauma. The inspiration for the song "Mr Tambourine Man", he played guitar on many of Bob Dylan's greatest recordings, including the 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. He played the electric solo on "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", and percussion on "Like a Rolling Stone".

"If you had Bruce playing with you," Dylan wrote, in his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles, "that's all you would need to do just about anything."


He didn't start playing the guitar till he was 17, busking in the company of a caricaturist who would sketch people who stopped to listen.

"I was playing basically with two fingers and the nub of a third," he says. "That meant I had to play two notes with one finger, or else strum. So I developed a technique that used each of my fingers to generate a harmonic line. I couldn't be taught by classical techniques. I had to rely on communication and empathy. Which is why I really liked working with Bob Dylan."

The two met in 1961 in New York, at the folk club Gerde's Folk City, where Langhorne was accompanist to the MC, a gospel singer named Brother John Sellers.

"When I first heard Bobby," Langhorne says, "I have to be truthful; I was not impressed by his voice. But he turned into such a wonderful writer, such a wonderful artist."

"In Scorsese's documentary, you describe the intuitive rapport you developed with Dylan."

"The connection I had with Bobby was telepathic, and when I use that word, I mean it. Telepathic. Between the two of us, that level of communication was always very strong. I played on every song on Bringing It All Back Home. Some of those numbers were barely rehearsed. Some were done in one or two takes."

"And Dylan said that you inspired him to write 'Mr Tambourine Man'."

"He did write that song about me. I used to have this drum - a kind of huge Turkish tambourine that made a sound like a whole percussion section. He saw me playing it at a party. It's in a museum now."

"Through Chronicles, and his current broadcasts as a DJ on Theme Time Radio Hour, Dylan is revealing himself to be someone with a surprisingly playful sense of humour."

"Well, he always did have a great sense of irony. In the early days we went up to record a TV show with a presenter called Wes Crane. We were live in this studio in Manhattan. Bobby said: 'Oh Wes - I really like your tie.' Wes said: 'You like it? Here. Have it. It's yours.' And he took the tie off, and gave it to him. Then Bob said: 'And Wes - those boots you have on. I really like those boots..." Langhorne gives his long, sonorous laugh. "Bob is very funny, and very, very bright. And cynical."

"Has he been in touch?"

"Well he was, not so long ago, when my dad was still alive and living next door to us here. He told me he wanted to meet my father."

"And did he?"

"Sure. They met. They talked. It was amazing, because my dad was already becoming senile at that time. He lived to be 93."

"Why did Bob Dylan want to meet your father?"

"I couldn't tell you. He just wanted to." Langhorne pauses. "Bobby and I have a great deal of respect for each other."

See the full interview, it's a fun read.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Introducing the Black Cougar

I stood on the sidelines for one the more interesting adventures early in the tenure of the Sam Park Revue in New York City. I don't know if it was during the first few months, when I was still temping, or if I had already gotten a real job, but for whatever reason, good or bad, I did not get involved with MM, and his lieutenants, CC and JJK, as they tried to make the dream of The Black Cougar a reality.

The Black Cougar was a complete vision for a movie by a guy from Yonkers named Silvio. Silvio hired MM, CC, and JJK to help with the production of the movie, which included everything from MM designing special effects sequences (including various smoke bombs, a scene in which some twenty miniature Black Cougar action figures "march" in unison with the help of a vaguely concealed rig of wire and wood, and perhaps design of the Cougar costume, as well), to on-site production support, to various minor, supporting roles on-screen in the movie, including a duo of spastic and suspiciously familiar looking thugs and donning of the Black Cougar costume in different action sequences by each of MM, CC, and JJK who have sufficiently different physiques to perhaps add even more to the legend of the Black Cougar.

The movie was about a superhero, the Black Cougar, who is the only superhero with the specific mission of "protecting kids." The plot of the movie involved the Black Cougar, who is the orphaned charge of a cantankerous old toy inventor, foiling a plot by the mayor of the local town to steal and sell the local town's children into slavery, to a cartel of cartoonish supervillains, including a South American drug lord, an Arab sheik, and someone fairly reminiscent of Condi Rice. It was goodhearted to an extreme, entertaining, and perhaps the slightest bit flimsy. Silvio's sons (who may have also been named Silvio) played the lead characters, one of whose name was also, surely, Silvio.

A special Black Cougar rap was commissioned for the movie, as was a closing hard rock anthem by a band whose name might have been Anaesthesia. All of this can be seen on the DVD, which may or may not come with a limited edition Black Cougar t-shirt. The entire movie, to my understanding, was conceived, financed, directed, and produced by Silvio - who is an incredibly energetic, charismatic, and I don't think I need to add, visionary filmmaker. He financed the movie (or at least paid our boys) from large rolls of $100 bills he kept in his pocket at all times. So he was a successful entrepreneur, as well, I'm guessing.

All of this by way of introduction, only, as from my outsiders perspective, I could never do the experience justice. And the incredible audition for the American Inventors TV program that JJK forwarded is only an entree to the wonderful world of the Cougar.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The May Reading List

Prime Green, Robert Stone
Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
Happiness: A History, Darrin M. McMahon
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

May was a good month for reading, although it was often interrupted by the pursuit of a new job. A couple of cross-country trips provided some quiet reading time, but also disrupted my routine of morning and evening reading on the Pettaquamscott Cove. Two truly excellent reads have already been covered in raves this month (here and here), so I won't go much into either of them beyond a passing mention.

Robert Stone's memoir Prime Green is an extremely well-observed and well-written account of the writer's life as it wound its way through some the more portentous moments of the latter half of the 20th century. Letting Stone lead you through the Beat Generation, Ken Kesey's Furthur journeys, Vietnam, ex-pat life, and onwards is a read well spent.

Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead is a gratifying read, as well, although a bit more challenging than Prime Green in its tackling of metaphysical themes of Christian goodness and guilt. The novel itself progresses smoothly, through the narration of a fictional preacher John Ames, in the form of a letter to his young son. The spiritual debates driven home through the plot and characters, and more over, the Reverend's commentary on his interactions with the characters certainly gives pause for thought. All this set against the back drop of a chancing racial landscape in America, from the abolitionist passions and violence of the Bleeding Kansas movement through to the more subtly expressed anti-miscegenation feelings that persist through to modern times. A compelling read.

The physical artifact of the Penguin Classics edition Saul Bellow's Seize the Day is in some way, the perfect novel. The sleek, black and orange production framing a photo of a gray blazer laid out (dropped?) on the lush green meadows of Central Park, with an out of focus Manhattan skyline in the distance sums up the novel well - a small, distinct but not entirely in-focus picture of a failed life in New York.

Why Bellow writes failure so well, specifically, that deeply personal but monumental failure of sons failing fathers, second generations failing their immigrant promise, of men failing the glamour of New York, and of course, failing their wives as husbands, and most of all, of tragic figures failing all of the ideas of success bound up in their own head, I don't quite know. But he trains his sights on the subject often enough. Seize the Day has the benefit of being brief, so Bellow's powerful, occasionally shimmering prose can carry you quickly through the emotional decay of his protagonist, Tommy Wilhelm. Tommy is the flip-side of the coin on whose head shines the visage of Jay Gatsby - an attempt at self-made that fell-down, flopped, and then failed, all under the unsympathetic and unflinching gaze of his father, his wife, and the city that anonymizes him. While a document of struggle, Seize the Day is by no means a painful read, and through some quite splendid prose homages to New York, can be quite enjoyable. And as it is quite slim, it makes the perfect subway or airplane read if you are up for some slightly heavier fare.

Happiness: A History is like a central assigned reading in a really great philosophy class. Florida State University professor Darrin M. McMahon provides a 450-page tour of the history of Western philosophy, tracing the development of perspectives, traditions, and ideas, from the Greeks and Romans, into the Dark Ages, out through the Reformation, the Rennaisance, and the Enlightement, moving finally to more modern philosophers like Nietzsche, Weber, Marx, and others who strove to navigate the complicated terrain between God, science, knowledge, and history -- all told through the lens of that most fundamental question: What does it mean to be happy?

It would do no service for me to summarize any of McMahon's excellent reviews and analyses of various epochs in philosophical history, but let me strongly recommend reading the sections on the Ancient Greeks (particularly the Stoics and the Epicureans, as compared to the Platonic-Aristocratic tradition), and of the modern work of Smith-Locke-Rousseau-Mills which provides so much of the foundation of our political and cultural traditions. If you want a book that feels like an enjoyable Philosophy 101 class, then Happiness: A History is highly recommended.

Babies and Belching

A Flickr search for 'baby stroller' produced surprisingly fun results. My hope was to find a simple close of a cooing child in a stroller, to illustrate the term 'babyful.' Sometimes you get more lucky. My clear favorite, based on review two pages of search results, is "i microwaved your baby!" (second from top). Also, the simply titled "Baby Stroller" (bottom) is pretty creepy.

Further dispensing of my duty to edify, today's word of the day:

eructation \ih-ruhk-TAY-shuhn\, noun:
The act of belching; a belch.

Summer Shows

Back in New York, wanna rock and roll. At a glance, here are the summer shows I'm looking out for (bold means that I'm really very serious). Come along, and tell me if I'm missing anything...

6/24 Superchunk w/ Oakley Hall, McCarren Pool Park (free)
6/25 Wilco w/ Low, Hammerstein
6/25 Taxi Taxi, Union Hall
6/28 Joan Jett, Pier 54 (free)
7/1 Fiery Furnaces w/ Dios (malos), Studio B
7/4 New Pornographers, Battery Park (free)
7/5 Shearwater, Castle Clinton (free)
7/6 A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Cake Shop
7/6 Chromeo, Studio B
7/7 Built to Spill w/ Cat Power, McCarren Pool Park
7/9 Art Brut w/ White Rabbits, Highline Ballroom
7/11 Spoon, Rockefeller Park (free)
7/17 Os Mutantes, Time Warner Center
7/18 and 7/25 They Might Be Giants, Bowery Ballroom
7/28 Sonic Youth, McCarren Pool Park

8/5 Blonde Redhead w/ I'm From Barcelona, McCarren Pool Park
8/9 The Hold Steady, Prospect Park
8/12 Ted Leo w/ The Thermals, McCarren Pool Park (free)

8/13 Junior Senior, Highline Ballroom

8/17 The National, South Street Seaport (free)
8/19 Wolf Parade, Warsaw
9/29 Magnolia Electric Co., Grammercy Theater

Brave New Worlds

At the margins of our known geography, some open country still exists. In a sense.

NG forwards me this article in the NYT about the Territory of KonungaRikena Elgaland-Vargaland (the Royal Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland). Headed by two self-proclaimed and self-ordained kings,

The Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland [KREV] were proclaimed in 1992 and consist of all Border Territories: Geographical, Mental & Digital. You are currently visiting the KREV digital territory as a citizen or as a tourist. You are encouraged to browse the digital territory of the Kingdoms - follow the links on the right.

Elgaland-Vargaland is the largest – and most populous realm on Earth, incorporating all boundaries between other nations as well as Digital Territory and other states of existence. Every time you travel somewhere, and every time you enter another form, such as the dream state, you visit Elgaland-Vargaland.

Kings Carl Michael von Hausswolff of Vargaland and Leif Elggren of Elgaland are pleased to welcome you and invite you to email them via the KREV admin office.

Their official website is worth a visit.

On a slightly more realizable note, the excellent architecture critic

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dining Out in the Center of the Universe

Starting to settle in to the new apartment, the summer place, in Williamsburg, at Wythe and N. 7th. Neither as charming or babyful as Park Slope, but Williamsburg sure is happening. Hip-wise, it may still be the center of the universe. Along with a host of friends passing through town this week, it was eventful, even as I tried to make it uneventful, while battling a cold. A few notes on bars and restaurants for posterity:

Azul Bistro, Stanton and Suffolk, New York City, NY - Argentinian fare. Met up with AT, in from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and his rather large crew of friends and family. Azul Bistro (see New York Magazine listing) was selected on a recommendation by one of FT's friends, and it turned out to be quite good. While I had a filet mignon, I will certainly recommend the grilled skirt steak, which I sampled, and is a house specialty. With either mashed potatoes or fries, and a good red wine (of which the selection is quite ranging and good), you'll be satisfied. Probably about $40/per, or maybe $60/per if AT is ordering the wine... Extra marks for the Maradona and Che Guevara newsprint wall hangings...

Lotus Club, Stanton and Clinton, New York City, NY. Not to be confused with the other, schmancier Lotus, if it still exist. Lotus on the LES (see Yelp) has been an old stand-by for a place to grab a mellow drink, since TL used to drag me down there when his friends were DJ-ing. Got a few drinks with LM, in from London, and CD and NG. Keep it in the back pocket, for when you need a quieter night in Manhattan.

The Orchard,Orchard St. at Stanton St, New York City, NY. Met up with RM, JP, and LM for dinner, on account of JP and LM being in town from London. Failed to have tolerance for the wait at Barrio Chino, so we roamed around until we stumbled into Orchard. RM commented that the decor reminded him of a hotel restaurant. This was apt. The sour apple and goat cheese salad and the ravioli were both excellent. The wine was OK, the menu a little pricey. LM's conversation, as always, priceless. Good if you are first dating a management consultant, or maybe need to take your parents out to dinner. A NYT review that is puzzlingly effusive, just for you.

Pete's Candy Store, Lorimer St. at Richardson St., Brooklyn, NY. Met up with HP, CC, GB, who were in from far-flung locales, plus friends. Had a few beers. Pete's is great, one of many indie-rock sanctuaries that dot the Brooklyn landscape. Always nice people around, live music most nights in the back room, a nice back yard, and good music in the front room (GBV off an iPod). Can't complain.

The Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, 44th St. btw/ 5th and 6th, New York City, NY. If you have a good friend who likes the old ways - old bars, old drinks, old stories, and old men - and you have a couple of hours to kill in midtown, then the Blue Bar is as likely a place as any to get a little sozzled and miss a train or two. JWW and I caught up for a couple of gins, talkin' about old times (i.e., the trip to San Diego last week) and home repairs. Worth a stop, but it'll cost you for your drinks.

Nita Nita, North 8th and Wythe, Brooklyn, NY - off-the-path tapas bar. Turned up with a slightly rowdy foursome of boys (JAW, DR, and newby MM). The music was excellent (think atmospheric indie-rock), the chorizo was excellent, the cheese plate was too small, and the rest of the food was reasonably good. Beautiful back yard. Would recommend it for drinks and a small bit, but not necessarily dinner. A little pricey ($30/per to fill up) and they don't take credit cards. May shoot for a bar night here this summer. For more, see this L magazine write-up.

Two un-named bars in the Williamsburg hinterlands will be excused from review. Part of JAW and my enjoyable but poorly considered jaunt out into a humid Brooklyn night. One place was a converted loft with three young ladies playing very bad noise rock, the other a biker bar where six dollars and two spins of the Wheel of Drinks bought us a PBR and a shot of Jaegermeister. I've done this before, don't necessarily need to again.

Sweetwater, N. 6th between Berry and Wythe, Brooklyn, NY. DR and I joined JAW for a post-poker nightcap at Sweetwater, at the invitation of one of JAW's lady friends. Didn't have anything to eat, but the friendly and charming wait staff assured us the food was good. The winning touches here were a lovely raised garden seating area out back, and the decision to play the entirety of And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out as a quiet close to a quiet evening. Citysearch review, which also claims that this is part of the Patois-Schnak-etc. dynasty, for your perusal.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pandora: Hella Dying

Pandora didn't come to me in dreams, but rather in stumbles, across the internet. Pandora is a site by which to expand and enrich your taste in music. Music, which is the arbiter of life, that most holy of elements, plus that thing that makes you cool.

Get with the program.

Pandora is dying. Will you support it?

Underappreciated Comedians Series: Kasper Hauser

Kasper Hauser represent everything I failed to be. In a small sliver of my world. I.e, the ex-Sam Park Revue, the ex-OvalShow and their "legacy." Kasper Hauser are our forebears - irreverent, smart, and worst of all, funny. And on top of it all, functioning professionals and good human beings.

Truth is, Kasper Hauser have a tough job. In the profoundly awesome, open, beautiful, but unfunny and non-judgemental San Francisco, the boys of KH have made some of the weirdest, most touching, most disturbing, and most belly-shaking sketch comedy this side of, well, of the UCB.

PS - check out the awesome but illicit SkyMaul catalogue.

PPS - Check out their Craigslist postings.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Preservation Acts

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia is one of my favorite buildings (and Barcelona one of my favorite cities). The imposing, surreal cathedral is one of those rare feats of architecture that can enrich your daily life (if you are lucky enough to live in Barcelona) and change your perspective about the world (if you are lucky enough to visit). It is hard to believe that a municipal improvement to the Barcelona rail infrastructure would really be allowed to threaten the monument, but stranger things have happened. Let's hope any negative impact is eliminated.

Also, if you can get to Philadelphia this week or weekend, be sure to check out machines machines machines machines machines machines - the new staging of the original work being put up by GS and company. And if you have interest in going next Saturday, I am going to try and make a trip down from NYC.

Killer Whales Are Really Killer

An article over at about how to plan a bachelor party. Some nice tips, sure, but the author missed the surest path to success:
  1. Make sure your almost 30-year old bachelor friend loves - really loves - whales, robots, dinosaurs, etc.
  2. Make sure all of your other friends are awesome people who don't mind hanging out and drinking all day and all night.
  3. Go to Sea World.
Three easy steps to a fun bachelor weekend with no averse consequences. Seriously, people, give it a go. Plus, the killer whale handlers are really hot.


RIP, Richard Rorty.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's Good To Be Back in Brooklyn, Baby

Thanks to RVK for hosting an excellent roof-top party on a Thursday night in the East Village. A painfully fun reminder of why New York is such a great town, and adding un-needed pressure to the current NYC vs. SF dilemma. Aside from the collection of friends and drinks on RVK's rooftop, the draws of the evening were a ridiculous-but-useful inflatable movie projection screen (which is available from both SkyMall and Walmart, I am told, depending on your shopping preferences - and which will be featured in the forthcoming First Annual Cold Spring Film Festival, I am assured) and, projected on to that screen, the break-dancing classic Breakin'. Also worth your time:

Take a moment to check out the website for Wafaa Bilal - a performance artist of Iraqi descent who is currently "performing" in a one-man show in Chicago, the concept for which involves him sitting in a room 24/7 while visitors to his website are able to control a paintgun that can be used to shoot him (or not) with paintballs. The gallery apparently rejected the original title of the piece "Shoot an Iraqi" in favor of "Domestic Tension," according to an NPR profile to which I was listening. The commentary, of course, on violence, the current Iraqi war, and the chasm of day-to-day experience between those of us, here, comfortably in America, and all those Iraqis and western soldiers in the midst of conflict in Iraq.'s occasionally useful "Explainer" feature providing some provenance for the term "piss like a race horse." Conclusion: accurate.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told his supporters:
'to give away possessions they do not need such as an extra refrigerator because he only wants true socialists to be members of a new single party he is forming.

"Whoever has a fridge they do not need, put it out in the village square. Whoever has a truck, a fan or a cooker they do not need, give something away. Let's not be selfish. I demand you do it," Chavez said at a milk producing cooperative, in remarks released on Monday.

Chavez, who calls capitalism an evil, said he would donate $250,000 of his own money and added, "Let's see who follows the example."'

Between Venezuela and Brazil, politics in Latin America bears watching these days. For me, Chavez is at least entertaining, and it's worth remembering that not so long ago (i.e., through the end of the Cold War), the non-aligned movement was a large, if not always coherent, bloc of countries that are ever-increasing in both population and prominence in global politics. Also worth wondering is where a self-proclaimed socialist gets an extra $250K to donate...

Watched a surprisingly-full matinee show of "Knocked Up," the new Judd Apatow movie, in a suburban theater in South County, RI last week (and also, coincidentally, re-watched half of "The 40 Year Old Virgin" this morning). There are some definite pleasures to the movie - the twenty-something stoner-bud vibe of the lead character Ben and his friends, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd's occasionally-too-true psychedelic stroll through Las Vegas, Paul Rudd, in general, whose wry/bitter characters are wincingly great (see the odd and under-appreciated "Two Nights" if your netflix queue is sufficiently small), Judd Apatow's children, and, of course, the featuring of three attractive and funny women in lead and supporting roles. But, all that said, the movie is amusing at best, a little long, and probably deserving of a rental more than anything else. As an addendum, Dana Stevens at takes on the non-issue of abortion as a logical plot point in the movie.

Go Card?

"They can't keep raising the bar,'' said Dave Tipton, a former All-America defensive tackle at Stanford who served as an assistant coach there for 18 years under five head coaches. He said the admissions standards for football players are "markedly'' higher than they were 10 years ago. "Hopefully it will go back to where it was, which was tough but at least doable. Some of these kids are getting admitted to the Ivy League but not at Stanford.''
While I was never a fanatic for sports at Stanford, it certainly was nice to go to a prestigious university that also had excellent athletic programs - and it didn't hurt that during my undergraduate years, Stanford men's basketball was perhaps at an all-time peak and the men's football team was pretty decent, as well. The San Francisco Chronicle has published an interesting article on the perception that the undergraduate admissions policies in recent years have de-emphasized athletics in the mix of factors that gain a prospective student admittance into Stanford, and as such, have hurt the ability of certain Stanford athletic programs to be competitive. While I sympathize with current students, alums, and other backers of the university in their pains over the lack of success of our basketball and football teams in recent years, it is hard to argue against rising academic standards in admitting students, given the mission of the university. I don't have much to say about this issue, but may keep an eye on it, along with some other mucking around I am doing on questions about higher education.

Monday, June 4, 2007

UCS: Tom Papa

I grew up watching a lot of stand-up on television. We got cable when I was in junior high, and Comedy Central's Stand Up Stand Up soon became an afternoon staple of my latch-key lifestyle. So I consider myself a connoisseur of the form.

Upon moving to New York, I had the pleasure of stopping in from time to time on one of the more entertaining $20 nights that the city offers - the nightly two-drink minimum stand-up bill at the Comedy Cellar. There are a lot of working stand-ups at the Comedy Cellar who perform on a nightly basis and are incredibly funny. Many of these comedians fly just below the national radar - they don't have sitcoms, they may get a half-hour specials on Comedy Central - but they are funnier than most super-famous comedians and they tour a lot, as well. The list is long, but some of my favorites include Mitch Fatel, Greg Giraldo, Louis CK, Jeff Ross, Todd Barry, Mark Maron. Well, the list goes on. And all terribly under-appreciated for how funny they are. Catch them if you have the chance.

Flipping through the television tonight, I came across a half hour special that Tom Papa taped for Comedy Central. Tom Papa is easily one of my favorite stand-ups. His brand of familiar, vaguely domestic comedy touches on marriage, kids, life in general. In some sense, he is an observational comic, but he doesn't get lost in the quicksand of life's quirky details, and he has a warm, conversational style that isn't off-setting like any number of comics who have molded themselves after Seinfeld. And he is really, really funny. Check out the above clip, which manages to rise above the venue (Jay Leno's Tonight Show) to actually be quite charming.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Mr. Woo Number 25

Truly, the world is too big and too beautiful. Courtesy RM.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The May Raves List

The Shaky Hands, The Shaky Hands - laid-back yet upbeat indie-pop from Portland, OR, a la The Minders or Beulah
Live At Massey Hall, 1971, Neil Young

Hot Fuzz

Prime Green, Robert Stone
Happiness: A History, Darrin M. McMahon
Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Food & Drink
The Markos Cafe, Narragansett, RI
Peter Luger's, Brooklyn, NY
Latin American Club, San Francisco, CA
Del's Lemonade, Wakefield, RI

NR graduation at Wesleyan University - Congratulations!
Last Day in Brooklyn with JW, JZ, JK, EC, PK, LGK, RM, MA
Brooklyn Zoo
Campus, Stanford University
Evening games at PacBell park
B101, 101.5 FM, Providence, RI - the oldies station

For the Love of God Is Right...

Damien Hirst is at it again. Don't love it, can't hate it.
Hirst, who financed the piece himself, watched for months as the price of international diamonds rose while the Bond Street gem dealer Bentley & Skinner tried to corner the market for the artist’s benefit. Given the ongoing controversy over blood diamonds from Africa, “For the Love of God” now has the potential to be about death in a more literal way.

“That’s when you stop laughing,” Hirst says. “You might have created something that people might die because of. I guess I felt like Oppenheimer or something. What have I done? Because it’s going to need high security all its life.”
Well, can't hate it until he starts talking.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The War of All Against All

Are we in trouble? You decide:
- Sharks can have virgin births. Does the H. stand for Hammerhead? I.e., Jesus Hammerhead Christ?
- Bears attacking babies! (OK, so this was from 2002 and is really sad...)
- Two sites worth a visit: Animal Attack files and Bear
- Elephants are robbing motorists in India and attacking villagers throughout Africa and Asia. The second article is really a worthwhile read. Excerpts:
Elephants, when left to their own devices, are profoundly social creatures. A herd of them is, in essence, one incomprehensibly massive elephant: a somewhat loosely bound and yet intricately interconnected, tensile organism. Young elephants are raised within an extended, multitiered network of doting female caregivers that includes the birth mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends. These relations are maintained over a life span as long as 70 years. Studies of established herds have shown that young elephants stay within 15 feet of their mothers for nearly all of their first eight years of life, after which young females are socialized into the matriarchal network, while young males go off for a time into an all-male social group before coming back into the fold as mature adults.

When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull’s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting. If harm comes to a member of an elephant group, all the other elephants are aware of it. This sense of cohesion is further enforced by the elaborate communication system that elephants use. In close proximity they employ a range of vocalizations, from low-frequency rumbles to higher-pitched screams and trumpets, along with a variety of visual signals, from the waving of their trunks to subtle anglings of the head, body, feet and tail. When communicating over long distances — in order to pass along, for example, news about imminent threats, a sudden change of plans or, of the utmost importance to elephants, the death of a community member — they use patterns of subsonic vibrations that are felt as far as several miles away by exquisitely tuned sensors in the padding of their feet.

There are, in the long, checkered history of human-elephant relations, countless stories of lethal elephantine assaults, and almost invariably of some gruesomely outsize, animalistic form of retribution exacted by us. It was in the very state of Tennessee, back in September 1916, that another five-ton Asian circus elephant, Mary, was impounded by a local sheriff for the killing of a young hotel janitor who’d been hired to mind Mary during a stopover in the northeast Tennessee town of Kingsport. The janitor had apparently taken Mary for a swim at a local pond, where, according to witnesses, he poked her behind the left ear with a metal hook just as she was reaching for a piece of floating watermelon rind. Enraged, Mary turned, swiftly snatched him up with her trunk, dashed him against a refreshment stand and then smashed his head with her foot.

With cries from the townspeople to ‘‘Kill the elephant!’’ and threats from nearby town leaders to bar the circus if ‘‘Murderous Mary,’’ as newspapers quickly dubbed her, remained a part of the show, the circus’s owner, Charlie Sparks, knew he had to do something to appease the public’s blood lust and save his business. (Among the penalties he is said to have contemplated was electrocution, a ghastly precedent for which had been set 13 years earlier, on the grounds of the nearly completed Luna Park in Coney Island. A longtime circus elephant named Topsy, who’d killed three trainers in as many years — the last one after he tried to feed her a lighted cigarette — became the largest and most prominent victim of Thomas Edison, the father of direct-current electricity, who had publicly electrocuted a number of animals at that time using his rival George Westinghouse’s alternating current, in hopes of discrediting it as being too dangerous.)

Sparks ultimately decided to have Mary hanged and shipped her by train to the nearby town of Erwin, Tenn., where more than 2,500 people gathered at the local rail yard for her execution. Dozens of children are said to have run off screaming in terror when the chain that was suspended from a huge industrial crane snapped, leaving Mary writhing on the ground with a broken hip. A local rail worker promptly clambered up Mary’s bulk and secured a heavier chain for a second, successful hoisting.

I Will Never Rip Their Hearts Out, But I Guess I'M OK

Just a little bit about me as a sports fan. As a kid, probably from age seven until thirteen or fourteen, I was fanatic about sports. I collected every kind of baseball card - and assured my father that my acumen at acquiring memorabilia would pay for college. I watched as much sports as possible, and obsessed over box scores in the next day's papers - all to the bewilderment of my parents, who neither liked or understood much of any sport (I recall my mom returning from a meeting and asking me what it meant that a colleague said that she was "batting .400." I explained that it was an incredible batting average in baseball and was a compliment, to which my mom replied that succeeding only 4 out of every 10 times didn't seem like much of a compliment). My first distinct sports memory is listening to game 6 of the 1986 Celtics-Rockets NBA finals on the radio, sitting on the front bench seat of a family friend's American-made sedan as our two families rode back from some wooded corner of New England where Indians had gathered to sing and eat.

As a sports fan, and to this day, I haven't been as obsessive about specific franchises so much as specific teams. I generally support the Red Sox, bu as a member of Red Sox nation, I am pretty much a disappointment. Beyond that, the U.S. men's soccer team and the URI men's basketball team are probably the only two other teams that I actually root for. However, Elway-era Broncos, Tom Brady's Patriots, Kaka's AC Milan, Thierry Henry's Arsenal, Ryne Sandberg's Cubs, Chris Mullin's Warriors - these were all my teams, at one point or another - and so are Tim Duncan's Spurs. The methodical, un-glamorous, "fundamentally-sound" - generally aligned to the philosophy of anti-showmanship.
My current relationship with sports involves the occasional ball game on TV, the occasional game in person, more for atmosphere than anything else, and a little more attention paid to the playoffs. Bill Simmons, who writes so well from the perspective of the true fanatic, summed up my continued interest in sports perfectly:
Like so many other diehard fans, I watch thousands and thousands of hours of sports every year hoping something special will happen, whether it's a 60-point game in basketball, a no-hitter during a Red Sox game, a seven-run comeback in the ninth, a back-and-forth NFL game, a boxing pay-per-view or whatever else. Occasionally, it pays off.
All of this, a lengthy prelude to the fact that, after watching a couple games in the the Spurs-Jazz series and flipping through a couple of games of the Cavs-Pistons series, I chose to skip Thursday's Game 5 in Detroit. Mistake by me, I guess.

So, Saturday, after waking up at 6.30 AM to pack my sister's assorted things into a van, and driving up to Cambridge and back, followed by an hour out at the Narragansett High School fields in my Quixotic quest to "get back into playing shape," I settled in for a day of sports on television: a dull Spain-Latvia Euro 2008 qualifier (Spain, for all of your talent, why can't you play beautiful? And, Sr. Aragones, why don't you play Cesc?), one of those preposterous but somehow dramatic minnow-versus-giant games in San Marino-Germany, the occasionally-delayed Sox-Yankees game, the exciting prospect of technical footie from a young US team in San Jose's US-China friendly, the Cavs closing out the Pistons with a wonderful performance from Daniel Gibson, and finally, a dull DC United-LA Galaxy game.
After seven hours alternating between TV and napping, part of me says, What a waste of a day! But another part of me remembers why I love sports: the emergence of a new superstar in LeBron and the jubilation of the fans in Cleveland "who've suffered for so many years;" the passion, desperation, and art of European soccer; and the potential emergence of a new generation of US Soccer players -- not at the level of the world's greats yet, but getting better. So, here are some excellent soccer blogs, part of a growing enthusiasm for the sport in the country:

SideLine Views out of LA
Ives Galercep out of New Jersey
Climbing the Ladder

In case you are fanatic about that sort of thing. By the way, anyone interested in a trip to Barcelona for a US-Catalan friendly in October?