Monday, July 30, 2007


Off to Chicago for the week, for work. Excited to visit (less excited for work). More excited for my return trip later in the month for JJK and EBC's wedding.

Happy Birthdays are also in order this week for CC, MM, EBC, and DS!

Rave: In Persuasion Nation and The Insanity Defense

I have long been a fan of George Saunders, since I was recommended the short story collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline some years ago. My regard at Saunders' taut, imaginative, funny, and pointed parables only increased through his follow-up, Pastoralia, and a string of great political and cultural satires in the New Yorker and, among places (see here, here and here, and here for more). While I had read probably a third of the stories collected in Saunders' latest, In Persuasion Nation, as they were published in magazines, or sitting around JWW's apartment last winter, it took me until the paperback came out to head down to Shakespeare & Co. to pick it up. It was well worth the wait.

The collection, as with all of Saunders' work, is first and foremost enormously entertaining. It generates its fair share of both chuckles and honest-to-god laugh out loud moments. Beyond the laughs, most of the stories are caustic social satires: of consumer culture, of a society growing intolerant through doctrine and illogic, of bizarre misappropriations of technology, and of a country that is shockingly insensitive to the causes of violence and war. This satire is ferried in through Saunders' stories, which are completely absurd, where characters inhabit insane worlds that have been tweaked just beyond the point of reality, but not beyond the point of recognition: like the young couple who are given up for adoption at a young age to live their lives out in an elaborate market research facility, or Brad Carrigan, American, who inhabits his own television show. What makes these absurd tales so believable and compelling is the rigorous logic that Saunders applies to the world, once the crazy premise is established - and more fiercely, the honest and simple motivations of his characters within these worlds, like the salesman who will take his lunch our to try and convince an unhappy customer that the plastic talking mask that she bought for her infant is a great product, unless he lose his commission, or the mid-level functionary in a government town who agrees to hack up and re-bury the remains of ancient corpses found at a construction site so that he doesn't have to confront his murdered but somewhat happy ghost parents with the fact that they are dead.

Not to make this about Harry Potter or Oprah, but if America is going to keep reading en masse, than George Saunders is where they should pick up...

I long felt that George Saunders was a writer sui generis, with the possible exception of Donald Barthelme. It took me the impulse purchase of Woody Allen's collected prose, The Insanity Defense, to recognize another of Saunder's antecedents. admittedly, Woody Allen's stories are best enjoyed if you can channel his distinctive neurotic voice into your head, but failing that, you are still in for 300-plus pages of sheer enjoyment. ranging from set pieces lampooning academics, Nazis, and kvetching New Yorkers alike to satirical literary excursions taking aim at philosophy, food criticism, and revolutionaries, with a few hallmark sex-obsessed and neurotic narratives thrown in, this collection is welcome as entertainment, for provoking laughter, and for its wide intellect and varied references. The ten to twenty page stories are perfect subway reads, and New York makes the perfect backdrop for reading them, although I'm sure anywhere would work. Stick it in your satchel, and enjoy!


"Interns." Easily one of my favorite sketches of ours, the SPR era, it must have been Summer of '02 or '03, and SY and CA were excellent in their insolence. "We're not criminals!" That we had interns, still ridiculous. I'm guessing we were the only sketch group in NYC doing adaptations of Donald Barthelme, which is probably why we're no longer working. JWW was inspired, as always, in his editing and scoring, picking one of my favorite Kinks' songs and would-be personal anthem to raise the level of the piece.

I hope you take as much pleasure from it as I do.

The inspiration for this sketch is available in the Barthelme collection 40 Stories, which you should buy and read. If you don't have the inclination, it has been reprinted here. It is short, funny, and begins as follows:

The first thing the baby did wrong was to tear pages out of her books. So we made a rule that each time she tore a page out of a book she had to stay alone in her room for four hours, behind the closed door. She was tearing out about a page a day, in the beginning, and the rule worked fairly well, although the crying and screaming from behind the closed door were unnerving. We reasoned that that was the price you had to pay, or part of the price you had to pay. But then as her grip improved she got to tearing out two pages at a time, which meant eight hours alone in her room, behind the closed door, which just doubled the annoyance for everybody. But she wouldn't quit doing it. And then as time went on we began getting days when she tore out three or four pages, which put her alone in her room for as much as sixteen hours at a stretch, interfering with normal feeding and worrying my wife. But I felt that if you made a rule you had to stick to it, had to be consistent, otherwise they get the wrong idea. She was about fourteen months old or fifteen months old at that point. Often, of course, she'd go to sleep, after an hour or so of yelling, that was a mercy. Her room was very nice, with a nice wooden rocking horse and practically a hundred dolls and stuffed animals. Lots of things to do in that room if you used your time wisely, puzzles and things. Unfortunately sometimes when we opened the door we'd find that she'd torn more pages out of more books while she was inside, and these pages had to be added to the total, in fairness.

The baby's name was Born Dancin'. We gave the baby some of our wine, red, whites and blue, and spoke seriously to her. But it didn't do any good.

You should read it, and if you like it, you should read more Barthelme.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Shouldn't Someone Put a Stop to This?

Like, immediately?

From an impressive NYT article.

UPDATE: I hope they don't teach Leo to shoot lasers out of his eyes, otherwise that nice post-doc is going to be missing a few fingers the next time she tries to turn that blue button off immediately after telling Leo to turn all the buttons on.

Sonic Redemption

God save CD and NG! I hate to profit off of someone else's misfortune, and the fella whose ticket I was lucky enough to get apparently went head first over his handlebars and is pretty messed up, replacement teeth necessary and all. So, my friend, my thoughts are with you -- and this isn't meant as salt in your wounds, but Sonic Youth was awesome!

The hipsters were out in force, young and old alike, and the night turned out to be perfect - warm, but not hot. For old rockers, SY looks great and sounds better. To echo CD, I thoroughly am enjoying this new rock gimmick, of playing albums in their entirety - and Daydream Nation is a pretty good record to rock out on. Sonic Youth did just that, with the twin guitar attack of Thurston and Lee in as fine form as I've ever seen them. Add to that an extended encore featuring a handful of tracks of the last two records, and it made for a thoroughly enjoyable rock and roll show...

Photos from Flickr user forklift

Rave: BBC's Planet Earth

It was an impulse buy, albeit an informed one, and, boy, was it a good decision. Five discs, fifteen episodes of incredibly filmed landscapes, dramatic predation scenes, cute baby animals, and David Attenborough's mellifluous narration, replete with bizarre and slightly disconcerting double entendres about the animal kingdom: BBC's Planet Earth is simply incredible.

Difficult to do justice through description alone, the DVD series manages to capture stunning landscapes (so far, each of themed episodes for Deserts, Caves, Ice Worlds, and Deep Ocean have been insane) and jaw-dropping animal behavior sequences (a pride of lions stalking an elephant by night, strangely colored lizards hunting flies in the desert, time-lapse films of penguins huddling for warmth in the Antarctic winter, and the terrifying full breach attacks on fur seals by Great White sharks, shown above). Mind-blowing stuff. Watch it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

No Youth Blues


Gerhard Richter is an important artist in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; his work spans nearly five decades. Here, you can view his work and learn about his life. Click on a work below to begin.

While undoubtedly true, the directness of the statement is a little amusing. Maybe one day I can say the same, in German. Nevertheless, you should check out the Gerhard Richter website. Nothing but cool.

Secondly, I foolishly forgot to buy tickets for Sonic Youth this weekend - I always forget about the commerce part of life. So now I'm stuck standing outside of McCarren Pool Park, listening to them run through Daydream Nation. Maybe I'll just grab a pair of headphones and take the ferry over to Governor's Island, instead.

Finally, a quick rundown of what is new on the other blog:

- A transcript of Obama's inspiring 2004 DNC speech;
- Brief discussion of green design initiatives, how they fit in to the quest for sustainability overall;
- Notes on an article in Discover magazine about laughter;
- Other stuff;

As always, thanks for reading!

SF: Hole in the Wall Dining

Gridskipper is a cool site about city life that I never have the time to read. It is one of those millions of websites that I should check out more often (too much information, perhaps?). Check out their recommendations on "SF's Best Hole in the Wall Restaurants." I've only been to Emmy's, which was a little hip, but the meatballs and the pasta were great.

UPDATE: More from Gridskipper:

Best under $5 drinks in Chicago, where it looks like I may be next week!
And as a special treat for RM, a guide to the veggieburgers in New York!
And a special treat for me (1 for 5 this summer...)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gold Star For Robot Boy

JJK recently sent out an email that he was introduced to a robot. The not-for-public circulation photos that were also sent out to a select group of friends seemed to indicate that JJK had, in fact, made friends with this robot (equally possible reactions would have been to kick it in the shins, pour diet Coke into its circuitry, or just tip it over). Pictures don't tell the whole story, I'm sure, but it seems like JJK may have even exchanged business cards with this robot.

Not that this was surprising, JJK has been making and accumulating fake robots for years. But this crossed a line. As a sample of the reactions, JWW was shaken from his normal sangfroid:
[H]ow many more years will go by, I wonder, before these jokey emails
about JJK's traitorous collaboration with the machine race are no
longer so jokey? how many years before this whole planet is torn apart
by a not-so-civil war?
So, you see where things stand. If you need more damning evidence, well, here it is.

In the meantime, take some time to enjoy the following:
  • A nice article in American Heritage magazine entitled "Why Woolworth Had to Die." One of those minor biographic notes, but for ten central years of my early childhood, Woolworth's was the centerpiece store in the Wakefield Mall, and in its convenience and breadth of selection were, I'm sure, incredible in themselves to my parents. Dim memories of suburbia, surely, still a strange touchstone. And as Wakefield has morphed into the sort of area where housing developments go up named after the things they replace, to steal a line from Modest Mouse, even a department store stirs a certain nostalgia...
  • RVA turns me on to The Register - a British version of BoingBoing?
  • RN sends me this review of the Daft Punk movie. Looks worthwhile, and topically relevant!
  • If you grew up loving writing and obsessed with sports, the thought of becoming a sportswriter held a place in the lower firmament of your dreams, certainly a lesser light than winning the World Series or being Ernest Hemingway, but shining none the less, and perhaps more realistic. If you were this boy, I'm sure you've found your way to Richard Ford by now, but this occasionally cliched account in Oxford American is a pleasant read, too.
Photos above and below from a Flickr search for 'Robot Man.' Check 'em all out!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

George Saunders Interviews

Earlier this month, I read George Saunders' In Persuasion Nation. I am a big fan of Saunders, and like each of his previous collections, this newest was entertaining, smart, and delivered incisive and resonant critiques of American culture through the vehicle of laugh-out-loud funny short stories. I am sure to rave about it, although I am waiting to finish Woody Allen's collection Insanity Defense, which through part brilliance and part happenstance I have managed to pair with Saunders on my monthly reading list.

So while I finish that up, I spent a few hours skimming over interviews with George Saunders, for which I've collected a set of links below. I highly recommend these interviews, if you've got some time to kill at your desk, for two reasons: first, Saunders comes across as a smart, genuine, and likeable person in each of the interviews, and second, perhaps because he is a teacher of creative writing, Saunders is able to speak directly, intelligently, and humbly about his writing process - which I find to be very useful.

Without further adieu:

Brief interview in the GutCult online journal
Interview from Maud Newton, one of my favorite literary blogs
Sprawling conversation in Identity Theory
2005 interview from Gothamist

And, if you want, visit because, well, it exists.

Monday, July 23, 2007


It has been a long time since I've imagined how I might survive prison. At one point, maybe at thirteen or fourteen, I would have assumed that I was capable of the bravado of Cool Hand Luke, and through a combination of wit, toughness, and resilience, could have weathered anything an unfair system threw at me. Now, of course, such a scenario is both irrelevant and implausible. If I do manage to get stuck in prison, I'm sure it will be for some accidental white collar crime. I won't be hard put, and I won't have to battle my way out. But if such an occasion does arrive, I hope that I might still have the panache to orchestrate a Busby Berkeley-like spectacle like the above clip from a prison in the Philippines.

Questions abound:
- whose idea was this? the inmates? or the wardens?
- how did the inmate playing the woman get selected? did he volunteer? or was he convinced? was it an obvious choice?
- were gang differences set aside for the production?
- who is this being performed for? the warden? friends and family? some prince or general?
- how did the main dancers get selected? were there auditions?

The CCTV Building, Beijing

Late in the evening on Saturday, OES, AL, and I each tried to explain to friends what the Rem Koolhaas/OMA designed CCTV building in China is supposed to look like. Initially, we tried making Ls out of each of our hands and connecting them, but this was not clarifying. OES toyed with an ashtray, a pack of cigarettes, and a finger shaped like an L, but that didn't bring us much closer. Finally, he settled on a metaphor: imagine a Rubix cube with a 2x2 cube from the bottom corner removed. It was the closest we got, and although I suggested that you would also need to remove the remaining squares of a 2x2 cube from the opposite top corner, OES was unconvinced, and he's the architect, so I left it at that. AL, recently returned from Beijing, also swore that the towers were angled inwards, which was briefly debated as possibly just a function of perspective, but in the end, correct.

The building is being constructed, targeting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The images above represent artists' renditions of the fairly striking final building, and the images below are from Flickr, showing construction in progress. AL mentioned her amazement at how so much of the construction in China, where cranes dot the skyline, is also achieved through sheer manpower, with bamboo scaffolding scaling the same heights as the skyscrapers themselves. Of course, so many of the towers in New York and Chicago were raised the same way throughout the 2oth century, with skilled and unskilled laborers scaling heights in open air, on the thinnest of exo-skeletons, including the notable contribution of Mohawk ironworkers in New York. That this tradition of building continues in China and India is not surprising, but no less impressive.

Already the focus of an exhibition at MoMA in New York, perhaps less for its ambition as a monument than as a functioning building. The MoMA exhibit, which I saw last year, communicated the OMA vision, complete with a charming and slightly bizarre set of illustrations relating the stories of people who would be working in the building, as being about making the CCTV building a welcoming space and a usable space, designed specifically to suit the cross-functional purpose of its primary tenant: the state broadcasting company (this write up does a good job summarizing the design orientation of the building). While I am not in love with the aesthetics of the CCTV building, it certainly is a striking monument for the city of Beijing. The race to completion is on!

One final note: a little spooky how the skeletons of the two towers of the CCTV building going up recall our own towers as they were going down...

Black Like Me

Second-generation Indians in America have a strange relationship with the question of race, particularly that prominent sub-set of us who are the children of successful professionals. By and large, as our parents were doctors, professors, and engineers, who were educated, spoke English well and reasonably clearly, had a basic familiarity with Anglo-American values, we found ourselves acclimating reasonably well to our primarily white neighborhoods. There may have been ugly incidents in our youths, or related to us by our parents, but they lessened in frequency and severity as the years moved on, through the 80s and 90s - and I believe that much of the dislocation and discomfort that we experienced were byproducts of our immigrant experience, of our being foreign, and not necessarily of our being brown.

Culturally, Indian parents did not cultivate a strong racial identity growing up - the explicit identification as colored was and is rare as part of our learning. We were Indian, different, surely, but taught to self-identify more with achieving whites and immigrant children, and not with blacks, native Americans, or earlier generations of Asian and Latino colored immigrants who faced a legacy of racism in this country. Still, we acquired some race consciousness -- anecdotally, many young Indian males (myself included) tied themselves to hip-hip as teenagers, before that became the pervasive trend in suburbia, although that allegiance often faded into more mainstream rock as high school loomed. The identification of young Indian women with black and Latino culture is more pronounced, surviving well through college and into their twenties. From where the shared sense of experience comes from is often hard to tell - there is rarely a deep personal history of affront, but rather, the identification is empathetic.

In any case, you find that, for large portions of the Indian American population, the sense of being racially or culturally "oppressed" in America is not prominent, and is as often theoretically or empathetically derived than from actual experience. I make this assertion from personal experience, casual observation, and some probably unfair speculation and generalization. I don't mean to that exclusion or affronts on racial or cultural bases to Indians don't exist in America. Certainly, they do. Rather, I make this case as a backdrop to brief comments on two very different articles.

RM sent me this article from the Guardian, asking for comment. The article protests the "Apu/QuikiMart" co-marketing campaign launched by the 7-11 convenience store chain and The Simpsons movie. My initial take was that it was not worth my time, but the concluding lines of the argument got me thinking. Specifically, the author writes:
Racism or no, desi and non-desi franchisees alike seem delighted with the sales bump from the promotion. But one wrote of his outrage in a forum for 7-Eleven franchisees:
This is an absolute embarrassment for our company... The vast majority of franchisees are immigrants... [A]ccepting our portrayal of Apu is nothing less [than] accepting the images portrayed years ago in the US of black people with very black faces, big lips and white teeth... [T]hat image is considered racist, so does Apu [seem] to me... I cannot imagine any store willing to rebrand to Kwik-E-Mart even for a day... I am not proud to be part of this promotion.

Like the minstrel shows he refers to, other corporate mascots also began as caricatures of American slaves. Pancake mascot Aunt Jemima and rice maven Uncle Ben survived only after being softened and morphed into avuncular friends. Apu too has been grandfathered into America's affections after 19 years on television. But as Slate wrote, "It's worth remembering what these spokescharacters truly are: a final, living vestige of Jim Crow America." Today, we expect American companies to promote racial tolerance. Yet like an outbreak of a long-dormant virus, 7-Eleven is spending millions of dollars to push a crude ethnic stereotype well past its sell-by date. It's tin-eared and unconscionable. The company should cancel Apu and issue an apology
What strikes me about this, and tying back into my prelude, is the hollowness of comparing the racism that may exist in a caricature of an immigrant convenience store owner with the legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. They are simply not on par, and while Indian Americans should fully defend their image in the public eye, making hyperbolic and irrelevant comparisons like this undermines our ability to engage in the American dialogue about race. And, speaking more from the American side of the hyphen of my Indian-American legacy, the Apu characterization is low in the priorities of this country's necessary racial dialogues. Unfortunately, I think articles like the one above stem from a lack of real understanding by Indian-American as to what the real legacy of racism in this country is, and an over-eagerness to lay claim to identity that is not all that abridged.

All that said, I do think there is a role for Indian Americans in the American dialogue about race, both narrowly discussing our own immigrant experience as brown people, as well as confronting the larger questions and legacies of the country -- and Mira Nair's 1991 movie, Mississippi Masala is an excellent example.

Having written a lot of words on a subject that I am actually not all that impassioned about, let me turn to a recent New York Times article that left me confused and disappointed. Sunday's profile of Rudy Giuliani's tenure as Mayor, and his lack of success in understanding and managing race relations in the city was a document of the dysfunction and collapse of racial dialogue in this country. And it was not Giuliani's failings, which were many, that were appalling. Rather, the baffling Times' editorial comment that Giuliani,
[...] more than any other Republican running for president, Mr. Giuliani has confronted the question of race, that most torturous of American legacies.
calls into question how warped our prevailing understanding of exactly what is the race question and how should it be addressed. By the article's own reporting, during his tenure Giuliani refused to meet with black leaders, made little effort to engage the black community, wrote off blacks as a electoral constituency, and engaged in behavior that was, at best, racially insensitive, and at worst, inflammatory. But because Giuliani's is brash and has cultivated a tough image, this is acceptable. Somehow, confrontational about a problem in the context of race has come to mean the same thing as confronting a problem. While the course of our culture is naturally changing our understanding of race, and perhaps abating some of the negative historical legacies, a shift in political sensibility where concerns of racial minorities is something to be shouted down, not addressed, makes no sense. Just because the problem hasn't been solved doesn't mean its gone away.

Hipster Weekend: Siren & McCarren

Matt and Kim at Siren Festival
Photo by Flickr user Steve and Sara

Summer in New York. The Yuppies head for beaches and the hills. The Hipsters hit the streets. And me with them. The unprecedented amount of free, good music in New York makes spending the weekends in Brooklyn bearable, if not downright fun. Skinny boys in their best t-shirts. Mop-haired girls in their sun-dresses and oversized sunglasses. Bands that you might not pay to see, but will see for free. The crowds and all the people touching people. Tall boys making their way to the front, the small girls on tip-toes just trying to see the stage. The occasional too-hip child with the too-hip parents. Ah, the festival show.

Saturday, I got a late start heading out to the final Siren Music Festival at Coney Island, missing both White Rabbits and Dr. Dog, the two bands I was most interested in seeing. Somehow, amid the crowds of ever-younger hipster kids, I found CD by the Stillwell Stage. We flitted back and forth between the two stages, allowing me to catch most of We Are Scientists and Voxtrot (the first straight ahead indie rock coming out of the folds of mid-90s Merge and Matador, the latter an Austin, TX based sextet channeling Ted Leo playing the Smiths, both bands acquitting themselves well), and a few songs each by the Black Lips and the incredibly excitable Matt and Kim.

It's a bit of a shame that the festival won't re-up next year (will the fin-de-siecle feeling in New York ever end?) While the sound isn't great, and the blocked off streets where the Stillwell and Main stages sit get crowded, the masses of summertime-attired hipsters descending into the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island, mixing with the odd Bangladeshi family, the young inner city kids, the body builders, and the Russian locals makes for an eclectic afternoon. Twin guitar attacks emoting under the rickety shadow of the Cyclone doesn't hurt, either. I guess it's a shame, mostly, that Coney Island is going to change.

Sunday, I took a study break to stroll back down to McCarren Pool Park to catch a set by Band of Horses. It was a little disappointing that the pool was twice as crowded today for three mid-tier indie rock bands compared to last weekend's Ponderosa Stomp, but I guess I'm as guilty as any other hipster on that front. While I'm not a huge Band of Horses fan, they were pretty good today. The mic-ing of the vocals could have used some evening out, but the open air venue served the loud-soft-loud walls of sound dynamics of the band well. While I'm never overwhelmed, I'm never really disappointed, either, by bands like Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket, that occupy the country-flecked high-register wailing between Mr. Young and Skynyrd. I wonder if they knew what they would produce?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rave: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

"What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.
Another example, on which springs to mind because Mrs. Burstein saw a pygmy rattler in the artichoke garden this morning and has been intractable since: I never ask about snakes. Why should Shalimar attract kraits. Why should a oral snake need two glands of neurotoxic poison to survive while a king snake, so similarly marked, needs none. Where is the Darwinian logic there. You might ask that. I never would, not any more. I recall an incident reported not long ago in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner: two honeymooners, natives of Detroit, found dead in their Scout camper near Boca Raton, a coral snake still coiled in the thermal blanket. Why? Unless you are prepared to take the long view, there is no satisfactory "answer" to such questions.
Just so, I am what I am. To look for "reasons" is beside the point."
Such a cool and brutal start to a novel. Play It As It Lays is not exactly a fun read, as it chronicles the unraveling of Maria Wyeth into boredom, anxiety, and despair, tracing with a hard, sharp line her failed career, failed marriage, abortion, failing love affairs, desperate attempts to imbue her life with a sense of purpose, or fun, or normalcy. It is a document of disintegration, of a woman's collapse into nothingness. Yet, in bits and pieces, revealing the life of Maria Wyeth, Nevada-born daughter of a hard-luck gambler, beautiful enough to model in a strange and lonely New York, then marry an upstart movie director and flirt with avant-garde stardom in 1960s Hollywood, the novel never fails to compel.

As always, Didion sharp and striking prose guides us through the narrative, weaving in a small coterie of desperate people succeeding their way into despair. The novel is structured to flow, the narrative is a swift current, forcing you lucidly but headlong through the false hopes and false threads at which Maria grasps in search of release. Again, not fun, in the sense of jovial, but Didion's command of both language and the narrative of the story make for an exhilarating read. When she hits you, she hits you hard. Be warned, but Play It As It Lays stands spine to spine with any of the other masterful documents of collapse that mark the literary landscape of the extended American 20th century (such as The Great Gatsby, Appointment at Samarra, Revolutionary Road, etc.)

Rave: The Good Fork

Twice I've had dinner at Red Hook's The Good Fork, and twice I've had incredible meals. My first visit, last summer, was with a large crew, headed by SR, AF and friends. We took over the large table in the back garden towards the end of the night, around 10.30, after watching a festive Western play at a local playhouse. While we may not have thoroughly charmed our waitresses (I'd like to think we did OK), we managed to sample the better part of the menu and cruise through a couple bottles of wine. Between good company and good food, it was an outstanding night.

So when KP suggested dinner out on Saturday, I leapt at it. Our fivesome showed up for our 8.15 table and happily weathered a slight delay with an opening round of cocktails. I dove right in with the house special "Red Hook Cooler:" gin, lime juice, and mint - delicious and dangerous. Riding the tide (for better or for worse) of this GQ profile, we took a nice table in the garden and proceeded to feast. Highlights include the manchego-stuffed-zucchini florets (the night's special), the grilled peach salad, the cornmeal-encrusted oysters, the crab cake, the pappardelle with pork ragout, and the salmon and trout specials were glowingly devoured. All this, and a couple more Red Hook Coolers, as well. I won't go on and on, but if you're looking for a great night out in Brooklyn, make the trek out to The Good Fork. I had another excellent evening there.

I would be amiss if I didn't mention that after dinner, we crossed the street to LeNell's to pick up some digestif's (well, more gin). What an incredible liquor store!

Finally, we ended the evening back at OES' place, where I had yet to visit. Wow, incredible!

I'm making a public outcry for a BBQ, my friend!

New York Mag's review of The Good Fork.

Too Hot To Write: Miscellany

From Flickr user DRP

Well, it's been too hot in New York to write. Add to that a brutal work week, and I haven't posted much. So I'm playing a little catch-up. From last week, a few things to check out:

-'s posting of this bizarre Richard Nixon memorandum is worth a read;
- New York Magazine profiles fifteen "sublime outdoor spots" to whet your whistle. Add them to your list;
- Beckham arrives, plays fifteen minutes in a friendly. Still, the buzz bodes well;
- The New York Times puts out an interesting feature on America's richest men (of all time). Ostensibly also about income inequality. I imagine I'll come back to this at some point;
- An interesting approach to sequestering carbon emissions from automobiles and putting them to good use. It is becoming difficult to keep track of all of the innovation in this field, and piece together the patchwork of technologies that might successfully create a greener future.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Rave: Ratatouille

Friday night, I caught up with JWW after work. Following a brief stop in a newly found and sufficiently divey watering hole, Antarctica on the western edge of SoHo, and a just OK meat-leaden meal at the West Village BBQ joint Cowgirl, we wandered in to Union Square to catch a movie. Damned a little bit in our timing, JWW convinced me to see Ratatouille. I should mention here that, despite RM an Slate's positive reviews of the movies, I am not a huge fan of animated movies, and snake-bit earlier in the week by Transformers, I was dubious that a saccharine movie about a rat that cooks would win the day for me.

Well, Ratatouille was great. Charming, funny, visually stunning, with incredibly well-executed chase scenes and some beautiful renditions of Paris - I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and can only recommend it. While The Incredibles, Iron Giant, Toy Story 2 and Brad Bird movies only did it so much for me, Ratatouille warrants all of the plaudits and cries from every corner hailing Brad Bird as a genius. From the opening sequence, to the stylish closing credits, Ratatouille was ever entertaining, but also, in every way, a film. And extra kudos to Pixar for continuing to run a short before the feature. Lifted, the short, was equal to Ratatouille in charm and humor and was the perfect lead-in to the feature. Go see it.

For your further edification, some Ratatouille-related interviews:

Patton Oswalt in Wired
Brad Bird in MoviesOnline (Pts. 1 and 2)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Spoon Live plus Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

A tough week at work, but was able to catch the Spoon show down at Rockefeller Park thanks to a rain delay. The skies opened up around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and it didn't look like I would make it home dry, much less get to see one of my favorite bands, and a band that I have somehow managed never to see live. By 7.30, when I left the office, the rain had let up enough for me to make the cross-town just-in-case trek to the lower west side, to see if I could catch the tail end of the Spoon show. Arriving at Rockefeller Park, I found a wet but game audience and Spoon just taking the stage. They played a relatively short fifty minute set, covering a lot of new material and some old favorites. Rockefeller Park was a beautiful outdoor venue in which to see a show, and despite the weather and the delay, Spoon were able to warm up a crowd that had waited out the rain for an hour. Worth the schlep.

I bought the new record, unfortunately titled Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and can echo the sentiment of most of the reviews I've seen - it's a consistent record, taut and rhythmic, and living well within the framework laid out in previous efforts, particularly the most recent Gimme Fiction. Maybe they have gotten to popular, but I would kill to see Spoon in a smallish venue sometime soon.

One of the benefits of living in Williamsburg during the summer is the ability to take a quick walk down to McCarren Pool Park on a Sunday afternoon to catch one of the weekly free shows, which include a pretty good line-up of bands. Having spent most of the afternoon working, I snuck out to grab a diet Coke and catch the last few songs by Tommy McClain at the "Ponderosa Stomp." Admittedly, part of the draw was the "backed by Yo La Tengo" claim, but the funk, soul, and blues of Mr. McClain, his working of the not-jam packed but sweaty and grooving hipster crowd, and the general bliss of a hot Sunday afternoon where everybody was out made the trip well worth my while. Looking forward to more shows so close at hand.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Swamped at work, so I'm going to be extremely lazy and recycle this ridiculous exchange between two famous Hollywood comedy writers, published in Harper's, that RM sent me a few weeks ago, along with my favorite Flickr photos tagged 'fist fight' (favorite in so far as they were easily found):


I am writing you because I left a message but did not hear back. I understand that you were upset about me not calling you to ask if Topher could do our show. Since Fox executives were talking to Topher about it, I thought it was cool with you. Also, since I hadn't written it yet, I wasn't at the point of asking if it was possible to have him do it. I would have called your show then. I didn't realize it would create a problem. I never wished to offend you. If there is some protocol for people on Fox doing guest shots on other Fox shows, I didn't know what it was. Regardless, I'm sorry that this resulted in such a mess. If you are mad at me about this or something else from our past, please tell me. I only remember us having fun in the early nineties and it troubles me that it seems like you have a beef with me.

Best regards,

Judd Apatow

* * *


Yeah, we were friends in the early nineties. And if you don't recall what happened, I'll remind you. I had a pilot at MTV called "Yard Dogs" about a rock band living in Hollywood. I told you about it and you proceeded to completely rip it off, storyline and all, for the Ben Stiller show. You called it "Grungies." MTV and UTA [United Talent Agency] were working on an overall deal (MTV's idea) with me, based on that pilot. When it turned up on your show everything went away overnight. I had just had my son Jack and I had no job, no money, nothing. There's a saying, "I forgive but I don't forget. And I don't forgive." So, now you know. Although I kind of think that you already did.


* * *


I truly don't remember anything you are talking about. Jeff Kahn wrote "The Grungies" sketch, a parody where we did Seattle bands as The Monkees. I don't remember you ever calling me after that saying you were mad. Ben and I would get fifty sketches a week from the writers and then we'd pick the ones that we thought were funny. I never connected the two. Even now they don't seem similar. Ours was a goofy over-the-top parody, not a situation comedy about musicians in L.A. Nobody watched our show so I don't see how that could be the reason your pilot died. I am sorry you are upset. I am not a thief of ideas. I'm sorry you believe differently.

Judd Apatow

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Oh, This Heat

Murderous hot in New York City. Sweat dripping off every surface, the minute I setp out of my room. Not much to say, just four frome Weegee... and more if you like what you see!

Monday, July 9, 2007

White Rabbits/Art Brut @ Highline Ballroom

Just got back from Highline Ballroom, where I watched Art Brut and the White Rabbits. In truth, I came to check out Brooklyn's opening act, as I am quite pleased with their new record, as previously mentioned.

First, the headliners, Art Brut, who are kicking off a tour backing their new record. I must say that Eddie Argos is a true front-man in the post-punk spirit, and as I've come to expect of all Brits (and by my awful American extension, Scots), he is always clever, occasionally funny, and rarely that profound, in his lyrics and his stage presence. The band itself passes - best described as punchy, they are energetic and fun, a bit campy, but put on a good show, and that's what counts the most.

White Rabbits are a bit more my level - mellow, a bit melancholy, but with a deep rhythmic undercurrent. In fact, they've all but stolen my never-to-be-realized idea of playing with two drummers (sometimes adding a third percussionist), as well as a pianist and twin guitarists driving both the melody and the cacophony. Crashing atmospherics from pianos, cymbals, and strummed guitars gave way to dirty, scratched-out melodies. Falling somewhere between the Walkmen and the National, the Kinks and the Specials, the White Rabbits put on a good show.

As for the Highline Ballroom, it's nice to have a new venue in the city, and both the space and the sound were pretty good. Interlude music (BloodSugarSexMagik? MellonCollie and the Infinite Sadness?) left something to be desired, as did the house lighting. Or maybe I'm just getting old, and it's no longer cool to play good music between bands and keep the place dark while the bands are on. Or maybe I'm getting old, and doing the opposite is precisely what's cool.

Also, NG has some paintings and small installations up as part of a group show at Phillips De Pury gallery, on 15th St. and 9th Ave. Pop in if you are in the neighborhood, and turn right in the main gallery. His stuff is against the back wall. Also, find the girl who did the Olan Mills portraits. They were good, too.

Revealing Nothing

Treveor Paglen's photos in the last issue of Wired were oddly compelling. The butting of technology (in Paglen's modified digital SLR) against technocracy (in the military institutions that he is shooting) makes an odd pairing, and as art, produces images of soft, cool nothingness, where the notion of a subject, something truly in frame, is almost meaningless:
Trevor Paglen's subjects are good at keeping secrets — and their distance: Many miles of secure federal land frequently surround the off-limits military installations that he goes to great lengths to photograph. To zoom in on them, Paglen — a photographer and geography buff — developed what he calls limit-telephotography. It's a hack based on astrophotography, a technique normally used to shoot distant planets. "It's much more difficult to take a picture of something on the ground than of something trillions of miles away," he says. Paglen modded the lens mount on his standard-issue Canon digital SLR to accept high-powered telescope lenses ranging in focal length from 1,300 mm to 7,000 mm (a typical telephoto is about 300 mm). To capture the heavens, such lenses peer through at least 5 miles of relatively dense atmosphere. Aimed at terrestrial subjects, they magnify and distort the up to 65 miles of air, dust, and smog that hovers between camera and subject. The resulting shots, some of which go on exhibit in July at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, are hazy abstractions that expose a certain truth, yet leave everything to the imagination
A few other arcana that may be worth a read:
  • A translucent, nautical-themed merry-go-round planned for the Battery Park waterfront in 2008.
  • WikiMindMap - an interesting, but not yet realized architecture for navigating the myriad universe of information in Wikipedia. [via LifeHacker]

Sunday, July 8, 2007

How I Got Bored

Saturday started late, but well. Around 3.30 pm, I rolled into DUMBO for the Boredoms performance/spectacle/extravaganza, only to find a line snaking six or eight city blocks - certainly more than I expected to turn out for the more avant end of the indie rock spectrum. Needless to say, the queue of big-haired Japanese rockers, tattooed-indie chicks, and aging, bicycle and dark-rimmed glasses hipsters made for quite a scene. My favorites were easily the getting older, frazzled, and somewhat whiny ex-hipster mother who asked to cut us in line, after we waited for two hours, but whose precious children, probably four and six, one clutching a Harry Potter hardback to his chest, refused to cut until we gave them explicit permission and promised no hard feelings.

As it was, thank god to NG for showing up early and fixing me a place in the queue.

The show itself was good - transcendent in the enormity of its conception (77 drum kits laid out in a spiral, and 77 drummers playing in orchestration), all under the backdrop of Empire Ferry state park, between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges at sunset. The 77 minute performance was about what I expected - intensely, even tribally rhytmic, awash in the Boredoms' hallmark pitch-shifting waves of sound, and loud. Some people have been lavish in their praise. I'll rank the performance as the sort of thing they should do in Brooklyn every Saturday at sunset, as it was both rocking and beautiful, but not so profound as to make you change the way you live your life - other than going to Dumbo every Saturday at sunset.

I did wish that they were able to add a few dimensions given the uniqueness of their set-up - specifically, that (at least sitting ten yards from the edge of the spiral), the physical dynamism of the arrangement was not compelling until the last movement of the act, and also, that while the "one drum" aspect of seventy seven drummers playing in unison was overwhelming in some respects, adding elements of rhythmic interplay - frankly, a backbeat and some funk, would have gotten the hipsters off their asses. But small complaints of an otherwise very cool performance.

If you're unfamiliar with the Boredoms, a quick perusal of the crazy metaphysics underlying the performance is worth your time. Also, Pitchfork has some photos and videos worth checking out, if you are interested. Photos above from Flickr user TomVu.

Rave: Rescue Dawn

War is not in my inheritance. The closest we've really come is our peaceful campaign of civil disobedience against the British. The fiercest I might claim is Netaji, although that is youthful posturing, at best. In truth, my legacy is deeply Ghandian - humble and peaceful to an extreme.

Which is why I've never been to explain my deep fascination with the art of war, or precisely, the art of what war does to men. From precociously young, I've read Heller, Mailer, and O'Brien, and loved movies like The Deerhunter, Full Metal Jacket, and The Thin Red Line. Work that dramatizes the violence that man brings to man, the physical and spiritual embargoes it can place on a life, and the depth of experience that it evokes.

Add to the list Werner Herzog's latest, Rescue Dawn.

Ducking inside the Angelika theater to avoid the heat, humidity, and beautiful women of SoHo, I took in Rescue Dawn on a Sunday afternoon. It was harrowing - the perfect war movie. Opening rather cheekily with a funny send-up of Top Gun (which no one seemed to notice), the movie quickly dives behind enemy lines, into the Laotian jungle. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler crashes on his first sortie, is captured by the Viet Cong, tortured (Christian Bale in some harrowing scenes), imprisoned, and finally, having plotted an escape into the jungle, confronted with the final antagonist in nature itself. All of the elements for a man to prove himself are there: guns, bombs, beauracricies, insane natives, torture, starvation, depraved conditions, monsoons, snakes, mudslides, murdered friends, maggots. You name it.

Herzog made the movie based on a true story he had previously documented (see this Slate article), and as far as true stories go, it is amazing. Herzong and Bale also seem to make an excellent pairing, in so far as they are willing to push each other and the movie to points of extreme. Between his genuinely compelling performances, the physical limits to which he will push himself, and his rakish on-screen charm and star power, I have to wonder - is anyone really coming close to Christian Bale these days?

Not a strictly fun summer movie, but well worth seeing. Also, check out these interviews of Bale and Herzog, if you're killing time...

Kim Cogan - San Francisco Cityscapes

A recent post over at JG's blog reminded me of a painter whose work I first saw at San Francisco's excellent WhiteWalls gallery with MM and EM a few months ago. Kim Cogan's paintings of San Francisco render the city as simultaneously urban, gritty, glowing, and ethereal - which manages to capture the spirit of the city pretty well. While his large canvas cityscapes are my favorites, capturing broad expanses of the city bathed in wonderful light, his street-level details are also excellent, capturing familiar street corners and underpasses with the same qualities of broad-brush stroke warmth and wetness as his more expansive landscapes. The paintings displayed on his website are well worth a look:

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Urban Development, Social Networking, and Other Miscellany

Andreas Gursky, Los Angeles

As promised, a quick round-up on what's going on over at the other blog, the "serious" one. Take a look if you're interested, I've asterisked those things that are more interesting:

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Rave: Ong Bak

Daytime on the 4th of July was hot, damp, and overcast. I was an unmotivated lump. My new roommates for the summer were watching Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior on DVD with no subtitles. It wasn't hard to follow what was going on, but it wasn't easy, either. Regardless of what the plot significance of the stolen Buddha statues might be, the fight and chase sequences totally redeemed the movie. Maybe no subtitles is the best way to watch it... See above if you doubt me.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Big Rig Jig

"Big Rig Jig." Suffice to say that MR of Nonson continues to bring it:
Big Rig Jig will be created in Oakland, California, during the summer months of 2007. This sculpture re-purposes massive big rig trucks to create a work of art. The public is encouraged to climb through the tankers to explore a lush jungle-like interior. By altering these symbolically rich objects, Big Rig Jig is a both a visual metaphor for sustainability and a celebration of humankind’s raw creative and destructive power.
I don't know what to say, other than that I can't wait to see this. Check out the blog, you might also find some friends there...

The June Raves List

Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan
Asa Breed, Matthew Dear
The Bird of Music, Au Revoir Simone
Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trappen
The Best of Randy Newman, Randy Newman
O-Fresh's 3-song CD that is sitting in my CD player

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer

Food & Drink
Nita Nita, Brooklyn, NY - decent tapas
Sweetwater, Brooklyn, NY - beautiful garden out back
Champlain's, Narragansett, RI - fantastic fried seafood
Nevada Smith's, New York, NY - for watching footie, any hour of the day
Gaucho's, London, UK - good Argentine steaks
Reflex, London UK - super cheesy 80s dance club full of bankers, but, my, what fun
Red Fox Steak House, San Diego, CA - old timey in all the right ways
Crepes de Paris, San Diego, CA - delicious crepes, a great place for 14 guys to get breakfast and be not gay

Sea World, San Diego
The Tate Modern
The Sol Lewitt full room installation at the Tate Modern
Benny Feilhaber
Greg Stones

The June Reading List

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer
Selected Poems, James Wright
Notes From a Big Country, Bill Bryson
Futures & Options for Dummies, Joe Duarte, MD

The quote on the back cover of the Penguin Classics edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn sets a high bar:
"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." - Ernest Hemingway
Haughty praise, and I'm not sure that I know enough to agree or disagree. That aside, Huck Finn proves to be a marvelously enjoyable read. I'm sure that Mark Twain has been ruined for me, in some respects, by the various characterizations of him, grey-haired and twinkle-eyed, that have crept up in all manner of popular movies and TV (truthfully, I'm thinking of a particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation). By ruined, I mean that throughout Huck Finn, I can only hear that mischievous Southern drawl as Huck fibs his way through one tight squeeze or another, or as Huck abides through a certain confoundment as Tom Sawyer schemes the most impossible ways of rescuing Jim, or as the thieving duo of thespians, the King and the Duke, drunkenly rip off the townspeople of various small towns on the Mississippi deltas. Written as an adventure book for boys, but evolving into something grander, Huck Finn maintains both the lively spirit and humor of a paperback adventure while allowing more deeply resonating themes of the human spirit and America's mid-19th century history to color the margins of the adventure.

Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven weaves two narrative threads into a compelling social history of fundamentalist Mormonism in the American West. While the more recent true crime story of the murderous Lafferty brothers is both chilling and a good read, the real gems in Krakauer's accounts are the stories of Joseph Smith's founding of Mormonism, and the struggles of the infant religion as it moved West from upstate New York to Illinois and Missouri, until it finally settled in Utah. Bizarre and bloody, the westward migration of the fledgling religion is one of the secret histories of the American 19th century that somehow fail to find prominence in the school books of our youth. Even more strange than the documented histories of a variety of eccentrics that fought for Mormonism's survival are the prophecies and founding myths of the religion, which border on the preposterous, but have managed to survive and maintain almost in whole, even as they were being delivered against the backdrop of a history and government fully capable of documenting the strange facts of the religion's genesis.

They sell this book in airports, where I bought it. I bought it because JWW spoke highly of it. It is worth a read. You should buy it in an airport, too.

I had bought James Wright's selected poems in Providence, RI, a few months ago, before I caught up with my poet friend MP. As MP was recommending poets to me, he basically dis-recommended James Wright. I think he damned him as a poet who has found recent celebration, but who has discarded the formal elements of poetry for a sad-sack approach to narrating the vagaries and miseries of life through the lyrics of the mundane. I can't say that is enough damnation for me.

The introduction to Selected Poems by Robert Bly is generally illuminating, providing a bit of context for Wright's life, as well as his poetry. The poems themselves tend to be fairly lyrical, but at the same time, very accessible. They are not bad, but the are not that good, either. They are untaxing reads, and there are some see-through "deep truths" transparent among Wright's observations. But it is all still very maudlin. For my money, I'd still take Jack Gilbert any day. Wright is worth reading, but not worth running out this minute to read...

Bill Bryson's Notes From A Big Country was purchased at Heathrow airport, because, apparently, the Brits don't actually like to read (by all accounts, it is a culture fully in collapse, what with the drinking, and the chavs, and the easy women), and I couldn't find anything more challenging than Alexander McCall Smith in the airport Border's. I guess I should have just spent my money on whiskey. All that aside, I don't have much to say about Bill Bryson. His essays (or I guess more rightly, his columns) or short, formulaic, and sort of charming. If you're an old person. I suspect I had some interest in reading him as a counterpoint to my occasional travel writing - as context for observations from a stranger in a strange land. Well, I guess when I'm old, I won't mind writing like Bryson. In the meantime, god, I hope I've got a little more bite to me.

I'm working on a project for a big financial firm this summer. As such, I had to get smart on futures and options trading. So I bought Futures & Options for Dummies. I actually bought two copies, one for me and one for my colleagues. I hoped to get a dirtier look from the checkout girl at Barnes & Noble. Something that said, "You must be dumb, buying two books. Can't make you any smarter than one." I got no such look. I have nothing to say about the book. It's fine, if I had twenty five thousand dollars to spare, this book might convince me to lose it. If I cared, I might pick up the secret language of traders, of puts and calls and butterfly spreads. In the meantime, I'm more likely to rent Boiler Room.

So what was June about? America, I guess.

A Work Week in London

Well, just got back from a week working in London with a new client. A red-eye out, three days full of meetings, a day and a half on my own. Two bomb scares, and back to New York. I've got some photos (they will eventually make their way over to Flickr, I suppose), but the iBook is overworked and acting up a bit. Time for an upgrade, I'm afraid.

In the meantime, a quick rundown on eating, drinking, and thing's done:

Smith's of Smithwick's - a bit of a fancy-schmancy bar and restaurant, frequented by the financial, consulting, and new media crowds. Youngish, hippish, but the bar was better than the restaurant. The mussels were excellent to start, but the steak nothing to write home about -- this even though steaks seemed to be the house specialty. Oh well.
Gauchos - an Argentine steak place. We showed up late and in the rain. We embarrassed ourselves in front of the wait staff. Still, the meat was good. Very good.
Bedouin - in whatever the equivalent of the meat packing district was. 4 to 1 guys to girls, but they were playing tracks off of Thriller, so it's hard to complain.
Reflex - closer to the financial district in the City, there is a giant mural of David Hasselhoff to greet you and they plaid the entirety of the Grease and Dirty Dancing soundtrack's while we were there. The large groups of incredibly drunk banker types freaking each other made the whole thing the slightest bit homo-erotic, but if I had a big group of friends, this place would have been no shortage of fun.
Duke of Cambridge - a gastropub, and the only all organic one in Highbury-Islington, to boot. LM and I got brunch here, it was pretty good.
Tate Modern - I can't get enough of the space, what can I say, even when the exhibitions are only so-so.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Are You Scared of Making Money???!!!

I can't think of anything to say other than I Love Yo La Tengo. Courtesy SC.

Good Cop, Baby Cop

Good Cop, Baby Cop


Courtesy RM.