Thursday, August 7, 2008

Good Night, and Good Luck.

Kindhearted readers, I bear sad news.  Earlier this week the highest of the higher-ups at my place of employment released a memorandum officially decreeing it against company policy for employees to maintain blogs such as this one (to be clear: blogs of the semi-anonymous, semi-personal, link-heavy, sometimes opinionated, current-events-driven, politically mouthy, and generally frivolous variety).  In the days and hours since its distribution to all employees, the new policy has been republished on several industry sites and has been the subject of much internal and external discussion. Prior to this, blogging guidelines at my office had been vague at best; it seemed safe to assume that my particular brand of bonhomie was a low-risk recreational endeavor.  Several months ago, however, the controversial(-ish) personal blog posts of one worker bee on my floor brought the issue to the fore. The perp was promptly fired, and ta-da: A new no-blog bottom line emerged.  What I'm getting at is that in the interest of bread and butter, I've decided it's best to not attempt to have my cake and eat it too, or something like that, so to speak. Until circumstances change, I'm putting this menagerie of friendly curios to sleep.  But in the meantime, fear not -- I'll be channeling the energies that once made their way onto this page into raucous emails to the likes of you, old-school pen-and paper diary entries, and a couple of creative projects I've been meaning to get around to for some time.  (And, I suppose, my "day job.")  At any rate, be well, do good work and keep in touch.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Piano Tops, Flying Slippers, and Dymaxionmania

A few months ago, Elizabeth Kolbert had a thoroughly enjoyable article about Buckminster Fuller in The New Yorker.  Here's a paragraph from that piece that highlights just why this fellow was a through-and-through eccentric genius:

In addition to flying cars, he imagined mass-produced bathrooms that could be installed like refrigerators; underwater settlements that would be restocked by submarine; and floating communities that, along with all their inhabitants, would hover among the clouds. Most famously, he dreamed up the geodesic dome. “If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top . . . that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver,” Fuller once wrote. “But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings.” Fuller may have spent his life inventing things, but he claimed that he was not particularly interested in inventions. He called himself a “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist”—a “comprehensivist,” for short—and believed that his task was to innovate in such a way as to benefit the greatest number of people using the least amount of resources. “My objective was humanity’s comprehensive success in the universe” is how he once put it. “I could have ended up with a pair of flying slippers.”
Though I wasn't able to mobilize myself to make it out to any of the Buckminster Fuller Institute lectures/celebrations in June, I finally did head to the Whitney this weekend to take a look at the very cool Fuller exhibit on display there.  (If you can't make it to the museum, this slideshow hits some of the highlighted photographs and sketches that were on display).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Go Obama!

Here's a bit of Hendrik Hertzberg's commentary on Barack Obama's "world tour" in this week's New Yorker
Obama gained nothing in the polls during his nearly flawless, arguably triumphant grand tour. Still, after seven years during which, even among our closest allies, contempt for Bush bled into resentment of the country that returned him to office, one would have to be an awful grouch not to be gratified by the sight of a sea of delighted Europeans waving American flags instead of burning them and cheering an American politician instead of demonstrating against one.

Back home, one such grouch had ample reason to be grouchy. McCain’s luck last week was as bad as Obama’s was good. McCain rode in a golf cart with Bush senior; Obama rode in a helicopter with General David Petraeus. Obama was hailed by the German multitudes; McCain, his planned photo op at an offshore rig preĆ«mpted by an oil spill and rained out by Hurricane Dolly, held a press gaggle in front of Schmidt’s Fudge Haus, in Columbus, Ohio. Obama got a big kiss (“Obama? C’est mon copain!”) from the new President of France, a dashing conservative with an exotic background and an unusual name; McCain stood athwart the cheese aisle of a supermarket, complaining.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Apartment

Speaking of public spectacles, I made it out to see The Apartment at Bryant Park as part of HBO's Monday night movie screenings. It was excellent. If you haven't seen it before (and why wouldn't you have? it only came out 48 years ago), here's an excerpt from the original New York Times review to whet your appetite:

YOU might not think a movie about a fellow who lends his rooms to the married executives of his office as a place for their secret love affairs would make a particularly funny or morally presentable show, especially when the young fellow uses the means to get advanced in his job.

But under the clever supervision of Billy Wilder, who helped to write the script, then produced and directed "The Apartment," which opened at the Astor and the Plaza yesterday, the idea is run into a gleeful, tender and even sentimental film. And it is kept on the side of taste and humor by the grand performance of Jack Lemmon in the principal role.
That's right. Taste and humor and one more elusive quality, ladies and gentlemen -- timelessness. What's great about The Apartment is that nearly 5 decades later, it retains just enough of the right cultural signposts to still resonate with an urban audience. The (mostly young, tipsy) Bryant Park crowd responded loudly when Jack Lemmon's Buddy Boy confessed what he paid for rent for his place in the Upper West Side. And Shirley MacLaine's sharpest lines (addressed to a lover) got a similar reaction. Apparently some things about 1960s New York are pretty much the same today -- like the desirability of prime real estate, the rituals of corporate culture, the hazards of dating, and the versatile wisdom of McLaine's final sweet words to Lemmon: "Shut up and deal."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Crowd Control

As a tourist to the city years ago, I remember peering out on New York from the World Trade Center. "There are six million people down there," my brother told me, so I took a good look at the little buildings and vehicles and trains below and tried to take in the millions of huddled masses spread across the five boroughs. Since moving to New York, that unnamed multitude (now 8 million strong) has remained a source of fascination for me. And after three years out and about in about in the city -- and plenty of hours on ACRIS and Social Explorer -- there's still lots to wonder about, especially on sunny days when public spectacles bring out city-dwellers (and visitors) in droves.  I'm talking about the free performances and movie nights and of course the annual Times Square New Year's Eve celebrations which fill public spaces with innumerable bodies.  There's something great about the fact that city officials have trouble keeping count of city revelers in public spaces, the fact that no one knows exactly how many people and which people come out to partake in the collective celebrations. I hope to never see that never change in this city. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Reliable Sources

To round out the recent series of Wahoo-wa posts, I present to you this profile of Washington Post "Reliable Sources" columnist Amy Argetsinger which was recently published in UVa's Arts & Sciences magazine.  Backstory: A few years ago when I was finishing college and trying to figure out what to do next, I scavenged the alumni career database and found Amy's contact info (at the time, she was working for The Washington Post out of the west coast). Over a series of emails and phone calls, Amy proceeded to give me some very candid and useful career advice like, "The frustrating thing about embarking on a journalism career out of college is that the hiring process is much more slapdash than what you see your classmates heading for the corporate or consulting jobs are going through." And, "The ugly truth is that I spent nearly a year living with my parents and waiting tables and substitute teaching before I got that first job." At any rate, Christina Tkacik's interview (which first appeared in The Dec) brought me up to speed with Amy's thoughts on her new position as DC's gossip columnist extraordinaire. (Incidentally, Christina also gives pretty savvy advice herself --"The Mister Darcy Delusion" totally has the makings of a bestseller/feature-length film/TV series, no?)

Miss Hoo?

Speaking of college compatriots, the other day my brother forwarded along news that Miss New York is a UVa '07 grad (theater major) and former Miss Hampton-Newport News who seems to have grown up in my neck of the woods (looks like we probably squared off on the field hockey or soccer field at one point).  Also, she lives in Manhattan, but actually won her state pageant crown (tiara?) by way of a victory in the Miss Brooklyn competition a few months ago.  At any rate, she's clearly a winner. Congrats Leigh-Taylor Smith! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Go Obama!

This afternoon Leah alerted me to this week's Talk of the Town. It showcases the GMail account of one of our college compatriots who opted to claim the address "" when he realized that all common permutations of his own name were unavailable. "From the beginning, I had no intention of manipulating anyone," Guru Raj tells The New Yorker.  But then ...

Friday, July 18, 2008

New Museum Block Party

This weekend The New Museum, the Bowery Poetry Club, the LES Tenement Museum, Chinatown's YMCA, Bowery Whole Foods and others are throwing a free block party.  It's Saturday from noon til 7p.  I hope they serve watermelon!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Real Lemons, Real Sugar, and Ice

This week's New York Magazine features a series of interviews with lemonade stand proprieters on how to cope with the squeeze of rising lemon prices. A random slice of the cuteness (from 10-year-olds Elinor Weissberg and Oliver Goldberg-Lewis) below:

How do you make the lemonade?

ELINOR: Real lemons, real sugar, and ice.

Do you sell anything else?

ELINOR: We sometimes tell people’s fortunes.

What kinds of fortunes?

ELINOR: We usually pick bad ones. Like this woman walked up and we said, “You’re going to grow a beard.”

Where do you put the money?

OLIVER: In a jar, but you have to hide it under the table. Otherwise, they will say, “Oh, you already have too much money! We’re not going to buy lemonade!”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Philharmonic in the Park

Last night at Manhattan's biggest and baddest tailgate, the New York Philharmonic in the Park, conversation turned to Didi and Oscar Schafer, the generous sponsors of the summer series whose names graced the cover of the concert program. How much does it take to sponsor such an event? According to the program, the Schafers contributed over $500,000 -- their exact gift, I confirmed today, was actually ten times more than that. Curious about these philanthropists, I dredged up their 1964 New York Times engagement announcement (click to enlarge) this morning. For the extra nosey: The wedding announcements of the parents and children of these long-time New Yorkers can be found in Times archives too. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What the Midnight Can Show Us

By happy coincidence, I ran into Julia on the way home from work -- she said she'd just been scoping out Museum 52 on Rivington between Orchard and Ludlow, where several of her paintings will be on display as part of the gallery's What the Midnight Can Show Us exhibit (running July 16 through August 13). Now I'm having flashbacks to the art classes we took together as kids. Wild. In any case, I'm very much looking forward to the exhibit's opening!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The 14th of July

From McSweeney's Bastille Day Party how-to by Jim Stallard: 

The final event is obvious: Let them eat cake! If you're ambitious, you can serve it dressed as Marie you-know-who. Just make sure each "peasant" gets a fair portion or you may find a barricade in your driveway! 

Yeah, that's a guillotine cake. Happy Monday!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Amigo! Amigo!

This man puts the lame in lame duck like no other. From today's Times
“Amigo! Amigo!” Mr. Bush called out cheerily in Spanish when he spotted the Italian prime minister. “How you doing, Silvio? Good to see you!”
 More from Matthew Yglesias and ThinkProgress via my brother.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Go Obama!

I don't know where my brother finds this stuff (click here for more Abraham Obama).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Eat More Beet

Last week beets made the Well's list of The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating. Since I've recently been all about culinary experiments -- and I like beets -- I took it as a challenge and grabbed a bunch of them at the grocery store this week. But what to do with them? For starters, I rooted through the fridge and assembled a salad (spinach, beets, oranges, tomatos, feta, walnuts), and since the only dressing in the fridge had coagulated beyond rescue, I added some mustard to a bastardized microwave version of this recipe to make a honey mustard vinegarette. So far so good, but there are still 2 more beets in the fridge. Beet palaya is a simple classic, and the kind of dish that's hard to mess up. But if I had the time -- and one of these swish Benriner spiral vegetable slicers -- I would totally attempt this tasty-looking Beet and Feta Tart.

What the Heck

From Andrew Sullivan's blog comes this bit of news about a technology being developed by the military. According to Wired:

The project is known as MEDUSA – a contrived acronym for Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio. And it should not be confused with the Long Range Acoustic Device and similar gadgets which simply project sound. This one uses the so-called "microwave auditory effect": a beam of microwaves is turned into sound by the interaction with your head. Nobody else can hear it unless they are in the beam as well.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Snail Mail

I spotted this map stationary on Polly's lovely blog, Poor Couture (which, I should warn you, is full of all sorts of fun and eye-catching goodies). This envelope and letter paper set caught my eye because I totally had one just like it as a kid! In this era of GPS and email, it now strikes me as very quaint.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Yesterday my brother emailed me the text of President Lyndon Johnson's remarks at the signing of the Hart Cellar Act, writing: "So, Dad was able to come to the US in 1969 as a result of the Hart-Cellar Act (also called the INS Act of 1965). It abolished the national-origin quotas that had previously existed. I came across President Lyndon Johnson's remarks at the signing of the bill in New York on October 3, 1965, and thought they were pretty good." I agree. Here are a few highlights of the remarks Johnson made on Liberty Island more than 40 years ago (the full text of the speech can be found on the LBJ Library's website):

Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources--because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples. And from this experience, almost unique in the history of nations, has come America's attitude toward the rest of the world. We, because of what we are, feel safer and stronger in a world as varied as the people who make it up--a world where no country rules another and all countries can deal with the basic problems of human dignity and deal with those problems in their own way.

Now, under the monument which has welcomed so many to our shores, the American Nation returns to the finest of its traditions today. The days of unlimited immigration are past. But those who do come will come because of what they are, and not because of the land from which they sprung. When the earliest settlers poured into a wild continent there was no one to ask them where they came from. The only question was: Were they sturdy enough to make the journey, were they strong enough to clear the land, were they enduring enough to make a home for freedom, and were they brave enough to die for liberty if it became necessary to do so?

And so it has been through all the great and testing moments of American history.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What You Looking At? NYT Style Edition

Lan: do you think this guy is Indian
or did they just spray tan a model and send him down the runway?
b/c he looks a little orangey to me
me: he does look orangey
I vote whitey
Lan: so odd
oh fashion

What You Looking At? Fox News Edition

True story: After New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg reported that Fox News has been struggling to keep its ratings up, Fox and Friends aired photos of Steinberg photoshopped to transform him into a yellow-toothed ogre. And then they touched up his editor's mug shot too. From Media Matters (via my brother):

Fox News gave no indication that the photos had been altered. After putting up the photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe, Fox & Friends also featured a photograph of Steinberg's face superimposed over that of a poodle, while Reddicliffe's face was superimposed over that of the man holding the poodle's leash.

What You Looking At? Scar Jo Edition

True story: When I saw this cover, my first response was to feel bad about the modest but steady improvements to my figure that 6 months of good gym/food habits has bought. Because crickey, that waist-line is inhuman! Or ... photoshopped. Though I was hoping this link (via Jezebel) would provide even more concrete proof of photo tampering, the spread of non-glossy candids pretty much convinced me that Scar Jo is a real person who, you know, likes to eat cheese sometimes.

"Thirteen Hundred Rats"

From the T. C. Boyle story in this week's New Yorker:

When he came back into the room, I thought at first that he’d slipped into some sort of garish jacket or cardigan, but then I saw, with a little jolt of surprise, that he was wearing a snake. Or, that is, a snake was draped over his shoulders, its extremities dangling beyond the length of his arms. “It’s a python,” he said. “Burmese. They get to be twenty-five feet long, though this one’s just a baby.”
I must have said something, but I can’t really recall now what it was. I wasn’t a herpetophobe or anything like that. It was just that a snake wasn’t what we’d had in mind. Snakes didn’t play fetch, didn’t bound into the car panting their joy, didn’t speak when you held a rawhide bone just above shoulder level and twitched it invitingly. As far as I knew, they didn’t do much of anything, except exist. And bite.

“So what do you think?” he said. His voice lacked enthusiasm, as if he were trying to convince himself.

“Nice,” I said.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rats with Wings

About a year ago, Washington Square saw a spate of pigeon kidnappings. Ladies and gentlemen, this episode of "Law & Order: Avian Victims Unit" is over! The pigeon poaching perps have been caught! Or have they? Apparently the pigeon-snatching underworld is pretty extensive; the Upper East Side avian traffickers may be different from those downtown. But, uh, birds of a feather flock together, so maybe the mystery of the Village villains will be resolved soon.

Page Turners

Last night I saw a very large, sturdy (and presumably IKEA) wooden bookshelf on the curb on my street and had to be talked out of bringing it home to join the ranks of the apartment's sundry adopted furnishings (the strays we currently shelter include 3 chairs, a toaster and a shower curtain).  If I had another bookshelf I would stock it with Asterix & Obelix, Tintin and of course, Amar Chitra Katha comics.  It would be great.  

Monday, June 30, 2008

Pride (In the Name of Love)

The excitement of yesterday's pride parade (which, thanks to Emily, I had a spectacular front row view of!) got me thinking about the tenuous position of the LGBT community in India today.  This weekend saw Bangalore and New Delhi's first-ever gay pride marches -- monumental events in a country that has legislated its LGBT community into the closet for many years. From the AP:

While small groups have marched in the eastern city of Calcutta in recent years, Sunday's events were the first gay pride parades in Bangalore and New Delhi. Several hundred people turned out at each of the three events.

The marches came days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era. The law, which forbids sexual acts "against the order of nature," carries punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

The law is rarely enforced, but activists say it sanctions discrimination.
And as the Deccan Herald's terse coverage of yesterday's march in Bangalore suggests, this is just a very small first step.  But an important one!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Whoa, looking forward to seeing this (more pics here). Mayor Mike says, "One of the great things about the best public art is that it encourages us to rediscover — even just briefly — some of the parts of our city that we often take for granted." Yeah!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Dalai Lama's Little Brother

This interview with the youngest brother of the Dalai Lama, Tendzin Choegyal, comes via BoingBoing. Apparently Choegyal is bipolar and a recovering alcoholic -- a "rebellious soul" who dropped out of college and was once a paratrooper in the Tibetan contingency of the Indian army. A slice of the conversation below:

GR: What are your hobbies?

TC: I used to take photographs, and I used to like editing movies. But right now, my hobby is reading. I’m reading a book in English right now on Buddhism and world history. I don’t read fiction—my time is mostly spent reading about Buddhism and inner transformation. I also read The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, and the BBC on the Internet. Oh, and People’s Daily. I want to know what the Chinese are saying!

GR: Anything else you’re really into?

TC: I like useful tools. Until a few years ago, I used to fix my own car—I was a good mechanic. I used to drive an old Land Rover; now I drive a Suzuki station wagon. I used to wash my car every day, and my friends used to say, “Don’t do that, the paint’s going to come off.” When I’m doing something, I do it whole-heartedly. And then when I leave it, I just leave it. Just this evening my son called me an eccentric. I think he’s right. We all have our extreme sides. I used to take an interest in anything that was mechanical, but now, I don’t think these material things are all that important. I’m interested in human beings now.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Left Wondering about the Upper Hand?

Today's New York Sun hones in on an interesting bit of trivia that unites John McCain and Barack Obama: They're both left-handed. Which means that the next president -- like every president since 1974 (except for George W. and Jimmy Carter) -- will once again be a leftie. That's right: Ford, Reagan, H. W. Bush, Clinton and our next president-to-be're all lefties. So what? Well, since only 10% of the population is left-handed, the recent spree of lefties in the Oval Office is a statistical anomolie that may very well have a biological explanation.   The Sun pokes around for evidence linking left-handedness to other presidential traits like ambition or problem-solving skills but comes up only with ... hair whorls:
[Amar Klar's] research shows that the whorl for right-handers curls clockwise in 92% of cases. In left-handers, the distribution is random, with half exhibiting clockwise whorl and the other half spinning counterclockwise. Mr. Klar said he could spot a counterclockwise whorl from seeing Mr. McCain and Mr. Clinton on television and looking at the way they appear to comb their hair.
Also? Apparently those hair whorls have been linked not only to electability in recent decades but also to sexual orientation. This all must mean something, but I'm not really sure what. 

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Pulitzer: What is it Exactly?

Junot Diaz was on The Colbert Report last night. Today The New York Observer linked to the clip and cross-referenced Diaz's triffid allusion -- a reference which spurred Colbert and Diaz to some (cute) bonding over their shared geekiness. If you missed it last night, check it out now!

Microfameballers Unmasked

As more than a few of you know, I have had my share of awkward run-ins with various New York fameballs, including one who lives in my building (our conversation at the grocery story earlier this week was typical: "Hey, what's up?" "Oh, you know, pretty good"). So I was amused to see the phenomenon of microfame get parsed in New York magazine this week: "Though an element of luck often plays a role in achieving traditional fame, microfame is practically a science. It is attainable like running a marathon or acing the LSAT. All you need is a road map." I guess not everyone can content themselves with being just an Average Homeboy?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

(Self-)Reliance is a Blockbuster

So one thing that struck me this past trip to India was the explosion of Reliance Industries -- in 2005, when I was last in the country, the company didn't particularly cross my radar, but three years later, it was impossible to miss. Mobile phones, gas stations, grocery stores -- even Mumbai's IPL cricket team is under the Reliance brand (a fact Royal Challenger fans in the Bangalore stadium pointed out in their signs as Sachin Tendulkar and his buddies womped their team). What, I wondered, was left for Reliance -- or, more specifically, its head tycoon, Mukesh Ambani* -- to take over? The answer, friends: Hollywood. And by Hollywood, I mean Steven Spielberg. From Defamer:
Reliance is apparently taking over Hollywood one A-list player at a time. Its film funding arm, Reliance Big Entertainment, made headlines at Cannes last month when it announced development deals with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and others, splitting with studios the costs of new productions costing up to $1 billion. Reliance's latest venture is decidedly more ambitious, expanding its vast media footprint to claim what will be roughly half of the new DreamWorks: Six or so films a year through a studio to be determined (probably Spielberg's old stomping grounds at Universal, where he still keeps an office).
Under this new venture, the The Wall Street Journal reports, Reliance would provide Spielberg and DreamWorks with $500-$600 million in equity to finance their departure from Viacom's Paramount Pictures. Is your head spinning yet?

*Correction: Hollywood dominance is the plan of Anil Ambani, not Mukesh. From the New York Times:
The parent company, with assets of $29 billion, is controlled by Anil Ambani, the younger brother of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. The elder Ambani runs a conglomerate involved in old-line businesses like oil refining and agriculture. As Mukesh’s company, called Reliance Industries, expands in India, his younger brother Anil has increasingly eyed foreign growth.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Little Civilization

From Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which I read (and liked quite a bit) a few weeks ago:
In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable -- which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bangalore Train Junction

Did I mention that I was recently in India? When people ask about my trip, I'm never sure what level of detail they're interested in -- or how to quickly convey a real sense of the experience without being a bore. Lo and behold, this week BoingBoing comes to my (partial) rescue with this excellent video of a Bangalore train junction. Click to spend 3 minutes and 58 seconds on an intersection in the capital of Karnataka. 

Butt of the Joke

From my brother, via Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Scary Sadshaw

I was out of the country for the Sex and the City movie's grand summer-in-the-city opening, but I read Manohla Dargis's review ("All is right in this carefree world until Big casually asks Carrie if she would like to get married, a question that leads to the usual luncheon postmortem (oh my gawd, he proposed) and then the usual rom-com clothing montage and a staggering number of product placements (Louis Vuitton co-stars.)") from the other side of the globe with much amusement and a twang of homesickness. Now that I'm back, I still haven't seen the movie, and today I decided I probably won't, just because I don't think it will make me laugh harder than Anthony Lane's review -- which I finally got around to reading -- did. In the past I've suspected that Anthony Lane is a bit sexist (turns out I'm not alone in this opinion). The thing is, he's also hilarious. (Lane introducing Carrie and her pals: "there are four of them—banded together, like hormonal hobbits, and all obsessed with a ring"). The start of his review below:

Secrecy has clouded “Sex and the City” since it was first announced. When would the film appear? Who would find a husband? Would one of the main characters die? If so, would she commit suicide by self-pity (a constant threat), or would a crocodile escape from the Bronx Zoo and wreak a flesh-ripping revenge for all those handbags? As the release date neared, the paranoia thickened; at the screening I attended, we were asked not only to surrender our cell phones but to march through a beeping security gate, as if boarding a plane to Tel Aviv. There was even a full-body pat-down, by far the biggest turn-on of the night. Not a drop of the forthcoming plot had been leaked in advance, but I took a wild guess. “Apparently,” I said to the woman behind me in line, “some of the girls have problems with their men, break up for a while, and then get back together again.” “Oh, my God!” she cried. “How do you know?”

Additional thoughts: As I was pulling up the links for this post, I discovered that while I was away, the ostensible misogyny of this particular review generated quite a bit of discussion, neatly summarized here in New York magazine. But in this case, I'm inclined to agree with the commenter who writes, "Lane's review is so far from being sexist that it actually supports feminism." Rereading the review, I kind of got the feeling that Lane, in his weird way, actually had my back. After all, he concludes:

... there is a deep sadness in the sight of Carrie and friends defining themselves not as Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter did—by their talents, their hats, and the swordplay of their wits—but purely by their ability to snare and keep a man. Believe me, ladies, we’re not worth it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Virginia is for Lovers

June 12 is Loving Day! On this day in 1967 interracial marriage became legal across the United States with the Supreme Court's ruling against anti-miscegenation legislation (such as Virginia's Racial Integrity Act) in Loving v. Virginia. "Under our Constitution," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in his decision, "the freedom to marry or not marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed upon by the state." Richard Loving was killed in a 1975 car accident; Mildred Loving died last month. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"A True Dispatch from the Brink of Insanity"

A dear friend (who shall remain unnamed) sent me an email with the above subject line yesterday. Her missive (edited for anonymity) appears below in its entirety.

I am not making this shit up.

It is possible that my bizarre older cousin Marshall will drive me to insanity if he does not leave today. I fear that he will stay until Friday. Last night was his second night here. The first night, I was quite charitable and gracious - EVEN ON THE INSIDE. Even when he tells obvious lies, and rambles on and on about himself, and wakes me up for no reason at 8am by shouting my name loudly a few times. Why, Marshall? What is the purpose? I really want to like you. Why do you make it so difficult?

My attitude changed last night.

He comes home after touring the city, and immediately pops some medicine (methadone and oxycodone) for the chronic back pain that prevents him from working regularly, but not from driving all over the West Coast visiting people. But whatever, we all have our own demons. We chit chat about his day. It becomes obvious that he is just plain lying about certain things. Maybe he isn't. Maybe he did get into a fountain and play with children, and then find a pool downtown and go for a dip. Maybe his friend is building nuclear subs. It just sounds like lies. He talks some more about his duckboat tour of the city. Then, "I've never been to Oregon before. Are we in Oregon?" No, Marshall. We are not in Oregon. I cannot believe you just asked if we were in Oregon. "Oh wait, I HAVE been to Oregon before." Liar.

I ask him if he would like to go out to eat or stay in. He says stay in. He brought some ham and cheese and says he'll just eat that. He also brought a movie, and suggests we watch it. OK. That doesn't require talking. I am down with that. So I set up the projector and finally get my computer to work with it. He brought "What Dreams May Come" with Robin Williams and some pretty actress. So - it's a little cheesy, but I can get absorbed into any story; the CG effects are really good, the movie is kinda fun, and Robin Williams is engaging.

But Marshall won't stop talking.

He waits until the most critical dialog and then - "So how many years did you play soccer?" He is the total master of the non sequitur. Ah - 1 sec Marshall - both kids just DIED in a fiery car crash - I want to catch this crucial bit of dialog between the distraught father and mother. So, after the kids die, Father dies and goes to heaven and Mother commits suicide and travels to hell. Father is unhappy in his idealistic Heaven and against all odds journeys to Hell on a futile mission to rescue his damned wife. At the gates of Hell, he discovers that his trusty guide that has come with him from Heaven and who appears to be a middle-aged black man is actually his teenaged white son! Amazing! And there are Hell zombies they have to battle! With gnashing teeth! Marshall comes in from the kitchen (he can't sit still and makes 5 ham and cheese sandwiches over the course of an hour and a half) right as they start to breach the gates of Hell - "Have I ever told you about my house layout?" Are you fucking kidding? For serious, Marshall? Now? Yes? OK - I'll pause it. So I PAUSE the ephing movie. And watch him draw his fucking HOUSE LAYOUT in the only pen I could find at the moment - a purplish sparkley one I found while cleaning the house before his arrival. For some reason, the purple sparkles enrage me even more. Finally he stops talking. I resume the movie. I only say "Shh!" once. I am a paragon of restraint.

I won't bore you with more movie details. But this farce goes on. And ON. And the ham sandwiches! How many is he gonna eat? Ding! There goes the toaster again! My house still smells like burning ham.

Finally, the movie stops. I sit quietly working on my laptop. Marshall says something about Hell. I make the mistake of mentioning that I don't believe in Hell. A two hour session ensues. You can imagine what it was like. But Marshall - what do you think. "I don't think - it's in the Bible. Reason is from the devil." Really? You're gonna go there? At least in the end it was just him reading to me and me working. Marginally better than actually trying to have a dialogue.

Finally the time has come to go to bed. Speaking of Satan, it is as hot as hell-fire and damnation here. Hotter even. And of course, no A/C. I do have a fan. I actually have two fans, but I can find only one. The gracious host that I am, I install my guest in the living room with the fan, so that he can reap the benefit of the rapidly cooling night air. But there are no native breezes tonight, and I am roasting. My windows are wide open, but there is not even the tiniest puff of refreshment. I've got to get up early to take the cat to get her infected tooth extracted, and I'm tossing and turning and sweating.

Then the cat starts yaking. Not just one puke, but a massive and total voiding of stomach contents, and then some bile and water. Poor baby. It is a bit irksome, but I am more concerned that she feels ill. Yak, yak, yak, all over the house. So I get up, get a wet towel and go clean up all of her vomit. Oops - there goes some more. Poor baby. Finally, she stops puking. I get a clean wet washcloth to baste myself with and return to my miserable little bed. I'm drifting off, and Marshall starts - he really starts - LOUDLY babbling: "Oh Lord Jesus! Our Salvation!
Save us from sin! Lord!" This goes on intermittently over the span of 10-15 mintues.



SHUT THE FUCK UP. Just shut UP! I want to scream this, but I am trying to be the gracious hostess. I can't bury my head under the blankets. It is too hot. The only ear plugs I have are covered in cat spit (they make great kitty toys!) and I need to hear my 7am alarm so I can get up and take the cat to the vet. The last time I look at the clock is says 1:30am. Great. I drift off sometime after that.

"Spssssspssssss!!" A vague hissing noise enters my foggy consciousness. It subsides. I begin to drift off. "Spssssssspsssss." Louder. More insistently. Fuck. What the fuck is that. It's Marshall - trying to get the cats to come lay with him on the couch. Obviously it is not having the desired effect because the noise continues. I am having trouble falling back asleep. But maybe I should get up...there is light streaming through the windows. It's probably 7 already. I fumble for my glasses. "Sppppsssssspppss!"

It's 5am.

I lay back down, not too gently, boiling inside with fury. I genuinely want to murder him.

You think I'm overreacting?! You weren't there. The hissing noise stops, but then he starts PRAYING OUT LOUD. Like he was doing last night. "Lord, our salvation, our hope, save us, Jesus! Salvation, sinners - no NO!...Save us!" It sort of sounds like speaking in tongues except the words are all intelligible; the syntax makes up for this. I am not making this up. I begin having fantasies about getting my Cutco cleaver. I want to creep up behind the couch and slowly enter his field of vision. I will gently press the shining tip into the ruddy flesh of his Adam's apple, and bear down ever so slightly. Bet you wish you were in Oregon NOW, motherfucker. "Marshall," I will softly say, "I am not a morning person. Please try to keep your voice down. It's 5am." I'm surprised at myself. I've never actually imagined threatening someone like this. It's kind of nice. All I do is get up and shut my door, which has been slightly ajar.

The talking continues. "Hey kitty. Spsspspssssss." Then he starts pacing back and forth from the kitchen to the living room. Some humming. I hear the clink of bowl and spoon and the rustle of the cereal box. "Maaarrrssshhallll," I think in my most evil sing-songy mind voice, "if you are using my yogurt, and leave it out on the counter for hours like you did yesterday, I will eeennnddd you..." OMG. SHUT UP. Eat some goddamn cereal, but please, PLEASE, just do it quietly. Please. I'm really starting to feel mentally unstable.

Then, he starts signing the words to my roommate's holiday song that we have stuck on the fridge door. This was gently amusing. Was he puzzled by the command between stanzas to light the Yule log with Diwali match guns? Hmm, having some trouble with that "Then we won't be evil, we'll be good" line? The phrasing IS tricky. Then I hear the sounds of more cereal being made. I hear these sounds 3 more times. Five ham sandwiches. Five bowls of cereal. Five times I want to stab you in the face, Marshall. Then he gets in the shower and begins singing.

I lay there stewing until 6am. I finally get up and go into the the bathroom to brush my teeth and find that he has dismantled my Sonicare toothbrush. I'm not even going to ask. I use another toothbrush. I go into the kitchen for a drink of cold tea, and find one of my little yellow citronella bug-repelling candles that normally lives outside sitting on the kitchen table. WTF?

I come out into the living room and very civilly tell him that I am not a morning person and that he should try to be quiet before 7am. "What, no singing in the shower?" he asks with a big smile." No, I say. I answer in monotone and with monosyllables where possible. "Your cats are hungry." No eating before surgery. "Really, I will pull that tooth for you - nothing to it. Seriously." Thanks, but I'm just gonna take her to the vet.

I begin typing this e-mail. He natters on, showing me cars in magazines and packing for his second day trip into the city. He carries all his cash in $25 rolls of 1 dollar coins. No, this does not enrage me. I am a reasonable person, after all. It does make me think, however, that he is weird. He natters on. Then, a blessing: "Well, I had 5 bowls of cereal. I think I can settle down now."

There is a God.

He puts on his little eye mask and lays down on the couch. After no more than 15 seconds he starts snoring. The snores are obviously fake little stage snores, and they are really, really annoying.

There is no God.

Why am I related to this man? Is he punishing me for not believing in Hell? Why is he doing this? He snores for about 1 minute and then shuts up. I have a blissful 10 minutes of silence. Marshall then sits bolt upright and takes off the mask. "How long was I out?" Only 10 minutes, but it's OK if you want to sleep more, I say. Sleep, you fuckface, sleep, I will silently in my head. He does not sleep. "Nah," he says, "I feel good now." I hate you, I think. "Look at my finger." He has his index finger bent. "Nerve damage - but it goes away." Hmm, interesting, I intone. Ten seconds later, "Oh look, it's gone!" He straightens his finger.

Natter, natter - cars, my gravel company, the state is paying me to get my PhD as a certified financial planner, my IQ is 152, I'm SUCH a fast learner, I can do just about anything, I dug this pond once, my ex-wife is a bitch - she tries to keep my son away from me. Marshall, honestly, I'm beginning to understand why. I do not say this.

Finally it's time to take the cat to the vet. I drop her off at the vet, go work out, and when I come home, he is gone. Thank JESUS. Wait..speaking of Jesus, why is there a giant golden Jesus coin on my computer? Huh. This is a giant golden Jesus coin. On my computer. Marshall is so weird. I set it aside. More citronella candles have popped up on other surfaces. I get online. There are some weird computer screens up. Dear God. Did you give me a virus? Worst of all my Google toolbar is missing from my Firefox browser page! What. The. Fuck. What did you do? I reinstall Firefox. No toolbar. I install a new Google toolbar, but it's in the wrong place, and I can't get that little function where you can search in Wikipedia. I just now realized what is wrong with my browser window - it has no back buttons, or home or stop. That whole top section of a browser window - gone. I try to make them come back. They won't.
I seethe.


I have roughly 6 hours till he returns. Maybe I will crowd the little citronella candles into a group and and immolate myself on their tiny fragrant flames. Maybe I will cut pungee sticks from our bamboo curtain rods, dip them in cat feces, and wedge them in the couch cushions. Maybe I can taint the yogurt.

But maybe, just maybe, I can take that golden Jesus coin to Wal-mart and buy a cross-bow or a toy arrow set with real metal tips or a fish-hunting harpoon. I'm not entirely sure how to use a cross bow, but make just one peep tonight, Marshall Boy, and you'll get to see how fast I can learn...


Monday, May 26, 2008

Zoom Zoom

Landed! A little jet-lagged but thrilled to be here. 

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods

The modern world is changing fast.  But some things don't change: A passage to India still takes a really long time. I'm out of commission through Monday.  I hope to keep the posts coming from the subcontinent, but no guarantees ... stay tuned, true believers!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's a Peculiar World

Speaking of birthdays, Morrissey turns the big 4-9 today! Check him out here in a woefully awkward 2006 BBC interview.  I was a little stumped about what video would be most appropriate for this post.  My roommate suggested "The Headmaster Ritual" or "First of the Gang to Die."  But I figured that (in the spirit of commemoration) I'd go with "Hand in Glove," which debuted as the first single from The Smiths 25 years and a week ago, instead.  The video's totally foggy-looking but as Virginia Heffernan says:

... YouTube is neither a nascent art form nor a video library but a recently unearthed civilization. Everything’s muddy and looks kind of ruined. If you don’t have firm convictions about visual art, you won’t come on them just by poking around; everything will seem worthless. But while most of the stuff being dusted off and put into baggies at YouTube are indeed bent spoons and dime-a-dozen arrowheads, an archeologist with his eyes open can still be surprised by treasure.

Brooklyn Bridge Bash

The Brooklyn Bridge is turning 125! The big day is Saturday, but festivities kick off today with fireworks, etc. The bridge's mega birthday present is the $300 million cosmetic surgery and structural renovation set to begin in 2009. This cool slideshow (in The Chicago Tribune, actually) has some good shots of the bridge over the years. Did you know that a week after the bridge opened, fears that it would collapse caused a stampede which left 12 dead and 35 injured? Or that it was originally called the East River Bridge? For those sticking around the city over the long weekend, BAM will be screening the 1981 Ken Burns documentary "Brooklyn Bridge" on Saturday (which I imagine will include many such tidbits) ... 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Recognized Her From the Gym

News that the Lower East Side has been named one of the country's most endangered historic sites by the National Trust for Historic Preservation got me thinking about the changing face of nearby St. Mark's Place. Over the years, the stretch of 8th St was the hangout of everyone from Thelonious Monk to W. H. Auden to Jeff Buckley, but today, New York magazine sums it up thusly: "It's tacky. It's garish. It's crawling with tourists and trend-starved teenagers." Just 25 years ago, however, it was the place where you might see a still unknown Madonna leaving the gym, as Amy Arbus did:
The picture of Madonna was taken before her meteoric rise. “I stopped her on the street because I recognized her from the gym,” Ms. Arbus said. “She was the one sitting around naked in the locker room the longest. I remember looking at her and thinking that with a body like that, I would too. In the picture she looks as if she knew what was about to happen to her.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mulberry St. Library

Shameful confession. The NYPL's newest branch at Mulberry Street has been open for a year to the day tomorrow and (though I have managed to feebly poke my head through its restored 1886 brick and cast iron entrance way) I have yet to touch a book from its shelves. Or sit in one of those super comfy-looking reading chairs. Looks like I better check it out before all the laptops are gone!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Skip Lunch Fight Hunger

I really like the simplicity and efficiency of City Harvest. The Skip Lunch Fight Hunger drive they're holding today is a good example of that -- last year it brought in some $460,000. As of my lunch hour, the organization is well on its way, with $111,241 in donations in today so far. Anyway, that's my plug: Feed the children!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Things that are Younger than McCain

It's not nice to make fun of John McCain for being old. Still, Things That are Younger than McCain is a very good idea for a blog. For example: The chocolate chip cookie. Scientology. The slinky. Spam. Alaska. Bugs Bunny. The polio vaccine. Both of Barack Obama's parents. McDonald's. The AARP. Israel. Superman. And much much more. Here are my additions to the list: Nike. The Lawrence Welk Show. Honda. Charlie Brown. Tupperware. Isn't this fun?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Eleven, Twelve

Though the Twelve Song (aka the Pinball Number Count) is actually Sesame Street genius, when I saw that The Electric Company was making a comeback, it was the first thing that came to my mind.  Where it has subsequently stayed.  Catchy shit!