Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I had no idea about the recent surge in demand for chewable ice, the existence of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, or Vince Gill's* penchant for pagophagia ("Europe is a drag," he says. "I ask for ice, and they give me one or two cubes. They're stingy with their ice. I'd never survive there") until I read this Wall Street Journal piece, a story which does wonders for restoring my faith in the trend piece** in general.  I recommend the video ("Once you get that ice you feel -- I just feel good inside") too.  

*I also had no idea that Vince Gill sang backup on "The Bug" for Dire Straits.
**Because the NYO's archives are a mess, you have to scroll to the middle of the linked page to see the classic (unheadlined) "Trend Piece" piece. But it's worth it!

In Defense of Juno

With all the love Juno's been getting (even from those who don't buy its fairy-tale ending), there was bound to be some backlash. Yesterday New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones kicked things off with some inchoate grumblings on his website, citing The Village Voice's review, which frames the problem this way:

Juno's knocked-up 15-year-old is at once provocatively precocious and primly pre-sexual. Her pregnancy is a miracle of bad luck—she simultaneously loses her virginity and conceives a baby. It's all but immaculate ... People love clever little Juno because she isn't really a teenager, let alone a person. Juno is an angel.

Today Frere-Jones follows up with a link to another scowling review; this one claws at the movie by dismantling its chart-climbing (and, according to the Washington Post, "insufferably twee") soundtrack, which it alleges features "the exploitation and fetishization of childlike naivete (and the Unexpectedly Articulate Wisdom there found), moving beyond interesting, beyond cute, into empty and nauseating self-absorption." Huh? The Juno I saw was certainly preciously wry (seeped in all those droll Moldy Peaches witticisms, how could it not be?), but the script and sountrack's stalwart cleverness struck me as good fun -- and hardly tiresome, let alone nauseating. Capped with Ellen Page's jaunty ponytail, even Juno's halo was easy to accept as a practical accoutrement and not a smug accessory. What's going on here? Today David Carr offers this theory on Juno haters in his Carpetbagger blog:

As long as “Juno” sat in the corner and made cute, no biggie. But the $100 million stands as a mark against it and its potential to run up the middle between two serious films that split the best picture vote is sparking a low-level panic ... to suddenly kick something to the curb because it found an audience is the height of “rockism,” a critical mindset that suggests if a lot of people like something, there must be something terribly wrong with it.

Bingo! On that note, stay tuned for the Barry Louis Polisar backlash, which is surely soon to follow.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bad Idea Bears

I stole this too cute shot of one of Avenue Q's too cute Bad Idea Bears backstage (making mischief, no doubt) from today's New York Times.


I thought I had heard it all when it came to sound-bites from NYU spokesman John Beckman. But today he outdid himself with this quote (via Gothamist) about the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a student who broke his hip at an NYU Jell-O wrestling event. "This case broke the mold," Beckman told The Daily News, "But all in all, we believe justice was served sweetly."

Monday, January 28, 2008

An Illness that is Unique

This candid Nerve dispatch about dating someone with bipolar disorder ("an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure") paints a portrait somewhat more nuanced (though no less destructive) than those that have recently emerged of higher-profile supposed manic-depressives like Britney Spears and Lisa Nowak. While it's hard to evaluate author Justin Clark's particular (personal) experiences, I thought his disapproving diagnosis of bipolar disorder as "the official catch-all for crazy people" was on target:

A 1997 National Mental Health Association survey found that more than two-thirds of Americans had limited or no knowledge of the disease; almost a decade later, eight out of ten Americans think they know what bipolar disorder is. Everyone from disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair to Debra LaFave, the high-school teacher convicted of seducing her fourteen-year-old student, has employed the bipolar defense. And if they don't trumpet it as the explanation for their misdeeds, media experts are happy to do so on their behalf. Without ever having met her, Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow all but diagnosed Britney Spears on air this month. "I would put on the list of possibilities a mood disorder like bipolar," he said, further cementing it as the official catch-all for crazy people.

Go Obama!

Check out Toni Morrison's glowing endorsement of Barack Obama, sent my way by my brother. It's written as a letter to Obama, and like Caroline Kennedy's recent endorsement (and The New York Observer's Obama endorsement), is completely unequivocal in its support. Some highlights:

In addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it ... Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace -- that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Green Diet

No one likes an evangelizing vegetarian, but I can't resist re-posting this New York Times article about vegetarianism's earth-friendly impact -- written by a non-vegetarian (and passed along to me by my vegetarian sister-in-law). For example:

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Go Obama!

(click to enlarge)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wandering Light

Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac posted a nice tribute to birthday girl Virginia Woolf (she was born on January 25, 1882) citing this passage of hers:

We all indulge in the strange, pleasant process called thinking, but when it comes to saying ... what we think, then how little we are able to convey! The phantom is through the mind and out of the window before we can lay salt on its tail, or slowly sinking and returning to the profound darkness which it has lit up momentarily with a wandering light.

A Real Shithole?

Something I had not considered about the city's new public toilets: Their rate of 25 cents for 15 minutes comes to $24/day and $720/month. Which is a total steal in this town! Especially for quarters The New York Times values at "more than $100,000" and calls "very spacious" (that's right, "one cannot touch the side walls with arms outstretched")! Still not convinced?

There are two architectural flourishes, both on the roof: a small pyramid of glass, like a little model of the Louvre, and an anachronistic metal stovepipe, reminiscent of a cozy shanty or an old outhouse with a crescent moon carved into the door.

A cozy little Louvre-shanty! This amusing video completely moves in on the idea (happily neglecting the fine print 15 minute time limit for restroom habitation). It's like From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler all growed up and adapted for YouTube!

Thursday, January 24, 2008


This commercial caught my notice through my coworker Deb, who, for the past several months, has sung the phone number every time it airs (and many times when it doesn't). Its the video that gets me -- with each viewing, I notice something new and incredible (banana-like lifeboat? pirate hacking the tail of the guy dressed as a sea monster?) ... Bottom line: This li'l tune by the folks at, my incumbent retail jingle fave, finally has some real competition. Jenny should feel threatened too.


Do you miss it? The feel of a photograph? Yeah, we kind of do too, so here's what we did: We drew up some code, made a website, posted it to the internets (crashed a computer or two but that's neither here nor there), and Yaperture was born—literally born, like a baby in swaddling clothes and something we are very proud of.

That's the Yaperture team (aka Andrew and Chris) talking, and that baby in swaddling clothes is a cool new site where digital photography enthusiasts are invited to share, discuss, and vote on the shots they'd like to see turned into prints -- and maybe even own those matted prints and make some money on their sale too. As in, "The photograph is back."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There Is No Time

Long day at work.  Longer post(s) tomorrow.  For now, this poem by D. Nurkse ("There Is No Time, She Writes"). 

Heath Ledger's Death

Yesterday I didn't really feel like writing about Heath Ledger, who was found dead a few blocks from my apartment in the early evening. But here's a quick dispatch: Yes, there was a mob of reporters and fans and rubber-neckers in the vicinty (“because of the way our generation is" one girl told the New York Times, "we sort of feel we’re a part of each other’s lives”). Yes, all the Heath Ledger movies were checked out of Cinema Nolita last night (or so I overheard). Yes, it's tragic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Eat, Sleep, Blog. Make Pasta?

I generally don't read on the subway to and from work for several reasons: My commute is relatively short, my hands are generally full (coffee, heels, lunch), and I have been known to miss my stop while reading. But I very much enjoy seeing what other people are reading (a girl can only study MTA posters so long). Today, for example, I was adjacent to not one, but two Atonement-readers. Also in close vicinity was the most ubiquitous subway-book of them all -- #1 on Goodreads' most read list for 2007 -- Eat, Pray, Love. As much as I like the title's pithy imperative, Lizzie Skurnick's splendidly useful review of this book forever cured me of all curiosity about its contents ages ago:

A sad truth for those of you out there seeking greater ones: Nothing is more boring than your epiphanies. (Even worse, sojourners–the more particular they are to you, the more they sound exactly like everyone else’s.) Such is the problem with Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey through the particulars of her digestive, spiritual and moral humors–located, for your corporeal information, in the regions of Italy, India and Indonesia, respectively. It’s a bit of a punt to say the book is self-aggrandizing–how could a book focused on one’s spiritual well-being not be?–but it’s the grand Richard Bachian strokes that provoke the reader beyond speech: “Simply put, I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in that rush I suddenly understood the workings of the universe completely.” (Simply put.) However, we’re a girl! Fish-in-barrel elements aside, of course we loved that someone would eat pasta, meditate and tool around Indonesia for a year to get over a broken heart. There’s a lot to be said for pasta in general.

Naked Pictures

This slideshow essay on Slate gives some good reasons why Spencer Tunick -- the guy who stages photo-shoots of hordes of naked people -- is better at generating publicity than making art. The crux of the issue, according to Mia Fineman (and I think she gets it right):

His installations are spectacular and attention-grabbing, but as for what it all means ... well, to put it bluntly, I don't think it extends too far beyond, "Wow. That's a lot of naked people."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thanks (Again)

Dear readers, I know I already did a thank you post. But I'd just like to say that I think it's really lovely that you've not just checked in and commented but have also linked, status messaged, forwarded, bookmarked, RSS fed and (best of all) read posts aloud to your roommates (because that's what roommates are for). Hooray and thanks! Before I wrap it up for this evening, two stories in the NYT regarding earlier posts: Some smart replies to Caitlin Flanagan's op-ed and a very tough review of "Widows" at 59E59 sent my way by Leah ... 

Remember Lee-Jackson-King Day?

Today's post is devoted to the history of the now-defunct holiday observed in the fine state of Virginia throughout my grade-school days: Lee-Jackson-King Day! As the hyphenation (which, in my mind's eye, I can still see squashed onto the school lunch menu in smudgy Xeroxed 8 or 9 pt all-caps Courier) suggests, this unique invention of the Old Dominion honored the birthdays of Civil War generals Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807) and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (January 21, 1824), and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929) all in one go. How did this happen? From Wikipedia:

Robert E. Lee's birthday has been celebrated as a Virginia holiday since 1889. In 1904, the legislature added the birthday of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to the holiday, and Lee-Jackson Day was born. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan approved an Act of Congress declaring January 15 to be a national holiday in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Since 1978, Virginia had celebrated King's birthday in conjunction with New Year's Day. To align with the federal holiday, the Virginia legislature simply combined King's celebration with the existing Lee-Jackson holiday.

In 2001 -- more than a decade after Virginia elected the country's first black governor -- state legislature did away with the three-way celebration, relegating Lee-Jackson day to the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In 2007, the state formally expressed "profound regret" for Virginia's role in the slave trade. Today? It seems the observation of MLK Day is alive and well in Virginia. As is the observation of Lee-Jackson Day. Separate but no less problematic.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

No More Empty Bowl

I made a quick jaunt into Chinatown today to do something about Mr. Big's bowl, which had been looking very vacant these last few days since the demise of my goldish.  ("It's so depressing," said Leah. "It's like a testament to your failure!") Pictured on the left: A symbolic success, in the form of some very verdant bamboo and some very attractive multi-colored rocks. Long live the bowl's new inhabitant! 

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rituals of Resale

I liked this story in today's New York Times about the "book-scavenging semipros who help the city's best-known used-book store keep its shelves stocked." The description of the bookselling line ("NYU students, genteel booklovers moving to smaller apartments, frugal cleaners-outers and a fair number of down-and-out book scavengers") is pretty accurate. Personally,  every time I go to the Strand with a ripping paper bag of books to sell back, I feel a little like Chip in The Corrections:

He ran out of money on a Friday in July. Facing a weekend with Julia, who could cost him fifteen dollars at a cinema refreshments counter, he purged the Marxists from his bookshelves and took them to the Strand in two extremely heavy bags.  The books were in their original jackets and had an aggregate list price of $3,900.  A buyer at the Strand appraised them casually and delivered his verdict: "Sixty-five." 

Friday, January 18, 2008

Eustace Edited Interests in His Profile

If I had the time (and the software) I would cook up a great entry to The New Yorker's Eustace Tilley contest. Having neither, I merely made a half-hearted stab at creativity (otherwise known as a Facebook account). Here's the screengrab in sepia, cropped and copy-pasted to compensate for the fact that I lack the follow-through on this project to make a "John Updike" profile so that Eustace's mini-feed could announce that Eustace and John are now friends and that John has tagged Eustace in an album and that "It's complicated" between Eustace and John.  Ah well, you get the idea. Ha, ha.

Say, I Like Farts As Much As the Next Gal

From my email archives. "Alice Wrigley: Gal Reporter," a video by my brother's friend's li'l sis. This one never fails to make me laugh.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Odd Couples

This short video from The New Yorker shows cartoonist Steve Brodner riffing on the idea that there's an adversarial partnership -- a cartoonish coupling, even -- in Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's rivalry. "They're not just competitors," says Brodner. "There's a kind of antagonism, there's a kind of tension between these two." Felix and Oscar? Homer and Marge? Ricky and Lucy? Convincing or not, it's a fresh train of thought (with countless possibilities). I for one think I'd like to sketch them as Calvin and Susie. Other ideas?

Obit for Mr. Big

Yesterday, Mr. Big, my hardy, bright-eyed goldfish of seven-and-a-half months stopped swimming. My roommate Ryan delivered a short eulogy: "He lived a long and fruitful life. You know, goldfish only cost like twenty cents." Will Mr. Big be missed? Absofuckinglutely. "He was a fighter," Lan remembered. But as they say -- when it's through, it's through. Time to look for a memorial plant to put in his bowl.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gatsby Croaking

Having seen my share of struggling manuscripts in 2007, I was extremely intrigued by what New York Observer books editor Adam Begley calls "inarguably the worst book of 2007," which unfortunately, you can't buy in the US or the UK due to copyright law. It's a graphic adaptation of The Great Gatsby published in Australia by Allen and Unwin, and Begley describes it this way:

The artist -- if that's the appropriate term -- has chosen to portray all the characters as "fantastical creatures": Gastby looks like a seahorse; Daisy is a puffball bisected by a worm; Nick is some kind of newt; Myrtle has one eye in the middle of her otherwise frog-like face ... So you turn the pages and read an abridged version of Fitzgerald's text and gaze on these random mutants as they shuttle back and forth between Manhattan and West Egg. It's obscene, a kind of desecration.

Don't worry, it's available in Canada!

*click to enlarge the graphic on the left, it's pretty great

"We Cannot Settle for Cosmetic Change"

Earlier this week, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal was sworn in as Louisiana's first nonwhite governor since 1872 (today's Onion jokes, "His parents must be so close to being proud").

"The fact that he's of Indian ancestry is a subject of jubilation," Vijay Prashad, professor of South Asian history at Trinity College in Hartford, told the New York Times. "But there's a very shallow appreciation of who he really is. Once you scratch the surface, it's really unpleasant." This week there has been a lot of talk of (and prayer for) change in Louisiana among Christian-convert Jindal and his supporters, but I'm reminded of The Nation's observations soon after his election:

Indeed, though there are weekly reports on the city's progress and struggles in the national media, Jindal's campaign ignored Hurricane Katrina and Louisiana's crisis of poverty and racial inequality, the issues the storm exposed to a horrified nation. Perhaps this is why Jindal won only 10 percent of the votes from the state's black population and why he lost in Orleans Parish. Apparently black voters did not see Jindal's prospect for victory as corresponding with their own, even though Jindal broke the conventional wisdom that only white politicians can win statewide office.

On Monday, Jindal gave his inaugural remarks, making no mention of race (and giving only a passing nod to "the storms"). "We cannot settle for cosmetic change," he said. "And we all must recognize the stakes."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lawless Leftovers

I found this cool photo of edibles confiscated from JFK (click to enlarge) on Wired via Gridskipper.  The photo is from Taryn Simon's book An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.  Caption:

The foodstuffs in this image were seized over a 48-hour period from passengers arriving from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, from abroad.  Among the pictured items are African yams, uncooked meats, fresh eggs, okra and a South Asian lime infected with a citrus canker.

"This room is one of my favorite shots.  I spent hours arranging the contraband to get it to look like a still life," Simon said.

On that note, I'm going to go clean the fridge. 

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bar Stool Economics: Part Two

This is part two of a two part post. For those of you just joining us, Part One consisted of this scenario, which reached my brother's inbox. Here's his response, which I post with pride:

Let me see if I understand the analogy by stripping it to its bare essentials.

The owner of the bar is the United States government, the $100 bill symbolizes our taxes, the bar customers are the citizens, and the beer represents the services that are provided to the citizens by the government. At some point, the government reduces taxes by 20%, while still providing the same services. The grateful citizenry initially divides the reduction in proportion with the existing tax scheme. Then, the poorer citizens become upset with their actual savings in real dollars, demand an even larger share of the reduction, and eventually "beat up" the citizen in the highest income bracket-- engaging in class warfare, I suppose. The wealthy citizen then abandons the United States for another country. As a result, the remaining citizens of the United States no longer have enough money to pay for the services that had been provided before.

Then comes the punchline, or lesson: "The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction." As a statement of fact, this is an obvious point, in terms of real dollars. But if the argument is that it is somehow unfair or unjust for some of the poorer citizens to even make the claim that the richest citizen shoulder alarger share of the burden, then I simply don't agree.

Let's start with the sixth man. The example tells us that he pays $2 in taxes instead of $3 in taxes -- a 33% savings. But the example doesn't tell us anything else about the sixth man. So let me provide some other details about his life. He works in a lumber mill in Maine, and earns a total of $5/year. With the $3 he now has (instead of the $2 he previously had, thanks to the 20% tax reduction) he has to pay for the necessities of life -- food for his children, a roof over their heads, health insurance, gas/electricity bills, the costs of their education. After doing so, he has nothing left over. Sometimes he even has difficulty covering those basics.

Providing him a slightly greater benefit, in terms of real dollars, at the expense of the tenth man, would have a huge impact on his basic well-being, while only having a minimal impact on the overall well-being of the tenth man, who has a much larger disposable income. Now, I agree with the general principle that at some point excessive taxation of the tenth man will cause him to either a) stop working or b) move to a country with a reduced tax burden. The amount of taxation certainly should not be a disincentive to work. But the example doesn't tell us anything about how the tenth man earned his money-- or even whether he earned it at all! Did he work hard for it? Or did he simply inherit it? And if the tenth man did in fact earn it, did he do so in part as a result of the "beer" he himself enjoyed throughout his life -- the government services that he received, including safety and security, public schools, a system of transportation upon which to conduct his commerce, and a judicial system to protect his wealth and resolve disputes?

Simply put, the services that the government provides shouldn't be trivialized as merely "beer," something which we enjoy (but ultimately isn't necessary). Our taxes provide for the defense of the country, schools for our children, roads, levees (see New Orleans), bridges (see Minnesota), and dams. A failure to invest in these things can be catastrophic to all of us, from the first man through the tenth man. A failure to invest in our less fortunate fellow citizens (and to give them additional tax relief when the costs of doing so are relatively small and the benefits to them are relatively great) makes us all poorer. With a little bit of extra savings, that sixth man can lead a more productive life -- and perhaps raise children whose hard work, skills, and values enrich the rest of us -- both spiritually and economically. Our individual success and personal wealth (while derived in part from our own hard work, no doubt) also is derived from our collective work as a society and as a nation. In the end, the tenth man might not have the same good fortune "drinking over seas."

I guess you should count me among "those who do not understand."

Bar Stool Economics: Part One

Ok. This is a good one. And it comes in two tremendous installments! Part one sets the scene with this email forward (inaccurately attributed to David R. Kamerschen, an economics professor at the University of Georgia) that landed in my brother's inbox. It's entitled "Bar Stool Economics," and it goes like this:

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this: The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing. The fifth would pay $1. The sixth would pay $3. The seventh would pay $7. The eighth would pay $12. The ninth would pay $18.The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59. So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until on day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20. "Drinks for the ten now cost just $80. The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' ...

There's a fair bit more to this storyline; read through to its conclusion here. And stay tuned for Part Two, it's a zinger.

"Widows" at 59E59

Very much on my calendar: Reverie Productions' New York premiere of "Widows" by the outspoken Ariel Dorfman, brought to my attention by Sam, co-proprietor of the zany Audience of Two site. He writes, "I have a small part as a soldier and a torture victim (whee!)" Apparently the show previously played at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and was workshopped extensively with Tony Kushner ("Angels in America," Munich). Running through February 3 at 59E59. Serious stuff!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Is Caitlin Flanagan Trying to Tell Me Something?

So I thought I had a sense of what to expect from Caitlin Flanagan, that sharp-witted woman-hating Wahoo. But her op-ed in today's New York Times ("Sex and the Teenage Girl") struck me as, well, pretty weird. She transitions from a quick look at Juno to some big talk about "commitment to girls" and then concludes with a bizarre anecdote about something she spotted in a high school girls bathroom: "In the last stall, carved deeply into the box reserved for used sanitary napkins, was the single word 'Please.'" This strange piece of writing stops short of being a full-on critical look at the film, or a flat-out call to action or even a wholesale emotional appeal; it proposes no new solution and offers no new insight into the issue of teen pregnancy. Instead, it's just head-scratchingly fuzzy restatement of a familiar problem. I thought that kind of writing was reserved for blogs?

What's So Amazing About Really Deep Thoughts

Yet the absence of imagination had / Itself to be imagined ... (Wallace Stevens)

For your consideration: Two articles (one from Mom) about making a science of observing the processes of consciousness. This first one is worth reading for Proust Was a Neuroscientist author Jonah Lehrer's earnest "surprise" at "how seriously all of these artists [Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein & co] took their art," (um, yeah); this second one for the "novelistic twist" (can't you see the film adaptation?) to the research sessions described at the end. There's a lot -- too much, really -- to be said on this subject. So I'll just say that sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words and close with two visual recommendations. Book: Graphic novelist Charles Ware's very cool depiction of the mind in the first thirteen years of the life of a character named Jordan W. Lint (included in the terrific new anthology The Book of Other People). Movie: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (don't be put off by the blurbiness). But that's just what I think.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

One Glass Productions

Just a big congrats to the ladies over at the fledgling One Glass Productions. In August, they treated us all to a $7 open bar and screening of a showcase of shorts to mark the launch of their company.  This morning, Valery writes in an email,  "Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the music video my company (One Glass Productions) made for DAWN LANDES is being BROADCASTED in the UK! At this very moment!" For those of us stuck on this side of the pond, however, YouTube will have to suffice.  Take a look!

Friday, January 11, 2008

City Lights

Someday I may tire of New Yorkisms, but that day hasn't arrived yet.   From E. B. White: 

New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost everybody wants or needs it) against all enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute.  Since I have been sitting in this miasmic air shaft, a good many rather splashy events have occurred in town ... I am not defending New York in this regard.  Many of its settlers are probably here merely to escape, not face reality.  But whatever it means, it is a rather rare gift ...

Look Mom, No Pants

This weekend is the 7th Annual No Pants! Subway Ride.  If you're not familiar with the occasion, it's a breezy prank (brought to you by the folks who orchestrated the ingenious Strand cellphone symphony) in which the willing board a train, wait for the doors to close ... and drop trou. Usually a few arrests are made and a few articles are written.  Harmless pantsless fun. Potential pantsdroppers (anyone can do it! so long as they're capable of riding sans pants and sans smirks) can check out the details here.  But take note, the undignified or un-self-possessed need not apply:

You are responsible for your own pants and they should be with you at all times.  If anyone asks why you've removed your pants, tell them that they were "getting uncomfortable" (or something along those lines) ... You can wear fun underwear if you like, but nothing that screams out "I wore this because I'm doing a silly stunt."

Do the Locomotion

What makes the perfect workout playlist? This article describes the research of a Dr. Costas Karageorghis, who has spent two decades on the subject. I like the idea of tracking the songs' BPM (beats-per-minute) -- Platinum Blue and Pandora are good examples of that kind of data's possibilities -- but I was disappointed that Dr. Karageorghis relies on survey results (participants "listen to 90 seconds of a song and rate its motivational qualities for various physical activities") rather than actually testing how the duration or intensity of a workout varies with the BPM of the playlist.

Personally, I'm a die-hard fan of the New York Sports Club's bopping in-house music video channel, aka ClubCom's Sports Clubs Network. A typical half-hour set (I paid close attention last night): Hilary Duff, Stevie Wonder, Kylie Minogue, Kenny Loggins, Gwen Stefani, Queen, Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, Maroon 5, Peter Gabriel. Not bad, right? Whatever keeps my resolve from crumbling.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's ... Hanuman?

Two related stories about mythology-inspired comic books and cartoons in India come from my Mom; as a kid who grew up devouring classic Amar Chitra Katha titles, I have mixed feelings on some of these new trends (though I get that "It's absurd to be purist about one of pop culture's most pleasingly bastard and vulgar forms," as my former professor Sukhdev Sandhu puts it). This story from NPR features Indian animators at Virgin Comics who are riffing on Hindu mythological tales in their work. Though I don't think Virulents (in which a regenerating rakshasa is discovered by American troops in modern-day Afghanistan) is to my taste, I think it's good news that a country that has long prized (and profited from) rote memorization is seeing the growth of companies that encourage such imaginative originality. I have similar feelings about feature-films like "The Return of Hanuman," in which the title deity "is reborn as a boy who goes to school in khaki shorts, uses a computer, combats pollution and, most important, smashes the bad guys to pulp." Again, yay for creative hybridity (as in this fantastic Indianized Spider-Man comic -- reviewed by Sandhu -- starring one Pavitr Prabhakar in a spider-suit with a dhoti)! And yay for elements of an ancient culture being perpetuated in novel ways (that aren't grossly offensive). But there's also a lot to be said for simply passing on the timeless tales of Hindu lore -- in all their unrevised rich intricacy -- without necessarily trying to "update" them. (Call me old-fashioned? ... ) One way or another, with the Indian animation industry (now said to be worth $285 million) projected to boom to a worth of $1 billion by 2010 (according to the Washington Post), this story may have just started.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thanks for Reading

This blogging thing being a brand-spanking-new little caper for me, I'm aware that I could suddenly run out of things to post or suddenly have a heart attack.  I'm also aware of perspicacious Jane Smiley's observation on writing novels, which I think certainly holds true (and then some) when it comes to keeping a blog: "If to live is to progress, if you are lucky, from foolishness to wisdom, then to write ... is to broadcast the various stages of your foolishness."  Which is all to say, thanks for humoring me, and thanks for the feedback! And enjoy.

What Not to Wear

True story: This one time I got in a war of words with another young writer. Emails were shot. Self-Googling was confessed. Jerry Springer was invoked. Then we met in person and got coffee in Park Slope; now we are Facebook friends happily ever after. Anyway, yesterday I came across this brave bit of investigative reporting of hers about American Apparel -- all the more timely in light of Dov Charney's impending lawsuit. If you have ever ventured into one of AA's dressing rooms, you will appreciate this hard-nosed look at a store I consider myself very fortunate to have not been hired by.

Losing Farther, Losing Faster

So, like lots of folks, early January finds me on something of a health food/exercise/weight loss kick. New York Sports Club's website has generated a series of slightly Spartan customized meal plans for me (eg, "snack: 20 small peanuts, 1 celery stalk") which I've been duly studying (though In Defense of Food looks like better reading material). In any case, I'm starting to suspect that I'm of Jonathan Lethem's ilk on dietary matters. "My tendency," Lethem says of his daily eating trajectory, "is to go from purity to decadence, like I'm reliving the fall of a great empire." Read his full chronicle of a week's meals -- hands down my favorite Grub Street "New York Diet" of all time -- in its entirety here. Watch out, Caligula!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Stratagems, Ruses, Wiles

A passage about producing TV from The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa:

Of course we very soon caught on to the stratagems, ruses, wiles or charm that had to be used, not to obtain special privileges, but merely to do a more or less decent job of what we were being paid to do. We were not above such tricks ourselves, but all of them had the disadvantage of taking up precious time that we ought to have devoted to purely creative work. Since I've been through his experience, my admiration is boundless whenever I happen to see a program on television that is well edited and recorded, lively and original. For I know that behind it there is much more than talent and determination: there is witchcraft, miracle.

Go Obama!

My brother emailed me an assortment of interesting Obama bits today, including this attack of a letter to the editor ("I hope the voters of this country take a good hard look at Barack Hussein Obama's past before we dare to elect him president") from today's Memphis newspaper, and the smear campaign from which it takes its apparent origins. He writes, "Prepare for more of this stuff if Obama wins today," and I think unfortunately he's right. He also emailed a few more uplifting finds, including this great Washington Post dispatch from New Hampshire, but my favorite is this lovely observation from Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, who writes (in response to today's New York Times op-ed by Gloria Steinem):

In the end, it seems to me, Obama faces easier sledding today not because its easier to be a black man in American than it is to be a woman, but because he's modeled -- and rather beautifully -- how much simpler it is to be yourself than to become a piece of precision machinery, comprised of polls and talking points.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Marjane, not Miffy

I had been looking forward to the film adaptation of Persepolis ever since a friend introduced me to Marjane Satrapi's work but Anthony Lane's unimpressed review of the film (he writes, "I was left with the nagging, if ungallant, impression that I had been flipping through a wipe-clean board book entitled 'Miffy and Friends Play with Islamic Fundamentalism") dampened my enthusiasm a bit. That said, I was pretty sure I wanted to see it anyway.  And hey! It was really excellent! Plain and simple.

Seeing Something

The tagline of this article ("What, exactly, did 1,944 New Yorkers see, and what did they say?") is a question I've wondered myself when seated across from one of those If You See Something ads. The answer, I learned, is that reports of people counting (while praying) and flat-out phony tips topped the list. I'm not sure whether to be reassured by this. Granted, with over 8 million riders trafficking the city's subway's each day, some 2,000 calls for the whole year isn't much at all, which is itself good news -- if people aren't saying something, then they aren't seeing something, and if they're not seeing something, either there's nothing to see (no terror!) or they're not worried enough to look (no paranoia!). So hooray! I guess. And now (speaking of somethings I've seen on the MTA), here's my favorite inscrutably circular MTA Poetry in Motion poem (by Vera Pavlova):

If there is something to desire, there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret, there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall, there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret, there was nothing to desire.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Savage Love Does Disney Princesses

Sometimes Dan Savage is a bit much, but
his response to this question about Disney princess panties is hilariously spot-on.  Read on if you'd like to find out how to subversively "deconstruct a patriarchal heteronormative discourse that reifies female purity" (while more or less naked); don't read on if sex columnists make you squeamish.

Humorless Hindu Huckabee Cartoon

Mike Huckabee says the darndest things. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg writes:

A few weeks ago at Liberty University (founder: the late J. Falwell), a student asked [Huckabee] what accounted for his rocketing poll numbers. “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one,” he said. “It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people—and that’s the only way that our campaign could be doing what it’s doing.” To an evangelical ear, that might sound like simple wonderment. But to many other people it sounded like the ravings of someone who thinks God is his precinct captain.

This Ted Rall cartoon (click to enlarge) addressing Huckabee's religiosity comes via the SAJAforum blog. I wouldn't call it atrocious or offensive (as some of SAJAforum's readers have) -- just unfunny. It doesn't really work. Because its humorlessness and inefficacy come from the failed Hindu/Christian Fundamentalism comparison (which doesn't make enough sense to provide the punch line it's going for), to me, the whole thing is just irritating. Is this supposed to be a sophisticated -- or persuasive -- critique of religious fundamentalism in the Republican Party? I'm all for calling attention to Huckabee's cartoonishness (there's definitely something to Hertzberg's observation that "his dimpled face looks interestingly like that of Wallace, of Wallace & Gromit") but to "What if Huckabee Were a Fundamentalist Hindu?" I say, meh.

Arcane Hobbies of the Future

Old news: Reading is in decline, and the likes of endeavors such as the Google Books Project and gadgets such as Kindle are hastening the transformation of the book as we know it to such an extent that, well, what exactly? "Because the change has been happening slowly for decades, everyone has a sense of what is at stake, though it is rarely put into words," writes Caleb Crain in a recent New Yorker article. Crain's piece takes a look at literacy through the ages; his conclusions, as one might expect, are not only wildly flattering to the reading sort ("readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer," oh, and they're better-looking than non-readers too), but also perhaps more than a bit scary for civilization at large ...

Mongolian Helmet

This caption comes from a New York Times slideshow (emailed to me by mother) about Tibetan artifacts now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

One helmet of Mongolian origin is so heavy with text and imagery that one imagines the wearer collapsing under the spiritual weight. Encircling the conical form are inscriptions offering protection from bad planets and stars, destructive demons, weapons, harmful ghosts and a host of other threats.

Leaden indeed.