Friday, March 28, 2008

CumpleaƱos Feliz

So life has its novelistic side, does it? Indeed it does! -- Mario Vargas Llosa

Mothers are great. Mine reminded me this morning that today is Mario Vargas Llosa's birthday.

To the left is a poster from his 1990 bid for president. Doesn't that font look like Helvetica?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Wal-Mart Free Zone

As per the New York Sun, "ordinary New Yorkers" are being unfairly "deprived" of Wal-Mart and its every day low prices because the New York City Council is in "thrall to labor unions."  Pointing to a story about volunteers driving senior citizens from the Bronx's Highbridge Center to a Wal-Mart an hour outside the city, the Sun complains, "In other words, the same City Council that is preventing Wal-Mart from opening a store in New York City is using taxpayer money to pay a non-profit group in the Bronx to drive senior citizens an hour outside New York to shop at Wal-Mart." Hmmm.  Sounds like an okay arrangement to me. But this cool li'l video (via BoingBoing) makes it seem like just a matter of time before the Sun sees a Wal-Mart in the city anyway. 

Le Loup at Union Hall

The New York Times ("This seven-piece from Washington loves body-quaking, tribal rhythms as much as banjos and simple keyboard hooks, and keeps full catharsis just out of reach") and Gothamist had both flagged last night's performance by Le Loup and the Ruby Suns at Union Hall (as did others), so I was pretty sure that some sort of review would be online somewhere in blogville today. Ta da! A thorough report I can endorse.  (As some music critic once put it, "One nice thing about the Internet is that you don’t need to do all of your own thinking anymore." In my defense, when it comes to Le Loup, I already know what I think, and am a little wary of adding to the alleged din of erm,"faux omniscience re: a cultural moment" or something.)  Whatever, it was a great show!

Go Obama!

From George Packer, writing in this week's New Yorker:

Obama’s ability to contemplate the contradictions in Americans of all colors without going mad—to be made stronger by them—accounts for his power as a politician. He also pays the electorate the supreme compliment of assuming that it, too, can appreciate complexity. ... But it was Nixon’s Checkers speech, with its cheesy confession that he owed his parents thirty-five hundred dollars with interest (and loved America), that carried the day in 1952, and has more or less defined successful campaign rhetoric ever since. It isn’t clear that Obama’s elevated dialogue last week is in the long-term interest of his campaign. ... Obama is a black candidate who can tell Americans of all races to move beyond race. As such, he is uniquely positioned to put an end to this era, and uniquely vulnerable to becoming its latest victim.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Dyngus Day

For Love and Money

Alright! Wait no more! This month's issue of the Boston Review is online! Hooray!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Granny Peace Brigade

An impressive collection of little old ladies gathered in Times Square -- in the rain -- this afternoon to knit stump socks for amputee soldiers and protest the Iraq war. I particularly liked this granny (pictured here in the purple poncho) who will be celebrating her 89th birthday in April:

Molly Klopot, 88, who was also arrested in 2005, addressed the group, saying, “The grannies have a special responsibility to say, ‘Get off your fannies and get on the street and stop this thing.’”

The Worst Poem Ever

Further proof that John Updike is a dirty old man (just in case you still needed convincing): This "brutally dismissive" review of The Best Erotic Poems in The New York Times (via Begley the Bookie) calls Updike's poem "Fellatio," "perhaps the worst poem ever written on any subject" -- which, for a writer known for his "seeming inability to write badly" is really quite a feat. Begley goes on to cite the poem in its entirety, so I won't. If you're curious and need a laugh, click here! If you'd prefer to soberly mourn the collapse of literature and the descent of literary studies into "trendiness itself, trendism, the desperate search for anything sexy," click here instead.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Triple Canopy

Not long ago a friend asked me if I knew of any online literary magazines with innovative web design. This is a toughie -- in my experience, literary geekiness and web-programming geekiness seem to be the domains of ... well, different kinds of geeks, I suppose. However, once in a while a site like Triple Canopy pops up to testify that when geeks of different species do join forces, the result is formidable ...

Midtown is a Jungle

I have been wanting to see the elephants march through midtown ever since I moved to New York, but every year something stops me. This year is no different. Here is what I am missing:

The ribbons around their ears secure the medallions emblazoned with the circus logos on their foreheads. One year they wore red and white “I Love New York” skirts.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm Just Sayin'

If you try to go buy this month's Boston Review at one of these upstanding establishments, you will learn that it won't be in stock til March 29 ... save your pocket money and stay tuned, friends! 

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Pi Day


Eliot Imagined

My brother sent me this great read from The Washington Post in which Richard Russo begins to imagine the rich story beyond the basic Spitzer plotline:

I cannot speak for the real Eliot, but some part of my Eliot has known all along he's no saint, that he's not anybody's best hope, not even his own. He knows this even as some other part of him believes what people are telling him because, of course, he wants to. This has been his true conflict all along, and finally, explosively, it's been resolved.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fresh, Delicious, and Kosher

From New York magazine: Help find this falafel joint (formerly Chickpea) a new name! The prize is $3,000 -- which would get you 504 kosher hummus and falafel plates! Or, like 1,538 pieces of kosher baklawa! Or an hour ... nevermind.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

That Skeevy Girls Gone Wild Guy

When the Girls Gone Wild kingpin heads for Florida, you know spring time is on its way. The AP is reporting that Joe Francis (that's him in the brown t-shirt on the right -- not to be confused with this other guy) has made his way to the hotbed of spring break scandal that is Panama City, Florida, to take care of some legal business this week. The Panama City News Herald says Francis is expected to enter a plea tomorrow. After reading this thoroughly creepy LA Times story from a few years back (recommended to me by Genevieve), I say, lock 'em up!


A few things you might not have known about Eliot Spiter (from The New Yorker's December profile):

He wears only white button-down shirts, which he buys at Brooks Brothers. He bought a blue one once: “It was unnerving. Never wore it.” He gets up at five in the morning to jog; he’s known for it, and wants you to know it, but if it’s a pose it’s a hard-earned one. His first thought upon waking each day, he says, is a wish for two more hours’ sleep.

A few things you might not have known about the Emperors' Club (from Slate's Josh Levin):

For the john who just can't make up his mind, Emperors' Club's site map lists a buffet of options. Along with the requisites—"millionaire dating," "billionaire dating," "billionaire introductions"—there's a healthy supply of nonsexual fare, including private yacht charters and "authentic art for purchase." The site's contemporary art page claims that Emperors' Club represents "artists of superior mastery," linking to dedicated pages for Andrew Wyeth and Jeff Koons. Emperors' Club is a model of efficient Web design: The site's artist portfolios have the exact same layout as the prostitute portfolios.

And the observation that says it all (right up there with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch's assessment that "there's a screw loose"), from Douglas Muzzio of Baruch College in The New York Times:

Here’s a guy who won an overwhelming electoral landslide and has inflicted fatal wounds on himself publicly and privately. I’m not a psychologist, but this is just utterly, completely reckless.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Welcome to the Working Week

I'm finally reading Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End, and it's pretty relentlessly hilarious. For example, though this isn't exactly how I feel about going back to work on a Monday, I have to say it makes a lot of sense:

There was so much unpleasantness in the workaday world. The last thing you ever wanted to do at night was go home and do the dishes. And just the idea that part of the weekend had to be dedicated to doing the laundry was enough to make those of us still full from lunch want to lie down in the hallway and force anyone dumb enough to remain committed to walk around us. It might not be so bad. They could drop food down to us, or if that was not possible, crumbs from their PowerBars and bags of microwave popcorn would surely end up within arm's length sooner or later. The cleaning crews, needing to vacuum, would inevitably turn us on our sides, preventing bedsores, and we would make little toys out of runs in the carpet, which, in moments of extreme regression, we might suck on for comfort.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Swiffer. Citibank. Eva Longoria.

You know, I don't even really like Hari Kunzru. But his story in this week's New Yorker is kind of brilliant. Let me qualify that: It isn't "luminous" and it isn't "prescient," and it doesn't even have a satisfying ending, but reading it definitely made me queasy (ala this classic column from Underminer Mike Albo*). Anyway, a quick taste of "Raj, Bohemian":

I was a ghost, floating through a world of moving signage, people carrying shopping bags, immigrants handing out flyers for bars and language schools.  I went into a department store, dazzled by chrome and glass and brushed steel.  It was a palace of mirrors, zombie heaven.  Girls at the makeup counter, dressed like slutty pharmacists.  Rich men with ski tans fingering cashmere sweaters.  In the housewares department was a display cabinet of knives, gleaming with surgical allure. I bought the largest and headed back up the escalator to the teeming street.

*Mike Albo also once observed that "adulthood basically involves complex and enervating tasks like Internet dating, shopping for jeans, trying to remember your 15 various log-on codes and passwords, and deciphering your Verizon bill." This is something I contemplate nearly every time I misremember a log-on code or password.

Let's Be Honest, the Weather Helped

I went to the MoMA today to check out the "Color Chart" exhibition (running through May 12). Pictured: Part of Walid Raad's "Let's Be Honest, the Weather Helped," which made more of an impression on me than anything else on display. Raad explains his work this way:

Like many around me in Beirut in the late 1970s, I collected bullets and shrapnel.  I would run out to the streets after a night or day of shelling to remove them from walls cars and trees.  I kept detailed notes of where I found every bullet and photographed the sites of my findings, covering the holds with dots that corresponded to the bullet's diameter and the mesmerizing hues I found on the bullet's tips. It took me ten years to realize that ammunition manufacturers follow distinct color codes to mark and identify their cartridges and shells.  It also took me another ten years to realize that my notebooks in part catalogue seventeen countries and organizations that continue to supply the various militias and armies fighting in Lebanon: Belgium, China, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Libya, NATO, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the USA, the UK, and Venezuela. 

Friday, March 7, 2008

Nothing to Unmask

"I like that foolishness is one of your most frequent tags," a loyal reader tells me (to date: thirteen posts). A few words on foolishness from Milan Kundera in The Curtain:

Just what is foolishness? Reason is capable of unmasking the evil hiding treacherously behind a fine lie.  But faced with foolishness, reason is powerless.  There is nothing to unmask. Foolishness does not wear a mask.  It is simply there, innocent.  Sincere.  Naked.  And indefinable.

Go Obama!

Because there's no such thing as too much weird feel-good Obama detritus. Or too many Ben and Jerry's flavors. Or too many bad puns! Pictured: The winner of Slate's Barack Obama ice cream flavor contest (graphic by Audience of Two).  Yes, Pecan!  (Much better than Conan O'Brien's suggested "Baracky Road.")  Tiramisuperdelegate, anyone?

Life is Very Short

This picture (from today's obit of Norman Smith in The New York Times) kind of makes me wish I were a pilot-turned sound engineer. It also kind of makes me wish my name were Norman.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Different Strokes

"Different strokes for different folks." That's the favorite proverb of paremiologist Wolfgang Mieder, who is quite literally a "proverbial scholar" -- someone who studies proverbs. "I would argue it had to grow on American ground, because it doesn't tell you what to do. It says, 'Accept the differences in people,' " Mieder says. "I think it's a truly liberating proverb." Mieder thinks the expression took popularity in the sixties with Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People" -- which I'm embarrassed to say, I recognize primarily as a Toyota jingle (but which is really so much more)! Thanks for sending the article, Mom.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No, no, no

Charlotte Allen, please go away! Some miserable excerpts from her Washington Post discussion of her miserable op-ed below:

Washington: Why did you write this piece?

Charlotte Allen: Totally for fun.

West Lafayette, Ind.: Your idea of fun is to paint a (horribly inaccurate) picture of your sex as stupid?

Charlotte Allen: How about an accurate picture?

Make it stop!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Everything is So Important

My sister-in-law sent me this. Ah, New Yorkers:

So I spent most of the week traveling, first to Philadelphia and then to Chicago. The trips were purely business: I had very little time outside of my hotel room or the shiny office facilities to which we shuffled back and forth to walk around or whatever. (Which is not really that big a deal, I've been to both places before. Plus Chicago was fucking cold.) Anyway, it occurred to me as I watched folks in both cities going to and from work etc. that part of the reason I'm not fit to be anywhere else but New York has something to do with the pace. I mean, the people elsewhere are doing the same things I'm doing: waking up hungover, dealing with soul-crushingly quotidian tasks like shaving and taking vitamins and smoking and sitting under fluorescent lights for nine hours until they can go home, etc. But we do it at a much faster speed here, because everything is so important. I think what's so depressing about Real America is when you look at what you do at half-speed you realize, holy shit, who gives a fuck? I'd rather be kept in my cocoon of intensity, where it seems like all the ridiculous stuff I'm bouncing around each day actually, you know, matters. Also, people are much fatter there.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Nauseous Bag

The way I see it, the only real reason to bother reading drivel like Charlotte Allen's column in Sunday's Washington Post is for the sheer satisfaction of agreeing with the flood of irate responses it provokes. My favorite such response (from the Huffington Post):

No doubt many of you have had a hundred or so of your friends and colleagues pass along the stunningly inane article written by Charlotte Allen in today's Washington Post, in which she drags out each and every one of her own gender-identity insecurities like Hummel figurines and proceeds to use them as an audience for an embarrassing session of strenuous self-lovemaking. The resulting piece is a nauseous bag, unflinching in it's cliched ridiculousness, that reads like a bad prank.

Oh The Things You Will See!

This past weekend marked the birthday of Dr. Seuss, who was writing ad copy ("Standard Oil Company hired him to create monsters that live in the car, and he created the Moto-raspus, the Moto-munchus, and the Karbo-nockus") until 1937, when he published the book that would launch his career: And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Though Theodor Geisel's Mulberry Street is in Massachusetts, the strange sights of New York's own Mulberry Street have likewise provided considerable creative inspiration to many -- as evidenced by Mulberry Street, the movie, in which virulent rats turn people into zombies with their bites (Variety definitively named it "a cut above most zero-budget horrors"). I saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival last May, and I can assure you it delivers all the horror it promises. Out on DVD mid-March!