Friday, January 02, 2015

Favorite Reads from 2014

Read some great books this past year. I'd say these were my favorite … 6:
Open City by Teju Cole
Beautiful immigrant novel about a Nigerian doctor and flaneur on the streets of New York with an unexpected twist
This Machine Kills Secrets by Andy Greenberg
Excellent non-fiction about the history of leaks in general and Wikileaks, specifically, primarily the rise of digital leaks, hactivism and cypherpunks.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
Superlative short fiction which examines the Jewish experience, both religious and secular, in the past and present, here in the United States and in Israel.
Look at Me by Jennifer Egan
The shifting of a woman’s identity after a car accident leaves her unrecognizable to most people.
Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Tour de force satire about an unusual woman stalking male hitchhikers in Scotland. Also made into the great flick by Jonathan Glazer. Not for all tastes, it’s a disturbing read in a way I probably haven’t experienced since reading Will Self’s scathing Great Apes years ago.
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer
Not just a tribute to the heroic spirit of Pat Tillman and how the Bush administration abused his life and service, but also a detailed account of our fumblings as a nation in Afghanistan and how we created the complicated quagmire we ended up wading into.
I'd also recommend Lowboy by John Wray and The Steel Spring by Per Wahlöö.
How about you? Any recommendations?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Distance Between Us

This Kickstarter campaign for photographer Christopher Capozziello is really worth your support. The subject of his book is his relationship with his twin brother Nick, who has cerebral palsy. The photography is extraordinary. Full disclosure: Chris shot our wedding and I'm a big fan. He's very close to meeting his goal on Kickstarter, but could use your help

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inauguration Poem: One Today

This is the full text of the Inauguration poem by Richard Blanco, delivered today - Via the 57th Presidential Inauguration site

One Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello| shalom,
buon giorno |howdy |namaste |or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Free Market & Family Values

I wonder if those people who loudly embrace both traditional "family values" and free-market capitalism give much thought to how capitalism actually mandates the family structure. For example, it apparently takes two people to work to own one home nowadays or to pay the rent, but companies haven't exactly gone out of their way to help families deal with growing issues like, how to care for your children and hold two full-time jobs down at once. Meanwhile, we work harder, longer hours.

The older I get the more I think blind faith in the tenets and strictures of capitalism impacts our daily lives in myriad debilitating ways. We've a fundamentalist's respect for capitalism in our society, which ignores its affect on family, workplace, politics, religion, and our sense of purpose. And, obviously, our fundamentalist's reverence for capitalism has a tremendous, deleterious affect upon our politics. As we're currently witnessing. We've a political party that would rather see us sail off the edge of a "fiscal cliff" rather than simply raise taxes on those who can most easily afford it. The so-called "job-makers." Those people who'd have no money if they're employees didn't design, develop and distribute their products on their behalf.

We've been brainwashed not to question the authority of the capitalist system. We should work harder, for less money (relatively), even as those in the upper echelons of the agencies, which employ us enjoy historically high incomes. That's not an exaggeration. CEO wages have increased 725%  since 1978. Everyone else's? 5.7%.

Furthermore, computers, email, teleconferencing, and many other digital tools allow us to crank out far more work, to be far more productive in a day than we've ever been able to do in the history of humanity (this sounds grandiose, but it's literally true). Although we supposedly have a 40-hour work week, many of us work far longer, and as salaried employees we get paid for a 40-hour work week but get little, generally nothing for exceeding that 40-hour work week again and again and again. But we seldom complain. We work on.

We apparently do it in the name of pursuing happiness. Yet, as this article points out, happiness actually peaks at a modest income level. “[Governments] that stick to GDP growth as their primary measure of national well-being will be forced to find increasingly inventive ways to explain their failure to very unhappy voters.” Still, we've learned to push and push and push, ever chasing the carrot, seldom remembering it's intentionally being tugged away, every time we're about to close in for the reward.

It's almost as if, to pull a well-worn example from popular culture, which nonetheless rings true, it's almost as if, we're working within The Matrix. A matrix, anyway. One where we've been conditioned to accept a reality that hardly corresponds with the fantasy we're sold by the most dogmatic free market advocates and by the extraordinarily successful and competitive world of commercialized industry. So we work and buy, buy and work. Day in and day out. Day in and day out. Day in and day out.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Recent Writing: How to Get Into IA

Recently I wrote a post for the Onward Search Blog, which detailed my thoughts on how to break into the field of information architecture. It's entitled Information Architecture: A Guerrilla Guide to Breaking In.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

R.I.P. Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012

"It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small." - Neil Armstrong

Rest in Peace.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Makes for a Nemesis?

Yesterday, Rachel Lovinger and I were discussing what the characteristics of a nemesis, partly inspired by an essay Rachel read by Chuck Klosterman entitled "The Importance of Being Hated." In other words, we wondered, how would someone qualify to be your nemesis? We came up with the following thoughts.

A nemesis:
  1. Should be someone who people might normally assume you'd be friends with because of what you have in common
  2. Should be someone you have respect, or at least grudging respect for, due to your respective strengths, weaknesses, and interests (nemeses may likely operate within the same field
  3. Was a childhood or long-time friend, but you and your nemesis eventually had a parting of ways
  4. Cannot just be an arch enemy. Wile E. Coyote is not the nemesis of Road Runner. They are simply mortal enemies
  5. Is like the other side of a coin, making nemeses inseparable, perhaps meaning that someone could only ever have a single nemesis. (However, are numbers 5 and 6 below an exception? Or is Jay Leno simply evil enough to be a nemesis to two individuals?)
Who would qualify then as famous nemeses?

Arguably the following:
  1. Sherlock Holmes and Moriaty
  2. Superman and the Lex Luthor
  3. Professor X and Magneto
  4. Seinfeld and Newman
  5. Stalin and Trotsky
  6. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs
  7. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
  8. Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno
  9. David Letterman and Jay Leno
In his essay, Klosterman argues that The Joker is Batman's nemesis, but I'm not buying it. I don't see the Batman as admiring the Joker, who simply thrived on chaos and insanity. See Klosterman's essay, however, for more characteristics of what makes for a nemesis and for how to distinguish between a nemesis and an arch enemy. It's quite entertaining.

Who do you think also qualifies?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You Don't Own Your Tweets?

This may prove an important case: Staten Island Judge Sciarrino Jr. has just ruled that an Occupy Wall Street protester can’t complain that the police searched his tweets, not only because they’re public (fair enough) but also because he doesn’t own them. It'll be interesting to see what if anything Twitter says about this ruling. Twitter has previously warned folks when the authorities were reviewing their tweets.

The fact(?) that you don’t own your tweets though, if true, would seem to have potential ramifications for anyone wanting to repurpose their tweets or monetize them. By the judge's logic, do all photographers who upload their photos to Flickr lose ownership of them? After all, this is his flippant regard for the idea that anyone's data has a "home"on the Internet:
As a user, we may think that storage space to be like a “virtual home,” and with that strong privacy protection similar to our physical homes. However, that “home” is a block of ones and zeroes stored somewhere on someone’s computer. As a consequence, some of our most private information is sent to third parties and held far away on remote network servers.

Now, Twitter may not care what you do with your own tweets. Still, this doesn’t seem like a helpful precedent. Does it mean that anyone could publish a collection of someone else's tweets, for example? That might be good news for some people, I suppose.

Also, an interesting side note: Judge Sciarrino was disciplined in 2009 for attempting to friend on Facebook lawyers who were scheduled to appear before him.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Flex Is Kings

So many great projects to support on Kickstarter. The site's really creating a renaissance for artists who've had no outlet before. Count Flex Is Kings as another great one in the making, certainly worthy of your support.

Twitter | Facebook

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Recent Professional Writing

Something I've been meaning to do for a while. Here's a listing of my recent professional writing.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This Is Not A Film

Just saw the excellent guerrilla documentary This Is Not a Film by and about the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Panahi is under house arrest and was when he made this film. He was told he could direct or script films, so he made this documentary in his apartment in a single day and had it smuggled out of Iran on a USB drive in a cake. He's currently under threat of 6 years in prison, plus an additional 20 years in which he's not supposed to make films. Which makes this documentary quite a brilliant middle finger leveled at the Iranian government. A must-see for fans of film-making, Iranian film, Iranian culture, protest and anyone who decries censorship.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Updated: I Was a Twenty Something Gay Basher

Several years ago, I wrote a post here entitled I Was a Twenty Something Gay Basher, which quickly laid out my thoughts on gay rights and my own evolution from a pretty homophobic youth into a vocal gay rights advocate. Recently, I was given the opportunity to develop that theme at length and the results can be read over on the LGBT-BJU blog. Yes, that's a site for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender alumni of Bob Jones University. Here's my much-expanded piece, which I hope will be a source of encouragement to LGBT people struggling within and coming out of fundamentalism. An excerpt:
I don’t remember how the subject of homosexuality even came up, but one Sunday morning on the way to breakfast at the Bob Jones University dining common, I told one of my friends that “gays ought to be lined up and shot.”

“Oh, you mean people like my brother?” my friend replied. I literally stopped in my tracks. I don’t remember how I responded, but I do remember I instantly understood I was in the wrong. Those two sentences between friends proved a catalyst to me. The frankness of my friend’s response to my words shocked me into realizing how I sounded. I knew his brother, knew he was likely gay and still I had made this incredibly callous comment. Nonetheless, my friend’s frank yet polite response had an extraordinary impact: It coupled my vulgar generalization to the specific humanity of one single person. Someone I knew. Someone I most certainly wouldn’t want to see “lined up and shot.” That remark made me instantly aware of an inconsistency in my thinking. So I began to think further and having begun to think, I couldn’t turn back.

I’m horrified that I ever spoke those words. I was 20 years old at the time. So why admit to them now? To underline the fact that at one time I was very anti-gay, so anti-gay that I would’ve have thought the very word “homophobic” nothing more than politically correct propaganda. Part of the “gay agenda.”

Sadly, my words wouldn’t have been terribly out of place at Bob Jones University. If many people there may not have used the same words, many also would not have disagreed entirely with the sentiment. To this day, my alma mater stands by its belief that homosexuality is an “unnatural affection,” an “abomination,” a “sinful lifestyle choice.” I’ve moved on, changed my opinions on this issue. The school has not. So it’s somewhat ironic that as a freshman student at BJU, I began a journey of the mind, which lead me away from such deeply-ingrained homophobia.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

R.I.P. Václav Havel

I was stunned the other day when Václav Havel died just three days after Christopher Hitchens.

Havel had a huge influence on me in my 20s, when I was still a college students, studying journalism and politics. I became more aware of him in about 1992, studying in a Political Journalism program at Georgetown. There I became friends with a Polish journalist, who eventually sent me a signed photo of Havel. I read Havel's writings at the time, and, yes, he too, was another huge influence on me at the time, as I was beginning my journey away from the religious fundamentalism of my upbringing. That the ancestors on my mother's side came from Bohemia - which is now part of the Chzech Republic - also deepened my interest in Havel's homeland. I eventually went to study Czech Culture for a month at Charles University in Prague and I left Prague seriously considering whether I might want to move there myself.

A brilliant, kind, creative man. A playwright, poet and essayist. A faithful and effective letter writer. A political dissident and human rights advocate. He earned the respect of his countrymen and proved too good to be a very effective President. In other words, he hung onto his soul.

To contrast him with Hitchens (if we have to), Havel seemed to be all the brilliance without the bitterness than spoiled Hitchens for so many. Something else that he had in common with Hitch, though, aside from the obvious love for literature and writing? He loved a good drink. Which reminds me of the one time I interacted, if briefly, with Havel.

In December 2006, shortly after I moved to New York, Havel was here to accept an award he'd won years earlier, but couldn't accept because he was in jail. The band Uncle Moon with Michelle Shocked was playing Velvet Underground's entire "Banana" album at Joe's Pub in the East Village in tribute to Havel, and it was rumored that the great man himself might be there. I lived walking distance away, but didn't have tickets. Nonetheless, I walked up there from 3rd Street, only for the doorman to tell me the event had sold out. Then, he told me since the event was probably mostly over, I could go in anyway and stand at the bar. I did that and noticed Havel sitting at the table immediately in front of me. I shamelessly took a photo at the time, one which didn't turn out terribly well, though I remember his profile was discernible. The show did end before much longer and as Havel filed past me, he stumbled, righted himself, and I offered a steadying hand to his shoulder as he filed by in close quarters. I never heard him speak in person, never got to speak with him (I did speak briefly with Hitch). No, the moment was entirely human, entirely anonymous. It could've happened the same way if I hadn't even known who he was.

My fiancee and I are traveling to Prague for Christmas this year and staying both in and near Old Town Square, so I imagine we'll see a few tributes to Havel. For me, it'll be a moment of coming full circle with someone, one of those few people, who rose not only to become great, but remained greatly authentic.

Na zdraví, Václav!

Friday, December 16, 2011

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has died. Already. No one can say he didn't rage against the dying of the light. But what a loss.

He was certainly one of the handful of writers who left a permanent impact upon my life. An extraordinary mind, a scathing wit, with a voluminous vocabulary. Compelling even when I believed him wrong. A fine exemplar of the pen as mightier than the sword.

His writing came at a point in my life, in my early twenties, when because of the environment I found myself within, I felt that my burgeoning thoughts about the world around me were in a distinct minority. When I knew no one who I could share my doubts with. He was an illuminating discovery for me then, along with a few other great minds, living and deceased, who helped me learn there was another way to look at the world, one which still roiled with majesty and meaning. Who shone a light into my life, and helped me to walk away from the darkness with the confidence that I was not alone.

Christopher Hitchens - 1949 - 2011.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jennifer Egan on Social Media

Jennifer Egan on the transactions we make in order to participate in social media:
He never could quite forget that every byte of information he’d posted online (favorite color, vegetable, sexual position) was stored in the databases of multinationals who swore they would never, ever use it—that he was owned, in other words, having sold himself unthinkingly at the very point in his life when he’d felt most subversive

- Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad