Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Best of Technology Writing 2006

Contributing editor for Wired, Brendan Koerner has edited The Best of Technology Writing 2006*, and it cuts an interesting swathe across subjects that proved salient this past year. Despite the "technology" moniker, this isn't dry, technical reading. It's well-written, often thought-provoking articles from sources as varied as The New Yorker, Wired, Salon, Discover, The New Republic, and the Financial Times.

My thoughts on some representative pieces:

"The Book Stops Here" by Daniel H. Pink - this essay is a must-read for anyone interested in the history and mysteries of Wikipedia. It includes detailed explanation of how entries are updated and policed by compulsive contributors, but also points out some of its inherant problems. For example, is it a problem that the entry for Leonard Nimoy is longer than the one for Toni Morrison? Should novelty or cult status trump literary/historical value? Maybe the answer is yes, since the Spock character may arguably have made a deeper impact upon cultural consciousness than Morrison.

Also exceptional is "Plugged into It All" by Richard Waters, which tracks the evolution of texting and the emergence of "full-time intimacy" or "constant presence," suggesting that the activity, rather than breaking down social bonds is actually re-inforcing them, serving as a sort of social glue. Potential problems, of course, include the fact that our condition of being increasingly always available means we're multitasking more and more (like a lot of people, I wonder if we're becoming an ADD society), but it also creates unusual new social norms: among Japanese teens, allowing your mobile to run down, or - God forbid - forgetting it have become significant social blunders. And to think there was a day when folks had to catch you at your desk or at home. Seems like ages ago already. One other excellent point: texting (and obviously email and IM) have created a real social bridge for many people. Instead of calling someone (highly personal) the terminally shy can get to know someone via texting before meeting them in the flesh. This principle indubitably explains the success of online dating, especially among Gen-Xers and Ys.

"The Trend Spotter" by Steven Levy - provides an intriguing look into the career of Tim O'Reilly, he of the O'Reilly books empire, and offer some facts about him I wasn't aware of. Seems Levy has his finger in numerous pies: he started what was arguably the Web's first portal and sold it to AOL; he was an early funder of Blogger and later; and, of course, he's also responsible for the DIY mag Make, which yours truly has contributed precisely one short review to. He appears to have the Midas touch.

"The Right Price for Digital Music" by Adam L. Penenberg - Penenberg suggests offering different prices for different music for download: "a pure free-market" solution. I agree with him to an extent, but any time someone uses "pure" and "fre-market" together in the same sentence, I tend to wax a little cynical (Iraq immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein was a true "pure free market"). Offer less popular tunes for 25 cents, popular ones for a buck, sure, but Penenberg says,
If a single unit [and he means a single mp3] climbed to $5, consumers couldn't complain that it costs too much, since they would be the ones driving up the price.
Right, 'cos people don't complain about other stuff that fits that demand model, do they? Like gas. Later he admits, "charging extra for top sellers might just push legal downloaders back into the outlaw world of peer-to-peer file trading." You think? It's a short article and I expected a little more of it, but it's the only dodo I found in this collection of eminently readable essays.

*Thanks to the folks at University of Michigan Press for kindly providing me with a copy for review.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Great Fire

There may be a great fire in our hearts, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.

- Vincent Van Gogh
Found that rather moving quote on the back of the packaging for this Vincent Van Gogh, er, action figure I bought my brother for Christmas. Check it out: You can even swap heads with intact and mutilated ears.

The quote reminds me of Thoreau's "live of quiet desperation" line, too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Put the Lights On The Tree

It's twee. It's Sufjan. It's sweet.

Merry Christmas ya'll.*

*Also valid for the holiday of your choice.

Wooster & Spring

11 Spring Street

The Wooster Collective hosted a massive event at 11 Spring in Nolita this weekend and I caught it briefly from the outside. (The line to get in was incredibly long and I had Christmas shopping to do!) The popular attraction's getting converted into condos, so much of the graffiti's going to become extinct, though the work added to the interior for the show will be sealed behind drywall.

Stars of graffiti like Shepard "Obey" Fairey and D*Face were there. D*Face had previously popped the question to his girlfriend in graffiti on the building.

The NYT covered the event, toom and I have posted several more photos on my flickr site.

Elf Yourself

OfficeMax is sponsoring this fun site where you can plug your own noggin into a dancing elf's body.

Of course, I can't follow instructions, so you may enjoy whose face I used instead of my own.

Hint: Heeeeeeere's Johnny!

Merry Christmas ya'll!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shameless Self Promotion

My short story Handcuffed to a Fence in Alabama has been posted over on Gather for the Amazon Shorts contest. It's not "published" per se, it's just entered for voting. So feel free to vote away.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Soy Boys

This would be funny if the columnist weren't entirely serious: Conservative columnist and garden-variety homophobe Jim Rutz is worried that soy is making kids 'gay'.
The dangerous food I'm speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they're all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore.

I have nothing against an occasional soy snack. Soy is nutritious and contains lots of good things. Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you're also getting substantial quantities of estrogens. ...

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because "I can't remember a time when I wasn't homosexual." No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can't remember a time when excess estrogen wasn't influencing them.
What's so disheartening about this sort of nonsense is that chaps like this will ignore tons of science, which indicates that homosexuality is quite natural, but they don't mind embracing nonsensical pseudo-science when it suits their prejudices.

Note that Rutz offers no evidence for his theory, only the idea that soy is feminizing, thereby nonsensically conflating femininity with homosexuality.

I'd like to hear his explanation for where lesbians come from. Too much steak as a child, maybe? And do they serve a lot of soy in Catholic seminaries? And why isn't the incidence of homosexuality far higher in China, Japan and Korea, than here? Places where soy has been consumed for some 2000 years. (I've copied Mr. Rutz on this post in the hopes that he'll address these questions.)

More: Here's an article from Mothering, which goes into much more responsible detail than Rutz's without resorting to homophobia.

And PZ Meyers actually does some proper research and confirms it's nonsense.

Interestingly enough, a Google search reveals that Rutz's article was originally entitled "A devil food is turning our kids into homosexuals." Guess he thought he ought to tone it down if he was going to convince anyone.

Actually, Rutz should write another column apologize for creating what'll likely turn into another damaging urban legend. One than manages to spread pseudo-science whilst simultaneously vilifying an entire segment of society.

Friday, December 08, 2006

In Music News

Groaner: What a hellaciously bad headline: Grammys Oblige Blige and Other Chicks. Just wrong on multiple levels. Bad, forced pun. Cheap 'n' easy resorting to "chicks." What should I expect from E! Online though, eh? Mary J. deserves better.

Old School: Peter Frampton scores two Grammy nominations, including one for this amazing instrumental cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." He's 56 this year.

Massive in the Area: And here's the mesmerizing tail-end of a live performance by Massive Attack of one of their best songs, "Safe From Harm." It's an outro (featured at the end of Michael Mann's The Insider incidentally), which comes after all the lyrics. Love the bassline.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Creeping Rooneyism

Steve Martin interviews the wonderful cartoonist Roz Chast at the New Yorker festival. Learn about "creeping rooneyism," "mouth clearance" and Donna Karan's nightmare. I always love Chast's stuff. She and Martin are working on a children's alphabet book together, too.

The NYer has a few other videos from the festival online, including Malcolm Gladwell talking about what makes a great story or a hit song.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Choose Life

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

- Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow

Havel in the House

Vaclav Havel
The intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all open and hidden pressure and manipulations, should be the chief doubter of systems, of power and its incantations, should be a witness to their mendacity. ... An intellectual essentially doesn't belong anywhere; he stands out as an irritant wherever he is.
- Vaclav Havel in "The Politics of Hope" from Disturbing the Peace
I happened to hear that former Czech President and playwright Vaclav Havel might be making an appearance at Joe's Pub on Lafayette tonight. He's in town to receive Obie awards he won but couldn't accept in the 70s. So, yes, that's Vaclav Havel along with Michelle Shocked and Trey Kay of Uncle Moon. The musicians performed The Velvet Underground's "banana album," with Shocked playing Nico.

Havel's one of the few people living on the planet who I feel comfortable applying the label "hero" to. I missed most of the show, but the doormen kindly let me in gratis to hang out at the bar. As I quaffed a Guinness, Havel sat no more than 10 feet away with his posse, then passed by me as he moved onto the stage for a brief appearance. He was then whisked away before the show ended. I hung around for a for more songs, as Uncle Moon performed some of their own stuff, then walked back to my apartment.

That's life here in the East Village, where coincidentally, you'll find the KGB Bar a block from my apartment. Now, Havel might really get a kick out of visiting there.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I Remember You Well

Chris in the Hotel Chelsea lobby

At the Chelsea Hotel. Thanks to the Hotel Chelsea blog for making my photo of Chris their Lobby Photo of the Week.

The fantastic painting in the background is by Joe Andoe. If you haven't visited the Chelsea, be sure to check it out. They have some wonderful artwork in the lobby. And then there's the whole magnificent history of the place.

More of my pics over at Flickr.

Synchronicity: The NYT has an article on the Chelsea blog.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Aura

I saw the Argentinian director Fabián Bielinsky's second and sadly last film The Aura this weekend, and I'd have to place it in my list of top ten movies of the year. Bielinsky died not long after he completed. His other movie, Nine Queens, received great reviews, too. The Aura concerns a mild, rather introverted taxidermist (played expertly by Ricardo Darín, who looks rather like Joe Mantegna), who fantasizes about perpetrating the perfect crime. He also happens to be epileptic, which the film uses to great effect. Though part of the film follows some tried heist movie paths, it also contains many moments of eerie and unsettling beauty. Additionally, it unfurls at a lazy, unhurried speed, completely unlike that of any other heist flick you're likely to see. It's film noir at its best, and it seems that at least Bielisnky's early death at 47 left him with a perfect record. I'd link to the trailer, but I think it gives too much away. Just go see it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Light a candle on their site and Bristol-Meyers Squibb will donate $1 to the National AIDS Fund - up to 100,000. Check out loads of AIDS facts on the site, too.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Share the Wealth

Via Positive Sharing comes word that excellent documentary The Corporation has been updated and distributed for free online. Bittorrent away with a clear conscience. And pass on the word.

You might remember that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 was released in a similar fashion shortly before the last election. The Corporation's more even-handed, but just as enraging.


Rumsfeld, Kissinger, Nixon

This photo appeared in this week's New York magazine in reference to an article about Kissinger. It seems to depict a trifecta, a perfect storm of political malignancy that paved the road for our currently inept, wrong-headed and arrogant foreign policy. To think that the influence of these three men has coursed across generations in recent American history. And will continue to do so.

Monday, November 27, 2006

AA|RF in AdWeek

Nice little piece about Avenue A|Razorfish's cool new digs at 1440 Broadway in NYC. Google's old space! Times Square! Great views from our terrace on the 19th floor! Bryant Park's just a block away! New York Public Library's just a block further! Neon! Billboards! Swimming against the flow of tourists like salmon!

Later that same day: The Naked Cowboy came strolling through our office, strumming his guitar and singing a song to welcome us to the 'hood.

Naked Cowboy in dah house!

Gotta love New York.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Martin Amis on Terror

The great danger of terrorism is not what it inflicts. Even September 11 was absorbable. It's what it provokes. You goad the enemy into doing something against its interests.

Osama bin Laden always thought the West would tie itself down in an Islamic country, but he assumed that country would be Afghanistan. Now, with Iraq, we seem to have lost on both fronts. With incredible thoroughness, we're playing into their hands.

- Martin Amis interviewed in Newsweek

Monday, November 20, 2006

Frank Gehry in NYC

Gehry's IAC Building

The new Frank Gehry building on the West Side Highway at 18th. It's right on the Hudson, only the dirty great big Chelsea Piers building must block a good view of it from the river.

I also watched the Sydney Pollack documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry this weekend.

I have a soft spot for Gehry's work, despite the criticism from some quarters, so I enjoyed it when Pollack asks Julian Schnabel (who tangentially is looking like the living embodiment of "The Dude" Lebowski) what he'd say if he had to criticize Gehry and Schnabel responds:
I wouldn't criticize him. Because I think it's like flies flying around on the neck of a lion. It's like watching a movie like Apocalypse Now and saying you think that Robert Duvall is over the top.
Also: See Frank Gehry and his design method on The Simpsons (in Spanish!).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Merry Christmas

I've been working in mid-town Manhattan for the last couple of weeks where it's already starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I've long been fascinated with doppelgängers - or, more accurately, with people who look a lot like other people. In fact, my friends have probably tired of me pointing out people in public who I think look like other people.

So I love this series of photos by François Brunelle, a Canadian photographer who's working on a series of 200 portraits of people who look eerily alike, but who are not at all related. Here's his site, too, where you can see some additional pics.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Confusing Folks With my Accent

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

According to this quiz I have a North Eastern accent, most likely that of a New Yorker, which is funny, since I just moved here about 5 months ago and lived in the South for over half my life. And I doubt any native New Yorkers would think I had a local accent. I skew the quiz, of course, though, since I was born and raised in the Australia and moved back and forth until I was almost 20. So I basically have a Deep Southern accent.

At various times I've told people I'm from Boston or Charleston (if you've heard the Charleston accent, which is not a typical Southern accent, you'll understand why), to which they reacted with nary a doubt - though I'm not sure it'd work up here. Of course, I always eventually confess to being from Australia, but it sure is fun to watch people try to figure my accent out.

On the other hand, to be fair, far more people guess I'm originally form Australia now than did when we first came over here in 1980. Back then, everyone thought we were British. But then came Crocodile Dundee, INXS, Midnight Oil, and Men at Work and eventually Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, the Crocodile Hunter (what is it with the crocodiles?), Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, and so on and now folks can generally distinguish between British and Australian, Australian and Austrian.

Though I have had two people respond when I told them I was from Australia: "Oh, Arnold Schwarzenegger!"

Um, no.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Arrogant Til the End

Rumsfeld's Mentor

ABC News:
In brief remarks, Rumsfeld described the Iraq conflict as a "little understood, unfamiliar war" that is "complex for people to comprehend."
Well, The Taliban's back in Afghanistan. And Osama's still on the loose. We've spent billions upon billions on Iraq. And some 2839 Americans have died over there. Not to mention some 50,000 Iraqi civilians. And since 9/11 we've lost the sympathy of the world a few times over while gaining a reputation for torture and extradition and a general disregard for human rights violations.

But, yeah, it's we plebes who just don't get it, Rummy.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


What is a CEO? A CEO is someone who would like you to work twelve hours a day for the price of six. He criticizes the State and the government while going cap in hand to them for subsidies.

- from Mammals by Pierre Mérot

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Whites of Your Eyes

"Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes." That's the context we're used to hearing the human sclera mentioned in. But it turns out the evolution of our sclera may have more to do with cooperation and communication than combat. According to this week's Economist, German researchers have posited that our sclera evolved to that end. In other words, if your iris is surrounded by white tissue, it's easier for others to establish where you're looking and for you to focus on the same thing. The Economist article uses the phrase "the mutual direction of gaze" and suggests a common example: a group of men standing around a car focusing on the efforts a single male.

Other primates have darker sclera, making it markedly more difficult to determine their focus. As a result, studies revealed that non-human apes paid more attention to where where a human's head was turned, while human children followed the eyes, a more accurate way of determining where the facilitator was actually looking.

Halloween NYC Style

Kangol hat from T. J. Maxx: $9.99
Metal-rimmed aviator sunglasses from Urban Outfitters: $14.00
Cigarette holder: $6.99
Resemblance to Hunter S. Thompson: Questionable

Additional photos from NYC's 2006 Halloween parade on my Flickr site.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Massive Hypocrisy

Yet another darling of the far right and opponent of gay marriage Ted Haggard has been revealed as a hypocrite, soliciting sex from a male escort. If he ain't guilty, why'd he quit?

I already knew Haggard as an astonishingly arrogant man from this interview Richard Dawkins conducted with him in The Root of All Evil, a documentary that'll never see the light of American commercial TV over here. Of course, Dawkins owns quite an arrogant streak himself. But he ain't out there telling people what they can and can't do in their own bedrooms, whilst making the very whoopy he decries himself.


"There is part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life." - Ted Haggard in a letter of apology to his church.

Even in his eventual confession, Haggard speaks only with contempt and a visceral disgust for homosexuality. It's sad that because of the indefensible beliefs which have infected his mind, beliefs which run rampant in our society, this man will probably never be a fully integrated human being. If he didn't do so much to hurt other gay people, it'd be even easier to feel sympathy for him.

Also makes you wonder when some young guy's gonna out Fred Phelps.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On Love

In the early pages of this humorous if acidic novel, Pierre Mérot (he's often compared with fellow Frenchman Michel Houellebecq) shares some striking thoughts on love:
We never stop loving those we once loved. But as we move from person to person, from piece to piece, we try to convince ourselves that we are slowly putting together a jigsaw that will some day show us the true face of love. And then our search will be over. But the only complete picture we have is the most recent, and that image hasn't completely erased the ones that came before. No face is forgotten, none charms us completely. Our lives, therefore, are not a succession of failures, but an unsteady edifice devoted utterly to love.

- from Mammals by Pierre Mérot

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dawkins on Colbert

Stephen Colbert interviews Richard Dawkins about his new book The God Delusion. It's something else to hear Dawkins say "The Flying Spaghetti Monster." I'm finishing up The Devil's Chaplain right now.

Part 2 of the interview. Truth be told, Colbert's a bit off his usuallly sharp game on this one. But it's got to be hard for just about any interviewer to know quite how to handle a feller like Dawkins.

Here's a couple of quotes from Douglas Adams - he of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame, whom Dawkins quotes in The Devil's Chaplain:
I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened - it's just wonderful. And ... the opportunity to spend 70 or 80 years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Horrors of the Absolute

When people believe that they have absolute knowledge with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

- Dr. Jacob Bronowski, in the documentary The Ascent of Man from the early 70s, standing in what was formerly a Nazi death camp.
Via Andrew Sullivan, watch the astonishing clip.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Baser Instincts

How sad is it for the right wing when their intellectual heavyweights are neatly and efficiently disarmed by a TV comedian? Yes, John Stewart recently left Bill Bennett a stammering mess with just a few quick jokes, which nonetheless made their point. Of course, the arguments against gay marriage and gay rights in general are generally so preposterous a child could argue against them.

But, no, even those Republicans who recognize that gay people are, you know, human beings, too, these Republicans want to have their gays and beat them, too, as Andrew Sullivan points out:
Most Washington Republicans have no problems with openly gay people. Many of them have sons and daughters who are gay, including the epitome of conservative Republicanism, Dick Cheney. Dennis Hastert has gay staff. Rick Santorum had an openly gay staffer. They have no problems with gay people. And yet their party platform is vehemently opposed to treating gay people as equal citizens or as full members of their own families.
And none other than conservative Tucker Carlson has trenchantly observed that their base is finally beginning to notice this dichotomy:
CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power.

.... [CHRIS] MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.
Maybe the base will stay home during the next election and we can begin the long hard slog towards getting our country back, along with all the freedoms we've so casually surrendered of late. (Apparently, even The Washington Times agrees with that last sentiment.)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Massive in the Area

Got to see Massive Attack last night for the third time (peviously in Atlanta, GA and Manchester, England). Great show with the legendary Horace Andy stealing it as usual. But surprise guest Liz Phraser held her own more than amply, too. And Daddy G (Grant Marshall) rejoined the collective after a notable absence last time the band toured.

3D (Robert Del Naja) lead the proceedings, and he's interesting to watch. He hides in the shadows much of the time, never spotlit, his dance moves limited to erratic, self-conscious herky-jerky jabs, boxing moves. Clearly uncomfortable being the center of attention, he tends to blurt out awkwardly-expressed political statements between songs before stalking off towards the rest of the band. During songs, he literally turns his back from the audience when he's not singing and even wanders back to sit/hide behind turntables after delivering his lyrics. All that body language seems suited to reinforcing the themes of isolation and paranoia that have permeated much of the Massive Attack's material since he has moved to the band's creative front and center.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wanna Hold Your Hand

This New York Times article on holding hands makes an interesting point: that this seemingly casual behavior which was once (recently) considered a stepping stone to more intimate behavior is now more typically interpreted as a sign of commitment. So people now may feel more comfortable kissing in the early stages of a relationship than holding hands.

The article ends with this sweet little vignette:
Recently, Dr. [Gregory] Eells said, he and his 9-year-old daughter were caught in a downpour after her cheerleading practice. The two grabbed hands and raced off into the rain together. When they finally splashed over to the car, the damp girl turned her face to her father. “That was awesome,” she sighed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Derek Van Gieson

Artwork by Derek Van Gieson

Derek Van Gieson has updated his site with more of his lovely artwork. Now, if he'd only provide a way to buy prints online ....

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Tony Kushner on Hope & Meaning

I saw a trailer for Freida Lee Mock's new documentary on Tony Kushner recently and found one quote by him particularly arresting:
It's an ethical obligation to hope. It's an ethical obligation not to despair.
Then in his favorable review of the documentary, TNR's Stanley Kauffmann quotes from Kushner's Angels in America:
Together we organize the world for ourselves, or at least we organize our understanding of it; we reflect it, refract it, criticize it, grieve over its savagery and help each other to discern, amidst the gathering dark, paths of resistance, pockets of peace and places from whence hope may be plausibly expected. Marx was right: The smallest individual human unit is two people, not one; one is a fiction.
There's some synchronicity here for me, as I heard another quote this past week, which resonates with that Marx quote - if I can remember where I heard, I'll post it, too.

Monday, September 25, 2006

You, Me and Cousin Chimpanzee

Dawkins Diagram 1Dawkins Diagram 2

I'm reading Richard Dawkins's wonderful collection of essays A Devil's Chaplain, and early on he includes these simple but effective illustrations, showing how closely we're related to our chimpanzee and gorilla cousins. The first (left) shows how you have to ignore significant branches of our family tree in order to artificially separate us humans from "the apes." The second (right) effectively highlights how we're more closely related to gorillas than gorillas are to orangutans. How many folks do you think know that? And are teachers explaining such specifics to kids in our schools?

In the last chapter, "Good and Bad Reasons for Believing," Dawkins addresses his ten-year-old daughter to tell her about "how we know the things we know. He closes with this simple exhortation:
Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: "Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?" And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: "What kind of evidence is there for that?" And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.
Simple, sage, sound advice. We'd probably not be in Iraq if more of us followed it. Of course, there are myriad other ways the human condition could be improved if more of us followed that advice.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Larry King Assumption

So long as I'm dispensing axioms, allow me to share The Larry King Assumption. Simply put, if, in examining any movie poster, you discover the best-known reviewer quoted there-upon to be Larry King, one best avoid said movie like an E. coli-laden spinach salad.

For example, an advertisement for the new Sean Penn vehicle All the King's Men trumpets "A Masterpiece" in large font atop a moody depiction of a shadowy, seated Penn, smoke rising noirish from a cigarette in his spotlit hand. In far smaller font, the reviewer's name: Larry King. Immediately, I'm deflated. I like to watch Penn and I'd hoped for a good remake of the flick, but if this movie were a masterpiece, its promoters wouldn't have selected a King quote to grace the ad; instead it'd bear a Stephen Holden, a David Edelstein, a Manohla Dargis, a Stanley Kauffmann (a personal favorite) or an A.O. Scott. What Scott actually says:
Nothing in the picture works. It is both overwrought and tedious, its complicated narrative bogging down in lyrical voiceover, long flashbacks and endless expository conversations between people speaking radically incompatible accents. ...

It is rare to see a movie so prodigiously stuffed with fine actors, nearly every one of them grievously miscast.
Ouch. And cue Larry King.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Picard Imperative

For some time, I've wanted to contribute something significant to the common vernacular, but I just never seized upon anything. I mean, Peter Merholz coined "blog" and Malcolm Gladwell popularized "the tipping point" (actually coined by Morton Grodzins), but I, alas, had nothing. Then it came to me: The Picard Imperative.

To wit: any man who finds himself approaching baldness must immediately shave his head to a length no greater than that of Captain Jean-Luc Picard's, AKA Patrick Stewart of TV's Star Trek, the Next Generation. Thereby, said gentlemen may maintain a modicum of dignity whilst losing their tresses. No elaborate combovers, no toupees, no hairplugs, however advanced in their technology. And be further advised that not every man looks good with a completely shaven head. For this reason, I decree The Picard Imperative and not The Brynner Imperative.

Now, balding men: Make it so!
Calvo turpis est nihil compto.
There is nothing more contemptible than a bald man who pretends to have hair.
- Marcus Valerius Martialis, Roman poet, 98 AD

Combover: The Movie
Baldiness: the blog

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Overheard in New York Today

Hipster Boy: The whole time I lived in that apartment, I never changed the sheets on my bed once.

Hipster Girl: Didn't you worry about bed bugs?

- Heard while strolling past four hipsters somewhere along 2nd Ave in the East Village.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Overheard [by Me] in New York

You've probably heard of this site, wherein New Yorkers can submit some of the entertaining stuff they hear on the streets. I guess it's largely due to using the public transportation that you overhear so many stranger's conversations, but you can probably also posit the shear number of crazy, conceited, or just plain creative people living here for some of the best material.

Here are three snippets I've overheard myself since moving here just a couple of months ago:

Black Girl 1: Where are we?
Black Girl 2: We're in Soho, ho!
- Coming out of the subway at Broadway and Houston.

It's just not fair. Everyone else is becoming less attractive, but I'm staying the same.
- One gay guy to another, as I trailed behind them on 1st street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

I'd love to come around for a visit, Mum, but I'm in Manhattan right now.
- Loud guy on a cell phone in Target in Queens.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

The video for British band Kasabian's new single "Empire" makes quite an extraordinary anti-war statement, touching especially on the impact of violence upon youth, beauty and art. I'm looking forward to checking out their new album. Their debut was noteworthy, despite the nasty anti-piracy software included in many copies.

The latin phrase above - "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" - closes out the video. It's from Horace's Odes and means "It is sweet and appropriate to die for the fatherland." According to Wikipedia, Bertolt Brecht referred to the phrase as "Zweckpropraganda," a great word by which he meant cheap propaganda for a specific cause. Lot of that floating around these days, innit?

In his poem "Dulce et Decourm Est," English poet Wilfred Owen refers to the phrase as "the old Lie."

A whole lot of youth, beauty, art, intellect and progress has been banished from the earth as a result of that old lie.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I Was Framed!

DNA 11 will swab you for DNA, then turn the sample into a work of art. They explain the process here.

Rite of Passage?

So my brand new (one-month old), rather nice Cannondale Bad Boy got lifted yesterday from right under my nose. I went into a furniture store near Union Square after locking up my bike with an admittedly flimsy chain, spent 3-5 minutes looking around, grabbed a business card from the counter for fear of leaving my bike unattended too long (seriously), went outside and - gone. The guy must've come in right behind me and/or been really quick.

Now, I felt like a bit of a dope calling the NYC cops about a stolen bike and wondered if I might get laughed off the line. The lady on the phone took my info and told me the police would come around to finish things up with me. An hour later, I left the scene of the crime. The police hadn't come yet, so I guess I'm on the lam. Before I left though, I did watch David Cross cruise slowly by me on his bike, accompanied by a blonde on foot. So that was free. I stifled the urge to call out, "Yo David, don't leave that thing unattended, man."

So it's back to pedestrian/straphanger for me, until I get to the point where I feel comfortable dropping a few quid on a bike again. Does this make me a New Yorker yet? Or do you hafta get mugged? Maybe it just cements my newbie status.

I Googled "'new york' bike stolen" and you get, like, loads of hits. 1.4 million actually, though I'm sure they're not all on topic. One of the first hits is this video guide to bicycle theft by a guy who was sick of getting his stolen and wanted to show how easy it was to do in broad daylight. Co-incidentally, his video starts with him stealing his own bike in Union Square--about a block from where mine was stolen. This guy also goes into great detail about how to avoid getting your bike stolen. On the one hand, I'm sure it would've helped if I'd bought one of these right away (was on my list of things to do - doh!); on the other, the only answer may be to not get off your bike. Unless this guy's right. I hope not.

And, hey, guess which city rates number one on this 2002 list of top ten cities for bike theft? What's the bet it's still number one?

OK, so I'm moving on now. Letting go. Really. . . . Oh, if I'd only come out of that store a couple minutes earlier!

Sunday, August 13, 2006


In lieu of a properly composed, thoughtful entry, here are a few things I've been meaning to blog for weeks.

A. Stuart Elliott directs us to this great viral campaign for Folger's, which smartly parodies territory Folger's has been lazily mining for years. Check out the hilarious wake-up calls and auto-email responses, too.

B. A co-worker pointed out this "interface-free" touch-screen, which might remind you of the one Tommy Cruise manipulates in Minority Report. Check out the video and screenshots, too. Watch the whole video to see how extraordinarily advanced and interactive this thing is. Makes your current screen look so 20th century. (Cool music in the video by Peter Kruder, too.)

C. Details obsessives and those interested in typography may be fascinated with Andrew Hearst's detailed explanation of the kerning in the digital timer on TV's 24. Short version: the designers cheat to save space by artifically kerning the digits closer than they would typically appear in a digital display. Read the whole thing and you'll get it. I love that he noticed this and finally concludes: "The onscreen time sequences are dictated partly by the typographic limitations of the clock font." An interesting version of the tail wagging the dog. (Reading more about Andrew, I find we're neighbors. Howdy neighbor.)

D. The universe as Groundhog Day. That's kind of the possibility presented in this Guardian article. Can't be too cutting edge a theory as I was turning similar stuff over in my head back in grad school and I ain't no physics professor. The idea's either terribly horrible or terribly beautiful, depending on your mood or point of view. You might also consider it a basis for a sort of empirically-based form of reincarnation. If you're into that kinda thing.

E. Ray Troll has cool new(ish) Embrace Your Inner Fish t-shirts.

That will be all.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Down With %&$# Censorship

From Amnesty International, this cool idea: as a form of protest, publish censored material on your site, via AI's database.

Friday, July 21, 2006

CBGB's Vega$?

CBGB's may be moving to Vegas, due to NYC's prohibitive rent. Owner Hilly Kristal is also recovering from lung cancer. The famous music venue's lease ends in October, so I'm sure many East Villagers and music lovers are hoping for a last-minute miracle. It's looking less and less likely. (Via Gothamist)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Squeeze Me Into Wine & Serve the Planets

A few quick 'n' lazy notes on some noteworthy artists I've stumbled across in the last few days.

Via newyorkette (one of two blogs I've recently discovered devoted to the New Yorker), comes the delightfully bizarro comix of Kaz's Underworld, which manage a distinct balance between dark and joyful. And surreal. I especially love this one.
artwork by Derek Van Gieson
And via Emdashes (the other New Yorker blog) I discovered the gorgeous, elegant nigh monochromatic art of Derek Van Gieson. That's his artwork above. The Kalamazoo Gazette reviews his new book.

Finally, not all my art experience has taken place in cyberspace. Fumiha Tanaka has some lovely, playful work on display at CBGB's gallery right now. Which, I might add, is right around the corner from where I live now. Jealous?

Art School Bonus: You too can paint like Jackson Pollock!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This Is New York City

I've created a new photo set over at Flickr called This Is New York, and added a bunch of recent pics I've taken. Grand Central Station above.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Apple's Manhattan Store

Manhattan Apple Store

If you haven't seen Apple's striking 5th Avenue store, here's a photo I took this weekend. It's downstairs from that glass entrance and open 24/7. Want a new pair of headphones for your iPod at 3am? Head on in.

More photos on my Flickr site.

RIP Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett RIP

"Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun."

Pink Floyd's original vocalist and co-founder, the reclusive Syd Barrett died a few days ago in Cambridge, England. He was 60. The Floyd song "Shine on you Crazy Diamond was a tribute to him, and he famously showed up during its recording, though the band member didn't initially recognize him. The album title Wish Your Were Here also references Barrett.

- Excellent Observer story on Barrett's evolution into a recluse.

- YouTube search on "Syd Barrett"

Friday, July 07, 2006

Ali G Interviews Noam Chomsky

'Nuff said. Just click the link.

I always find Ali G's interviews with politicos and the literati to be great tests of the individual's character. Chomsky does quite well, getting a little bothered and impatient by the end. Not like Andy Rooney who went ballistic and dripped with condescension and contempt. Of all the ones I've seen, Gore Vidal (of course!) had the best reaction. A real class act, he just cruised along with the whole thing, treating Ali G politely, acting as if it were a legitimate interview all along.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Caucasians & the City

One thing I've realized since moving to the Big Apple is what a load of bunk Sex and the City is. (Well, I knew that already, but now for different reasons.) I've never cared for the show, but living here really drills home what a scrubbed fantasyland those girls live in. I'm sure someone's noted this before, but there are practically zero people of ethnicity in Sex in the City. That's entirely contrary to the New York I'm getting to know, where practically everywhere I go, I'm surrounded by people of multitudinous ethnic backgrounds. It's something I love about New York. You'd hardly guess it watching this show, though. Sure, there may be a few token people of color in the background from time to time, but where are the characters? Not just African Americas, who appear rarely as anything other than wallpaper in the scenery, but where are the Indians, Pakistanis, Middle Easterners, Africans, Hispanics, Latinos, Chinese and Korean people I see everywhere I go?

In fact, riding the subway, it's not uncommon for lily white boys like myself to be in the minority. Speaking of which: where are the straphangers in Sex and the City? I don't remember ever even seeing a single subway scene in Sex and the City. Everyone takes taxis all the time. Nobody I've met here so far takes taxis everywhere. Seven million New Yorkers actually ride the subway and buses on a daily basis.

Flipping back and forth between the two shows right now: Seinfeld portrays NYC with far more accuracy than Sex and the City.

Monday, July 03, 2006

It's True

You've probably heard the advice that if you want to get rid of something in New York, just set it out on the curb and it'll be gone in half an hour.

Well, I thought I'd test this out. I've had this old wicker settee for nigh on a decade and finally decided I didn't need it enough to take up space in my diminished quarters. So I set it out on the curb (strangling my genteel Southern guilt at cluttering my own neighborhood thusly) and set off to Veselka for a late-night treat of delicious raspberry blintzes and coffee.

Came back and it was gone.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

I'm Your Man

"There is a crack in everything. That's where the light gets in."
- Leonard Cohen, "Anthem" from 1992's The Future
If you're a fan of Leonard Cohen, I heartily recommend Lian Lunsun's new documentary Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man. Lunsun basically threw a concert with folks covering Cohen's considerable oeuvre, filmed it and interviewed those involved. Since U2, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave, and Antony (of Antony & the Johnsons) among others were invited, the results are eminently watchable. I'm writing a review up for Skyscraper, so look for it (hopefully) in the next issue.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Things I Have Seen

stribs in dah hood

So in my first week here in New York, here's just a few things I've seen around and about my new digs in the East Village:
>Little old lady (80+) with a bleached blonde faux-hawk
>Guy on subway with huge swastika tattoo and two SS lightning bolts on his bicep – wearing sleeveless shirt to show them off
>Kid on bike with long handlebars and two huge rear-view mirrors in the shape of iron crosses (sense a theme here?)
>Guy with his shirt open, tweaking his nipples on the subway
>Three rats on the subway (2 different ocassions - the second time, 2 chasing each other)
>Mouse in the movie theater munching (audibly on popcorn) in the row in front of me before the movie started
>Homeless people sleeping in the street on my short walk home from said theater: 5
>Oh yeah, the NYC, um, charter of Hell's Angels is half-way down my short block
On a more educational note, I saw the Zaha Hadid exhibit at the Guggenheim last Saturday. This wonderfully detailed exhibit includes her sketches and paintings, as well as scale models, artists renderings and video interviews with and about her.

Also, I just found a little Aussie Tuck Shop around the corner from my house. They sell freshly made meat pies, sausage rolls, lamingtons, and vanilla slices, as well as Vegemite, Cheezels, and Aussie bikkies.

Tangentially, there are stacks of Aussies here. A couple of others at work, and I keep running into them working around here, standing in line, etc. Feels like I'm at home!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Live from New York


Taken today down at the Battery.

It's official: Hitched to Everything is now a New York City blog.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Wherein I Fall Into Destitution

Well, I'm having to give up my lovely apartment here in the Elizabeth area of Charlotte, NC, and I'll be moving into one about half the size. I'm also going to have to give up my car. Sell off many of my belongings.

Yes, it's true: I'm moving to New York City! I've accepted a job with the fine folks at Avenue A | Razorfish. I'll miss all my compadres at Wachovia, especially the fantastic User Experience team I've been working with, but I also look forward to new challenges in the Big Apple.

(I kid about the destitution. I kid.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Welcome to the New Improved Iraq

Welcome to the new Iraq, where

>you're marked for death if your name is Omar
>ethnic cleansing is on the rise
>tennis players are shot dead for wearing shorts
>14 year old boys are shot dead--apparently by police--for being gay
>women are being forced to cover their heads
>people selling alcohol are beaten and killed
>backgammon and chess are outlawed by hardline clerics
>civil war is imminent if not already underway

So when do we get to the improved part?

1 Laptop/Child

The new $100 laptop for kids has debuted and it's way cool.

Pete Barr-Watson has flickred additional shots, too.

Liberal Dose has additional details, including info on how the handcrank works.

Last Train to Ithaca

still from In the Sun documentaryOne of my favorite artists Joseph Arthur offers a new track "Last Train to Ithaca" dedicated to the victims of Katrina. [mp3]

Arthur encourages donations to Mercy Corps. Also visit the In the Sun Foundation, launched by Michael Stipe. REM collaborated with various artists on Arthur's song "In the Sun" to raise money for hurricane victims. Sundance is airing a brief documentary about that effort. You can watch it online.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Excuse Me, Do You Work Here?

I'll confess that due to a streak of perversity, I quite admire this sort of "improv": 80 strangers don khaki pants and blue shirts and walk into a Manhattan Best Buy at once. Pictures and everything. They stod at endcaps and helped customers if they approached. If they were asked if they worked there, they said "no." If they were asked if they knew the name of another psuedo-associate, they could quite honestly say "no," since the whole thing was organized over the net.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I Heart Ian McKellan

When I grow old, I want to be like Ian McKellan, partly to age gracefully, but the best part will be being able to say what I really think all the time - hopefully in a witty fashion:
I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction. I mean, walking on water, it takes an act of faith.
That's Sir Ian, in response to suggestions that The Da Vinci Code open with a disclaimer reminding the audience that it's fiction. McKellan confessed that he read the book and thought it a load of codswallop - this while promoting the movie; you have to love the man. He continued to describe the book in this fashion:
I doubt if people have read The Da Vinci Code more than once. It’s not that sort of book. You understand it as you go along and having understood it—it’s like a crossword. Once you’ve done the crossword you don’t rub it out and do it all over again and go onto another one, do you? I don’t.
He also recently said he thought Christians should be happy with the Code's premise:
I'm very happy to believe that Jesus was married. I know the Catholic Church has problems with gay people and I thought this would be absolute proof that Jesus was not gay.
WorldNetDaily covered most of these proceedings in a single article, though I'm not sure they found the humor in Sir Ian's comments, as I did.

He's going to be in the X-Men III, too, which comes out next week, so it's going to be all Ian all the time. Much better than all Tom all the time in my book.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Is Pat Robertson really a prophet? Or has he just been boning up on global warming?

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Brand-New Jaw Line

I've posted an update on my brother's surgery today over at Saving Chris's Smile.

He should wake up in a few hours with a brand-new jaw line.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Holy Everlasting Nano Storage!

Before long you may be able to store everything you ever come across on a single memory stick smaller than a piece of gum or a flash drive on your keyring. Been hearing this sort of thing was coming eventually, but this breakthrough in ferroelectric technology is nothing short of astonishing.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Gay? Fine by Me.

Gay Bingo!This cool program encourages folks to buy a "Gay? Fine by Me" t-shirt to show their solidarity with their gay, lesbian, bi and transgender friends. They just sold their 50,000th t-shirt.

Speaking of all things gay: Just went to the final Charlotte's Gay Bingo last night. Good, clean, riotous fun as usual. Raised over 600,000 for RAIN. But the last one? Shelita! Tell us it ain't so!

A tangential thought: I'm amazed at how when people see what an ardent supporter of gay rights I am, they assume I must be gay. One former student wrote me a year or so to say she "deduced from reading my weblog" that I was "holding to a syncretistic meld of religious and philosophical perspectives, engaging in a homosexual lifestyle, and expanding [my] interest and skill in the arts and popular culture." Eh? Because I link to Human Rights Campaign and write about gay rights from time to time, I'm "engaging in a homosexual lifestyle?" (And that expression "homosexual lifestyle" is so telling of the writer's presuppositions, too.)

What does it say about how far we have to go that people assume you'd have to be gay to support gay rights? (Which, after all, are human rights.)

I don't point this out to out myself as a heterosexual (heh). If people mistake me for gay that's fabulous. I'll take it as a compliment on my sartorial choices and my passion for the arts (to sling a coupla stereotypes around). But I do think the dynamic's telling.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Fear Is Not What's Important

Photo by James Nachtwey - Afghanistan, 1996 - Mourning a brother killed by a Taliban rocket "Fear is not what's important. It's how you deal with it. It's not a matter of whether you feel it. It's how you manage it."

That's James Nachtwey in the excellent 2001 documentary War Photographer directed by Christian Frei. The temper of this subtle, but powerful documentary perfectly mirrors an extraordinary man, who one editor for Der Stern describes as appearing on the battle field in pressed jeans, an immaculate shirt and neatly parted hair. To watch Nachtwey in action is an astonishing thing. Considered the best in his field, he seems utterly unlike any combat photographer (or paparazzo) you could imagine. He's soft spoken, even described as shy, and he remains utterly, utterly calm and quiet in every situation he'd shown in.

Most impressive, however, is the philosophy behind his work:
Is it possible to put an end to a form of human behavior which has existed throughout history by means of photography? The proportions of that notion seem ridiculously out of balance. Yet, that very idea has motivated me.

For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war and if it is used well it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to war.

In a way, if an individual assumes the risk of placing himself in the middle of a war in order to communicate to the rest of the world what is happening, he is trying to negotiate for peace. Perhaps that is the reason why those in charge of perpetuating a war do not like to have photographers around.
I watched another film this weekend which focuses on the theme of fear: Peter Greengrass's United 93. Like a lot of people, when I first saw the trailer for this movie (it's almost a documentary or cinéma vérité in its style), I was prepared for the worst. When I heard Greengrass was the director, I though maybe he'd pull it off. And he did. It's a tense and horrifying film that left the audience (myself included) largely speechless, as it should, and though there are heroes in the movie, they act as humans, planning on the fly, acting in a rush. There are no stirring aisle-way Agincourt speeches because that's not what happened. That's never what happens, despite what Hollywood's been feeding us for decades.

Still, these men were heroic in the most human sense. They were successful in overcoming their fear and attacking their hijackers, but their success didn't prevent their death. As we know, however, it likely saved the lives of many, many others.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Hallelujah & Pass the Tequila!

Shot full of Messiah
I organized a visit for the gang from work to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Charlotte's Discovery Place today. Fascinating stuff. You even get to see encased samples of the scrolls, which are specially lit with lights that go out in intervals for several seconds, so the parchment isn't damaged.

But the piece de resistance was the Dead Sea Scrolls shot glass a coworker bought me. Utterly classic! Now, I just need the Torah, Apocrypha, and New Testament glasses to complete the collection.

I'm a Neo Neo-Con

Crooks and Liars has this hilarious clip of Stephen Colbert interviewing Bill Kristol. Colbert continues to amaze me with how well he stays in character.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Say What?


This fun little app lets you quickly add speech bubbles to any picture. Drawbacks: you can't resize the bubble for longer quotes (though you can move it around), and it doesn't handle special characters. Hence the missing umlaut. Update: SayWhat creator Zach tells us in comments that you can reshape the speech bubble by hitting enter at the desired point. Thanks Zach.

Disclaimer: Despite wishing to maintain a moderate and sensible point of view, this blog makes no apologies for comparing our nation's Secretary of Defense to Stanley Kubrik's Dr. Strangelove. We will, however, concede to the point that such comparisons are less than novel.

But, when even The Economist is calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, there's hardly much controversy, is there?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rest in Peace John

WHISPERS of heavenly death, murmur’d I hear;
Labial gossip of night—sibilant chorals;
Footsteps gently ascending—mystical breezes, wafted soft and low;
Ripples of unseen rivers—tides of a current, flowing, forever flowing;
(Or is it the plashing of tears? the measureless waters of human tears?)

I see, just see, skyward, great cloud-masses;
Mournfully, slowly they roll, silently swelling and mixing;
With, at times, a half-dimm’d, sadden’d, far-off star,
Appearing and disappearing.

(Some parturition, rather—some solemn, immortal birth:
On the frontiers, to eyes impenetrable,
Some Soul is passing over.)

- Walt Whitman, "Whispers of Heavenly Death"
Update: A Seattle Times obituary for John, who I studied with in school and who attained some international notoriety for his Star Wars stunt. John was a tremendously gifted young man, and a great example of how not everyone who attends my alma mater is of a predictable type or mindset.

Falwell Vs. Fallwell

Someone with a great sense of humor is using this URL to rebutt Jerry Falwell's anti-gay propaganda. Apparently, Falwell (three "l"s) tried to take (four "l"s) to the Supreme Court over the site's alleged misuse of his name. However, the Supremes refused to hear his case. Don't Falwell and his lawyers think the Court has better things to do with their time? Like disfiguring the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage or something?

Elsewhere, we read that some religious conservatives are suing for the right to be intolerant:
"Think how marginalized racists are," said [Gregory] Baylor, who directs the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom. "If we don't address this now, it will only get worse."
Given the context, I know what he's trying to say: He believes sexual orientation is a choice, unlike race, so he believes homophobia (my word, not his) is not the same as racism. But--Think how marginalized racists are?--didn't Baylor still make some sort of Freudian slip there? I guess his point is that the anti-gay crowd might be one day be "marginalized" like racists. I'm not sure racists are exactly marginalized in our society, considering some of the things you can read in the paper on any given day directed at illegal aliens. But taking Baylor's point, I guess an appropriate response might be "So?"

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

St. Pete's 500th

The Basilica by Viviano Codazzi
The latest free lecture from The Teaching Company is by Prof. Kenneth Barlett on the 500th anniversary of the cornerstone being laid for the St. Peter's Basilica. They tell us to share these things, so here you go [mp3].

Interesting nugget: the sale of indulgences to raise money for the building of St. Pete's contributed to Luther's consternation with the Pope's pardons and the Protestant Reformation. I wondered if this connection were exaggerated, so I did a little research, and here's what Luther himself had to say in his 95 Theses:
49. Christians should be taught that the Pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but most hurtful, if through them they lose the fear of God.
50. Christians should be taught that, if the Pope were acquainted with the exactions of the preachers of pardons, he would prefer that the Basilica of St. Peter should be burnt to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians should be taught that, as it would be the duty, so it would be the wish of the Pope, even to sell, if necessary, the Basilica of St. Peter, and to give of his own money to very many of those from whom the preachers of pardons extract money.
Guess I'd take a slightly different tack from Mr. Luther: Does make you think when you see all those multi-million dollar mega-churches (with their garish architecture, plush seating, and elaborate sound systems), wouldn't all the money spent building these edifices be better distributed, say, feeding the poor and providing shelter for the homeless?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Old Macheath’s Back in Town

Threepenny Poster

Check out this great site devoted entirely to The Threepenny Opera. Includes posters, sound clips, and history. With a suitably noirish navigation consisting of knives, the tips of which drip with blood when you hover over them.

Found via this NPR review of what sounds like a fantastic new version translated by Wallace "Cliffs of Insanity" Shawn and starring Alan Cumming, Cyndi Lauper(!), and Nellie McKay(!) - with costumes by Isaac Mizrahi. What's not to like?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Best Easter Joke Ever

Elegant in its simplicity. OK, so I'm easily amused. What else is new?

Lot of folks come here looking for these Easter diorama (plural of "diorama" anyone?) constructed out of Peeps, too. Good times, good times.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

This Spells Trouble

Have you considered the inanities of English spelling lately? If not, check out these spelling poems.

An excerpt:
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -
For goodness sake don't call it deed!
Much more where that came from. Got to love English, all those permutations are fascinating, however annoying.

Via This Is Broken, where the contributor asks, do they having spelling bees in other languages? Good question! Anyone know? I don't remember encountering spelling bees in Korea, for example.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thoughts from Saturday on a Sunday

"When anything can happen, everything matters" - Ian McEwan

Here's a couple of passages from Ian McEwan's Saturday, a fine novel, which I'm just finishing up:
There are these rare moment when musicians touch something sweeter that they've ever found before in rehearsals or performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient, when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what we might be, of our best selves, and of an impossible world in which you give everything you have to others, but lose nothing of youself. Out in the real world there exist detailed plans, visionary projects for peaceable relams, all conflicts resolved, happiness for everyone, for ever--mirages for which people are prepared to die and kill. Christ's kingdom on earth, the worker's paradise, the ideal Islamic state. But only in music, and only on rare occasions, does the curtain actually lift on this dream of community, and it's tantalisingly conjured, before fading away with the last notes.
And a few pages later, a description of how, perhaps, we all feel these days:
Have his anxieties been making a fool of him? It's part of the new order, this narrowing of freedom, of his right to roam. Not so long ago his thoughts ranged more unpredictably, over a longer list of subjects. He suspects he's becoming a dupe, the willing febrile consumer of news fodder, opinion, speculation, and of all the crumbs the authorities let fall. He's a docile citizen, watching Leviathan grow stronger while he creeps under its shadow for protection. This Russian plane flew right into his insomnia, and he's been only too happy to let the story and every little nervous shirt of the daily news process colour his emotional state. It's an illusion, to believe himself active in the story. Does he think he's contributing something, watching news programmes, or lying on his back on the sofa on Saturday afternoons, reading more opinion columns of ungrounded certainties, more long articles about what really lies behind this or that development, or about what is most surely going to happen next, predictions forgotten as soon as they are read, well before events disprove them? ... He's lost the habits of scepticism, he's becoming dim with contradictory opinion, he isn't thinking clearly, and just as bad, he senses he isn't thinking independently.
Emphasis mine throughout.

Say what you like about Noam Chomsky, I think his idea of "manufactured consent" delivers a sharp ring of truth. That second passage from McEwan illustrates perfectly the way our thinking is constrained by the information (accurate or inaccurate) that we're flooded with via the government in (perhaps unwitting) concert with the media.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"We Hit the Jackpot"

Artwork by Ray Troll. Thanks Ray for permission to reproduce.Hooray, evolution!

Update: Ray Troll has some wonderful artwork featuring pictures of the little beastie on his site already. (Via Pharyngula)

And there's a nice Wikipedia entry already, of course. Ain't the Internets a wonder?

fish transition snagged from Wikipedia, who apparently lifted it from Nature?
And the creationist response:
Because evolutionists want to discover transitional forms, when they find a very old fish with leg-bone-like bones in its fins, they want to interpret this as evidence that it is some sort of transitional creature. However, other fish seem to have the same sort of structure as stated above, and these bones are not constructed as one would expect for weight-bearing legs. It may be just another example of the wonderful design of our Creator God.
Hmm, or it could be a transitional fossil. Ever heard of Occam's Razor? Note how the above tacitly presupposes evolution to be impossible: "these bones are not constructed as one would expect for weight-bearing legs."

Er, right, that's what makes it a transitional feature. Their very rebuttal reveals that they do not understand Darwinian adaptation, which is blind. As the changes are happening, they are not happening so that the creature can walk on land one day. The creatures with these subtle differences usually enjoy some sort of advantage because of that feature, and over eons, those features, through further adaptation may turn into different "parts." But the parts aren't thinking, "I'm going to evolve into Elle McPherson's legs one day." They're just doing what they can do in their current state. It ain't rocket science.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I Want My MP3

Cover for Byrne and Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Here's a couple of semi-topical freebies for yah; both worth a download:

Good ol' Billy Bragg, the closest thing we have living to an honest-to-God folkie protest singer; he's recorded an adaptation of Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" called "Bush War Blues." It's both tongue in cheek and dead serious and you can download it free from Yep Roc Records [mp3]. It was recorded just the other day. Ah, Internets, how marvelous are thy ways.

Then, via Boing Boing, there's word that David Byrne and Brian Eno's 1981 masterwork My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is being rereleased, along with several extra tracks. Via Creative Commons license, Byrne and Eno are even making multitracks from two of the songs available for interested folks to remix. What's missing, however, is one song entitled "Qu'ran" that disappeared shortly after the album was originally released. Blake Leyh explains why, having tracked down the following explanation from enoweb:
The Islamic Council of Great Britain had approached the record company with a complaint about the use of the “found” material [a ritual chanting of the Holy Koran. Actually, I’m surprised that anyone got permission to even tape it in the first place]; There are some expressions of Islam in which *all* music is considered “haram” [I think that’s the Arabic term, anyway] - or against the teachings of the Koran. There is an argument about whether or not Mohammed (pbuh) stated that “music” for use in certain Islamic festivals or special occasions *is* allowable, but that’s for folks who know the Surahs better than I.

At any rate, the Islamic Council voiced its strong disapproval of having the original source material used in the way it was used ... , and in the days of watching the Fatwahs fly back and forth, Eno and his pals deemed it meet to exclude it. “Very Very Hungry” was added instead. However, my copy of it includes both, so some other judgements must have been made later.
For a short time, Leyh is linking to the song [MP3].

So, interestingly enough, in choosing to download that second song - or not - you may be making a small, but pointed moral statement. What that statement is, of course, depends on your point of view.

Anyway, if you've never heard Bush of Ghosts, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It still sounds bracingly current today, and clearly influenced many musicians in its wake.

You can also watch the video for Mea Culpa on the site dedicated to this anniversary edition.

God's Own Party

On a roll with his book out and making serious waves, in today's Washington Post, Kevin Phillips details the rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States:
These developments have warped the Republican Party and its electoral coalition, muted Democratic voices and become a gathering threat to America's future. No leading world power in modern memory has become a captive of the sort of biblical inerrancy that dismisses modern knowledge and science. The last parallel was in the early 17th century, when the papacy, with the agreement of inquisitional Spain, disciplined the astronomer Galileo for saying that the sun, not the Earth, was the center of our solar system.

Conservative true believers will scoff at such concerns. The United States is a unique and chosen nation, they say; what did or did not happen to Rome, imperial Spain, the Dutch Republic and Britain is irrelevant. The catch here, alas, is that these nations also thought they were unique and that God was on their side. The revelation that He apparently was not added a further debilitating note to the late stages of each national decline.
Combine these thoughts with the rise of foreign economies in countries whose populations dwarf ours, and it's not hard to imagine America's status as the world's solo superpower dwindling significantly within our lifetimes. Let's just hope we can maintain our civil rights and our freedom here as the inevitable unfolds.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some Thoughts on "Illegals" from a Legal

I recently received an email from a friend with a headline that read: "from the occupied US where and army of 11M illegal aliens demand the right to be here illegally (in foreign tongues) while waiving foriegn flags."

Apparently, that vicious rhetoric came via a local politician. I'm not saying who specifically because I've yet to find mention of it online. However, the headline rather inflamed me. What follows are some thoughts I've distilled from subsequent email which went back and forth between my friends and me.

I actually think both sides of the immigration issue make some legitimate points, but I hate to see "the illegals" vilified when we as a country have been trying to have our cake and eat it too, as people complain about porous borders, but small businesses and corporations quietly but vigorously insist on the ability to hire such folks. It ain't just orange orchards hiring "migrant workers." I was hearing a story on NPR about a guy who runs a tech plant and was using all illegals a decade ago before he got busted.

I'd be for making the borders less porous, sure, as I suspect many folks on both sides of the political divide would be (and I don't think this has to be a political issue, though both sides may pander to it in some manner or another - I also find that folks on both sides have complex views of this issue), but I also think that kicking out all of "the illegals" (as they're often crudely described) would be an absolutely monstrous human rights issue for all sorts of reasons. People want to make it black and white, but it just ain't. Just one example: Do you send a 6 year old kid who only speaks English back to Mexico with her parents?

So, I think we should take the best points from both sides on this issue - tighten the borders (and not by policing them with white supremicists with itchy trigger fingers), but treat the people who are here humanely - and move forward from there.

Also, "the occupied US"? WTF? We're scared of 11 million peaceful "illegals" - people picking oranges and blowing leaves - when we have hyper-religious terrorists flying into buildings and killing thousands of people?

Consider this: I busted my ass for six years to maintain a legal condition while I was here and still left the country so I wouldn't be "an illegal," so it does bother me a little when folks who haven't cared about the law suddenly get amnesty. Nonetheless, I do think there's far more to the picture than that.

Also, ask yourself: you're born into a dirt poor country neighboring a rich one. Your family needs money. American businesses by the thousands *want you* to come over and work for them. Is it really a FELONY for you to go over to the rich country and try and make money for your family? Gimme a break.

In considering our laws, let's also consider our humanity.

Let the Stereotyping Begin!

It's become popular around here to point out every Mexican who's busted for drunk driving. One particularly malignant local politician, Sue Myrick, has made a big deal about this and is now pushing for an immigration court here in North Carolina. Myrick is also adamantly anti-gay, so she's singling out gays and minorities regularly for her ire. Aren't their better things you could be doing with your time, Sue? I guess hate-monguering is a sure-fire way to rustle up votes in some quarters, though.

Do illegal immigrants break (additional) laws? Of course. But not all Americans are law-abiding either. Hell, if you want to be exact about it, probably *few* are. Not all *humans* are law-abiding. We have *plenty* of drunken redneck drivers around here. Mexicans aren't by nature all drunk drivers or gang members. Myrick pulls in these tangential arguments to build a case that appeals to stereotypes in an effort to scare people into running folks out of the States she doesn't like. Some folks are even scary us with visions of virulent diseases coming into the country via "the illegals."

Immigrants are either illegal or they're not; we either send them back or we don't; we either seal our borders or we don't. But these malicious arguments around crime and disease are just scare tactics, and they've been used against every minority groups that's every come to the United States, including the Irish.

Another example often used is of the mother who comes here pregnant to ensure citizenship through her newborn. But this is just *one* cherry-picked example, too, and it doesn't represent all cases. There are plenty of children who are born here simply because that's where their parents were living at the time.


Corporations actively lobby the government to be able to hire the cheapest labor possible, and they know the law well enough to do whatever slippery paperwork they need to to hire whoever they want, who would not be able to get into the US otherwise. Of course, since those are generally educated people they're hiring, this practice goes largely unnoticed, but those people do come to the United States and legally (technically, though not following the spirit of the law) work for half the amount Americans would. It's a practice called "inshoring" - it's going on all around you right now and we'll probably hear a lot more about it in the future. I know some awfully nice people who are benefiting from it, though it certainly wasn't something I benefited from as a liberal arts graduate back in 1995.

Do I want to see those people sent home? Of course not. They actually acted entirely legally. It's the companies that put a rush on their paperwork that need to be scrutinized. Are they really hiring a foreigner, as the law says, because a qualified American wasn't available? Of course not. (At least not always.) They're hiring the foreigner because he or she's willing to work in the United States for half the amount that a citizen often is.

I'm cool with that. But it's just another example of us as a country wanting to have our cake and eat it, too.

One more thing: all the folks complaining about *so vociferously* about the illegal aliens here. Can we quit pretending this is anything but thinly disguised racism (or xenophobia, if you prefer I be more polite)?

We have a standard of living which rates among the highest on the planet. So, to the most vocal of the "send 'em all home" crowd, I ask, can you please show me how these "illegals" are actually impacting your life?