Friday, December 19, 2008

Woven Hand - Ten Stones

Ten Stones (CD) – Sounds Familyre

David Eugene Edwards return, his ancient, funereal voice in tow for the eleven songs, which comprise Ten Stones, the solid, if somewhat predictable new effort from Denver's Woven Hand. He jump-starts the effort with “Beautiful Axe,” which contains the sometimes baffling admixture of Native American imagery and New Testament fervor we’ve come to expect from his band. He engages his dirgelike delivery on the sermonic “Not One Stone,” too, which references Christ’s apocalyptic prophecy of the destruction of the buildings his disciples had admired, so that “not one stone would be unturned.” If there’s one complaint to level against this effort then, it’s that Ten Stones begins to smack of a patented Woven Hand template: ominous vocals, redolent with foreboding religious references sung against raw rock. As if fearing this tendency himself, Edwards does throw us for a loop or two: The album’s riveting centerpiece “White Knuckle Grip” chronicles wild rides and Saturday night carousing via dirty, bluesy Southern rock. Even here, though, Edwards pauses to ask the man upstairs to keep an eye on him. The most startling entry is Edwards' take on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars." Edwards allies his lilting drone to the samba song, modulating his tone, but still infusing it with enough of drama to throw a few threatening shadows across the starry skies.
– Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 29 (Winter 2009)

Joan as Policewoman - To Survive

To Survive (CD) – Cheap Lullaby

I saw Joan Wasserman open for Joseph Arthur a few years ago in Denver, Colorado before I could really appreciate her in toto. She played entirely by herself and was pretty riveting, but I wasn't familiar enough with her music then. Oh, to return to that moment back and appreciate it properly. Wasserman's latest effort under the Joan as Poilice Woman moniker doesn't pack the visceral wallop of her last effort, Real Life, but To Survive is a lovely, refined effort nonetheless. It’s an intimate affair, whether you're ensconced in the slo-mo drip of "Start of my Heart" or the sultry, almost funereal "Honor my Wishes." The dirty guitar on "Holiday" is about as noisy as the album gets, but it's distorted and mixed in far enough back not to disrupt the proceedings. On all these tracks, Wasserman’s tender, quavering vocals are generally the focus, as well as her hesitant, jabbing piano. She maintains this tone on the yin/yang duo of “To Be Loved” and “To Be Lonely” and on the title track, in which she addresses her childhood fear that she might meet the fate of her namesake, Joan of Arc. Eventually, Rufus Wainwright joins Wasserman on “To America,” a subtle, almost stately rebuke to her country’s recent recklessness, closing the album with a loping beat, and, eventually, fading skyrockets. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 29 (Winter 2009)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

The latest issue of Skyscraper has hit the stands. Here are three of my reviews from the previous issue, starting with my favorite album of the year.

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (CD) – Anti

The old-timey preacher may have warned that our arms are too short to box with God, but damned if Nick Cave ain’t gonna give it a shot anyway. “We call upon the author to explain,” he insists six songs into the emphatically titled Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, Cave’s latest electric assembly with the Seeds. What follows is a rattling good album from the now 51-year-old Cave and his increasingly hoary disciples. In Cave’s topsy-turvy world, Lazarus, freshly raised from the dead, proves rather ungrateful, when confronted with the pace of “the dog-eat-dog world” and set offs for the left coast only to discover it equally inhospitable. From there, the threads are hard to follow, but who cares: Cave calls and we follow. Along the way, we encounter a cavalcade of sweaty meat lockers, receptive vulvae, hand guns, angels, and hotel beds. Against the crunch of guitars and The Seeds “Ooo-Ooo” background vocals, “Albert Goes West” follows three more men on their respective quests across America, and none of them seem to find what they’re looking for either. The song ends, however, with the narrator exclaiming, “I like it here!!!,” extolling the virtues of staying put. It’s a gentle reminder that wherever you go, there you are. And those pleasures you’re looking for may already be in your lap. Elsewhere, when Cave finds his bliss, it’s settled right beside him, too – and often in mundane places. The gorgeous “Jesus of the Moon” takes place within a hotel room. And “Moonlight” and “Midnight Man” place the onus on time to proffer pleasure, not place (nor religion, as the explosive “We Call upon the Author” declaims). Apropos of Cave’s disposition, beauty's often swirling within a cacophony. Tripping piano and snarling guitar propel Cave through “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl)” with the Seeds cooing and chorusing along with him. “Night of the Lotus Eaters” proceeds at a gentler pace, but not without an industrial clatter. So, too, the spookily beautiful “Moonland” creeps along, itchily, and “Hold on to Yourself” materializes within the subtle, circadic swirl of Warren Ellis’s looping strings. By the time we get to the album closer, “More News from Nowhere,” —and note that the place now is explicitly “nowhere”— Caves practically ambles through eight minutes of dense lyrics. Still, we’re in no hurry for him to leave. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 29 (Winter 2009)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

Here's my 10 favorite albums from the past year. There's a bunch of stuff I haven't heard yet, and I tend to buy a few disks near the end of the year, if I think I've missed something I'd like - so this may change. The order's somewhat debatable, too.

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig Lazarus Dig!
2. Elbow - Seldom Seen Kid
3. Hot Chip - We Were Made in the Dark
4. Joan as Policewoman - To Survive
5. Bug - London Zoo
6. Portishead - 3
7. Saul Williams - The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!
8. Steinski - What Does It All Mean?
9. Johnny Cash Remixed (aside from the godawful Snoop Dogg track)
10. Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree OR Spiritualized - Songs in A&E

What, no Vampire Weekend? I really enjoyed some of it, but to me they lacked the soul of the musicians whose music they templated: Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon.

Technically, Saul Williams was released late last year in its digital format, but it got a meatspace release in July '08. There's more soul in any 30 seconds of it, than in the whole Vampire Weekend set.

Your suggestions?

I know I'd like to hear more of TV on the Radio's latest, as well as Flying Lotus, Fleet Foxes, Hold Steady, Benga, Juana Molina, Randy Newman. I'm sure there's a slew of other great stuff I didn't get around, too, as well.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

CNN Vs. Science

In a bizarre and disheartening move today, CNN announced they are lopping off their entire science department, including technology and environment staff and their chief technology and environment correspondent, Miles O'Brien. In an age where there's so much misinformation and ignorance around important scientific subjects, I can think of other areas , which could've been cut (or at least reduced in their scope) and brought greater integrity to CNN as a news-gathering enterprise, rather than just another channel for entertainment. Call me an idealist, but news should be more about what we need to know and less about that which we simply want to know.

(Via CJR )

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Close Guantanamo Bay

Amnesty International has a petition asking that President Obama make it a high priority to announce plans to close Guantanamo Bay soon after taking office.

Go here to sign it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Snag Film

Documentary lover? Snag Films lets you watch docs online for free and embed promos for them (or snag them) on your site. Here's their most popular offering, Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Some Nice Things I've Laid Out For You

  • Brian Eno on NPR's This I Believe - "Singing allows us to stop being me for a moment and become us."
  • A PDF of that fake New York Times issue, 1 million copies of which were recently distributed recently by The Yes Men. I really, really want one of the originals.
  • KASK Hats - hand-knit beanies and whatnot by Kaj Zackrisson and Sverre Liliequist, two Swedish professional free skiers featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. 
  • Duckrabbit by Paul St George, 2008. This fun, simple sculpture was fashioned by the same guy who created the Telectroscope, which graced DUMBO and London earlier this year. Eyestorm suggests you buy two so you can get both the duck and the rabbit, but you can't fool me; you get both anyway.
  • The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway by Paul Shaw - how the signage on New York's subway came to be in Helvetica, except when it's not. Which is pretty often.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Death Watch for the Watch?

My Watches

Numerous folks commenting on this Wired post had the same thought that I did: the watch is the sixth gadget getting killed by the cell phone. (Tangentially, the mobile phone hasn't killed the laptop. It has, however, knocked off the beeper.)

Most of us grew up with watches and not cell phones. What happens with folks who grew up having both? I would be surprised if watch sales don't decline. Turns out they have already -dramatically - in some parts:

From a 2006 Businessweek article "Time's up for watch sales in Japan":
According to a new survey by Seiko Watches, the proportion of Japanese aged between 16-49 wearing wristwatches has plummeted from 70% in 1997 to 46% today. The culprit, if you haven’t already guessed, is the mighty cell phone.
Another study shows clock and watch sales both falling five percent in 2005 after four years of slow growth. Much more recently, this September '08 IHT article details declining watch sales - in this case due to the slumping economy. And anecdotally, a collegue says his wife is an 8th-grade teacher and some of her students can't tell time via a regular clock or watch. "If it wasn’t for their cell phone, they wouldn’t know what time it is."

So in the not-too-distant future, will watches be like Captain Kirk's Kirk antique bifocals? They weren't generally really necessary – just more of a antique instrument kept around for nostalgia's sake. I suspect people will keep them around for that reason, as well, of course as (often gaudy) status symbols

Lest you think this as death of the watch Schadenfreude, I have three working watches (depicted above), plus two or three others I just don't seem to be able to part with. Since none of them would fetch more than 50 bucks on eBay, guess I fit into the nostaglia category.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Mixing It Up With Obama

Throwing a link out to DJ Z-Trip's fantastic Obama mix , while it's still up. It's a hip-hop mix he created for some fundraisers he organized with Shepard Fairey. Having just labeled it hip-hop, it actually runs a gamut, including stuff from Pink Floyd to Public Enemy. And though it's a thematic mix, it's also tough-minded, aggressive, never slipping into the sort of sappy, reverent melange, which often results from politically oriented music. More a call to action than a praisefest. Z-Trip even breaks at one point to rebuke everyone who's not registered to vote and send them out to the lobby to sign up.

Tracklisting here.
Lots more remixes by DJ Z-Trip here , too.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A List of Demands

OK, these aren't so much demands - that's an allusion to an excellent Saul Williams song - but here's a list of 10 reforms and changes I'd like to see take place now that we have a left-of-center President and a majority Democrat Senate.  Some of these reforms may confirm the suspicions of the moment's more dismayed conservatives. They needn't worry: I'm probably further to the left of President Elect Obama anyway ... 

  1. Work with the Iraqis to plan an appropriate time to leave the country, and funnel more aid towards Afghanistan.
  2. Institute universal health care.
  3. Remove all travel restrictions for Americans and Cuban-Americans to Cuba.
  4. Reinstate trade with Cuba.
  5. Close Guantanamo Bay immediately. 
  6. Start a movement to have anti-gay marriage laws struck down as un-Constitutional. Pass legislation which legalizes gay marriage in every state in the Union. 
  7. Legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use and determine what, if any, fronts in the "War on Drugs" are actually successful, dismantle the rest.
  8. Install a highly-qualified female Muslim to a position in high office. 
  9. Provide amnesty for illegal aliens who meet certain conditions.
  10. Reform our prisons, which are cesspools of violence and turn criminals into monsters.
If you believe in any of these causes, why not track down a related non-profit you can support or at least join a Facebook group, so you can keep track of the issues. 

And feel free to add your own "demands" in the comments, too.

Who Said It?

Last night a prominent political adviser remarked that the idea that "an African-American candidate who was aspirational and inspirational, who appealed to the better angels of our nature, is very powerful. It's a night for our country to celebrate, and for the world to celebrate."

Who made that statement after the landslide election of Barack Obama? Karl Rove.

Welcome to America 2.0

New York City is electric with celebration and joy. Smiles splitting every face on the subway, the sidewalk. Grins and shouts from cars. It's the end of one era and the fresh beginning of another.
This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other. ...
To who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope. 
That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. 

- Barack Obama
I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too.
But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.
America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.
Let there be no reason now ... Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

- John McCain
I voted for John McCain because I admire him immensely as a person, and agree with him on many more issues than I do with Senator Obama. And I ask a rhetorical question: Can we McCain voters, without embarrassment, shed a tear of patriotic joy about the historic significance of what just happened? And I offer a short, rhetorical answer.

Yes, we can.

- Mike Potemra, The National Review

Monday, November 03, 2008

Go Vote

Obama album cover by Mark Avecedo

Mike Ladd - Nostalgialator

Nostalgialator (CD) – Definitive Jux

If you’re familiar Mike Ladd's previous work, you may know what to expect on this re-release of his excellent 2004 album, Nostalgialator. Or not. I'm not sure anything could prepare you for the disk’s opener “Dire Straits Plays Nuremberg.” Ostensibly a hip-hop album, Nostalgialator really proves a ragged pastiche that defies genre. “Sail Away Ladies” showcases a rumbling electronic blues sound, while “Trouble Shot” sounds more like Jon Spencer’s raucous brand of blues. Ripe with Ladd’s jabbing wordplay and cut through with discordant, more experimental material, Nostalgialator whiplashes between slinkier fare like “Earn to Fall” and “Off to Mars” and blaring tunes like “Afrostatic,” “Black Orientalist” and “Wildout Day,” the latter often making a political point or two along the way. “Housewives at Play” is probably the most memorable track. It sways its hips suggestively, detailing the lives of women, who are not at all quiet in their desperation, driving their family cars while “thirsty between the knees.” And on the bubbly headphone-friendly “How Electricity Really Works,” Ladd throws some wonder into the mix with all that sensuality and passion. – Robert Stribley 

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 28 (Summer 2008)

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (CD) – EMI 

For the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Nick Cave and Bad Seed violinist Warren Ellis have collaborated to create a reserved, but deeply beautiful soundtrack. The first thing soundtracks usually prove guilty of is bombast, but there’s none of that to be had here. Instead, Assassination opens with "Rather Lovely Thing," offering tender fiddle against piano, not much else, and conjuring the melancholy beauty you’d expect upon seeing Cave or Ellis’s name attached to anything. “Last Ride to KC” follows later with deep cello sawing gently against a constant buzz of violin. Simple piano and violin provide most of the instrumentation on other standout tracks like “Moving On” and “Song for Jesse,” too. So, what are we to make of the fact that two Aussies forged the soundtrack for a movie about such an iconic American figure? Well, Cave is no stranger to the genre, having penned his own outback Western, The Proposition. He and Ellis produced the soundtrack for that film, too. Next up? Cave and Ellis are working on a soundtrack for the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s hard to imagine two men better suited for the job. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 28 (Summer 2008)

Underworld - Oblivion With Bells

The latest issue of Skyscraper should hit stands soon. Here are three of my reviews from the previous issue. 

Oblivion with Bells (CD) – Ato 

Overall, Oblivion With Bells is more about shy tintinnabulation than thudding beats, so club kids looking for more heaving dancefloor filler like “Pearl's Girl” or “Born Slippy” may want to look elsewhere. Still, Oblivion – Underworld's eighth album proper – does reward with subtle, sophisticated artisanship. While “Crocodile” does attempt to fill the obligatory banging club track slot, it's not the most noteworthy track, even if it does share moments of shivery elegance. More compelling, even cinematic is the gorgeous “Beautiful Burnout” throughout which Karl intones about “blood on a tissue on the floor of a train.” Over five minutes into the track, clattering percussion slips in, a spine-tingling moment during a recent Underworld concert. If you can get past Hyde's idiosyncratic rapping, “Ring Road” proves another standout track. Aboriginal rhythms and didgeridoo give way to thumping bass, as Hyde riffs on London’s multi-culti street scene. “To Heal” opens with a burst of sound that sounds alarmingly like the opening note to the Simpson’s theme. It quickly transmutes, however, into a quiet, meditative piece, which sounds more like a consciousness gradually tinkling to life. Oblivion may mystify the “lager, lager” set, but it should satisfy those who allow it to envelop them over a few listens. – Robert Stribley 

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 28 (Summer 2008)

Let 'Em Talk

Razorfish's Headlight blog focuses on digital trends in the automotive industry.

My article "Let 'Em Talk" was just published there last week. It discusses how car dealership employees use message boards and what can be learned from them - and consequently, the value for dealership employees in having a social networking outlet.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Broadcast Yourself

The video ain't much to look at, but I just tried Qik, which allows you to live stream video from your mobile phone to the Qik Web site. That video is broadcast publicly (unless you choose otherwise), and automatically saved to your profile. Set up, as the name suggest, was very quick, and operating the installed application from my cell, astonishingly easy. I'd say the implications of this sort of technology for citizen journalism are huge.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cloning Someone Great

Who doesn't like some LCD Soundsystem, and if you do, you'll agree that "All My Friends" and "Someone Great" were two of last year's best songs. I never tire of hearing them. But we all appreciate a little variety, right? So without further ado, here's my compilation of 10 mashups, remixes and covers of just those 2 songs, found in various places on the interwebs. You're welcome.
While we're at it, here's a real treat, too - the video for "Someone Great" directed by Doug Aitken:

Finally, here's Sounds Like Silverthe whole Sounds of Silver album remixed by the (intentionally anonymous) team  behind these Chemical Brothers remixes and these Prodigy remixes.

My Starbucks Idea

Doing a little research on user-generated content and submitted an idea to My Starbucks Idea: Create a Contest Site to Discover New Musicians.

There some great ideas there. I especially love the the buy someone a drink remotely idea, which appears to be the most highly rated, right now. I'm sure that idea could be replicated elsewhere on the Web to great success, too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Domestic Terrorism

It's time we admitted we face the very real threat of domestic terrorism from people, who are, in fact, white and American by birth. That's not to say that radical Islam isn't also a threat, but it shouldn't be considered partisan to refer to the two men who were arrested yesterday as what they are: terrorists. So, too, by definition, Ms. Palin, are those individuals, who would blow up buildings and people to make political statements.
the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents

- the definition of Terrorism under U.S. Law
More on the two neo-Nazis, who planned to assassinate Barack Obama and 102 innocent African-Americans.

Looking at the National Review's Corner today, aside from a startlingly brief mention by Kathryn Jean Lopez, you'd almost think the incident didn't happen. Apparently, some on the far right would like to ignore this sort of thing and just hope it goes away, but when there's an act of terror by Islamic fundamentalists, all we hear is "Where's the outrage?" if mainstream Muslims are perceived as not condemning the acts right away. A little consistency and intellectual honesty would be refreshing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nina Berman - Homeland

Border Watcher by Nina Berman

Border Watcher with Dogs, Arizona and Mexico border, 2008 - Nina Berman

If you're dawdling around Spring Street in NoLIta any time soon, drop into the Jen Bekman Gallery at 6 Spring and check out exhibit by documentary photographer, Nina Berman. It showcases 14 photos from her newly published monograph, Homeland. In her artist's statement, Berman describes the theme of her exhibit:
I came to this series after having spent the last few years photographing very graphic examples of the human cost of war. Many of the subjects I photographed said they grew up thinking war would be “fun.” Many watched the first Gulf War on TV and thought it was "awesome." Several said that becoming a soldier meant they would finally do something good in life.

Rather than continuing to show evidence of war, it seems appropriate for me to show the fantasies of war, the selling of war, the institutions of war, the culture of war and with it the militarization of American life.
Berman's photographs are matter-of-fact, even sterile sometimes, which only adds to their impact. The resulting conflation of the military industrial complex with ordinary American life - often including small children - is all the more haunting. I recently wrote about Berman's moving set of photos depicting Iraq veteran Ty Ziegel and his girlfriend. None of those pictures are on display, but may appear in the book.

More images from the exhibit
Nina Berman's Web site

Separated at Birth

Arizona Senator John McCain and Battlestar Galactica's Colonel Saul Tigh

Friday, October 24, 2008

What's Up?

Speaking of saving the world with video, this would have to be the best political ad I've ever seen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saving the World With Video

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
- Article 19 of UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Tonight, I went to a panel at The New School, entitled "Saving the World, One Video at a Time." Each of the four panelists represented human rights organizations, which focus on the use of video (chiefly in the form of documentaries) to educate and promote social change. A few details about each of the agencies follows:
  • Arts Engine - Maintains MediaRights, a database of some 7000 documentaries on the subject of human rights, available to educators, librarians, and activists. It also presents the Media that Matters film festival each June, a showcase for a dozen new short films on human rights issues.
  • Human Rights Watch International Film Festival - Human Rights Watch selects documentaries from over 500 submissions to feature in this festival each year. The festival encourages film makers of any age and point of view to submit their work.
  • Video Volunteers - a social media network, which focuses on issues pertaining to the poor in rural communities around the world. Maintains Channel 19, an online network for distributing community-produced media in India.
  • WITNESS  - Encourages people to create videos about or depicting human rights violations and to submit them via The Hub, a sort of YouTube site for human rights videos.
The panel was organized by The Center for Communication and The New School's Department of Media Studies and Film.

Giving Proper Context

I do believe that for folks like me who’ve worked hard but frankly also been lucky, I don’t mind paying just a little bit more than the waitress who I just met over there. . . . She can barely make the rent. . . . And I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.

- Barack Obama, speaking to Samuel J. (Joe) Wurzelbacher, AKA "Joe the Plumber"
The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. . . . The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. . . . It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

- Adam Smith. In “The Wealth of Nations” (1776)
Excerpted from Steve Coll's current New Yorker article "Overtaxed"

Monday, October 20, 2008

IQ Test

Which of the following is not like the others?

The Grave of Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan

Elsheba Khan at the grave of her son, Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan.

Bronze Star. Purple Heart.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Photo for The New Yorker by Platon

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Top 10 Cheap Indulgences After the Economic Collapse

So the bottom's about to rust out of the economic bucket? Trying to think positive, here's 10 cheap things to indulge in and be thankful for after the collapse.
  1. Listen to those old CDs you have laying around
  2. Croissants!
  3. Ride your bike
  4. Read those old New Yorkers you have lying around
  5. Walk around your 'hood 
  6. Converse All-Stars
  7. Netflix
  8. Deli coffee in those classic New York paper cups 
  9. Toasted cheese sandwiches with a glass of milk
  10. Flickr!
Feel free to add your own in comments.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two Short Orders

Friend and Lego-sculptor extraordinaire, Sean Kenney has created this striking and poignant new sculpture, entitled "Two Short Orders," which "is an observation on the financial crisis currently engulfing the world."

He was inspired by the short order cook at his local deli, who recently added a sign to his tip jar, saying "Euro & Peso accepted too."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Banksy's Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill

Saturday night, we paid a visit to Banksy's first New York exhibit, the delightful and disturbing Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill.

Here a few photos I took there. The exhibit satirizes our comfort level with the processing of animals for human consumption and their use in product testing, as well as surveillance society and other themes. Many folks, however, just seemed to think it's cute. It certainly is entertaining, and I encourage you to go by, as the photos don't do it justice - each of the creatures depicted move and interact via animatronics.

Also, a brief BBC story on the exhibit with photos.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Subway Photography

23 Ely

I'm quite a fan of subway photography and have a set of subway photos on Flickr, as well as a public group I founded, which now has 45 members and some great photos. 

I just happened across this set by mcbnyc, who takes a photo of every subway train he rides as it arrives. Looks like he often rides the same line I do. 

I stumbled across mcbnyc's efforts reading this thread about the legality of taking photos on the subway. It is legal, but apparently MTA employees regularly harass people taking photos, threatening to fine them or have the arrested. Earlier this year, photographers met in Brooklyn to protest MTA harassment. 

The MTA's Web site actually explicitly allows photography, though if forbids tripods, unless you're a member of the press with identification.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pattern Recognition

This blog tends to focus on human rights, politics, and whatnot - all those serious, grave controversial subjects - as well as photography, literature, science and whatever else randomly strikes me.

If things get too heavy here, check out my Tumblr blog, Pattern Recognition: I make a concerted effort to keep it colorful, positive and entirely non-political. It consists mainly of quotes, which inspire me in the moment and photos of stuff which amuses or touches me, and which I've generally taken and uploaded on the spot with my cell phone.

I do write about politics and sometime religion on this blog pretty openly because I'm convinced that as a society we've made it a taboo to discuss the three topics we should probably be having the most dialogue around: sex, politics and religion. Because we're not always sure how to handle these subjects delicately and diplomatically and because some people can't engage in debate respectfully either without taking offense or quickly descending into ad hominem attacks, we've kinda thrown up our hands and decided not to discuss such things, unless we feel pretty safely that we're preaching to the converted.

As a result, in the 21st century we have
  • Kids getting pregnant at 17 and then forced into marriage because their parents didn't want them told explicitly how their privates function
  • Folks believing and fiercely defending the idea that Iraq attacked us on 9/11 and that Barack Obama is a covert Muslim/terrorist/communist/all of the above
  • Folks believing the Bush administration engineered the events of 9/11 in order to justify its hawkish, pro-Democracy agenda
  • Folks believing that our gay friends aren't deserving of the same civil and human rights as the rest of us
  • Folks believing all sorts of other superstitious nonsense - often to the detrimental effect of the health and well-being of others
What part of any of that is any good? So I'm a believer in open but civil dialogue. Sometimes it might get a little rough and tumble, sometimes there might be a healthy injection of humor or satire, but, hopefully, it remains civil and respectful. Otherwise, we're just preaching to the converted. 

We all - liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Muslims, and so on - suffer from a tendency to focus upon only that information, which reinforces that which we already believe.  To ignore that is to misunderstand the human condition. But it'd be nice if we could recognize that pattern of thinking and work to overcome it.  

P.S. I just added comments to Pattern Recognition. Like many, I love the minimalist approach to Tumblr, but I think the ability to comment creates more community.

Cash Does Presley

CNN just posted some vintage footage from 1959 of Johnny Cash impersonating Elvis Presley.

"This is an impersonation of a rock-n-roll singer impersonating Elvis," says Cash. And a pretty scathing impersonation of Presley follows.

Ouch. With that simple introduction, Cash summed up neatly while I'll always be a Johnny Cash fan and have long found Elvis ersatz and superficial. From Presley would spring ten thousand manufactured pop stars and a music industry machine, which continuously thrusts market-formulated music down our throats today.

Not to dis the King entirely: without him admittedly, we'd have no Madonna (some may shrug at that thought). But neither would we have Britney Spears. He was an excellent performer. Just not a musician.

It's About Time

John McCain earned a small amount of the respect I once had for him back tonight, when he - finally - interrupted some of his own constituents to correct them on Barack Obama's nature (not a terrorist) and religious beliefs (not a Muslim, not that it should matter). When he corrected the first man, who expressed his fear of raising a child under an Obama presidency (!), responding that Obama's a decent man with whom he simply disagrees, he was greeted with a chorus of boos from his own supporters. Later, when

A cynical side of me thinks - not without good reason - that Obama had to correct the folks at this point a) because they were getting increasingly belligerent, racist, and potentially violent, but also b) because they were simply making his campaign look bad. Ridiculous, in fact. And this, like his choice of Palin, was reflecting poorly on his judgment. Nonetheless, his tone struck me a genuine, and I thank him for correcting those bigoted individuals on matters, which have been spreading for months now.

Now, let's see if Sarah Palin's willing to do the same.

We probably have the failing economy to thank somewhat for Obama's success right now, but I'd like to think people's critical thinking skills have improved somewhat since the Swift Boaters convinced so many to believe their hateful dreck during Kerry's campaign.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nachtwey's Wish: Defeat TB

I didn't have time to write about this last week when it rolled around, but James Nachtwey's TED Wish turned out to be a series of photos highlighting a particularly resistant strain of TB, which is taking many lives globally: XDR-TB. From the site:
[I]n 2007 alone, TB killed 1.7 million people. That’s 4,660 deaths a day, or one death from TB every 20 seconds. TB is the leading killer of people with HIV: Individuals are able to live with HIV but are dying from TB. Without proper treatment, 90% of those living with HIV die within months of contracting TB.
This Time magazine article also includes the above video with Nachtwey's photography. 

Some Good News

Amongst all the bad news, finally some good news: an advancement for human rights in Connecticut as the court decide that banning marriage for gay couple is un-Constitutional and that the state's law banning gay marriage discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. It's good to know that even with a guttering economy and under a belligerent and hawkish administration, we're still making progress in areas where it counts.

Now, come on New York, get on the ball. We're only half-way there

Monday, October 06, 2008

Noted Without Comment

From Wikipedia, the origins of the descriptor "Maverick":
Samuel Augustus Maverick (July 23, 1803–September 2, 1870) was a Texas lawyer, politician, land baron and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. His name is the source of the term "maverick", first cited in 1867, which means independent minded. Maverick was considered independent minded by his fellow ranchers because he refused to brand his cattle. In fact, Maverick's failure to brand his cattle had little to do with independent mindedness, but reflected his lack of interest in ranching. He is the grandfather of U.S. Congressman Maury Maverick, who coined the term gobbledygook (1944).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Banned Books Week

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." -  Thomas Jefferson
It's Banned Books Week again from September 27th - October 4th, so pony up a few dollars for a copy of Catcher in the Rye - or the American Heritage Dictionary for that matter or pull that neglected copy of Huck Finn out of storage and give it another read.

Delete Censorship has a great list of 100 Most Frequently Banned or Challenged Books . Here are three of my favorites:
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - hard to know what impact this book would have on me if I read it now for the first time, but when I read it as a teenager, I wept like a baby. A great little novel, with great details (Curely's Vaseline-filled glove), which we tend to take for granted after being forced to read it.
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - the irony of religious groups attempting to ban a book about persecution by the religious should, of course, be lost on no one. And those folk would do well to remember that The Bible consistently appears in lists of banned books, along with the works of Shakespeare, The Koran. In 2003, a Cuban court even ordered copies of The U.S. Constitution destroyed.  In other words, who gets to decide what's offensive?
  • The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende - what's not to love about this rich, colorful work of fiction? Guess it must have some saucy passages that offended the more prudish.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding - not the sunniest appraisal of human nature and how quickly civilization can deteriorate - I imagine it offends both liberals who believe we're all innately good and conservative horrified by kids murdering each other. In other word, it's probably a fairly accurate portrayal of what would happen. Alex Garland added a decade to everyone's age and had a hit with The Beach, so you there's something about the scenario we find compelling. 
Keep in mind, those are just the 100 most frequently banned or challenged - that's "out of 6,364 challenges reported to or recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, as compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The House Is on Fire

If your neighbor’s house is burning, you’re not gonna spend a whole lot of time saying "Well, that guy was always irresponsible. He always left the stove on. He always was smoking in bed." All those things may be true, but his house could end up affecting your house.
We’ve got to make sure that we put the fire out and then go start making sure that these folks stop leaving the stove on.
- Barack Obama speaking to a crowd of 12,000 at the University of Nevada, Reno

James Nachtwey's TED Wish

I don't know what James Nachtwey is working on for October 3rd, but if he's delivering it, I'm there. As you probably know, winners of the TED Prize are given the opportunity to fulfill a wish. Control Room director Jehane Noujaim, for example, decided on a concept of international short-film sharing, which turned into Pangea Day. What we know about Nachtwey's project: 
James Nachtwey is preparing to reveal his photographs, which highlight a shocking and underreported global crisis. Over the past 18 months, the TED community have been working with James to gain access to locations he wished to photograph, and to prepare spectacular plans for unveiling these pictures.
Here we learn that the results of Nachtwey's project will be projected on buildings and shown on screens in public all around the world at the indicated times and places.

Socialism for the Rich

For years now, they’ve told us that we can’t afford — that the government providing healthcare to all people is just unimaginable; it can’t be done. We don’t have the money to rebuild our infrastructure. We don’t have the money to wipe out poverty. We can’t do it. But all of a sudden, yeah, we do have $700 billion for a bailout of Wall Street.
—Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
(Via Panopticist )

Monday, September 29, 2008

RIP Invisible Hand

Adam's Smith's "Invisible Hand" died today and was buried after a short ceremony at the rear end of Wall Street's famous bull statue. The Invisible Hand was just 232 years old. It leaves behind scores of still faithful adherants, hundreds of bankrupt companies, and millions of former employees with diminished retirement accounts.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Regarding the Pain of Others

Over a passage of time, this series of photos by Nina Berman depicts Iraq veteran Ty Ziegel and his girlfriend. Berman captures the couple before Ziegel went to war, Ziegel as a handsome soldier serving overseas, Ziegel disfigured by a horrible accident on the battlefield, Ziegel and Kline on their wedding day, and Ziegel alone, after the couple separated and eventually divorced three months after their marriage. It's not my intention to sensationalize those events in a young man's life, only to point out the power of photography to place his story before us. We know war is hell, but we're seldom confronted with its consequences. I don't think I'm politicizing Ziegel's story if I say, we this series of images serves as a pointed reminder that we should be damn sure we're initiating a war for good reasons before sending our young men and women over there, the length of their lives stretched out before them. I have to note that I feel somewhat trite even writing the preceding, since the point seems obvious. If only we'd adhered to the principle.

The photography blog BagNewsNotes posted an image from this series in early 2007. Reading the comments on that post, it's both poignant and shocking to see how they encapsulate hope and well wishes upon Ziegel's marriage. Yet the full photo series tell a different story. Kudo to Ziegel for allowing the entire story to be told.

Regarding the Pain of Others is, of course, the title of Susan Sontag's book on the impact of photography's depictions of violence and atrocities.

Outsiders NY

It turns out the JR mural I've been photographing lately is part of a street art exhibit entitled "Outsiders NY," which just opened in that building and will be there until October 12th. I walked through it late this afternoon and photographed many of the works on display, including the detail from a JR photomontage above.

Outsiders, NY is on display at 282-284 Bowery in New York from September 26th until October 12th. Open 11am - 7pm daily.

Also, I noticed I've accumulated so many images of Obama in street art , so I created a new set called precisely that.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP Paul Newman

Paul Newman, you were one classy, classy guy. Can't imagine the young whippersnapper actor who'd replace you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Losin' Dough

As heard on Zero 7's Another Late Night entry:
Wall Street losin' dough on every share
They're blaming it on longer hair
Big men smokin' in their easy chairs
On a fat cigar without a care

But that's what makes the world go `round
The up and down, the carousel
Changing people, they'll go around
Go underground, young man
People make the world go `round

-The Stylistics, "People Make the World Go Round"
-Written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed

Skinner Covers Dawkins

Just listening to the new single by Mike Skinner AKA The Streets and had to wonder if he were paraphrasing Richard Dawkins. You decide:
For billions of years, since the outset of time
Every single one of your ancestors survived
Every single person on your mum and dad's side
Successfully looked after and passed onto you life
What are the chances of that like?

- The Streets, "On the Edge of a Cliff"
Compare with:
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. ...

[T]he instant at which a particular spermatozoon penetrated a particular egg was, in your private hindsight, a moment of dizzying singularity. It was then that the odds against your becoming a person dropped from astronomical to single figures.

The lottery starts before we are conceived. Your parents had to meet, and the conception of each was as improbable as your own. And so on back, through your four grandparents and eight great grandparents, back to where it doesn't bear thinking about. Desmond Morris opens his autobiography, Animal Days (1979), in characteristically arresting vein:

Napoleon started it all. If it weren't for him, I might not be sitting here now writing these words ... for it was one of his cannonballs, fired in the Peninsular War, that shot off the arm of my great-great-grandfather, James Morris, and altered the whole course of my family history.

Morris tells how his ancestor's enforced change of career had various knock-on effects culminating in his own interest in natural history. But he really needn't have bothered. There's no 'might' about it. Of course he owes his very existence to Napoleon. So do I and so do you. Napoleon didn't have to shoot off James Morris's arm in order to seal young Desmond's fate, and yours and mine, too. Not just Napoleon but the humblest medieval peasant had only to sneeze in order to affect something which changed something else which, after a long chain reaction, led to the consequence that one of your would-be ancestors failed to be your ancestor and became somebody else's instead. I'm not talking about 'chaos theory', or the equally trendy 'complexity theory', but just about the ordinary statistics of causation. The thread of historical events by which our existence hangs is wincingly tenuous.

- Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow
Turns out I'm not the first to notice the Skinner/Dawkins connection.

Quote for the Day

"In America, the only respectable form of socialism is socialism for the rich."

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Sunday, September 21, 2008


In an NYT op-ed entitled "Art of Darkness" this weekend, Jonathan Lethem laments the fact that no one has been held accountable for the events of the past few years and that it's a pattern that's now being repeated in the financial sector.
If, like me, you’d hoped, distantly, vaguely, probably idiotically, that the 2008 presidential contest might be a referendum on truths documented since the previous presidential election, guess again. That our Iraqi invasion was founded on opportunistic lies, that it was hungered for by its planners in advance of the enabling excuse of 9/11, is a well-delineated blot on American history. But for those of us interested in a conversation about accountability it was always declared to be too soon — we remained unsure of the evidence, or too traumatized to risk fraying the national morale — until the moment when it was abruptly too late, when it became old news.

Yet I suspect it is still the news. While both candidates run on the premise that Washington Is Broken, I’m disinclined to disagree, only to add: our good faith with ourselves is broken, too, a cost of silencing or at best mumbling the most crucial truths. Among these, pre-eminently, is the fact that torture evaporates our every rational claim to justice, and will likely be the signature national crime of our generation — a matter in which we are, by the very definition of democracy, complicit.
Reading this Salon article by Glenn Greenwald, I'd have to say we're seeing Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine in action all over again. A quick visit to her site reveals she feels the same way: It currently showcases a series of articles around the theme of "Disaster Capitalism in Action," all of which discuss the unfloding government bailout of the financial services sector. 

A friend, mapkid, also points out this article by Senator Bernie Sanders. He calls for some accountability, too: 
[I]n addition to protecting the average American from being saddled with the cost, any serious proposal has to include reforms so that we end the type of behavior that led to this crisis in the first place. Much of this activity can be traced to specific legislation that broke down regulatory safety walls in the financial sector and allowed banks and others to engage in new types of risky transactions that are at the heart of this crisis. That deregulation needs to be repealed. Wall Street has shown it cannot be trusted to police itself. We need to reinstate a strong regulatory system that protects our economy.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mind-Blowing Street Art

Houston Wheat Paste - JR

I walked down to Houston tonight and was confronted with this, the most gargantuan piece of wheat paste art I've ever seen. I hope some photos, too, which I'll post if they came out OK. Took them in the dark with taxis whizzing by. It's simply jaw-dropping. At Houston and Bowery, dwarfing the Shep Fairey art on the same corner.

Update: Added some photos to Flickr I took this morning (Saturday, 20th), including the one above. Of course, it's already been tagged - over night, I think.

Update 2: Apparently the creator of the above wheat paste, a French photographer named JR, recently completed a number of similar efforts in Rio De Janeiro. According to's The Big Picture photo blog, "JR has focused attention on women - relatives of victims of violence - by displaying their large portraits in one of Rio de Janeiro's hardest hit neighborhoods." I'm sure his work on Houston must be part of a similar effort. The Wooster Collective has more extraordinary photos.

There's also a Web site dedicated to explaining the project. There JR explains:
The Women project wants to underline their pivotal role and to highlight their dignity by shooting them in their daily lives and posting them on the walls of their country.

On the other hand, by posting the same images of these women in Western countries, the project allows everyone to feel concerned by their condition and connects, through art, the two different worlds.
A remarkable project.

Also, JR's site, which currently feature's the Houston mural on the homepage. And a Flickr photo by lucky_dog of the wheatpaste actually going up.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Shift Happens

Some interesting and sobering stats from "Shift Happens," one of the most popular presentations on
  • The 25% of the Chinese population with the highest IQs is greater than the population of the United States
  • In India, the top 28%.
  • The U.S. ranks 20th in the world in broadband penetration
  • In 2002, Nintendo invested over $140 million in R&D.
  • The U.S. government spent less than half of that on research and innovation in education
  • 1 in 8 couple married in 2005 met online
  • The number of text messages sent and received each day exceeds the population of the planet
  • The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years
  • So, if you're a college student, what you've learned is outdated before you graduate

Top 5 Things I Learnt About Feminism from Conservapedia

Conservapedia is a clean and concise resource for those seeking the truth. ...

No other encyclopedic resource on the internet is free of corruption by liberal untruths.
- from the About Conservapedia page on
According to Conservapedia, feminists:
  • oppose chivalry and even feign insult at harmless displays of it
  • shirk traditional gender activities, like baking
  • detest women who are happy in traditional roles, such as housewife
  • prefer that women wear pants rather than dresses, presumably because men do
  • seek women in combat in the military just like men, and coed submarines
Coed submarines! The horror! Funny, none of the self-proclaimed feminists I've had the pleasure of dating have minded my displays of chivalry. And I've met some fabulous feminist bakers. And knitters. You get the point. 

You could argue that I've been selective in what I've pulled from the entry. But that's the point. The fact that any of this nonsense survives in the entry at all undermines the seriousness and authority of the enterprise.
Neither is Wikipedia a "liberal" version of Conservapedia. I'd be happy to critique a genuinely liberal version of an Encyclopedia for its misrepresentation or emotionally loaded presentation of facts and for making stuff up, as well. It's that principle that makes me a reluctant visitor to Huffington Post, et al.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tangled Bank

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Thanks to the folks at Science Made Cool for linking to my previous post. They are responsible for curating the posts included in the latest edition of the Tangled Bank, "a carnival of science bloggers where you’re guaranteed to learn something new and exciting."

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Future Impact of Neuroscience Upon Jurisprudence

I'm reading The Best Technology Writing of 2008 (kindly provided to me for review by The University of Michigan Press) and finishing up Jeffrey Rosen's excellent March, 2007 article, "The Brain on the Stand," which details how advances in neuroscience may affect the U.S. legal system in the near future. To wit, if we discover that some people are predisposed neurologically to anger, how can we hold them responsible for their actions in the same way we do now? He interviews Stephen Morse, professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, who asserts a more skeptical tone, suggesting that just because a neurological condition can be established in an individual, we may not automatically absolve them of responsibility. But Morse also concedes that some conclusions might have an inevitable impact upon our legal system:
“Suppose neuroscience could reveal that reason actually plays no role in determining human behavior,” he suggests tantalizingly. “Suppose I could show you that your intentions and your reasons for your actions are post hoc rationalizations that somehow your brain generates to explain to you what your brain has already done” without your conscious participation. If neuroscience could reveal us to be automatons in this respect, Morse is prepared to agree with Greene and Cohen that criminal law would have to abandon its current ideas about responsibility and seek other ways of protecting society.
Rosen has apparently stated his fear more explicitly elsewhere that these conclusions could lead to a society, which embraces the pre-emptive incarceration of those likely to commit crimes (well, we're already doing this in principle at the international level, right?), instead of punishing people for committing actual crimes.

That wasn't my first thought, though. My first thought was that, should this sort of empirical data amass to significant proportions, it might likely make society feel much more comfortable with genetic engineering. If you know you can isolate the neurological problem, wouldn't the next step be to prevent it genetically? After all, you might argue, it'd be like preventing cancer - only if you're preventing the creation of, say, a serial killer, so you might be saving several lives.

So, do we end up with a future of Philip K. Dick's Minority Report? Or Gattaca? Seems like one of the two is inevitable. We just have to agree to which we feel more comfortable embracing. Was Gattaca just a worse-case scenario? Is there a best-case scenario for genetic engineering we'll have to consider as a species?

Also under neurology: Robert Burton's recent Salon article, "Born that Gay," asks "Do recent neurological studies prove once and for all that homosexuality is biological?" Short answer: Yes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Learning How to Think

[L]earning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

- David Foster Wallace, 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College
Via Gawker

Rest in Peace, David Foster Wallace

McSweeney's has pretty much turned into a tribute to Wallace for the time being, with writing from various contributors, which makes for some exceptionally compelling reading. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Obama in the Wayback Machine

A young civil rights lawyer and writer by the name of Barack Obama critiques The Bell Curve way in October 1994:
The idea that inferior genes account for the problems of the poor in general, and blacks in particular, isn't new, of course. Racial supremacists have been using IQ tests to support their theories since the turn of the century. The arguments against such dubious science aren't new either. Scientists have repeatedly told us that genes don't vary much from one race to another, and psychologists have pointed out the role that language and other cultural barriers can play in depressing minority test scores, and no one disputes that children whose mothers smoke crack when they're pregnant are going to have developmental problems.

Now, it shouldn't take a genius to figure out that with early intervention such problems can be prevented. But Mr. Murray isn't interested in prevention. He's interested in pushing a very particular policy agenda, specifically, the elimination of affirmative action and welfare programs aimed at the poor. With one finger out to the political wind, Mr. Murray has apparently decided that white America is ready for a return to good old-fashioned racism so long as it's artfully packaged and can admit for exceptions like Colin Powell. It's easy to see the basis for Mr. Murray's calculations. After watching their income stagnate or decline over the past decade, the majority of Americans are in an ugly mood and deeply resent any advantages, real or perceived, that minorities may enjoy.
Obama was barely 33 years old at the time.

I was 25 then and I gave a presentation on the The Bell Curve in grad school for a Research in Education class around the same time. Oh, how I wish I could go back and do that again, knowing what I know about that tome and Charles Murray now!

Rosler & Koudelka

MArtha Rossler - Point & Shoot

New York photographer Martha Rosler has work on display, which I hope to see at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. Her Photoshop mashups combine images of war and American consumerism. One particularly striking image, "Point and Shoot," shows a super model strolling the streets of (presumably) occupied Baghdad. Especially relevant during Fashion Week.

Rossler's exhibit, "Great Power" runs until October 11th.

Koudelka - Russian Tank in Prague

Additionally, New York being the embarrassment of riches for photography fans that it is, there's a Josef Koudelka exhibit, "Invasion 68: Prague," on at Pace/McGill Gallery until October 30th, as well. Koudelka's a Czech photographer, who worked for Magnum in the '70s. Still working at 70, he's certainly among the world's greatest living photographers.

Google image search for Josef Koudelka
Magnum Photo profile of Koudelka

As you'll note, tanks figure in both exhibits.

East Village, New York, 9/11/08

East Village, New York, 9/11/08

See the above photo, taken tonight, and my This Is New York City photoset on Flickr.

Thoughts on 9/11? Not many. Osama Bin Laden's uncaught. Afghanistan's getting worse while we pour money into Iraq. The war's spreading to Pakistan. We may still be adolescent enough as a nation to elect John McCain President, who's less inclined to diplomacy, more to military might as a solution. (We live in a Bizarro world where the word "diplomacy" is often spoken with contempt, as is the word "liberal.") We're obsessed with the superficial and the facile - witness the praise heaped upon a scarcely qualified VP candidate - and it's greasing the way to our downfall. But, hey, there's a new iPod coming out and it's even thinner than the old one with more storage. Good times.

Apologies for the bitter tone. I think, like many, I just feel shocked (shocked) at how easily so many others are suckered in by the (not even admirable or appealing) surface of things. Sarah Palin's introductory speech to her fellow-countrymen was laced with venom and condescension; nonetheless, she won the instant, unqualified admiration of millions.

Still, take a breath, I tell myself. Take a break from the political blogs. There is still beauty in the world

  • Watch this absorbing video lecture on "Will China and India Dominate the 21st Century Global Economy?" Answer: an unreserved "Yes."
  • Wigsalon is taking advantage of the instant craze for, yes, Sarah Palin wigs.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Murakami on Memory

"You know what I think?" she says. "That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of then-thousand-yet bills: when you feed ‘em to the fire, they’re all just paper. The fire isn’t thinking, ‘Oh, this is Kant,’ or ‘Oh, this is the Yomiuri evening edition,’ or ‘Nice tits,’ while it burns. To the fire, they’re nothing but scraps of paper. It’s the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there’s no distinction-they’re all just fuel." ...

"You know, I think if I didn't have that fuel, if I didn't have those memory drawers inside me, I would've snapped a long time ago. I would've curled up in a ditch somewhere and died. It's because I can pull the memories out of the drawers when I have to- the important ones and the useless ones- that I can go on living this nightmare of a life. I might think I can't take it anymore, that I can't go on anymore, but one way or another I get past that."

- from After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dubstep Diatribe

Reproducing as best I can, these scathing lyrics delivered by Tippa Irie on "Angry" from The Bug's London Zoo:
Now, New Orleans in America
Why they never helping to Katrina
America is a big super power
They shoulda been there in the hour
But they left people them just to suffer
And to shower in the gutter
Certainly one of the year's most compelling listens so far. Try "Murder We" and "Poison Dart," as well.

Fan-created video for "Angry" on YouTube
Official video for "Poison Dart"
Album on

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Department of Shameless Self Promotion

Me and my friend and co-worker, Rachel Lovinger are quoted in a New York Times story today on the new "esplanade" on Broadway, which streams past AA|RF's office building at 1440. From the tail-end of the article:
Robert Stribley, 39, an information architect at an Internet design firm with an office on Broadway, said that he found the experience of sitting on the esplanade surreal.

“You look around and expect a truck to veer off and plow into you at any moment,” he said. “It’s not Bryant Park. You’ve got exhaust coming at you. But it’s kind of cool.”

A co-worker, Rachel Lovinger, 37, suggested a way to eliminate the risk: turn all of Broadway from Times Square to Herald Square into a pedestrian park, with no cars or trucks at all.

“If the entire thing were a pedestrian walkway it would be great,” she said.
It should be duly noted that I did not say anything of any particular portent or significance.

And in Gothamist, as well.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Cuban Five

Prominently placed at the boarding gate for international flights at the Havana airport, the above poster depicts the Cuban 5. Imprisoned in the United States for the past decade, the Cuban 5 appear on posters, billboards and murals all around Havana. The poster says they were put on trial in heavily conservative-Cuban Miami, Florida and then unjustly imprisoned. It's said they were prosecuted for stopping terrorism. As the Wikipedia article explains below, there's more to the story. Nonetheless, sentences were dropped for three of the men. Additionally, the United States has been criticized by human right advocates for not allowing the wives of two of the men visas to visit their spouses in jail.

Cuba & Jamaica

I've added a plethora of photos from my vacation in Jamaica and Cuba to Flickr.

Cuba - Though I had hoped to spend the better part of 2 weeks in Cuba, I spent just 3 days in Havana after American Airlines mislaid my backpack, thereby significantly delaying the rest of my trip. On returning to the United States, I declared my trip to Cuba on my customs form and passed through without incident.

Jamaica - I hadn't planned on exploring Jamaica much, but ended up staying in Kingston for several days with an additional side-trip to Ocho Rios, which took me through the mountains and across the center off the island.

I rather hurriedly uploaded these photos, but hope to go back and add details and description.

Additionally, here's a post I wrote back in May, 07, which provides background on my decision to travel to Cuba. I could write a more detailed piece and may yet, including advice on how to travel there and back. I'd encourage anyone to do it as an appropriate and peaceful act of civil disobedience. If more American citizens traveled there openly and declared their trip on their customs forms, I think the government would be forced to remove the restrictions.

Here's some helpful, detailed advice on traveling to Cuba

Sign a petition requesting Congress pass legislation allowing travel to Cuba

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cuban Travel Restrictions

Havana, Cuba

A quick roundup of some Cuba-related news:

Last month a U.S. Senate committee actually voted to undo travel restrictions to Cuba the Bush administration had created, restrictions which currently prevent Cuban-Americans from visiting their own homeland more than once every three years.

Elsewhere, however, in Florida, the legislature is attempting to punish travel agencies, which enable travel to Cuba, even by Cubans. Under the new law, travel agents would be required to pay a $250,000 bond and share the names of clients in order to continue their business with Cuba. The legality of the new law is currently under review.

Ironically, as we're banning Americans from traveling to Cuba, we're also still imprisoning people without charge on Cuban soil at Guantanamo Bay - and sending athletes, reporters, camera crews and scads of tourists to China for the Olympic games.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


As this Flickr group demonstrates, tilt-shift photography makes real photos look like fake miniatures of the real thing. Here's a tutorial using a train station as an example. Hard to believe those toy-like trains are real, right? And back on Flickr, this scene from Vinales, Cuba looks like a diorama with a toy car.