Thursday, December 11, 2008

Troubled in paradise


I can’t think of anything more welcome in the cold New York winters than an escape towards sandy beaches down south. In Cancun, I laid in the sun, ate a ton of food, snorkled in clear blue waters and even swam with motha f*#king dolphins.

As nice as it was to be pampered without a care in the world, it was hard for me to shake an uneasiness to being waited on hand and foot. Maybe I’m just unaccustomed to the whole experience. It’s not as if the locals were giving off any hostile hints. In fact, they were the most attentive and friendly service people I’d ever experienced. But I kept having flashes of the humans in Wall-E which were too absorbed in their own recreating to notice anything around them. They were carted around from place to place and any desire was within arms reach. I would wonder if that’s what I was during this vacation.

Okay, so it was still enjoyable and I wasn’t exactly complaining while sipping down piña coladas on the beach. I work hard and rarely indulge in fancy restaurants. Shouldn’t I be able to live luxuriously on a vacation?

It didn’t help that I was in Cancun, which felt more like an American franchise than an authentic foreign location. Everything seemed tailored to what white people think Mexican culture should be rather than what it probably is in reality. What rare Mexican food I found was atrocious, giving the abysmal New York Mexican joints a run for their money.

As nice as it all was, I was surprised to feel so relieved to see the Manhattan skyline again through the airplane window. I’d never considered myself a true New Yorker but now realize that I’m more rooted in this great city than I knew.

Of course all that good feeling and love towards everything has dissipated almost entirely after a few rides on the crowded F train.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top Five Albums of 2008

It’s only November but I’m already seeing Best of 2008 lists popping up, so I’ll contribute with my Top Five Albums of 2008...

Vampire Weekend, [Self-Titled]
These guys lost a bit of their luster for me as the year went on, partly due to their overexposure, but revisiting the album proves that it’s still one of the best releases of the year. Breezy and quirky, they remind me of vintage Weezer. Hopefully VW can avoid becoming a cliché of itself, or at the very least come out with a worthy follow-up. Stand out tracks to me are Oxford Comma, A-Punk and One (Blake’s Got a New Face).



Hercules and Love Affair, [Self-Titled]
A great dance record that was an instant favorite of many of my friends. Heavy nods towards the Eighties, but the album is varied and interesting enough to avoid being too derivative. I’ve found this album will get a party dancing in no time. Best songs are Hercules Theme, Iris and Raise Me Up.



The Dodos, Visiter
Their heavy handed guitar strumming and percussion caught my attention from the first few seconds I heard this band. Just about every element of this album (the vocals, melodies, lyrics) hits pitch perfect for what I like in this genre of music. My favorite tracks are Walking, Red and Purple, Undeclared and God.



Jamie Lidell, Jim
I was blown away by how much this record sounds like a freshly minted Motown LP. But Lidell also infuses many subtle elements to bring his vintage sensibilities up to new levels. Still, I know that I’m just programmed to love this album due to my repeated exposure to the Temptations, Al Green and Otis Redding. The tracks have great grooves that also do well at parties. Best songs are Little Bit of Feel Good, Figured Me Out and Green Light.



Fleet Foxes, [Self-Titled]
By far my favorite discovery of the year. Lush harmonies and folk stylings haven’t been this gorgeous in decades. I’ve gone on at length about this group already and can’t say enough about how much I love them, so don’t get me started. Simply magnificent. The entire album is amazing (as is their Sun Giant EP).



I’ll also add my Dud of the Year, which was Beck’s Modern Guilt. Sorry Beck, I love ya, but this was a big let-down.

And that’s that for this year. Here’s looking forward to 2009 and much more great music.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sub-standard

Great. Looks like the MTA is headed for rougher waters. That means more headaches for Brooklyn commuters like me. It’s not like they were the model of efficiency already. It seems like half the Brooklyn trains are down on the weekends for “maintenance” from which we never see any tangible improvements.

Sounds like the G line is going to be massively affected, with it running even less frequently. The rate of trains on that line already sucks and I’ve had many miserable late night/early morning waits on the platform. It’s practically the only access to other areas of Brooklyn for me, and now they’re going to make it that much more inconvenient and obsolete. Awesome.

They’re also projecting cutbacks on staff, making me wonder how much worse can it possibly get? Stations seem under staffed as it is, and let’s face it, who is impressed by the cleaning staff already?

This whole organization reeks of mismanagement, with operations hanging by a thread while seemingly hemorrhaging money.

Oh, and coupled with these cutbacks, we’ll probably see another fare hike in the near future.

Great news to start off the day.

(image snagged off Williamsburgnerd)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Menswhere? : Ties

My line of work doesn’t necessarily require me to wear ties often (or at all) and I normally wouldn’t even consider paying top dollar for a tie... But these ties by Manfred are smokin’. Of course they’re Aussies with no retailer in NYC.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

YES WE CAN.

Wow. It actually happened. A part of me is still in disbelief. But last night was a sweeping, resounding victory for Barack Obama. I mean, President-Elect Barack Obama.

Senator McCain gave a classy, dignified concession speech. Too bad he didn’t run his campaign the same way. But in the end, I still consider him a good man and a patriot.

Finally, Obama’s victory speech. I feel as though it’ll be a speech that will be revered along with some of the great Presidential speeches in our nation’s history. It was powerful and moving. I can admit to feeling a flood of emotion and even a little teary-eyed with continuous calls of “Yes we can”.

Congratulations, Barack. Now comes the hard part...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Barack the Vote!

(snagged from Flickr)

V-Day

I'm standing in line right now to vote. It's a historic day and I feel a great sense of honor to be participating in it. Go Obama!

Monday, November 03, 2008

One more day


Big day tomorrow. Big, big day. I hope to all that is good in the world that Obama pulls out with a win. I might have to move to another country otherwise.

Not to look too far ahead of ourselves, but NY Magazine had a good article giving insight at what sort of preparations Obama is going through in order to efficiently and quickly get things moving if he gets into office.

I admit that I’ve been so focused on the election part that I haven’t thought much about what will happen afterwards. There are a lot of skeptics (ahem, my family) who will be looking for the first chance to point out his inadequacy. But this article shows that the guy and the people he has around him are organized and thinking strategically. This campaign has been an extremely well-run operation, which I hope is indicative of how his Presidential term will play out. Lord knows there’s a lot to do.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Menswhere? : Shoes

My quest for new shoes was derailed somewhat by having to hunt down any sort of apparel adorned with animal-print for a themed birthday party and figuring out a Halloween costume. The birthday girl didn’t really think through her theme because I quickly discovered that no one makes any sort of clothing for men that have animal-print patterns.

My guy friends and I resorted to the Salvation Army sifting through women’s clothing. I ended up buying a women’s silk button-up with a horrible snake-skin pattern for $5. I had to rip off the shoulder pads and even sew two buttons onto it. It was the most ill-fitting thing I’d ever worn. And yes, we all went out in public (Manhattan, no less) and looked like assholes. But it was all in good fun.

Back on the hunt for men’s shoes that weren’t bland or ugly, I found some casual shoes at the Ben Sherman store that I thought were decent. The problem was that they were on a store display and the store didn’t actually carry them. I’ve found them online but I’m not one of those people who can buy clothes online. I have to see and feel them and, oh yeah, try them on. So I’m looking for places in the city that sell Ben Sherman stuff, which has been tough. Places that sell the ties and shirts I’ve found but shoes have been scarce.

Meanwhile, I found some slightly more formal shoes at Banana Republic of all places. I vowed to not shop at that place any more since their designs tend to be bland and not ideal for my thin body type. But they usually have high quality materials so I’ll venture in to check on cashmere scarves and whatnot. The image to the left is of the loafers, but I got the laced-version which I think is much better. They’re nothing too flashy but have some nice details that make them wearable for me.

For the most part, I still rely on my good ol’ Chucks for everyday use. Since I’ve done a fair amount of damage to them, I went and got a new pair of the exact same style. I felt a twinge of resistance to just swap out the shoes. Shouldn’t I move on to something new and break out of my habit? I’m usually all for that mode of thinking, but these are Chucks. I love them so much. And they’re so comfortable. I broke in the new ones this morning and it was strange to see such blinding white and clean black on my feet as I walked to work. I definitely need to put some wear and tear on them, and then they’ll feel like home.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kay Ruane : "Room with a View"


There’s a modest yet captivating exhibition at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery featuring graphite illustrations by Kay Ruane. Titled Room with a View, the works portray female figures within interior spaces observing scenes out of a window.

The images are all quite well rendered. The folds of skin on the bottoms of feet and hints of veins are impressively observed. Shading and dimension are artfully realized.

More engrossing than the technical mastery is Ruane’s use of symbolism and juxtaposition. The figures loom large in the compositions as the first subject we see, yet we are distanced by their hidden faces. Features and emotions are all masked from us by their hair. Yet we can easily see faces of subjects in framed photos elsewhere in the scene.

The women are always depicted in black and white while other “secondary” subjects such as flowers, jewelry and dresses come to life with vibrant colors.

The interior scenes are serene and calm, as are the figures, yet there are catastrophic events happening just outside of the window.

The women look out to the world with a seeming longing to escape to or interact with the outside, yet make no noticeable effort to do so. Hallways and stairs appear on the edges of some of the pieces yet are unutilized and even barred by velvet ropes.

Ruane manages to fill each work with a rich minutiae of symbolic detail that I could stare at and try to decipher for hours.

One detail that was of particular interest to me was the fact that almost all of the women wore wedding bands. Not ornate, glittery, diamond-encrusted rings, but simple, almost featureless bands.

It was once believed that a vital blood vessel connected the “ring finger” of the left hand to the heart. The circular band or ring was a symbol of bounding one’s life-force, and in weddings meaning the pairing of man and wife together. In Ruane’s work, I personally took the rings to relate less to the ideas of matrimony and more to the theme of being bound by something less tangible. The rings where symbolic of the room within the subject was confined to.

Is this sense of imprisonment voluntary or not? Do the women leave the tranquil yet limited room for the open and treacherous world outside? Does the entrapment affect one’s sense of self, turning one into a faceless object? Are the vibrant flowers and glitzy jewelry trade-offs of the sense of freedom?

Ruane presents the questions and lets the viewer pose their own answers. I like that.

Room with a View
is on display through November 25.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thierry W. Despont : "Through the Moon Door"

There’s an incredible exhibit at the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea featuring work by Thierry W. Despont. The show, Through the Moon Door, features sculptures out of found materials (mostly rusted, industrial equipment) to form imaginary animals.

The description makes it sound like those cheesy smiling faces cut out of fruit that people email to each other. Yet what really helps elevate these pieces is the presentation. Hats off to the curator of the show for the beautifully arranged space. Viewers walk into an area reminiscent of the Museum of Natural Science and History. The lighting is dramatic and the figures resemble skeletal samples of mysterious animals.

The artist describes the effect of transporting the viewers to a foreign world that feels ancient and tangible thanks to the worn aesthetic of the materials. The creatures are accentuated by the backdrop of giant planetary paintings. I saw these giant spheres as representations of the moon which can be symbolically linked to transformation, as in a full moon and a were-wolf. In this case, the moon is spurring the metamorphosis of familiar objects such as wrenches and lightbulbs into strange animals.

I have always been fascinated with our ability to interpret and recognize ourselves in other forms. Something in our nature causes us to see ourselves where ever we are. This can be exemplified in the simple smiley emoticon “:)” which contains the least amount of information, two dots and a curved line, and we can easily discern a human face. Even turned sideways, we can still recognize a face.

That was the genius of cubism and abstraction. Before the movement, art was to be as anatomically realistic as possible. But pioneers like Picasso realized you could still convey a subject without relying on meticulous recreation. A few squares and circles could make up a face. In more modern times, cartoons and comics show us that the human form can be abstracted and simplified in countless ways. The Simpsons are radically distorted versions of ourselves yet no one has any trouble reading their faces or interpreting their emotions.

What I found enlightening about Despont’s work is that he has taken our ability to translate the abstraction of forms and use them towards animals. Even though they aren’t humans (or actual animals for that matter) we can see birds, insects and fish. I see eyes, antennae, spines, teeth within these objects and can believe that these could have been living, breathing creatures.

Check out the show and be transported.

Through the Moon Door is on display through November 8.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chivalry ain’t dead, it’s just been stuck on the F-train

Yesterday during rush hour, a woman with two toddlers got onto the train and instantly two guys and I got up from our seats for them. When one of the boys got antsy for having to sit across the aisle from his mom, another guy gave up his seat.

It was nice to see that some guys are still gentlemen even in this jaded, self-centered metropolis. Okay, so most of the time I get to witness men sit there like jerks while women stand around them. Get on your feet, boys!

These old-fashioned gestures must be a rarity for most New Yorkers because when I hold doors open for women, they usually look shocked. Or they ignore me with suspicious looks on their faces.

Men have been giving me a bad rap. No wonder most girls look like they’re ready to pepper spray me when I make eye contact.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jamie Lidell at Highline Ballroom, 10/14/08


Now this is more like it. Jamie Lidell at the Highline Ballroom was a good recovery after a disappointing Beck concert. In a much smaller venue and lower overall production, it’s how I would imagine an early years Beck show to have looked like. The entire band was high energy, having a blast and visibly enjoyed playing with each other.

When I first heard a Lidell song, I thought it might have been off of some unearthed Motown era record. But no, it’s actually by some white, British dude. It’s amazing to hear touches of Al Green and Otis Redding in his performances. As a live experience, I was glad to find that these weren’t just studio effects. The guy definitely has the vocals and talent.

A surprising element was to hear Jamie launch into some beat-boxing and looping, adding a new dimension to his songs. It would be good to have more of this aspect in his albums.

Overall, it was an entertaining show that left me more impressed with Lidell’s musical abilities.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Beck at United Palace, 10/09/08



Beck had been on of the few major artists left on my “must-see” list that I hadn’t seen live. So when the opportunity finally came, I jumped at the tickets. Yet for some reason I found myself lackluster about the event as it came near.

I attribute it to a mixture of being preoccupied with so many other things as well as my lukewarm opinion of his latest release, Modern Guilt. I’d followed every one of his albums with anticipation since Odelay and found Beck to be a reliable source of great music.

Until Modern Guilt. The whole album lacked the spirited inventiveness and heartfelt enthusiasm normally found in his work. This collection of songs seemed like he was going through the motions. Outside of Soul of a Man, which proved that Beck can still effortlessly pull together a blues song, the album sounded generic and bland. And at just around 30 minutes, it felt as though he was just as bored with the album.

Even his summer single release, Time Bomb, showed signs that the guy might be tired. At first listen, it sounds like a fun, light-hearted romp. But when dissected, I find that it’s composed of some of the least imaginative efforts I’ve heard from him. The lyrics are mainly comprised of bits like “we got a time bomb” and “tick tick tick” and “we got a warning light”. Have Beck’s lyrics ever been this straightforward and dull?

His malaise seemed to also affect last night’s performance. The whole night seemed like an exercise of running on auto-pilot.

I’ll briefly mention that the opening act, MGMT were very disappointing. While I consider their album, Oracular Spectacular to be quite a good record, I had heard several accounts that their live show was a letdown. Those criticisms rang true with me. This was just not an act that translated well live.

Once MGMT wrapped up, Beck’s set actually started somewhat early, around 9:20. It was a surprising change of pace from the usually long lag times between sets. Yet, that promptness seemed more due to Beck wanting to get it over with rather than of any enthusiasm to perform.

I knew the concert wouldn’t live up to the previous tour’s much discussed marionette act, but figured it was Beck so it would be a fun show. Sigh.

The band raced through every song with straightforward renditions. One song would scarcely be finished before the drummer would tick off the beat for the next one. Usually during a show, you’ll hear audience members yell out requests for songs, but in this concert there wasn’t even enough of a gap between songs for anyone to get a word in.

Years ago, my first revelation to Beck was his live performance of New Pollution at the 1997 MTV Awards. I had only seen the Loser era images of him and was surprised to see a clean-cut, gray suit wearing guy who was dancing his ass off. I immediately realized that this guy was a true performer and not a flash-in-the-pan gimmick as many had written him off as. He was vibrant, entertaining and magnetic.

That was the guy I expected to see. Yet throughout the night, Beck was disappointingly stoic and stationary. Even when the band shed their instruments to stand in front of the crowd to play on mini synthesizers, Beck sang with his hands in his pockets or with his arms crossed. It all signified that he wanted this all to be over as soon as possible. And I had started to feel the same way.

Finally, 45 minutes into the show he acknowledged the audience and played a duo of slow songs from the glorious Sea Change, which was the best part of the night. I wished that I was able to catch him do an entire set of songs from that album in a more intimate setting. I think he and I would’ve preferred that scenario.

Predictably, it wasn’t a long show. Almost exactly an hour plus the obligatory encore. I give the audience credit for being excited throughout the whole night. But I for one expect more from Beck.

I don’t blame the guy if he’s feeling a bit burned out. He’s been able to churn out great album after great album on a consistent basis for years. But Beck, if you need a break to recharge, please take it!

I’m not ready to write him off yet (unlike Weezer) because his prior records, The Information and Guero were each brilliant and showed a steady upward progression for Beck. Maybe Modern Guilt is a slight misstep and anomaly. Here’s hoping. If so, I’d be willing to see him again in concert.

Addendum: I wasn’t able to find the New Pollution performance online so this other one will have to do as a demonstration of Beck’s past awesomeness...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Money talks

Continuing in the vein of the last post’s fact finding mission, This American Life has broadcasted a few episodes that focus on the financial crisis that we’re currently experiencing.

Other than giant, red numbers on the front pages, it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on and what the ramifications are to those of us outside of Wall Street.

The first episode was broadcasted before the crash of several banking institutions and delves into the mortgage crisis earlier this year. The second episode takes into account all of the recent events and attempts to illustrate the full story of why these stock giants are falling like dominos.

What these narratives do very well is connect all of the dots in ways that normally aren’t revealed on today’s mania-driven news channels. It becomes easy to see why things happened the way they did, but it also leads you to feel frustrated and outraged at the unabashed recklessness of these people’s greed.

I’m a lot angrier about this $700 billion bail-out since we’re essentially saving the asses of people who were keenly aware of the risks and fragility of their actions but were blinded by dollar signs. It doesn’t help that I’m reading stories about AIG’s executives partaking in a luxury retreat after being rescued by the government.

Obama’s proposals to instill more regulations resonate more with me now that I’ve seen what people do when left on their own.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Health hath no fury...

Although largely pushed aside due to other pressing matters such as the war and the crumbling economy, health care is a perennial topic in election debates. The merits and pitfalls of universal health care and government involvement is dissected in the latest Intelligence Squared session by NPR.

The format of the show is an Oxford-style debate between a panel of experts in the particular field who debate on the pros and cons of the subject. It’s a good way to absorb a lot of information from different sources. While there is a plethora of stat-spewing, the panelists do a good job of sifting through the numbers to define the meaning behind the research.

The entire broadcast is available as a podcast. While not the most uplifting thing to listen to on the subway commute, it’s certainly enlightening.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wailin’ on Palin

Tonight is the VP debate, and while I was initially salivating at the prospect of Biden tearing Palin apart, I now have a lot of apprehension. Biden’s job is going to be tougher than many expect. History of gaffes aside, he has to tread carefully lest he gets labeled as a sexist and garners sympathy for Palin, of whom people have such low expectations that it’ll be considered a victory if she just manages to string a few sentences together.

Which may be a challenge for her. Palin couldn’t even answer Katie Couric’s request to name one newspaper or publication that she reads to keep up with current affairs. All week, I’ve been sending links around of the cringe-worthy Couric interviews where she rivals Bush for sound-bite worthy idiocy.

I’ve been so vocal against Palin that a friend commented that I must “really hate the bitch”. I don’t actually. She has different views from me, and I couldn’t care less. It’s more that I feel offended by the Republican party’s assumption on our collective intelligence. THIS is what they chose to put in front of us and say she’s good enough to lead us.

I’ve realized that even I have been caught up in the circus that the Palin nomination has created. After seeing how many newspaper headlines have been swallowed up by Palin, is it outside the realm of possibility to consider that this was a calculated move by McCain in order to divert our attention from the relevant issues? Dare I give the seemingly bumbling, self-destructive campaign that much credit? Biden’s given over 100 interviews since his nomination and we don’t hear jack about him. I get more email links of Palin’s beauty pageant videos than any concerning economic policy.

If this tactic was calculated (and marverick-y?), it’s equally a dangerous and baffling one. I doubt that the McCain group did this all on purpose though. The bungling interviews are the biggest indicator that none of this was part of any overall strategy.

So what are the possible scenarios here? A. They didn’t put any thought into Palin, but she’s a woman which would get the Hillary votes. B. They knew what an idiot she was but knew that the media and population would be so diverted by insignificant details like pregnant daughters that they could slip into the White House without exposing political inadequacies. C. They actually think that she’s a qualified, viable candidate to be a heartbeat away from the Commander in Chief.

All of those likelihoods leave me feeling insulted. Come on, America! I’m begging you to pull your head out of your asses! Look past the lipstick!!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The tale of how I try not to be naked (and attempt to look good doing it)

This blog has been my forum to cover a wide scope of interests, mainly music, art, politics and random ranting. But one aspect that I’ve inadvertently avoided is fashion.

I know there are countless sites, blogs, and telephone book sized magazines on the subject, though I’ve noticed that there are not so many for men. And even less for men with my tastes.

Over the past few years, my interest and awareness towards what I wear has grown considerably. Today is a far cry from my who-the-fuck-cares-about-fashion t-shirt and jeans days in high school. Okay, I still wear t-shirts and jeans, but I pay more attention to the quality and fit of those items, which makes a significant difference. Deciding what to wear used to be such an inconvenience for me so I stayed with the basics. Nowadays I’m feeling more adventurous and confident in a personal style.

The downside for me is that men’s fashion just doesn’t seem to have the variety and resources of women’s wear. In my opinion, there’s virtually no middle ground between the cheap crap at Old Navy and the unobtainable awesomeness of designer wear.

I’ll flip through a men’s magazine and review their fashion sections. Yeah, these guys all look great in their suits but A. I don’t really want to be wearing suits everyday no matter how pimping and B. even the pocket squares shown are in the $100s and I can barely afford rent.

So this is an attempt to use the awesome power of my blog to help me pool my knowledge and findings into some focused strategy, not unlike how I use it to formulate coherent opinions on music and art.

Since I’m still a fledgling trying to develop a fashion sense, it’ll be baby steps along the way. I’ll try to avoid the really obvious stuff that all men should know right off the bat, such as:

  • Always wear a watch
  • Earrings – terrible, terrible idea unless you're a pirate
  • Never, ever, EVER pop your collar up (it’s a fad that you’ll someday regret even considering, like painted fingernails)
  • Learn to tie a tie properly
  • Shaving can be an enjoyable ritual (too bad what I have can barely be classified as facial hair)

My most pressing goal for now is to find some decent shoes. I have very particular tastes and have been looking for at least a year now. I need something versatile, semi-formal but mainly casual. I hate tips that are too pointy or too boxy. I know, I’m picky. Probably why I fall back on my Chuck Taylors so often. They go with just about everything, short of a tuxedo.

I’ve learned not to settle for anything less than what you love. I’m not opposed to paying higher prices because I want quality pieces that won’t disintegrate after a wash (looking in your direction, Old Navy). And I’ve also learned that the accoutrements make the outfit. Cheap belts, watches or (especially) shoes can render an otherwise badass outfit into a total failure.

But for now, I’ll just start off my compilation of basic knowledge with an article from GQ on how to properly roll up sleeves. I hate seeing guys who literally roll their sleeves until they look like they have giant bagels around their elbows. “Rolling” is a bad term since you’re really folding up the sleeves. Look at clothing store displays to see how it’s done.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Family Feud (Election ‘08 edition)

This upcoming Presidential election is definitely one for the history books. Case in point, I sent an email out to my family to make sure everyone’s safe from the imminent hurricane off the coast of Texas and it quickly turns into a political debate.

It’s a good look into opposing views, which I have had a hard time gauging in New York. I’m presenting the entire email chain here, not to ridicule anyone or push one candidate over the other, but to offer a glimpse into what’s driving some people to make their choice.

To protect my family's anonymity, I replaced everyone’s name with characters from The Office. The names are randomly selected so don’t try to read into any meaning behind why I picked who. (I’m Toby, by the way.)

------


From: Toby
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 9:04 AM
Subject: Everyone safe?

Just wanted to know if everyone is out of harm’s way, especially any family members in Houston.


Also, a glimpse at who could be our VP... (it’s pronounced “nu-cle-ar” not “nu-cu-lar”)
http://gawker.com/5048884/worst-of-sarah-palins-first-interview

------

From: Stanley
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2008 9:31 AM

Subject: RE: Everyone safe?


Phyllis called Jan and she said that Michael doesn’t want to evacuate because he still have some business meeting at TI. I really don’t get it.

Are you not a Palin supporter?? did you hear her said Nu-cu-lar? I can’t really tell. may it is just an Alaskan’s accent

-----

From: Toby
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 9:44 AM

Subject: Re: Everyone safe?



My friend Dwight isn’t evacuating either. What the heck? It’s a freaking hurricane!

Only if Incorrect is a regional accent of Alaska. Ok, I’m picking on Palin, but I’m more concerned about her not even knowing what the Bush Doctrine is. I think a potential Vice President (and possible President if McCain kicks the bucket) should be a bit more informed on current political policies.

That’s just me.

-----

From: Oscar
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 9:45 AM

Subject: RE: Everyone safe?


Go Obama!

-----

From: Stanley
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2008 10:01 AM

Subject: RE: Everyone safe?


Ok!! what does Obama know??? Everybody can said “CHANGE” Even Andy and Ryan when they were 2 yrs old and got a dirty diaper

-----

From: Toby
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 10:31 AM

Subject: Re: Everyone safe?


Analyzing “change” as per specific policy topics:
http://www.sltrib.com/ci_10398518

“Change” as per Obama’s overall political ideology:
http://runningforamerica.blogspot.com/2008/02/what-does-obama-mean-by-change.html

Comparing Obama and McCain’s stances on each issue:
http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/issues/

Obama’s DNC speech transcript:
http://www.demconvention.com/barack-obama/

If you’re inclined to find out really indepth (I let Jim borrow this, ask him if you want his take):
http://www.amazon.com/Audacity-Hope-Thoughts-Reclaiming-American/dp/0307455874/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221231830&sr=8-1

What stood out in Obama’s speech for me in particular was his proposal for us to become totally 100% independent from the Middle East in 10 years. That’s a bold, ambitious, TANGIBLE stance he just made. But it’s similar to JFK’s goal to land on the moon before the end of the decade in the 60’s. It seemed impossible at the time, but he set the bar and sometimes you need a definitive deadline to propel you to achieve something. And Obama’s plan doesn’t include raping the natural wildlife refuge in Alaska for a 9 month supply of oil.

Oil and energy have been dictating our foreign policy for way too long. It’s a main cause for why the entire Middle East hates us, why we have to succumb to whatever Saudi Arabia wants, why automakers can’t put out a completely gas-independent vehicle. Even though GM successfully created a viable, economic, 100% electric car YEARS AGO. ( http://www.amazon.com/Who-Killed-Electric-Martin-Sheen/dp/B000I5Y8FU/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1221233081&sr=8-1 – watch and be appalled.)

Look, each politician will spew out rhetoric and every news agency will be slanted. Look at both sides and judge for yourself.


Love,
Toby

-----


From: Stanley
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2008 11:22 PM

Subject: RE: Everyone safe?


Obama is wishy washy on several issues.

Strategic Petroleum Reserve
Would suspend buying oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Said during an August 4, 2008, speech that the U.S. should sell 70 million barrels of oil from the reserve for less expensive crude oil. Earlier this year, Obama said he did not think the country should use the strategic oil reserves “at this point.” He said on July 7: “I have said and, in fact, supported a congressional resolution that said we should suspend putting more oil into the strategic oil reserve, but the strategic oil reserve I think has to be reserved for a genuine emergency.”

Offshore drilling
Previously was against lifting federal government restrictions on offshore drilling, but appeared to modify his position in an August 1 statement that supported a bipartisan legislative effort that would expand offshore oil drilling. Part of the statement read: “I remain skeptical that new offshore drilling will bring down gas prices in the short-term or significantly reduce our oil dependence in the long-term, though I do welcome the establishment of a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact.”

I see a lot of big empty promises that sounded good but I think will NEVER materialize.

-----

From: Toby
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 11:51 AM

Subject: Re: Everyone safe?


No denying that Obama has shifted his stance on issues, but McCain’s no saint on flip-flopping either:
http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/flipflops

Pot calling the kettle black.

It’s partly the nature of politicians to shift their views, whether it’s for good reasons (like having new insight or information that they previously didn’t) or for less virtuous reasons like to appease fickle voters and constituents.

A strong, decisive leader is great, but it’d also be nice to have someone who could rectify a mistake instead of plowing ahead without acknowledging that he/she was wrong (a la Bush and WMDs).

Stanley, sounds like you’re pretty much pro-McCain, which I’m fine with if you’re informed and making a decision on what you think.

Everyone of us should vote. Just please don’t vote based on superficial issues like b/c Obama’s black, Palin’s a woman or McCain’s a vet.

I personally am willing to take a chance on “change” in a spirit of optimism that hasn’t been portrayed in politics in so very long. I’m not saying that Obama couldn’t be a spectacular disaster. But after what we’ve had with Bush, I’m willing to take a gamble. Maybe it’s because I’m younger and don’t have a family to support; I can be a bit more reckless with my views. But this country was not born out of “playing it safe”. Men like Abraham Lincoln, Ted Roosevelt, JFK would’ve never had a chance in the White House if people didn’t have hope.

-----

From: Creed
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 11:51 AM

Subject: Re: Everyone safe?


i believe this Great Country is run by a bunch of IDIOTS, not PATRIOTS they say anything to get your votes

-----

From: Jim
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 11:51 AM

Subject: Re: Everyone safe?


Jan told Pam last night that they were going to ride out the storm. If you ask me, it’s too big a risk to take (Katrina was a good lesson).

As for my political view, my military background might be bias but I am pro-McCain (Toby and I already had lengthy discussion about our candidates. I told Toby that Obama is an excellent speaker but he has not really done anything that shows he’s ready for the job. The economy has up and down cycles, so my real concern is terrorism which can turn this country up side down. I don’t think Obama is up to the task. Sarah Palin brings a breath of fresh air to the good-old-boy, business-as-usual Washington. She said in her interview energy independent will make our country safer and more prosperous; I couldn’t agree more. That said, vote for what you believe in.
May the best team win in November. Good to the see the enthusiasm about the future of this country.

You all have a nice weekend and check on Jan.

Love,

Jim

-----

From: Stanley
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2008 2:34 PM

Subject: RE: Everyone safe?


I just don’t see how a person without much experience in the political scene can do what he said he going to do. Does he realized that what he said in the White House if he get elected won’t be the final words? Again, What have Obama done to prove that he can lead this country? If you said that he has aides or advisors than all he is is a puppet.

Just because Bush is a screw-up doesn’t make McCain one and Obama is playing that card to get more votes.

McCain has more grit than Bush will ever dream of having any at all.

Like you said, vote for who you think is best for the country...do your research.

-----

From: Toby
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 2:09 PM

Subject: Re: Everyone safe?


If McCain has such a lack of faith in politicians who lack experience, he shouldn’t have nominated Palin as a running mate. There’s no proof that McCain would be any more effective in pushing his agendas through the legislature any more than Obama. Abraham Lincoln took office with roughly the same amount of “experience” as Obama and he fared pretty well under arguably more dire circumstances. Not trying to directly compare Obama to Lincoln, just trying to illustrate that we really don’t know how anyone will deal with the immense pressures of such a strenuous job like the Commander in Chief. McCain could also fold under the burden. I can’t predict that for sure, no one can.

As for advisors, where are the accusations that Obama would become a puppet to them? Again, I’ll reference Lincoln, because he’s a hero of mine and I’ve done a fair amount of reading on him. Lincoln’s cabinet was comprised of more experienced, more popular, more educated politicians who each believed that they could eventually mold him to their own agendas. What happened was they ended up respecting Lincoln and working towards the same, unselfish goal of preserving the country. If you were in a leadership position, wouldn’t you seek out the most intelligent, qualified people to advise you? Or would you appoint yes-men who’s only job is to smile and nod at whatever you say?

Biden was a shrewd move for Obama because Biden is a seasoned senator who HEADS the Foreign Relations Committee and shores up areas that are perceived weaknesses in Obamas resume. Palin offers nothing in experience and her views mirror McCain’s own, thus offering nothing to round out his administration’s ideology.

Uncle Creed is right that they’ll say ridiculous things and slander the opponents (short of accusing the other of eating babies) in order to get in office. They’ve laid out many lofty ideas, and there’s no realistic way they could achieve all of them. But those ideas are a starting place, and my views align more closely with Obama’s, particularly an aggressive reform on our energy policy.

I never made a direct correlation of McCain to Bush. I don’t think it’s a valid argument. I agree McCain has more grit than Bush. I was just referencing GW to illustrate that someone should be able to adjust their stance on an issue as circumstances develop and change.

A good soldier doesn’t necessarily equate to a good president.

-----

From: Stanley
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2008 3:47 PM

Subject: RE: Everyone safe?


Things work differently in Lincoln’s time than now plus Lincoln has strong characteristic and less material gain influences than Obama.

I agreed that you would want to have the best people around you but you must also be able to stand on your own like Lincoln did. I don’t think Obama has it.

Biden was one of Obama’s critic and now he is his running mate? Bringing him on board is like paying him off, looks like the same old Washington way rather than “change”

It’s been fun but I am running out of things to write and probably doesn’t make much sense.

-----

From: Toby
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2008 3:03 PM

Subject: Re: Everyone safe?


I agree, I only started this email to make sure everyone’s safe from the wraith of mother nature.

But I have to say that saying that Obama “paying Biden off” with the VP nomination is ridiculous. All through U.S. history presidential nominees pick someone in their party to run with. Primaries pit people on the same team against each other to determine the best (kind of like Gladiator). The people vying for the nomination would ideally be the cream of the crop in your party so of course your candidates are most likely from that pool of competitors. Picking Hillary would’ve seemed like paying her off. When a winner emerges, you bury the hatchet and pool together for the greater good. Hopefully that’ll happen when we pick a president.

Now if McCain had crossed party lines to pick Hillary, THAT would’ve been change.

Have a good weekend everyone!

-----

From: Stanley
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2008 4:10 PM

Subject: RE: Everyone safe?


you just want to get the last word in. I read Obama bio in Wikipedia and it sounded very impressive but he probably paid someone to write it...JK

-----


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Back to the Future

I just Netflixed a wonderful documentary, The Future We Will Create, about an annual event called TED which gathers together some of the world’s smartest and most innovative minds to share their ideas and inventions.

Predictably, some of it traverses into the realm of techno-geeky such as information graphics and user interfaces (interestingly showcasing the touch-technology that would become famous in the iPhone and Surface).

But what became really inspiring was how the convention selects three participants to pitch a “wish” and then see if everyone can come together to make those wishes a reality. It was impressive to see how every wish was an unselfish act of humanitarianism, which was the driving force behind this gathering. Every person highlighted was trying to make the world a better place, from Al Gore’s global warming agenda to Larry Brilliant’s goal to create a worldwide infrastructure to prevent and contain outbreaks of illnesses.

Currently, we are all inundated with such bleak, negative imagery such as war, terrorism, corruption (political and corporate), celebrity gossip, etc. that is was so nice to catch a glimpse of optimism and unabashed virtue. TED is an amazing forum for the world’s brightest to gather, trade ideas, collaborate to try to cure illnesses, educate the masses, house the poor, and generally make our lives better.

Personally, it was humbling to see such great minds on display. I’d always done well in science and math but I realized that I was not a scientist by nature. I may not be working to cure cancer, but it’d be nice to find a way to steer my career into something more beneficial to people. I’m certainly not daft enough to think that my photography or designs or whatever will save the world, so I’ll have to think of other ways to contribute.

For now, I can take some solace in the fact that I’m doing my best to not make the world worse off. Since I don’t drive a car, don’t use plastic bags, recycle, and barely use my A/C, I’m curious as to what my actual carbon footprint is these days.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Eighties (were Great-ies??!)

All Songs Considered has a great podcast featuring a roundtable discussion on the merits of the 80s music. Granted none of the participants are fervent lovers of that era so the critique is a bit skewed. Nonetheless, they try to be unbiased in their exploration of where the 80s sits in the spectrum of validity and relevance. Okay, there is quite a bit of synth-music bashing, but who couldn’t lament all that fake drumming?

This was a particularly interesting conversation for me to hear because I find myself listening to and enjoying 80s music more than ever. I’d always noted how I loved every decade for their music except the 80s. I grew up with oldies in the house and in the car so those decades feel engrained in my DNA. My affinity for 90s is due to that being the time of my own musical awakening and discovering what I personally enjoyed. Grunge and Nirvana exposed the ridiculousness of 80s hair band rock. The music of Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine seemed to come from something much more genuine and earnest than the cheesy synth-pop of the decade before.

Up until recently, I’d written off the 80s as a musical void. So this podcast seems appropriate because of the current revival of 80s style in music and fashion. Lately, I’ve been surrounded by friends who are genuine fans of that music. And 80s songs just seem born for karaoke (which has been the main way I’ve learned of these songs). I’ll admit that this has allowed some 80s music into my playlists.

Still, the 80s weren’t a complete dead end for me. I grew up as a fan of Michael Jackson, although I’d abandoned his music for a decade or two, and recently rediscovered how great his early solo albums are. Madonna is someone who never really resonated with me before, probably because I’m a guy, but I now listen to her early songs with new respect and enjoyment. And it may be ridiculously strange, but I love the song “She Blinded Me with Science”. (Who can’t love a song where the word “Science” is randomly yelled out in the background?) Listening to an all-80s webcast station has reawakened my affinity for a lot of long-forgotten songs.

I see many parallels with the culture of the 80s music and what’s going on today, which makes me wonder how this decade will be viewed historically. Although with so many genres of music getting exposure these days, it’s hard to think how they can all be summed up succinctly. I can easily imagine descriptors for the previous decades, although the 90s show evidence of the fracturing of overarching themes. The first half of the 90s were pretty much dominated by Grunge/Alternative music but the second half seemed to splinter off into metal-rap, boy bands and Britney. These days seem much more difficult to categorize, probably due to the spread of viral blogging and mySpace.

Personally, I’m not sure how long my newfound pleasure of the 80s will last. The podcast commentators make some interesting observations which I think are applicable to me. While the music in during that time seemed cringe-inducing, there’s a sense of nostalgia that comes along with it as well. It’s easier for me to enjoy this music now because it can be viewed in respect to the wider scope of music. I can hear the synthesizers and the cheesiness without groaning. It’s an interesting trip, but I don’t think it’ll ever feel like home.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Um... McCain... WTF?

When I learned of McCain’s morning announcement of Palin as his running mate, I thought it was a pretty shrewd move to undercut some of the attention and support garnered on the Democrats’ side. Then I read up on her qualifications (or lack thereof).

Seriously, what the fuck is McCain thinking? What are the possible benefits of putting Palin on the GOP ticket?

A first time governor of Alaska with no foreign policy experience is not someone I want next in line for the role of Leader of the Free World, when that role would be occupied by a 72 year old with a history of cancer issues. In addition, her short tenure has already run into controversy.

So depth of experience wasn’t a selling factor, what about ideology? A pro-life, pro-drilling for oil in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge (did I mention she’s governor of Alaska?), lifetime member of the NRA sounds right up the GOP’s alley. Except McCain was actually against the oil drilling. Unlike Biden, who helps round out the thin area’s of Obama’s resume, McCain picked someone that really contributes nothing to expanding his base. If anything, I could see Palin turning off many of the ultra-conservative voters who were probably in McCain’s favor to begin with.

Which leaves us with the most regrettable possibility: McCain picked Palin because she’s a woman. My initial reaction to the announcement was that he was vying for Hillary supporters. That was until I read past the headlines. How could any dedicated Hillary voter not look at this action as an insult? If this was in fact McCain’s strategy, then it is disturbingly shortsighted and off-target. A woman VP might initially seem like a good step towards gender equality, but a woefully unqualified one could do more harm than good.

If he wanted a woman to garner votes, then why not Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican who has exponentially more respect and experience than Palin? The fact that he didn’t leaves me to think that he wanted not a viable running mate who happened to be female, but a female running mate who wouldn’t threaten his position of superiority. If that’s the case, then every intelligent, self-respecting American (man or woman) should be appalled that John McCain is even anywhere near Oval Office.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the VP debate is going to look like. How is she going to stack up against Biden? The seasoned Senator (who is chairman of the FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE) is going to eat her alive. Despite my Democratic leanings, I find myself actually scared for her.

Am I a sexist, anti-feminist for wondering whether or not this action is a sick joke? Palin’s gender isn’t even the problem for me. Anyone who is a stone’s throw away from the Presidency needs to be scrutinized for his or her qualifications. It’s never been an issue for me whether that person is a man or a woman, or black or white. But Senator, I have a sense that is very much an issue for you.

Friday, August 15, 2008

People are smart

Although instances such as Reality TV, the proliferation of people who talk like valley girls, and the Republican party cause me to fear the downfall of civilization, there are a few glimmers of ingenuity that truly impress me.

My morning NPR podcast was one such moment.

The story explores how a programmer who helped develop a common security measure for the web found a way to utilize it for an unexpected and beneficial secondary purpose.

If you’ve purchased concert tickets on the web (something I’ve done way too often) you’ll be familiar with the Word Verification System that requires you to type in a word that is displayed in order to prove that you’re not some inhuman, malicious ticket-hoarding program.

The programmer realized that the words being identified could be from scanned books set to be digitized but were too badly distorted or degraded for OCR programs to decipher. Thus allowing people like me to contribute to the collective knowledge of the internets albeit unknowingly.

I’m basically paraphrasing the article so go read for yourself and be impressed.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Radiohead at All Points West Festival, 08/08/08


I endure a lot to see Radiohead. I wasn’t exactly excited to find out that my first chance in the past five years to see them was going to be at the All Points West Music Festival.

After three consecutive years of Austin City Limits, I discovered I had quickly outgrown the festival scene. This Friday was a refresher on why. Waiting an hour to get ferried to the site and into the park, getting rained on, then exposed to the baking sun, staking out a decent spot 4 hours in advance, having to stand in that spot (without being able to hit a bathroom) for another 3 hours, surrounded by douchebags, being pushed around by people trying to force their way into the front at the last minute, and then spending another 2 hours making my way back home, is all-in-all way too much to go through just to see a band.

But it’s Radiohead.

They are, to me, still the greatest band around today. Which they proved on Friday. It’s easy to get complacent and take for granted just how incredible they are. Ever since The Bends, it’s assumed that they will create mind-blowing music, and for the most part they haven’t disappointed. Although Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief each received subsequently less fanfare, I still contend that any other band would’ve sold their soul to have created any of those albums, which would’ve been met with a torrent of praise.

I’ve also read how Radiohead basically failed to live up to the projected mantle of “Savior of Rock and Roll”. Supposedly after OK Computer, they were predicted to be the next Nirvana and reclaim whatever it is that was perceived to be lost. Instead, they dabbled in electronica and ambience while shrinking out of the spotlight.

Though in my opinion, Radiohead never sought out to be the “Biggest Band in the World”. Instead, they’ve used their leverage to do exactly what they want to do on their terms. Everyone should be so lucky. I love how they haven’t been complacent about their sound and have continued to explore. Also, the fact that they’ve been a rare presence just means that they haven’t over-saturated our lives and when they do pop their heads up, it becomes a special moment.

As for the show itself, I had forgotten how solid the band are as performers. Thom’s vocals are impeccable as one would assume, but I’m always impressed by Colin on bass and Phil on drums. This band steers away from the typical just-keep-a-beat approach. I could’ve spent the entire time mesmerized by the complex, syncopated rhythms being performed. That is if I weren’t still so enamored with Jonny’s guitar playing. I completely relate to his thin, lanky frame and hunched over posture. I don’t think he looked up once, letting his hair veil his face the entire time. Yet he was far from stoic, constantly swaying convulsively to the beat and attacking his guitar with forceful strumming. Even when he was playing a contraption that looked like an old telephone operator’s station during a quiet, slow song, he was bobbing back and forth almost schizophrenically.

As a complete counter to Jonny was Ed on the other end of the stage. He stood still, was sleekly dressed and reacted with the audience. It was then that I noticed how different each band member seemed. In my head, I started to categorize where each of them would live if they were in New York. Jonny would no doubt be in Williamsburg, Ed would be an Upper East Sider, Colin in the Village, Phil in the Upper West Side and Thom... Well, I have no idea where Thom would fit in. I just imagine him being referred to by strangers as “that funny, little man”. That is if he weren’t the front man for Fucking Radiohead.

I cannot write about the show without mentioning the lighting on the stage. I thought that the Sigur Rós show had impressive effects but Radiohead upped the ante significantly. Whereas the lighting for Sigur Rós was a great compliment to the performance, Radiohead’s light and visual setup was a work of art. They literally played within an art installation, composed of long fluorescent tubes of light and video displays. The screens were a good way to see the band members up close but it was never dull or repetitive how they presented them. My descriptions won’t do it justice but the experience was breathtaking.

The band, as expected, played most of the numbers off of their latest release, In Rainbows, but I was surprised at how enthused the audience was to hear songs from the Kid A and Amnesiac era.

I also think that anyone who criticizes Radiohead of not being a rock band anymore should listen to There, There which is as much a hard rocking song that any they produced in their “guitar days”. I’m still mystified as to why Hail to the Thief was so panned as more straying from OK Computer guitars that everyone wanted. 2+2=5 and Go to Sleep are great songs that heavily feature guitars. Radiohead just can’t win.

The live performance of House of Cards was a reinforcement on the sheer beauty of that song, and what was interesting was to hear that number in contrast to the performance of Climbing Up the Walls. It was hard to believe that these two songs were by the same band. House of Cards casted such a mellow, dreamy aura while Climbing Up the Walls created horrific imagery. Looking back, it’s easy to see how they produced OK Computer as a harbinger of doom. While hypnotic and beautiful, the album was a tale of terror and despair. Which is all the more disturbing when I hear an entire festival audience singing along with Thom to Paranoid Android. It was a very surreal moment.

I have to admit a bit of hipster snobbery coming out within me when I see frat boys singing along to Radiohead. I just wanted to yell “Fuck off. I found Radiohead first.” Yes, quite elitist of me.

It’s a little scary to me how I can still predict the upcoming song by the instrumentation. Oh, Jonny and Ed are on drums? No doubt it’s There, There. Colin on keyboard? Idioteque. Ed is holding a shaker. It’s going to be Paranoid Android.

Nude was a pretty number that quieted the crowd with it’s serene beauty, but still nothing compares to the magnificent Street Spirit which closed out the first encore. I’m glad the band hasn’t neglected the song and still acknowledges it as a powerful experience.

At two and a half hours, Radiohead definitely put on a great show and actually made me consider that all the festival bullshit I had to put up with was worth it. Anyone, even mild fans, should do whatever they can to catch this rare, live performance.







Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cycle-logical

The theme this summer with my friends has been bicycles. It seems like everyone has either bought one or is talking about how much they need to get one.

One of my roommates is a cycling fanatic. I’ve never seen first-hand anyone with such passion or expertise for them. He owns at least 3 that I know of. And they’re not your Wal-Mart brand bikes either. His most recent purchase is a fold-up bicycle that was hand-made in England with customized features.

So I’ll admit that the constant enthusiasm for bicycles has rubbed off on me and I started to consider the idea of cruising around the city. While I’m perfectly happy using the subway and not really looking to be a serious cyclist, I figured it would be a great way to explore the boroughs of NYC. It’d be perfect for getting to places that aren’t easily accessible by train and as I’d travel to those destinations, I’d be above ground soaking in the environments. The alternating grimy, white tiled stations and black, soot-ridden tunnels of the MTA can get monotonous.

Also it would be a great way to get around quickly. On the first decent summer day, my friend and I walked from my Park Slope apartment to and over the Brooklyn Bridge, which while perfectly enjoyable, took about 4 hours. Fast forward a few months to when my roommate and I cruised the same path via bicycles in about 30 minutes. I was amazed at how the surroundings looked so different from this perspective.

Convinced that it’d be a good investment, I set out to a bike shop with my expert roommate. I recall having plans with a friend later that day and texting her that I was shopping for a bike but should be able to meet her in an hour or two. It should be a breeze to find a decent bike with the approval of my roommate, I thought.

How naïve that seems now. I ended up spending a good 3 to 4 hours in that store, test riding at least 6 bikes. And I didn’t even walk away with one of them. I had no idea how similar the experience was to buying a car. It’s a serious purchase and finding the right one was a nuanced affair. After all, if I was committed to dropping the amount of cash for this, shouldn’t I find one that’s just perfect?

The bike shop employee was great and helpful and I was surprised at how she nonchalantly suggested that I should take any of their bikes out for a test ride. So I hopped on the first one and was about 2 blocks away before I realized that I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

Now, everyone knows the cliché “You never forget how to ride a bike” and it’s true, but after 15 years of not being on a bicycle, I was pretty damn shaky. A few blocks further, my body had recalled some of the motor functions necessary to propel me in a somewhat normal fashion, which allowed me to realize that I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF FUCKING SOHO. Could there be any worse location to try to re-acclimate myself to riding? Between the narrow, cobbled streets, the psychotically aggressive cab drivers, and the gawking, meandering hordes of tourists, I felt every thing around me was a potential death trap.

It was then that I also realized I hadn’t been provided a helmet.

Things weren’t really working out for me here. I thought back to my last bicycle. I was 12. It was a Huffy or some equivalent kids brand. Fixed pedal, no brakes and no gears. I hadn’t been on a bike since then. So I was in essence, really learning to ride an adult bike for the first time. On the streets of Manhattan.

My Huffy was much lower to the ground, where I was in more of a sitting position and could extend my leg down to the ground for balance. But on these test bikes which were positioned higher, I had no idea at first how to start and stop on a bike without getting off.

And I don’t recall ever having to dodge heavy traffic or pedestrians in my youth. Being so close to speeding cars was a bit unnerving at first. I fully realized how scary riding around in the city could be. I had a flashback of riding my Huffy on my street. I literally only rode it on the sidewalk of my street. My parents forbade me to wander out of my neighborhood so I would ride from one end of the street, turn around, ride to the other end, and then repeat. I’m kind of mystified now as to what kind of entertainment that provided me. I wonder if any neighbors observed this behavior from their windows and thought to themselves “What a poor kid. Can’t even leave the street.” Either that or “Why is this idiot just going back and forth endlessly??”

Cut to the present, I’ve finally purchased a bike. A used one. Decent, not great, but perfect for what I need it to do. I have much more respect for cyclists in the city. When I first moved to New York I was driving a bit and had such animosity for walkers. Then as a walker hated drivers so intensely. And in both scenarios, loathed bicyclists. They were reckless and you never saw them coming. But now I see it from their side more clearly. It takes a bit of courage to throw themselves into such a hazardous situation, and at such speeds.


It’s all still very new to me. Dallas wasn’t exactly a bike-able town, what with the expansive suburban sprawl and the crippling heat. So I don’t feel I was adequately trained to deal with potholes, car doors, jaywalkers, double parked cars in the bike lane, squeezing between tight gaps at stop lights, construction zones, and basically being hated by every living being I come across. I’ve already hit a car and been thrown completely off my bike. That was by week 2 with a bike.

Despite all this, I’m loving it. It’s also great to hear how the city is working to support the cycling community. Bike lanes are being added constantly and there’s even rumors of some sort of shared bicycle system. Not sure if that will lead to anything significant but the sentiment is appreciated.

It’s another reason to love New York. With the increasingly alarming oil situation and everyone’s obsession with going green, the city allows me to feel like I’m doing what I can to make myself less damaging to my surroundings. I take the trains everywhere, I recycle, I use a cloth shopping bag, my bookbag is even made from 100% recycled materials, and I grow my own food. Okay, that last one was a lie. It’s probably the one thing that I’d like to do that I can’t in New York.

In the end, I’m glad I made the bicycle purchase. It helps me feel that I’m doing more right in the world than wrong. Although I’m not really getting rewarded with that bike seat, because my ass kills.



UPDATE: I guess I spoke too soon about a NY/bike love-fest. Gothamist points to a video of a NY cop decking a cyclist for what looks like no apparent reason. Ouch.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Professor and the Madman

Wow. The Dark Knight was one of the few movies in recent years that had excited me enough to warrant me seeing it on opening day. That anticipation was paid off in spades.

Heath Ledger was transcendent in his role as the Joker. His interpretation and depiction of the insane villain was one of the most enthralling I’d ever watched, which makes his passing all the more tragic. Sadly, before this I’d never paid much attention to him as an actor. Working with Mel Gibson in The Patriot sort of condemned him for me.

The Joker has always been the definitive adversary to Batman. I once found that puzzling. Here you have a hero steeped in dark, serious, noir stylization, yet he gets paired with a (frankly) hokey concept villian. Think about it: the “world's greatest detective” faces off against a man with a giant, red-lipped grin in a purple suit using killer hand-buzzers and acid spewing flowers?

Batman has been developed over the decades into a meticulous strategist, utilizing technology and science to overcome anyone he faces. He’s bested seemingly more powerful characters, even Superman when such clashes occurred.

So I had assumed that the Joker’s pairing with Batman as an unfortunate result of the campy tone that dominated the 70’s comics, culminating in the Adam West television series.

It wasn’t until I read the graphic novel, Arkham Asylum, that I began to understand the Joker’s potential as a valid antagonist. Even while purchasing the book, the book store employee commented that this was the first story that ever made her frightened of the Joker. I had only been drawn to the book because of it’s artistic, collage styling and poetic narration which was completely different than the typical comic fare.

The story places Batman, trapped in the insane asylum where all of his captured villains have broken free and taken over. The Joker was featured sparingly, but just enough for me to realize that the guy was seriously homicidal and insane.

Which is why he is the perfect foil for Batman, the Yin to Batman’s Yang. The Joker has no rhyme or reason to his actions. He breeds in chaos and madness, not for money or power or comic book typical world domination aspirations, but simply for chaos and madness. He is the complete antithesis of Batman, the detective who believes that there is always an answer through science and logic.

For a well done documentation of the Joker’s many incarnations check out this write up on Comic Book Resources.

As for the rest of the movie, I will agree with other reviews that this is one of the best comic book movies ever made. Unlike X-men or Spiderman, this movie is steeped in realism. There’s no need to suspend belief so that men can cling to walls or shoot laser beams out of their eyes.

Although I felt the last act started to get convoluted and faltered a bit, the movie as a whole was gripping. I felt tense with anticipation throughout the whole film. There were a few gripes here and there, but minor. I wasn’t a huge fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal but she was light years more tolerable than Katie Holmes.

Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent was well done. I enjoyed the build up of his character and how it mirrored Batman's role in Gotham. The filmmakers seemed to fully understand how his role poetically fit in with the theme of the story. I was thinking that they were building up his character for the next sequel so was surprised that it was paid off in this film. Maybe because of that expectation, I felt that it was a bit rushed and shoe-horned in. The development of Dent’s story was well handled but I think that the result was a letdown and not executed as perfectly as it could have been. The main antagonist of the film was the Joker and it was obvious to me that this hurt Two-Face’s tragic resolution. I applaud the filmmaker’s ability to intertwine the two villains’ stories though.

It was a great match of villains story-wise. Two-Face’s back story is so explicit that it took nearly the entire film to depict. Whereas the Joker had no real insight into his progression. As another masterful move, the filmmaker’s heightened each character by contrasting them with each other. Two-Face has always been propelled by his origin: a great hero that has fallen so far into evil. The Joker's motivations are based on madness that he needs no history, and in the many decades since his introduction, still has no definitive origin.

There will be the inevitable comparisons to all of the previous Bat-films. I have to say that as a kid, I loved Tim Burton's movies, but can admit today that they haven’t aged well at all. The visual style he created still appeals to me, especially the depiction of Gotham City so I kept wanting to see parts of it in Nolan’s films. But I also realize that the current films are much more grounded in our reality and that a realistic city backdrop fits in visually. Danny Elfman’s score in the Burton films is still iconic Batman for me. Otherwise, Nolan’s films surpass the previous attempts in every way. I didn’t even bother with Batman and Robin so can’t comment there.

The story with The Dark Knight is still Heath Ledger’s amazing performance, which will unfortunately be forever linked with his tragic death. If he winds up getting nominated for an Oscar (which I think he should) I can imagine there will be chatter about it only be spurred on by his passing. That will be very upsetting because I can’t recall in recent history such a powerful and mesmerizing performance.

Bravo, Heath.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Wind wind scenario

I was intrigued by French designer Philippe Starck’s unveiling of the personal windmill earlier this year. Details and technical specifics are pretty sparse as of now but they’re set to go onto the consumer market as early as this September.

The design is unquestionably elegant, but again many people are wondering how exactly it works. The price tag is around $600 and is touted to provide as much as 60% of the energy needed in a typical household. At this point, anything that promotes green energy and frees consumers from overloaded electric companies is welcomed.

I wonder if it’s size will allow it to be applicable to urban dwellers or if it’ll require some serious yard/roof space to dedicate to this device. I would think that it has to be a progression from the giant wind farms consisting of fields of towering windmills. NPR produced an interesting story on the farms and their affects on the local population. I particularly sympathized with the elderly man proclaiming that he can’t sleep anymore due to the noise produced by the spinning blades of the 20 story tall structures.

Even if Starck’s machine fails to make an urban impact, NPR also reports on Chicago’s attempt to place wind turbines on top of its skyscrapers as a space-conserving solution to increasing power consumption issues.

I’m thankful that green energy has become a larger priority over the years. It certainly feels as if we’re working against the clock now.