Monthly Archives: October 2008

flutter by

10/30/08

Here’s the thing: all the other butterfly costumes sucked and she said she wanted to be a butterfly. We’ve been to all the sites, we’ve been to eBay, etc, and all the outfits were chintzy and too small… so I took it upon myself. I bought sheer fabric, thick-gauge wire, hinges, headbands, sewing needles and tomorrow comes the coloring. I’m trying to make a bit of this:

MonarchButterflyHallow(bl).jpg

…out of this:

MakingButterflyCostume(bl).jpg

This I know: my daughter not going to buy a crappy butterfly costume, she’s going to wear the crappy monarch butterfly costume her Daddo made for her!

at the end of the drive, the lawmen arrive

10/29/08

Oh man, this is so much more fun than politics. I’m going to expand our buddy Schultz’s question about music videos, and ask the rest of you to do the same. From each category, name your favorite video, and it can be as obscure, as recent, or as obvious as you’d like.

A) Video showing a band performing the song? (i.e. The Who “You Better You Bet”)

In the very early days of MTV, there were very few videos to show all 24 hours, so they tended to repeat a lucky hundred or so. One set of videos is taken from a small Pat Benatar concert where she does “Fire and Ice” and a few others. The one I thought FRICKIN’ ROCKED was “Promises in the Dark”, which has the ass-kickingest guitar part by Neil Geraldo possible.

Though obviously overplayed, Van Halen’s Jump has to make the list, as well as Springsteen’s subtle yet wonderful I’m On Fire. Put XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime” in there too.

B. Video showing a story? (i.e. “Safety Dance”)

Perhaps the seduction of Adam Ant in “Goody Two Shoes” would do nicely here, but to me, the greatest, most heartbreakingly beautiful video of all time is Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer. At the end of the wild ride, when he lets go of basic song structure and has that amazing minor-key riff (“I kicked the habit, shed my skin”), Gabriel himself turns into the stars and melds into the background… I dunno, somehow it always gets me.

C. A mix of the two? (Cars- “You Might Think”)

I’ll go with Is There Something I Should Know? by Duran Duran – I know the purists will demand Hungry Like the Wolf with its Indiana Jones plotline and Sri Lanka shoots, but give me bizarre post-apocalysm with epaulets and parachute pants any day of the week.

lebon.jpg

And you?

[UPDATE: OBVIOUSLY SOME TECHNICAL PROBLEMS ON THE BLOG TODAY… we’re workin’ em out… KEEP TRYING!]

lying awake intent at tuning in on you

10/28/08

Okay, I know we’re days away from a historic turning point for America, but I simply cannot resist posting another Linky-Poo™ Time Waster, and this one rocks: MTV has begun putting its entire video collection online. Normally, I’d be as likely to visit mtv.com as visit a 14-year-old’s MySpace experiment, but there are some amazing memories on there.

Fuck “Sister Christian”, if you want true Night Ranger, you need only experience Don’t Tell Me You Love Me. You want the Thompson Twins? Ignore “Hold Me Now” and go straight for Love On Your Side. For those of us who spent hours in front of MTV when it began, there’s songs like Genesis’ Abacab that trigger olfactory-like memory sensations, and videos like Don’t Stand So Close to Me that merely beget happiness.

Alas, some of my favorites aren’t up yet: no Nik Kershaw doing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or any XTC or frickin’ “Centerfold” by the J Geils Band, for that matter. But it’s a start, young sportspeople!

Put your favorites in the comment section, but let me leave you with two of my fave bands in history, and two videos separated by thousands of miles of culture, yet they both have daisies falling from the sky…

De la Soul’s “Say No Go”:

and The Smiths’ “This Charming Man”:

smell test

10/27/08

In our run-up to the election (and after) our next guest blogger is the most excellent Mark Rizzo. Mark used to live about fifteen feet from us, and could poke his head out almost into our house, thus leading Lucy to believe that all neighborhoods were basically Sesame Street.

Friends may also know Mark as the subject of the most rare of all surprise parties: yes, the Surprise Wedding. Billed as a baby shower for his girlfriend Christine, guests were shepherded onto the beach where Mark, Christine and The Right Reverend Yours Truly were waiting to perform the sacred rites of gettin’ hitched.

GroupWedBeach2(bl).jpg

Good thing, too, because six days later:

ChristiMarkJackHosp2(bl).jpg

Needless to say, they and baby Jack are simply the best. And here’s Mark in his own words…

***

Last week I received an email forward from my uncle Jim. He sent the message to over 50 people, the vast majority of whom live in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. His preface to the forwarded material began with “This kind of rhetoric makes me and my fellow veterans sick.” My uncle served heroically in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart.

The offending rhetoric was a series of quotes from Barack Obama. The quotes touched upon his desire to replace the too-martial “Star Spangled Banner” with “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” and how he and his wife Michelle have attended several flag-burning ceremonies because “we as a Nation have placed upon the nations of Islam an unfair injustice.” These quotes were attributed to a September 7, 2008 “Meet the Press” appearance by Obama.

Sounds like a joke, right?

Because it is. This rhetoric that so sickened my uncle and his fellow vets was actually from a column called “Semi-News – A Satirical Look at Recent News” that appeared on a website called The Arizona Conservative. It was meant to make fun of Obama. Though I earn my living writing comedy, I’ll forgo the opportunity to render a professional judgment on the quality of the satire. But I will say that the figure being satirized more resembled a fantastical Liberal Straw Man than Barack Obama himself.

Now, I imagine most of the folks reading this, regardless of political affiliation, quickly concluded that the email was bunk just from the two sample quotes I pulled. Even if you weren’t quite sure, a startlingly quick fact check reveals that Obama was not on Meet the Press that day (the guests were Joe Biden and Thomas Friedman). It also unequivocally attributes the quotes to the satirist. Not to be too much of a priss, but the text of the email forward itself was festooned with multiple large fonts in bright colors, the kind of Crayola aesthetic that always raises my suspicion that the ideas contained therein don’t stand up to scrutiny in good ol’ black and white. We all have a “smell test” — that common sense reflex that helps us discern what is Shit and what is Shinola.

What happened to Jim’s?

Jim’s an intelligent guy. Really. He trained as an engineer and is currently the Vice-President of Operations for a regional commercial carpentry firm. Though his life experiences have led him to be slightly more hawkish than the rest of our family, he has voted for a Democrat in every presidential election dating back to the ’60s, straight through the Reagan Revolution and right up to the Bush Restoration.

So I was absolutely flabbergasted that he would fall for this. And even more dismayed that he would circulate it so widely. He’s a guy with a lot of friends who respect him greatly. How in the name of G-d could he have lost his smell test?

The email forward sent a little shockwave through our family — not because it offended any political orthodoxy, but rather that it offended our notions of what is fair and frankly led us to be concerned about Jim. The first volleys came quickly — first, a terse reply from one of us containing the fact check info and a reminder that spreading abject falsehoods made him a “political tool.” Jim quickly responded in an unusually defensive manner — he had done a fact check of his own and “one article to the contrary” did not refute the fact that Obama is “phony” who would “sell us out in a heartbeat.” Jim asserted his right to send any email he chose because he and others had bled and died for that right.

Whoa. A dispute over facts was quickly becoming very emotional. No “fact check” could change satire into journalism. Jim was in the wrong. But our family did not give up on the truth, nor did we give up on Jim. We could have written him off as a tool, a dupe or a closet racist. Instead we kept talking.

Three more emails were sent, each more compassionate than the last, pleading the case of fairness and truth, reiterating the gross factual inaccuracies and stating that our veterans did not fight for our right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, but to preserve our right to peacefully agree to disagree. The overriding sentiment was, “A vote for McCain is not inherently offensive, but a vote for McCain based on horseshit is.”

It took awhile but Jim came around. He sent us an apology for spreading the falsehoods and then went on to explain his real reason for voting McCain. It was centered on a single piece of legislation that Obama supports and McCain opposes. Jim feels that its passage would cripple the company that employs him and thereby threaten his economic survival. It was an admirable act of humility to back off the phony allegations about Obama. And it was the one of the most thoughtful and reasoned appeals to vote McCain that I have read to date.

I’ll admit, it’s a very narrow one, but at least it doesn’t appeal to prejudice. In the end, no one in our family converted anyone. As far as I can tell, we’re all still voting the same way we were before this little kerfuffle. But I do believe that we all have more respect for one another. And we’re a stronger family for it.

That’s our story, but there were 50 other people on Jim’s forward of the bogus email. I still don’t know if he heeded our call to send out a correction to these folks — that would be another, even more admirable act of humility. This phony forward has been circulating for a year and I can’t imagine how many folks have closed their minds and hardened their hearts with its help. It is jarring to me that there is such a level of ignorance and, yes, prejudice in this country that would allow such obvious absurdities to be mistaken for the truth.

Gullibility of this tragic scope leads me to wonder if it is not the result (or at least the byproduct) of a systematic manipulation of the feeblest American minds. When sharpies of any political stripe knowingly represent daylight to be nighttime or masquerade “up” as “down,” they are softening up our already-tender brains for knockout punches like “Barack Obama is a socialist Muslim who casually burns the American flag.”

My outrage is fresh and perhaps it obscures Schlegel’s old “axiom of the average,” which is a fancy way of saying, “’twas ever thus.” Or in David Byrne’s formulation, “same as it ever was.” Big deal. Propaganda’s been around for a long time and surely we can make a grim parlor game of finding countless antecedents of this latest demagoguery. But I do wonder — if it was ever thus, was it always so very fucking thus? Are we losing our smell test?

It’s my fear that our smell test is mutating in a dangerous direction. For most of us, the smell test is no longer, “Does this stink of bullshit?” but rather “Do I find this interesting? Does this ‘information’ support my prejudices?” If it jibes with our opinion, our preferred “narrative,” we run with it. And run fast.

My uncle Jim was feeling frightened about what an Obama presidency would mean to his family’s economic well-being, so he was eager to believe that Obama is “anti-America.” Though my prejudices lead me to believe that the Republican Party as presently constituted is a more steady supplier of this fertilizer, I’m beginning to think that all of us are guilty in some way. The Netroots Left’s conspiracy theories surrounding the origins of Trig Palin were embarrassing. But, good G-d, they were entertaining! And they supported the frustrated Left’s prejudice that the Right is always up to some shady business.

Perhaps it comes down to speed — so much information comes to us so quickly that we feel forced to make snap judgments about it just to keep up. Absent deliberation, we simply decide based on our prejudices. When our pulses quicken it would behoove us all, whatever our particular rooting interest, to take a beat and consider, deliberate, fact-check, discuss and then decide. In the process we might even learn that we’re all playing for the same team.

aeromotional tour

10/26/08

Before we move on to more fascinating territory, have any of you messed around with Zillow.com? Maybe there are better ones out there, but if you go to the home page and type in your address, you’ll get entire pages of your home’s worth, what other homes are for sale (and how much) in your area, and these cool “bird’s-eye view” shots of the neighborhood.

I just did every American house I ever lived in, which is a lot: San Jose, Cedar Rapids (2), Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chapel Hill (7), Manhattan (2), Brooklyn (2), Columbia County, Venice, Hollywood, Monrovia, New Orleans and Carrboro. Somehow, seeing all these places under the clinical light of real estate made it an interesting journey. Find out anything cool about your house?

GrantWoodElementary(bl).jpg

got traumatized in this playground

ChiPsiLodgeBEV(bl).jpg

lost virginity here

ColumbiaCountyHill(bl).jpg

I got married on this hill!

18-foot hedges and a motion sensor

10/23/08

Great discussion in the comments section yesterday, and I really do have to continue this line of reasoning further.

Put simply, I’m constantly amazed at how the conservative mindset seems incapable of understanding just how uneven the playing field is. For instance, my buddy craighill said that people who want the good life need to earn it by choosing a high-paying vocation. But let’s look at what that usually entails:

– having some sort of childhood role model that encourages success

– surviving whatever neighborhood you grow up in

– doing well enough at a good high school in a good neighborhood to be taken seriously at a good college

– getting into that good college, and have enough money to pay for room, board and tuition (or pray for a scholarship that gives you enough to get by)

– graduating, which is easier said than done in many cases, given family obligations and money

– coping with the possibility of enormous debt after school

– having enough contacts to get an interview somewhere, and be taken seriously

– living, arbitrarily, in a part of the country that still has the kind of economy you can flourish in (or moving)

– managing to work through the lean years long enough without any health issues, let alone the problems of a family you’re probably starting.

Make any one of the above statements mandatory, and you’ve just eliminated millions of people in your state alone. You’ve effectively bounced the entire neighborhoods of El Monte, East St. Louis, Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, South Boston, and about 8,000 others.

Guys – and I’m including myself here – we have NO FUCKING IDEA the amount of incumbent largesse we were born into. Our way has been paved for us in so many hidden instances that it staggers the imagination. Old boy networks, legacies at prep school and college, inheriting a nice neighborhood from our parents, friends that encouraged our academic achievements, fantastic doctors, healthy and plentiful food as babies… hell, just being WHITE opened doors we didn’t even know were ever closed.

I get it, you work hard. And other people, like Emma mentioned, abuse the system. But where is the empathy? When you’ve got nothing, no prospects, and don’t even KNOW to ASK how to START getting a $250K job, wouldn’t you game the fuckin’ system too? And do these despondent poor people truly cloud your vision of the entire lower middle class?

Let me repeat the stats: The top one percent of Americans own 34.7% of the total wealth. The top TEN percent own 69.8% of the wealth. By conservatives’ own logic, that must mean 90% of Americans are lazy and don’t deserve to be wealthy. Do any of you honestly think that’s true?

And rich people, let’s be honest. Obama’s tax plan constitutes a difference of puny percentage points in your overall portfolio. We could probably find that much cash lost in the back seat cushions of your Lexus. I know it physically pains you, and it’s abject torture to part with what you believe to be rightfully yours, but you know what? I have this funny feeling that you’re going to be just fine.

thank you sir may I have another

10/22/08

I’ll save the last ZAP recap for tomorrow, because I just saw a piece of video that blew my fuckin’ mind. You don’t need to watch more than a few seconds, but if you’re a sadist with a lust for misery, be my guest:

To wit: John McCain accused Barack Obama of wanting “to spread the wealth around”. And the crowd reacted by giving Obama a chorus of boos. What the motherscratching jesusballs is going on with these people? I mean, do I even need to go on with this particular blog entry?

You know that America has entered a truly remarkable period when the mere mention of fairness – and transitively, kindness – is vilified by an actual Presidential candidate and backed up by thousands of supporters. That’s a country with an entire swath of human beings whose rudder has fallen off and sunk into a dark sea. It’s gone beyond “brazening out the most horrible statements” and into Cap’n Fuckpants Theatre of the Absurd.

Forget John McCain and his sleazy, career-killing cynicism and ghoulish death-mask of transparent bullshit. I’m more interested in the crowds at these rallies, these poor fucks who barely make enough money to fill the gas tank of their shitty car, just so they can pack themselves into a high school gym to cheer on such a pathetic ticket. They work all day, have no hope of sending their kids to college, one paycheck or hospital bill away from destitution… and they’re booing the concept of spreading America’s wealth around?

The top one percent of Americans own 34.7% of the total wealth. The top TEN percent own 69.8% of the wealth. In any other era, that would call for the storming of the Bastille, of beheading our leaders and putting the skulls on pikes lining the river. But somehow, these working-class proletariats are actively reviling a concept that would benefit them directly.

These guys will fight to the death in order to keep themselves penniless and miserable. Is there anyone more stupid on this planet? Lucy’s pre-K class has more sense, and some of those kids poop on the swingset.

Can somebody explain this to me?

and when I fell on the floor I drank more

10/21/08

Stop me, stop me, oh stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but a few months after 9/11, I was a blithering wreck. We were still living in downtown Manhattan, and having lost That Internet Job, I would purposely sleep past noon because I thought the next terrorist attack would surely happen before lunch, and if I could make it to 12pm, I knew I’d be safe.

I surfed the Web relentlessly in an insatiable, diseased quest to find out as much information as I could about the variously sickening ways terrorists could harm me and my family, and I stopped eating for about two weeks. By February, I had to go to the free clinic at NYU, where I was booked by a somnambulist intern who cared only that I not kill myself on his watch. I wrote emails to my family begging them to move out of Manhattan, then found a place for Tessa and me in Park Slope, only because it was at least two miles from any potential nuclear fireball.

I mention these things because I had my apocalyptic demons, and wrestled them to a truce. I did it with a very effective SSRI (Celexa), a fair amount of therapy, an amazing wife who could not be daunted, and the curious tincture of time. I needed all four of these things to remove myself from the brink, but I did it. And I like to think that the entire experience has completely inured me to the death and doomsaying currently enveloping America’s financial meltdown.

This was put into stark relief by today’s Zap Your PRAM recap, a talk by Rob Paterson on Saturday that was guaranteed to scare the living yakshit out of anyone within earshot. His talk broke down exactly what led to this mess, and the insanity of the “derivative market” – I mean, it’s impossible to discuss this stuff without thinking the American way of making money isn’t much better than a Nigerian email scam.

At this point in our discussion, you must listen to two separate episodes of “This American Life”. I’ve had them forwarded to me at least ten times now, and they explain the whole thing better than anyone else: The Giant Pool of Money and Another Frightening Show About the Economy. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

ScotchTastingZap2(bl).jpg

I led a scotch tasting Friday night – god knows we needed it (photo by N. Burka)

So Rob, who knows his business, got very scary near the end of his discussion. It verged on nightmarish scenarios of growing your own dinner, finding old people who know how to cure meat for the winter, and questions like “How many days of food does Prince Edward Island have at any one moment?” (Answer: two.) It’s a world where cars don’t work, electricity is scarce and you better have five cords of firewood in order to make it to April.

Now, I’m not saying this can’t happen. What I am saying is that contemplating this kind of future is a miserable mind game I can’t afford. Rob (who is thoughtful and frightfully intelligent) is not guilty of this, but I have known many people who have a certain glee about this kind of apocalyptic porn, a certain wide-eyed fascination with the whole fuckin’ world crashing down around us, a drown-em-all mentality that has its roots in the flood parables of Noah and the destruction of Sodom.

I just can’t go there anymore. I have a daughter, I have a family, and I’m simply not willing to contemplate keeping a shotgun under my bed in case roving Mad Max bandits try to raid our beet preserves. This is not to say we’re not prepared for a national emergency: we’ve got months of food supplies, gallons of fresh water, emergency cash, a “go bag” and an escape plan. But those were borne of other emergencies – post-9/11 preparedness and, of course, earthquakes.

Rob did end on a very interesting note. He said that money had taken the place of relationships, and it’s positively true. Grandmothers and family members used to share the burden of raising children, and now we throw money at nannies and babysitters. Men and women used to cut grass and tend gardens, and now we throw money at lawn services that mow grass we don’t play in anymore.

In this new world, we would have to re-establish relationships with our neighbors, barter for the things we need, and mix our lives together. We’d have to know the guy who knows the lady who knows the guy. It would be a new “localism”, and the absence of money would bring about the rebirth of friendship. I was left to wonder: is there a way to do that without a reducing our economy to the Bronze Age?

In closing, I don’t think Rob thought this economic collapse would last forever, and we might come back even stronger in 5-7 years. I posited that an energy invention – a true replacement for oil – could come from the USA, and give us a true American Renaissance. He added that the Renaissance followed the Dark Ages, but, well, “keep your powder dry until 2011”:

housing_projection.jpg

ere the cock crows thrice

10/20/08

This conference has a name that used to be a little silly, and is now something of an industrial relic… but it’s still the best gathering of technologically and culturally-savvy folks you’ll encounter in North America. Zap Your PRAM is an “unconference”, where fifty or so folks gather at the far end of the earth to talk about fascinating and unrelated things. For a quick glance, see Stephen DesRoches’ excellent pics and Deane Barker’s inspiring recap, but for me, I mostly remember huge, crackling fireplaces, the roar of the immense Gulf of St. Lawrence, and basking in the warm radiation of other people’s expertise.

NickBurkaZap2(bl).jpg

For the rest of this week, I’m going to spend each day concentrating on a different thing I learned, and to start, I’d like to tackle Nick Burka and his talk on Aby Warburg and his Mnemosyne Atlas. That’s a lot of names and links, but the basic idea is this: Warburg was an art historian who rejected studying art in a chronological fashion. He dreamed of a more emotional, more fantastical method.

So he began a massive collection and organized everything by his own “elective affinities” – meaning one painting should go with another because of a certain energy, or a similarity in that way those two works of art makes a person feel. Highly subjective, sure (and impossible to search), but the collection started looking like this:

kwastek-fig2.jpg

And our friend Nicholas Burka shrewdly noticed that was very similar to a typical page of results from Google Images:

ChagallSearch(bl).jpg

Now, if I’m getting this right, Warburg thought all great works of art have certain “tensions” that are similar, and we’re born pre-conditioned to like (or to be drawn towards) these movements inside images. Makes sense, if you dig Chomsky’s ideas of inherent language or Jung’s collective unconscious.

Nick took this infamous picture, for example:

AbuGhraib(bl).jpg

kept small b/c it’s so reprehensible

Why did this picture become emblematic of Abu Ghraib, and not the others? In my mind, it was obvious: a crucifixion pose, with the hands supplicant on the cross like so many paintings we’ve seen since childhood. The pointed hood was absolutely reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, who burned crosses at their gatherings, making the whole metaphor painfully obvious.

But Nick had a teacher who, influenced by Warburg, said the Abu Ghraib image actually invoked paintings of the Ecco Homo, the moment when Christ is brought before Pontius Pilate:

Guercino_-_Ecco_Homo.jpg

Do I agree? I dunno, the crucifixion angle seems much more obvious to me, but we are dealing with pretty ineffable qualities. One thing I do know – ever since Nicholas’ talk, I’ve been looking at pictures in a different way. On the flight home from P.E.I., I was reading a Time Magazine article about the European leaders meeting in order to solve the financial crisis. The accompanying picture was this:

EuroLeadersLooking(bl).jpg

The caption read: Still searching: Europe looks for a way out of the banking crisis. Obviously, the Belgian or Austrian guy dropped his pen, making the photo sort of an unintentional pun, but I was thinking. What did the picture remind me of? A row of heads, all askew in different directions… and I was led to this:

last_supper(bl).jpg

Another example – Korto may not have won “Project Runway”, but I thought her collection at Bryant Park was awesome. In particular, there was this green dress with an odd asymmetrical neckline. I don’t usually go for the asymmetry thing, but this one totally worked:

GreenDress(bl).jpg

…and after thinking about it, I knew why. The neckline isn’t actually asymmetrical at all: it incorporates an idea treasured by the Greeks, mimicked in nature, and known as the Golden or Fibonacci Spiral:

FibonacciSpiral.jpg

I know, math majors, the Fibonacci Spiral has a little wobble where the Golden Spiral doesn’t, but it looks the same to us flaky artists. And Korto used it by doubling one side of the neckline, then subtly turning it into fourths. Not that she knew that’s what she was doing, but as Warburg might say, don’t we have an “elective affinity” for such things?

my newfoundland abhors my labrador

10/19/08

GeeseOverPEIZap1(bl).jpg

geese over Prince Edward Island, 10/15/08

You know what’s oddly hard? Jetlag from the Atlantic Time Zone (otherwise known as GMT-4) to Pacific Time Zone. Four hours is weird; I don’t know how you visitors from Chile do it. More when we wake!