Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Give back"

Rant time.
Here in the US there's this phrase going around. I suspect people learn the phrase by watching TV. But it's driving me up the fuckin' wall and if I don't rant about it I swear I'm gonna...I'm gonna...I'M GONNA...well, I don't know what I'll do but believe me it'd be bad.
So here goes.
The phrase is, "give back" and it's used by douchebags (remember this is a rant) like this:

"Oh, I just wanted to give back to my community so that's why I'm doing this charity event."

FUCK THAT.

To say that performing a service in your community is giving "back" means you've swallowed that whole right-wing, quasi-libertarian BULLSHIT that a "community" is merely a thing from which you extract stuff/benefits/services to enrich yourself and your family (like a bank or something) and into which, occasionally, it's only proper that you make some form of deposit.

Of course, a community is not merely some thing that distributes prizes and services to you and from which you scuttle-off Gollum-like into your lair. A community is made of people, relationships, trees, roads, schools, kids, activities: These things don't pop up because, somehow, you are owed these things and they are your right. No. These things exist and occur because a community is precisely the sum of things that we share or do together. You cannot break community down into little Libertarian transactional bits.

Look, you are not a mosquito sucking blood out of the rump of a cow or horse. You are not a locust, attracted to a ripe field from which it is your ordained right to feed. You are not Dracula. You are not David Koch. You are a human being and as a member of the tribe it behooves you to participate in those communal events that make us human.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Hardass

On the way to Guitar Circle this morning, I was walking up, what, East 3rd street? I can't remember. But there's a community center or something which I've long assumed is a methadone clinic. Outside are three or four black dudes and one white trashy-looking white dude with straggly hair. As I walk up the street the white dude crosses in front of me, skrocks and spits across my path, not too far from me. I notice that he has a teardrop tatoo'd by his right eye, theoretically a west-coast sign that he's killed someone.

I keep walking.

A few dozen yards past, I hear, "Hey! You got a cigarette? Hey! You got a cigarette?"

I'm not sure if he's talking to me or not, but I don't turn and I keep walking. Thoughts swim around in my mind, among them the mistake he's made in seeing my guitar + sunglasses and imagined that I'm some poser without any hardness myself. On the other hand, the guy acts and looks like he's been in prison: Who knows what wicked little weapons or techniques he has, ready to release on the witless civilian population. Then again, he's smaller than me by at least 5 or 6 inches, and considerably lighter. If had to kick him in the head I probably could, and I'd send him to the hospital. But if I missed it would be very difficult and messy for me, and I would be hurt pretty badly.

But now, 8 or 9 hours later, I wish I was still in my evangelical phase and retained enough of that language to turn and say to him: "Dude...you are indeed a hard-ass and recognized that I'm no young hipster. Acknowledgement and a weird form of respect I grant to you. But I would like to say that, if you will live on the 'outside' and find a life for yourself, you will need to relinquish this insight you have and find other modes of being. Please let me pray for you..."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Guitar!

Yeah, I'm studying guitar now.
It's weird.
My teacher is truly a master guitarist. I'm lucky that there are so many guitarists that my teacher isn't too picky to take me on, someone with ZERO musical knowledge or ability.
On the other hand, he gets to experience something probably unique: A beginning student with zero musical training, and yet who grew up seeing operas (at the Metropolitan Opera) and who fell in love with 12-tone music at an early age. In other words, someone who is probably able to learn as fast as any beginner adult can learn, and who is also pretty committed to practicing >1 hour per day on work days, and 3 or 4 hours on days off.
Also, we are in a local "guitar circle", so we do really odd things like circulate notes (where we play notes in a big circle, "passing" the note from person to person as it goes around), and embrace silence.
And, by the way, the guitar is HARD. We use a guitar pick to pick notes in an up-down pattern, and there are precise rules for how you ascend and descend pitches. We are learning very difficult pieces, such as today's, which is in 13/4, so we have to count out very difficult time signatures. You really can't afford to tune out and go on autopilot for even a second.
It feels a lot like studying martial arts, by the way. There are "katas" and special techniques at the finger level, and then larger sequences of "moves". It's very demanding. But I also know that, a year from now, I will start playing in a way that appears to some to be pretty decent. This grab-bag of techniques allow us to do things that traditional methods of cranking out chords don't allow.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"We the Common"

Since I was down by Other Music in Noho, I popped in and, yes! They had We the Common, by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.
I've already played the album through, and replayed several of the songs.
It's deceptive: Yeah, some really catchy tunes like the title track I've embedded below. But there's some harder-edged stuff that rocks out on the verge of cacophony. It begins to approach brilliance, and in some ways vaguely reminding me of middle-era Talking Heads. But it's its' own animal. In the video you see Thao Nguyen laughing and romping around, a regular performing flibbertigibbet, but on the record you hear that there's a lot brewing below the surface. OK, I'll say it: She's brilliant. And since I, oh reader, am also brilliant I can spot brilliance in someone else (mostly). Gotta say I don't get too excited by most of the new stuff that's been coming around recently, but this is really worth checking out and I can't help but wonder if she'll continue to evolve and, if so, just where she'll go artistically.

"Dear Jim Joe..."

These days, I'm always suspicious that something like this is just a clever advertiisement.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Knockout!

Back on Sunday March 9th I knocked myself out and experienced actual amnesia! It was a strange experience.
I was cycling in Forest Park here in Queens, doing my usual laps and, as far as I've been able to reconstruct, figure I was on my way back up the hill on the golfcart pass here:


View Larger Map

See that little walkway there that pours into that blocked road-thing there? That's extended parking for the golf course. But I was coming off that thing (I think!) and, of course, took a left onto the parking/road and hit some salt. The bike slid out from under me and I landed hard and my body slid for unknown feet. I was unconscious for at least a few seconds if not longer, though (apparently) someone helped me up and I cycled home.

At home I had numerous conversations, including one with my son wherein I asked repeatedly: Why am I holding my calculus book?

I remember none of this. In fact, there's a period of several hours in which I had conversations, did and said things, though none of it I remember. Interestingly, while this was happening (and my memory was apparently only about 5 minutes wide), I didn't even know I wasn't remembering things!

Wild. A few days later I finally found my helmet and examined it: It has a big dent along the left side and has experienced some pretty big internal damage. I will, of course, have to throw it away and buy a new one.

As for non-brain aches and pains, I am still suffering. It hurts all along my left side, and when I walk it hurts quite a lot unless I am stuffed to the gills with Advil (Ibuprophin).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How about a hangover doctor that makes house calls?

http://theivdoctor.com/
Yep. If you live in New York and overdid it last night, you can call up these hangover cure folks and they'll show up and give you an IV infusion of water and various vitamins that can apparently have an almost immediate effect.
Here's their actual little Youtube video. And no, this isn't a really clever joke:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

More on the Low Line

Interesting. As I mentioned previously, an abandoned underground trolley station on the Lower East Side has been targeted to become the "Low Line", an underground urban groove zone, similar to the High Line, which has been an unqualified success on Manhattan's west side. One of the problems related to creating an underground space is, of course, LIGHT, but apparently they've been working on a pretty amazing plan to use light pipes to pump actual sunlight down into that space. Here's an image from some of the early design work:
Lowline-real-life.jpg

Wild, no? Seems we'll have our Morlocks one day after all.
But the project appears to be gaining the kind of momentum necessary to bring it past the "point of no return" pretty soon, as big corporate sponsors, designers, and others appear to be coming on board.

Here's a link to the Low Line's site. Right now, they want to complete it by 2018, which I suspect is a little optimistic, as they don't even have the financing lined up yet.

Oh, and if you are not from New York and plan to visit at some point in the future, do head to the high line: Yes it is touristy but it is also very New York-y too. More importantly, it is an aesthetic success, with NO stores up there and almost zero commercial activity (I think there's a sandwich stand or two down by the Standard Hotel, but that's about it). As I've documented previously, the High Line winds in and out of old factory buildings while giving you great views of the Hudson river and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Of course, here in Queens there are numerous abandoned railroad tracks that are elevated and that some locals want to convert into parkland, etc..., but I think that the odds of that occurring are far lower than the Low Line.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"The good ole days"

When you think about "the good old days", you usually assume that, during said good old days, either rules or values or economics were somehow different than today. Since that time, the rules changed, or people changed, or economics changed. In other words, the system used to be different but then something went wrong and now we have a new system.

But maybe it isn't really like that. Maybe, what we thought of as a different system was really just a transitory state, though changing just slowly enough to be viewed by your younger self as "steady state", or "the way things were". But maybe society and economics and values have always been changing and we think that the system in which we grew up and that formed us was a stable, lasting state. But it wasn't. For older people things were changing too, just like now.

In other words, human history is always an unstable equilibrium, the output of various forces of change in demographics, technology, social and geologic mobility and so on. What we experience as the system and culture around us are really just outward, accidental symptoms of this larger dis-equilibrious super-system known as human society.

This is obvious, is it not?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Elegy

She was conceived out of wedlock in late 1939 in Worcester, Mass, to a community of first and second generation Lithuanian immigrants. An apparently valiant member of the community, however, married her mother before she was born and so spared mother and child some of the hatred bestowed on single mothers from the old country. Whispers, however, didn't cease until much later.

She had a difficult childhood, and of this not much more can be said. She was abused in the worst way most can imagine until at least some time into her teens. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, she became a child prodigy at the trumpet, playing and even touring with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra even while she was still in high school. Eventually, this won her a full scholarship to the Eastman school of music, where she met the man who would become her husband for the next fifty or so years, until the day she died, on February 19th.

On the day after their graduation from Eastman the two got married. Cornet player Chuck Mangione was their first man. Approximately 9 months later they had their first child, and this represented more or less the end of her career in music. Though the child was by no means the only reason she was prevented from playing the trumpet professionally very often (she still did the occasional Christmas gig), to some extent she resented that child. Being a child, that child didn't consciously recognize the resentment until much later in life, so as a result the child was often rebellious, which didn't help matters. After a few years the couple had two more children, which probably ended not just any chance of her having a career in music, but even dreams of one as well.

During the 1960s, her husband was on the road for long periods at a time, playing with jump-blues bands such as Sy Zidner's. As a result she was often alone in their Evanston, Ill apartment, and money was extremely scarce. Indeed, one morning her eldest child searched the kitchen for breakfast and found only a packet of instant mashed potatoes. When she came out and found the child looking for food, he complained that there was nothing in the frig, but only a packet of instant mashed potatoes in the cupboard. Putting the back of her hand to her mouth she chuckled disbelievingly, Oh my God...Oh my God...The child didn't understand the problem and asked, Couldn't they just go out and buy more food?

Around that time she started drinking. Socially, for the first few years, and then more seriously a little later, after they moved to New York City in the summer of 1969. After a lot of drama (and exile from the apartment for a few weeks), she eventually dried out and turned her experience into a whole new career. Obtaining a master's degree from NYU in the 1970s, she became an alcohol and drug counselor until she retired, several decades later. By many accounts she helped a lot of people.

She loved cats and she loved doing puzzles and she loved going to the mall and shopping. She didn't really need a lot in life, and didn't expect much. This was her strength, and also the one thing that made her son cry not long after he found out she had died in her sleep.

Her last decade or so was...strange: A slow, inevitable spiral. Perhaps on some levels she understood this and participated in the hastening of her own demise. This is of course unclear. In any event, in the early 1990s she was hit by a Russian driver turning onto Queens Boulevard. Her kneecap and other bones were shattered: Hardware was surgically installed. The shock to her body combined with the cessation of most exercise meant a pretty fierce onset of diabetes, leading eventually to Charcot foot and confinement to a bed. With some of the insurance settlement, she and her husband bought a house in NJ in which they were fairly happy. At least, they didn't have to contend with neighbors who resented her husband's practicing (something their son never comprehended, as rich people often payed lots of money to hear the husband play at the Metropolitan Opera). They accumulated a lot of cats, which didn't help health conditions much. As a result she shuttled back and forth between hospital and their house and, eventually, a nursing home. For some reason, the nursing home tried to charge over $110,000 for a year of care and, when this wasn't paid, sent her back home. A few days later she was found dead by her husband in the morning.

She was cremated and her ashes (placed in a wooden box) formed the centerpiece for an informal funeral service not far from the house she had loved. It was attended by a mixture of brass players and Chinese in-laws of her eldest son, along with a few assorted friends. The son, meanwhile, puzzled over the painful yet valiant arc of his mother's life and found no answers regarding the fairness of life or lack thereof. The son wishes his mother had been able to experience just a tiny bit more in the way of joy and success, but he also acknowledges that she was largely content with what she eventually had and never really wanted much else. He thought also about whether there was anything he could or should have tried to do in the weeks and months before she died, but there too nothing came to him.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

E Train non-fight!

It was jam-packed this evening on the E train out from LIC into deeper Queens. At Roosevelt Avenue a black woman, about my age, started aggressively moving into the car and, for a moment, was jammed up against my back. On her way into the car she tossed a few angry exCUSE me!-s. But since she seemed to be in the process of moving past me I said nothing when it felt for a moment almost like a shove.

And then the pressure was gone: I looked behind me to see a couple of other people moving along a bit: Turned out there was indeed room for her and she saw it, but no one had moved so she just moved into the space and the adjacent passengers made room. She fit perfectly.

Good job, I said: There was enough room but people had to crunch in!
Yeah, people gotta move! she said, and we both chuckled a bit.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

WELCOME TO THE FUTURE!

Here. Look at this. What is it? That's thousands of people across the world jointly playing a single game of Pokemon: It can take days for the character to do something as simply as walk across the room, because everyone's trying to spam-command it or counteract other people's commands and so on. The streaming text are the comments, and they regularly spew new micro-memes and other bizarre forms of psuedo-spam.

I'm thinking this wasn't exactly the way you pictured the future would be.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Maya Hayuk...

...at the wall on Houston Street. Even though it's already been tagged up quite a bit, it's bright and bold enough not to give a shit.

Post-apocalyptic New York

Had our 5th snowstorm in a week here in NYC, so garbage collection has been impacted...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

And another thing!

This'll seem trivial but, hey: It's my blog and not a splog. This feels (kinda) important to me, OK?

Yesterday on the E train it was, as usual, quite crowded. But there was still room between both sides of us straphangers (of course, there are no more straps in NYC subways anymore, so call us standing commuters barhangers if you really want). Nevertheless, the guy behind me was standing way out in the middle and repeatedly bumping against me.

Now before my realization/epiphany described below, I would have tried to inch further and further away from someone like this. But invariably, people like this tend to expand their area and it never does any good to contract your own space to avoid them. But what I always did was just this: Contract and retreat all the while getting angrier and angrier: Real passive aggressive-like.

But yesterday, all of a sudden, something occurred to me, and I actually took a small step towards the bump-er every time he bumped me. For some reason this had never occurred to me before: Don't retreat, expand! So I expanded. And at first the guy continued to bump me, but after a tiny step or two towards him he stopped.

Of course, it was quite possible that the guy would look and see that I was now standing on his side of the centerline of the car. And maybe he'd get pissed off and say something. But I didn't worry about that: Folks who consciously or unconsciously are trying to fuck with you (uh, figuratively) won't really listen to reason. Even had I stayed on "my" side, if I eventually got pissed enough off to say something he'd no doubt say something bullshitty. So I figured that, rather than deal with bullshit on the defensive, I'd deal with it on the offensive and, possibly, put the ki-bosh on it so that there's never a pot that boils over.

It worked. The guy stopped bumping me so that I was free to tune everything out and just concentrate on the novel I was reading.

But the point here is, why didn't I ever think of this before? I never thought of it before because I hadn't made that small but significant realization described a few days ago.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

More about quitting!

Amazingly, on some level I know that by not submitting to the swirling nonsense I have finally changed, or started to change, something deeper about me that has probably been a big karma-maker in my life. And yet, this 'knowing' is on a deeper level, own beneath words and images. And he hasn't yet resulted in anything else in my life changing. But I know it will.

When I was younger I always thought that changing oneself was easy: Just use the mighty power of self-discipline and REFUSE to let yourself do the things you used to do, but that you now regard as unspiritual.

But this doesn't work. Or when it does, you end up becoming a sort of passive-aggressive zombie version of yourself, you real self still there and buried. But even though you may not outwardly react the same way, deep down inside those old processes and ways of seeing and being are still there, still operational. You can't get rid of them that easily.

The one thing discipline can do for you, however, is keep constantly moving you into a zone where those issues come to light and come to the surface. And maybe you can learn to navigate rationally and reasonably even with those crazier parts of yourself you'd rather jettison. And for a long time this is what I thought: You can't actually change, just learn to live with the person you really are. If you're lucky, you can even come to accept and possibly love those parts of yourself you really wish you could leave behind.

But now, I sense that something in me, something that's probably caused me to unconsciously guide myself towards certain scenarios, that part is now gone. Well, I don't know if it's gone, but by saying "no" last week I took a firm and decisive step away from the life I'd had that was in part guided by that thing. And I know now that new things will begin to happen to me, things that a year or so from now will bring me into a life that was previously closed to me.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

New Tinariwen next week!

...and here's their new video:

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

I quit!

And it feels good!

No, I didn't quit my job. But I did quit coaching robotics here in the local community. If I were 10 years younger I would have soldiered on until I just couldn't stand it anymore. But this time, no.

It came about because a couple of "directors" of the league (both of whom I liked and still) basically slipped and treated me like an employee. This was probably easy for them to do, as in general I tend to be easy-going and just try to reduce the loads of anyone who in some ways supports our local teams. I think they also misunderstood when I told them I had been an engineer (I think perhaps they imagined I was wiring up buildings or something). And of course, they didn't know that for a little while I was a pretty well-known figure in my field here in the US (I have 4 patents and a bunch of papers, in addition to working at some pretty famous companies).

And it was a slow-burn when it happened. They didn't realize they had done it, and I didn't make a fuss about it at the time. But then, the next day, bumping into one of the parents, I realized it would be very hard to answer certain questions if I had been asked. It would have been uncomfortable and I would have looked and felt like a schmuck. So later that evening I said: Why am I continuing to live through this? So I sent a letter stating my "lack of interest in all future activities".

They seemed surprised and sorrowful to some extent. Indeed, I'm still not sure they understood what they did. But I didn't quit so much to show my displeasure or to protest: I quit because I really didn't need this kind of stress in my life right now, and that is what I told them.

Was I being self-indulgent or petulant? One might argue yes. But I don't feel that way: I feel almost...empowered, like only after all this time did I finally realize that I can decide what to tolerate and persevere through, and this just wasn't worth it to me. In other words, I did something that was true and honest to who I really am and where I'm really at, and I didn't need some external reference in order to determine if this was reasonable or not. It's a fine line: Self-indulgence on one side and personal damage on the other. But I felt and still feel that I'm walking directly on that fine line.

The question is whether I can walk that fine line in the rest of my life or not.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his particular (and alleged) substance

If we do find that the death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman was an 'overdose' or somehow associated with a substance he was abusing, can we point the finger at the real culprit: The US legal system killed PSH.

Oh, you say, he should have known better? Well, perhaps and perhaps not. I don't want to debate philosophy or ethics. But can you debate statistics itself? Is it not clear that had PSH's preferred substance been 1. Legal for >21; 2. Taxed and 3. Regulated, neither he nor countless others would be dead? Ah, but you say, this was there choice and society should not have to pay the bill. But the fact is that we already pay the bill in the form of countless emergency room visits and other costs. Plus, we've now lost someone that entertained or challenged lots of lots of movie-goers.

So why do we have laws like this? Look at Portugal: Drug usage rates have been plummeting for the last 10 years, ever since Portugal legalized pretty much everything. Who knew? Get someone to 21 before they try any illicit substances and the odds of them becoming addicted drop dramatically.

Isn't it time we actually bothered to find out what the relevant numbers are? Isn't it time we stopped letting ideology of, worse, the Gubmint do our thinking for us? Isn't it time we stopped deciding which drugs are "good" and which drugs unacceptable? Isn't it time we grew the fuck up?

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Suspicious Nouns

Suspicious package

Suspicious powder

Suspicious car

Suspicious persons

Suspicious timing

Suspicious books

Suspicious friends

Suspicious glances

Suspicious clothes

Suspicious movements

Suspicious puppy

Suspicious flowers

Suspicious mind



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Shoelace Tying Blog

Here. Knock yourself out with this shoelace tying blog.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Man from the Year 5000

The man from the year 5000 materializes behind the Dunkin' Donuts on a Tuesday morning. He's a physicist not an anthropologist so he doesn't know much about the customs of 2014. He sees a big crowd of people marching towards a set of stairs going down so he joins them and walks down with everybody else. Down under the ground there are big metal cars on...tracks, that's it: Metal rails. Everybody pushes into the metal cars and he does too. He marvels at all the people that lived in this time, in a big "city" as they used to be called. After a while the car stops, but almost no one leaves but a lot of people try to get on. There isn't room for all of them so not all of them get on. He doesn't know what will happen to them: Perhaps they will go somewhere else.

After the car stops and starts a few more times he sees most people leaving so he leaves too. After this it gets difficult: The people don't all seem to be going to the same place. They are scattering to many different directions and into many different tall buildings. Nevertheless, he tries to blend in and follows a group that splinters and gets smaller and smaller until it's just one woman going to a tall, shiny building. He knows enough about this time to know that she's going to work, so he figures he should go to work too but, when he tries to enter the building, the machine with metal arms doesn't let him in. A man in dark blue clothing asks to see his identifying credentials, which he doesn't have in physical form. When he says this, the man asks where he wants to go, and he says: "I want to go to work". After that, he doesn't understand what the man says but after a while he is back out on the street and there are far fewer people than before. Apparently he did something wrong and so wasn't allowed to work.

So now he walks for a while and sees people eating behind glass, indoors. He enters and asks if he can eat too, but no one answers him. So he walks in and looks at a big board with pictures of the things you can eat, and he tells the lady standing under the board that he would like to eat and points to the thing he thinks most people eat. The lady tell him a series of numbers, but he can see no pattern and doesn't know how to respond. Other people behind him move around him and she tells them numbers and they give her some things and she gives them things to eat. He asks why he wasn't given anything to eat even though he wanted to try eating but the lady under the sign doesn't answer: She just talks to the people she gives things to eat.

The man from the year 5000 knows he has done something wrong and doesn't understand the system, but he doesn't know what it is. He turns around and eventually goes back to the Dunkin' Donuts and waits to return to the year 5000 where he understands things. He will read about 2014 and about how to do things there and, after he understands, he will try again. But returning to 2014 becomes a backburner project and will take a while.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Men's Council?

That's one thing I say that keep popping up: Some fairly talented and successful males keep sabotaging themselves, or at least hindering their own interests. And my thinking is that this could be greatly curtailed if such men had a personal support "council" of other men (and women, I think) that they met with regularly.

Let me give you an example. Here in New York Anthony Weiner was doing well in the Mayor's race, even though he entered late. As you probably heard, he resigned from the US congress when it was discovered he'd been "sexting" (sex texting) with various bimbos throughout the US, sending naked or semi-naked pictures of himself, and vice-versa. And that was kinda stupid, but it's not like he killed anyone or cooked Meth or something. It was recoverable. And during the Mayor's race he was out ahead for a while: Anthony Weiner's work was reasonably-well received here in New York, and his taunting of the US idiot right-wing particularly gratifying.

However, when it came out during the Mayor's race that he'd continued sexting after he left congress, well his campaign death-spiraled pretty quickly after that. Everyone knew he was unlectable for the office of mayor in this race. Weiner kept on going, however, and still put up a decent fight, but it was over.

What seemed clear to me was that he, along with lots of successful men, pretty much go it alone. In entering the Mayor's race it's obvious he hadn't really told anyone about the continued texting, nor did he ask anyone whether they thought it was a good idea to run. What a personal "council" could have done for him, however, was tell him: "You know what? It's bound to come out that you kept sex-texting. You should really sit it out this time, otherwise you'll kill your chances for the future. In fact, why don't you go to a therapist or something and do some deeper work, so that when you re-emerge onto the political scene you will be able to speak to it as a 'recovery', and people will understand that as far as you can tell, it's behind you."

The "personal council" should not be paid. They also shouldn't be afraid of controversy and they should worry too much about whether their guy (or gal, I guess) heeds their advice. They also shouldn't be afraid to speak their mind and say, "Anthony! That is a really rotten idea." Julian Assange is another dude like this: He does great stuff but would he, for instance, be in such a legal jam had he a personal council? They could have at least given him some guidance about how to keep out of certain types of trouble.

And again, this idea is mainly for men. Women seem to get tons of opinions from the network of females. But the idea many men have is that they need to be strong and go-it alone and be some sort of monolithic source of power to everyone around them. But I'm thinking that, really, high-profile, capable men can become that much more capable if they have some good advisors around them to try to steer them clear of obstacles or else help extract them from some of their stupider mistakes.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down: Feeling Kind

Have I posted this before? Can't remember. But no matter, here it is again...

I totally dig this. And if you search out her other songs and videos, you quickly see that this wasn't just luck: This lil' gal's got some serious song-writing talent. Smart and cute, albeit a little grubby. And whether she's aware of it or not, there are vaguely Asian/pentatonic licks in her tunes that sneak in and out, but fully blended into the native American musical form known as rock/pop. In other words, this kicks ass and doesn't quite sound like anything else. Quirky, humorous, sincere...ah I could go on but just check it out.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stories from old Brooklyn!


View Larger Map
As a teenager we moved from Washington Heights to Cobble Hill Brooklyn. And even though Cobble Hill wasn't exactly the big, bad Brooklyn New Yorkers didn't dare visit at the time, it also wasn't exactly the hipster haven it is today. So here's a couple of stories that popped into my mind recently. Of course, I MAY have already mentioned them in these pages, but ah well...

VINNIE'S GLASS EYES
Growing up, my brothers were on the small side, though no longer.  But when they were in Junior High School (7th and 8th grade), there was this punky guido kid named Vinnie who used to pick on my brothers when he (Vinnie) was hanging with the elder, larger Guidos playing handball up by Court Street. My brothers used to imagine poking out Vinnie's eyes and, with Vinnie clutching at his empty eye sockets like Oedipus, this is what he'd say: "JUST WAIT TILL I GET MY GLASS EYES SO I CAN SEE YOU! THEN I'LL KICK YOUR ASS!" And of course, the hilarious thing here wasn't so much that Vinnie was too dumb to realize that you can't see through glass eyes, but that he didn't yet realize that his new condition of blindness was permanent.

PISSING INTO ADAM PAGAN'S MOUTH
Back in the late 70s a number of us local kids used to hang out along with a nebbishy older Borricua kid named Adam Pagan. At some point, Adam performed a number of douchebag-y manuevers so he was ejected from our little group. Of course, we developed a sort of mythology for him as well, which included imagining pissing into Adam's mouth: We imagined that Adam was too dumb to move and so (with a piss-gargly voice) he'd be shouting: "STOPPPPP! STOPPPPPPPPPP!" as he wobbled his head back and forth while the urine continued to stream into his mouth. I later on told this to Adam and he was both horrified and, I'm pretty sure, slightly amused, though he tried valiantly to hide his amusement.

JP SQUIGGLEFOOT
Living near us on Warren Street was an older clubfoot working guy. He'd come home after a hard days work while we were sometimes still playing handball. He'd hobble by and then, when he was gone, we'd state (matter-of-factly) "JP Squigglefoot" or, "There goes JP Squigglefoot." You might think we were making fun of his handicap, but we weren't, really. We were simply identifying a commonly-spotted local dude who had no other identifying feature. (I've now added a google maps image of that block, so if you turn around you can see the brick wall against which we'd play handball.)

PIGEON FLIERS
On the corner was a family that flew pigeons. If you're not familiar with this Brooklyn custom, you may be surprised. Pigeon fliers (such as Mike Tyson) fly big groups of pigeons in a big circular motion for maybe half an hour or more. They will often compete with a nearby pigeon-flier, and the two groups of pigeons will be flown together in one large clump in an attempt to capture the opposing family's pigeons, who come home with the winner. If you are driving on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) at dusk and see a big group of pigeons flying in formation, this is probably what you are seeing. Look for someone on the roof waving a rag or a flag on a stick in a circular motion, directing the pigeons. Hey...here's a vimeo video on the Brooklyn Pigeon wars....(turn left and look up at that building on the corner: You can see the remnants of the pigeon coop up on top of the building.)

MAMA PASTA
Mama Pasta was an older Italian lady that never really mastered a heck of lot of English. We'd sit on her stoop sometimes until 9:00PM whereupon she'd bust out her front door shouting at us to GO HOME!, even though our homes were mere steps away. But she never held this against us and, when her sons the Italian bakers would have surplus, she'd come around distributing the Brooklyn-Italian breads. I always chose the giant bread ring, for its great texture.(In the google maps image Mama Pasta's stoop was the one on the left with the Christmas wreaths on it, if you look closely.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sous Vide duck!

Been playin' with sous vide recently. Sous vide cooking is a big fad here in Metrosexual parts of the US. It's basically just a giant box filled with water that is kept at a very precise temperature for a long time. If you want to cook something in the box you put it into special plastic bags and then vacuum-seal them (with a seal-er that comes with the cooker, depending on the package), and then throw the bags in the water for a number of hours (steak can take 24 hours or more, depending on what you're cooking).

Duck, however, is only 2 hours at 55 centigrade (aka "Celsius" for you non-scientists). Actually, before you start cooking the duck you rub it in some Japanese spices and add a tablespoon of soy sauce. Then you seal the bag and throw it into the Sous Vide cooker for 2 hours. At the end of those 2 hours you pay-fry the duck breast in oil two nicely brown it, then slice and serve.

Basically, the Sous Vide keeps all the flavors in and, as a result, you taste tastes you've never tasted before, even with eggs and asparagus and so on. Technically, items cooked a la Sous Vide don't need to be browned, but they'll look kinda raw and uncooked. After I fried the duck tonight and cut it in slices, it looked like some big wheel professional chef cooked it: Reddish (but cooked!) on the inside and nicely browned on the outside. And it tasted great. (I served it with a nice Ripasso wine.)

Real chefs, of course, can do a lot with this kind of cooking but I am no where near their league.

Damn. If I was smart I'd use this post to grab some dough from one of the Sous Vide cooker manufacturers. But again...if you are a reader of this blog you will know that NOT taking money for this is important to me. No, not because that's "wrong", but because I want a place where I can write whatever the fuck I want to, and I don't want to be considering the $$$ angle when I post.


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Before They Pass Away


Oh, check this out. Before They Pass Away is a website featuring the journeys and photos of Jimmy Nelson, who traveled a variety of remote tribal lands where ancient customs and ways of life are still practiced. The photos on the site are gloriously shared and there's more in a book you can get from Amazon for like $100, or you can grab the $8,000 version if you've got the cash.

Me, I don't really see these folks as necessarily archaic or primitive, though I supposed that's true according to the definition of those words. But they do preserve precious information about how more widely spread cultures in the ancient world functioned. Some of these cultures also have very deep knowledge about the fauna and flora around them that we might not discover for centuries if their knowledge is lost. In the Amazon comments you can read some folks (perhaps even some Inuit) bitching about the sentimentality with which such cultures are depicted, but there are deeper issues afoot and having a book of travels and photos doesn't hurt any.

(You should click on the photo above, by the way, to see a bigger version. These are Tibetans from Mustang in Ladakh which has been almost untouched by some of the Chinese-induced turmoil seen in Tibet.)

FRIDAY
OK, I got the book. It's not just good, it's great. More than great, it's important. It's very hard to put into words how the overwhelming images of other humans hits you. And it is both wondrous as well as amazing to think that there are still people who live this way. The book is a vitally important document and if you have any room in your pad for a very large book, then don't fuck around and get yourself a copy

Meanwhile, I just found out that in March or April Taschen will be putting out another gigantic book: The Complete Works of Hironymous Bosch. I'll probably get that too, but I don't know where I'll put it.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Declaration of War

If a war is declared the leaders of both countries are grabbed and placed into a windowless 10 foot by 10 foot by 10 foot room. About 6 or 7 feet up, along the walls, are a number of hand-grenades that, after the pin is pulled out and the count to 10, are easily powerful enough to kill all the combatants in the room.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Rough weather

Last night got a foot of snow here in Queens and tonight the low will hit 1F (-17.2C). That's cold in these parts, and with wind it will be dangerous. And this, in a city which will regularly exceed 100F in the summer. Sometimes it makes me wish I was back in the UK. And tomorrow morning, of course, I'll have to venture outside, probably walking in the streets because not everybody shovels their walk.

Oh, and I remember the "rogue gritters" in the UK: People who (illegally) salted or otherwise gritted their walks, which the local municipalities are supposed to do (but are rarely able to do exhaustively or even particularly well).

Breaking Bad and the economically disenfranchised

Been pounding my way through Breaking Bad on Netflix over the last week or so, and I admit it's pretty much as good as everyone said. It is in its way nuanced: You want to root for Walter but he keeps on giving you reasons to hate him. But even in those reasons you kind of see where he's coming from. For instance, he cursed at his old girlfriend over dinner recently, and you could see that she was really hurt and you felt bad for her. On the other hand, here was Walter, dying of cancer and trying to get a pile of money together (through meth-making) for his family before he dies. On the OTHER other hand, his treatment could have been paid for by the ex-girlfriend's billionaire husband.

Another interesting thing to note about the show is the absence of African Americans. And in this one case I find that refreshing: The show takes place in New Mexico where the drug trade is dominated by Latino cartels and white folks. So Breaking Bad didn't seem to feel it necessary to insert Black druggies in order to make it "real", as many shows and movies have over the years (and of course, this would have detracted from the real-ness quite a bit).

The question that keeps rising in my mind, however, is: If so many people like taking crystal meth, then why is it illegal? The obvious answer, of course, is: Because it's addictive and will ruin your life.

But is this the case? Come to think of it, is this the case with most illegal drugs? Of course, drugs like crack and heroin are indeed, like alcohol, addictive. But I wonder if the addiction rates would be nearly so bad if usage of the drug did not also come with its own set of economics. Consider the following:

1. Lots of addictive drug use is associated with hopelessness. In other words, if you are unemployed and largely unemployable, usage of a very powerful drug lets you emotionally escape that place for a while. And when you come down, there you are in the middle of your hopeless situation again. Moreover, perhaps aside from the high itself, there's the dim ray of hope that one might acquire the drug again. Thus, the drug starts to creep into one's non-drugged life. No doubt, if you gave 100 unemployed and unemployable people crystal meth, and then gave another 100 employed people crystal meth, the unemployed group would have far higher addiction rates. But what would the addiction rate of the employed be? Would they be addicted to crystal meth at all?

2. Any drug trade also comes with its network of drug-related revenue. Thus, in partaking of a drug like crystal meth one touches a network of dealers and cook-ers through which money is flowing. And certainly, one door to that network is taking the drug. So perhaps the drug becomes slightly more glamorized to the economically disenfranchised because it is seen as a potential source of revenue. Getting involved in that network means that there's a chance one might start making some money also.

3. Does the high provided by the drug really matter? Maybe not. Here in the US we see varying waves of depressants such as heroin interlaced with waves of uppers (like crystal meth and coke). Perhaps the content or type of high doesn't matter so much as getting high and being with others who are high in the same way. Don't know. No doubt there are those who are genetically predisposed to addiction to certain types of chemicals, but maybe the real reasons for addiction are 1 and 2 above.

3. Do people unknowingly participate in drug epidemics in order to pull revenue into their local community? Who knows. Life is weird. Maybe there are only a relatively small number of true blue addicts, and everyone else in a drug epidemic is, on an unconscious level, participating in the drug epidemic in order to support the creation of revenue streams into one's community.

Portugal's 10 year long experiment in legalization of 'everything' is fascinating to look at: Drug addiction and usage rates are falling dramatically. It's also interesting to note that there are plenty of traditional communities that partake of what is an addictive drug in other parts of the world yet without the negative side effects. South Americans have been chewing cocoa leaves for centuries but, in general, have never sought to purify the drug to the cocaine level. So maybe without developed socioeconomics there's far less 'need' for addiction.

Don't know.
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