Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Social Network: If you want a friend...

There's a lot of anticipation for "The Social Network" and it is well deserved. While "The Social Network" is not a documentary, there is something so real and tangible about the portrayal of the young adults who inhabit this nexus of social relations, technology, creativity and intelligence, that it feels like a very important document about American life now, in all of its brilliance, immaturity, complexity and sheer possibility. A very important and entertaining movie. From the fast-paced opening dialogue to its closing scene, the film, directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, takes an unflinching view of the roots and development of our Brave New Mediated World. The cast is remarkable from top to bottom and David Fincher's reputation for multiple, multiple takes bears fruition here with great performances throughout. Jesse Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg), Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), Armie Hammer and Josh Pence (Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss) are superb in this engrossing, dialogue-rich roller coaster ride that takes us from the dorms of Harvard to Silicon Valley, with plenty of examples of lost opportunities and hard feelings along the way.

A key thread in the film explores the transitory nature of personal relations and friendship in business, running, in a way, in a funny kind of tandem with familial betrayals in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."  After seeing both films, one occurring before and one after the biggest financial bubble of all, I was left thinking that while Wall Street - albeit the more clearly fictionalized of the two and dealing basically with cold hard cash-- opens the door to redemption, "The Social Network" suggests that, beyond wealth perhaps, the sense of personal stake in creativity and  invention trumps all.

The compelling script, done Rashomon-style with conflicting points of view, nevertheless portrays that intangible something coupled with freedom and creativity that shows why the U.S.A., despite our flaws and endless problems, remains the most singular and amazing nation in the world.

Much has been written about "The Social Network" already, so for now I will borrow a line from another classic piece of Cinema-Americana about entrepreneurship and just say "Don't ask why, just go and God Bless America."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Boing! Pong! Hocus, Pocus, Avion! - Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band - "Sue Egypt"

Chills quick you
Voices pick you
Crows hex you
[You love some?] post-'em avion
Wizard Kiss and all be gone
Boats to forever
Boated ether
Creep to ether feather
Sue Egypt
Sue Egypt
Boing pong
hocus pocus avion
I think of all those people that ride on my bones
I think of all of those people that ride on my bones
That nobody hears
That nobody sees that nobody knows
Sue Egypt
Sue Egypt
I think of all
I think of all
I think of all those people who ride on my bones
That nobody sees, that nobody dares
That nobody hears, that nobody cares
I think of the dust that collects on the chairs
and under her eyes
and through her eyes
and out her body
and in her body
and in her ha[ir/fa]ce
Big smoke fingers wave
Come here Come hear
"Bring me my scissors"
and those are waters [?]
The moon wazza*
Bad vuggum
a pitcher of red-hot juice
a picture of red garnet juice
Chills quick you
Voices pick you
Crows hex you
[Elects-some postem?] avion
Wizard Kiss and All Be Gone
Boats to forever
Boated ether
Creep the ether feather
Sue Egypt
Sue Egypt
-Don Van Vliet 1980 from the album Doc at the Radar Station

*The wazza is a type of horn played in Sudanese music. The wazza is constructed from combined cow horns, and while blown it is also tapped for percussive effect.
Also, urban dictionary - What thugs say when they are in a close proximity to superior beings (which is most of the time). YO G...WAZzA...!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Just Past "Super Harvest Moon" Tonight

The Harvest Moon is the full Moon occurring closest to the autumnal equinox. When the full Moon occurs on the autumnal equinox,as it did this year, it is called a "Super Harvest Moon.". We missed out this past Wednesday, but tonight is a beautiful clear night, sitting out back with my beloved and a pair of binoculars.We saw Oliver Stone's Wall Street this afternoon, and on a clear, if warmish,autumn night, the meshughas of the political and economic World seems far away indeed. Catch the view it if you can. Of course, Neil Young's song of the same name in the background. Enjoy!

CODA: R.I.P., Baby Opossum

We had just returned from the New York Sports Club, and I was making a very nice salad for lunch when My Better Half came in and reported there was a rat, dead, in the passage next to our home, where the trash bins are kept.When I went outside to survey the carnage and determine the logistics of cleanup, it was immediately apparent that this tweren't no rat.Nope, the little varmint turned out to be a baby opossum that had gone for the count.My son and I did the necessary critter removal and that was that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let's Go! Let's Go! Let's Go!

There's a thrill
Upon the hill
Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!
-Hank Ballard

Must be Friday....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Buffalo and the Rest of the Empire State

Michael Daly in the NY Daily News proves that, once again, the bigger, more abrasive the mouth, the more they have to hide. TP/GOP hopeful Carl Paladino's real estate holdings house many State offices in Buffalo.
Daly scopes out the arrangement and challenges Palladino to cut the lease rates for the real estate by 20% -- the TP/GOP hopeful's target for cutting State budgets. Paladino has already indicated that he would expect the State to continue paying for leases held by him were he to ride the coat tails of a messed-up economy and voter discontent.

Read Daly's "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Carl" in the NY Daily News here

There's nothing wrong with owning real estate, or even leasing it to the State. The problem is, Paladino presents himself as a self-made man, which he clearly is, but it isn't as though his wealth has derived from manufacturing widgets, or some private sector service or function. Much of his wealth appears to have been developed from earnings from properties leased to the State -- with the lease money coming from taxes --that he has been able to parlay into further real estate development and holdings.   So, while Carl would be the first to say that he is an entrrepreneur, not a civil servant, still, like another maverick who bit the dust, Ross Perot who made much of his money providing payroll services to government agencies, it is a little more complicated than that.

Palladino, unfortunately, is another rich opportunist seeking to exploit a bad situation -- and it is only possible because he can use his own wealth to run. Having made his money from the State Treasury, he can now rail about the evils of the public sector, as a candiodate and would-be Governor-- as long as he continues to collect on his leases. Sadly, many of the struggling individuals who are attracted to Paladino's "straight talk," (i.e., his offensive, abusive and violent comments), are likely those who will be hurt the most should he appear in Albany with his baseball bat.

Although New York is the Empire State, Government in New York State is not a kingdom, nor is it a fascist dictatorship, nor totalitarian State run by the Governor. Government is conducted through a complex balance of politics, diplomacy, horse trading and compromise among the State Senate, the Assembly and the Executive Branch run by the Governor.  Even before he was side-railed by personal distractions and unmasked as Client 9, former Governor Elliot Spitzer made the same miscalculation, by assuming that his electoral mandate made him the only game in town. It didn't, he wasn't, and Carl Paladino will no doubt suffer the same fate. He may think that he can rule like Willie Stark in "All the Kings Men", but more likely he will suffer the fate of Humpty Dumpty. Andrew Cuomo may get what he wishes for. Hopefully, Mr. Cuomo will squeak through, despite the polls, and at the same time he will learn something from this lesson in voter dissatisfaction and never counting your chickens. Hopefully he will ---for him, for us and for the future of the Empire State.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rats! Opossums Pull a Fast One in Brooklyn

Last year, we talked about the opossums in our yard and on the porch and their general increased presence around our Flabush neighborhood.

My previous DITHOB post here

Now, this past weekend, the NY Post reported about an opossum population boom in the borough. While the Post headlined the article "Rat Bastards," it apparently actually isn't exactly the little critters' fault since the Post also reported  that this bit of Fauna Brooklynensis isn't strictly a naturally occuring phenomenon.

Rather, some as yet unidentified City agency may have released them as a means of controlling the growing rat and rodent epidemic in the city. The concept being that the little critters would chomp away on a rat snack and diminish the rodent population, after which they too might be expected to disappear from lack of their intended food source. However, the little guys have pulled a fast one. While it is not clear that the rat population is down, the opossums have been getting at trash cans, fruit from trees, and other delectables, and their population has increased substantially as a result.

NY POST reports: "A city Sanitation spokeswoman said they were not involved with the Brooklyn opossum drop, and the Health Department didn't have any record of it. But Scavo and two city councilmen said city officials spoke about the effort at a 2007 Brooklyn forum. City brought possums in to take care of rats," read Community Board 15 notes from the meeting.

The opossums were set free in local parks and underneath the Coney Island boardwalk, with the theory being they would die off once the rats were gobbled up, said Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn). Instead, the critters have been populating, spreading to Park Slope and Manhattan.

"The population has boomed in recent years," said Josephine Beckmann, district manager for Community Board 10, which represents Bay Ridge. "They climb up in the tree and have a good meal."
Full NY Post article here

How long will it be before the seal of the City of New York replaces the beavers with opossums (or for that matter, the lady on the Brooklyn seal is cradling an opossum instead of carrying fascese , the bundle of sticks with an axe blade protruding, a traditional emblem of republicanism, or strength through unity) ?

And, what next? Alligators to get rid of the opossums?

Must See: Boardwalk Empire on HBO

Despite the hedging assessment I read in a recent NY Times article, I was delighted to have the opportunity to watch Steve Buscemi's great performance in Martin Scorsese's wonderfully directed production of "Boardwalk Empire."  Interesting era captured, with a good story, last night began setting the foundation for a story arc that will clearly intertwine characters, deepen and develop relationships and conflicts. It is great to see Steve Buscemi in film where he gets to break out. In starring vehicles (Trees Lounge, for example) he is a somewhat zhlubby, everyman character, although always wonderfully played. And then, in his gangster film roles, he is more often in a vivid but supporting role. Great to see him step out front, especially under Scorsese's masterful direction, in a big, gangster, period piece. Best of all, not only is this a special TV event, but it is a new HBO series that to this viewer, has already demonstrated after one episode that it has long legs (gambe lunghi in the vernacular)...

For anyone familiar with Atlantic City, the set design  is particularly intriguing, as it catches the full flavor and resonance of the Boardwalk through a funny kind of cultural time warp.

Even more remarkable that the Boardwalk was created as a 300-foot long set in Greenpoint Brooklyn, which the Greenpoint Gazette reported about late last month. As Jesse Sposato reported in the Gazette last month:

"If you’ve gone for ice cream at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, caught a show at Greenpoint’s Newtown Barge Park or, for any other number of reasons, walked down Commercial Street in the last year, you’ve probably noticed the set for the upcoming HBO television show Boardwalk Empire. At least part of the set—the show’s namesake boardwalk, to be specific."

"A single episode of Boardwalk Empire takes twelve days to shoot, and of those twelve, two are shot on the boardwalk in Greenpoint. “The boardwalk is the flagship set of the show. It’s not the one that we shoot on the most often . . . but it’s sort of our emblematic set,” Production Designer Bob Shaw said. The crew also utilizes the streets around the boardwalk for exterior shots, and they sometimes turn Greenpoint concert venue Warsaw into a faux nightclub replete with a stage show and all.
"As the most crucial of things often happen by chance, this was the case with discovering Greenpoint’s Commercial Street lot location for the boardwalk. “It was purely happenstance that we ended up in Greenpoint,” Shaw said. Production Manager Harvey Waldman spotted the large vacant space on his way to work one day while avoiding the early morning BQE traffic. Before that, they were considering spots like Asbury Park and Floyd Bennett Field, both of which ended up being impractical for a host of reasons.

“The Greenpoint site has some features we didn’t even realize would prove to be as important as they are,” Shaw said. The site has enough space to build the boardwalk and also has adequate support space for the cast to be dressed, made up and fed. The extra space has allowed the cast and crew to be contained within the site and not be spilling out into other places.

Greenpoint Gazette full story Link here.

HBO posted a time-lapse video of the construction of the Greenpoint set:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Brooklyn, Kansas: Here Comes the Twister

Leaving work, I made a stop at a bookstore on Court Street, but it started looking gray out, so I decided to take my usual stroll to DeKalb Ave and jumped on the Q train. Just got out of the subway at Ave H -- our brand spanking new Coney Island-bound station that just opened this week -- and the raindrops began.  I hustled home and, to borrow the words from the Grateful Dead song, the sky was yellow and the sun was blue...strange light as it got darker and darker. I was in the house and I got several calls and texts from My Better Half who was concerned as to where the heck I was. Just made it to the house and the downpour began. East 17th street and our court caused me to think of "A River Ran Through It." Unbelievable. If a small boat floated by it would not have looked too out of place. Later, we got a call that the windows blew out at a relative's home in Park Slope near 5th avenue.  News reports of roofs flying off homes and trees falling. Sad to hear about the one fatality on the highway in Queens, fortunately there were not more.

Lookout Cleveland
Look Out, Cleveland, the storm is comin' through,

And it's runnin' right up on you.
Look out, Houston, There'll be thunder on the hill;
Bye-bye, baby, don't cha lie so still.

Was Wedn'sday evenin' when first we heard the word,
It did not come by train nor bird.
T'was when Ben Pike stepped down to say,
"This old town's gonna blow away."

Chain lightnin', frightnin' as it may seem,
Must not be mistaken for just another dream.
Justice of peace don't know his own fate,
But he'll go down in the shelter late.

Hidin' your money won't do no good,
Build a big wall, you know you would if you could, yeah!
When clouds of warnin' come into view,
It'll get the ol' woman right outta her shoe.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Post-Primary: The Future is Unwritten

One candidate, despite his stalwart and efective political image, is not readily available to the media for interview. The other acknowledges that his opponents say he is outspoken, and he admits it, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is something disturbing about a candidate who says he will take a baseball bat to Albany, presumably to crack heads, who discusses severe budget cuts to the State's contributions toward Medicaid, cutting 20 billion in his first yearand who makes light of sending racist, "humorous" emails about the President. The fact that he can buy his way into a nomination in NY State, and then rally a great deal support based upon the collision of political gridlock and corruption on the State level, and an administration with serious communication problems of the Federal level, suggests that the two major political parties are not satisfactorily addressing the serious economic, political and social issues, and governmental dysfunctions, that currently lead to anger, disgust and confusion within the American democracy. 

There are rumors that Joe Biden and Hillary Rodham Clinton may switch roles in the next election. We are in a very complex and transitional time, for politics and our nation. Who will be the GOP candidate in 2012: Sarah Palin? Chris Christie of New Jersey? The problem remains that these are complex issues that require bipartisan cooperation to resolve. But American politics is getting more and more extreme.

As the GOP party unravels and the Democrats fight to retain the White House and seats in Congress, some of the smaller parties, past and future, that have taken root in the US, give an idea of the directions that some voters will take as a result of their dissatisfaction with the major party choices offered:

The Tea Party Movement here
The Modern Whig Party here
The US Pirate Party here
The Whig Party here

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NY Daily News -New "Voting Machine Headaches -- Even for Chuck Schumer"

Daily News' Celeste Katz reports on the voting at PS 321 in Park Slope:

"Apparently even Sen. Chuck Schumer isn't immune to the pitfalls of the new voting system.

What the hElmo is going on with these voting machines?

A party insider told me Schumer showed up at his polling place, P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at 5:55 a.m., and was "agitated and unhappy" at how things went.

"They don't open the polling place until 6:10... They can't figure out how to open the machine and he is, like, screaming at the staff that he wants to vote," the insider said.

Full article here.

Read more:

More Ch-ch-ch-changes: Board of Elections and the New Voting Devices

Based on the thorough coverage offered yesterday by Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Heights Blog, it sounds like you must sign in, then get a voting sheet, wait on line to go to the little voting table, fill out your ballot, then (probably) wait on line again while the un-technological voters who have never operated an electronic scanning device before stand there confused on how to use it. Then go up there and feed it into the Voting Maw (hoping that it doesn’t get jammed-- as those who HAVE operated an electronic scanning/printer device before can attest could occur). Why can't they have someone from the Board of Elections doing the form feeding while you watch them? Is that against the law?

Suppose you don’t want to fill it out at the voting table, can you just fill it out on the line to the scanner while leaning on a magazine or newspaper?

Funny, I thought electronic voting meant an ATM-type device, with a touch screen, but it seems NYS is fetishistic about having a paper trail, hanging chads and all that. I mean, why couldn't someone have just come up with an electronic ATM voting device that just keeps a printed record (like an ATM receipt) –what’s the big deal? So you could go into a voting booth and do your same voting thing? I mean, we have trusted the integrity of voting with the Old School machines for eons without concern for paper trails, what's the big dealy-o now?  Hopefully it will be better than expected but given the move from fewer steps to many more steps in the voting process, and the use of a paper ballot, one is not automatically hopeful.

One of my colleagues at the office said you are going to have to take a day off to go vote. In retrospect, I liked having my votes tallied, all private and religious-like behind a curtain, by a Coca-Cola vending machine on steroids..

Planning to pick up my car from the shop after work, then go to the gym and then vote, but anyone have any experiences with the new voting system at today's primary so far?

Monday, September 13, 2010

I, Gaijin: From Brooklyn to Tokyo and Osaka and Back Again

After weeks of hocking Gotham City Insider for news about his recent trip to Japan, as guest guitarist for another band of western, hardcore, metal brigands, he wrote back with the scoop on what it’s like to spend a long weekend traveling to and from the Land of  the Rising Sun. 

Since GCI, whose “the world needs a stronger blog” claims notwithstanding, appears to be on an intermittent, temporary hiatus, Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn is delighted to be able to share his notes on waning economies, an anthropological assessment of good manners in different cultures, fizzling innovation and, last but not least, hot dog buns... -- Brooklyn Beat

I, Gaijin 

 Been meaning to write you back about Japan… Honestly, I did not enjoy it at all. Out of all the places I’ve been, I liked Tokyo the least. I mean, I wasn’t kicking and screaming about a long weekend in Japan or anything but it definitely sounds a lot more glamorous than it actually is. All told, we did about 14,000 miles of traveling in 4 days… NY > Tokyo > Osaka > Tokyo > NY. The first flight from NY to Tokyo was non-stop, which in economy class, was traumatic. The Australia/NZ flights we did a few years ago were longer but for whatever reason, this was more brutal. After about 10 hours in, you almost start praying for a pulmonary embolism. Anyhow, Tokyo was just overwhelming. Immediately after we land, we sit in 2+ hours of dead stop traffic just to get to Tokyo itself.

Many a man transplanted to the Land of the Rising Sun returns with tales of culture shock and utter bewilderment – and, indeed, to me, a boy from the West, Japanese culture remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma inside a hot dog bun (more on that later.) There were just so many goddamn people – and it was just so insanely crowded – storefronts in alleyways, storefronts inside storefronts inside alleyways inside storefronts – people just living on top of each other – after about 20 minutes, I felt like moving to Montana and writing a few thousand pages on Industrial Society and Its Future. While I enjoy the “adult” Japanese culture – the refined Muji minimalism and all that – I’ve come to realize that I absolutely abhor the cartoonish, bastardized emulated depiction of the West. People dressed in Halloween costumes; people who look like living, breathing anime / kawaii / geinōkai magna characters. It’s all fashion and little to no substance. At times, I felt as if I were walking through an actual video game. It’s really bizarre and almost sickening – like eating too many circus peanuts. I dunno – something about it all just really rubbed me the wrong way. Xenophobia, perhaps? Ha ha.

The shows were good, the food was weird and the hotels were small. Typically what you’d expect. I think I may just be “over” my days of shotgun traveling and this break from my regular, focused routine really bothered me for some reason. Osaka was a bit better. We stayed on this main strip which resembled a Japanese St. Mark’s Place – but again, a parodic version of St. Mark’s Place. They really enjoy hot dog buns over there. You can have just about anything you’d like served up in a hot dog bun – from ice cream to lo mein – and you can get most of it at your local 7-11. We ate a few of these hot dishwater noodle & tempura houses which were OK. The rest of the time we ate a place called “Freshness Burger” because they had a pretty amazing veggie burger. Everyone carries an umbrella for the sun. It was unbearably hot.

I was in an elevator with two Japanese men and a young lady. Elevator gets to the lobby, Japanese men immediately exit; I pause and gesture for the woman to exit before me. She looked at me, completely puzzled, as if this had never happened before in her entire life – as if it were some sort of trick. I couldn’t believe it! She finally exited before me, but under extreme duress. Another incident – also on an elevator, I suppose this is where the class wars take place – the doors open up and it’s one of the hotel maids – she has like four sacks of dirty linen – I size up the situation and realize it’s going to be a good five days before she’s able to drag all her bags out of the elevator and I can get on, so I helped her… Two minutes later, as the elevator doors closed, she was still bowing to me for helping her unload the bags. I mean, c’mon: ENOUGH! How awkward it is being a gentleman or just helpful or polite when you’re treated like you’ve just saved a baby from a burning building afterwards – it’s too much.

Part of the whole scene was somewhat depressing also – now that China has usurped Japan as the #1 economy after the U.S. – Japan didn’t have that feel of “innovation” anymore. I saw signs advertising the new iPhone 4 but most people are still using these gigantic flip phones. I know they say Japan still enjoys health, wealth and comfort and that Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than Paris – but I didn’t see any of it. I saw an empty Hermès store across the street from a bustling 99 cent store. The economy in Japan has been stagnant for more than a decade, and knowing this, it was truly evident. We went into a Best Buy-esque electronics store and saw none of the futuristic Jetsons innovation you would have expected to see years ago in Japan. Gone are the days of the stereotypical rich, Japanese businessman.

If a country can’t reduce its debt to GDP ratio, it means they can only refinance but can never repay its debts and honestly, with all I’ve read on – and now somewhat seen in – Japan, I don’t see how they can avoid a government default or inflated Yen death spiral within the next decade or maybe even less??? Ayeeeeeeeeeeeee. I read some World Bank stat which said over the past decade Japan's economy expanded 5% while China's grew by 261%... It’s crazy and there appears to be no real consensus about what to do…
--Gotham City Insider

The Brooklyn Griffin

Photos by Brooklyn Beat

Waterbury and Meserole Streets in Williamsburgh

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Years Later: The Complexity of Freedom

Frequent crossings into Manhattan this summer had me thinking about the World Trade Center site. While it was clear that an enormous amount of construction and development on the site was in progress, I wondered --why had it taken so long to really get underway?  Granted, it represents a precious piece of lower Manhattan real estate, but larger projects are no doubt undertaken and accomplished in a shorter amount of time. There clearly  is an enormous amount of  emotion tied up with the loss of more than 2700 lives. At the same time, did the delay, wrangling, and lack of speedy process serve as a metaphor -- perhaps a metaphor of living -- for an identity crisis that afflicted the United States of America in the wake of this most grievous terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

With George W. Bush's attack on Iraq, which essentially destabilized that country, followed by years of economic malaise and now Barack Obama's own equally well-intended but questionable expansion of our military adventure in Afghanistan,it would appear that there may be something to this. After all, America has always been, first and foremost, a land of action. In the days foLlowing the 9/11 attacks, the _US basked in international goodwill and sympathy. Many Muslims worldwide criticized the actions of the hijackers and their puppetmasters, saying this did not represent Islam. The current threats of Koran burnings and polls showing that Americans supported freedom of religion but were not completely comfortable with the building of the mosque within the Ground Zero neighborhood, suggests, if nothing else, that this national soul searching continues. Anger and distrust toward Islam continues. American Muslims,who deplored the 9/11 attacks, are now pressed into a corner.Can moderate Muslims worldwide do more to find ways to challenge the extremists ? Who knows if that is even possible. Does American democracy and the freedom that it offers unwittingly provide fertile ground for those who would destroy or subvert it? President Obama's most recent statement on the growing hostility toward Islam within the US was eloquent and decisive but at the same time fails to address the fears and concerns of other Americans who see us fighting uncertain wars against Muslim peoples overseas, at the same time we are reminded to "never forget" the attacks of that awful day nine years ago. The World Trade Center and memorial rises from the ashes. The fighting overseas continues. Secretary Napolitano warns that the chance of another major terrorist strike continues to exist. New Yorkers remember those long days of fire, smoke and death. The sirens and alarms of emergency vehicles continued for days without end. Nine years later, the sadness remains for the families that lost loved ones, children who last parents.But nine years later,the soul searching and reflection, as evidenced in the current confusion, hostility, and uncertainty, continues without any sign of ending. The New American paradigm in the Age of Terror continues but thankfully so does the Unites States of America as a rambunctious, argumentative and complex home of freedom. There are no easy answers to the complexity of freedom.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Days of Awe: Wrestling with the Known and Unknown

A friend at work asked me if I am ready for the Jewish holidays. I guess.

This year, we are going to a different congregation in Flatbush..Personally, I vary between spiritually-looking-forward-to-the-Days-of -Awe (a lot of reading, contemplation, anticipation in the weeks before) to “please leave me alone”—this year I am in leave-me-alone-mode…

That is what strikes one most about the "fall Jewish Holidays" more properly known as the Days of Awe. Certainly, it is the sense of humanity, in this case represented by the subgroup of the Jewish people, appearing before the might and spiritual complexity of the Creator with awe and dread. Or in the modern sensibility, our contemplation of our brief and fleeting existence in a Cosmos that seems to neither require nor care much about us. Or, perhaps in a post-modern sense, our contemplation of our identity, which exists simultaneously in conflict with and allegiance to the power relations of a Supreme Being who may or may not exist but on whom we may choose to rely, as a spiritual talisman of sorts, to thank for getting us and those we love through the year past, and to help guide us through the unknown days ahead in a too-be-sure perilous world filled with other beliefs and believers.

However, despite this year's preliminary sense of distance, I can already see that it is beginning...Based on past experience, usually once I am at services, that Yiddishkeit starts to slowly seep into my soul…by Yom Kippur it usually connects...and there I am, looking around at My Better Half and our growing kids at the services, and I might be overtaken by a powerful wave of emotion, as I contemplate the blessings and pains of the year gone by and anticipating the unknown that exists in whatever time that lies ahead. 
I imagine it is a different and curious experience for me, a Fellow Traveler, than for those who are Born Jewish…but for everyone reading this, Jewish or not, for today and the next week, best wishes for health and happiness, and also moments of awareness, contemplation and understanding in the year ahead.

These caught my attention:

Emerging cultural practices in Judaism. Link here

If Christopher Hitchens Met Primo Levi would they agree about G-d?  Link here

Thursday, September 2, 2010

West Nile Mosquito Spraying in Brooklyn Zip Codes Tonite

Notification issued on 9/1/2010 at 4:00 PM. The Department of Health will be spraying for mosquitoes to help prevent West Nile Virus from 8 PM on 9/2 until 6 AM on 9/3 in the following Brooklyn zip codes:

11210,11214, 11223, 11224, 11229, 11230, 11234, and 11235.

Department of Health recommends that whenever possible, stay indoors during spraying. Go to or call 311 for details.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Remembering Septembers

from the classic and hilarious NY Observer article --Why Have a Night Like This In times Like These?' by Frank DiGiacomo

Just weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Friars Club warily proceeded with its planned roast of Hugh Hefner, which included a classic telling of ‘The Aristocrats’ joke. The result? As Frank DiGiacomo reported, the laughter humanized an inhuman time.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, Freddie Roman, the dean of New York’s Friars Club, stood before audience members in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Hilton and asked them to familiarize themselves with the fire exits.

Then, because he’d said that “these are very different times for us all,” he attempted to answer a question that people had been asking him. Mr. Roman’s Vulcanesque eyes and brows scanned the audience before him. The question sounded a little like something that would be asked at Passover. “Why have a night like this in times like these?”

Mr. Roman was referring to the Friars Roast, the club’s yearly ritual of profane humor and insult that was about to get underway with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner in the hot seat.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on New York, the Friars organization and Comedy Central, the cable network that, for the last three years, has taped and televised an expurgated version of the roast (this one will debut on Nov. 4), had, after some debate, decided to go ahead with the event. “It’s time we get back to normal, like Mayor Giuliani and President Bush have asked,” Mr. Roman said. “And for the Friars, this is normal. Telling dirty jokes, making fun of people. That’s what we do, and we’re proud to do it for you,” he said. “So you can get some laughter back in your life and into your hearts.”

While the crowd waited for the cameras to start rolling, Mr. Roman eased into the task at hand.

“A couple married 48 years. Wife takes sick and passes away. Funeral at the Riverside, 78th and Broadway,” Mr. Roman said. “After the service, the pallbearers pick up the coffin. As they’re leaving the building, the coffin hits the wall.” From inside the coffin, he said, the woman’s voice could be heard.

“They open the coffin—it’s a miracle,” he said. “She stays married for another two years. Gets sick, passes away again. After the service, the pallbearers lift the coffin. As they start to leave, the husband yells, ‘Watch out for the wall!’”

The laughter sounded grateful. Mr. Roman got the high sign to introduce Mr. Hefner. A small group of Playmates led the flesh magnate—who looked frighteningly robust and wrinkle-free for a man in his 70’s—to the big red swivel chair on the stage....

At the conclusion of the evening, Gilbert Gottfried took the stage -
The man in the gray tuxedo jacket looked out over the crowd. “I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight,” Mr. Gottfried said. “They said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.”

There was a silence. Then hissing and hooting flooded forward.

“Too soon,” a man could be heard saying in the back of the ballroom.

When the booing started, Mr. Gottfried responded: “Awwwwwww, what the f...k do you care?” Silence fell once more.

Mr. Gottfried had his answer. Up on the podium, he began making strange movements with his arms, as if he was working some sort of invisible machine that could take him back in time to the moment right before he had pushed too far. Seconds passed.

“O.K.,” he continued. His voice was not so loud.

“A talent agent is sitting in his office. A family walks in. A man, woman, two kids, their little dog, and the talent agent goes, ‘What kind of an act do you do?’”

..and there began his classic, insane, recitation of "The Aristocrats."

The full New York Observer link here

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo