Oh also, check out my kickstarter!

July 27, 2012

I am not sure how, but WordPress stats show that this blog still gets like 50 hits every day! There was one post that was featured in the “City Room” section of the New York Times website years ago, so maybe that accounts for it. In any case, maybe some of you random folks out there would care to take a look at my kickstarter project and donate a couple bucks. Thanks!


Read more stuff that I wrote!

July 25, 2012

I no longer reside in Brooklyn, so I’m not updating this site anymore…but you can always read more stuff here:
or here:
or here:

Breaking Bad is Amazing

December 11, 2011

There can be little argument that Arrested Development is one of the finest TV shows ever produced. But it is essentially a pre-recession show: the characters are careless, shallow, and rich, the plot follows executive hijinks at a real estate development company, and the humor revolves around intricate post-modern inside jokes. It’s a lighter-than-air comedy that couldn’t be more delighted with itself.

What people may not know is that Breaking Bad is also one of the best shows ever produced, and perhaps the definitive post-recession show. It’s a brooding drama about wasted talent, the struggle to make ends meet on a middle class paycheck, and the dark temptations of power.

The plot follows Walter White, a brilliant but timid chemistry teacher stuck in a thankless job and a decaying marriage. When Walter, played with otherworldly intensity by Bryan “Dad from Malcom in the Middle” Cranston, receives a cancer diagnosis that’s equivalent to a short order death sentence, he takes matters into his own hands. He decides to use his chemistry expertise to create the purest and most potent crystal methamphetamine in the country.

Suburban Albuquerque, NM (ravaged both by the spread of crystal meth and the collapse of the housing bubble) is the perfect setting for this story — sunny all the time yet extraordinarily bleak. It’s also worth noting that the desert, and this unlikely city right in the middle of it, is photographed beautifully.

The show proceeds slowly and awkwardly, as Walter must find some entry into the drug trade while also fooling his innocent wife and son, who sense his desperation. He happens upon a former student, a shiftless drug addict whose affected urban speech and careless attitude clash with Walt’s meticulousness — and (finally) allows us a little fun. The two are hopelessly out of their depth, and soon blunder into danger. Walt’s family life goes from tense to barely watchable, with the threat of a DEA raid or a brutal gang reprisal lurking in the shadows. In order to lead this double life, Walt gradually slips away from the moral mainstream, from mild mannered everyman to fraught anti-hero. As the suspense builds, Walt finds himself enjoying the thrill of this transformation, even as his life crumbles around him.

I am running late so I’m gonna wind this up: Watch Breaking Bad! Like The Wire, it’s so good, and so unexpectedly pertinent to the real world, that it’s hard to believe such a show was ever produced.

A (final?) thought

June 28, 2010

Well, I’m going through some big and potentially significant life changes. I’m not sure how to approach blogging about them. Also, although I still very much enjoy visiting Brooklyn, I think I’m physically and emotionally far enough away from the borough that I should change things up blog-wise.

(If anyone actually reads this, I’ll keep you “posted.” Zing!)

Anyway, you were promised a thought. Here we go: one of my new roommates appears to have a thing for Ultimate Fighting Championship, the uber-violent cage fighting program that they sometimes show on Spike TV. I have it one some authority that the martial arts style employed in these matches tends to be a roughshod mixture of Thai kick boxing and Brazilian ju jitsu. These two styles form the basis for “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA) because of their devastating effectiveness in the UFC context. When you’re in a one-on-one, no-holds-barred battle the goal of which is to either knock out your opponent or force him (they are invariably men) to submit, you apparently always turn to these techniques. Thus, even though UFC is supposed to be an “anything goes” forum where you might expect there to be representatives from all of the world’s wondrously different martial arts traditions (kinda like that one Van Damme movie), these get homogenized into dominant strategies for survival. This is less fun for the viewer because all of the more interesting and visually appealing styles succumb to this boring MMA crap.

Now. Yesterday, I very nearly attended the North American Organic Brewers Festival. I’m told that a large proportion of the brews at the event were IPAs. Also, a beer magazine recently ranked the “Best Commercial Beers in America” and mentioned that, “six of the top 10 vote-getters in the competition are IPAs, proving that hoppy beers are still king among readers.” Of course, I love IPA as much as the next guy — but I’m also inclined to pause and wonder whether brewing the “best” possible beer (i.e. the most appealing for the largest number of drinkers) is worth it in the long run when all the other styles of brewing might face elimination. Same thing with martial arts. Shouldn’t diversity count for something? That’s my thought.

Scene: the front lines of a farmers market

May 10, 2010

Customer: I love this cheese! But this $10.50 piece is too expensive for me…do you have a smaller piece?
Me: (at my friendliest) Officially, no. But, especially since you are a repeat customer, I could sell you the other half of the piece I’m cutting samples from? I would charge $6.00.
Customer: Hmmmm
Me: Actually, I am running low on quarters…so if you have a quarter, I would charge $5.25.
Customer: Done! But I don’t have a quarter.
Me: OK, $6.00
Customer: So because I don’t have a quarter, you’re charging me an extra 75 cents?
Me: Uh…that’s right.
Customer: (angry) No, that’s wrong! (Buys cheese for $5(!!!) and storms off).

End scene.

In sum, I was trying to do this dude a favor and he gave me shit about it! And stiffed me a quarter/a dollar. I must say, like Dustin Hoffman in the last scene from Straw Dogs I yearned for outrageous violence. Only the strictures of “the law” and “customer service” kept me from stabbing him repeatedly with one of the many, extremely sharp knives that were at my cheese mongering disposal. Bah!

So this blog post is really the only socially acceptable way I could think of to vent my frustration after the fact. And, now that it’s written, I can put my revenge fantasies to rest…

Rare Earth Elements — an abandoned paper topic

April 23, 2010

I was toying with the idea of writing a foreign policy paper about the chemicals depicted below:

Source: Journal of Energy Security, “The Battle Over Rare Earth Metals”

It turns out that the above elements are crucial for the manufacture of a lot of gadgetry, including a large swath of “green” tech. The US and US allies also use them in various hi-tech weapons, e.g. guided missiles. 95% of the current supply of these chemicals is mined in China, which is moving both to restrict their export and increase their domestic consumption of the stuff.

The folks at BBC did a brief video piece on this topic, pointing out that the Chinese monopoly may annoy the Japanese in particular — a point also echoed here. (I would embed the BBC video here, but I don’t appear to be web savvy enough to download it…)

This NYTimes article takes a different angle, focusing on the high environmental cost of mining for these metals. Apparently the extraction process is devastating both to the environment and to communities in the vicinity (similar to uranium mining, I might add.) PBS did a blurb about this as well. So the question becomes: do the benefits of hybrid cars and windmills and cetera outweigh the costs of mining? That’s a legitimate question! It’s just not really a foreign policy question as such…

Environmental drama

April 20, 2010

About 10 minutes ago I caught the distant eye of a Greenpeace canvasser of the hyper aggressive, college campus variety. So, as I approached, I geared up for that moment of Seinfeld-ian awkwardness. I steeled myself for the snub. I held my breath and prepared to quell the inevitable surge of conflicting emotions that canvassers always bring to the surface: the guilt, the sympathy, the cringe inducing, wallet clutching cheapness…I practiced the snub in my head. I was determined. Should I fail, I said to myself, I’ll just voice a half-assed phrase of support without breaking stride. “Love the enthusiasm!” or some such.

But then the dude didn’t even look me in the eye! *He* snubbed me. I am flabbergasted.

See, I feel like I’m always singled out for special attention from enviro-type canvassers. They (used to) take one look at my long hair and scruffy demeanor and just zero in. This time, however, my hair is short for the first time in recent memory, I’m walking with (an affect of) purpose, and I’m wearing a conservative suit. So I guess these signals allowed the canvasser to predict — correctly, of course — that I was a lost cause. Still, it stings a little.


But here’s the irony: I am in costume, for class. In a couple hours I’ll debut my role as the hard-nosed mayor of a fictional rust belt burg hoping to court developers to start work on a new asphalt plant in the industrial zone of the city. During my term in office, I’ve been very successful in re-zoning the city to facilitate economic development, apparently, and I intend to continue bringing in jobs whilst greasing the palms of my construction industry buddies. This asphalt plant may be yet another source of pollution, but it will save the city millions on various construction projects including new highways and a new airport runway, for which I’ve even received Department of Transportation funding! (Thank you, ARRA 2009.) As long as the ambient air quality comes out better than the low state/federal standards, I’m set.

But, what’s this? Now I have to quash a pesky community group!

Said group claims, with moral fervor and regrettably solid public health evidence, that the proposed plant will disproportionately effect their predominantly low income African American neighborhood. This constitutes environmental racism, they say, and all their rabble rousing has created a firestorm of controversy that could empower my opponents at the City Council and jeopardize my political career. (cue: diminished chord!)

Luckily, their avenues of legal redress are limited, especially because the developers voluntarily performed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and received unanimous approval from the Zoning and Building Authority. But the local Department of Environmental Quality is complaining that the EIA isn’t comprehensive enough, though they don’t have the authority to do anything about it — except to invoke the little known “fail safe” option! (aaand…another chord). Said option empowers the Director of DEQ to delay the permitting process — which is a perilous business, since I have deadlines to worry about for this ARRA money.

Meanwhile, the community group is lobbying the City Council to establish a special Planning Council just for their neighborhood. Of course, I could veto such an initiative — but if I register opposition, I’ll come off as the bad guy. That said, if I just go along with it then other neighborhoods might imitate this tactic. And then I’ll be swimming in community initiatives and the costly legal and bureaucratic hurdles that they present.

So: I favor the status quo. The best way to maintain it would be to buy the compliance of the community folks and other city officials — which reminds me of the excellent scene in Back to School where Rodney Dangerfield scoffs at the ivory tower economics professor who forgot to factor mafia kickbacks into his calculations.

Since corruption is not an option, I could do the next best thing and offer a substantial “development assistance and neighborhood risk reduction package,” or similar, to try to cut down health risks. But much of this funding would have to come from reducing the tax break for the developers *and* requiring them to match the city’s contribution. They aren’t likely to be super happy about that, though of course they’ve already invested a ton of money in buying the site, conducting their EIA, etc…so they are in fairly deep and they become my natural allies in this situation.

We’ll see how the drama plays out. Let’s just hope that the community organizers don’t put together an 80’s montage and break dancing contest — because then they’ll be sure to triumph at the last moment!


March 25, 2010

The Cheesus Burger!

Think about a cheeseburger with all the trimmings, including grilled onions. Now replace the two buns with TWO GRILLED CHEESE SANDWHICHES.

Grease. Beauty. Bliss.

The proprietors of the Grilled Cheese Grill (Portland, OR) have called their invention “The Soon-to-be-Famous Burger Behemoth.” This is something of a misrepresentation. Yes, the Cheesus is massive; but more importantly, it is a clever solution to an age old burger problem, i.e. the lack of a crunchy exterior. Pure American ingenuity, yessir. In fact, were the State Department still looking for exhibitor submissions for the US pavilion at the upcoming Shanghai World Expo, I would nominate this sandwich.

PSA: Cell Phone Radiation

March 4, 2010

The latest Environmental Working Group PSA seeks to raise our awareness of radiation generated by cell phones, and proffers a number of interesting recommendations.

My favorite is #3: LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS
According to EWG, “Your phone emits radiation when you talk or text, but not when you’re receiving messages. Listening more and talking less reduces your exposures.”

But if you refrain from talking, won’t your unfortunate conversation partner talk even more, to fill in the awkward gaps? Is their health less important than your own? Of course, if they’re in the know, they’ll also try to keep from talking…aaaand hilarity ensues.

What makes things “dramatic”?

February 22, 2010

The following two random pieces of text offer some bizarrely similar insights here.
First, from a recent Onion AV Club interview with Olivia “Teacher from Rushmore” Williams:

“We had an ancient Prussian acting coach at my drama school who said the worst offense you could commit was to let your subtext show. He would say: [Prussian accent] ‘Your subtext is showing.’ That is the point of acting, it is to be saying one thing and not be allowed by society or your predicament to show what you’re reallying feeling. In a way, I think that’s why the therapy generation has killed scriptwriting, because all you ever get is people going, “Hi, I’m feeling really angry right now.” And if you say that, you’ve got nothing left to act. The excruciating moments of drama are when people are allowed to show or way what they feel.”

Second, from an article on Mad Men that appears in the latest issue of Jump Cut — (if you haven’t seen Season 2 of the show, watch out for SPOILERS):

“In season 2, episode 8 (A Night to Remember), when Office Manager, Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), temporarily takes on the job of script reader for the newly formed TV sales department, the opening may be in part due to Peggy’s earlier successes. It’s easy to project some proto-feminist movement, even as the harsh sexist environment reasserts its dominance through the hiring of an inexperienced man to permanently take over the new position. The department has become successful because of Joan’s insight into how to sell soap to women and when interest will be piqued on daytime TV. When Joan discovers that she has been unceremoniously replaced — the torpedo bra torpedoed — and is expected to train her replacement, her disappointment is overwhelming. (Or is that our disappointment?) The emotion is allowed only the briefest moment of escape before Joan’s façade reasserts control.

The program’s richest moments are ruptures like these, brief moments when the characters experience confusion or disappointment but then struggle not to let it show, when their real selves and the images they have constructed come into conflict. These are moments of vulnerability, of reality asserting itself briefly into the world of the image. Our clean, colorful 60s fantasy is interrupted by such casual brutality. We are reminded of the real constraints under the binding clothing, the actual challenges and limitations of the period.”

Mad Men is set in a world where social norms that we take for granted haven’t arisen yet, so it’s doubly poignant when Joan gets passed over for that promotion and can’t do anything about it. I’d argue that you also see this effect in non-Mad Men period pieces where great attention is paid to courtly facade — Jane Austen adaptations, Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, the movie version of Remains of the Day…etc.

So, with respect to Ms. Williams’ remark, *is* acting all about hiding the character’s feelings while also expressing them? Or could it simply be the case that British actors are trained with a certain type of drama in mind?