Archive for December, 2007

I got Gore-d!

December 31, 2007

in a way only indirectly related to global warming or climate change discourse.

In this speech Al Gore outlines the way that television, a medium controlled by the few and the rich and whose sole purpose is to sell advertisements, hijacked the public forum and political process in the US. Everybody talks about the fact that an independent and impartial media is vital to democracy, but fewer people, I think, discuss the vital importance of the public forum for ideas. Well, Al Gore claims that TV has ruined both of these institutions. Public judgment and perception are being confused and manipulated by rich corporate interests who control television, the most powerful medium ever.

Check out current television the project to create user-generated TV and let the “meritocracy of ideas” work its magic.

Yay Al Gore!

How THE SILLIEST GAME EVER apparently works

December 28, 2007

Brilliant neurologist and acclaimed author Vilayanur Ramachandran gave a talk that addresses exactly what I was wondering about on this blog a few days ago, with regards to the bizarre (and super fun) game in which you guess the sounds of visual art:

Note in particular the last segment in which he compares the two fictitious letters of the Martian alphabet. Just as my friends and I came up with the same sounds for each sculpture, 99% of the audience comes up with the same sound for the Martian letters. Apparently our brains have an apparatus called the fusiform gyrus which is responsible for the levels of abstraction that the museum game demands.

Holidaze, or Ludichristmas (part III)

December 28, 2007

Christmas was beautiful.

The champagne at breakfast, the best way to enhance holiday cheer. Then the mutual exchange of gifts that nobody can really afford. Then the communal dog-walking through Rock Creek. Then the telephone banter with cheery British relatives which, because they’re five hours further advanced in the feasting process, is always reasurringly prophetic of things to come. Then the cooking and devouring of the Christmas dinner and, the ultimate British tradition to end all others, the Christmas pudding. This is basically fruit cake soaked in brandy, lit aflame, and served with brandy butter. It is better than the birth of Jesus.

This year my mom decided to throw a Boxing Day party at our house as well, in an attempt to foist Britishness upon her friends and co-workers. It’s a great time to party, actually, because who really has plans on the day after Christmas? What does anyone really want to do on December 26? You want to clean your house and purchase cartloads of alcohol, of course! And hob nob!

But now I’m back in Brooklyn. I’m in the rather comfortable position of returning to work on a Friday, then having another two days off before facing a real work week. Also, nobody is here. There’s nothing like the absence of both staff and clients to slow things down at a community center.

I am looking forward to lunch at Johnnie’s on 5th and 58th, where you can get a gargantuan lasagna pizza slice for 2.75

lasagna on pizza!
holy shit!

Holidaze, or Ludichristmas (part II)

December 24, 2007

Bus rides to DC can be super fun, as it turns out.

Then yesterday we had a few cheap Bloody Marys and engaged in Bethesda-style last minute Christmas shopping. This is my parents’ method; Alcohol numbs pain and, let’s not forget, the insane Bourgeois consumerism shit show that is Christmas time can be painful.

Morris Louis

Later on some friends and I ventured to the Hirschorn gallery on the Mall. It’s among my favorite DC museums because of the comfy chairs and because the art tends towards the abstract without being really pretentious about it. Like, two years ago they had a very memorable Anselm Keifer exhibit and many years before that they had a big Chuck Close show. This time the painter in question was an American guy Morris Louis, who in his working life had been obsessed with vibrant colors and what happens when they overlap. Unfortunately, as any seasoned Crayola kid knows, overlapping vibrant colors generally produce brown or puce. Still, it was cool and up to the Hirschorn standard.

Then we started looking at sculptures and came up with THE SILLIEST GAME EVER. Wander around the sculpture portion of the Hirschorn gallery (or similar) and try to see what noise you’d expect each sculpture to make if it could talk. What would it’s voice sound like? What kind of sound would it make? We found that we all had similar sounds for each piece. How is this possible? I have no idea. How are the visual and auditory senses linked with one another? Is art universal? Can it communicate in a way that we hadn’t previously conceptualized? It was insane. People thought we were on drugs and, indeed, it kind of felt like we were.

Funnily enough, when we got to a sculpture that was mixed media (metal, wood, and concrete all together) we were all stumped. Weird, huh?

Try the sculpture game! What kind of sound is he making?

Thinker

What about this one?

abstract__sculpture.jpg

Or this one?

hiveley_spotteapot_lg.jpg

It probably works better in 3d…but you get the idea.

Holidaze, or Ludichristmas (part I)

December 21, 2007

I’m not usually one to blog about food choices.
That having been said, reader, I haven’t gone grocery shopping in weeks. I can’t remember the last time I packed my lunch.
I just show up at work, assume there’ll be something free for me to munch on, and lo and behold.

In fact, all or nearly all of my caloric intake in the past two weeks has been from office parties, office party leftovers, adult ed class parties, or adult ed class party leftovers.

In the past week, for example, I have subsisted off of:

  • coffee and soda (uncountable cups of)
  • fried chicken
  • pizza
  • yucca fritta (a common Cuban restaurant leftover)
  • A lobster salad sandwich (a godsend)
  • noodle concoctions, tofu, dumplings, chicken and broccoli (all donated by Adult Ed students of the Chinese lady persuasion)
  • 7-up cake (the best thing ever to come out of K-Mart)
  • other kinds of cake with vanilla Jello actually *in* the cake (all the rage these days)
  • untold numbers of Dunkin’ Donuts
  • brownies, SO much more cake, including 7-layer candy cake (which has the same simplicity::deliciousness ratio as Katey Rich’s saltine toffee)

The list goes on. I don’t feel proud of any of it, but the most pitiful item which I haven’t yet mentioned consists of chocolates scarfed down in a late night binge as I watched as many episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” as their somewhat scanty availability on the internet would permit.

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll climb aboard the good ole Washington Deluxe and bus it back to DC, my first trip home since September.
I’m hoping that I can thereby break this spiral of culinary madness.

But I know in the back of my mind that home will furnish forth Christmas cookies, alcohol, the obligatory British-style brandy-soaked Christmas pudding and mince pies, chocolate coins, other holiday-themed tidbits…there is no hope.

The Cro-Hill Community Assocation (or, How Music Affects Your Mood)

December 19, 2007

Geoff and I finally made it to a meeting of the local community association, which convened last night at the Hatian American Daycare Center on St. John’s and Bedford Ave in Crown Heights.

Amidst Christmas decorations and colorful posters about famous Hatians, Councilwoman Laetitia James spoke, which is actually something of a big deal. (There was a Jeopardy! question about Laetitia James because she is the first Third Party member of the city council in New York’s history; Ms. James is a member of the Working Families Party.)

Councilwoman James

She explained that the Cro-Hill assocation actually had upwards of $150,000 at its disposal, the remains of an old grant from the Dormitory Authority of New York State. From my limited experience with non-profit work, I know that “spend it or lose it” is a way of life…especially in an economy teetering on the brink of recession. So a rousing debate ensued about whether to spend the money on security cameras (to fight crime) or the general beautification of Franklin Ave (to fight ugliness). Those readers who are familiar with my apartment might know that we live close to a giant castle-like armory building, converted into a homeless shelter. Well, Ms. James is apparently spearheading the effort to turn this building into a community athletic center within the next year. If you happen to be Bill or James, this counts as news!

The lady sitting next to me remarked in a low voice that the community assocation was actually advocating for gentrification. This makes somse sense. Beautification projects, trying to attract new bussinesses, the proposed closing of the homeless shelter, the effort to get kids off the street and into a community athletic center…seems like good stuff. But this lady was suggesting that the community assocation was actually forcing itself out of existence. When rents go up, working class people will no longer be able to afford Crown Heights, hence no more community association.

On the other hand, Councilwoman James told an interesting story about how there *used* to be community centers in the neighborhood, but they had been replaced by big condo developments. In addition to its vague similarity to the plot of “Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo,” this story was also interesting because it suggested the community association was trying to work *against* the effects of gentrification.

More interesting stuff: Did you know that 3-8 IN THE AFTERNOON is when most (reported) street crimes are committed? Weird.

Anyway, during the meeting Geoff and I had the horrendous misfortune to sit next to a Christmas tree whose blaring hi-tone 8-bit Christmas melodies were overlapping upon one another to create a kind of dissonant Charles Ives effect. Imagine King’s Quest-like renditions of “Jingle Bells” and “The 12 Days of Christmas” playing at the same time and you’ll have an idea of this Christmas cacophony. Combined with an extraordinarily loud microwave beeping for attention in the distance, this soundscape had very real and very uncomfortable physical effects upon me. Something like getting my teeth drilled at the dentist.

christmas-lights.jpg

I never knew such things existed! Geoff pointed out that his Judaism and concommitant lack of experience with Christmas trees prevented him from having the know-how to put an end to the torture.

I heard a cool episode of This American Life recently, called “Mapping”. One of the acts was about how normal devices (computers, radiators, telephones, refridgerators, etc.) usually generate a tone; the interval or chord of more than one device buzzing in the background at all times can actually have concrete effects on your mood and energy level.

GRE!

December 16, 2007

Well, it’s over and done with.
I got a 760 verbal and 700 math! (both are out of 800)
700 math is apparently only like 75th percentile, but it’s way better than I thought I’d do!
So it’s time to get crunkd

UPDATE (4:45 AM): mission accomplished! Yay for Wesleyan-related holiday cheer

one amazing hot sauce

December 8, 2007

My infatuation with Frank’s Red Hot is so sudden and complete that it warrants a post.
It’s just so cayenne pepper-y good! Spicy but not too spicy!

franksbottleshot1.jpg

In fact, the original recipe for Buffalo wings calls for Frank’s.

When we’re running low on household necessities, the roommates and I are usually pretty slow to replenish them.
But a few weeks ago when the communal bottle of Frank’s was almost empty, Geoff and I both immediately and independently bought another one.

So this hot sauce is so good, in our mutual estimation, that it’s more important than trash bags or toilet paper or paying the bills on time.

The recovery process begins here…*deep breath*

December 5, 2007

Regardless of the fact that this is a quasi-public forum and therefore quite accesible to future potential employers, I’ll admit it: My name is Thomas and I am a slacker.

As a slacker, my usual approach to any project at previous jobs has been to do it just quickly enough to avoid arousing suspicion. Usually I have minimal responsibility and the boss tells me what to do. I get it done, of course, but slack as much as is possible without jeopardizing the work facade. Charm, humor, and my carefully cultivated look of vague pedantic-ness have served me well as my most effective shadow tactics. Parents, managers, bosses, piano teachers, even professors have fallen victim to it.

But my job is so very different now. My slackerdom is in **severe crisis**

First, I’m supposed to decide for myself what to do all day and how to do it. Huh?

Second, I’m working directly with clients and alot of the stuff I tell them can be boiled down to the tenets of anti-slackerdom: set goals, make plans, try hard, be confident, etc.

Finally, most disturbing, my boss is a professional career counselor who treats me like a client. So instead of periodically poking her head around the cubicle to ask for the latest TPS resport, she schedules weekly supervision sessions with me and expects me to go over my “progress”. In detail! She makes action plans, uses bullet points, and asks me questions like, “where do you see yourself in five years?” And she is persistently perky, unbelievably upbeat, crazy nice ALL THE FREAKING TIME.

ARGHHHH the whole experience is so unnerving, so difficult in exactly that way that growth experiences tend to be…it’s a good pain. Kind of like yoga.

I still wish it would go away.
I wish I could zone out all day, watch Battlestar all night, and repeat.
But I can’t!

Hey, other American people say silly crap about China too!

December 4, 2007

What a surprise. From today’s NYTimes, David Brooks’ op-ed column entitled “Dictatorship of Talent”, a thought experiment about China:

“The meritocratic corpocracy absorbs rival power bases. Once it seemed that economic growth would create an independent middle class, but now it is clear that the affluent parts of society have been assimilated into the state/enterprise establishment. Once there were students lobbying for democracy, but now they are content with economic freedom and opportunity.

The corpocracy doesn’t stand still. Its members are quick to admit China’s weaknesses and quick to embrace modernizing reforms (so long as the reforms never challenge the political order).

Most of all, you believe, educated paternalism has delivered the goods. China is booming. Hundreds of millions rise out of poverty. There are malls in Shanghai richer than any American counterpart. Office towers shoot up, and the Audis clog the roads.

You feel pride in what the corpocracy has achieved and now expect it to lead China’s next stage of modernization — the transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. But in the back of your mind you wonder: Perhaps it’s simply impossible for a top-down memorization-based elite to organize a flexible, innovative information economy, no matter how brilliant its members are.

That’s a thought you don’t like to dwell on in the middle of the night.”

I guess the argument is that because the Communist Party is a paternalistic boys club made up of people who happened to have been able to grab power and ace all the elite school exams, China is going to have problems growing into a service economy.

I don’t understand. Isn’t America elitist? Don’t people at the highest levels of corporate and US government power collude with one another? Aren’t we content with economic prosperity rather than actual democracy? Doesn’t our government also resist reforms that would actually pose a challenge to the powers that be? Have we really “organized a flexible, innovative information economy?” If so, how did we do it? In what way would China have trouble doing the same thing?