Archive for February, 2008

Movie memories

February 29, 2008

2007 was a fantastic year for Hollywood films. And 2008 has started out very promising, despite the strike.

I don’t remember the last time there was such an abundance of top-notch movies in theaters that I actually wanted to hang out all day and sneak between films. Thanks to the oblivious employees of AMC 42nd st, some friends and I recently took in a truly excellent double feature: “Be Kind Rewind” and “Persepolis”. Weeks before that we saw a fabulous triple feature: “Juno”, “Michael Clayton”, and “Strange Wilderness”. And before that we saw “Trailer Park Boys” and “There Will Be Blood”. Awesome.

The key is to alternate genres!

Garth Franklin, creator of amateurish Hollywood film fan site Dark Horizons, posts a list of his favorite films every year after the Oscars. This is, of course, a favorite activity for film pundits great and small…but Garth posted his list along with his old lists of yearly favorites, since 1993: The BEST Films of 1993-2007

Just a cursory glance at the list tells you that Franklin is not to be trusted. For example, who in their right mind liked “Serial Mom” better than “The Shawshank Redemption”? “Serial Mom” is a fine film, but…let’s get serious. On the other hand, the appearance of the film “Rob Roy” on Best of 1995 boosts his credibility a bit.

My point is that I’ve spent so much of my life infatuated with cinema that reading this list is almost like seeing an uber-sentimental Wonder-Years -esque slideshow of my adolescence. I remember being obsessed with “The Fugitive” after seeing it in the cinema, excited by the unprecedented hype of “Jurassic Park”, enthralled and corrupted by “Pulp Fiction”. I remember being enchanted by “The Lion King”,waiting in line forever to see “GoldenEye” on opening day, and being baffled and frightened by “Trainspotting” and “The English Patient” (I still am not sure what the hell is going on in the later one).

I remember in 1999 when Hollywood movies had a flowering of sorts: “American Beauty”, “The Matrix”, “Fight Club” (although this a film which doesn’t impress as much as it did when I was 14). And that same year I saw “Galaxy Quest” 3 separate times in the theater because I’m such a hopeless nerd!

I could go on down the list, tracing movies through to high school, into college and out of it, across continents and back…but it wouldn’t be interesting for anybody except myself.

Suffice to say, perhaps in a Katey Rich-sounding phrase, movies are an awesome part of life.

AND in case you missed the tear jerker indie musical “Once”, here’s the 2007 Academy Award Winner for Best Song that has been stuck in my head for days:

Check out Glen Hansard’s goofy facial expressions as he sings the chorus!

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Looking for a new way to waste time on the subway?

February 27, 2008

I was riding on the L train to Williamsburg to partake of Free PBR Tuesdays when my erstwhile companion pointed out a too-freaky-for-a-schoolnight optical illusion.

Check out this familiar image:

1 train

Take a few steps back from the computer screen, if you have the space/energy. Look at the 1 in the circle and move your head slowly left, then right, keeping your eye on the 1.
Isn’t that weird?

We observed that this works best with a black background and with the red trains: 1, 2, and 3. It also works slightly with the orange trains: F, V and, let’s not forget, D.

Here’s the 2:

2-train.jpg

and the somewhat less effective F:

f-train.jpg

I’ve looked through every optical illusion on wikipedia
and have so far failed to come up with the relevant example from psych literature. It could either be a physiological thing, to do with rods and codes and the way that cells in your eyes work, or a cognitive thing, to do with the way the brain organizes visual stimuli. Any thoughts?

Local Warming

February 25, 2008

If you were there for the TORNADO that touched down in Bay Ridge/Sunset Park last summer, let alone the bizarre February fluctuations of temperature we’ve been going through (from 5 degrees to 65 degrees and back), you know that climate change is a very real, tangible thing here in Brooklyn. It seems that neighborhood organizations and city officials have also noticed this, and have started to do something about it! And as a member of the Sunset Park Community HealthCorps, I guess I’m sort of already implicated in all this.

This Friday I attended a community gathering to learn/raise awareness about what the concrete effects of climate change will be in the foreseeable future. The meeting, hosted by UPROSE, “Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community based organization,” focused on what we can expect in Brooklyn, particularly in Sunset Park. It turns out that since most of the industry and crucial infrastructure in SP is located close to the waterfront, small changes in sea-level rise, the intensity of tropical storms, and the length of heat waves will drastically impact the quality of life here. Presenters from the Office of Emergency Management and the Mayor’s Office PLANYC2030 gave talks in which they expressed keen unwavering awareness of the following facts:

  • Scientists predict an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes; it is more and more likely that a storm will hit us, even this far North. Hurricane season starts in the summer time, so you should prepare accordingly
  • OEM has calculated that if a hurricane strikes NYC or the environs (apparently Atlantic City is more likely based on meteorological data) this will likely leave about 2.3 million New Yorkers without housing, approximately 650,000 of whom will have to seek public housing. That is an insane number.
  • By 2039, NYC expects to experience over 70 days per year with temperatures over 90 degrees.
  • Today’s impacts come from emissions generated 50 years ago. Even if we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we are going to experience intensifying climate change impacts. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions in NYC are going steadily UP.
  • Nearly 80% of greenhouse emissions can be attributed to heating, cooling, and lighting buildings. Hence, amending the building code to promote green building practices will be a crucial step in cutting down on the carbon.

NYC is generally considered to be on the up and up. For the past 3 decades, NYC has been reviving its industries, infrastructure, parks, etc. and has been concurrently experiencing a decrease in crime, an increase in tourism, population, etc. I’m pretty impressed that the Mayor’s Office is taking this growth as an opportunity to raise awareness not only about mitigation of global warming but about adaptation to the coming changes; in fact, according to them,this represents the first climate change adaptation project in the United States. AND this meeting is the first neighborhood-level community outreach in the adaptation project, hence the first such meeting in the US! How bout that?

Hipsters in Crown Heights

February 20, 2008

I was at the laundromat doing my thing last night when I was moved to intone, like the little girl in Poltergeist, “Theyrrrr’re hee-eere!”

I’ve had worrisome sightings in the past; A messenger bag or an ironic T-shirt flitting by the corner of my eye as I crossed Atlantic Ave, the late night appearance of a group of painfully white, painfully bad A Capella singers clad in knit scarves on the Franklin Ave. Shuttle, a coiffured couple smoking cloves and moving hazily along on Fulton St….but never anything as definitive as this.

are-you-a-log-lady.jpg

Information R/evolution! (+ CHEAP weekend festivities)

February 17, 2008

I spent about half my working hours in the past week sitting in meetings, the goal of which were to streamline data collection and analysis for the Adult Education and Job Training programs. Currently these comprise an ugly, unwieldy mass of forms, binders, ridiculously slow data entry and retrieval using second-rate software, all to produce practically meaningless results. It makes you simultaneously angry, tired, and oh so profoundly uninterested in data collection.

THE PROBLEM: Teachers don’t keep good records, the data-entry system is archaic and under-staffed, documents have to be filed and stored in multiple locations because of limited space…etc.

THE PROPOSED SOLUTION: Pretty much everyone at these meetings kept talking about how we need to get more data entry people on staff, organize workshops and seminars to educate teachers and students about the importance of accurate data, call the makers of our shitty database software for support…etc.

THE ACTUAL SOLUTION: If teachers and counselors had a digital, web-based system that they could access themselves, then they could collect and enter meaningful data, monitor students’ progress, and we could give funders an accurate idea of what kind of service we’re actually providing. The essential problem is that we’re stuck in this mire of having to have hard copies of everything, which inevitably limits the way we can organize and interpret information.

This video gives you an idea what I mean (thanks to Jenny):

If you happened to have read Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”, you’re familiar with this idea that media “shape and re-shape the ways in which individuals, societies, and cultures perceive and understand the world.” Of course McLuhan did his PhD work at Cambridge in the 1930’s under formalist giants I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis who famously promoted the idea that the words of a poem, the language itself should be the subject of study because text actually shaped context. Funnily enough, this idea can be applied to the way that the actual textual quality of the data we collect in the Adult Ed program influences the way that the program is (dis)organized.

ANYWAY, a terrific President’s Day weekend so far; chilling with co-worker types, talking copious nonsense, reuniting with long lost friends. Given that this is NYC, all this fun was had for unbelievably cheap. Consider some stats:

$5 for 30 hand-made dumplings (thanks to Family Dumpling), 120 dumplings purchased, 5 people = a marvelously gluttonous Friday night. Gloriously simple “dump cake” for dessert.

$2.99 for a bottle of quaffable wine (thanks to Trader Joe’s Wine Shop), 8 or so bottles purveyed (thanks to David), 7 people = an uproarious Saturday evening. I also migrated to a refreshingly affordable East Village watering hole for more fun and “I haven’t seen you since graduation!”s

Chocolate Coffee (or Mocha for you ponces out there)

February 14, 2008

I’m gonna make a flurry of controversial statements by way of preface, hold on to your proverbial hat:

You damn hippies!
Ok, ok. Regardless of these facts, an ordinary guy like me periodically feels the need for a little milk-like substance. So we should consider the following:

  • Milk always spoils before you can use all of it
  • Soy Milk never spoils, but is not good in coffee. Quite good in cereal though
  • Hence, the only reason to keep milk in the house is for coffee.

Yes, I said it. If you want calcium, eat sunflower seeds or other nuts.

Now here’s my final fact:

  • Mocha coffee is better than normal coffee because it has chocolate in it

Q.E.D. Keep a box of Swiss Miss or similar hot cocoa mix (which has powdered milk mixed in with the chocolate) so that you can stir it into your coffee. This accheives the coveted Mocha effect AND eliminates the need for milk-like substance.

Yay!

Of course, coffee inhibits your beloved calcium and the myriad negative effects of caffiene are well known at this point. Like that’s gonna stop you…

MMORPGamers: Bush’s package not stimulating enough!

February 11, 2008

Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are linked to the real world economy as game fanatics trade actual currency for experience points, magical items, or Dragon Kill Points and vice versa. The market is volatile, however, and unstable; witches and warlocks everywhere are bracing for recession as the value of Dragon Gold has entered an unprecedented downward spiral in accordance with its real-world counterpart.

ss02.jpg

This recent NYTimes editorial bemoans the stimulus package, the government’s lame attempt to revive the ailing economy, as irresponsible; “the opposite of what is needed long term.” But they’ve neglected a crucial part of the market from their considerations: Gamers! That’s right. Bush’s tax cut for the rich may be the best way for the game economy to be revitalized. Zit-faced basement-dwelling computer gamers are probably not receiving food stamps anyway.

Eve Ensler for President

February 5, 2008

Given that I’m a Wes graduate, perhaps I’m a little late on the uptake as far as this stuff is concered. Nonetheless, I went to see Eve Ensler speak tonight at The New School, the progressive university in Greenwhich Village.

So she’s not an intellectual…but outside of academia I’ve never heard someone talk so forcefully about the thick, interconnected, many-sided nature of oppression in every day life.

I mean she drew the structural connections between the patriarchy, genocide, capitalism, the ritual removal of the clitoris, the war in Iraq, and the climate change catastrophe. According to her, the cultural attitudes that permit violence against women are the same ones which generate racism, class-ism, the gender binary, and war.

She’s not Ghandi…but I’ve never heard a more forceful argument for nonviolence.
Basically, I can’t remember the last time I was so inspired. Here’s a vid of Ms. Ensler:

“The Vagina Monologues” and its language of empowerment for women has given rise to a new iteration of global feminist power called V-Day, something which I’m sure most people have heard about by now. What’s cool about it is the truly transnational form it has taken, emerging through networks of information rather than bureaucratic top down configuration. Women all over the world, even in the most doggedly rigid cultural environments, have spoken up against the vicious and largely unreported violence against women that takes place every day. Raising awareness and building solidarity are the first steps to real, structural change, and I’m excited to be a part of it in whatever way possible.

Yay vaginas!