Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sungha Jung and his Amazing Guitar Licks

I'm not sure where I've been for the past two years but Korean preteen Sungha Jung has been on YouTube showing off some of the most wicked guitar work I've ever seen.

Clearly a guitar prodigy, Jung has made quite a reputation for himself playing striking arrangements of pop hits playing both the rhythm and the melody through his one guitar - even if the song was originally meant for two guitars and a singer.

It's truly hard to pick a favorite as each piece is not only ridiculously skillfully played, but also very thoughtfully arranged. His steady "California Dreamin'", his re-imagining of "No Woman No Cry" from 2007 and his perfect reproduction of "The Boxer" from 2008 have been among my favorites. His latest video, an amazingly intricate picking of "Isn't She Lovely" immediately rose to the near top of the list however my favorite video still has to be his 2007 video of "All Along the Watchtower". Enjoy:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Farewell Myspace Music, We Knew Thee... Kind Of

According to TechCrunch the free streaming service Myspace Music will soon be heading for a pay model.

I'll be honest here, before I read this story I'd never even heard of Myspace Music and had no idea what it was. I hadn't touched my Myspace profile in years. It seems that the service is little more than a year old and, at least at first, sported some very ambitious ideas. It was to be a cross between imeem and the iTunes music store in that people could make playlists and stream any number of major label music tracks and while users could pay per download to purchase the songs the lion's share of revenue was to come from advertising. The problem lay in the fact that Myspace Music is bleeding money in the form of royalties to the major music labels and its ad revenue, due to the fact that nobody uses Myspace anymore, is not sufficient to keep the service afloat. It's hard to believe that a paid subscription model will save the offshoot as having to pay for something doesn't seem like it would attract a userbase that is already fleeing.

On the bright side, this probably won't affect the streaming on normal Myspace profiles, contrary to Prefix's misreading of the situation. Any band that wants to put their own music on the site will still be able to do so, and people will be able to listen to it for free. Really, this is the only thing that makes Myspace worthwhile at all.

Wyclef Jean Returns to the Streets

In a recent interview on Prefix 'Clef expounds on how his new album, From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansions will return to his roots:

It comes from the era when I was coming up, and the mixtape was how music got out there. From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansions is recorded in that style. It’s beat driven with pure spitting over it.

Interestingly enough, part of the inspiration for the back-to-rapping feel of the record was a fan approaching him on the street and being disappointed he wasn't of the Black Eyed Peas - ironically another musician who has gotten away from songs that are, well, good.

The first video from the record, "Streets Pronounce Me Dead", highlights the central theme of the album: 'Clef resurrecting the style from his earlier music after "the streets" claim he's grown too far from where he started. The song is very reminiscent of Lupe Fiasco's The Cool with spare, steady beats over a husky, coarse, straightforward delivery. Check it:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chamillionaire Strikes Back at Haters

Though it remains to be seen who is actually worse off after listening to the song - the haters or the innocent bystanders that had the misfortune of listening to it. The video itself is interesting enough, with little pop-ups highlighting the spoils of his career, showing off his "bling" and letting everyone know how "balla" he is.

The song, however, is crap. You have to be pretty cheeky to sample Tom Petty at all, let alone his most notable work, "Free Fallin". I mean, seriously, this is one of the most beloved songs in American rock music. If you're going to drop a beat onto it, it'd better be good. Chamillionaire, however, brings weak sauce and the lyrics he spits over top aren't much better, all corn and cheese. Ironically I guess this post makes me a hater, and as such this song was meant for me. So take a listen as Chamillionaire tells me good morning and smiles his way to the bank.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lists and More Lists

Thanks to yum! I've spent a good part of the day reading food lists. Not just any food lists, however.

Apparently last year the food blog Very Good Taste posted it's its (in the possessive and not contracted sense) Omnivore's Hundred, or list of 100 foods every omnivore should have before he/she dies. This has apparently been a hit meme for quite a while though I'd never heard of it (so, really, it can't have been...)

Kathy over at Happy. Healthy. Life. responded with her Vegan Hundred. My results for both follow, with the stuff I've had bolded.

Don't Let the Door Hit You...

I've been a fan of Lily Allen. I enjoyed her first album, Alright, Still and thought her second album, It's Not Me, It's You showed some serious growth and sported some pretty wicked songs. I won't get to enjoy a third installment, though, since she's apparently quit music. The reason? Online file sharing.
Now Allen has said she won’t renew her contract with EMI, because “the days of me making money from recording music have been and gone as far as I'm concerned.” All posts on Allen’s blog have mysteriously disappeared in the wake of this statement, so it’s unclear what her next move will be.

Now, I'm in the midst of reading Michael Azzerad's Our Band Could Be Your Life filled with stories of some of the most celebrated underground bands from that time period barely scraping by while creating some seriously timeless and influential tunes. Juxtaposing this sacrifice for the sake of art with Allen's unwillingness to continue making music because she doesn't think she's making enough money from record sales (while touring in her luxurious tour bus and getting paid for songs in commercials) is pretty damn infuriating.

You know what, Ms. Allen? Your entire career only exists because of the internet. If the droves on Myspace hadn't supported your songs your first album wouldn't have happened. (This is a true story. EMI wanted Allen to fill a record with songs written by professional pop songwriters, but she posted the tracks for Alright, Still on her Myspace page and they were so warmly received that the company decided to run with them.) Saying this same internet community is stealing from you while simply engaging in the same thing that got you famous in the first place is hypocrisy. If you aren't making enough money from record sales I suggest you consult the major label record contract you signed which probably gives you a pitifully small portion of album sales to make up for the money EMI has spent marketing you.

Since the advent of recorded music and record contracts, artists have always made the lions share of their money on the road through tours and merch. I'm not saying you don't deserve to be paid for your music - of course you do - but blaming online file sharing for the failures of the major label music industry to adapt to a changing environment is ludicrous. I don't know how often I need to make this point, but one download does not equal one sale lost. People download stuff all the time just because it's available whether they like it or not. Any downloader's hard drive is likely filled with music that, if they had to pay for it, they wouldn't have it at all. And if you think that they shouldn't have it if they're not willing to pay, that's understandable... but thinking they've taken money from you is just false.

Getting to the real crux of my problem with this outburst, though, Lily Allen was unheard of six years ago. She signed a record deal, toured the world, played in front of packed audiences, made the music that she wanted to make and generally did more - and made more - than a lot of landmark and/or Hall of Fame acts ever did and yet is still griping about her paycheck.

Music doesn't need your attitude, Ms. Allen. And as fun as your songs were, it doesn't really need your music either.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tax on Pop a Good Idea. I'll Do One Better.

The NY Times ran a story today about a proposed tax on "sugary beverages" including pop and sweet juices. The articles states, "a tax of a penny an ounce on sugary beverages would raise $14.9 billion in its first year, which could be spent on health care initiatives." As a person that believe that

a) Americans ingest too much pop anyway,
b) American pop is horrible for you and
c) it doesn't really taste that good

I'm pretty firmly in the camp that thinks this tax is a Good Idea. I probably drink a can of pop every two or three months, though if you count mixers in alcoholic drinks that number probably decreases to a can every month or so, give or take a week. This is down from a high school diet in which I practically lived on Mountain Dew and Pepsi so I can attest that once these drinks are cut out it's pretty easy to keep them out - granted I enjoy drinking water and like the taste of liquor straight up or on the rocks. I also think that it's ridiculous that it's not hard to find cases where soft drinks are cheaper than cheap bottled water.

I do think, though, that if Congress wants to go around taxing unhealthy amounts of sugar that it would be awesome if they went whole hog and taxed all products containing high fructose corn syrup(HFCS). This synthetic byproduct of America's ridiculous corn subsidy has invaded pretty much every supermarket ingredient label and is pretty much horrible for you in every way. Taxing it would provide a short term boost in revenue and also have the long term benefit of companies (hopefully) moving towards natural sugar in its products. I'm personally tired of scanning a label and seeing various multi-syllabic manifestations of chemically processed corn. If we're going to affect behavior through taxes to encourage good health let's do something that will make a difference across the board.

Monday, September 7, 2009

West Indian-American Day Carnival/Parade: Culinarily Speaking

For most of my life Labor Day weekend, and Labor Day in particular, have meant a big backyard, charcoal smoke in my face, and the last day of official grilling season. From this day forward, however, my Labor Days for the duration of my stay in New York will likely involve trekking up and down Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn enjoying the West Indian-American Day Parade. It's the longest parade in New York and all told is about five miles of vibrant colors, dancing, bbq and fantastic jerk chicken. The entire length of the parade is flanked on both sides with stalls selling food, shirts, kitsch, and pina coladas in hollowed out pineapples. I forgot my camera so there won't be any pictures.

My eating adventure began boldly with some fantastic jerk chicken with rice and peas. The chicken was cooked perfectly with the tender meat almost falling off the bone. The skin had the perfect amount of char and the jerk rub completely saturated every part of the chicken. The extra sauce poured over added sweetness and a bit more spice - when added to the spice of the rub this gave the chicken the perfect amount of heat without overpowering the flavor. I'm incredibly glad I passed by several stalls before settling on this because this was probably the best jerk chicken I've ever had.

Roasted sweet corn was next (after some spirited parade-watching) and, discerningly, I picked the stall with the half-burnt corn. The sweetness still popped and, since I am a fan of slightly burnt food from a grill, the burn added a delicious smokiness. From the first bite I was instantly reminded that grilled sweet corn is, for me, the defining taste of summertime.

On the way out, after my sister bought her own jerk chicken and rice, I stopped at a cart selling mangoes. These weren't ordinary mangoes, however. These mangoes were dashed with salt, sprinkled with lemon juice and finished with hot pepper sauce. As a Filipino I like to think I know my mangoes and I'd go as far as saying they are by far my favorite fruit. The savory and spicy flavors added mingled perfectly with the sweetness of the mango creating a refreshing and comforting blend.

All in all, it's been one delicious day. Additional thoughts on the parade to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

North Carolina Prefers Strip Mines to Wind Turbines

This week the North Carolina senate voted to ban mountaintop wind turbines by a shocking margin of 42 to 1. From the article:

The bill would amend a 1983 “ridge law” to allow only turbines that are 100 feet or smaller to be placed on ridgelines above 3,000 feet. This effectively bars industrial-sized turbines — which can reach several hundred feet in height — from the windy mountaintops.

The executive director of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association stated that the ban didn't reveal that the state was against sustainable energy, but rather was an issue "about do people want to look at wind turbines in the mountains of North Carolina.”

Excuse me? The state the still hasn't been able to pass a ban on mountaintop removal coal mining (despite being the second largest customer of MTR coal in the country) is complaining that wind turbines don't look nice? Do gouged mountaintops, rubble-filled valleys, and coal-dust infused rivers look any better? More likely the coal lobby bought several votes in the senate to forestall installation of the cleanest energy source we've yet come across.

This is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard of. I get that tourists come to NC to take in the sights of the beautiful North Carolina mountains and the state might be worried on losing out on those dollars, but a) I tend to think wind turbines look pretty majestic, b) the state might want to look at the dollars it spends on MTR coal before it starts banning wind, and c) I would think fans of the environment would support efforts made to sustain it instead of destroy it.

While it's true that offshore wind is still a viable option in North Carolina that fact does not offset the reality that this bill, if passed in the house and signed by the governor, will eliminate 2/3 of the onshore wind power available to the state. Not only is this a loss of a tremendous source of clean power, but it's also a loss of jobs and money for the state.

How disappointing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Locavoracity: Morning at Night

Seeing as I didn't pick up any meat at the market today, and seeing as it's been a long time since I've gone shopping for food in general, I was stuck thinking the whole trip back on what I'd actually be eating tonight.

Since the only protein I picked up was the half-carton of eggs I decided to have breakfast for dinner. While most of this meal was made from the market I did allow myself to use whatever I already had in my pantry/cupboard/refrigerator.

Local ingredients:

  • 1 tomato

  • 1 potato

  • half an onion

  • 1 egg

Non-local ingredients:

  • salt

  • ground pepper

  • vegetable oil

  • dried basil

  • 2 pepperoncinis

I really could have gone for some fresh basil at the market but a) I'm going to be almost exclusively eating out this weekend due to a friend's bachelor party celebration and I figured much of it would go to waste and b) I didn't see it until I was already paying. I got the pepperoncinis last week when I was craving some shitty pizza and ordered Papa John's.

My meal ended up looking like this (I'm not much for presentation):
First I boiled a potato a bit to soften it up and then cut it into chunks and fried them with half an onion, salt and pepper, and some dried basil to finish. Then I diced about 3/4 of a tomato, a couple slices of onion and the pepperoncinis, and pulsed them in a food processor to make a salsa, slicing the last quarter of the tomato to eat fresh. The egg I simply fried over-easy.

The tomatoes were incredibly juicy and sweet in both slices and salsa and, though I didn't expect much from them compared to their Idaho-born brethren I usually eat, even the potatoes just tasted more... like potatoes. The flavors in the vegetables were much richer than their grocery store look-alikes. The egg – which I didn't even season – might have been the best fried egg I've ever eaten. In the pan the white didn't run as much as an egg normally does when I crack it, and firmed up quickly and evenly. Even when eaten in a bite with the salsa and the potatoes the "egg flavor" still managed to shine. I seriously don't think I want to buy grocery eggs ever again.

I knew to expect a difference in quality but the upgrade in quality was (and is) quite shocking to me since this was really quite a simple meal.

Can't wait to see what I come up with tomorrow.

Locavoracity: Beginnings

At the beginning of what is a seemingly an ongoing ode to Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma I previous blogged about how the book was making me re-evaluate how I looked at food and where it came from. I began to contemplate eating more local food, outside of the industrial food chain. Today I decided to put my money and mouth where my blog was and after work I stopped at the Union Square Green Market to pick up some dinner. Working about a block away from Union Square Park this was hardly my first foray to the market, but previous trips usually revolved around a muffin for breakfast or a fococcia for lunch. This time I was out shopping for kitchen staples.

Browsing through several of the many produce stands, I was quite taken by how large and, well, natural everything looked. I got some promising looking onions and some tasty, deep red tomatoes. Some white potatoes soon followed and as I was walking by another stall I was snagged by some carrots perfectly sized for snacking or roasting. I was a scared off from the mushrooms (shiitake, umbrella, button, etc...) by the price, but thinking about it now one pound is a LOT of mushrooms and I probably could have gotten several without breaking the bank.

Next to this stall I spotted some free-range chicken eggs, and though I passed on the grass-fed ground beef I'll probably be back for some of that on Wednesday.

Sadly, I didn't find any whole chickens as my original plan was to roast a chicken with vegetables and eat for the week.

Total cost of this trip was around $15 netting me these goods:

I'll continue to blog as I add to my local-fueled cupboard and as I turn these foodstuffs into meals.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Following Up on the Dilemma (Spoiler Alert)

As previously blogged I've been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma recently, finishing the book on the subway last night. It will take me a while to unpack everything present therein, but right now I'll just say the book finished just as good as it began.

For those that are unfamiliar with the work, the basic narrative arc of the book revolves around Michael Pollan, the book's author, cooking four meals from four different food chains: industrial, industrial organic, pastoral organic and hunter/gatherer. This is not just about the cooking, however, as Pollan investigates the full length of each chain of food from its beginnings all the way to the table - in the case of industrial, from the factory farms and Iowa corn fields to a McDonalds value meal.

I've been feeling a pull toward the locavoricious for a while now, and let's just say this book has been a large Jungle-esque push in that direction. Since the Union Square green market is about five minutes from my office I really have no excuse and actually plan to hit that up in the next couple of days (if not today.) It'll also be neat to start eating a bit more seasonally.

Pollan doesn't restrict his musings to the sustainability of eating, however, and at several times through the course of his work he reflects on the state of food in human society in general. Particularly striking to me were the passages in the fourth section about the degradation of the American eating experience because of a lack of a real food tradition. Pollan posits that since America has been an amalgam of various different cultures since its inception it has never had a chance to really create a food culture that it strictly "American", and this has left us open to businesses (fast/processed food companies) and fad diet books (for the love of god, people, carbs are good for you!) to create them for us. This is to our detriment, Pollan writes, because these food mores that other cultures have grown over the course of centuries are part of what keeps them healthy.

Lime, for instance, when sprinkled over beans helps to release more of the beans' natural nutrients which is why so much Mexican food begins with that simple garnish. Additionally, fermented soy (soy sauce) reacts with simple carbohydrates (rice) to maximize the nutritional benefits from both ingredients. Perhaps most striking is the French ability to drink red wine, infuse their food with butter and heavy cream, and still be healthier than Americans - a fact much attributed to the French habits of not snacking and letting meals stretch out for 1-2 hours. Pollan writes:

In the absence of any lasting consensus about what and how and where and when to eat, the omnivore's dilemma has returned to America with an almost atavistic force. This situation suits the food industry just fine, of course. The more anxious we are about eating, the more vulnerable we are to the seductions of the marketer and the expert's advice.

Leading from this he illustrates the (in my mind tragic) degradation of the family dinner:

A vice president of marketing at General Mills once painted for me a picture of the state of the American family dinner, courtesy of video cameras that the company's consulting anthropologists paid families to let them install in the ceiling above the kitchen and dining room tables. Mom, perhaps feeling sentimental about the dinners of her childhood, still prepares a dish and a salad that she usually winds up eating by herself. Meanwhile, the kids, and Dad, too, if he's around, each fix something different for themselves, because Dad's on a low-carb diet, the teenager's become a vegetarian, and the eight-ear-old is on a strict ration of pizza that the shrink says it's best to indulge (lest she develop eating disorders later in life).

As someone who ate dinner with his whole family practically every night, I find this shocking. Even as a 16 year-old with a job that often required me to eat out on my break, I usually was home at least four days a week for a meal in which we all shared. The commonality of a meal is a topic Pollan discusses several times in the book, describing it (accurately in my opinion) as one of the greatest functions of a meal - filling not only the nutritional but also the social needs of the human animal.

Keep an eye out in subsequent posts, but I'm beginning to have an idea for monthly or bi-weekly rotating "family dinners" in which a select group (and only this group, for the sake of not having the group balloon into unmanageable numbers) of family/friends would take turns hosting meals. This wouldn't be a pot luck, per se, as at these you often get overlapping courses (too many proteins, not enough sides, etc) and due to the number of entrees generally often also eat more than recommended - being uncomfortably full is actually bad for your metabolism. This is still (clearly) a rough idea, but it would also give the hosts an opportunity to express themselves through food for a night and, hey, group dinners are always fun.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

D.C. (and Brooklyn) for the Record

July has so far been an incredibly record-filled month. To recount in reverse chronological order, this past weekend I went to D.C. to visit a couple friends and, as we always do when we hang out, we hit a bunch of record shops. Four stores were on the bill within five blocks of each other in a sort of power triangle in Dupont/Adam's Morgan: Som Records, Red Onion, Crooked Beat, and Smash Records.

All very good stores with very different moods. Som was underground in a very literal sense as you had to walk down some stairs to get in, and once there we were greeted by possibly the smallest space we'd visit all day. A listen station - which I always like to see at used records stores, but which aren't always present - was set up at the front, 45s were decoratively pinned up on the red-painted walls and not a CD was to be found in the whole place. As Evan and Adam rooted through, pulling out various albums I thought I was going to manage to get out of there without buying anything, though I was sorely tempted to pick up a copy of the first Marginal Man record. Asian fronted 80s D.C. hardcore was not alluring enough, however. As the two of them were cashing out I thumbed through one last crate... and came across two irresistible finds in The Queen is Dead and Blood on the Tracks. For $16 total I couldn't pass them up and so I left the Som a few dollars lighter, but a couple awesome records heavier.

After dropping our loot of at the car we walked over - after a brief stop for beer and a snack - to Red Onion. A better lit place, Red Onion also had shelves of used books lining the walls. Not on the search for literature, the three of us dove into the stacks with Evan finding, among other things, an incredibly clean-looking copy of the fantastic It Takes a Nation.... Trying to really limit myself, I ended up passing on a brand new copy of Give Up but was halted when I found a new copy of the remastered (ugh, I know) Rites of Spring (aka End on End).

I actually managed to get out of Crooked Beat without buying anything as the store seemed expensive to me though the selection was decent. It's a good store, but probably my least favorite of the four we visited.

Smash Records was actually a kind of strange place. It was very much going for a punk/metal vibe and seemed, at first, like a sort of independently owned Hot Topic - a vibe reinforced by the clothes for sale including bullet casing belts and Doc Martens. The selection and pricing were good though, and it was probably the most rock-oriented store we'd been to. It featured a dedicated metal section though classic stuff was still represented as well. I didn't think I would buy much/anything as this was the final store, and yet I couldn't leave without picking up One Beat, Power, Corruption & Lies and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Going back a couple of weeks to when the Flotation Walls were in town my friend Ryan and I hit up a record store in Brooklyn (and I selfishly won't be getting any more specific than that.) The store had no name, was down a flight of stairs in a basement, and was run by one of the nicest guys I'd ever met running a record store. The handwritten sign by the stairs indicated the store specialized in jazz, soul, funk and disco and my Johnny Mathis, The Miracles, Benny Goodman, Gladys Knight, and James Brown/Africa Bambaataa purchases backed that up. It's seriously a fantastic store, and has put my bank account balance in serious jeopardy just by existing.

It's been a fairly record-filled week and I'll probably have to let my wallet recover a bit before digging again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How Green is Your Travel?

Ever wondered just how much carbon you're saving by carpooling? Or if train travel is really that efficient compared to air? Well wonder no more, as the good folks over at Low Impact Living have written a detailed breakdown of an ingenius little Web site called Trip Footprint.

With this little tool you can calculate the carbon cost of long distance travel comparing trains, cars, hybrid cars, and planes (to various airports.) You can even adjust the calculation by how many people are traveling in your party.

This is a pretty neat toy, though I do have some problems with their calculations. Without looking directly at the site's math, it seems that (for rail travel) they aren't prorating correctly. It looks like a simple factor of multiplying a base carbon rate by the number of travelers and this neglects the weight of the train itself, which is constant no matter how many passengers are on board. Further, even if your traveling party is five - the highest number you can select on the site - the amount of carbon used in train travel will depend on how many other people are on the train (which is probably more than five). Air travel on this calculator seems to have the same pitfall.

In all, this is a neat idea that might give a visual representation of the efficiency of various modes of travel... or it might mean absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Deep Thoughts During the Commute?

I was just linked to a pretty hilariously apt xkcd comic:

xkcd comic

Now generally this is not true of me as my thoughts during my commute are usually something like "uuughhhhaeeeaagh". Lately, however, my pre- and post-work ruminations have taken a decidedly more intellectual turn as I've been reading Michael Pollan's excellent Omnivore's Dilemma.

Pollan brings up a lot of incredibly interesting issues as he delves into American agribusiness and eating habits. At about a third of the way through I'm already starting to rethink my buying patterns and have been introduced to some pretty startling realities about the American farming industry. I've known for a while the Monsanto has been exercising undue power in Congress to get legal support for its genetically modified crops, but never had an inkling how wasteful and destructive my meals could be. I've been trying to cut down on beef ever since I found out that factory farmed beef was the single most inefficient meat known to man, with each cow yearly eating enough food to feed a family of four. But now knowing that the way we farm our vast swaths of cornfields in the plains states (whose produce appears in pretty much every bit of processed food we eat, by the way) is actually rendering the soil infertile and poisoning our river water (while at the same time utilizing ridiculous amounts of petroleum per pound of food compared to more natural farming methods) has me investigating ingredient labels and eschewing things with artificial sweeteners.

I'm not even halfway through the book and I'm two steps away from joining a food co-op.

So, to make a long story short....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Flotation Walls in NYC (last week)

Several years ago at Ohio State I was fortunate to befriend one Ryan Stolte-Sawa. Aside from meeting a great person and making a great friend, this was incredibly beneficial as she is currently a multi-instrumentalist in the Columbus four-piece Flotation Walls. When the Walls rolled through New York (and through my apartment) on their east coast tour I was able to catch both their acoustic set at Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg and their regular, electrified, set at the Lit Lounge in the East Village, and let me tell you I was quite impressed. I was already a fan of their record, Nature, but really had no idea how much larger and fuller their live show could possibly be.

The acoustic show possessed a sort of austere grandeur projecting a far larger presence than should have been possible in such a small space with no amplification. They brought an elegance and refinement in addition to the warmth and familiarity that usually comes with live acoustic music. "Sperm and Egg", "Worms" and "Kids Look at the Waves" as well as a couple of my favorites from the album in "Body", and "Willis the Fireman".

After the fantastic set at Pete's on Sunday the 5th I had my doubts that the Lit show on the 7th would impress (further) but I was certainly wrong. Plugged in, the band's sound is enormous, dramatic and, well, electric and I have to admit I looked on with no small amount of fraternal pride as Ryan switched back and forth between keys/synth, violin and guitar. The Walls played the same set they did at Pete's which made for an interesting contrast with the patrons of each show saying the one they saw must have been completely superior to the other - the bartender at Pete's went so far as to suggest the band completely drop the electric set, though he'd never heard it.

For your enjoyment, watch some iPhone footage of "Body" at Pete's

and "Worms" at Lit

I highly recommend this band, not because I have a friend in it but because it is exceptionally good. The group is full of highly skilled players executing terrific arrangements with energy and flair. All of them are also good people and I imagine there are few better bands to have crashing on your floor for a few days.

More tracks available on the band's Myspace. These four will be touring throughout the summer and into the fall so be sure to check them out if they are anywhere near you (all both of you that read this blog).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

EMI Continues to Solidify its Irrelevant Dinosaur Status

In 2004, amid a sea of mediocre mash-ups, one Danger Mouse released what is likely the best effort in the genre: The Grey Album. Mixing the audio track of Jay Z's Black Album with audio clips from the Beatles' White Album, the DJ reinvented what the mash-up could be while crafting one of the best records of the decade. EMI, owner of the rights to the aforementioned Beatles songs, quickly saw the creativity and money-making potential of the project and immediately sent a cease-and-desist to Danger Mouse, halting (legal) distribution of the album. The record went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed of 2004 despite the label's attempts to squelch it, which makes one wonder how much money EMI could have made by signing DM and selling the record themselves.

Five years later EMI has apparently still not learned its lesson. Partnered with Sparklehorse and David Lynch, Danger Mouse's new project, Dark Night of the Soul, is getting pretty much the same treatment from the label. Joined by indie luminaries from the Flaming Lips, the Shins, the Strokes and others, DM built another slickly and craftily produced album that will never see the shelves of a store. Due to fear of legal reprisal the album is not currently being distributed, however the book of 100+ photographs that David Lynch prepared for the project is still being sold. Included in the package is a blank CD-R with the message:
For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.’

Clearly EMI doesn't understand that it is impossible to halt the spread of this music in the internet age. The tracks used here aren't even as recognizable as those pulled for the Grey Album - there is no chance that this would infringe on the sale of any EMI record. These continued suits only serve to reveal the label's current executives as the petulant, ignorant, backwards-looking fossils they are.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Beer Goggles Are No Longer the Correct Prescription

On August 18th 2006 I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Brooklyn, New York. My first New York apartment was on the edge of the hip neighborhood of Williamsburg, sandwiched between ever-increasing numbers of young transplanted hipsters and Puerto Rican, Dominican and Italian locals. 3, his fiancĂ© and I immediately made point of checking out as many local bars as we could to find “our place” and a week into our stay in the neighborhood we found it in one Bushwick Country Club.

What wasn’t to love? A divey bar that was dark and homey featuring a 2-4-1 happy hour from 5-8 - a deal that wasn’t as ubiquitous at the time as it is now and boasting one of the best all-round bartending staffs I’d ever encountered. Phillip was our first bartender, the nerdy but uber personable big man with whom we’d discuss Heroes back when it was good (circa right when it was starting) and Watchmen (long before it was a Major Motion Picture). He made us feel right at home and soon enough even made us “members” allowing us to get the specialty house cocktail for a dollar off and to drink free on hour birthdays. Heather – whose musical taste I always found the best of all the BCC bartenders – quickly became a favorite as well because of her disarming and quirky friendliness and her ability to somehow pay attention to everybody at the bar at once. Thomas, he of the Free Pulled Pork Sundays, Megan and Ryan filled out a stable of bartenders with home we were all familiar and with whom we’ve all spent countless hours and dollars.

As bad as it sounds, in those early days the BCC was my home away from home. Hating my job at Barnes and Noble I spent at least three nights a week four blocks from my house bellied up to the bar, chatting and drinking more than I should have.
It came as quite a shock the other day when I discovered that the place has started to feel like just another bar. It’s certainly still a good bar, but while Heather is still my bartender, BCC is no longer my bar.

It’s hard to put a finger on what’s changed. The jukebox is still perennially “out of order”. The lights are still low. The booze is still cheap. The grill in the back is still open to anyone with raw food and a desire to cook. The novelty miniature golf course still sits largely unused in the back. In the end I think the biggest thing that’s changed is me.

My job is steadier and pays more (though still not nearly enough). I hang out with more people in more places than just this watering hole that I no longer live close to. And really the BCC is a bar for drinkers at a time when I don’t want to drink as much anymore.

Is there such a difference between 23 and 26 that this place should seem so different to me, so less comfortable? That I should feel more at home at Second Chance up the block with the thirty-somethings that lived in the neighborhood before it was cool?

That case race last week really served to put in startling focus various parts of my life (the stupidly overdrinking parts) that I’m not terribly interested in anymore. I guess it’s time to find a new vice. Good thing I live in New York.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Speaking of Ridiculous

As the Cleveland Cavaliers finished off Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs by pounding the Detroit Pistons in dominating fashion at home one question kept bouncing through my head: "Did I really just agree to a case race against Kenny and his roommates?"

While I'd heard the term in passing during my college days I'd never actually had the urge to see if my friends and I could pound down an entire 30-rack of beer faster than another group of friends. Nonetheless here I was at 26 half drunkenly agreeing to rope my friends into this binge-drinking spectacular.

1 and 3 from The Oddcast agreed to join me, squaring off against Kenny (one of the most prolific drinkers I know) and his two roommates. Trepidation built as the the race neared and on the day-of we decided to eat a large meal at the BW3 in the Atlantic Center. 12 wings and a large basket of wedges later, I had my food cushion and was feeling as good as could be expected when facing a ridiculous amount of beer drank for absolutely no reason at all.

Disaster nearly struck when one of Kenny's roommates bailed though they picked up an alternate (who, not knowing he was going to be called in had just finished a sixer of beer at home) and we started off. 1 and I pounded our first beers just to set the tone though he quickly began to outpace me, finishing 3 beers in about 15 minutes. This forced Kenny's roommate Tilton to drink faster than he perhaps wanted to (getting him drunk faster and possibly limiting the final number of beers he drank) and also put us into an early lead that we would not relinquish for several hours.

These heroics were much needed as 3 and I were definitely feeling the meal we just ate. Stomachs full to bursting we were both plodding along as quickly as we could which, at that point of the evening, was not very fast. Around my third beer I actually began to feel nauseous and was probably the slowest drinker in the room. As the night wore on and dinner digested, however, team dynamics began to shift. 1's drinking began to slow to a normal human pace while 3 and I picked up. The meal which had earlier threatened to betray me became my greatest ally, allowing me to drink more than I normally would have been able to.

In the final hour I really picked it up draining Coors Lights with a quickness I never would have imagined, especially since I don't really like that beer. Reaching into the case for my final beer I saw there were only two left, but that we had lost our lead and the opposing case was already empty. Not knowing how much beer the other two had left and preparing for the worst I dove into the penultimate beer as quickly as I could. 3 had noted the tally as well, though, and finished his can to go for our final beer. 1 finished his. I finished mine. Tilton and Kenny's cans were empty (I think). It was down to 3 and their alternate, Jason. They stayed evenly matched at first, and the in a Herculean effort like a late-game Michael Jordan 3 took a deep breath and slammed the last quarter-can home. The final count:

1: 7 beers
3: 9 beers
me: 14 beers

Built like a gold-medal relay team we had our lead-off runner in 1 setting an uncatchable pace, a steady volume guy in me that kept us in the game, and 3 the lights-out finisher who blew them away in the home stretch.

All in all a fantastic performance of ridiculously pointless drinking.

Friday, May 15, 2009

New York and etc.

Crossing Broadway on 19th this evening, deep in M. Ward's Hold Time I looked up and saw a woman absolutely eat it. It was one of the most spectacular face-first falls I've ever seen in my life. From ten feet away I hurried forward to see if she was OK, only to realize that three other random New York pedestrians had already stopped to help her up and inquire if she was OK. They lingered as she gingerly tested her ankle and stayed with her as I passed by, secure in the knowledge that she would be taken care of. People sometimes say New Yorkers are mean. I say you can always count on them to give their help when it's required... though possibly not a moment before.

In other news, work is ridiculously busy. Staying late has never been my thing but it's becoming all too frequent and honestly I don't get paid enough for all that. Finding a job in recession seems like a daunting task but more and more it also seems like a necessary one. Next week looks to be at least two more days of staying late since I'm not working the full week because...

6, one of my oldest friends, is getting married next Saturday. I've had several friends get married but no one I've known since I was ten years old. I imagine it will be kind of a surreal weekend and I'm not sure I've really fully absorbed it. I guess this is growing up, eh?

Though in some situations I still feel like a 13 year old kid.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Right-Wing Hits Just Keep on Coming

Last month I blogged about Rush Limbaugh having the real power in the Republican party when RNC chair Michael Steele went toe-to-toe with the radio host and backed down with his tail between his legs. At the time I found this occurrence to be completely shocking and bewildering, but I hadn't yet learned the full, depressing, somewhat comical truth: Rush doesn't actually give a shit about the GOP. I'd suspected for some time that the drivel spilling from Limbaugh's mouth was hyperbole meant solely to attract listeners and controversy but I'd thought that deep down he actually cared about being able to make his core ideals reality.

This illusion was shattered today when Limbaugh, reacting to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's party-switch to the Democrats rejoiced at his departure and told Specter to take McCain with him. He said it would be a good idea to "weed out people who aren't really Republican". That's a great idea, Rush. At a time when only roughly 20% of people identify as Republican you want to thin out the ranks some more? You want to have fewer seats in Congress? Fewer governors, state representatives and city councilmen? When the nation is trending moderate to liberal you want to alienate anyone not on the far right fringe?

As a political strategy this is suicidal but as a ratings booster this line of thought it pure gold. The fewer Republicans there are in government, the more governmental actions there will be that can be attributed to Democrats. As more legislation is enacted with a (D) next to the sponsors' names, the more Rush gets to complain about so-called "liberal policies" that are leading the country to ruin. Huge payday for Rush, not so huge payday for actual conservatives that used to think the GOP stood for them.

Limbaugh is hardly alone in this. Blowhards Neil Boortz, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck are all barking up the same money tree and the biggest joke of them all is that their viewers/readers think these people actually believe anything they are saying. Reagan's Big Tent Republicanism of the 80s is long since gone as those furthest on the right continue to exile anyone straying too close to the middle.

You know, as I read through my history books in school I used to wonder what it would have been like to watch the Federalists or the Whigs fade into irrelevance. Now I know. It feels sad and funny all at the same time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Bright Side in NYC

Two posts in one day? Whose blog is this?!?

So I don't end the day on a note of horrific bigotry, I'll recount this past weekend which was probably one of the best I've had in a while. It's really a microcosm of why New York is a great city to live in. After work on Friday I met up with 1, his cousin RBG, and several of her friends on the steps of Union Square. The 5pm sun was shining brightly, reminding why I used to eat lunch frequently on these steps years ago when I first moved here and interned at the old FSG office.

We sat and talked for a while before heading out to Food Swings for dinner. I'm neither vegan nor vegetarian though I do appreciate food of all stripes, flavors and animal protein levels. The drumsticks were quite good (as reported by several Citysearch reviewers before the site's redesign made it horrible) once I stopped expecting the consistency of chicken... the flavor was quite nice and deep-fried is deep-fried. I had a bit of 1's cheese-"steak" as well and it was also very tasty. I've been thinking a lot lately about sustainable eating and while this doesn't necessitate a switch to a strict vegetarian/organic it's gotten me watching what I buy and exploring culinary options outside of the wintry meat/carb paradigm I've been in for the last few months. Hopefully there's room somewhere in my budget for more Union Square green market purchases and other local alternatives.

From there it was back to the city for some first-year film/photo projects at the International Center of Photography. It was about 50/50 entertaining/run-of-the-mill-art-film which is a pretty good ratio. The free drinks afterward were an added bonus, though the real bonus came in Long Island City after the show. Hanging out, drinking beer on the roof during an open studio whilst staring out at the night-time Manhattan skyline is a great way to spend an evening. Especially when hanging out with cool new people.

Got a late start Saturday and my 10am run with 3 and K turned into a grueling 80 degree 12:30pm run which ended early due to me drunkenly jumping off of a ledge the night before and messing up my calves. This led to a substandard run (~2 miles) but that mattered little when lazily hanging out in 3K's place. After that it was meeting up with Karls Barkley for $3 all-you-can-eat BBQ at Sweet Revenge and a back yard BBQ after that in Fort Greene before finally making it leg-achingly home.

Sunday was beer, chips and home-made salsa in Prospect Park for a couple of hours with N, then up to Woodside for some so-so Ube Coolers at Jollibee Queens with RBG. The night was still young, however, so we took a trip into the city for some Shake Shack and a walk around the Natural History Museum.

A great night.

Why Are Conservative Talking Heads Allowed to be Racist?

One of the many stories circulating around the blogosphere today involves Neil Boortz and Michael Savage (you can probably already see where this is going) engaging in some mindblowingly racist speculation about the recent outbreak of swine flu. Boortz theorizes that since Mexico doesn't have a Center for Disease Control, what better way for terrorists to infect the U.S. than to infect Mexicans? Oh, I don't know, Neil... maybe they can infect Americans? Maybe this latest potential medical emergency isn't a platform for your xenophobic rants against brown people?

This reminds me of a comment thread I was on in which somebody speculated that Muslims immigrating into the U.S. were actually terrorists with the hidden agenda of slowly taking over through breeding a lot.

Is there conservative uproar over this hate-mongering? Or is this tripe just standard noise flooding a media channel including Michelle Malkin, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh? Certainly sounds right in line with (now former) Georgia councilman John Dowdy advocating playing an online game in which you shoot at pregnant Mexican women.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dreeeeaam. Dream, dream, dream.

Two nights ago I had a pair of trippy dreams. In the first I dreamed that I was friends with a woman who was putting on a special dinner. She didn't know what to serve so I recommendeded a soul food restaurant, which was run by Florence from the Jeffersons. Not Marla Gibbs the actress, Florence the character. My friend (who wasn't actually a person I know in real life) liked the food and as thanks invited me to the dinner. Turns out the guest of honor was Martin Luther King Jr. He walked in sporting a grey three-piece suit and sat next to me as we began chatting. As we talked he reached into his pocket, pulled out the largest calculator I've ever seen and explained that it calculated statistics tables and it helped him bet on basketball.

At this point I woke up because I was incredibly thirsty. I drank some water, fell asleep and immediately was transported to an indoor track. I was running and running and when I finally stopped I ran into my sister who told me that Nike had just filmed a commercial while I was running. I found someone involved and looked at an early take of the commercial which was basically just me running. I sat down on some bleachers and looked around, seeing somehow that there was a bar on the other side of the room. Spotting my friend Ashley there drinking with some friends I decided to try and make my way over. I couldn't, however, because one of my high school gym teachers was running a basketball camp on the court between me and the bar and in order to cross I would have had to run through all the drills. As I prepared to do the dribble-around-cones drill my alarm when off and I woke up.

What the fuck does all that mean?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Blast from the Video Game Past

Things have gotten fairly busy in recent weeks curtailing my blogging somewhat. I've accumulated a rather large stack of subjects I want to blog about, and now that I have some time that stack will... remain exactly the same size. Thanks to NumberThree over at fringeofacity a new topic has shot right to the top of the list: Favorite Old School Nintendo Game. Picking up that original Nintendo Entertainment System in Kindergarten (bundled with Mario 1 and Duck Hunt) was a turning point in my life putting me on track to log countless hours on various systems since. Of the games I loved in those head 8-bit days these ten were the most beloved.

  • 10. RBI Baseball

  • I am not a baseball fan. I haven't really followed baseball since the 1997 World Series. In the days of my wide-eyed, innocent youth, however, I couldn't get enough of it. I was on a little league team and played the shit out of this game. To this day I can only name a couple of baseball games that I'd rather play, and in fact one of them appears later on this list.

  • 9. Tecmo NBA Basketball

  • Though Tecmo Bowl is generally more beloved, I've personally always been more in love with basketball. For NES basketball, while competitor Double Dribble sported a sweet little dunk cut scene it also sported inferior gameplay and graphics. It took me years to break the habit of wildly jacking up threes from the far corner developed from too much Tecmo NBA.

  • 8. Gradius

  • Technology leaps and bounds head of its Atari predecessor, Defender, Gradius was a side-scrolling shooter in which the player controlled a space ship, dodged and shot at enemies, and obtained power-ups to allow greater efficiency at aforementioned dodging and shooting. It remained my favorite scrolling plane-based shooter (a rich genre in those days) until the SNES's epic Raiden Trad.

  • 7. Excite Bike

  • This was not a game that was exciting graphically, nor conceptually, but hearing the title screen music immediately brings a smile to my face to this very day. I spent hours upon hours constructing my own courses, dodging oil slicks, hitting ramps and stepping on the gas too hard to the point of overheating.

  • 6. Jackal

  • The only game to do shooting and lobbing grenades while rescuing hostages better than this was Half-Life's Counterstrike mod. To this day one of my most satisfying memories of the NES is seeing watching those soldiers get on that helicopter and fly to safety. Gameplay-wise, it's everything riding around in the Turtle Van should have been but wasn't.

  • 5. Super Mario Bros.

  • This was the start of it all. A twenty year (off and on) love of video games stemmed directly from a little game in which a plumber jumps on walking heads and turtles to rescue a princess from a larger turtle. Eating mushrooms, smashing bricks, throwing fireballs, kicking ass and taking names.

  • 4. Base Wars

  • In number 10 I alluded to a handful of baseball games that did it better than RBI, and this is on that short list (indeed, the only one on the NES platform.) Adding power-ups, robots, upgrades, and fights to anything is a recipe for success. I distinctly remember avoiding force-outs just to get into more battles.

    Flybot Scott FTW.

  • 3. Contra

  • Few games display the deterioration of my reaction time like Contra. Where as a 6 year-old I could waltz through a hail of bullet fire - spreader rifle firing madly - level after level I now rely on the Konami code to play for any extended length of time. Though this amazing dexterity was likely due to the hours I poured into memorizing exactly where to jump and when to shoot.

  • 2. TMNT2

  • The time I put into this game in arcades across the greater Cleveland area is only rivaled by the time I put into it at home. Games like this (and X-Men and the Simpsons, which all basically followed a similar side-scrolling formula) part of what led to the strength of the video game arcade in this era and porting this experience to the home console was a stroke of genius. This game kicked off a string of fantastic Ninja Turtles games for Nintendo and remains one of the system's best titles.

  • 1. Super Mario Bros. 3

  • This game outclassed every game that came before it and many that came in later years on later systems. Graphically it held its own or surpassed many titles from the later-gen 16-bit systems and from a game-play standpoint it was one of the most ambitious games released by Nintendo until Mario 64. It was bursting with content from power ups (mushrooms, fire-flowers, raccoon suits, frog suits, hammer bros, tanooki, p-wings) to bonus levels (mushroom house, spade house, ghost ship) to hidden secrets (warp whistles, hiding behind scenery). Nintendo used the formula form this game to create the superior Super Mario World for the SNES and while it rivaled Mario 3 in fun-factor few games can rival it for groundbreaking ingenuity.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Seeing the Signs of Music Nostalgia

I was reflecting, this morning, on the VH1 "I Love the (insert decade)" shows - based on a British series - that gained prominence in 2002-2003 with the release of"I Love the 80s". The miniseries' were widely popular, dedicating an hour to each year of the decade and waxing nostalgic about the foibles of those heady times. The show was so popular, in fact, that it spawned editions for other recent decades. "I Love the 70s" was almost equally beloved, however it was generally agreed upon that the string of shows jumped the shark when it tried to look back fondly in "I Love the 90s".

At that point the 90s were only roughly 4 years past and not enough time had passed to truly build up some rose colored glasses about the lamer aspects of the decade.

This got me thinking, though, about the phenomenon of "80s Night". Around the early 00s I began to notice clubs advertising - usually on some mid-week night or a Sunday - drink specials and a DJ set list comprised solely of songs no younger than 20 years old. The synth-heavy, hook-laden, hairspray-solidified grooves of 80s pop had returned and legions of 20-somethings packed dance floors to boogie down to the sounds of Ah-Ha, Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, etc... While those that had originally busted a move to these swaying, robotic tunes were likely working late at the office or tucking in children, a new generation rediscovered the tunes that had served as the background for their young lives.

As my train of thought barreled forward I pondered how long it would be before I'd walk down a street only to be serenaded by the sweet sounds of Ace of Base or Jodeci seeping out of a crowded dance club. Are we three or four years away from once again trying to decipher the lyrics to "Blue" and contemplating the narcissism of "Mr. Vain"?

I feel like I should be terrified at the concept. And yet it sounds disturbingly fun...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It's Official: A Radio Talk Show Host Runs the Republican Party

Earlier this week newly elected head of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele, when confronted with the statement that Rush Limbaugh was the de-facto leader of the Republican Party, asserted that Limbaugh's attitudes were "incendiary" and "ugly". The very next day Steele stated that he called Limbaugh to apologize after the radio personality excoriated Steele on his show.

A radio talking head upbraided the head of the Republican National Committee and the RNC chair backed down. Would Howard Dean have backed down if Al Franken had pitched a fit about some statement or other? Or would he say "You know what, Al, I was a U.S. governor and am currently orchestrating a strategy to re-take the Congress in the next two years, so run along and spout off into your microphone while I do some actual work"?

This has been a long time coming. Over the years more and more conservatives have been moving into the Limbaugh wing of the House That Ron Built and conservative policy makers have been fine allowing this to happen - even encouraging it as long as they were able to gain votes from it. The loose confederation of social and economic conservatives has been chased socially right-ward for so long by the Limbaugh attack dog - fed and fattened by Republicans in Congress and the White House - that the Red State Powers That Be no longer have control of them. The dog is out of control and pulling its former masters on its leash. That lawmakers are answering to a hate-spewing microphone-jockey who has never had to deal with the realities of politics for a day in his life should be frightening for all conservative politicians, but if they remain true to form - as Steele has - they will not raise a voice to change the situation because it might cost them votes.

This reminds me of the scene in The Matrix: Revolution when Neo is speaking to the machines and says, "The program, Smith, has grown beyond your control." Sadly for the Republican party, there does not appear to be a conservative "chosen one" to bail them out of this one.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yet Another End of an Era

As some may already know, I've gotten into podcasting in recent weeks. I've never been into talk radio, so aside from a few (quickly forgotten) subscriptions in the early days of 'casting I haven't really followed the medium.

That's obviously changed and now I follow several including This American Life and The Geekspeak Radio Podcast. My favorite podcast, though, has to be Trivia War which is a shame because, as revealed on their forums and in their latest episode, the show will only be airing two more episodes before going on indefinite hiatus.

Trivia War is a quiz show taking on a different TV show/movie every week, occasionally hosting guests from other 'casts. It was funny, interesting, and the personalities were all super engaging. This weekly podcast will be sorely missed, though since I only got into it very recently I still have several shows to catch up on.

Boo =(

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Get Us As Far As Far Can Be, Get Us Away From Tonight

So part of President Obama's (God, I love typing that) stimulus package involves investing in high-speed rail connecting the different parts of the country. I have to say, I couldn't be happier. Rail travel comes with significant benefits and investment in the infrastructure of an American rail system is long overdue.

Over short to medium distances, rail systems outperform cars in both speed and environmental friendliness. Regional systems - pictured below - would increase tourism and commerce for all involved cities and would give people an avenue for cheap, fast travel.

Investment now will pay serious dividends as jet fuel and gasoline once again rise in price (peak oil ensures this occurrence) and as people slowly adjust to rail travel.

I know that Americans tend to tie cars to the idea of freedom and independence, and I'm not advocating for the elimination of the automobile. I am, however, looking forward to the day when I won't have to drive 6 hours to get anywhere - and this comes from a person who used to love driving but now wonders how he could live without the New York subway.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Post Racial America in Print

As some might have read everywhere else on the internet on Wednesday, the New York Post - which is a complete rag - ran the following cartoon:

For some context once labeled the cartoonist, Sean Delonas, the "Picasso of Prejudice" and has compiled a list of ten previous cartoons Genius McRacist has come up with.

I don't know on what planet this B.S. is OK. These kinds of incidents, and the non-apology apologies that invariably follow them, are probably what spurred new Attorney General Eric holder to say that America is either a nation of cowards, or in serious denial when discussing matters of race.

Coexistence only works when people actually care about what people different from themselves are thinking/feeling/believing. Please take note of that, New York Post. And any other person that doesn't see the problem with that scribble above.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's not a Doll. It's an Action Figure.

Thanks to an incredibly opportune two degrees of separation, I was able to get into the New York Toy Fair today. The event - which will stretch through Wednesday - was open only to media and toy vendors and featured booths of every kind imaginable: think of it as the E3 of toys.

All manners of my childhood geekery were revitalized from Star Wars to Street Fighter 2. G.I. Joe to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even the X-Men showed up in force.

While Samus Aran and Ryu Hayabusa were among the most impressive, Barack Obama was perhaps the most entertaining.

The love of my childhood life, Legos, were also well represented - though mostly behind ten-foot walls that I couldn't get past.

Some of my favorites from the day follow (mostly having to do with Watchmen or Final Fantasy VII):

Check me out on Flickr for more pics from the show. Sorry for the quality on some of these, they were taken with my phone.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Year to Say I Do (apparently)

This year is shaping up to be a year of friends getting married for me. I'm in (at least) two weddings this year (one in May, another in October) with another one tentative. The Marriage Year started off officially, however, this past Saturday when a friend of mine, Jessica Chesnutt, married her long time girlfriend, Natalie Sauro. The two were among several contest winners who were awarded a ceremony atop the Empire State building, and were actually the first same-sex couple to get married at the landmark. Though I wasn't able to attend the ceremony I was able to stream a video of it, and it was quite beautiful.

Jessie is one of my favorite people I've met since moving to New York (a little over two years ago) and Natalie is such a great person; I really wish I hung out with her more. I wish the two the best of luck and (once again, probably for the millionth time) congratulate both of them.

It infuriates me that some draconic-minded voters/legislators have seen fit to withhold civil rights from couples such as Jessie and Natalie for the base reason of selective, bigoted interpretation of religion. If these two do not deserve the full protection afforded to married couples under the law, then nobody does. If their love isn't enough to pass some archaic, short-sighted, closed-minded "values" test then nobody's is. As it stands, the two will be taking a day trip to Connecticut to get married (thankfully they don't have to travel far to find a state that isn't trying to create an underclass of citizens) and since New York recognizes out-of-state marriages (as mandated by this thing called The Constitution) they'll receive state marriage benefits, but will sadly not receive federal recognition. In case there's any confusion, its been estimated that marriage carries up to 1400 legal and economic benefits if, you know, you're part of a couple with no more than one penis and no more than one vagina.

I really didn't mean for this to become a rant for equality and equal protection under the law, so I'll just leave it at that.

Jessie and Natalie: you two are fantastic. I'm glad to have met you and it will be a privilege to get to know you better as you two continue your lives together.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Like a Show in Your Living Room. That You Pay For.

So I occasionally do some music writing for online magazine Last week I was sent off to review the Postal Service-ish Alaska in Winter, so at the appointed time I left my cozy apartment and made the snowy trek from Bed Stuy to Williamsburg. The venue, Monkeytown, was harder to find than I thought it would be, but it was also far cooler than I thought it would be. Walking in it seemed completely dead, and really it seemed like I was in the wrong place. It was a nice looking restaurant, dimly lit with candles at each table, and no stage or band in sight. When I asked where the show was a server motioned me to a door in the corner of the room, and upon arrival there I was asked if I had a reservation.

A reservation?!?

Thoroughly confused I explained that I was on the list to review the show and after a bit more confusion I was instructed to go to through the door at the end of the hall. The hall itself was ridiculously brightly lit with gaudy red-orange paint on the walls. The contrast from the subdued front area was striking and the colors were so loud my ears started ringing a little. Cautiously stepping up to the far door (with the crazy hallway and the absolutely dead restaurant fresh in my mind) I stepped through to an incredibly intriguing performance space, and the question about the reservation immediately made sense.

The room was roughly the size of a living room (I'm terribly bad at understanding room measurements) with ceilings twice as high. Audio equipment was set up in the center while a weird video was playing on projector screens hanging from each wall. Couches and chairs were set up lining each wall with tables in front, and 50 (the apparent capacity of the room) hipsters sat drinking and eating dinner - apparently the full dinner menu was open to them.

While Alaska in Winter was kind of an odd choice (it was just him and a laptop and the video he wanted to play) I'm pretty in love with the venue. It seems like the same basic idea of the Living Room in the LES without the traditional stage-in-back/audience-staring-forward dynamic. The couches were also a nice touch. The projectors actually do add an interesting dimension as both AIW and the opener (so bad I don't even want to type the name) both brought along creations timed to go with the music.

It'd be a great place to see some acoustic guitar.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Justice for Jason Vassell

As I've written and linked to in just about every online presence I have, a year ago a student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was attacked in his dorm. Around 3am Jason Vassell - a black man - was in his dorm room with a friend - a white woman - when John Bowes and Jonathan Bosse came up to his window and began harassing them. The drunk pair began shouting "nigger" into the room and challenging Vassell to a fight. When he denied, they broke the glass on his window, though could not enter.

Vassell called a friend of his - and let's be honest, if two drunk guys start shouting racist things at me and try to break into my room I'm calling a friend too - and when he went to let his friend the two men forced their way in as well, again shouting racist epithets. The friend tried to calm everyone down, while Vassell brandished a pocket knife and asked the two to leave. As Vassell backpedaled toward the inner security door Bowes struck Vassell in the face, breaking his nose. During the fight that ensued Vassell also received a concussion while Bowes and Bosse sustained minor stab wounds.

In the "investigation" that followed, four witnesses - the friend that was in the room, the friend that came over to help, a neighbor who was awakened by the taunts from outside the window, and a random bystander in the lobby - backed up Vassell's story. Lobby security camera footage also seemed to corroborate his version of events. The police investigator in charge, one Lieutenant Thrasher, treated Vassell as the guilty party from the beginning, however, calling him a "donkey" and a "drug dealer". While he remained skeptical of Vassell's words, he approached Bowes and Bosse friendly and jokingly.

Vassell has since been charged with two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon and faces 20-30 years in prison. Bowes was charged with four misdemeanors (resulting in a maximum of four years in jail) and Bosse has yet to be charged with anything.

This is a miscarriage of justice, and racist "enforcement" of the law.

I'm glad that Obama was elected President, but to all the people I read proclaiming America "finally over racism" and entering "a post-racial world" please wake up. That a majority of Americans saw fit to elect a black man to the highest office doesn't change the fact that a part of the minority that did not are racist. My vote can't change someone else's prejudice.

We still have a LOT of work to do regarding race in America. This is just one example of that.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rock Stars Had Awkward First Crushes Too

In the spirit of the season, has asked several indie rockers to relate the stories of their very first crushes. Perhaps also in the spirit of the season many of the stories are sweet, cute, heart-wrenching, cringe-inducing snapshots of young love. Divided into categories of celebrity crushes, unrequited crushes, crushed crushes, camp crushes, (the ever-elusive) mutual feelings crushes, "punk" crushes, and tragic crushes the article is quite a good read and even the bitterest endings produce nostalgic smiles.

Personally, I was afflicted with my first crush in third grade. Her name was Jasmine. The fact that my sister's name is Jazmine caused no small crisis in my young mind as I pondered for days whether or not it was weird to like a girl with a similar name as my sister. In the end no amount of name-related sibling similarity mattered and my heart won out.

To my frustration, Jasmine (notice the 's' spelling) seemed to be constantly flanked by two of her friends and I - daunted by the task of approaching her by herself - could never work up the courage to try and break through the friend interference. I wrote at least two notes revealing my feelings to slip into her locker, however neither ever left mine. A friend of mine actually knew her fairly well as they were both on the jump-rope team (yes, my elementary school had a jump rope team) but I never even talked to him about how I felt about her. I did, however, take up jump roping. And staring after her every time she walked by.

This went on for two years.

During the entire ordeal I don't think she even noticed me more than a handful of times and the total amount of our (short, five word) conversations can probably be counted on one hand. Then, after fifth grade I moved to a new school system and never saw her again.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Eight Year Old Me Wins

When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man... my childish things were still awesome.

To explain, much like 99% of boys born in the 80s my formative years were spent acquiring random, interconnecting, multicolored blocks and constructing robots, space ships, and guns - though my shining achievement was possibly the Super Nintendo mock-up. Or maybe The Wing.

While that may seem somewhat nerdy to the uninitiated it was a great outlet for imagination and creativity. It was also the centerpiece for one of the greatest four-way friendships of the last 20 years, but I digress.

I still have fond memories of early morning, mid-afternoons and late nights making (to my mind) sleekly designed wholes from those myriad disparate parts and I still have a fascination with projects that creatively utilize my old childhood tools (sometimes to epic proportions).

And I also currently live in New York City.

Moral of the story? Legos are awesome.

End of an Era

New York City is a place of constant bustle. A rushing torrent, pushing ever-forward yet swirling around stalwart constants from past ages. Though seemingly timeless, none of these markers of New-York-That-Was can last forever. Just as Guiliani excised the prostitutes from midtown and hipsters overtook the LES and Williamsburg (and soon to be Astoria, Clinton Hill and Mott Haven), this past Sunday time and age claimed Joe Ades, fixture of the Union Square Greenmarket.

For years every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday Ades could be seen and heard on the northeast corner of Union Square - just outside of the bounds of the market for lack of a permit - selling "the only vegetable peeler you'll ever need to buy." He was the side-walk pitchman from a bygone era the quality of which New York may never see again. Burning hot or freezing cold, Ades staked out his spot near the market (and at a few other spots around the city including near Radio City Music Hall) suited up with thermos at his side. His sales pitches were like sidewalk shows, gathering crowds that would make subway break-dancers jealous. He'd spend a day shredding carrots to pieces (in mere seconds!), his scraggly beard and disheveled hair belying the Upper East Side apartment he called home.

Ades was a husband four times, father to a daughter and two sons, and grandfather to three girls. More than that, though, he seemed family to New York City - a beloved uncle whose captivating presence was at once fancifully whimsical and comfortably reassuring.

We were lucky to have you, Mr. Ades. You will be missed.