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.