Friday, June 30, 2006

I posted another photo of this a week or two ago -- it's a little Day of the Dead diorama from Mexico. I bought it on the upper east side last fall for nine dollars. The green guy is supposedly Diego Rivera and the skull faced woman is Frida Kahlo. You can see my bookshelf in focus in the background.

The Subway Today

When you ride the same train twice a day, you get to know the buskers, the hucksters, and the beggars. Or at least recognize them. The homeless woman with hard luck story about losing her apartment last month hasn't changed since last fall. The guy selling batteries (double A triple A) and krazy glue (one dollah). The little Asian women with bootleg videos (D-V-D-V-D-V-D-Movie-Movie).

Sometimes, like today, you see singers you hate. That's when I wish I was one of the ipod clones (they're everywhere). I don't like to be cut off from the train like that. I'll lose myself in a book or a magazine (a couple weeks ago I missed my stop by three because I was reading) but I want to hear everything -- even if I tune it out anyway. So back to singers I hate. There's a guy who comes in with a guitar, followed by his friend with a snare drum and a cymbal on a stand. They always set up in the aisle by the middle doors and play the same goddamn shit: Beatles covers, rendered very personal with heavy emotion and the occasional unexpected inflection on an otherwise familiar line. "Something in the way [pause] ... she moves," he croons, eyes shut, head tilted upward. "Attracts me like ... no uh-thah luv-uh." I tried not to glare at the out-of-towner who gave up a couple bills with flourish to show off for his daughter. I glanced at a seven foot woman with tree-trunk legs (or was it a man in a dress?) next to me for support. None coming. I suffered till the jerks left.

I took the A train later -- JFK-bound. After the point in Queens when the train goes above ground, I saw a familiar face. A short black man with a body like a fire plug. Dark skin with about an inch of afro-puff in a jagged curvy line around his receding hairline. His schtick is to pass around xeroxed sheets with his story, a copy of his New Jersey driver's license, and the business card of a man who once vouched for him. He gives a copy to every second or third passenger and then collects them again, perhaps along with a gratuity. I've read it before, and I was tired today, so I tried to pass. "No thanks," I say. "Are you sure?" He stops, smiling. "It's very interesting. It's about me." Of course it was. I couldn't resist. I took it and re-read it. He fell off a porch when he was young. Head injury, maybe. I got to the part where he writes about being a James Brown impersonator, and I reach for my wallet. I pass the sheet to the curious hipster reading poetry next to me. I gave the James Brown impersonator a dollar when he came back. Now I'm regretting not buying his photocopy -- I can't remember his name. No doubt I'll see him again. After he walked away I heard a sharp clap and I thought we were in for an impersonation. Alas. I thought about it, and I could swear I'd seen him do a dance and howl a few lines the last time I saw him, but I might be imagining it.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bumper cars in Coney Island.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


A friend politely took me aside at a party last night and told me about a typo in the Masticator heading at the top of this page (visionaries was missing an 'i'). How embarrassing! I have corrected it. Occasionally my stellar spelling ability loses the battle against my lightning-fast typing. To prevent such blunders from going unnoticed for so long, I propose a contest: find my typos and win a prize. E-mail me or comment on the error-ridden post.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Have You Seen This Android?

The head of an android replicant of the dead science fiction writer Philip K. Dick is missing. The andriod was built by Hanson Robotics, a company started by David Hanson, whose CV includes a BFA from RISD, AI study at Brown, and robotics study at the U of Texas. He built an android Einstein that was featured in Wired magazine.

Dick was the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was filmed as Blade Runner, and the short story that was filmed as Minority Report. Dick was a strange and paranoid man. The now defunct Hermenaut magazine has an interesting article on the author, from which I quote:
Staying up for days at a time wearing the same wrinkled and filthy Nehru jacket, eating frozen chicken pot pies and drinking protein-fortified milkshakes, downing fistfuls of "white crosses" and blasting opera music (while he inhaled gruesome amounts of snuff), Dick's world was restricted to bikers, drug addicts, and teenage girls. In 1971 he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, because he wanted protection from the FBI (CIA?) agents who were tapping his phone and going through his papers. Shortly afterward, his house was in fact burglarized-which only confirmed his fear that one of his books had inadvertently revealed a government secret. (Dick was also fond of acting more crazy than he was; he enjoyed telling people, for example, that the cat's litter box was bugged.) Eager to get away from his own life, in 1972 he accepted an invitation to attend a Vancouver sf convention as the guest of honor, and fled carrying nothing but a suitcase, a trenchcoat, and a Bible.
Now, back to our android version. The android P.K. Dick was reportedly able to engage in simple discussion about the author's work; it could make eye contact and facial expressions. It recently participated in a panel discussion about the latest movie to made from a P.K. Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly. [Which is a live action movie directed by Richard Linklater, and then ruined by overlaid animation, à la Waking Life. What a waste. I loathe animation.]

The robot head wasn't stolen. It was left on a plane, reports the New York Times. David Hanson left the head in a bag in the overhead compartment, but notified the airline, which found it and promised to ship it back to him. It never showed up. The Times:
However satisfying to those with a sense of irony, Mr. Hanson is not comforted by the idea of his homage to Mr. Dick on a jaunt somewhere or, more likely, stuck in storage.

"It's almost like it has some free spirit to it," he said. "A lot of people have said that it's almost like a P.K.D. narrative, like one of those absurd twists that would occur in a P.K.D. novel. But emotionally it doesn't feel that way to me."

In Hollywood, though, executives have found a way to turn the loss to their advantage. Noting the oddity of the story, Ms. Kim [Laura Kim, a senior executive at Warner Independent, the art-house arm of Warner Brothers] said of the android: "He was perfect for the film. Now he's disappeared — and that's perfect for the film too."

The photo is from Hanson Robotics.


I'm back in Minnesota for the weekend. Whenever I come back I'm always struck by how organic the air smells and how dark green everything is here. Contrary to what much of the country thinks about New York -- and Brooklyn specifically -- it's not all pavement and bricks. But that is much of it. And what there is of foliage isn't nearly so lush and foresty as it is in Minnesota. The trees here are literally many shades darker green.

I woke up yesterday to the sounds of lawnmowers, the occasional freight train, a construction crew, and a Bobcat backing up and shaking out its bucket. That instead of pile drivers, rush hour traffic, a neighboring day care, and frequent sirens.

After months of subways and apartments, it's always strange to ride in a car and walk up the private interior stairs of a large single-family dwelling. Seeing houses isn't strange; we have plenty of those in Brooklyn -- even on my street. Being inside of houses is strange.

I'm always excited to be here for the first couple of days. I always think about how nice it would be to own a car again, to drive for pleasure. Maybe to buy a small house with a yard and a garage. But then I settle into how I used to be here, and I get complacent. I stop noticing little things and I start thinking about how quiet it is here. How sparsely populated it is. I moved to New York for a lot of reasons, but one of the simplest was this: there's a lot going on there, and I felt left out. I didn't want to miss anything.

I don't feel like I'm missing anything here in Minnesota. Sure I miss my people, but with mobile phones and the Internet, I can keep up with them just fine. And I have two friends who have visited me at least twice. That's the advantage of being in the place that everything happens -- your friends will always want to visit.

I go back tomorrow morning, but then I'm back next weekend for a wedding.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I Love New York

A friend snapped this photo a couple weekends ago. We were in a park near Chinatown looking at the remains of what turned out to be a movie set (the new Spider Man movie) when one of us spotted this peculiar warning in a phone booth. Still not really sure what was in the center -- an artist's rendition of the Chicken-Leg Freeloading Parasite? Perhaps. Women should beware of this cabby creep.

Musical Comedy

New York comedian Aziz Ansari has a satirical "track by track rundown" of Radiohead singer Thom Yorke's upcoming solo album The Eraser on his blog. He says he has an inside source who got Yorke to e-mail his personal thoughts on each song. I actually believed the first one:
1) "The Eraser" -- I took mushrooms with Alicia Keys and Aphex Twin once. We wrote this song together that weekend.
But I caught on when I got to the second one:
2) "Analyse" -- I once locked my 4 year old nephew Cody in my grandmother's basement for 2 weeks with only some oatmeal and a 12 pack of Hi-C. Somewhere, he found an old drum machine and piano and composed the groundworks for this piece. Bravo, young Cody.

Ansari took part in a recent set of panel discussions on R&B star R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet", a bizarre twelve part "hip-hopera." Ansari and others (David Cross, Andy Richter -- different panels for NYC and LA) did the panels live at the Upright Citizens Brigade's New York and Los Angeles comedy theaters.
Saw this in this week's New Yorker (page 87). When they have a space they need to fill, like a gap at the end of an article, they stick a humorous error from another publication in the space. As a former Utne person, I found this very amusing.

Monday, June 19, 2006

This monument in Grand Army Plaza was built for the Union dead of the Civil War. It was unveiled by President Grover Cleveland in 1892. The bronze sculptures came later. The arch is a sort of entrance to Brooklyn's Prospect Park, but it's surrounded by a dangerous round-about.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Three Japanese Sosaku brushes.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Revolution Will Be Accessorized

I'm reading a collection of articles from BlackBook, the ten-year-old New York-based glossy progressive culture/fashion magazine. Like Vanity Fair, it often looks like a women's magazine by the cover. But like Vanity Fair, it has great writing and photography intended for an audience of both men and women. And it's smart.

I discovered BlackBook when I interned at Utne magazine -- it was one of the thousands of independent publications we all pored over to find interesting articles to reprint. A couple of my favorites appear in the collection The Revolution Will Be Accessorized (The article called "If It Makes You Think, Is It Fashion?" by Glenn O'Brien, in which he asks " Is a Helmut Lang suit of today very different in spirit from Amish wear? ... Is Bill Gates's sweater and jeans the equivalent of the Mao suit, the one look for the masses?" is brilliant.)

In the introduction to the collection, novelist Jay McInerney writes:
"If BlackBook resembles Vanity Fair and Vogue and Rolling Stone in terms of its production values it doesn’t look like, or read like, any of them. The magazine is almost too glossy and too beautiful for its own good and its own progressive and transgressive ambitions—somebody should either shoot the art director or give him a raise. But it’s the kind of magazine that’s alive to its own contradictions and seems to devote some of its pages to exploring them (see the exchange between Douglas Coupland and Naomi Klein, discussing among other things the authenticity of BlackBook and trying to fix its coordinates at the intersection of fashion and advertising.)"
And it's that exchange, or the fact that it could happen in BlackBook, that makes this magazine so good.

As liberal as I am, I had always dimsissed Naomi Klein as a smug, holier-than-thou progressive. The kind that I tune out as soon as they utter the words "corporation" or "this administration." I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable she was. And how shrewd:
"Sadly, I think a lot of this is about self-interest -- confort breeds stasis, Progressives in the United States often try to deal with this by trying to "wake up" the population by hurling alarming facts at them and making them feel guilty about their cars and hamburgers. But my experience is that guilt doesn't last long as a motivator. We need a way of talking about change that questions not just why we are comfortable, when so many people aren't but also whether we are as comfortable as we think we are.

"When Arundhati Roy, the novelist, visits the United States, she doesn't try to make Americans feel guilty, she tries to get them to see that maybe their wonderful way of life isn't as wonderful as their politicians keep telling them that it is. For instance, she describes the American dream as 'the right to live alone in your house with your washing machine' and she tells her audiences about what they are missing in countries that have a richer sense of community. Too often we think of 'radicalizing' as getting people to give up their self-interest, instead of helping them to see their self-interest in radically different terms, and to see the pleasures of living differently. [italics mine] The biggest obstacle to 'the future of subversion' is that we no longer understand how change is supposed to happen."
I think she's closer to realizing the problems with the Left's methods that most.

Fortress Wall Street

Before I saw it for myself I had no idea how narrow the streets around Wall Street are. And how fortified. The building in the background with the flag wrapped across it is the Stock Exchange. Strange neighborhood.


Synaesthesia, says the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph, is "The involuntary ability to hear colour, see music or even taste words results from an accidental cross-wiring in the brain that is found in one in 2,000 people, and in many more women than men."

I believe that everyone has this to some degree. Last weekend while at a wine bar in Soho I made napkin sketches of the tastes of a couple of wines. As I tasted the wines, I could see the shape of them very vividly in my head. One pinot was very clearly hook-shaped in its flavor. Another curled under and ended round instead of barbed. Curiously, my sketches depicted the changing flavor over time from right to left. Maybe more curious, my companions understood what I meant when they tasted the two pinots.

The Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky was a well-known synaesthete. The Tate Modern's new exhibit "Kandinsky: Path to Abstraction" follows the artist's shift from representative painting to what he said was painted music.

When I hear music, colors are secondary to shapes. I see very clear three dimensional forms when I hear certain sounds. Another synaesthete, writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote: "The confessions of a synaesthete must sound tedious and pretentious to those who are protected from such leakings." That gives me pause. Am I really "seeing" tastes and sounds as shapes?

According to the Telegraph, scientists say it's possible: "A series of brain scans showed that, despite being blindfolded, synaesthetes showed 'visual activity' in the brain when listening to sounds. Now all that is left is to find the gene that may be responsible." But how often is it real? "Sceptics have dismissed synaesthesia as nothing more than subjective invention, like a bad case of metaphor affliction - after all, anyone can feel blue, see red, eat a sharp cheese or wear a loud tie."

And if we really can "see" sounds, couldn't it just be an active, free-associating imagination? What makes it special? Is it really a genetic gift, or is it well-developed visualization and sensual awareness?

An MIT website is clear: synesthesia (note the American spelling) is involuntary and perceived as real, and not in the "mind's eye." That means I probably don't have anything more than a good imagination.

Although the Telegraph says that most synaesthetes are women, all of the examples given are of men: the poet Baudelaire, painters Hockney, Marinetti, and Kandinsky, the writer Nabokov, and the composer Olivier Messiaen. The MIT site however, has an interesting section in which two women, an artist and a linguist, talk about their synesthesia.

A webpage by University of Toronto engineering professor Steve Mann talks about "synethetic synesthesia," created by a wearable radar:
"Imagine if we had extrasensory perception. Let me invent a 6th or 7th sense, say, radar. We cannot perceive radar directly, but we can wear an instrument that does, and we can map the output of this instrument to another sense. I found that Doppler auralization allowed me to walk down a corridor, or the like, in total darkness, so it appears that radar can provide sufficient information to give us some simple navigational ability. However, in presenting my findings to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, it became apparent that blind people rely heavily on the sense of hearing, and that any device that uses headphones or even produces sound is unacceptable. Thus the next phase of the project was to develop vibrotactile radar systems, so that I could feel objects at a distance, pressing against my body. As the objects get closer they press "harder", resulting in a Reality Metaphor User Interface (RMUI)."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

New York Public Library Photo Exhibit

Saw this photo at the New York Public Library last weekend. It's by Garry Winogrand and it was taken at the Central Park Zoo in 1967. I have no idea what it means or who the people are and I can't find any explanations. On the one hand, the chimps are dressed up like kids, which is hilarious. On the other hand, the people look so serious and well-dressed. Weird. The Winogrand photos were with a group of Diane Arbus photos, all part of a recent acquisition. [photo from Masters of]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Walkies for Meat Pies

I walked 6,300 steps today, about twice what I did yesterday. I did it by walking from 5th and 19th down to 9th and 14th, then four blocks south on Hudson to Myers of Keswick, an English food shop in the West Village. They've got a nice array of British food and sundries. I came for the Irn Bru and the meat pies.

Irn Bru is, as the website says, "Scotland's other national drink." And it really is -- all the Scots I knew drank lots of it. It was said that it was the only soft drink in the world to outsell Coca Cola in any market. It's a strange drink. It's orange, carbonated, and probably an acquired taste. I love it, but part of it is no doubt its rarity in America. I paid $1.75 per can for two cans, but in New York, that ain't bad. I've likened the taste to Dr. Pepper, but only because they both tatse like nothing else on the market.

I bought three pies: a Cornish Pasty, a Curried Lamb Pie, and a Shepherd's Pie. The latter two are pictured at left. I just ate the pasty, and it was quite good. I hadn't been able to find pasties here in New York before -- back in St. Paul, I used to get Captain Jack's Pasties (made with care by the people of Upper Michigan -- or so it says on the box) in the frozen foods section of Kowalski's.

Here in New York, I was relieved to find empanadas, which, as the Times points out are the South American version of the meat pie. Ruben's Empanadas in the East Village is good.

Closer to home in Brooklyn, I found the Jamaican version of the meat pie: the pattie. This brand of beef patties is made in Brooklyn. I found it in my grocer's freezer. And they are divine. Almost haggis-like. The spicing is just right. Mmmm, peppery hot.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Who The Hell Is Salmon P. Chase?

When I wrote that Alexander Hamilton was one of two non-presidents to appear on paper money, I was only thinking as high as $100. True, there are no denominations higher than the 100 in circulation now, but there used to be. And at least one, my boss pointed out to me, had a non-president: Salmon Portland Chase appeared on the $10,000 bill. Who the hell is Salmon P. Chase?

According to a Tulane University webpage, Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) was an anti-slavery lawyer, then a twice-elected governor of Ohio (1855 and 1857), then a senator (1860, R-Ohio). He was considered as a Republican presidential candidate, but Lincoln got the nomination instead. Lincoln made him secretary of the treasury in 1861. He helped start the national banking system in 1863, but resigned in 1864 because of his political differences with Lincoln. But Lincoln appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court later that year. He appointed a man named John Rock as the first black lawyer to argue cases in front of the Supreme Court. He gave Andrew Johnson the oath when Lincoln was assassinated, and then presided over Johnson's impeachment removal trial. He made a play for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868, but his unpopular support for black (male) voting rights prevented it.

Chase created the country's first paper money, which were nicknamed "greenbacks" because of the green ink on one side. Chase himself appeared on the first one dollar bill. When he was the chief justice he tried to get the paper money taken out of circulation as unconstitutional.

So did Chase have anything to do with the bank with the same name? Sort of. As far as I can tell, the Bank of Manhattan, which was started by Aaron Burr (the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel), was later called Chase Manhattan Bank, named after Salmon Chase, though he had nothing to do with it.

I saw this fearsome hybrid SuperDraculaMan lashed to this truck in Midtown Manhattan yesterday.

I Move Little

From the time I left the house this morning to the time I sat down to write this from home, I've taken 3,238 steps.

A friend visiting from Minnesota told me that to maintain one's level of fitness, one ought to walk 10,000 steps a day. Holy shit, I have work to do. I wore a pedometer today -- one I got for Christmas last year from another friend. I went through my normal routine -- walk about two blocks to the subway, walk from the subway to work (23rd and 6th to 19th and 5th), across the street from my office to get lunch, and then the reverse of my morning routine to get home. Not to mention a few trips to the bathroom, copy machine, co-workers' offices, etc., during the day. And all I got was this lousy 3,000 steps.

A non-profit called (founded by former surgeon general C. Everett Koop) says this:
"So how much activity is enough for weight management? There are now some studies suggesting that walking10,000 steps a day is the right ball park to be in. ... After wearing the pedometer for a few weeks, we learned that in the normal course of events – just living and working – we took anywhere from 900 to 3000 steps in a day and not much more. In other words, we came to realize that it was pretty nearly impossible for us to get in 10,000 steps in a day without intentionally going out for a walk (or getting on a treadmill)."
Wow -- so I'm on the high side of a normal American's day. When I moved here I thought I'd trim down to a lean, athletic build. I didn't account for the abundance of food and the scarcity of companionship.

Not that I'm chunky -- friends still think I've slimmed down when in reality, I've gained about ten pounds since I moved here. I'm looking into a gym membership. Modern human beings have no reason to move a lot. We have to create fake work, like exercise.

UPDATE: I decided to put on my 1990s era sneakers and go for a run. Not far -- I don't want to be in such pain that I don't do it again. Before I moved here I didn't know anything about Brooklyn. I had no idea that it had a park the size of Manhattan's Central Park. Prospect Park was created in the 1860s by Frederick Law Olmstead, the man who designed Central Park. George Washington fought (and lost) the Battle of Brooklyn in what is now the park.

So I walked two blocks from my apartment to the Park and jogged for a leisurely 20 minutes. It felt great. The Park was full of joggers, bikers, and roller bladers. Even barbecuers -- strange for a Monday. I didn't realize how close the lake was in the Park. And looking at a map of the Park, it's a bigger lake than I thought it was.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Potato Knish

I had a knish at this highly recommended knishery on Houston yesterday. It was $2.50 and it weighed about 3 pounds. It was incredibly heavy in your hand, but it tasted pretty light. I should have got the mini version though -- couldn't finish the big one, as good as it was. The place is on Houston between 1st and 2nd Avenues and it's called Yonah Schimmel Knishery. Strangely, the name is spelled differently on the sign in front than it is on the website.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Jheri Curl

The Village Voice has an article that chronicles the history of the Jheri Curls, "one of the earliest, most violent, and best branded of the Dominican gangs of Nueva York." Yes, they all had curls -- usually shaved down on the sides and "long and greasy on top." They made millions a year selling cocaine in the Washington Heights neighborhood in the 1990s.

When cops pulled the gang leader's younger brother over on the Triborough Bridge in the summer of 1991, they managed to find his stash:
"To get access to his car's secret compartment, according to prosecutors, you had to proceed through an elaborate ritual: Turn on the car lights. Press the brake pedal. Connect two points under the dashboard with a coin. Only then would the chambers unlock on either side of the backseat."
That's impressive. So how the hell did they find it? Informant.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ann Throws Tantrum, New York Sad

New York is sore at Ann Coulter right now. Not mad, mind you -- that's too strong. New York would like Coulter to know that its collective feelings are hurt. Coulter's new book Godless calls some 9/11 widows "witches" (says the Daily News) and offers the following observations:
  • "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."
  • "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis."
  • "And by the way, how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy"
  • "These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them."
Many liberals aren't sophisticated enough to see through this sort of baiting.

The Daily News' article is all about the grieving widows' response to Ann Coulter's appearance on "Today" with Matt Lauer, where she apparently hurt Matt's feelings too: "When Lauer grilled Coulter about the book, she yelled at him so harshly that gasps echoed through Rockefeller Center - and then she made a wisecrack about CBS-bound former host Katie Couric." That bitch! Nobody touches Katie!

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lashed out at Coulter yesterday in an attack so filled with vitriol that gasps echoed through congress: "Perhaps her book should have been called 'Heartless.'"

The honorable Anthony Weiner, who may or may not be my congressman, said this: "Like an insecure child, it's always been clear that Ann Coulter is prepared to do anything to get attention ... This is a new low."

Was it? Or was it merely par for the course? The new low may be New York's maudlin response. Last night a child told a sympathetic TV reporter (on channel 9? can't recall) that all he wanted was to play catch with his dead firefighter father, and that he didn't understand why Ann Coulter wanted to "crush his dreams."

Look, Ann -- New York's not mad at you, we're just mad at your behavior.

No I Don't Want To Save Ten Percent Today

"No retailer makes more money on this pitch ["Would you like to save 10% today?"] and juices it for more marketing insight than Target Stores," says Ad Age. Minnesota-based Target is the only retailer to make the list of the ten biggest credit card issuers (the others are all straight credit cards like American Express and Chase).

Apparently the trend is moving away from retailer-issued cards -- Sears and Federated Department Stores have both sold their credit card operations. And still, Target is doing amazingly well. The nearest retailer, Nordstrom, is in 27th place.

Target is keeping its credit card operations because it uses the data it collects from users to market to them. And the credit cards make money. Ad Age:
"Not only is Target benefiting on the marketing side, it's making a nice profit along the way. Through its Target National Bank division, Target is quite literally minting money, charging up to 23.74% interest on balances from 16 million customers totaling $5.6 billion."
So Target runs its own bank. Home Depot and Walmart want to do it too, says Ad Age.

The average household incomes of Target cardholders helps -- it's $59,000. For Nordstrom it's $92,572 and for Walmart, it's $46,679.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Lamborghini in Greenwich Village?

I saw a Lamborghini Gallardo in the West Village the other day. It was silver, like the one pictured. I'd never seen one before, which is funny, because according to Wikipedia, it's the "most-produced model" yet. They made 3,000 of them in two years. Well, I was still dazzled. I even told my companion that it was a likely a half a million dollar car. Wikipedia calls it Lamborghini's "entry-level" model. It costs a mere $165,000. Audi/Volkswagen owns Lamborghini now, so the engine isn't even Italian. It's an Audi V-8 with two cylinders added.

Car & Driver loved it -- they called it the baby Lamborghini the car world had been waiting for, and praised Audi for making it possible. Car & Driver compares it to the Ferrari Modena, a smaller, V-8 Ferrari.

Here's a link to video of a BMW M3 racing a Ferrari Modena at night on a Turkish freeway. The camera is in the BMW. If you believe the video, they get up to 280 km/h (about 175 mph), which, according to Car & Driver, is the Ferrari's top speed. The Lamborghini will do 192 mph.

I've seen more exotic cars in New York in the last year than in my entire life. Still, it was strange to see an exotic sports car in what used to be such a bohemian neighborhood.

The Times of London in New York. And New Jersey.

The Times of London is going to on newsstands in New York and New Jersey soon, for $1 a copy. That sounds interesting until you hear the 218 year-old paper is owned by one Rupert Murdoch. He bought it in 1981.

Some are questioning the wisdom of bringing a British paper into a market where the very viability of print is in question. From the Baltimore Sun:
"It's really puzzling," said Bonnie Brownlee, associate dean of the Indiana University School of Journalism. "This is some novelty pipe dream by British news organizations that are hoping to sell in the United States. It's hard to see how they're going to make any money. The BBC is one thing - there's hope for them. But the Times? Who wants it? It's not what it used to be. It's a Murdoch paper! And it's so weird reading it as a tabloid."
Times management was apparently tempted by a recent swell in American Times Online readership.

The New York Post, the once reputable paper that Murdoch bought and turned into a tabloid in 1977, will distribute the Times in America. The Post has an interesting history -- it was founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, who you may know as one of the two non-presidents to appear on American paper money, or the guy who was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr.

William Cullen Bryant, the famous poet and abolitionist was one of the Post's early editors. The Post had a liberal reputation until Murdoch bought it. After that the reputation turned conservative, but also sensational. Under Murdoch's careful stewardship, the paper became known for headlines such as April 1983's "HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR." (Which I grant you is inspired.)

Is this what we can expect from Murdoch's Times of London? Not exactly. The Times is one of Murdoch's more "serious" papers, and part of the reason he's bringing it here, ironically, is the perception of British journalism's lack of bias. Peter Gross of the University of Oklahoma told the Baltimore Sun:
"The credibility of the American media is falling ... People don't have much trust in it. They think it's biased. It's my feeling that the Brits looked at all these things and figured there's a chance to make some money."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cold Clams and Beer on Coney Island

I didn't actually have clams, but I did drink a cold beer. It was a perfect day to stroll the boardwalk: 65 degrees, overcast, and not very crowded. But even with meager crowds, sleaze was in good supply. An NYPD chopper buzzed the beach close enough for the pilot to see my curious expression. Morbidly obese children mingled with French tourists and skinheads. I didn't get pickpocketed and I avoided food poisoning. I squeezed through the two security checks on the pier without getting my bag searched. I had a wonderful afternoon.

Comments are now enabled and welcomed

I set the blog to accept comments so that readers don't have to log in -- anyone may comment now. But since I've already received spam in the comment section even when secruity was high, I'm moderating the comments. Don't hesitate to comment, just be patient while I run a complete work history, credit check, and a few other invasive procedures -- your comment will appear after a slight delay.

I have also made it easy to e-mail a post -- just click on the little envelope symbol.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Coney Island

I went to Coney Island today. More on that tomorrow.

Oh God No, Please No

My headline refers to this one from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Want to live in a Kinkade painting? It's possible.

From the article: "The California artist, beloved by middlebrow America but reviled by the art establishment, has signed a deal with developers in this resort city to help design five lake-view houses that are copies of homes in paintings such as 'Beyond Autumn Gate.'" The houses are going to be in Idaho.

Thomas Kinkade the guy who became a millionaire selling his paintings of cozy cottages in shopping mall galleries calls himself the "painter of light," and claims his brush is guided by god. There is recent news to the contrary, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times. He was ordered to pay $860,000 to some former gallery owners who claim he defrauded them, but that's not the interesting part. What's interesting is his apparent fondness for strip clubs and booze:
"In an interview, Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Mr. Kinkade's company, recounted a trip to Orange County in the late 1990s for the artist's appearance on the 'Hour of Power' television show. On the eve of the broadcast, Mr. Sheppard said, he and Mr. Kinkade returned to the Disneyland Hotel after a night of heavy drinking. As they walked to their rooms, according to Mr. Sheppard and another person who was there, Mr. Kinkade veered toward a nearby figure of a Disney character and decided to 'mark his territory.'"
He was also accused of groping a woman at a party.

So now the hallowed Kinkade brand is coming to the housing market. Is that such a good idea … financially? Chicago real estate expert Mark Nash says no. "The Kinkade art style has never been positioned as a luxury one … It might be a stretch to make a Rolls-Royce out of a Buick brand. But money has not always been able to buy you taste."

The Associated Press couldn't get a comment from the busy Thomas Kinkade, so they sought another expert: Reuben Kinkade, the self proclaimed "painter of stuff." Some readers may remember Reuben Kinkade as the wacky manager of a certain singing Partridge family. Alas, it's only a parody: writer Robert Niles made the "Reuben Kinkade, Painter of Stuff" website, which shows the Lucky Charms leprechaun frolicking around Thomas Kinkade's paintings. It's a remarkably good fit. The Associated Press really did ask Niles to comment. He wasn't kind.

This reminded me of a recent development in Minneapolis: Le Parisien Flats, a curiously placed (Uptown) apartment complex that is equals parts Kinkade and Euro Disney. Developer, Mark Dziuk's goal of bringing the best features of French neighborhoods to Minneapolis is laudable, but its realization is tacky. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the thirteen units will go for $295,300 to $477,700, but buyers will have to finish them using a contractor approved by Dzuik.

It's not just the development that I find so creepy, it's the gauche marketing. Take Le Press Kit, the bundle of information the developers put otgether for the media, for example. Dzuik tells a story about how he toured Paris, snapping hundreds of digital photos of everything while retracing the steps of Joseph Campbell. He was taking both a personal journey and a civic one, the latter for the benefit of the people of Minneapolis -- or at least for the suburbanites his development will attract. Ironically, Le Press Kit (I'm not joking about that -- that's what he calls it) takes pains to point out how authentic the complex will be:
"Specifically, he wanted to create an environment for people like himself who loved European lifestyle but wanted to live in the Twin Cities. It’s important to note that Dziuk was after more than mere mimicry of French architectural details. He was adamant that his project not be infused with easy, Disneyesque theming."
And yet there it is. The City Pages saw it -- they grudgingly gave Le Parisien a Best of the Twin Cities award in spite of how it reminded them of "the French village at Epcot Center or the Paris Casino in Las Vegas (both elaborate efforts to capture the real deal in places that are nothing like the eternal City of Light)." The City Pages liked the development's environmentally friendly and innovative design.

And I do to, but why does it have to be so gingerbread-like? Why not just design it well and leave out the French theme park? I would argue that combining the thoughtful design, fancy French flooring, and solar heat with the faux-French trappings and sealed noise-proof walls plays to two opposing audiences: an urban liberal and a suburban conservative.

Though Thomas Kinkade may not agree -- even while one god-guided hand paints and the other grabs thy neighbor's ass -- contradictions (and discordant architecture) are what make urban life more interesting.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Maps: Manhattan Elsewhere

I love maps. I have a three feet-high map of the four boroughs (Staten Island often gets missed) on my cubicle wall at work that I stare at for relaxation. I love Jason Kottke's Manhattan Elsewhere project. He's continuing (or copying) something Bill Rankin did on the Radical Cartography website in 2000: using Internet maps -- Google, in Kottke's case -- to move the island of Manhattan to other cities' shores as a comparison.

As long as the scale is the same, it's fascinating to see what it would look like if, as Kottke imagines, the Lincoln Tunnel ran under Soldier Field and connected with the Dan Ryan in Chicago. He also uses Google Earth's 3-D maps -- you can see the Empire State Building across a bit of the lake from the Sears Tower.

In another map, he installs Manhattan in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Bridge -- it's fits nicely. Manhattan off of Boston Harbor looks fine, but the airport, as he notes, is way too close.

And then there's Minneapolis. Here's what he says about that map:
"This is the most unsatisfying map of the bunch. That pesky Manhattan just wouldn't fit cleanly into the Mississippi without a ton of modification, so I just made a sixth Great Lake out of the area including Northeast Minneapolis and St. Paul. Sorry, St. Paul. Also, the Twin Cities metro area is quite large for its population, which is a polite way of saying 'urban sprawl.'"
He's right, it doesn't look as good. But he didn't even try to connect 94 or 35 to FDR Drive. That would have helped. And the Lake Street Bridge could have crossed the water and connected to 97th Street, continuing nicely through Central Park. It's interesting to see how big the Minneapolis lakes are compared to Central Park and its lake, the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. In fact, Central Park and Minneapolis's often overlooked Theodore Wirth Park are about the same size.

Just think of how many more people could fit in Minneapolis. It's almost 60 square miles and has short of 400,000 people. Manhattan is about 23 square miles with 1.5 million people. But then Kottke's right about the sprawl -- Minneapolis has shrunk: in 1950 it had about a half a million people.

Jason Kottke is also known as an early blogger from Minneapolis who carried on a relationship, slightly veiled, with his now wife Meg over their respective blogs (she now blogs about food). They were profiled this week in the New Yorker.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Kimchi Against Cancer

"I think kimchi practically defines Korean-ness," says Park Chae-lin, curator of a museum in Seoul dedicated to the fermented cabbage.

According to an L.A. Times article, kimchi is being researched upon for an amazing array of healing properties in South Korea right now, including:

  • The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute created a special kimchi for the prevention of astronaut constipation in space.
  • Ewha Woman's University (Seoul) research said kimchi "lowered the stress levels of caged mice by 30%."
  • The Kimchi Research Institute in Busan gave hairless mice kimchi, which resulted in fewer wrinkles. The Korean government gave the institute $500,000 to make anti-aging kimchi.
  • LG Electronics put an enzyme from kimchi (leuconostoc) in filters for some of its new air conditioners because of the apparent health effects.
  • The Times said that there were rumors that kimchi made Koreans immune to SARS.
  • A kimchi against obesity and another against cancer are under study.

That last one's tough though, because other research says kimchi may actually cause cancer. A South Korean study published, not uncoincidentally in a Beijing, China journal last year, found kimchi and other spicy and fermented foods raised the risk of stomach cancer -- something ten times more common in Japan and Korea than in America.

It might be the combination of salt and red pepper that forms the carcinogen, said a South Korean nutritionist.

But since you have to eat huge amounts of kimchi for an entire lifetime for this to be a factor, I decided to try some here in Brooklyn. It wasn't hard to find -- many bodeagas are run by Korean immigrants. I found some on 7th Avenue in Park Slope: It’s actually quite good. And why not? I like sauerkraut. I found a kimchi recipe online that suggests using sauerkraut as a base – you just add Korean chili powder, sesame oil, and a few more vegetables. There’s a pungent, almost sour cream-like aftertaste to it that isn’t very appetizing though, but it didn’t set in till the third or fourth bite.

I decided to eat my kimchi with a nice cold glass of Jinro a Korean sake-like beverage made from distilled barley, sweet potato, and tapioca. At least that’s what the bottle says. It’s 24% alcohol, making it much stronger than wine but only half as strong as hard liquor. The Jinro website offers this description, charmingly written in very strange English:
“The distilled specialty distinguished with its yellow label makes international sensation with the unique, smooth taste. Smooth and clean tast is easy to drink. Like Vodka or Jin, Jinro Soju has most no taste making it easy to enjoy. Its is relatively low alcohol content helps lessen the burdon on your body unlike most other spirits with much higher alcohol contents. Whether you drink it straight or with a twist of lemon, it will go down very smooth.”
It’s true, it’s nearly tasteless, and that’s too bad. Still, it goes wonderfully with flavorful kimchi.

Foul-Mouthed Reporter Vindicated

Arthur Chi'en was a reporter for WCBS, New York's CBS affiliate, until he was fired for yelling the f-word. He doing a live, on-camera report when a heckler (who was trying to publicize local shock jocks Opie and Anthony) made some sort of obscene gesture. Chi'en thought the camera was off at that point, and yelled "What the fuck is your problem, man?" The camera was rolling and he got fired.

No one but the soulless minions of orthodoxy at WCBS thought this was a good idea -- the subjects of the story he was reporting on, all Metro Transit-related groups, wrote letters protesting his firing. And not one viewer complained about the outburst. Of all cities in this country, New York might be the most empathetic to a guy moved to foul language in the line of duty.

Indeed, Café Press still appears to be selling Chi'en Revolution t-shirts, including a nice one depicting a certain Mr. Cheney that says "You'd Have to be a Dick to get Away With a Fuck," referring to the vice president's potty mouth on the senate floor. The Chi'en Revolution store says:
"Arthur Chi'en, The Right Man At The Right Time!
"Today's battle is only the beginning of a long and illustrious life of leadership in the war against placard-bearing satellite-radio drones and shell-shocked corporate news officers! Show your support of his righteous reaction in your office cubicle and/or local shopping center! He will report again!"
And he does report again -- he has since moved on to New York's channel 11, but a court decided this week that he shouldn't have been fired:
"...the evidence reveals that Mr. Chi'en did not intend for his words to be heard on-air, that this was a singular incident in which the word "fuck" was used outside any sexual context, that the Station did not receive a single complaint about the incident... Furthermore, the applicable Company policy, which, among other prohibitions, prohibited the word "fuck" on the air, does not require the termination of employees for a violation of the policy, and Howard Stern was not terminated for far more egregious on-air conduct. In short, the Company did not have cause to discharge Mr. Chi'en."
The New York Daily News reports that Chi'en will be compensated by WCBS, but that he's staying at WPIX 11.

A Sculptor Sues His Acolytes

The famous glass sculptor Dale Chihuly is suing two other artists, one of them a guy who he worked with. Chihuly's charge is that the other glass blowers are copying his style, according to the New York Times.

Ironically, Chihuly can't blow glass because of a shoulder injury (surfing accident) almost 30 years ago. Bryan Rubino, one of the artists being sued, was a 20-year member of Chihuly's team of assistants who actually do the glass blowing. He and the other artist in the suit have accused Chihuly of putting his name on objects he buys.

Chihuly told the Times that he "works with sketches, faxes and through exhortation." I get the sketch and exhortation part -- he draws pictures and tells people to make stuff -- but I'm not sure how he makes art via fax. How often do you fax studio assistants your designs for you to tell a newspaper it's how you work? It makes you wonder if he's commissioning his own work long distance.

Which would explain why he's suing an assistant. The further an artist gets from his own work, the more his workers might think the art isn't his anymore. Chihuly has 93 employees. The Times spoke to Andrew Page, editor of Glass: The Urban Glass Art Quarterly, who wondered how a case like this would affect celebrity artists who work in bulk. Page thinks the lawsuit was a bad idea.

Said the artist: "This lawsuit is not about money … It's about what is fair. There are a million forms you can make that don't look like mine." But the defendants say many of the Chihuly pieces were not imagined by Dale Chihuly. The artist countered, "You think I would ever let Rubino decide what something looks like?"

Rubino worried that the lawsuit would bar him from making even simple glass shapes. His lawyer added, "If the first guy who painted Madonna and Child had tried to copyright it, half of the Louvre would be empty."

That's the same sort of argument musicians have used for emulating earlier styles, an argument one can hardly quibble with -- of course artists imitate each other. And why wouldn't a glass blower who worked under the orders of a famous artist for 20 years make art that had some resemblance to his master's? I looked for examples of the art in question, but I couldn't find anything.

One way to look at this case, since it involves the older style of working (master overseeing a studio full of technicians), is this: the master, Dale Chihuly, is passing along his wisdom to apprentices. Eventually, some apprentices will make it on their own, and they will bring with them everything they learned working with the master. If Chihuly saw Rubino as a younger artist carrying on in the latest incarnation of an ancient tradtion of glass blowers, he might be flattered.

Benevolence in always more becoming in a celebrity artist. But what's probably at stake here for Mr. Chihuly is an ego, inflated by millions of dollars and 93 lackeys, teetering on the narrow precipice of the knowledge that he hasn't made anything in decades.


I got a promotion

To celebrate my recent promotion -- and a raise -- I decided to treat myself a nice bottle of scotch. I Found a website called Malt Madness to help me choose a good one. it's run by a Dutch guy named Johannes van den Heuvel. This guy's insane. And likely a high-functioning alcoholic. The site is dizzyingly comprehensive, and the photos of Herr van den Heuvel's collection are humbling. This man has a lot of booze.

After a tour of the site, I found a list of good single malts. Since the guy's Hit List of fantastic scotch is composed of very specific bottlings of certain years of certain brands, I found the Bang-For-Your-Buck List more helpful.

I was interested to see that van den Heuvel had scored the famous Johnnie Walker Blue Label a 75 on a 100 point scale. Good, because $200 a bottle is way too much to spend on a mere promotion. Although I like to boast about my five-figure income, I was thinking of the $50-$75 range.

Then I noticed Glenfarclas 105 -- the expert gave it an 88, and I happened to have a bottle of it at home. During a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland some years ago, Glenfarclas was recommended to me at a whisky store near the castle. This particular variety is "cask strength," meaning it's 120 proof (60% alcohol), apparently undiluted from the cask it was aged in. As strong as it is, it's remarkably smooth. It nearly evaporates on your tongue, and not just because it's so strong. Van den Heuvel calls it "without a shadow of a doubt one of the best 'bang for your buck' malts on the planet - and it has been for at least a decade." So I bought myself another bottle.
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