Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Word of the Day: Deponent

I'd never come across the word deponent before I read about the Critical Mass biker who got shoved off his bike in Times Square by 22-year-old two-week veteran NYPD officer Patrick Pogan.

Pogan is described in court documents as the deponent, defined by Merriam-Webster's as one who gives evidence. Here's how it started:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Prostitution?! But Republicans Wouldn't Be Involved in Such Things!

The Republican National Convention, scheduled for the Twin Cities this fall, will no doubt be a haven for prostitution. So says Beth Jacobs, a counselor at Breaking Free who helps prostitutes get off the street.

"When you are in prostitution, when you go to a new city, the first thing you do is get a convention book and find out where the conventions are at which hotels. Then you know where the money is," Jacobs told Twin Cities ABC affiliate KSTP. "I traveled all over the United States. You follow the money."

Between the convention attendees and the media, the Twin Cities are expecting more than 40,000 people to descend on the RNC.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Authenticity of Scotland

In a new book by the late historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, the fantasy of Scotland's historical identity is laid bare. The New York Sun's Adam Kirsch writes in a review that as Trevor-Roper
points out with ill-concealed glee, tartan and kilt, those universal badges of Scottishness, are about as authentic as Disneyland. Until the 18th century, no one north of the Tweed had ever seen a kilt; nor did the clans, as legend has it, distinguish themselves by the pattern of their tartans, until they were taught to do so by an enterprising clothing manufacturer. The Scottish costume is, Trevor-Roper shows, simply the latest example of an ancient national habit: the forging of tradition.
But wait, it gets worse: "Sad to say, the kilt was invented by an Englishman." Thomas Rawlinson was the English manager of a Highland ironworks in the 1720s. Kirsch explains:
Rawlinson observed that while the actual native costume of the Highlanders — the long belted cloak called the plaid — might have been suitable for rambling over hills and bogs, it was "a cumbrous, inconvenient habit" for men working at a furnace. So he hired the tailor of the local army regiment to make something more "handy and convenient for his workmen" by "separating the skirt from the plaid and converting into a distinct garment" — the kilt. This symbol of Highland tradition, as Trevor-Roper notes, was "bestowed ... on the Highlanders, not in order to preserve their traditional way of life, but to ease its transformation: to bring them off the heath and into the factory." As with so many of the tales Trevor-Roper has to tell, the truth may not be as romantic as the legend, but its irony makes it no less compelling.
The tartan above is the "Flower of Scotland," a late and non-clan addition to the vast catalogue of Scottish tartans.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All You New Yorkers Are the Same

From New York magazine's letters page:
We got 46 letters last week like: "How dare you, you arrogant Establishment jerks, print such an outrageous political cartoon as a cover? Shame on you! May your magazine perish within the year." What had we done? Nothing, it turns out. Those letters were meant for The New Yorker, which put on its cover the now-infamous image of Barack and Michelle Obama as gun-toting radicals. Now we hope they'll forward our mail.
In other New Yorker cover news, an Utne editor chimed in and pointed out that blogs by illustrators were lively in defense of the cover's artist.

Steven Heller:
In satire, however, context is everything--a delicate balance, to be sure. It must be pitch perfect, but not everyone need agree on whether it succeeds. Nonetheless, as a cover of The New Yorker, a magazine known for many covers, cartoons, and articles that "expose and discredit vice or folly," it's difficult to see this as anything other than what it is.
Steven Brodner encourages people to e-mail The New Yorker to balance "the Low IQ Club," which is bombing the magazine with e-mails.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quote of the Day: Lawrence Weschler on The Problem With Celebrity Journalism

"There is nothing wrong with writing about famous people. Celebrities are often very interesting, but you don’t want to talk to them at the moment of their celebritydom. The problem with “celebrity journalism” is that any profile of a celebrity at the moment of his celebrity is a profile of the condition of celebritydom. There is a certain philosophy of magazine editing, which is that you describe which fancy restaurant you took the celebrity to, the logic being that the fancier the restaurant the fancier the scoops you’ll get.

Another metaphor for the problem of celebrity journalism is flash photography. All flash photographs are bad. The flash from the camera distorts the photo. And all flash photographs are the same: everybody’s skin looks the same. And everybody has those same little red dots in their eyes. Celebritydom distorts and obscures whatever might be interesting about the celebrity subject."
--Writer Lawrence Weschler, from an interview in Robert Boynton's 2005 book The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Car Sounds

Every once in a while, New Yorkers need to get out of the City. When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vauz designed Central Park in 1857, part of America's first landscape design contest, the object was to create a public green space for those without the means for summer homes in the country. A refuge in the midst of the bricks and cobblestones. A few years later, the two designed another giant park -- Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Those of us who have no access to automobiles must be content to walk to the parks when we need to relax and enjoy green traquility.

But what if something else is missing? What if the subway and the walking and the taxis start to get to you? Where does a lover of cars and the sound of barely restricted exhuast systems go?

The Internet. Whenever I hear the sweet throaty rumbles of these vintage Ferraris, I smile to myself contentedly:

On the go and without a phone that can access YouTube? Try Porsche's engine sounds downloads for mobile phones. My favorite is either the Carrera GT or the RS Spyder.


Repost: Review: Georgia Moon Brand Corn Whiskey

I wrote the post below in about May of 2006, and for some reason, it continues to generate comments. Just got another today. I have no idea how people find it; a search for the name brand Georgia Moon doesn't bring it up immediately. Maybe I ought to write about booze more often.

And I keep seeing this odd little gimmick in New York liquor stores. A little wine shop opened up in my neighborhood in Brooklyn recently, and it stocks Georgia Moon next to the good stuff like Maker's Mark (which has really gone up in price over the last few years). For the Brooklyn hipster, this product is the physical embodiment of "slumming" in a pre-fabricated, pre-distressed dive bar full of faux working class drinkers.

After more than two years, I still have my bottle. It sits under the kitchen sink next to my stock of mouse poison and bleach.

Here's the original post from 2006:

What a concept. It comes in a mason jar, and it's cheap. It boasts being "Less than 30 days old," but if the dust on the lid is any indication, the boast is merely marketing. And that, ultimately, is what Georgia Moon Brand Corn Whiskey is really about: a marketing gimmick, and I fell for it. As you can see in the photo, it didn't set me back much.

The word "shine" is on a different line than the word "moon," which is either a lost ooportunity or a way around a law. Perhaps it's inviting some nasty suits to label a commercial product "moonshine." If I were the creator of this product, I would have called it "Kentucky Moon" at a minimum. Why mix states? It's distilled in Kentucky. If Georgia has a richer moonshine heritage, the good folks buying this here jar of swill on Broadway in the Village in NYC don't know about it.

And another thing. Shouldn't a whiskey like this be at least 90 proof? The Kentucky whisky (note the different spelling) Maker's Mark is 90 proof. I would have made a whiskey with an odd percentage of alcohol, like 93 proof. It sounds more authentic.

I haven't mentioned taste yet; I haven't tried it. Hold on, let more pour a glass. There. It's clear, like vodka. It doesn't smell too good. It's hard to pour out of the jar without spilling.

I've never tried "real" moonshine, so I have nothing to compare this to except decent whiskey. This is not decent whiskey. It's almost tasteless -- it has more of an aroma than a flavor. Reminds me a little of bad rum, a little like a Dutch liquor called Corenwijn -- a grain mash mixture distilled four times (according to this.). I got some Corenwijn in Amsterdam a couple years ago. Wouldn't get it again.

Georgia Moon is a product of Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., a Kentucky liquor firm that owns dozens of labels in many categories -- vodka, gin, rum, etc. Their best known label may be Christian Brothers Brandy.

The company says this about their corn whiskeys:

"The forerunner and kissing cousin to Bourbon, American Straight Corn Whiskey is defined by the US Government as having a recipe or mashbill with a minimum of 81% corn, the rest being malted barley and rye. Today, Heaven Hill is the sole remaining national producer of this uniquely American Whiskey style, bottling such classic names as Georgia Moon, Mellow Corn, Dixie Dew and J.W. Corn."

For the record, Bourbon is like Champagne in that the product must be from the right place, in this case, Bourbon County, Kentucky. While Heaven Hill says it's the only company making straight corn whiskey, Bourbon, which is at least 51% corn (though usually more like 65-75%, according to this FAQ) is made by lots of companies. Jack Daniel's is a Tennessee whiskey, and it's "charcoal mellowed," another disqualifier in the Bourbon category.

Back to Georgia Moon. This is a "male, 18-34 demographic" product. It's really not bad, but it's an impulse buy and a conversation piece -- not a smooth-sipping Kentucky whiskey for connoisseurs. It's a very self-conscious product, and anyone who gives a damn about authenticity will be too embarrassed to buy it twice. My suggestion: do what your great-grandparents did -- make some in your bathtub.


North Korea's Ryugyong Hotel

Esquire called this unfinished 105-story hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea the "worst building in the history of mankind." Why? "Even by Communist standards, the 3,000-room hotel is hideously ugly," wrote Eva Hagberg in January. Construction on the Ryugyong Hotel started in 1987 and was halted in 1992 amid rumors that the building was poorly engineered (and hence unsafe). But it may just be that the government ran out of money.

Good news: construction is starting again. Reuters is reporting that an Egyptian group called Orascom is doing some work on the top floors, installing telecom antennas. South Korean sources estimate that it would cost $2 billion to finish the building though. Part of the reason construction had stopped in 1992 may have been the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was helping to fund it.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quote of the Day: Pauline Kael

"When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture."
--Former New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, shortly before her death in 2001. (As quoted in Canada's National Post in an article called "Pauline Kael & trash cinema," by Robert Fulford.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Wept When I Saw This Cover

Am I the only one who glanced at this week's New Yorker cover, squinted, grunted in comprehension, and forgot about it?

As I see it the only credible critics of the cover, which is so obviously satire, are the Obamas. As a campaigning presidential candidate, Barack Obama is obligated to react with stern incredulity. If he doesn't, it would be unseemly. And we (at least the "elite" group of New Yorker subscribers) must endure his obligatory clucking, knowing full well that he's:
A) not a Muslim
B) not Middle Eastern
C) not a terrorist
D) not a bin Laden sympathizer or supporter
E) not an umpatriotic flag-burner
But this tempest in a teapot can be the perfect opportunity for The National Review to be indignant about ... liberals mistreating liberals? No! "It is, indeed, a tasteless and offensive attack — on conservatives," writes a flabergasted Mark Hemingway.

It's the perfect opportunity for a fresh angle on a campaign that has lasted longer than some wars. In a culture where news is entertainment, misinterpreting satire is news. Hurt feelings, misunderstandings and miscommunication are, too.

Slate's Jack Shafer summed it up perfectly:
The source of all of this injury is not daring exposé or cutting criticism by a New Yorker writer but one of "them damned pictures"—to quote Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall, who bled pints every time he was poked by Thomas Nast's pen. "I don't care so much what the papers say about me," Tweed said of Nast's work. "My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!"
You see, the problem is that Americans are too stupid. At least that's what everyone seems to be arguing. Our country is simply too big; satire like this, in order to avoid a anti-Denmark-style backlash from our own citizens, must be dumbed down to such an extent that it loses its message completely.

One could argue that by offending everyone, the cover accomplished exactly what good satire should: it got us all talking publicly about all of the things conservatives have gotten wrong about Obama.

But no. What if Americans don't get it? Journalists like Jake Tapper of ABC called the cover "a recruitment poster for the right-wing."

Slate's Shafer has it right, though:
Calling on the press to protect the common man from the potential corruptions of satire is a strange, paternalistic assignment for any journalist to give his peers, but that appears to be what The New Yorker's detractors desire. I don't know whether to be crushed by that realization or elated by the notion that one of the most elite journals in the land has faith that Joe Sixpack can figure out a damned picture for himself.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

More Actors I Get Mixed Up

I have trouble telling Tobin Bell from Brion James. Both were in an excellent adaptation of a James Ellroy novel called Brown's Requiem; one (Bell) played a good guy and one (James) played a bad guy. Both tend to play bad guys though. They are veteran character actors who have been working very steadily for years.

They both have high foreheads, long noses, small mouths and sloping chins. Bell is on the left and James is right:

Brion James appeared in an episode of "The Waltons" in 1974 and an episode of "Gunsmoke" in 1975. But I think I know him best as a replicant in Blade Runner (1982).

Though he's about the same age as Brion James, Tobin Bell didn't appear in anything until 1988. He's probably most famous now for his role as the serial killer in the "Saw" movies.

And then there's Simon Baker and Scott Speedman. Like Tobin Bell and Brion James, both these British Colony blond pretty boys have appeared in James Ellroy adaptations. Simon Baker had a small role as a young actor in L.A. Confidential and Scott Speedman starred with Kurt Russell in Dark Blue (2002). I honestly though they were the same person for a while. Speedman is on the left and Baker is right:

Australian Simon Baker, 39, had a nice starring role in George Romero's 2005 zombie series installment Land of the Dead. Other than that, he tends to play romantic foils, as he did in The Devil Wears Prada.

The younger Scott Speedman, 32, was born in England and raised in Canada. Sadly, "Dark Blue" may have been his high point so far, but he's best known for his role in the girly TV show "Felicity."

See also my post on how Harry Hamlin, David Keith, and Robert Wuhl are not the same person.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Bat Caves

This strange structure is a bat cave. It's the overall winner, designed by British architecture students Jorgen Tandberg and Yo Murata, of a contest for a bat house in west London's Wetlands Centre.

The Bat Project describes the winning design:
The unanimous favourite through every round of voting, this design raised palpable excitement in the room. Beautiful, poetic and unexpected, combining state-of-the-art technology with a rural and romantic aesthetic. Resembles a picture in a frame and can work on all four sides. Can be used year round – good for Pipistrelles [a species of bat]. Rock pile at base would retain humidity. Good range of internal sizes. The location is ideal – it successfully negotiates the relationship between the tree-covered bank, where bats can fly out into cover, and the lake where certain species will feed, and where the water will keep the lower space cool and humid. Relationship to the viewing points and the wider site is strong.

The materials are simple and can be sourced locally, cheaply and from recycled supplies or even on site. The scale and design look reasonable for the budget available. The orientation and the different materials can be used to create the range of temperatures required – a certain amount of experimental development will no doubt be needed, but it is a highly adaptable design and could be adapted in situ over time. Could imagine it being replicated elsewhere, perhaps altering the meterials and/or scale to suit each location and budget.
For bat caves, see Oobject's bat cave and bat house page.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Quote of the Day: Rubin Museum

In this placard from the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art, under the heading WHAT is Going On?:
Telling Men From Women

What ought to be an easy task, distinguishing men from women, is not always so. Many male deities are as graceful as women , and breasts can be hidden from view. In works of art after the 15th century, an added clue to gender can be found by looking closely at the hairline of figures. Women are more likely to have a high, rounded hairlines [sic] framing an oval face . Men are more characteristically shown with a hairline that is lower on the head and crosses the face in a straight line or with a small widow's peak. Take a look at the figures here for this identifying feature.
I like the museum's candor and practicality.

The Rubin Museum is one of Manhattan's least known, most extravagant, and well-funded specialty museums. For what it is, it's huge: 70,000 square feet and growing in a former Barneys department store building in Chelsea. By comparison, the celebrated new New Museum building is about 60,000 square feet.

The Rubin was founded in 1999 and opened in 2004 -- it's still relatively new. According to the Washington Post, the Rubins' interest in such art started more than 30 years ago:
"The story of this museum is our conversation with our own mortality," says Donald Rubin. "Shelly and I talked about it, and we did not want to come to the end of our lives without leaving a legacy."

Theirs was an accidental passion. The Rubins were strolling Madison Avenue one day in 1974 when they wandered into one of that boulevard's ubiquitous art galleries and spotted a Tibetan painting of a female Buddhist deity. Donald was at the time a 40-year-old health-care executive, a man in a hurry to build his business and make his pile. He saw that thangka, with its radiant periwinkle blues and golden hues, and he was pulled to a stop.

"It spoke to me in a way that I could not imagine," recalls Donald Rubin, a silver-haired 69-year-old whose voice carries the rough-hewn cadences of New York. "We hung that painting in our bedroom and it radiated outward. I knew nothing about this art except that it felt like falling in love."
The Rubins made their money in an HMO called Multiplan.

The Bodhisattva below is fairly unambiguously male; my interest in him is more for the bullet damage and lost limb. He's from Tibet, circa the 12th century. He's made of a copper alloy.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Enema in Bronze, With Angels

That great golden shape borne by cherubs is a tool for administering an enema. According to the Associated Press, the bulb was immortalized in 800 pounds of bronze by the Mashuk-Akva Term spa in the Russian city of Zheleznovodsk.

While the sculptor, Svetlana Avakina, said she designed the piece with "irony and humor," the spa's director takes it a bit more seriously. Alexander Kharchenko told the AP: "There is no kitsch or obscenity, it is a successful work of art. An enema is almost a symbol of our region."

The $42,000 sculptor bears the motto, "Let's beat constipation and sloppiness with enemas," which references a Soviet comedy called The Twelves Chairs.

It's hard to add anything to this at first. What can you say? It's bizarre. But it's made less bizarre by the sculptor's admission of striving for irony and humor. I've pondered this damn thing and wound up at a loss for words for days. Is it even worth commenting on? Can't anyone with a budget for a commission make an artistic oddity as a publicity stunt?

The American sculptor Daniel Edwards has made a modest career out of the "shocking theme sculpture," appalling the media and the American public with life-sized pieces like "Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston" and "Paris Hilton Autopsy" but then losing our attention by the time he came up with "Suri's bronzed baby poop" and "Oprah's Sarcophagus."

It's just too much flash with no substance. The implicit commentary in these celebrity sculptures is so sophomoric that it's clear the goal is not the commentary, but the attention. Why bother?

In the absence of a better back-story for the Avakina sculpture, the same is true. It's good for a quick laugh, and then we forget about it.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Coney Island.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

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