Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Year in Media and Cities, 2008

Inspired by Jason over at kottke.org, I decided to spend a bit of time thinking about some of the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been over the past year. This would have been way cooler if I had started keeping track of this a few years ago, but better late than never. Now, at least, in a few years time I’ll already have started. Since I only thought of this game yesterday, I’m almost certain that I’m forgetting some things. If I’ve attended a city with you, or seen a movie in your presence, or listened to you read a book aloud to me, and you don’t see that city or movie or book on this list, please let me know, and I’ll add it.

Feel free to record your own lists in the comments section or on your own blog or in your diary or carved into your dining-room table, etc.

Cities I’ve attended, spending at least a day and a night in each locale
West Orange, NJ
East Hanover, NJ
Manhattan, NY
Paris, France
Dublin, Ireland
Madrid, Spain
Barcelona, Spain
Eastman, GA
Atlanta, GA
Denver, CO
Kill Devil Hills, NC
Indian Orchard, PA
Boston, MA
Philadelphia, PA
Bronx, NY
Seville, Spain
Granada, Spain
Delray Beach, FL
Westhampton Beach, NY

Movies I’ve seen on the Big Screen
Iron Man
WALL-E

Tropic Thunder (twice)
Miracle at St. Anna
The Dark Knight
The Godfather
The Godfather, Part II
Gran Torino
Milk
Funny Games
Role Models
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Sweeney Todd
The Rocker
Hancock

Movies I’ve seen on the little screen
Pinky
Salt of the Earth
The Searchers
Imitation of Life
In the Heat of the Night
Night of the Living Dead
To Kill a Mockingbird
Rocky
Quiz Show
Malcolm X
Daughters of the Dust
Birth of a Nation
Chan is Missing
Paradise Canyon
Annie Hall
Taxi Driver
Raging Bull
Rushmore
Eraserhead
Grindhouse: Death Proof
Swingers
Bananas
The Warriors
Batmans Begins
Dr. Strangelove
Get Shorty
Kung-Fu Panda

Books I’ve read
Infinite Jest
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Boys Will Be Boys
FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Men With Balls
Portnoy’s Complaint
No One Belongs Here More Than You
On Chesil Beach
Should You Be Laughing at This?
Invisible Man
Moby Dick
Ant Farm
Everything is Illuminated
Saturday
Pistol
Girl With Curious Hair
The Broom of the System
Slaughterhouse-Five
Baseball Prospectus 2008
Baseball Between the Numbers (in progress)
Flyaway
K Blows Top
Billy Budd and Other Stories
Musicophilia (in progress)
Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (in progress)
The Elements of Style
Goodbye Columbus
Captain Freedom (in progress)
Neo-Babylonian Court Procedure

Sporting Events I’ve attended
2k Sports Classic
Thursday, November 20
Duke 83, Southern Illinois 58
Michigan 55, UCLA 52
Madison Square Garden

Jimmy V Classic
December 9, 2008
Davidson 68, West Virginia 65
Texas 67, Villanova 58
Madison Square Garden

September 15, 2008
Yankees 4, White Sox 2
Yankee Stadium

August 26, 2008
Red Sox 7, Yankees 3
Yankee Stadium

October 29, 2008
Knicks 120, Heat 115
Madison Square Garden
Mike D'Antoni's first game as Knicks coach

June 5, 2008
Celtics 98, Lakers 88
TD Banknorth Garden
Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals
The Paul Pierce Wheelchair Game

August 4, 2008
Nationals 9, Rockies 4
Coors Field


TV Seasons I’ve watched
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Seasons 1-4

The Simpsons
Seasons 1-10

Mad Men
Seasons 1-2

30 Rock
Seasons 1-2, plus all episodes released during 2008

Flight of the Conchords
Season 1

Deadwood
Seasons 1-2

The Office
All episodes released during 2008

Plays I’ve attended
Hair

[Note: the averages that follow are now slightly wrong, because I've been adding more media experiences to the lists as I remember them, and I'm too lazy to recalculate.]

So, on average, I’ve:

• Visited a new place every ~19 days;
• Seen a movie on the big screen every ~24 days;
• Seen a movie on the little screen once every two weeks;
• Read a book every ~12.5 days (books in progress count as half of one);
• Attended a live sporting event every ~40 days;
• Watched a season of TV every ~16.5 days (not to mention all the other TV I watched; ugh, it’s been a heavy TV year);
• Attended a play once every twelve months
• Composed a blog post once every ~4.6 days (including this post).

It’s been a busy year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Their Reputations Precede Them

Earlier this fall, the Film Forum down the town held screenings of the amazingly beautiful Coppola Restorations of both The Godfather, Part I and The Godfather, Part II. I spent a solid seven hours--including a thirty-minute break between films, and a ten-minute intermission within the second film--with Al Pacino and company. It was a glorious Sunday.

It was also my first experience watching a classic film in such a public setting, amidst somewhat serious film connoisseurs. The setting was weird, because most everyone in the theater had already seen the films. But, more important, even those who hadn't actually seen these movies had almost seen them anyway. I've never seen all of The Shining (it's on my queue), but I've seen enough parodies and tributes that I feel as if I have. The same is true of Jaws, The Graduate, etc. I'm all for the appropriation and incorporation of previous elements of our culture, but things get a little sticky when we then need to return to the original.

During the The Godfather afternoon, I heard a whole lot of laughter coming from the audience. The films do have a touch of comedy, but lines like "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse" aren't meant to elicit laughter. I think people laughed at that line more out of sheer recognition than humor, the recognition that this is the original context for such a famous phrase.

This is a case in which a film is viewed by an audience which possesses probably too much previous knowledge. I hate previous knowledge when it comes to movies. I like, if at all possible, to experience a film in the way the director intended, with the chronology intact. That's why I don't read movie reviews until after I've seen the movie.

I think something similar happens to well-established actors all the time, even in brand-new movies. John Wayne is always the tough guy. That's why I love when movies use the audience's previous knowledge against them. JCVD seems like an excellent example, even though I haven't seen it. (I know this much about it because--try as I might--it's damn hard to not hear about movies.) Jean-Claude Van Damme, in this movie, plays Jean-Claude Van Damme, the movie star who plays tough guys in his films. JCVD the actor--who is, of course, acting--finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery, and everyone expects him to live up to his movie persona. It's a pretty clever concept, one that recognizes the preconceptions that viewers bring with them to the theater.

And this is why I think Gran Torino might be the best new movie I've seen this year, even though much of the audience giggled the laugh of recognition when Clint Eastwood's character, the movie's protagonist, did any stereotypical Eastwood thing. As David Denby so nicely put it in The New Yorker issue dated December 22 & 29, "The movie was not written for [Clint] Eastwood, but it still seems to be all about him--his past characters, his myth, his old role as a dispenser of raw justice. Growling and muttering, Eastwood appears to be offering a satirical critique: this hoarse-voiced, glaring, absurdly nasty old man is what Dirty Harry might have become." The cool part is that the film progresses beyond the classic Eastwood character, showing some serious myth-development. The film reads as the mature Eastwood--still a bad-ass, but now with some perspective--reflecting on his career and the state of America. It's a perspective worth paying attention to.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Ballad of Sorgi

Never underestimate the importance of a surprise. It's especially good when you've been down a path before, and yet you still manage to find yourself surprised by something you've seen dozens of times before.

Example: I always, always forget about the bunting that appears around baseball stadia for the playoffs. And I always smile when I see evidence of that little tradition of postseason ball.


Another example: I've seen "You Only Move Twice," the second episode of the eighth season of The Simpsons, at least a handful of times, and yet I always forget about the classic Hammock District exchange. And because I don't regularly think of that gag, it cracks me up every time I see the episode.


The final, most pertinent example: Jim Sorgi.

Sorgi is, by a conservative estimate, one of the fifty best people in the whole world at quarterbacking. He was successful as an amateur at Wisconsin, and he's been serviceable in his limited professional playing time, all with the Colts. But the guy hardly ever plays. He has attempted a pass in a grand total of ten games in his five seasons in the NFL. In three of those contests he has attempted three passes or fewer. Now that Matt Cassel has earned himself a long-term, multi-dozen-million dollar contract after his play this season, Sorgi is by far the most prominent example of a backup quarterback who never plays in games that matter. That's what happens when you serve as the understudy for a dude named Peyton Manning, who has started all 16 annual regular season games every season he's been in the league.


So it's something special when Sorgi gets a chance to play. Four out of the last five years, Sorgi has managed to garner plenty of playing time in the closing week or weeks of the season because the Colts had already secured their playoff position. Even this year, the Colts were locked into the 5th seed entering week 17, and Sorgi saw his first action of the season.

Sorgi's only been with the team since 2004, but it seems like he's been there forever, only appearing when the games either are already decided or inconsequential. Sorgi's very existence is one of those little annual surprises that I could foresee if I thought about it hard enough. But I never do, and--poof!--there he is, almost every year, playing in the closing week of the season.

YouTube, sadly, has almost no evidence of Sorgi, except for the one video which I will embed in this very blog.



The video cracks me up for three reasons:
  1. It's titled "Jim Sorgi Highlights 2008," yet it only depicts events from an exhibition game against the Redskins. It's as if anonymous YouTube uploader ffootball93 knew that the highlights of Sorgi's 2008 season would come in the preseason. Ffootball93 was wrong because Sorgi had a pretty good day yesterday in a game that officially counted, but his guess wasn't too far off.
  2. The video opens with Sorgi warming up. I, for the life of me, thought the entire video consisted of Sorgi warming up, which would then be followed by him standing on the sideline, watching Manning, y'know, play football. It didn't turn out that way, but someone should probably pull together just such a video.
  3. One of the highlights of Sorgi's 2008--not even his 2008 football season, according to the title; his entire 2008--is the time he got sacked by two Redskins, at the ~40 second mark.
It didn't have to be this way, Sorgi. You could have been drafted by the Bengals, let's say, where you would have received regular playing time because Carson Palmer missed all but four games this season. But this is your fate, and you've bravely embraced it. There's not one of us out here who wouldn't gladly trade places with you. Just make sure that you prepare yourself for the Bernard Pollard scenario. And, also, please update your journal. I, at least, want to know what it's like to be in your scenario.

Here's to you, Sorgi, for being the most prominently inconsequential professional football player of my generation.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Delicious Case of Who-Donut

During the ~month I spent proofreading my first book, I traversed a decent portion of the Washington Heights neighborhood.


View Larger Map

I hardly ever followed this exact route; my travels were more reminiscent of that blond kid from Family Circus.


But just about every day I did pass the storefront that formerly hosted Gruenebaum's Bakery. For as long as I've lived in my current apartment (June 2008 or so) that location has been empty, with various For Rent signs posted in the windows. But the overhead signage of the bakery remains, signage that looks remarkably like these photographs I took earlier this morning:


and...

It took a solid month of looking at this logo to realize why it looks so darn familiar.

Compare that bakery logo with this one:


Hmm...

Two bakeries, both with a sapphire shade of blue, both with this lilting script of a font, both with prominent underlining, and both with exaggerated capital letters. There are some differences--most obviously the script used for the closing "s" in each logo--but the similarities are more pronounced than the differences.

I snooped around the internet a bit, and discovered that Entenmann's was founded in Brooklyn by a German immigrant in 1898. Their stylistic and baked-goods competitor, Gruenebaum's, according to an April 6, 2001 article in The New York Jewish Week, was "founded...in Frankfurt, Germany, early in the 20th century." The article continues:
The Frankfurt bakery closed its doors in 1938 and the family immigrated to the United States in 1940. Banin's father worked for different bakeries until 1957, when he bought out a store on 177th Street and Broadway. In 1961, he opened Gruenbaum's on 181st Street and "the place took off. Bakeries was all my father did," says Banin. "That was what he knew."
I haven't been able to find any reference to the histories of these two (or, maybe, one) logos. I don't know if one bakery initiated the blue, lilting logo craze before its competitor "borrowed" the design. I do know this, though: I will continue my investigation of this story, and The Daily Snowman will continue to be the internet's premier source for investigative journalism in the field of corporate logos, especially baked goods.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breaking: Red Sox Offer $22 Million Per Annum to Comic Book Guy

I know Theo Epstein, general manager of the Boston Red Sox, deserves a little faith for, y'know, leading the team to more W. Series titles in the last five years than they'd achieved in the preceding 86 ones. But I really can't figure out why, according to this ESPN.com report (by Peter Gammons and Buster Olney), they want to sign a comic book artist best known for his work on Ghost Rider.

Bill James is a Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Sox, so I assume they know what they're doing, but still. This is just weird.

I will get to see this in person on March 4



Here's hoping J. Smith is still healthy in ten weeks.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. Snowman

Two years ago, on this very day, a plucky youth gathered some snow he had saved in his freezer, arranged that snow into three balls, added a scarf, top-hat, vaguely arm-looking sticks, a few pieces of coal, and a carrot. He then took this snow-man shaped object, drove it out to the pristine white countryside, and drew a picture of it, which can be viewed in the green box thing to the right of these words. That picture inspired that same pluck-ful youth to write things down on the internet.

92 posts later, we have reached the two-year blog-iversary of what became The Daily Snowman. The world is truly a richer place for it.

To celebrate in style, we'll be taking a stroll down memory lane, revisiting some of the best of The Daily Snowman, ranking the top two (in honor of the second birthday) of various stuff which I just thought of now about this blog.

Best Investigative Pieces
1) The "New" Series
2) Some Magazines, Not Surprisingly, Have Many Ads

Best Embedded Videos



and...



Best Photos


and...

Best Sentence
1) But I was experiencing this weird mixture of appreciation for a bit of foreign, ancient, and fascinating ritual, along with this sense of Western superiority and hubris, as I was watching these guys do a dance to subjugate demons.
2) All this serves to remind me that sports--that last great unscripted bit of American entertainment--is way better when it seems as if it had been scripted.

Best Comedy Pyramid
1) NY Jets fans are either bad spellers, or are offering up some tribute to Infinite Jest
2) That was my only comedy pyramid. More, please.

Most Famous Commenter
1) Jeffrey Morgenthaler, creator of Repeal Day
2) Ara 13, who apparently is the author of Drawers & Booths, an IPPY "Outstanding Book of the Year."

Best Confused Comment by Joseph [everything in this entry that should be [sic] is hereby [sic]]
1) thats creepy. why cant we just let people be?
2) i'm lost

Most Prominent Recognition of The Daily Snowman, Both for the Same Post, or: Maybe I Should Write About the NBA Tip-Off Event More Often
1) Deadspin
2) The Village Voice's Runnin' Scared Blog

Best Post
1) Repeal Day!
2) The Rockies as my Life

So there it is. The 93rd Post Spectacular. I've had 1540 page views, but I only figured out how to add the stat counter maybe five months ago. So that works out to about thirty readers per post in the last half-year. Thank you greatly for all those who decided to take the time to visit. Your comments have made this more fun, and I encourage you to keep 'em coming.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Snowman.

ALSO: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Troubled Souls Unite is also celebrating it's blog-iversary today. Happy one-year birthday to my roommate. It's weird that our blogs are soulmates. We only share a room.

[UPDATE: Sorry that the date is wrong. I started writing this post on Monday, 12/1 at 11:45 PM EST, apparently, so blogger dated the post accordingly. You'd think that I could at least get the date right on my own blog-iversary. Meh.]

Pretty

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Repeal Day: Myths & Facts

Guess what day is quickly approaching? (Don't glance at the title of this post; it'll ruin the surprise.)

That's right, Repeal Day is the day which is quickly approaching! Also known as the Happiest Day of the Year Day!

All too sadly, though, many people aren't aware of the existence and/or meaning of this special day. Here, for your educational benefit, is the perfect primer for those who wish to learn more about Repeal Day, organized in a convenient Myths & Facts format.

Let's get right to it.

Myth: Repeal Day recognizes the expected repeal by President-elect Obama of the so-called Bush Tax Cuts.
Fact: Repeal Day celebrates the 21st Amendment to the United States' Constitution, an amendment whose sole purpose was to *repeal* a previous amendment to the United States' Constitution, namely, the 18th one, which had imposed a nationwide Prohibition of alcohol on an unsuspecting citizenry.

Myth: Repeal Day occurs on the day of the passage of the 21st Amendment, December 4th.
Fact: Repeal Day occurs on the day of the passage of the 21st Amendment, December 5th.

Myth: Repeal Day was invented by Dewar's, because their Repeal Day homepage is the first one to pop up after a google search of the words "repeal day."
Fact: Dewar's has done great work in spreading the word about this holiday, but Repeal Day was, in fact, invented by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bartender/blogger (Can there be a more noble profession? No. There can not.) from Oregon. Mr. Morgenthaler also serves as possibly the most famous person to ever comment on The Daily Snowman.

Myth: There is one--and only one--way to celebrate Repeal Day.
Fact: Much like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, there is no wrong way to celebrate Repeal Day. The dominant trope of the day is freedom. The 21st Amendment returned to this nation an essential part of its freedom: it would be contrary to the spirit of the day to dictate the form your celebration should take. As Mr. Morgenthaler states in the blog post announcing this glorious day, "There are no outfits to buy, costumes to rent, rivers to dye green. Simply celebrate the day by stopping by your local bar, tavern, saloon, winery, distillery, or brewhouse and having a drink. Pick up a six-pack on your way home from work. Split a bottle of wine with a loved one. Buy a shot for a stranger. Just do it because you can."

Myth: Only United States citizens may celebrate Repeal Day, since their country was the one puritanical enough to actually enact Prohibition.
Fact: Repeal Day knows no boundaries. Let's say that a Canadian is living in the US on a student visa. Does he not benefit just as much from this constitutional freedom? Does a visiting European businesswoman not appreciate a cold beer after a long day of meetings? In short, anyone who can take advantage of the Great Repeal may--nay, should--celebrate the 21st Amendment.

Myth: Repeal Day is so important that even underage folks should celebrate.
Fact: Repeal Day is not about alcohol: it's about freedom. Alcohol still existed during Prohibition; what we celebrate on December 5th is the freedom to legally enjoy alcohol. Any Repeal Day action which violates the legality of alcohol tramples upon the very ideals which we now cherish. Similarly, Repeal Day is not a day to get fall-over drunk, leading to majorly stupid decisions. Although reenacting Prohibition isn't exactly on the bargaining table today, irresponsible consumption only aids the cause of our enemies. May they one day be shot out of town on a 200 year-old trebuchet.


Myth: There are no Repeal Day mottos.
Fact: There are tons of Repeal Day mottos. For example, the Dewar's Repeal Day site lists the following as suitable mottos/toasts: "To the Constitution!"; "To the 21st Amendment!"; "Stay Wet!"; "Remember the 5th of December!"; "To Carrie Nation!"; "Here's to the Repeal!"; "Happy Days are Here Again!" (For further Repeal Day celebration guidelines, explore the above linked-to Dewar's site.)

Myth: Prohibition had no long-term effects on the beer industry in America.
Fact: We are just now overcoming the beer-based trauma induced by Prohibition. I'll let The Brew Site explain: "And while Prohibition applied to all forms of alcohol, the effect it had on the American beer industry was especially pronounced; the only breweries that were able to survive were the megabreweries and that was only by diversifying into other fields. This essentially set back the beer industry until the 1970s, when the homebrew and craft beer movements were revived. So crack open and enjoy a microbrew or homebrew for Repeal Day!"

Myth: It is impossible to know which states voted on the 21st Amendment.
Fact: Even wikipedia has this information. South Carolina voted against the 21st Amendment on December 4, 1933. Nebraska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, North and South Dakota, and Georgia have not ratified this Amendment, but it doesn't really matter because the Amendment was already passed nationally. Utah, on that fateful December 5th, cast the deciding vote in favor of the Repeal. Who would've thought that Utah would be the state that put an end to Prohibition? I certainly would not. We should probably start a Repeal Day pilgrimage to Utah to celebrate. I'm sure Utahians would love that.

Myth: There is no appropriate The Simpsons episode to watch on Repeal Day.
Fact: There is always an appropriate The Simpsons episode for every occasion or life milestone. For Repeal Day, I'd recommend "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment," the eighteenth episode of the eighth season.

That makes 10 Myths and 10 Facts. That should be enough to get you started. Add your own Repeal Day Myths & Facts to the comments.

And remember: Celebrate the Freedom, the Freedom to Celebrate!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happiness Maximization Guide

If you're like me, no matter how much Veblen you read or how many Atget photos you eyeball, you still really like getting stuff. The new possession fills you with a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth not easily equaled in your busy work-a-day existence. The sensation--sadly--can be quite fleeting. But what is a mostly unemployed young person to do? Purchasing new items all of the time can quickly become an expensive habit.

It is for this reason that I present to you, dear reader, my newly created Happiness Maximization Guide. By following the precepts outlined in this free excerpt, you will streamline the productivity of your HQ (Happiness Quotient).

Here's a quick one to get you started.
Always shop on the Internet

Internet shopping effectively quadruples (at least) the happiness you accrue from each purchase. Normal shopping makes you happy only once, when you get home with your new HO (Happiness Object). But, through the magic of the internet, you can be happy when 1) you place your order, 2) when the delivery-person brings you your order, 3) when you don't have to go outside in the cold in order to visit an old-fashioned store, and 4) when you don't have to put on pants in order to go outside.

And, as an added bonus, nothing bad has ever happened to anyone who has entered his credit card information into the internet.

Solid advice like this makes my Happiness Maximization Guide the industry leader in happiness improvement.
Here's another, more extended excerpt to seal, as they say, the deal.
How to Read a Magazine

Magazines are almost perfect on their own, without any patented Snowman Happiness advice, because a subscriber gets a new one every week, assuming the subscriber is smart enough to order a weekly magazine. A weekly periodical constitutes the sweet spot of consumer satisfaction. A book only comes once, and then just sits on your bookshelf until the night before your midterm. Daily papers come way too frequently, causing you to leave your apartment more often to avoid elaborate old newspaper piles, thereby decreasing your overall happiness since said apartment leave-taking usually necessitates pants-wearing. Also, daily events don't feel as special as a weekly delivery. So weekly magazines are most definitely the way to go.

So magazines are pretty good. Luckily for you, the Happiness Maximization Guide doesn't settle for pretty good. Follow these steps (using the Nov. 24 issue of The New Yorker as a practical case-study) to extend the utility of your periodical for the best magazine reading experience of your life.
  1. Never read anything longer than three sentences on your first time through the magazine. These short pieces will whet your appetite for future sit-downs with the periodical, but won't bog you down with long, unwieldy articles. (Relevant The NYer examples: any cartoons; those short little space-fillers they sometimes run after articles, such as "Block That Metaphor" or "Constabulary Notes From All Over;" the table of contents; the contributor biographies [Reading this section has the added benefit of letting you know that there is a real-live person in this universe--Fuchsia Dunlop--who has written three books on Chinese food. Which seems silly.])
  2. Open the magazine at random, and see whether the opened page seems interesting. Get distracted by the surrounding advertisements. Flush the toilet, thereby ending this reading session. (Note: This is how I learned about The Moth, the host organization of the best amateur storytelling competition in New York. From the advertisements; not the toilet.)
  3. Find the full-length article that you'd most like to talk about at a party or, more likely, link to on your blog, or mention on twitter. Read that article, noticing especially interesting points or pretty pictures. (Relevant The NYer examples: "By Meat Alone," an article about Texas barbecue; "A Better Brew," about extreme beer, focusing on the Dogfish Head Brewery.)
  4. Check your regularly visited blogs, and see if they were interested in any articles. Read those articles, because they must be good if your most trusted blogger liked it. (Relevant The NYer example: none from this issue.)
  5. After reading these longer articles, you deserve a break. Go back to the medium-sized pieces for a quick, breezy, and--most of all--fun read. (Relevant The NYer examples: "Bush's midnight rules," in which the outgoing president attempts to, among other things, "make it harder for the government to limit workers' exposure to toxins, eliminate environmental review from decisions affecting fisheries, and ease restrictions on companies that blow up mountains to get at the coal underneath them;" James Surowiecki on the food crisis.)
  6. By this point, a full week should have passed, and you are most probably the proud owner of a brand-new, pristine magazine. If your mailman stole your copy, or if shrinking ad revenues have forced your magazine to close up shop and cease production, then you're stuck with your old issue. If this occurs, go back and read whatever you have left. If it didn't appeal to you the first five times around, then it's probably not all that great. But what else do you have to lose? You already paid for this magazine, and you might as well wring every last drop of happiness out of your purchase. You'll thank me for it later. (Relevant The NYer example: any poetry that has ever appeared in the magazine.)
This has been an excerpt from the Happiness Maximization Guide: Shopping Happier Since Late November 2008.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Are Sitcoms Going Postmodern?

A New York Times Magazine article comparing such stalwart televisual programs as The Simpsons, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development with the metafiction techniques of Postmodern literature of the 1960's and 1970's?

Yes, please.

Shows like “Arrested Development,” “Scrubs,” “Family Guy” and “30 Rock” have taken the experiment a step further, reconfiguring the methods with which comedy tells stories. Instead of using the typical sitcom narrative (six characters in the same four rooms enduring a humdrum, linear story line), these shows explore their situations through collage and a restless stream of consciousness.


And:

Metafiction emerged from a group of self-aware writers who analyzed their own work like critics; and in the same way, today’s digressive sitcoms come from a generation of comedy writers (and viewers) who understand the ins and outs of the most popular format of 30-minute storytelling. Avant-garde literature gave America its first tradition of subverting narrative, but what was once a wild experiment in language has become an accepted counterpart to our Internet culture, where digressive Googling and link-clicking are a way of life. The dusty sitcom has caught up to the modern mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Incoming: SuperSize Edition

Recently on: twitter.com/thedailysnowman
  • Best part of attending a The Daily Show taping: Watching Jon Stewart bust a gut during John Oliver's recorded segment.
  • It would be way awesomer if TNT wasn't taken away from our cable-less TV right when I started wanting it, i.e., the NBA season opener.
  • Hey, cool, I got a link on Deadspin, the second to last bullet point: http://tinyurl.com/62pj45 I'm living the dream.
  • My "I <3>
  • I think I added spices to my zucchini soup too early.
  • Nope: the soup is awesome.
  • Just went for a yog.
  • Sunday Night Football Extra kinda sucks.
  • Day Man, a-whoa-oh.
  • Brinner!
  • Video Chat makes g-chatting from the bathroom more unpredictable.
  • There's a guy named Steve Sachs at my office. I hope Police Chief Wiggum doesn't arrest him, causing him to miss the big softball game.
  • I hate when my favorite blogs go extinct: http://tiny.cc/kblFa

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Simpsons Men Being Mad

I have few rules in life, but here's one: when one of my two favorite televisual programs pays homage to the other of my favorite shows in a way as awesome as what follows, that homage will get its own post. Here goes:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The NBA and KIA Motors: Catch the Fever!


I'm eternally grateful to KIA Motors for their interesting partnerships with sports and cities. Maybe the coolest thing I did during my Europe-cation over the summer was watching the EuroCup Final (featuring Spain and Germany) with 65,000 of my closest Spanish, mulleted friends in Plaza de Colon. And those giant screens carrying the Spanish broadcast were made possible by none other than KIA Motors. I doubt they sponsored the scary Spanish beer or the fireworks/low-powered grenades which were continuously detonated throughout the match, but they may do things differently in Europe. The point is, KIA normally does good when it comes to these public plaza interactive sports events. It's not their fault that the NBA Tip-Off event I attended today in Union Square Park was too lame for words. (Note: this will not keep me from writing about this function using--yes--words.) Sometimes things are just lame.

The real problem afflicting this event was that there was no event. In Spain they showed the championship contest of an international competition. The NFL's Kickoff event on September 4th of this year featured musical performances by Keith Urban and Usher. The NBA Tip-Off, on the other hand, had like this elaborate collection of lines. There was a line to get on the raised platform basketball court to shoot a free throw in order to win a t-shirt. There was a line to spin a huge The Price is Right-style spinning wheel, which granted one of three prizes, all sponsored by and labeled with the T-Mobile logo: an orange, basketball-looking stressball; a small tin of mints; and a set of dog-tags depicting I'm not sure what. (I won the mints and left them in a coffeeshop around the block; my friend won the stressball and graciously gave it to me.) And there was a line in which some KIA employees at the end of the line handed out a credit-card shaped piece of plastic which I was to present to the KIA employee at the front of the line. The lady took my card and offered me a mousepad, a water bottle, a strangely shaped magnet, and a sports towel.

I'm fairly certain that the point of these lines was to allow these KIA folks to ask people if they'd be willing to take a short survey. I agreed because I'm somewhat of an idiot who doesn't like refusing people. Also, I was kinda interested in what they'd ask.

Sample Question: "Would you describe yourself as a casual NBA fan or an avid NBA fan?" ("Avid.")

Another Sample Question: "Does KIA's partnership with the NBA make you more likely to purchase KIA products?" ("No.")

Yet Another Sample Question: "Would you like your local KIA dealer to contact you regarding special offers and discounts?" ("Hell no.")

The main reason I attended is because I am unemployed and I already had watched two episodes of It's Always Sunny in... today. But the second most primary reason I attended is because I wanted to meet such NBA superstars as Scottie Pippen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Walt "Clyde" Frazier, such NBA stars as John Starks and David Lee, and such NBA role players as Charles Smith, Kenny Walker, Malik Rose, Nate Robinson and Danilo Gallinari. I even brought this Free Darko-approved Lenin Closet t-shirt in an effort to get it signed by some of the names. (I'm not sure if getting this thing autographed would enhance or completely ruin the joke.) I stood in line in Union Square Park for about an hour and none of those people were to be seen. I'm sure all those guys were there at some point during the day, but it's super annoying to wait around a rainy park waiting for some guys to show up anytime during a tentative three-hour window of arrival.

It's hard to feel cheated by a totally free event. But this came close.

The one good thing that came out of this is my googling of Wilson Chandler, because I wanted to see if the tall guy in one of the pictures I took was him. (It turns out he wasn't scheduled to appear.) Google turned up this gem of a photo, of Chandler meeting "with Rabbi Grossman at the Migdal Ohr 'Family Carnival' held at the Madison Square Garden Training Center."

I wonder what they talked about.

Incoming

Recently on: twitter.com/thedailysnowman
  • In the spirit of "Not Quite What I Was Planning" (http://tiny.cc/hmoAT), my temporary six word memoir: I like to do cool things.
  • Light bulb shopping.
  • Light bulb shopping was delayed due to my FRONT DOOR NOT OPENING. As if I needed an excuse to go back upstairs and watch more TV.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Delirious to Donkey

On Sunday I watched Eddie Murphy's 1983 stand-up special Delirious. A whole bunch of it is pretty hilarious (hey wait...that sort of rhymes with delirious), even if Mr. Murphy's attire has dated considerably in the last 25 years.

More than anything, though, I was struck by how drastically Murphy's persona has changed since then. According to the blogger's desk reference, "The 70 minute show, released in 1983, showcases his most racy material - the word 'fuck' is used a total of 230 times, and 'shit' is used 171 times." And now, the dude's best known roles over the last ten years are pretty much restricted to Dr. Doolittle (parts 1 and 2) and the Shrek trilogy. (Soon to be, by the way, a quad-logy with Shrek Goes Fourth slated for a 2010 release according to imdb.com.) Dreamgirls was big also, but Murphy wasn't the lead, and since I haven't ever seen that movie I have no idea how big his role actually was.

Point is, it's a weird little transition to go from this:



to this:

It's like the reverse Bob Saget scenario.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Incoming

Recently on: twitter.com/thedailysnowman
  • Automobile turn signals that blink too fast make me nervous.
  • I like Slaughterhouse 5 so much that I almost said I should have read it long ago. But I'm happy to be reading it now for the first time.
  • Oh goodness, "On Chesil Beach" is a damn good book. I read it in about twelve hours, at least seven of which were sleeping.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Innovative Blog Post Alert: Sometimes Sports Analysts Say Stupid Things

The last thing the internet needs right now is another blog criticizing the dumb things sports broadcasters say. But it seems like all the cool kids are doing it now.

I want to be cool.

Here's the game situation from last night's World Series contest: The Phillies (from Philadelphia) are leading the Rays (from Tampa Bay) by one run, in the bottom of the ninth. There are two outs. Carl Crawford is batting for the Tampas, facing Brad Lidge of the Philadelphias. I don't think I stressed this enough, but there are two outs. Out of three. That's like a major tenet of baseball. Tim McCarver, who holds the most prestigious analyst position in baseball, has this to say (quoting loosely):
It's really important that Crawford get on base in this situation, because with his good speed, he has a chance to steal second base, moving him into scoring position. Lidge has been relying heavily on his slider this inning, which is a good pitch to run on because--to be effective--the slider needs to be low in the strike zone, making it harder for the catcher to throw.
The end of this thought is somewhat enlightening (it's easier to steal against slider-heavy pitchers) even if it might be smarter to wait until, you know, Crawford reached base. But the beginning is really inexcusable: the important reason for Crawford to reach base is not so that he can get himself into scoring position. It's important because if he doesn't get on base somehow, that means he made an out, which would be the third one of the inning (and, remember, this was the ninth inning, the last in regulation play), and the GAME WOULD END if Crawford didn't get on base. He could have used his good speed to run all over the bases after he popped up in foul territory to make the third out and it wouldn't have mattered because the game would be over, and that fake run wouldn't have counted.

As Eric Walker, as quoted in Moneyball (pg. 58) put it:
Analyzing baseball yields many numbers of interest and value. Yet far and away--far, far and away--the most critical number in all of baseball is 3: the three outs that define an inning. Until the third out, anything is possible; after it, nothing is. Anything that increases the offense's chances of making an out is bad; anything that decreases it is good. And what is on-base percentage? Simply yet exactly put, it is the probability that the batter will not make an out. When we state it that way, it becomes, or should become, crystal clear that the most important isolated (one-dimensional) offensive statistic is the on-base percentage. It measures the probability that the batter will not be another step toward the end of the inning.
Walker happens to be a former aerospace engineer, but this concept isn't so difficult to understand that you need to be one to grasp it. Surely this country could produce one person to analyze baseball games on TV who is able to appreciate the value of outs.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Would Nate Silver Think?

As I type these words, 25 baseball players, assorted managers and coaches, and maybe even a few security guards and cameramen are jumping on each other on a field in Tampa Bay, Florida. They are celebrating because their squad is going to play in the World Series for the first time. Soon, the players will break out the champagne and try to blind each other with it. In the first ten years of the Tampa Bay Rays's existence, the team had never won more than 70 games. They had finished in last place in their division in nine of those ten years. (The other year they finished second to last.) Now they are going to the World Series. Tonight's game featured an important performance by a rookie pitcher named David Price who is five months and thirteen days younger than I am. His first time pitching in the major leagues was September 14, a little more than a month ago. He recorded the last four out of the clinching contest against the defending champions, and three of those outs came via strikeout. The game-winning RBI (a dumb stat, sure, when trying to evaluate the effectiveness of ballplayers, but an important storyline) was struck by Rocco Baldelli, who has missed most of the last three seasons with injuries that may have been related to mitochondrial abnormalities which he is just now recovering from.

All this serves to remind me that sports--that last great unscripted bit of American entertainment--is way better when it seems as if it had been scripted.

I can't think of any feature of American life more diametrically opposed to this state of events than politics. Unlike entertainment, American life is seriously unscripted. Seriously unscripted, that is, except for political campaigning, which is the most overly managed, least spontaneous--in a sense--the least real aspect of America. I submit to you that the best moments of politics are (or, at least, feel) unscripted.

The most riveting facet of the third and most recent presidential debate was the physical proximity of the two candidates. I watched the debate on C-SPAN (cool, I know) which went with a split-screen view throughout the entire performance. Both candidates had ample time to prepare for the questions addressed directly to them. They were both very much on display when Bob Schieffer was addressing them. But they noticeably let their guard down when the other man was being addressed. And, thankfully, C-SPAN with their split-screen shots caught these scripted politicians when this occurred.



I think this compilation is somewhat unfair to McCain, and I think it was in poor-taste for Obama to use similar clips in a recent campaign ad, but I'm fascinated by this. The annoyance, frustration, and disbelief that McCain feels towards Obama is real and gripping. And it feels very much opposed to general political campaigning which consists mostly of speaking to and with people who already support you.

Politics is most interesting when it feels as it had not been scripted.

Incoming

Recently on: twitter.com/thedailysnowman
  • DFW: “I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
  • Just watched seven hours of The Godfather. I feel bad for Michael C.
  • Finally, a manager uses his closer in a high-leverage moment, even though it's not the ninth inning. Good job, Francona.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

That Buck Stops Here

Orthodox Jews don't do creative work on the sabbath, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Most noticeably this includes things like using electricity, and less noticeably (because of general American workweek habits) this includes work as in like vocation. This concept is celebrated in children's song form in a little ditty called "Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday." According to this barely functional website called zemerl.com, the chorus and first two stanzas go a little something like this:

Chorus:
Ain't gonna work on Saturday
Ain't gonna work on Saturday
Double, double, triple pay
Won't make me work on Saturday
Ain't gonna work on Saturday
It's Shabbos Kodesh

*******repeat chorus after each stanza*******
I'm big Gedalia Goomber, I'm not exactly small,
But really not so very big, just seventeen feet tall.
I'm really rigged for working, for that I'm very fit,
Six days a week I'm at it, and on the seventh day I quit.

I once helped raise a building, and on the 100th floor,
I was carrying a load of bricks, an easy ton or more.
And here it's late on Friday, I knew I'd have to stop,
So I yelled, "watch out below!", and let the whole thing drop.

This song is harmless enough as far as it goes, even though the most recent paragraph somewhat overstates the case for stopping all work. There is no Jewish legal authority who would ever condone dropping a ton of bricks from the 100th floor of a building just to avoid violating the laws of the sabbath: human life is one of the few things more sacred than the sabbath. The song implicitly recognizes this misstatement by avoiding all mention of a potential danger to others, even as Big Gedalia participates in dangerous activities.

I mention this song because I enacted my own sort of dangerous Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday stanza on Friday afternoon (which I guess would mean that my version of the song would be better described with a title incorporating the concept of not working on Friday after sundown, but that would render the chorus unwieldy and nearly unsingable). Through a somewhat complicated series of events, I picked up my friend from the South Orange station of the New Jersey Transit train line at around 1755h on a Friday afternoon, which left me just about enough time to drive home before sundown. But we would be cutting it close.

Somewhere along the way (I'm notoriously bad with directions, and was just following the prompts of my GPS, so I honestly don't know where, even close to exactly, along the way) I hit a deer with my automobile. Deer are somewhat common in my neck of the woods; the area is surprisingly close to the South Mountain Reservation, a nature reserve which "covers 2,047.14 acres in the central section of Essex County," that contains "various wildlife, including deer." I keep alert for deer whenever I drive through the Reservation. But despite its proximity to this local home of various wildlife including deer, the area through which I was driving was perfectly residential. A flash of brown ran down the slight decline of the front yard immediately to my left on this two-lane street, streaked into the roadway, and collided with my braking vehicle. At first I thought it was a dog. The deer would not continue its dash across the avenue; it flipped onto the lawn of the house to my immediate right. This most probably only occurred in my imagination, but it seemed as if the deer looked into my eyes as I drove away.

I do not know if the deer got up and walked away from the accident. I might have stayed in the area to check on the animal, but it was dangerously close to sundown. I knew immediately that the impact was indirect because my car remained in one piece, but it still seems shocking that I could hit a fairly small living creature with my car and not inflict some damage. I'm heartened by what I found on the helpful article titled "White-Tailed Deer vs. Your Car" on the website of the New Jersey Audubon Society:

Although they appear delicate, deer are remarkably tough animals, so do not be surprised if a car-grazed deer disappears into the woods. Such an animal may in fact recover from its injuries.

I doubt I'll ever find out what happened to that animal.

I returned home, jumped out of the driver's seat and inspected the front of the car. There was no noticeable damage, except that the license plate which was formerly affixed to the fore bumper is no longer affixed there. I don't even want to think about where that thin slice of aluminum ended up.

***

In an article dated 30 March 2007, Tom Chiarella describes for Esquire's readers what it was like to witness a car accident. The piece begins:

I watched a car accident three months ago. Since then, nothing has been as interesting. On a city street, in a Big Ten college town, an ancient Plymouth, having drifted across the center line of the road, clipped an oncoming Touareg and then curled hard directly into the side of a very old 15-passenger Chevy van. No one was going very fast--by my estimation, 25 miles per hour. But it was loud and sort of wet sounding, bringing to mind large, abstract collisions of ice. Every person in the area, and there were several, took a step back and then three giant steps forward, as if they were dancing. Each, including me at the farthest remove, called out the name of God. Then a woman jumped out of the Plymouth, placed both hands on top of her head. It looked like the dictionary definition of the word alarm. She ran to see if anyone was in the van. "That van is deserted," she shouted, as if that proved something. "That van hasn't moved in months!" Then her nose started bleeding, both sides at once. This made another woman faint.

And he continues:

I went home that night and watched a movie on television. The next morning, I watched sports highlights. Two days later, I paid to go to the movies. Everything I watched seemed to come out of a box somewhere. Meanwhile, I couldn't stop thinking about the accident.

This might be the crucial difference between watching a car crash and being in one, but I couldn't disagree more with Mr. Chiarella. The entire incident, like the deer itself, is a blur to me. The instant replay is running at triple speed, from a bad angle. And the video is grainy. This event is less real to me than almost everything else. And I wouldn't be surprised is this is a common sentiment among car-crash veterans.

Even when it comes to minor crashes like mine.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A guy who wonders both who will be the next president and what the heck is up with Miguel Tejada and Alex Gonzalez?

The man pictured at left is named Nate Silver. (You can tell he's smart because the newspaper or whatever that published this photo decided to have Silver sit near a computer.) Until a few months ago he was best known for his work at Baseball Prospectus, where he wrote articles with titles such as "Is David Ortiz a Clutch Hitter" and "Binomial Distribution (or What the Heck is Up with Miguel Tejada and Alex Gonzalez?" Also, he invented PECOTA, which the BP website defines thus:
Stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. PECOTA is BP's proprietary system that projects player performance based on comparison with thousands of historical player-seasons. Analyzes similarities with past player-seasons based not only on rate statistics, but also height, weight, age, and many other factors.
This is pretty smart: there's just about nothing in baseball that hasn't already happened in it's 100+ year history, so let's let that mound of data help inform our conclusions. And it's pretty clear that PECOTA is just about the best thing out there for predicting what will happen in baseball.

Mr. Silver decided to bring his predictive genius to the world of politics, starting a blog called fivethirtyeight.com (named after the 538 electoral votes in the presidential election), with the confident byline of Electoral Projections Done Right. He wisely declines to divulge his exact methodology, but Silver does explain some of what goes into his projections:
Firstly, we assign each poll a weighting based on that pollster's historical track record, the poll's sample size, and the recentness of the poll. More reliable polls are weighted more heavily in our averages.

Secondly, we include a regression estimate based on the demographics in each state among our 'polls', which helps to account for outlier polls and to keep the polling in its proper context.

Thirdly, we use an inferential process to compute a rolling trendline that allows us to adjust results in states that have not been polled recently and make them ‘current’.

Fourthly, we simulate the election 10,000 times for each site update in order to provide a probabilistic assessment of electoral outcomes based on a historical analysis of polling data since 1952. The simulation further accounts for the fact that similar states are likely to move together, e.g. future polling movement in states like Michigan and Ohio, or North and South Carolina, is likely to be in the same direction.
Silver is becoming a big deal. Appearances like this don't hurt.




Silver's latest projection: a win percentage of 94.7% in favor of Obama, meaning that if this election was run 100 times, Obama would win nearly 95 of those times.

I'm happy that this dude who has produced amazing work in a somewhat limited field is getting the exposure he deserves. He's smarter than maybe all the people who get paid to sit on TV and talk about politics; it's time his talent is recognized. But I'll be satisfied as long he keeps writing about baseball.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Cyborg Manifesto

It's no secret that I'm fascinated by the boundaries of our humanness. I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords. Last month's Esquire had an interesting article about hooking electrodes into functional brains, circumventing faulty biological processes:

In the largest room of the dark, cluttered office, tables are stacked with computer monitors and electronics equipment, and a web of cables drapes between dislodged ceiling tiles. In the center of the room, Erik Ramsey is sitting in his wheelchair, wearing a blue sweat suit and slippers, with a bundle of wires coming out the back of his head. He's staring at a wall onto which Kennedy has projected a matrix of six words: heat, hid, hat, hut, hoot, and hot. They represent each of the major English vowel sounds. Kennedy, tall and stately at sixty, asks Erik to think about making the sound uh-ee. As he does, a green cursor jitters across the wall from hut to heat, and a booming vibrato pours out of the speaker: "uuuhahuuuuhaheeeeeeee." The sound is coming straight from Erik's brain.

It's time to get ready for stuff like this.

Take Back The Music Video

Apologies for the lack of posting over here lately. This is partly attributable to spending large swaths of time in synagogue, but maybe mainly attributable to my brain turning to mush from overexposure to what we in the industry like to refer to as TV. On Sunday I went to see the beautiful Coppola Restorations of The Godfather, Parts I and II, on the big screen down at the Film Forum. It was a pretty wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon, one which included more than six hours of film in practically one sitting. Then, yesterday rolled around, and I decided it would be a good idea to do almost nothing besides watching things. I watched two episodes of Mad Men, two episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, four episodes of The Simpsons, and probably nine innings of baseball between the two contests which were held yesterday.

I think I've officially reached the sad portion of my unemployment cycle. It's getting cold out, all the fun city-wide summer-tivities are no longer happening, and I haven't left my apartment in a while. A deeply emotional blog, detailing the valleys and peaks of unemployment would make for some great reading. Sorry that you're stuck with this one, instead.

One thing which is certainly not sad is this literal music video. The concept is simple: take an old music video, and recreate the music to match what's being portrayed in the video. I love mashups.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Collection of the Worldwide Internet


The Friday Collection is back. At least for now. It's been since gone since August 29th, quite a while for what was supposed to be my steadiest recurring feature. Better throw in many more links to distract everyone.
If American foreign policy had a gift shop, what would it sell?

America the Gift Shop is an installation project that reflects the current foreign policy in the fun-house mirror of American commerce.

My palette is the vernacular of retail. The more familiar it is, the better host it becomes for the idea. Once of the sugar coating of the ordinary dissolves, we are left with the hard and uncomfortable truth about where we've been as a nation.

We buy souvenirs at the end of a trip, to remind ourselves of the experience. What do we have to remind us of the events of the last eight years?
Awesome description of his vision. And the art itself is hilarious.

  • The YouTube interactive videogame is here. We have way better games than this nowadays, but it's a clever concept. You click on the specific place which loads the next video, moving you along to the next level. Clever.
  • This is a fantastic way to design a cover for a book: let someone else do it. In contest form. The results are fantastic.
  • Some interesting stats that give us some sort of idea of what technology the cool kids are using.

Incoming

Recently on: twitter.com/thedailysnowman
  • Wore my black/gray reversible fleece for first time this season. If you see me from now until ~May, there's a 28% chance you'll see it also.
  • After reading the touching DFW memories from his students over at mcsweeneys.net, I emailed my favorite college professor. We had coffee.
  • Just saw Casablanca for the first time. It holds up spectacularly well (after 68 years) except for the music and the hats.

Dance Dance Evolution?

As part of my quest to experience, see, hear, visit, taste, and smell all the free things available in NYC, I went to observe Cham!, Ritual Dances of Bhutan. Free +1 to anyone who knew that Bhutan is a country, because I sure as hell didn't. But, yes, it's true: Bhutan is a country, a kingdom in fact, and here are some interesting sentences about it, courtesy of wikipedia:

The Kingdom of Bhutan (IPA: /buːˈtɑːn/) is a landlocked nation in South Asia. It is located amid the eastern end of the Himalaya Mountains and is bordered to the south, east and west by India and to the north by China. Bhutan is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim. The Bhutanese call their country འབྲུག་ཡུལ་, Druk Yul (land of the thunder dragon).[1]

Bhutan is one of the most isolated and least developed nations in the world.[2] Foreign influences and tourism are regulated by the government to preserve the nation's traditional culture, identity and the environment. Accordingly, in 2006 Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest country in the world.[3]...The state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, and the population is predominantly Buddhist, with Hinduism being the second-largest religion....After centuries of direct monarchic rule, Bhutan held its first democratic elections in March 2008....Bhutan is also the last remaining monarchy, constitutional or otherwise left in South Asia.

So the Rubin Museum, as part of a promotion they're running to alert people to the existence of their new The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan exhibit (and, maybe, like for me, to the existence of the museum as a whole), organized this event. The promotion involved, according to the brochure I was handed during the dance, flying 13 "monks of the monastic fortress of Trongsa [to] perform two common examples of cham," which is the "ancient ritual dance of Tantric Buddhism that has been preserved and performed in Bhutan for centuries," in public places around New York. Also: "The dances feature wrathful deities that destroy evil demons."

I witnessed the Cham titled Shanag Ngacham, or: Dance of the Black Hats with Drums, which turns out to be a pretty good title in terms of describing the contents of the dance, as you can see from the first video ever posted by the TheDailySnowman account on YouTube.


The dance I witnessed took place at the New York Public Library, located at 42nd and 5th. A fair crowd attended, maybe 150 to 200 people. A decent portion of the assembled masses knew what was going on and showed up on purpose; the rest seemed to just wander up the steps to the library courtyard, curious to see what was drawing such a crowd. It's pretty interesting that a museum is doing marketing through street performances, just instead of asking for quarters they were looking for visitors and attention.

I was trying pretty hard to figure out what the crowd was thinking and feeling. And by that I mean: I was trying pretty hard to figure out what I was thinking and feeling. I attended because I thought it'd be weird and cool and random to see monks do a demon subjugation dance in a public place in NYC, and we all know I was very available that weekday afternoon. But I was experiencing this weird mixture of appreciation for a bit of foreign, ancient, and fascinating ritual, along with this sense of Western superiority and hubris, as I was watching these guys do a dance to subjugate demons. And I wonder how honest this description, again from the brochure which I was handed, is: "Wrathful forms of deities personify tantric techniques of transforming greed, ignorance, pride, and other spiritual poisons--demons we all possess and that stand in the way of our reaching enlightenment." Is that what the monks would say? Or is this just the most blatant part of the inherent and inevitable Americanization of bringing monks from Bhutan to New York?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I think they're important to think about.

Lastly, here's a link to my Picassa web album, where you can see the pictures I took and read the witty comments I wrote. Now with bonus Chuck Klosterman photos and witty comments! (Note: The witty comments are about Chuck Klosterman--loosely--and not by him, which may rightfully lead you to question the wittiness of the comments in question.)


Cham! and Klosterman 9/16/08 10:06 PM

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Grammar Usage Guy

I've been trying to act civilized lately. Doing laundry, ironing clothing, preparing food in the oven, etc. I kept trying to describe these new skills with a word that started with domestic-, but both of the obvious options sounded funny. Was I being domestic? That sorta makes me sound like a cheap beer. But if I am being domesticated, that seems like I'm a pig sweeping the house.

So, to clarify, here're the definitions of both of these words, according to dictionary.com:

Domestic--do·mes·tic
–adjective
1.of or pertaining to the home, the household, household affairs, or the family: domestic pleasures.
2.devoted to home life or household affairs.
3.tame; domesticated.
4.of or pertaining to one's own or a particular country as apart from other countries: domestic trade.
5.indigenous to or produced or made within one's own country; not foreign; native: domestic goods.



While, on the other hand, here is what we find for "domesticated."

Domesticated--do·mes·ti·cate
–verb (used with object)
1.to convert (animals, plants, etc.) to domestic uses; tame.
2.to tame (an animal), esp. by generations of breeding, to live in close association with human beings as a pet or work animal and usually creating a dependency so that the animal loses its ability to live in the wild.
3.to adapt (a plant) so as to be cultivated by and beneficial to human beings.
4.to accustom to household life or affairs.
5.to take (something foreign, unfamiliar, etc.) for one's own use or purposes; adopt.
6.to make more ordinary, familiar, acceptable, or the like: to domesticate radical ideas.

Domestic it is.