Sunday, March 22, 2009

Elephants Approach

Early word on the street (or, you know, on the internet) is that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' annual Elephant Walk will take place early Tuesday morning, March 24, though most people would probably prefer to think of it as late Monday night, March 23. I've tried confirming this date, but every mention of Elephant Walk cites the same link I've cited above. I'm still waiting for another independent source, even as I pencil this event directly on to my google calender tab. I'll keep you updated on any updates or time/place confirmations as I learn of them.

In the meantime, I recommend to you an excellent piece by Adam Gopnik, in the 22 Sept. 2008 The New Yorker, on the meaning of Babar the Elephant:

Yet those who would burn “Babar” miss the true subject of the books. The de Brunhoffs’ saga is not an unconscious expression of the French colonial imagination; it is a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination and its close relation to the French domestic imagination. The gist of the classic early books of the nineteen-thirties—“The Story of Babar” and “Babar the King,” particularly—is explicit and intelligent: the lure of the city, of civilization, of style and order and bourgeois living is real, for elephants as for humans. The costs of those things are real, too, in the perpetual care, the sobriety of effort, they demand. The happy effect that Babar has on us, and our imaginations, comes from this knowledge—from the child’s strong sense that, while it is a very good thing to be an elephant, still, the life of an elephant is dangerous, wild, and painful. It is therefore a safer thing to be an elephant in a house near a park.
Also worthwhile is the magazine's slideshow of original art by Jean de Brunhoff, author of the first books of the series.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Abandoned Car Watch: Day 9

The car that used to be parked in the crosswalk is no longer there. I do not know what happened to it. It may have been towed. It may have been driven away by its heavily-fined owner. It may have become animate and traveled to Radiator Springs. I have no idea.

Since this has been a boring and uninformed post so far, I'll reward you, dear reader, with another photographic essay of some stuff I saw during a stroll through Fort Tryon Park.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


My rooming mates last night were watching Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I volunteered this line from March 5th's The New York Times:

NBC picked Mr. Fallon, and he can sometimes seem like an old person’s notion of a hip young comic, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t funny or that he cannot hold his own on “Late Night.”

I think that's a good point: I'm kind of young still, and I don't know anyone who, when someone mentions the word funny, thinks of Jimmy Fallon.

Entertainment Weekly doesn't think of Jimmy Fallon, either. (I don't know how old that publication is.) About one year ago, EW came out with its 2008 list of the 25 funniest people in America and Mr. Fallon isn't on there.

Since EW's desire to maximize page views and the infuriatingly slow page load times combine to make viewing their ranking a way more annoying experience than it has any right to be, I've copied the list here:

1. The Judd Apatow Posse
2. Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report team
3. Tina Fey
4. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show team
5. Steve Carell
6. Chris Rock
7. Matt Stone and Trey Parker
8. Amy Poehler and Will Arnett
9. Larry David
10. Kristen Wiig
11. Conan O’Brien
12. David Cross
13. Ellen DeGeneres
14. Ricky Gervais
15. Will Ferrell
16. Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris
17. David Letterman
18. Jack Black
19. Craig Ferguson
20. Diablo Cody
21. Demetri Martin
22. Dave Chappelle
23. Sarah Silverman
24. Catherine O’Hara
25. Augusten Burroughs

There are some obviously solid choices on here, but I think they missed out on a few.

In no particular order:
  • Drew Magary, if for no other reason than the fake Rick Rielly Twitter.
  • Michael Schur, more for Fire Joe Morgan than for The Office or for Poehler's new thing.
  • David Foster Wallace, for "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." [Update: I realize I probably shouldn't count David Foster Wallace, because EW didn't include dead people. But point is, in addition to being smart and awesome, DFW was very funny. And, besides, I needed to hit my weekly quota of DFW references.]
  • The xkcd guy.
Anyone else I'm missing? Wouldn't you think, though, that there are funny people out there that don't have their own TV shows or movies or books or whatever? Is the person less funny because he is not yet popular?

But yeah, Jimmy Fallon isn't funny.

Abandoned Car Watch: Day 4

As I write these words (1502h on Wednesday, March 12), the Ford Expedition: Eddie Bauer Edition is still blocking the crosswalk. I have braved the elements and have managed to piece together a photographic essay of this bizarre situation. Enjoy.

The Daily Snowman has been covering this story throughout its development. The Daily Snowman: America's Premiere Snowman Monthly

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Abandoned Car

There's this jungle green Ford Expedition--Eddie Bauer Edition--parked at the corner of W. 181st and Fort Washington in such a way so that the rear 40% of the car extended into the crosswalk. The car looks to be in decent shape. I'm no mechanic, but the only exterior problems I noticed were a lack of inflation in the aft tires and a sagging in the abaft bumper that seems to be more pronounced than is normal.

I first noticed the Expedition at around 1830h on Monday, March 9. As of 1500h on Wednesday, March 11, the vehicle remained in its position, still blocking the crosswalk. The only difference I noted is that the bright orange parking tickets have multiplied overnight: there are now four slips of paper protruding from under the wipers.

So many questions. Did the person who parked the car there know that the spot is illegal? Did the driver not care? How come no one has come to retrieve the car?

I'm not sure why this fascinates me so much, but it does. If I ever write a novel, there'll be a mysterious abandoned car somehow involved in the plot.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

DFW on Jobs

The New Yorker last week excerpted a short story length section of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace's unfinished third novel, which will be published sometime next year. The overarching theme of this book is boredom. Lane Dean, Jr., a character in the short story, works for the IRS.

Here is how Dean, Jr. works:

Then he did two more returns, checked the clock real quick, then two more, then bore down and and did three in a row, then flexed and visualized and bore way down and did four without looking up once, except to put the completed files and memos in the two Out trays side by side up in the top tier of trays, where the cart boys could get them when they came by.

And this is how he conceives of his job:

He felt in a position to say he knew now that hell had nothing to do with fires or frozen troops. Lock a fellow in a windowless room to perform rote tasks just tricky enough to make him have to think, but still rote, tasks involving numbers that connect to nothing he'll ever see or care about, a stack of tasks that never goes down, and nail a clock to the wall where he can see it, and just leave the man there to his mind's own devices.

If all this sounds familiar, it's probably because DFW has addressed these themes before. From his commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005:

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

It's interesting to gain a glimpse into how a writer develops tropes and writes about issues that matter to him. Cool.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Reading on the Internet

Two quick links to people who are thinking about how to improve reading things on the Internet.

Mandy Brown, a creative director at W.W Norton (& Co.!), wrote an article called "In Defense of Readers" for A List Apart, about webpage design:

Many sites scatter related content around the article, instead of focusing it at the top or bottom, where it’s more useful and less likely to be a distraction. If you want your users to skim the page, then by all means, fill the sidebar with content all the way down. But if you want them to read—if the page was written and not merely filled up, if the text consists of carefully crafted prose rather than bullet points—then respect the reading process and move that content elsewhere. The middle of an article should reflect the solitariness of reading with a design that neither interrupts the text nor the reader.

Related: via Kottke, something called arc90 Laboratory created this program called Readability. It basically strips away all the clutter surrounding the actual content on webpages. Their website has a better description, along with demonstrations and installation instructions.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Your illiteracy has screwed us again, Charlie!

Back let's say two months ago, I had never seen an episode of The Wire. The only things I knew about the show were that there is a cool/interesting character named Omar and that they pronounce the word "shit" in a peculiar way. Now, about 43 viewing hours into the series I have a much better sense of what the show is about and why it has been consistently ranked as one of the very greatest achievement in the history of American television. I am in the process of filling a gap in my cultural literacy.

I've been thinking about cultural literacy because I just discovered, via J.E. Skeets's twitter feed, something called Greg Rutter's Definitive List of The 99 Things You Should Have Already Experienced On The Internet Unless You're a Loser or Old or Something. I don't know if it's smart to watch or read or peruse all of these things in one sitting--these are things you should have already experience, not a playlist for a Saturday night when the subway is running local or whatever. But the collection is cool because it is one guy's take on what internet literacy is for non-loser young people.

This list reminded me of an article written by Jim Emerson, on Roger Ebert's blog, about movie literacy:

On the "Brokeback Mountain" panel, I talked mainly about the film as a work in the tradition of the classical American Western, exemplified by John Ford ("Stagecoach," "The Searchers") and Howard Hawks ("Red River," "El Dorado"), and the Hollywood love story, as exemplified by Douglas Sirk ("All That Heaven Allows") and many others. You can't fully understand a contemporary work of art or pop culture unless you know at least something about its heritage -- just as Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye" (which Roger Ebert dissected shot by shot with an audience during the conference) would be meaningless without the classic private eye movies and films noir it invokes and subverts, especially "The Big Sleep" and "The Maltese Falcon." "Brokeback Mountain" is not an "anti-Western," but (in the parlance of 1973), you could definitely say that "The Long Goodbye" is an anti-noir. It's like jazz: You have to know the notes Altman isn't playing to understand how he's riffing on and around the familiar melody of the generic private detective movie.

He then provides a helpful list of the 102 "movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat 'movie-literate.' I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share."

If You're Into It

The New York Times Magazine's weekly interview this week featured the dynamic Flight of the Conchords duo, Bret Mckenzie and Jemaine Clement. Short, but worth a read:

Do you find it surprising that you’ve managed to have a hit television show in spite of your twangy accents?
Jemaine: In New Zealand, people don’t like the New Zealand accent, so we weren’t able to get a TV show there.