Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How do you say "gross" in Chinese? (cont)

Years ago I asked that question on the blog.  The answer came supplied by a blog reader: 毛 (Máo).  This story about recycled cooking oil in China sure fits that bill.

On Truth and Coercion

"Truth carries within itself an element of coercion."
-Hannah Arendt

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cultural Diplomacy Hard Power

I'm out in LA prior to my domestic tour with Keola Beamer and co, and staying in Hermosa Beach with my cousins.  Unluckily, I was awakened this morning to the sound of teenage angst reverberating through the floorboards as one of my 15 year-old cousins was blasting her music before heading out to school, and the bass was palpable a floor below.

That offers me the perfect segue to point out the use of Brittany Spears as deterrent against Somali pirates.  Who says cultural diplomacy can't have a hard power side?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Arab Schindlers and Yad Vashem's myopia

On an Aussie Jew becoming German

As one who is always interested in issues of identity, I found this piece by Antony Lowenstein quite interesting on his decision to take German citizenship.  I met Antony a few years back at the Jaipur Lit Fest, he is an outspoken left wing activist--a fair bit further left than me but I respect and understand his fight.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beginnings, Middles and Ends

toda LS.

By Billy Collins

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I can say it...

Oh, The Onion: Redskins’ Kike Owner Refuses To Change Team’s Offensive Name:
Denying widespread claims that the franchise is being offensive or disrespectful, the Washington Redskins’ kike owner announced Monday that he remains steadfast in his refusal to change the team’s derogatory name. “The Redskins represent 81 years of great history and tradition, and it’s a source of pride for our fans,” said the hook-nosed kike, stressing that the team’s insulting moniker is “absolutely not a racial slur by any means.” “‘Washington Redskins’ is much more than just a name. It stands for strength, courage, and respect—the very values that are so intrinsic to Native American culture.” The shifty-eyed hebe went on to assure fans that he will do “everything in his power” to preserve the team’s proud heritage. 
D'anq, DL. 

La fin de New York

"Life is measured by its intensity, not by its duration."

TodaySaturday was my last day of my New York sojourn. Not quite a chapter, but an interesting period comes to an end.  I spent the day soaking up in my own Gotham glory.

I made my way up to the Brooklyn Bridge, and meandered my way across the expanse that connects Breukelen (Eendraght Maeckt Maght- In Unity There is Strength) and New Amsterdam.  Pink women wearing bras externally battled cancer as they crossed past me.  Save the tatas.  The overcast sky burned just a tad lighter shade than the pink walkers.

I crossed the bridge, and made my way to the Belgian waffle cart (Waffles & Dinges) just over the bridge.  Since I would be far from accouterments of the brave little country, I went for the Throwdown Wafel, a hot Brussels brick slathered in speculoos (Gingerbread nutella-esque spread) and whip cream.  It was a delicious mess, with gooey dripping gingerbread and whip cream everywhere.  Yum.

I headed northeast to get a Chinese foot massage in Chinatown.  My usual place with the $22 hour-long foot massage with my usual masseuse named Helen.  We chatted in Mandarin, exchanging new words as she kneaded my feet.  The nerve points in the foot correspond with all other parts of the body, and as she dug into my soles and toes, I felt sensations in other points in my fair corpus.  There is one part that she hits just under the ball of my big toe that makes my throat moisten.  I feel it every time.  Other points too.  The Chinese spent millennia mapping the nerve points in the body, and this nexus I think they figured out well.  I let Helen listen to my headphones (Nina Simone- Sinnerman) as she worked to save my sole(s).

I left into the street to grab some cheap veggie mei fan.  I ate down the thin rice noodles and chatted with Rabbi Yossi.  We chatted about deals around town, and halakhic questions.  Apparently, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall denied a blind man the right to pray at the wall with his guard dog.  The Chief Rabbi of Lesotho, Tajikistan and La Mancha would have ruled differently.  C'mon, there is no fire hydrant around, and let's be honest-- it's a freakin' wall.  Any rabbi who comes up from Cooney Island to have veggie mei fan on the streets of Chinatown is my type of rabbi.

I wandered over to Little Italy for an espresso.  I plunked down at Caffe Roma, on a pillow-covered wicker couch under a colorful mural of Audrey Hepburn.  I sat across from a lovely couple, and we got to chatting and sipping cappuccinos.  They happened to be from Belgium.  Actually, he was from Chile but they were married and lived in Belgium.  We chatted in Spanish about New York and otherwise for a long while.  This was their first time in the Big Apple, so I sent them to Smalls for some real jazz (they had been looking, and appreciated the suggestion), and to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday.  We ended up chatting for a solid hour or so, before they headed off.  They were kind enough to pick up my expensive cappuccino.  I protested, saying that theoretically since they were guests in my fair country I should be the one picking up the tab.  But they just smiled, and said I could get the next round in Belgium.  I would gladly.

They left and I pulled out my laptop to work.  An elderly lady sat down across from me, and we got to chatting.  Eventually her son, Paul came out with coffees for them.  They had come down from New Haven on a food tour.  They had come on a bus that would drop them off at different foodie points around the city.  It had refrigeration so they could bring a cooler for their purchased fare.  I chatted with them for a while before they caught their bus away and back to New Haven.

A third and final fellow sat down across on the wicker bench.  He was chatting loudly on his cell about college football.  He was a proper Italian-American, the perfect personification of an Italian New Yorker.  Part old country, part new world.  I listened to my head phones and tapped out this fair blog, as he chatted away on the cell.

Intermittently, I smelled the faint hint of sambuca.  I looked around for the anise ouzo but saw nothing.  But I sincerely smelled it and looked behind me as well to see where this olfactory trick was coming from.  Nada.

Sitting across from me was a rather boisterous Italian-American fellow named Tony, who was chatting loudly on his cell.  Eventually, he got off the phone and we got to chatting.

Tony was the source of the sambuca.  He was bootlegging sambuca in a water bottle, and was kind enough to fill my water glass with the anise liquor.  He explained that while his wife and daughter went shopping, he would drink espresso and sambuca at the cafe.  All parties were kept happy.

Tony also told me a story about being in Paris that made me cringe. He mentioned that he and his wife were in a store, and that the clerk was being rude.  He said to her: "Lady, I'm an American.  If it wasn't for us, you would be serving wienerschnitzel."

I peered out from behind the fingers covering my face, and stared at him.  I said: "You do know that if it wasn't for the French, we would still have the Queen on our money."  And took a swig of my sambuca.  But ugly Americana excluded, he was nice enough and refilled my sambuca cup.

The night descended, and I headed out.  I stopped at a corner at a light.  As I was waiting, a woman and her child in stroller hailed down a passing cab.  She was having problems maneuvering her suitcases and stroller, so I helped her stuff her things in the trunk.

As luck would have it, she was French.  So I chatted with her briefly in French as  she tried to close the stroller but wasn't having any luck doing it while holding the two year-old child.  I tried to close the stroller but couldn't figure out how it worked.  So she handed me the baby, and went to play with the mechanisms.

And I tossed the baby up and down and babbled at the befuddled child in French.  Thankfully this Ugly American did not cause the child to cry too much and he giggled as I bounced him up and down.  The stroller got closed and put in the trunk, and I handed the semi-confused bouncing baby boy back to his mom, and headed on.

White Bow Propaganda

Sitting at the Library of Congress, doing research.  I requested Edward Bernays' classic Propaganda.  In came to me in a white envelope, wrapped in a white paper and tied with a white string bow.  As it should be.

The Congressional Bird

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
-James Madison

I gave Congress the finger.  They deserved it.

PS: Speaking of, Czech artist David Czerny took my bird to the next level.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Apparently Richard Nixon loved eating bowls of cottage cheese and pineapple slathered in ketchup.  Gross. Such dishes sound like an impeachable offense.  Here are some other culinary diplomacy dishes world leaders.

Reflections on a Paris left behind

“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other,” he [Hemingway] wrote. “Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.”

Yet then he added, with just the right soupçon of sadness: “But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

The NYTimes Paris Bureau Chief Steven Erlanger offers some poignant reflections on Paris as he leaves it behind.

And I laughed at a few points.  I had wondered about Parisian complexes, which Erlanger discusses; he writes of a hoodwinked Hemingway, which I remarked on.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

America's problem children

So apparently the Saudis threw a temper tantrum and quit the UN Security Council after they were named to it-- something they had been lobbying hard for.  Good.  The Saudis can go piss in the desert for all I care.

They are furious the U.S. didn't bomb Syria at their behest, and have been trying to engage diplomatically with Iran.

You know who else is not happy?  Bibi. He can go piss on a cactus.

That's right, when a bunch of desert sheikhs and Likudnik princes are angry, you are probably doing something right and in the right direction.

The Likud Party and the Saudis are both narrow-minded reactionaries who both live in their own ghettos/shtetls.

Some might call both parties our stalwart allies in the Middle East; I would call Likud-led Israel and Saudi-led Arabia to be pits of myopia who invest in the narrow status quo.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tell them what they've won!

Nada. That's what Republicans got out of this crisis they caused. Rachel Maddow takes it home, with her punctuation on what the GOP won. Tune to around 9:50 when she starts tossing pink note cards.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Brief History of Beer; Stone that Speaks

Some fun passages from Eduardo Galeano, in the book Mirrors.

A Brief History of Beer

  One of the earliest proverbs, written in the language of the Sumerians, exonerates drink in case of accident:

                        Beer is good.
                        What’s bad is the road,

  As the oldest of all books tells it, King Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu was a savage brute until he discovered beer and bread.
  Beer traveled to Egypt from the land we now call Iraq.  Because it gave the face new eyes, the Egyptians believed it was a gift from their god Osiris.  And since barley beer was the twin sister of bread, they called it “liquid bread.:
   In the Andes, it is the oldest of offerings: from the beginning, the earth has asked for a few drops of chicha, corn beer, to cheer up its days.

Speaking of the Children of the Nile…

                                                            Stone that Speaks

  When Napoleon invaded Egypt, one of his soldiers found on the banks of the Nile a great black stone entirely engraved with symbols.
  They called it Rosetta.
  Jean  Francois Champollion, a student of dead languages, spent his youth going round and round that stone.
  Rosetta spoke three languages.  Two had been deciphered.  Not the Egyptian hieroglyphs.
  The writing of the creators of the pyramids remained an enigma.  A scripture much commented upon: Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, and Horapolla all pretended to translate it, making it up as they went along, as did the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, who published four tomes of nonsense.  All of them believed hieroglyphs were a system of symbolic images, and the meanings varied according to the fantasy of each translator.
  Mute symbols or deaf men?  For years and years, Champollion peppered the Rosetta Stone with questions, and received only obstinate silent in its response.  The poor fellow was wasting away from hunger and discouragement when one day he thought of a possibility that occurred to no one before: suppose the hieroglyphs were something like the letters of an alphabet?

  That day the tombs opened and the dead kingdom spoke.

Lucy Baker

I went back to DC last weekend for my 15th high school reunion at Edmund Burke College Preparatory School.   I had not been there since I graduated high school.  I’m not going to lie, it kinda freaked me out a bit.

For starters, I walked to the front door where I entered the school for 4 years, only to find a sign that said “no entrance, enter on the Connecticut Avenue entrance”; when I was there, there was no building on Connecticut Avenue let alone an entrance. 

The school has trebled in size in the years since I left.  It has also trebled in price.  An education that cost approximately $11k when I was a student (not cheap by any stretch), was now over $30,000.  Burke always taught me to think critically, especially of institutions.  So I have to ask critically of my fair alma mater: has the education become three times better to justify the price tag?  Has teacher pay increased threefold?  I doubt it. As wonderful as a Burke education can be, can it really justify such a high price tag?   And I don’t know of the proper forum to raise such concerns I have as an alumni.

But I digress.  Something about Burke brings out the anarchist side in me, and makes me want to hurl bricks at power.

And besides, I had a nice time at the reunion. 

There was a grand total of six of us from my class.  We had approximately thirty in my graduating class (I thought there had been 28 of us in the graduating class, but others said 32 or more).  Ironically, Sam—who organized the reunion for my class of 1998, had also been the one who wrote our senior story in the 1998 school yearbook.  In that story, he literally opened tale of the future of our class along the lines “No one came to the reunion.  Even though invitations had been sent out…”  But Sam had herded five more of us cats for this shindig, which included other reunion increments of five and twenty-five year class returnees.

During the dinner, people told stories of their Burke days, so I shared my story about my first day attending school at Edmund Burke:

I had grown up in public school, and figured I would stay there until I hit a bout of the teenage hormones, and starting acting out.  I got myself booted out of all my honors classes and ran the risk of getting lost amid the crowds at public high school.  So my parents decided to ship me off to private school so that I wouldn’t get lost in the herds.  My requirements for school were minimal: that I could wear a hat; that I could go out for lunch.  Edmund Burke offered both of these requirements, so I acquiesced.

On the first day of school, I was walking up the front steps to the (now-blocked) entry way with a cup of coffee in hand.  That was when I saw Lucy Baker.

Lucy Baker was wearing black leather boots up to her knees.  She had on black fishnet stockings that ran up to her leather skirt.  She was wearing some sort of black goth dominatrix-ish top.  Her hair was purple and her face was kabuki white with black eyeliner and black lipstick.  She was wearing a dog collar.

I took one look at Lucy, and put down my coffee on the stone gate next to the steps.  I stood there, debating if I should turn around and go back to public school. 

Then the first bell rang.  I was going to be late on my first day at a new school. 

I picked my coffee back up, and decided that I would give it at least a day.

 In the fits and starts of the years to come, I went on to graduate four years later.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A nice Jewish boy at the Ground Zero Mosque

I went out last night to have dinner at a friend's place for a potluck.  The address I had was for Park Place. While googling the directions, I was offered with two addresses- a Park Place in Manhattan and a Park Place in Brooklyn.  I debated asking, but since he was a lifelong New Yorker, I assumed he lived in Manhattan.

I hopped the 3 train up to Park Place and got off in Lower Manhattan as the sun was setting.  The purple darkness was beginning to envelope the city.

As I was walking down Park Place looking for the apartment building, I passed a glass storefront with a Moroccan lamp inside.  The rest of the space looked essentially empty, save for a few people sitting on the carpet.  I glanced at a handwritten sign that mentioned an eid.

I kept walking to the end of the block, and saw the World Trade Center tower under construction. I then realized that was the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque."

Remember all the hubbub over the decision to allow a mosque built two blocks from the World Trade Center?  All the racist, xenophobic anti-Muslims came out of the woodwork over the temerity to build a Muslim house of prayer so close to site of the World Trade Center.

And that was it.  An innocuous, practically-empty room-turned-prayer-space was what caused the bigots to hit the roof.  The mosque-rade as Jon Stewart had called the commotion.

I stopped, turned around and decided to show my support.

I walked into the mosque, passed the security desk.  I doffed my shoes, and took a seat on the floor.  The room was sparse and spartan.  Just a simple carpet and white walls with a kufic line across the wall.  Not exactly the Grand SuperMosque that the opponents railed against.

The room had about a dozen men of different races and ethnicities ranging from African to South Asian to Arab.  There was one fellow in a police uniform.  And me, a nice Jewish boy in the mosque.  Not the first time, and probably not the last time.

I guess we reached a critical mass for a minyan and all the congregants got in a prayer line, myself included.

I know enough of Muslim customs to follow along the prayers, so I bowed and prostrated.  I alternated Arabic prayers (B'smillah al-rahman al-rahim), Hebrew kadish (Yitgadal, v'yitkadash) and my own ecumenical prayers (Oh God and Father) as touched my forehead softly to the floor.  We went through the prayers to welcome Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice in which Ibrahim offered his son Ishmael on the ka'aba to a demanding God (or Isaac in Jerusalem, depending who you ask).

I first celebrated this Eid years ago in Morocco, with my host family in Rabat. We had a sheep living in our apartment for days.  When the sheep arrived, I wondered how I could eat this creature living outside my door.  But two days of early morning bleating, I was ready to kill the thing myself.  Sacrifice it, we did.  This was the first time I saw a life pass out of a creature, as I watched its eyes glass over.  I still have its cured hide as a rug- I can still see the look on the customs officials' faces when they asked where I got the sheep skin, and I replied that I had ate him.  But I digress.

The prayers finished, and I made my way out of the mosque.  I soon learned that I was indeed lost, that I needed to be in Brooklyn, and that I had no business in Manhattan.  But nothing is by chance, and I don't think I have ever had a more meaningful lost experience.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Breaking Simpsons

The lightbulb

"So this question, like any other about neurology, turns out to be both simply mechanical and monstrously complex. Yes, a hormone does wash through men’s brains and makes them get mad. But there’s a lot more turning on than just the hormone. For a better analogy to the way your neurons and brain chemistry run your mind, you might think about the way the light switch runs the lights in your living room. It’s true that the light switch in the corner turns the lights on in the living room. Nor is that a trivial observation. How the light switch gets wired to the bulb, how the bulb got engineered to be luminous—all that is an almost miraculously complex consequence of human ingenuity. But at the same time the light switch on the living-room wall is merely the last stage in a long line of complex events that involve waterfalls and hydropower and surge protectors and thousands of miles of cables and power grids. To say the light switch turns on the living-room light is both true—vitally true, if you don’t want to bang your shins on the sofa sneaking home in the middle of the night—and wildly misleading."

That passage is from an interesting article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker on neuroscience.  Yes, lots of New Yorker postings over the last few days.  I have been sitting on buses back-and-forth to New York, so I had some magazine reading time.

The passage above reminds me of a point once made by my brother Harry, who studied Chemistry (neuroscience, and also Religion) about the human ingenuity of the brain in shutting off all of the sensors across our body to the world that we touch.

My body is clothed in denim and cotton; I am sitting on a bus seat of soft polyester fur. It is only through the mind's sheer complexity that the brain can make the body oblivious to every point in which my skin sensors touch some foreign material.  The mind literally makes the nerve cells oblivious to the millions of sensations points it could be feeling at any given moment, so I can conduct my business unimpeded by an overflow of sensations.

An exercise Harry taught me is to stop and think, to feel, every point of which your body is connected to the seat you are sitting in, and be concious and cognizant of every point where your body is interacting with a foreign object.

The Tournament of Shadows

Dexter Filikins of the New Yorker has a terrific piece on the Iranian shadow commander in the Great Game in the sandbox.  Worth a read for all ye Orientalists.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fuck you Congress

Yes, there is now the immaculate site:  http://fuckyoucongress.com/

The John Birch Tea Party

From the plus ça change files, a terrific article comparing the Tea Party's beliefs to that of the John Birch Society:

 As it happens, I’ve been doing some reading about John Kennedy, and what I find startling, and even surprising, is how absolutely consistent and unchanged the ideology of the extreme American right has been over the past fifty years, from father to son and now, presumably, on to son from father again. The real analogue to today’s unhinged right wing in America is yesterday’s unhinged right wing in America. This really is your grandfather’s right, if not, to be sure, your grandfather’s Republican Party. Half a century ago, the type was much more evenly distributed between the die-hard, neo-Confederate wing of the Democratic Party and the Goldwater wing of the Republicans, an equitable division of loonies that would begin to end after J.F.K.’s death. (A year later, the Civil Rights Act passed, Goldwater ran, Reagan emerged, and we began the permanent sorting out of our factions into what would be called, anywhere but here, a party of the center right and a party of the extreme right.) 
Reading through the literature on the hysterias of 1963, the continuity of beliefs is plain: Now, as then, there is said to be a conspiracy in the highest places to end American Constitutional rule and replace it with a Marxist dictatorship, evidenced by a plan in which your family doctor will be replaced by a federal bureaucrat—mostly for unnamable purposes, but somehow involving the gleeful killing off of the aged. There is also the conviction, in both eras, that only a handful of Congressmen and polemicists (then mostly in newspapers; now on TV) stand between honest Americans and the apocalypse, and that the man presiding over that plan is not just a dupe but personally depraved, an active collaborator with our enemies, a secret something or other, and any necessary means to bring about the end of his reign are justified and appropriate. And fifty years ago, as today, groups with these beliefs, far from being banished to the fringe of political life, were closely entangled and intertwined with Senators and Congressmen and right-wing multi-millionaires. 

Dinner is served...in Mogadishu

The New Yorker has a terrific piece on the best chef in Mogadishu, and all of the travails of running a restaurant in war-torn Somalia...like dealing with suicide bombers (geez, you could have just told the maître d' that you didn't like the soup...).  Unfortunately, all I can do is post the link, you will have to find the full article.  Worth begging, borrowing or stealing a copy of the article, it is a good read.  It is in the issue with Bashir al-Assad and Walter White of Breaking Bad on the cover.

The Washington Rednecks

Regarding Daniel Snyder's desire to keep the Washington Football club's name as a racial slur, perhaps the team should consider adopting a new moniker: The Washington Rednecks. It seems a more fitting team name for a myopic owner and a team name steeped in racism.

PS: the WaPo editorial board pointed out that the team's fight song was changed from "Fight for ol' Dixie" to "Fight for all D.C."  Yes, time for another change....

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poetry in Motion; Fast as a Leopard

Poetry in motion (Garbanguly, Garbanguly).  With practically the whole front car to myself.  Legs sprawled out across the yellow and orange benches, with my head back against the cold silver metal arm rail rest.  With scant a soul in the subway car, I stretched across the whole row.

West of rest is sleep
east, dream
where waters meet
north, emptiness
south, wakefulness
to the stars, peace
-Jeffrey Yang

Somewhere in the middle of my bench-long lean, I looked at the sundial.  It was eleven-and-a-half.  I had a bus at noon.  I was still in Brooklyn.

It was then it dawned on me (d’aurore, d’aurore): I would probably be missing my 12 o’clock bus. 

How did I end up in this situation?  How did I not budget my time correctly?

I guess I should have probably realized it would take more than an hour glass, door to bus door.

Yes, now when I thought about it, that was probably absurd to think I could get from Crown Colony to Madison Square Garden in just sixty ticks of the watch.

There were more buses today, so I would probably have to take a later one.  They were more expensive, so perhaps a stupidity tax was coming my way.  It didn’t help the matter that I didn’t even have a ticket printed (although I did have a copy on my laptop on the desktop).  This was not going to be fun or easy.

Mind you, I hadn’t written the bus off completely.  I timed it out in my head, and with enough breaks I might be able to scurry there. 

We pulled into the bottom of the isla of  New Amsterdam just a hair under 11:40.  There were 6 stops and 34 blocks separating me from the bus.

Actually a little more because I would still have to run to the bus to catch it, and that was some blocks away.

I tightened my laces on my new kicks (which look almost the same as my old kicks).

The first three stops were close and passed in varying degrees of speed.

We left Chambers for 14th st, and for the first time a glimmer of hope re-appeared in my cabeza.  This would be a sprint to the finish, and I just might get there before the buzzer.

The song, “The Touch” by Stan Bush from the Transformers movie (the original cartoon) came on.  I put that on loop.  Perhaps the matrix would be mine.  Dare.

We pulled into the 14th st stop, just one to go.  I had twelve minutes on the clock, and twenty-some blocks separating me from the last stop.

Then the local 1 train pulled in.  Instead of pulling out, the train door re-opened for people to switch from express to local.  Ugh.  I rolled my eyes as the precious seconds ticked away. I watched the clock lose a minute, and had just eleven remaining.

But close, the doors did, and we set off.

From the vantage in front of the train, I could look through the window in the security door that separated the first car from the front control room.  In the dark distance, I could see a glimmer of light from the last station in the distance.  I watched its yellow-beige lights pull quickly closer.

We pulled in, and I tapped the door’s glass impatiently, until I was released.  And I was off. 

Like a comet. 
What are your legs? 
Springs. Steel springs. 
What are they going to do? 
Hurl me down the track. 
How fast can you run? 
As fast as a leopard. 
How fast are you going to run? 
As fast as a leopard!

Gallipoli, Gallipoli

Ok, not really. 

Let’s just say that if I was running from the undead hordes of the Zombie apocalypse, I would have been an easy corpus snack.

But I ran.  I dodged and bobbed and weaved.  I ran down, then over, then up and out. 

Quick decision time, as I had just minutes. I had one shot to make the right turns.

But I was moving fast enough, and in the right direction that I realized I was going to make it.  This tardiest explorer was going to catch his silver steed.

I arrived huffing and puffing to the bus.  The two Armenian fellows chuckled as I Huffington posted up to catch my breath and booted up my little laptop to show my ticket on the desktop.  I caught my bus and my breath.


But I wasn’t even the last one on.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kosher Kidnapping services

Rabbinical kidnap for hire to obtain divorce.  The Chief Rabbi of Lesotho, Tajikistan and La Mancha gives it a halal seal of approval.

Cue the tough guy accent: don't turn me into a mohel.

The Walking Dead

Help! The Zombie Tea Party apocalypse has come, and shut down Washington. These undead brain-eating Republicans have ground the  capital to a halt.  Not even the diabolical Koch Brothers can control the monster they have created.  So this zombie feast on sanity continues, as the tiniest minority of undead keep gnawing on the corpus of our government.  Worse than a comic b-movie horror flick, and truly a nightmare.

The precision of pain and the blurriness of joy

The precision of pain and the blurriness of joy. I'm thinking
how precise people are when they describe their pain in a doctor's office.
Even those who haven't learned to read and write are precise:
"This one's a throbbing pain, that one's a wrenching pain,
this one gnaws, that one burns, this is a sharp pain
and that––a dull one. Right here. Precisely here,
yes, yes." Joy blurs everything, I've heard people say
after night of love and feasting, "It was great,
I was in seventh heaven." Even the spaceman who floated
in outer space, tethered to a spaceship, could say only, "Great,
wonderful, I have no words."
The blurriness of joy and the precision of pain––
I want to describe, with a sharp pain's precision, happiness
and blurry joy. I learned to speak among the pains.
-Yehuda Amichai

Obregado, Lilach.

the beautiful grey

On a quiet grey morning, I am building my client base and sifting through old memories (old passports; old adventures) and new thoughts.  I am a tad lost in thought (what else is new) but perhaps this is a different radiant thought I am tangled in.

Grey rainy days require a bit of alchemy, an extra level of beauty to help radiate a smile, and a warm hug.

So give me hope in the darkness that we will see the light.
-Mumford and sons

Art Nouveau meets Westeros

An amazing collection of Game of Thrones characters, Mucha-ized.

The Morning Scruff

Since I am pushing my father to send his progeny a photo of our beloved dog on a daily basis. Perhaps I will intersperse pictures of the pup with news of the weird as to make our world just a bit more palatable.
The Life of Scruff

-Western Maryland attempting to secede from the rest of the Free State.  As if the world needed a second Maryland.  I'll keep with my Jefferson dreams.

Scruff Selfie
A glitch caused Azerbaijan to release the election results before polls open. Elections, Absurdistan style! As usual, life imitates The Onion.

"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal." -Emma Goldman

"Democracy lets us choose which sauce to be cooked in." -Eduardo Galeano

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Fight for all DC

Thanks to The Onion for this (burgundy and) gold: Washington Redskins change their name to the D.C. Redskins.  Now we can put this chapter behind us, and get back to rooting for the Atlanta Crackers.

But first, I will doth my New York Jews hat. Go Fightin' Hymies!

Congress Sucks


ESSENTIAL: The gym for members of the House of Representatives.
NONESSENTIAL: Clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health
ESSENTIAL: Every single member of Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) staff.
NONESSENTIAL: A Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
ESSENTIAL: The Capitol subway system.
NONESSENTIAL: Cleaning up toxic waste sites.
ESSENTIAL: Every single member of Congress.
NONESSENTIAL: The NASA employee who oversees the Mars rover mission.

A Hazy Shade of Winter

Funny how my memory slips
while looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme
Drinking my vodka and lime.
-Simon and Garfunkel, "A Hazy Shade of Winter"

Threats, foreign and domestic

A confederacy of dunces

I was walking through Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, under the triumphal arch to the forces that held the Union together, and it dawned on me: we are in the midst of a sanity civil war.  That same restive region that brought us the cleaving joy of the civil war is again trying to tear our Union apart, but this time over their own lunacy.  And apparently Bill Moyers agrees: let's call the shutdown what it is: secession by other means.

Whither Helvetica

Apparently, Switzerland is being accused of conducting gross human rights violations by North Korea.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Pyongyang is claiming that Switzerland's refusal to see the regime ski lifts is a gross human rights violation.

This comes just years after good ol' Col. Gaddafi demanded at the UN that Switzerland be abolished after it the temerity to arrest his domestically-abusive son.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


“We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness and our pride,” he went on, his baritone voice filling the room. “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

The senate chaplain is throwing fire and brimstone at shutdown intransigence.


I was in the middle of a chat with Clay, a new offline friend and future client, when the cameras appeared. Oh, the paparazzi are after.  The camera set up shop at the table next to us.  As they were filming, the interviewer asked nicely enough if we could keep quiet.  As the crew was setting up, Clay recognized the girl.  "Your from that viral video, right?" he asked.  How many hits?  15 million.  I hadn't seen it.

We went for a walk a ways around the neighborhood.  When we returned, we grabbed some coffee back at the place.  The girl came up and introduced herself.  She apologized for the hushing, but we just laughed.  The girl Marina had done a video of her quitting work.  We chatted a bit about the 15 minutes.  She was pretty sanguine about the whole thing. She had also lived in Taipei, and I knew her former company, which made me laugh.

Anyway, here is Marina's viral video:

Well done Marina, we should all be so creative with our ways of quitting.  I just seem to come up with creative ways of getting fired.  See under: the window-washing incident.  


Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I figured I would let Ozy start this.  A couple of interesting pieces this morning.

-On the wealth of New York crumbling its creative bases:
The city is a body and a mind – a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we're getting to a point where many of New York's citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city – the body – has been improved immeasurably. I'm a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bikeshare program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city – the mind – has been usurped by the top 1%.
What, then, is the future of New York, or really of any number of big urban centers, in this new Gilded Age? Does culture have a role to play? If we look at the city as it is now, then we would have to say that it looks a lot like the divided city that presumptive mayor Bill de Blasio has been harping about: most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.
-On Venezuela's crumbling socialist dreams and economy:
“He dresses in military fatigues to look like Chavez, but when he opens his mouth all you see is a bad copy”, said Miguel Arnas, an insurance salesman waiting in a three-hour bank queue in Caracas. 
While Chavez’s revolution diverted the country’s vast oil wealth to fund social programmes - with considerable initial success - after almost 15 years many Venezuelans feel the country has not got nearly enough to show for oil and gas reserves that were in 2011 certified by OPEC as the world’s largest. By the time of Chavez’s death, economic mismanagement and corruption - Venezuela is the most corrupt country in the Americas, according to Transparency International - had already crippled the socialist project he dreamed of. Under Mr Maduro, it has entered an advanced state of decay. Official inflation has soared above 45 per cent - 55 per cent for groceries - basic product shortages leave entire families without food and widespread power outages are commonplace. Meanwhile the South American country is witnessing an average of 71 homicides every day, one of the highest murder rates in the world.

“This country is a thousand times worse than it was six months ago”, said Pedro Sosa, a Chavez supporter who voted for Mr Maduro but now regrets having done so. “Choosing Maduro as his successor was a mistake (by Chavez),”said Veronica Tapia, 22, a student at the Caracas Institute of Finance.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Master of Escape

And if you're trapped
And failure seems imminent
think of Houdini
that fabulous immigrant!
Break those chains with all you possess

On a furloughed day, I rode the rails north to break into and escape from the Houdini Museum.  I pondered my own Houdini pivot of cultural diplomacy work, of which I will discuss later.

The place's address was on 7th avenue, but it wasn't really on 7th avenue- the first test of finding Houdini.

But oh, Erich Weiss.  Of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin fame.  In the museum, I found a young King of Cards in an art nouveau poster showing the young musician and his famous sleight of hand.  Speaking of hands, apparently Houdini was shot in his left hand.

After a show with the Dr. Hill medicine show in Kansas, which a young Houdini was working in, some gamblers forced Houdini to pick a gambling that had closed for the night.  Houdini picked the lock, but then shut the door before the two hoodlums could get in, he locked himself inside the empty place.  But Houdini didn't count on the gamblers shooting through the grate of cellar window.  He raised his left hand to stop the shot, and the weak fusile lodged a bullet in his left hand.  The bullet was never removed (I told my mother there was still glass in my hand!), but gave Harry a better pivot to slip his clenched hand out of cuffs.

The museum was full of chains and old cuffs that the master escapist had loosened his way out of, and trucks crossed in chains that he had exited.  All along with old pics, handbills, posters and letters from Harry himself.  I loved a particular letter with his likeness.  It short, the place was absolutely amazing. A real marvel.

I, Harry Houdini, known as the King of Handcuffs, at last becoming tired of so called  FAKE EXPOSURES and MEDIOCRE magicians, who claim to DO MY ACT, because they possess a lot of false keys and springs, do hereby challenge any person in the World to duplicate my release from Cuffs, Irons and Straight Jackets, under test conditions.

And one of the most terrifying trips to the bathroom I have ever had.  As I was walking to the bathroom,  caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye.  My heart skipped a beat.  I sized it up quick, and laughed.  I investigated around the door just in case.

My heart beat fast as I entered the bathroom.  I checked the open stalls, and locked the door behind me, and I was still peering over my shoulder the whole time.

I took another stroll through Houdini's accouterments, before heading north.  I walked north because I wasn't sure where else to go, and it seemed like a good direction.

As I was walking north, I passed a pizza shop called Two Brothers.  It is a dollar slice place around midtown.  I recognized it from the last time two brothers were strolling through Manhattan and needed some cheap pizza.  Harry and I were in line- I don't remember if we were about to order or to pay.

A guy in a suit in line was handed a slice of pizza.  He puts down the slice and says to the Hispanic guy behind the counter.

"Hey, give me the bigger slice." the fellow in the cheap suit said.

The guy behind the counter said no, and that he had already touched it.

"Yo," he said in New York drawl, "give me the bigger slice."

The counter guy said no again, so the Yankee said: "this is why you work here," and stormed out.

Harranza and I were stunned.   In my dreams, I take a slice of pizza and fling it at the back of that fellow's cheap suit.

I recognized the place, so I stopped in for a slice of solidarity.  Just one of the two brothers this time. I had a slice, and slipped an extra buck in the tip jar on behalf of the Two Brothers Rockower.

I caught the 1 up the West Side.  Up to Columbia, Gotham City's Ivy.  I wandered around the campus, noticing collegiates laying out on the sunny lawn.  I took a corner to a part of the quad, and founded Him.

As this was a campus, and it is perfectly acceptable to lay down on the lawn, I lay out under the pensive bronze statue.  In grey hood, I rested on my backpack as I read "Thus spake Zarathustra" softly to myself.

I lay there all afternoon, pondering the different light cast on the statue and laughing to myself that I could easily touch this one--something verboten in museums.  There would be no chiding this time, even gentle, like when I touched the Hand of God in Paris. Add this thinker to the collection (Philadelphia, Paris, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Baltimore, New York).

In Houdini's lair

Micro story-telling.  2 sentences and a pic.  In Houdini's lair.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Endangering Democracy

Anne Applebaum has a good piece on the GOP endangering democracy:

At times, I have tried to explain it to bemused foreigners. Many of them think, mistakenly, that Americans are having an argument about the budget or the deficit. I have to put them straight: This is an attempt by one part of the U.S. political system to use the budgetary process to stop the implementation of a single law, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). If my interlocutors come from democratic countries, they then look puzzled.
If they read the commentary pouring out of Washington, they are even more confused, as am I. What surprises — and shocks — me is how many people who have written, blogged or self-righteously tweeted about the results of various polls on these events, as if they matter. Do 47 percent of Americans oppose Obamacare? Do 73.7 percent oppose Obamacare? Do 97 percent of Republicans hate Obamacare even more than they hate death and taxes? Who cares? In a functioning democracy, it doesn’t matter what the majority happens to think at any given moment. What matters is what the legitimate, representative, legal institutions have already decided.
I am not an expert on the economics of health care, so I don’t know whether the Affordable Care Act is ultimately going to be good or bad for the United States. I am very glad that it will help poor, uninsured Americans get access to doctors, hospitals and medicine. I’m worried that it may be too expensive and will further extend U.S. indebtedness.
But I also recognize that, at this point, what I think doesn’t matter. The Affordable Care Act passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by the president. It was confirmed by the Supreme Court. The president who sponsored the health-care reform was then sent back to the White House after an election during which that reform was a major topic of debate.
Obamacare is the law, as confirmed by the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our political system. A portion of one of those branches is not now legally or morally empowered to change that law by holding other parts of the government hostage, no matter how strongly its members or their constituents feel. So how is it possible that so many Americans, including some who have been elected to Congress, no longer understand this principle, which is fundamental to our political system and vital to the functioning of democracies? I repeat: Democracy is not designed to reflect majority opinion. It is designed to filter majority opinion through legitimate institutions and to translate it, through agreed procedures, into policy.

Public Suasion

"Thus the war improved the statuses of those working in the field of public suasion. Formerly, the lords of industry and commerce had often seen the advertising agent as a charlatan, associated with tawdry bunkum used to paddle patent medicine and cigarettes, and trying to sell a service that any boss with half a brain could surely manage on his own. The nascent field of public relations also had been disesteemed by those atop the social pyramid, who saw that sort of work as necessary on the vaudeville circuit and Broadway. The great Allied campaign to celebrate (or sell) Democracy, etc., was a venture so successful, and it seemed, so noble, that it suddenly legitimized such propagandists, who, once the war had ended, went right to work massaging or exciting various publics on behalf of entities like General Motors, Procter & Gamble, John D. Rockefeller, General Electric.

And so, from the signing of the Versailles Treaty to the Crash of 1929, there was a high excitement in the booming field of peace-time propaganda. That reborn generation of admen and publicists, no longer common hucksters but professionals, sold their talents to Big Business through a long barrage of books, essays, speeches and events extolling the miraculous effects of advertising and/or publicity—i.e. propaganda, as the proponents of the craft, and their corporate clients, often kept referring to it, quietly. According to propagandists' evangelical self-salesmanship (many of them were in fact the sons of ministers), their revolutionary "science" would do far more than make some people richer. Just as during the war, propaganda would at once exalt nation and advance the civilizing process, teaching immigrants and other folks of modest means how to transform themselves, through smart consumption, into happy and presentable Americans. Throughout the Twenties, as propaganda’s earnest advocates devoutly pushed that faux-progressive line, “propaganda” seemed—at least to those who peddled it—a wondrous new progressive force, capable of brightening every life and every home."
-Mark Crispin Miller, Introduction in Propaganda by Edward Bernays

Short Horror Stories

Wonderfully creepy two-sentence horror stories:

I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, “Daddy check for monsters under my bed.” I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, “Daddy there’s somebody on my bed.”

Unfortunately, the pictures diminish the stories.  When my friend Megha, a thespian, recited them from memory, they gave me serious chills.

My daughter won't stop crying and screaming in the middle of the night.  I visit her grave and ask her to stop, but it doesn't help.

And one last fav.  

You hear your mom calling you into the kitchen. As you are heading down the stairs you hear a whisper from the closet saying, "Don't go down there honey, I heard it too."

This reminds me of my encounter on the way to the bathroom at the Houdini Museum yesterday, I will share that shortly.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Bibi's bait-and-switch at the UN

Why is Bibi going full throttle at Rouhani and the possibility of Iran coming in from the cold?  Because he has nothing else.  If Iran is not an existential threat for Israel, then Israel might actually have to come to the table with the Palestinians.  And that is the last thing Bibi wants to do.

This is what it boils down to: Bibi cut his political teeth under Yitzhak Shamir.  Shamir's grand strategy was this: do nothing.  Don't make any big moves, and affect the facts on the ground.  He wanted to freeze diplomacy in place through delays, obfuscations and half-measures.  Of course, he didn't have a choice because the situation changed the calculus as the first Intifada broke out, and an American administration that had won the Cold War and succeeded in the first Gulf War was willing to twist arms to bring Israel to the table.  But this remained his modus operandi through the Madrid peace talks and until he was booted from office.

But Bibi learned from this.  He saw Shamir get dragged to Madrid against his will and Likud judgement, and Bibi has learned from it.

So Bibi plays a Kentucky shuffle, and focuses on Iran while dragging out the "peace" negotiations.  He attacks Iran at the UN so that Palestine is forgotten.  An Iran that is not an threat to Israel is a bigger existential threat because then Israel might actually have to deal with the Palestinians, which is the real issue at play.  The one Bibi wants us all to forget.

Underemployed of the World, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

To support my furloughed brethren, I am taking an unpaid day off. #Solidarity

It doesn't have to be this way

James Fallows of The Atlantic continues on the most serious point of this lunacy: it doesn't have to be this way if only Boehner wasn't cowering at at the Tea Party and simply let democracy run its course.  The vote in congress to continue funding government would pass pretty handily, but it won't come up.

Meanwhile, wacko Hannity is exhorting the Republicans to shut down the government for months.  It is not democracy for which our Republic has stalled but demagoguery from the extremists who have managed to hold the country hostage.

And FTW:

Alas, that twitter account has been suspended.  Probably because of complaints by the flat-earthers and creationists that fill the rolls of the Republican Party.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Musical Syrian students connect with Waco community

'“I miss the food,” Dabi said, to which Mukasi nodded in agreement. “Stuffed zucchini, hummus, pita bread.”

Mukasi said he noticed Americans do not drink as much tea as Syrians.

“We drink tea five times a day,” Mukasi said.'

And other tidbits from the Baylor Lariat's story on two special music students from Syria and the good Dr. Bolen.


And there it is, out tin-pot Republic has officially shut down because a minority of extremists wanted it so, and the House Republican leadership refused to show any backbone.  The unbelievably ridiculous bit in all this is that it absolutely didn't have to happen.  There were many GOP moderates who would have voted for a clean CR bill without this inane biz about stripping Obamacare.

But Boehner is incapable of showing any leadership in the face of the Tea Party Taliban, and won't bring up legislation that doesn't have the full support of his caucus.  Such an abdication of leadership, and not what democracy is about.

Democracy is not only ramming through policies that have full support of your party, but finding compromise to move forward, while isolating the extremists in the midst through bi-partisanship.

But Boehner is scared he would lose his speakership.  I can't even figure out why Boehner wants to remain Speaker, he is so unbelievably feckless and inept.  Perhaps you could retain your speakership if you actually showed some leadership.

But no, America is now showing its exceptional nature by shutting down government over the prospect of delivering more healthcare to those in need, something the rest of the developed world takes for granted.  This is a hostage situation, pure and simple.  The Affordable Care Act is law of the land, voted on by Congress, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court and practically the subject of referendum in the last election. There is a great piece in Slate about if it happened elsewhere, how our media's language would appear on the event.  And a great pic of "Breaking Bad- Canada"

There is an old saying about if your neighbor loses his job, it is a recession; if you lose your job it is a depression.  Well, this shutdown is turning into a depression for me, because it looks like a pd project (Hispaniola Blues) I was working on is probably going to crash on the shoals of the shutdown.  Thanks Tea Party, you are harming this small business.

"A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation. A politician is a statesman who places the nation at his service,"said the wise French President Georges Pompidou.  But perhaps the Esquire says it best "The Reign of Morons":

In the year of our Lord 2010, the voters of the United States elected the worst Congress in the history of the Republic. There have been Congresses more dilatory. There have been Congresses more irresponsible, though not many of them. There have been lazier Congresses, more vicious Congresses, and Congresses less capable of seeing forests for trees. But there has never been in a single Congress -- or, more precisely, in a single House of the Congress -- a more lethal combination of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also happens to have been the party's 2012 nominee for president of the United States. That is why the government of the United States is, in large measure, closed this morning.