28 January 2009

Video, Or It Didn't Happen

"We had this patient who suffered penile fracture after running across the room and trying to penetrate his wife with a flying leap."

That such a scenario could even occur has just completely blown my mind.

26 January 2009

Diamond Dave

If you have important things to do, by all means do not go to this page!

23 January 2009

Enjoy Your Friday

I have to admit Waffle House is pretty stellar, but this is the most redneck wedding I've ever seen.

22 January 2009

Brooklyn, Friday, Jan 23

I probably won't be writing anything for a couple days because I'm prepping for this. It's gonna be awesome. Come join us if you can. It's free.

Here's a map!

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21 January 2009

Something From LA Worth Paying Attention To...

As far as I'm concerned, and I've never been there, Los Angeles is a cesspool of filth flarn filth. However, that doesn't preclude a few beautiful flowers rising out of the poop from time to time. For anyone who lives out there, there are a couple comedy groups worth paying some mind...

Chad, Matt & Rob (and Jonah, too)

I wrote about these guys about a month ago for Tilzy.tv and thought their stuff was great. Unfortunately it was my first article for that site and pretty much a piece of turd. So my apologies, fellas, for being a shitty writer. Anyway, the other night I went back and watched some of the shorts that I hadn't had a chance to view. Great stuff.

Keep an eye on them because, according to Rob, they're working on another interactive feature, a tv pilot and maybe more episodes of The Alibuys (which is hysterical). I'm excited, you should be as well.

Convoy Improv

Alright, so this long-form improv trio happen to be good friends of mine from college. They're also fucking improv champions. How good are they? Well they won the UCB cagematch 44 times in a row. If they had continued their streak they would have broken a little-known physical law established Richard Feynman (Fernie gets his science wrong here) which would have caused the trio to implode immediately upon their 45th victory.

Anyone who lives in LA needs to go see these guys so you can say you knew about them before they blow up (possibly literally) to become supergiants (although they will inevitably become white dwarf stars).

Luckily for anyone reading this (especially Mr. Alex Berg, the blonde one above) I'm not at home or else I would definitely post a picture of Berg's nuts on the internet (yes, I do have one, it's awful). But I'll save that for any future blackmail purposes. WATCH YOUR BACK, BLONDIE!

11 January 2009

Books In Review...Sort of

A few people had asked me to do a little feature on my best books of 2008. It's a sensible request given that I work in a bookstore and sometimes post about books that I've read or am reading. Putting together a quality post about new books in the same way that's done with music is a different order altogether though. Why? Because I tend to not read new books when they come out with the same frequency that I find new music. Most of what I read during the past year was "catch-up" material, classics and whatnot that I'd never had a chance to read. I don't even bother trying to stay abreast of "new, up and coming" authors (and I'm barely able to do that with bands/musicians).

Nevertheless, I did read a couple new books this year that I really enjoyed. Both of these I did "reviews" of: 2008 Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga's
The White Tiger and Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence (I also happened to read Midnight's Children about a month ago and it surpasses the glowing review I gave to Enchantress...). The other day I started Joseph O'Neill's Netherland (which made the NY Times "Top of 2008" list) and I like what little I've read so far. I also read the first story in Jhumpa Lahiri's new short story collection Unaccustomed Earth. The prose was elegant and the story exquisitely crafted, but overall incredibly depressing and gushing with sentimentality. Not really my kind of material, though I wouldn't mind being blessed with her gift for diction.

It's really one of the paradoxes and conundrums the modern role of publishing that someone who works in a bookstore and writes doesn't really read contemporary fiction, somehow expects to have a future in this business. Then again, people seem to fall all over themselves to buy the latest David Sedaris or Chuck Klosterman or some new age claptrap or mystery/thriller pablum. I write poetry and barely anybody reads that anymore, including myself. I could hardly name you any new, worthwhile poets to check out, yet for whatever reason I hope to find myself in their company. Well, really I don't think anybody wants the company, we desire to exist on the next step above. And we all clamber like the living dead over one another to enter creative writing programs. Madness I tell you, pure madness.

One good piece of advice that I feel entitled to give, however, is "Go Read!" Seriously, go buy some books and read. Forget tv or movies or whatever for a while. We're dying a slow, agonizing death and we word-lubbers aren't going to be the only ones who rue the day publishing dies. It's the one thing I'm bound to get sentimental about.

09 January 2009

You Can't Eat This Much Precociousness!

Liam interrupted an ongoing email discussion about the current situation in Gaza with a link to this youngster. Not only can this kid cook (what is he, like 5?!), but I'm sure he'd figure out a way to mediate a cease-fire and broker peace between Israel & Palestine while telling a story about cookies.

Take it away, Julian...

06 January 2009

Brains & Competition

Yesterday, Jonah Lehrer (of Seed Magazine) posted a great find from The Boston Globe's "Ideas" section about brain functioning under different competitive scenarios. It appears that humans retain their competitive nature only up until a point and that when a group becomes too large to be competitive within, the brain essentially shuts itself down.

In one study researchers observed different sized groups taking test like the SATs and found that in small groups students performed much better than those in large rooms with many other test-takers. It appears that when in small groups, a participant is able to better size up their competition. Test-takers who were housed in a large room had lower scores, presumably because they were overwhelmed by the amount of competition they were up against.

An unrelated study looked at similar phenomena from a different angle. In a supermarket a display of jams was set up for customer taste-tests. When only 6 competing jams were used, sales increased among the products displayed. Then, when 30 different jams were displayed for the same purposes, people basically wanted nothing to do with them. There was such an array of choice that their brains short-circuited attempting to make any sort of decision. However, the study also found that when products were placed into categories—however arbitrary—people had a much easier time choosing a product or making a decision.

These findings seem completely plausible to me judging by my own behavior as well as what I've seen in my non-scientific daily observations. Give people small groups in which to operate and they find it much easier to orient themselves. I know in dealing with music, as seemingly arbitrary as "categorizing" bands and sounds can be, it is really helpful for our brains. Providing a label creates a foundation from which to analyze and associate; from that beginning one can make all sorts of further connections and establish their own web of knowledge. If you were to take a random assortment of bands and have someone start picking out the "best" (for lack of better example) bands in that pile, that person would have a panic attack. But if you had them organize that pile somehow and then pick out certain elements, they'd have a much easier time.

As far as competition goes, some commenters wondered how professional athletes (as one example) operated on such a high level in the face of this research. I contend that the best of the best don't even consider most other humans viable competition, and thus render them out of the picture. From a young age they've most likely—and clearly I'm assuming here—picked out a few other talented individuals against whom they could compete on a high level. At each stage (high school, college, pro, etc.) the categorizations of who matches their skill is refined. I think the same could be said of any endeavor, whether it's basketball, soccer, painting, poetry, furniture design, gardening, politics, etc. Folks who engage in these activities who have a desire to be good at them always find markers against which to measure their competition.

Back to the original point of the study, although this kind of competition in humans appears obvious, I think it's great that science has shown it to be an observable phenomenon and non just some folksy, anecdotal thing. Also, the fact that there are clear limits to the efficacy of competition amongst individuals is a great thing. Now, when some economists come along and make the claim that more and more actors in a market is good, we have this evidence to back up the counter-argument. Some competition is a marvelous thing, too much competition is a waste of everyone's time.

I Love Lunchtime

I don't know if anyone out there is familiar with East Village Thai, a tiny (as in very, very small) place on E.7th street, but they make the best motherf*#%ing massaman curry* in the history of mankind (that I've ever tasted). For the uneducated, massaman curry (at least at EV Thai) contains both avocado and cashews.


How can you seriously top that? I haven't the foggiest idea. Before lunchtime I was in a decent mood, having finished up another piece for Tilzy.tv, but now I'm in a really great mood. Just because of this curry. Now, of course, I'm in desperate need of naptime, but that's a different story altogether.

*For the record I get mine vegetarian, because I'm a weenis.

02 January 2009

The Cleansing Sting of Economic Collapse

The other day I was shelving books at work and came across Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. It was the subtitle, "The Experience of Modernity," that actually caught my eye, as I tend to gravitate toward any work that demonstrates a willingness to explore our epoch's deepest paradoxes. During my short stint at The New School For Social Research, we had to take a core curriculum class called, "What Is Modernity?" Since then I've been endlessly fascinated with definitions of modernism, postmodernism and the debates between adherents and critics of both. (Personally, I'm of the belief that "postmodernism," or the postmodern condition," is merely a minor stage of the "modern" era, but I don't have the room to explicate all this here.)

I wasn't sure what to expect from Berman's book, since it's shelved in the Literary Criticism section, but flipping through I immediately had to sit down and start reading (a luxury I actually have at work). Part One focuses on Goethe's Faust as the premier work that spans the fissures out of which the modern era has grown. Unfortunately, I've never read Faust, though as soon as I have time I'm doing so. Most people are familiar with the terms "faustian" or "a faustian" bargain, but Berman points out that all too often those terms are used poorly and in situations that don't quite fit the allegorical mold. Anyway, that's not what I'm writing about at the moment (though with some more time to think, maybe I will in the future).

While I was intrigued by Part One and stormed through it, I was really looking forward to reading Part Two, which revolves around The Communist Manifesto. I can't tell you how many times I've read this work, and my own copy (in The Marx-Engels Reader) is highlighted and marked up beyond recognition. Berman's take on it is fascinating, and now I'm going to have to read it all again. He describes it as the first true work of art of the modernist period despite the fact that it is all but ignored when works of Marx's contemporaries—like Baudelaire, Flaubert, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky—are discussed.

Berman notes that Marx was stunningly prescient in envisioning the course of the bourgeois project. In fact, Marx, more than any of capitalism's cheerleaders, makes the case for the world-altering power of capital and its never-before-seen ability to liberate people from the binds of previous social and religious systems. Capitalism was (and is) notoriously unstable, though while Marx saw this as virtue, it was a facet that the major proponents of the emerging system kept shushed in the corner, out of the spotlight.

To this day you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone writing about the transformative glories of capitalism with the same poetic gusto with which Marx wrote. However, Marx believed that this transformative power, this era in which "all that is solid melts into air," would lead to continuous revolutions and the rise of a new kind of man. As capital must always expand, it must always destroy to clear room for newer, more efficient methods and products and ideas. This was the major paradox of Dr. Faust's activity in the world as well as something the Futurists would embrace just prior to WWI ("We want to glorify war - the only cure for the world"). Capitalists have always been the world's truest nihilists in this regard.

Still only in section 2 of Part Two, Berman touches on Marx's "theory of crises." Here, suddenly, the theoretical, the allegorical, the metaphorical all peeled away to today. Berman's words from 1982 display Marx's words from 1848 which mirror 2008. (Call it synchronicity, coincidence, whatever, but when I got home and opened my Marx-Engels Reader, my bookmark was on p. 445, the second page of Marx's "Crisis Theory". This book has been in a box for months.) This is what he writes, on page 103:

Here we are in the midst of a growing worldwide economic depression. And you know what? Millions of people are frightened, but I'm not. People are scared because they've tried to build comfortable lives in an uncomfortable world. There is no rest, no respite. Capital will not let you rest, because if you do, it will destroy you like every other obsolete barrier it faces. Your future will become like that Philemon and Baucis, consumed in cleansing fire to make space for the new tower.
I hardly consider myself an apologist for capitalism, but it has its virtues. I admire the Futurist project for its liberating lack of sentimentality and its nihilistic dedication to destroying the obsolete. Of course, this always means that once all those old traces have melted away, one must find a new solid to burn for fuel. But there is plenty of shit that capital has produced that many of us would love to burn, clear away, to make room for something better. (And if you're averse to the concept of burning, think of it as dismantling and recycling the usable elements.)

So here's to a new year of destruction and creation, of Shiva Nataraja triumphantly dancing upon the defeated dwarf of ignorance.