Friday, January 30, 2009

Library Lead

If this is true:
After [February 10], all products for children under 12 — books, games, toys, sports equipment, furniture, clothes, DVDs, etc — must be tested for lead, and fall below a new 600 part-per-million limit, or face the landfill. Thanks to a September 12 memo from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the lead limit applies not only to new products, but also to inventory already on store shelves.

It's a perfect example of the unintended consequences of good intentions. As the article states, it's bad enough that this rule will apply to existing products, but since
The CPSC has not issued any ruling on whether libraries, schools, and other institutions that loan — rather than sell — books will be subject to the law. Without such clear guidance, says Adler, schools and libraries should assume they have to comply.

There's simply no way cash-strapped libraries will be able to comply with this, and thus would have to be forced to shut down their lending for under-12s. I can't imagine how this won't prompt such an outcry that the rule won't be changed, but for now, keep your eyes open.

UPDATE 2/3: Looks like the regulations were delayed a year.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Supporting the Arts in Paris and Boston

The Boston Phoenix details Boston's efforts to drive artists out of the Fort Point neighborhood in favor of office and residential tower development. It's just a sad state of affairs, even more so when you consider the sign you see when you enter Fort Point: "New England's Largest and Oldest Artist Community".

Compare and contrast this with how Paris treated their artist's quarters in the early 20th century:

The French state, with its respect for artists and understanding of the attraction they exert, allowed Montparnasse to develop into a "free zone" with less police surveillance and greater acceptance of unconventional behavior and lifestyles then would have been allowed in other areas of Paris. The police kept Montparnassse free of the unsavory elements that invaded Montmartre: brothels and organized prostitution were not allowed, and criminal elements were kept away.

- p. 259, "A Life of Picasso, The Cubist Rebel 1907-1916" by John Richardson

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


If you're going to judge a book as being fit or unfit for an award, don't you think you should read the whole thing first?

Sasha Frere-Jones "only got through 300 pages" of "Against the Day" by Thomas Pynchon before deciding it was a loser...

Now I understand how long Pynchon's books are, but, aside from some confusing chapters about mathematics (at least I think that's what they were about...) Against the Day was really quite accessible. And, in my mind, the best part of the book was the last 400-500 pages.

It's lazy people like this (and critics like James Wood) that cost Pynchon all of these literary awards. I'm sure it keeps him up at night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So Refreshing

God, it's nice to have a president that goes about his business in a sane and dignified manner.

Nice Try

As much as I love Pete Townshend, I don't think he's trying to be subversive in the new Pepsi commercials featuring "My Generation" as Hendrik Hertzberg suggests:

My second reaction was a suspicion that maybe Townshend hasn't completely lost his subversive touch after all. Maybe he’s just redirected it inward. “Hope I die before I get old” (a line included in the sixty-second version) has a certain ironic, shamefaced piquancy now that the spokesmusicians for the sixties are in their sixties. That hope for a quick, Hendrix-like demise has been dashed, along with The Who’s retirement portfolio, if theirs is like everybody else's. But renting out an antique anthem of rebellion isn’t just a way to ensure that the money will be there to pay for an assisted living facility, it’s also a subtly devastating comment on where and how our g-g-generation ended up. Good one, Pete!

Um. While a good try, I don't think this is it. Pete's on record as saying that he has no problem selling his songs to fund his charitable organizations as well as giving him the freedom to create music.

Mary Hansen

Listening to Strobo Acceleration this morning, I was struck again about what a tragedy it was that Mary Hansen died when a car hit her while she was bicycling.

In remembrance, here's an old link to Ten Reasons Why Mary Hansen was Cool. My favorite:

Nobody sang "ba ba bap ba" quite the same way she did. And no one ever will.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"I Realize"

Hunter's vocab has recently taken a huge leap forward and you can now hold complete conversations with him. It's ridiculously fun.

His favorite new word is "realize", as in:

H: "Where's Bella?"
T: "She's outside going to the potty."
H: "Oh. I realize!"

He uses it all the time and since it's easily the most complicated concept he knows it kills me every time. Just love that guy.


It's been available for a while, but the Grotesque comix series by Sergio Ponchione (published by Fantagraphics) is really worth your while. It's a trippy story, and feels like an underground comix with the associated (drug-induced?) imagery, but it's fun and extremely well put together.

If you order it soon from the fanta website, you'll save 20%!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

There seems to be no one on the empty mountain...
And yet I think I hear a voice,
Where sunlight, entering a grove,
Shines back to me from the green moss.

Wang Wei

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It was a Great Speech

An excerpt:

We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Index of Metals - shudder

Reading reviews of "art" - be it music, a movie, or "fine art" like painting or sculptures - can be frustrating. Many times, I read the review, and then watch or listen to the show and think "are they seeing/hearing the same thing that I am?" I wrote about this experience here, and recently experienced it again when reading this Pitchfork review of the re-release of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno's Evening Star album.

Now, I have Evening Star, and most of it is really good. The first four tracks are quite calm and assured: it's Eno's ambient music but with energy contributed by Fripp's guitar. Fripp does a lot of interesting things here - apparently the guitar-nerds call it "frippertronics" - that involve looping guitar tracks back upon themselves and then playing over it. Regardless of how it's done, the first two songs on the album ("Wind on Water" and "Evening Star") are essentially one song with a slow ambient introduction followed by a mood poem that makes me feel like i'm watching the sun set over a distant island on the Pacific Ocean (see the apt cover and you'll know what i'm talking about). In mood, it reminds me a bit of Debussy's "nature" songs.

However, the last song on the album - the 28 minute (!) "An Index of Metals" - is truly awful. While some music majors may find it brilliant, to me it just sounds to me like annoying random noise. And i'm a fan of random noise! I love Sonic Youth, and was one of the few to throw down a few bucks to pick up Neil Young's Arc (the all-feedback coda to his excellent double-live LP Weld). But "An Index of Metals" is brutal. It's dissonance for the sake of it; a bloated, self-indulgent "song" that is simply unlistenable. I can't imagine the person that would listen to it more than once.

But according to the Pitchfork critic, it's "a six-track sequence" (whatever that means). There's no mention about its length or unaccessability. Despite this, he provides the album a 8.6 (out of 10), a score I might agree with if it wasn't for the last track.

This is why I like blog reviews. The agenda of the writer is usually up front, so you can judge if the blogger's taste is your own instead of having to read through the lines of the regular media's "objective" prose. In addition, being online, they aren't limited by space so they include everything that they feel is relevant to the situation. The best example of this is an excellent music review site I found written by George Starostin. He doesn't update it any more, but it contains extensive, knowledgeable, and irreverently opinionated reviews of most of the major rock and post-rock bands from 1960-2000.

George doesn't pull any punches when it comes to "An Index of Metals". His notes about the track include: "Darn it, why did these guys want to piss us off so much? ... Suffice it to say that some stretches of this track just consist of one note prolonged for what seems like ages."

So is there a lesson to be learned here? To me, the trick to finding a review that will let you know if you will like a work or art or not, is all about finding a reviewer that has your general taste. This can be tricky, but the internet's a big place, so you're bound to find something sooner or later.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

DeLillo Blogging

A few months too late, but this Onion blog post by "Don DeLillo" is hysterical. The title - "All The Electric Premonition That Rides The Sky Being A Drama Of Human Devising" - tells you all you need to know. Another taste:

In the morning, Electorate, he passes people trooping away from home with their newspapers, bearers of a weight that goes beyond pounds and ounces. They headed up an avenue still blistered with the flotsam of campaign advisers, of newspapermen. Men and women, almost in single file, leaning into wind, faces steeled against complaint, obligated to carry this load. They are standard-bearers, foot-soldiers, walk-on spear-carriers with tiny but necessary roles, of an idea first given a name by ancient Greeks. No one can say for sure yet if it really works.

Read Something Before You Die!

I find this quote rather sad:

The National Endowment for the Arts recently came out with a study that showed that after college, most men will not read another literary novel before they die.

I'm not sure what's more depressing: that fact in itself, or that most males show no absolutely desire to read a novel.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Toddler Conversations

Hunter's speech has gotten to the point where you can have actual conversations with him. I'm hard pressed to think of a better feeling than being able to talk to your son about how he's feeling and seeing the smile on his face as he realizes that he understands everything that you're saying.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Waking Life in the City

The Boston Globe featured an article this weekend about How the City Hurts your Brain. In it, Jonah Lehrer says that the sheer number of activities you encounter in a city "dulls our thinking, sometimes dramatically so" and offers scientific studies that prove this. Its conclusion: take more walks in natural settings and/or simplify your living space. In other words, not something we don't already know.

However, it got me to thinking during one of my recent commutes - one of those ice and slush trips where you have to shuffle your feet to stay upright, people constantly hitting you with their umbrellas, trains delayed and packed shoulder to shoulder with people - tat there really is too much stimulus in a city. Personally, I know that there are times I arrive at home exhausted with no real reason for being so other then the city and the train bombard you with so many inputs that your brain can't simply handle them all.

One new thing I did get out of the article above is that ignoring things takes brainpower too:

A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren't distracted by irrelevant things, like a flashing neon sign or the cellphone conversation of a nearby passenger on the bus. This sort of controlled perception -- we are telling the mind what to pay attention to -- takes energy and effort.

This whole problem reminded me a scene from Waking Life, a 2001 Richard Linklater movie I re-watched recently. (This is the same scene I mention here.)

In one scene, the main character runs into a red-headed woman who insists that they have a "real" interaction - one where they engage each other as more then "ants", as people that don't just follow polite, efficient social conventions. As she puts it:

I know we haven't met, but I don't want to be an ant. You know? I mean, it's like we go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another, continuously on ant autopilot, with nothing really human required of us. Stop. Go. Walk here. Drive there. All action basically for survival. All communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient, polite manner. "Here's your change." "Paper or plastic?" "Credit or debit?" "You want ketchup with that?" I don't want a straw. I want real human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me. I don't want to give that up. I don't want to be ant, you know?

The problem with this notion, as nice as it may sound, is that such a life is impossible. Trying to have "real" interactions with the thousands of people you see everyday would be exhausting, and leave room for nothing else. Like living in the city, basic interactions would take hours and drain you of all energy. Simply walking down the sidewalk would take up the whole day.

So what's the solution? No idea. I'm sure smarter minds then mine have come up with some great theories (one I've learned of recently is Martin Buber's "I and Thou" although I don't really know what it involves).

However, there's got to be a healthy balance from engaging the world on a "real" level and one where you completely ignore aspects of life that are inessential to your survival and interests. Perhaps this involves living in a green space and living in the city, as Lehrer suggests?

Either way, there's some compromise involved. Until I hear of something better, i'll just continue to read my book on the train and save my energy for home, work, and those happy moments in between where two ants do happen make a real connection.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Guess What?

There is no "clean coal".

More here.

That's a lot of DoDers...

Did you know that:

"Forget GM, Ford and Chrysler: the Department of Defense is the largest single employer in the whole country."


Moral Disgust

In this age of media and image saturation, it's difficult to shock. But I was shocked and disgusted by this point Andrew Sullivan makes about Hamas (quoting from Jeffrey Goldberg):

"Once, in Khan Younis, I actually saw [Hamas] gunmen unwrap a shrouded body, carry it a hundred yards and position it atop a pile of rubble -- and then wait a half-hour until photographers showed. It was one of the more horrible things I've seen in my life. And it's typical of Hamas."

More here. Warning: A disturbing image is attached.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On Burroughs' Legacy

Jonathan Jones in the Guardian summarizes what my subconscious suspected after reading William Burroughs' books:

"Some cultural figures achieve vast proportions in their lifetime not so much by their works as their voice, attitude, persona. This is a phenomenon we take for granted in popular culture... Burroughs is the modern writer adored by people who don't read enough modern writing. Everything he did was done better by others."

Burroughs writing, while always interesting, never really seemed to capture me mainly due to his meandering (or non-existent) plots and obscene bits. He's really meant to be read in small doses, and even than is more interesting then an author I would go back to again and again.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Depressing and...

...somewhat predictable. See here for details.

People that take advantage of deals to buy vehicles with low gas mileage will rue the day when the economy turns around and gas prices surge. Since the current low prices are unsustainable, it's just a matter of time. In the meantime, the earth groans.

Burn After Reading

Re: Watching Burn After Reading.

Just stay away. It's not funny, nor interesting, nor (surprisingly) even particularly well-acted.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Here's hoping that you and yours have a happy and healthy 2009!