American Samoans are Americans?

Interesting: The 57,000 American Samoans do indeed have national voting rights in some small, electoralcollegedelegaty sense.  So, the tightest primary could come down to the little islands and possibly make for a mildly-entertaining Tom Hanks movie. 

Nitrogen in New York

I've lived in complete fear of these things for years and now only now do I know my enemy.  What are they and what are they for?  Short answer: to keep the phone lines dry.  Long answer: here. My answer: gain consciousness and blow up our belows.  

The Moviegoer and The Sportswriter

WBUR in Boston has a fascinating interview with Richard Ford on the book that changed his life.  Ford's Sportswriter tries to find some meaning -- he'll take warmth -- in the small things modern life has to offer over an Easter weekend.  Walker Percy's Moviegoer makes a similar existentialist value-quest in New Orleans in the 60's.  Love, sex, cars, desire, sports, restaurants, and food.  Both characters are alone in their wanderings; it is nice to know that Ford at least had Percy.  

It's as Easy as Looking Good

Are you really only as competent as you look?  Tufts researchers and the Economist think so. 


Wild Heart

Stevie Nicks is not always my kind of music, but this candid moment backstage is (wow!) beautiful. 

Oblique Strategies

Can I recommend this Oblique Strategies widget?  For those unfamiliar, Oblique Strategies was a collection of koans written in part by wow-musician Brian Eno.  The point is to get mind going past hesitations or blocks when writing music or, as they are rather oblique, preparing a PowerPoint deck for the big salespitch.  An example or two:  Remove a restriction; Do the last thing first; Try faking it!


Why Do I Care About Google Docs Offline?

Google is, according to someone computery, preparing to bring its suite of Google docs offline.  Why get excited about something as unexciting as software?  

Well, software is the tool that many of us work with.  I actually feel a close connection to the logic of, er, Logic and Photoshop.  They make sense to me and are only limited by my creativity and how slow my computer is.  I only feel frustration with Office: I cannot understand, for example, how it is just as slow to save on my present-day supercomputer as it was in the early nineties.  I believe in competition and I see Google's move forcing Microsoft to actually better Office and forcing people to really question what they need from their tools.  

I like writing with something called WriteRoom (pictured) which reduces your options to text and a black screen.  I also love Scrivener, which easily manages plot twists, chapters, multiple characters, notes and the Big Book with complete clarity.  

Wow! Human Factors

The gentleman below, Johnny Chung Lee, has already been famous once.  His $14 Steadicam is brilliant and has been written about extensively (Wired, Cooper Hewitt Museum Design award, yada yada).  

Now I hope he and his colleagues at CMU receive some more recognition for their work on tagging real world objects with projected information (seeing is understanding), foldable computer screens (read websites on scrolls!), using a wiimote and a projector as a virtual whiteboard, and below, amazingly, creating a 3D viewing environment with a wiimote.  Lee is working on the screens of the future and his work is required viewing if you have any faith, as I do, that the space you think with and on shapes your mind.  

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and 37 Snows

I've heard this concept batted around dorm rooms my entire semi-adult life, but I until now not had the words for it.  The hypothesis in brief: given that one thinks in the language he speaks, do the limitations of that language become the limitations of his thought?  

The common (and discredited) example is that the Chinese have a weakness for hypotheticals because their language lacks a subjective voice.  A more positive example would be that the Eskimo have a greater appreciation for the nuances of snow because they have 37 words for the stuff to our English uno.  This is also a myth (both the idea that the Eskimo only speak one language, that we have only one snow, and that they have many words for it/them).  

Still, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis endures despite no real evidence in part because it seems right in the mind, because the extreme opposite example (language has no impact) has no tread,  and because most everyone can think of a personal example.  In much the same way that a particularly good poem can isolate an emotion that must preexist (if it is to be noticed and universal), a particularly good word may make a rough, complex gist simple and clear.  

Some good words: agape, updo, piquant, lackadaisical, pork barrel, political correctness, jumbo shrimp, democracy, bias, tetris. 

A good word overused starts behaving badly.  The verb 'to be' is somewhat useful, but it can often lead to passivity or aggressive overstatement (consider the nuance: 'Superbad is the best' vs. 'I like Superbad the best').  E-Prime is an English variant that eliminates the word to be in most cases.  This might sound foolish (give them to be and they'll be after I next), but if you agreed with Sapir-Whorf then you must agree with E-Prime's intent.  And it does not half-bad sound.  

Wool vs. Cotton

I've got a larger post on consumption and the environment coming (hence the one-day delay), but I found this quite interesting -- in part because I never thought to ask the question.  Which of the two fabrics is better for the environment?


This is Cruel, Right?

This whole thing is frightening.  I had a professor argue that schizophrenia has its roots in parents smiling as they punish and the odd disconnect that must create.  Perhaps this is the converse.  Still, funny?  In Australia?

Seeing Hong Kong

Typically I'd send this off as an email, but I've got this fancy new blog thingy and I must, must use it.  So Mark and Sari, apologies where intimacy is lost, but enjoy pictures, links, and movies instead.  I think it is the case with people who grow up in Big Cities that they have very little knowledge of the grander tourist spectacles their homes have to offer.  I've never been to The Golden Buddha, eg, but I think that's quite worthwhile, as is riding the Peak Tram, a tram, the Star Ferry, the Botanical Gardens, Lan Kwai Fong, and maybe the shops -- all of which are varying degrees of free.  I've created some kind of list below of things I vaguely remember and things that guidebooks might not trump as much as they should. 

A Brief Background in Geography:  Hong Kong is nearly equal parts islands and mainland (Kowloon).  The whole place is made of granite which becomes landslide with the torrential rains you get in the subtropics.  Often you will come across a wall of reinforced concrete with hundreds of little drains poking out: these are manmade but, given time to moss over (as most everything does), they can look quite odd and natural.  

The place is quite vertical as most dense cities are.  Victoria Peak is the name of the large mountain that takes up the front of HK Island.  It is named for Queen Victoria and the top of it was prized by the early English Tai Pans and businessmen for its horrible foggy climate that reminded them of home.  It also has a spectacular view and the walk around it, beginning at the base of Mt. Austin Road, is a wonderful little hike for the rare clear day.  You can see the whole island.  Special care should be taken to look upwards as there are hanging caterpillars, harmless but disgusting. 

A Briefer Background on Names:  Hong Kong is also the name of the main (not the biggest) island.  It means 'Fragrant Harbor' and this can be remembered as a good working definition of irony.  Kai Tak is the name of the old airport that was right on the harbor.  After a stomach defying landing, one was quickly met with the rich smell of rotting eggs.  Ozone is now pumped into the harbor and the airport has moved, but if YouTube is any indication, many are nostalgic for the rich old days.  

Aside from Hong Kong, fun names include Ap Lei Chau (the most densely populated island in the world), Lamma (an island easily accessible by ferry and with many of the best, cheapest seafood restaurants in the world), Happy Valley (once a marsh, now home to the world's most popular horse racing track), Sai Kung (site of a couple of tigershark attacks in the 90's), Tolo Harbour (site of an ill-fated triathlon where a friend of mine is convinced he contracted some undiscovered waterborne illness), Junk Bay (a style of boat, not the synonym for trash), Cheung Chau (an island shaped like a barbell; also, where I was briefly held for questioning over a bicycle accident), and Aberdeen, to name a few.

A Brief List of Things to See, Split into Three More Lists: 

Buildings:  It might be a pathetic fallacy to say that Hong Kong has a habit of erasing any marks of her past.  Most of the old buildings have been torn down to make way for the new.  Still, I highly recommend the Lyndhurst Terrace area and West of SoHo (South of HOllywood Road).  This particular area suffered typhoid fever outbreak and was just late enough to the post-WW2 economic boom (perhaps it was just a bit off-center) to allow the occasional old (30's-40's) building to remain unrazed.  There are still some temples for pirates (going inside is completely kosher), old warehouses, the world's longest escalator, and at the Western End of Western District you should be able to find an old mental hospital in the Colonial style that the kids called Sleepy Hollow.  If you're going to go on a guided tour of any area in HK, I recommend scrounging around for something here.  As Harlem is a prism for American History (War of Independence/Splitting the Atom/Civil Rights), so Western is for Hong Kong.

Of course the rest of the islands buildings are harder to miss.  Some of the newer ones are tacky (I like the IFC, however) and the Hong Kong Bank and Bank of China will be the buildings both the country and Foster and Pei are remembered for.  Enjoy Spiderman climbing Jardines Tower (at the 6:54 mark) which is most famous for its horrendous fung shui and charming sobriquet 'The Thousand Assholes' Building.  Enjoy the Symphony of Lights, which is a nightly exercise in oneupmanship, purple, and waste. 

Food:  There are very few things I am dead certain of but I am dead certain that the Chinese have the world's best food.  It is often done a disservice by the level of quality in the States*, but what can you do.

*[Sad fact: the US' immigration policies, wet foot-dry foot so to speak, greatly discriminated against the Chinese.  Much of American Chinese food was recreated from memory with American ingredients by men who were not allowed to bring their wives or any other women to the country they worked so hard for.]  

I am a big fan of dim sum and often order char siu bao (pork bun), siu long bao (crab something), and wo tip (turnip fried in fat).  Of course, none of that is particularly veg friendly, but the Chinese do have a tradition of vegetarian cuisine that is a near perfect simulation of their meatier offerings and is generally considered healthier.  I can also recommend the congee or jook which is the perfect breakfast.  

Drinks wise, Chinese milk tea is sweet black tea and lovely, and Yakult is a brand of yoghurt drink that had some kind of poison scare in the 90's but that is worth the investigation.

Night Life:  Mainland China has a lot of knock-off goods, but Hong Kong has 
its own brand of knock-off nightlife.  Lan Kwai Fong (map) was once as a strip of bars that sailors would drink up on their way to their beds/gutter, and not much has evolved since.  Most of the bars are indistinguishable (my brother would say Volar and Dragon-I are the best), but the street is really the best place to be.  You can buy a Heineken (very popular in HK) at the 7-11 (also very popular) and stand outside looking at the Chinese Elvis, dancing spiderman, or the woman with the shiny knicknacks.  If this gets tiresome, shuffle over to the alleyway for some really nice open air bars, sedate expatriates, late night seafood, and altogether less sixteen-year-olds (the drinking age is eighteen I believe).  

Wan Chai, extending your night, is both a little bit seedier and more interesting.  It's significantly more neon and you do run the risk of performing karaoke the closer you get to Causeway Bay.  Personally, nerdily, I like the dancing jumping videogames (I'm not this good; I'm not even this good) and the soccer bars for real color.  

And, as Bill Murray sang in Lost in Translation, there is more than this.  The horse-races are really exciting, the night/ladies market is brilliant, the beaches (Deep Water Bay; Aberdeen) are quite peaceful, and you could do worse than to just walk around southern Kowloon.  

Last Recommendations:  My highest recommendations are
for visiting Shek O village, the only remaining indigenous village on Hong Kong Island, and Cheung Chau, the barbell shaped island with four-wheeled bicycles for rent.  Shek O is all bright colors, spicy seafood, a small, curved beach, rockclimbing and peace in a big, busy city.  Cheung Chau is similarly peaceful, and while Lamma island has pirate caves, CC has a unique mix of people, a very strange/possibly abandoned hotel, a dumpling climbing festival, and an obsession with windsurfing.  

All that and, of course, Macau.  

Please Don't Do Anything You Will Never Live to Regret

The Equalizer was quite popular when it came out and, hey, why not.  It's a one man A-Team with charming dialogue and a commitment to the realistic and fantastic.  

If this makes you nostalgic for the childhood you never had, consider the rest of this list of questionable 80's television programming.  I'll confess to loving Sledgehammer (in at number 1), although it seems to have lost its charm in the German translation. 

Big Pharma

I'd like to direct some attention to this article volunteered to the Freakanomics crew at the Times.  Much thought on big pharma is biased in one or another way: Are pharmaceuticals effective or just cheap? Are they cheap? Do the companies behind them overstate their effectiveness? Do the diseases they supposedly treat even exist? Are we over-prescribed? and on and on.  It is best to hear some thoughts, pro and con, from the people deeply involved in the industry.


Some Things a Man Might Consider Doing Before Snuffing It, Part One

I have a very long list of regrets (Things a Human Needs To Know; Things I Should Have Done Differently Looking Back in Anger; Horrible Things Never to Be Repeated) and so here is Part One in a preemptive strike.  
  • Learn to palm a basketball.  Perhaps dunk the palmed basketball.
  • Save somebody from a sinking ship or a burning building.  Save somebody from a burning ship and you might not have to palm a basketball.
  • Build your own home, if only to learn how hard it is to build one's own home.  Use the environment as an aesthetic and avoid electrics on principal/for safetysake.  If you're doing this in the City, ready a couple of one-liners for the crowd. 
  • Learn a magic trick that's a bit more compelling than Got-Your-Nose or There's-A-Quarter-in-Your-Ear.  You will be faced with bored five year olds (they're all bored) and you could do worse than show them something they've never seen.  Perhaps you could actually remove your nose and then pull it out of their ears.  That is certain to delight.
  • Avoid the martial arts.  If you're dressed in a karate costume because you want to appear tougher, you've already made your first mistake.  
  • Watch as many martial arts movies as humanly possible.  If you get in a conversation with another man that moves beyond sports scores, insert your knowledge here.  Plus, the Wong Fei Hung films stand on their own.  
  • Have some facial hair for a period of your life.  This could go well with your magic trick or interest in kung fu. 
  • Busk. 
  • Grumblingly, miserably, pettily, but eventually admit you were wrong about some things. 
  • Memorize a good poem of decent length.  I'm working on one by Philip Larkin, but I'm beginning to regret carrying it around in my head.  Try one of Shakespeare's sonnets.  
  • Don't kill mice.  It's much tougher to go about your business knowing one is on the prowl rather than gluing something a thousandth the size of you to a trap.  The bubonic plague was started by marmots in actuality.  Kill marmots.  
  • Know how to cook.  People who can't cook for themselves -- cereal does not count -- should be left to fend for themselves and be refused service at even the worst restaurants.  Use butter in excess, that's my advice.  
  • Loose a startling amount of money and then win it all back.  I've heard this advice elsewhere and agree with it with one major caveat: remember the sentence order.  That's quite important. 


Missed Opportunities: A Further Note on Jodorowsky

Not that Jodorowsky can't speak for himself (see the man do it well here or on youtube), but I would love one small chance to talk about the director and also to lament the Dune he never made.  

Mime, clown, actor, writer, director, comic book author, somewhat psychoanalyst, therapist, and historian of the tarot card, Jodorowsky is obviously more interesting than Josh Hartnett.  This isn't to say he's a perfect artist, but his heart is in the right place and El Topo is the rare bit of pastiche that is paradoxically, truly unique.  Nice things out of the way, J is also a child of the mid-20th century and as such he bit far too blindly into the human potential movement and both continental philosophy (Satre and kids) and psychoanalysis.  This doesn't make him unpleasant -- he did so with great optimism and errs on the positive sides of both the latters -- but it does lead him to be false in spots and dates the otherwise timeless aspects of his films.  Can you fault people's want to believe or be certain?  Their want?  Certainly not. 

[For the record, lots of people did and still do buy into psychoanalysis and continental philosophy as if they were (cargo cult) beliefs, and they have gone on to rubbish people's minds with generic advice, taken as fact, or to obscure the truth and derail humanities departments at the world's best universities.  You can't blame Freud for the ideologues who followed him (well, he did overstate the truth in his theories), but you can blame Satre for an opportunistic psychobabble that was, in all likelihood, designed to conceal the crapper parts of his theories.] 

And now to Dune.  I've never read the book, but I have seen parts of the mini-series and the David Lynch version which, yes yes, is not tops.  Now consider Jodorowsky's: Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Orson Welles, Salvador Dali to act (with others I assume); Jean Giraud (Moebius) and HR Giger (later of Alien) to make it look great; Pink Floyd (hm) on sound; and ten hours for the whole thing to play out into.  I don't miss the movie because I'm certain it would be great.  I miss it because I'm certain it would have surprised.  Epic stories should be given more time to play out in (I'm concerned about The Watchmen adaptation) and they should retain some of the ambiguity that it's so easy to maintain on paper and so tempting to do away with on screen.  Plus, the talent lined up for this movie ostensibly went on to create the claustrophobic image of the future you see in Alien and the dismal, vertical noir you see in Blade Runner.  So, influential in the least. 

2 From Jodorowsky

We are the lucky ones.  Films that one would otherwise have had to stay awake until midnight for can now be watched from the comfort of midday; other films that one would never have been able to see, are now available at fine rental agencies (Blockbuster excepted) or the mailbox.   

Two such films that are now handily available from Abcko, set-boxed, are Alexandro Jodorowsky's El Topo and The Holy Mountain.  And, if you fancy seeing mystical cowboys, poo made into gold, toads and gilla monsters reenact the conquest of Mexico, or perhaps the really warm (I think) love between a broken man and a dwarf, they are well worth the click and time.  

El Topo is, as fairly criticized, a synthesis of Fellini, Buñuel, and the Spaghetti Western, but one must admit that's a pretty great mix and the film shines brightly with wide-angled imagery, long, mysterious takes, and subtle mysticism.  It begins with the dark cowboy in the desert, his naked son and the ritualistic burying of a teddy bear and picture of his mother in the sand.  From then on out its gunslinging with odd villains, an ambitious woman, a problem, more initiation rituals, a quest to be the best in the West, so to speak, and then a final quest to still the violence in the black cowboy.  It's all wonderfully enigmatic, like David Lynch south of the border (Lynch must have been a fan).  Like the best midnight movies, I can only stab at its intended meaning but have a small one of my own that I'll keep to myself.  

To say The Holy Mountain is not as good is really a way of saying El Topo is really, really good.  Mountain is piled high with a meaningless mess of religious symbols: we've got a Christ factory, a zen karate alchemist in fighting tefillin, a woman tattooed with trigrams and hebrew, and backstories drawn from the tarot.  The film, like much of the 'theosophistry' that inspires it, looses sense in the random picking and choosing.  Where El Topo was content to confuse, this one looses any subtle subtlety early on.  This dates the film, sadly (oh the period ending, perhaps mind-blowing at the time but, then again, what wasn't?), but it must be said that it still feels personal despite the mix of universal symbolism unlike, say, the Cremaster Cycle (odd, given that the Cremaster series uses a very insular set of symbols to create mystery).  And it is funny!  Watch this scene below.  


n+1 + A Hedgie

I found this dialogue between the literary magazine n+1 and a hedge fund manager brilliant.  It's thick with businesspeak but never meaninglessly so and, among other tangents, the hedge fund manager argues interestingly that a broad intellect (as opposed to one well geared to finance) is key in predicting the sea changes, like the recent sub prime crisis, where the "real money" is made.  

Note: too many 'artistic' sorts discount everything financial as dull or worse.  It would be naïve to ignore such a large area of human experience from consideration in general, but what is a real shame is I think there's something fascinating (even poetic?) in those who attempt to predict the future, no matter how foolish and for what gain, and who put other people's money where their mouths are (unlike, say, the pollster?). 


A Statement of Purposelessness

I am unfashionably late to this party.  By now there are a billion of these things out here and while the Internet always has room for one more, do the people who browse it?  Serious doubts aside, I've got room for this thing (and a couple more blogs) and will set to writing for it for a couple of reasons:

  • An exercise: whenever somebody says something particularly stupid, at drinks perhaps, pretend you're hard of hearing.  They'll repeat themselves over and over again until you let in, such that they are.  The point isn't to annoy or to let you hear them but to give them a chance to hear themselves?  This blog then is a chance to hear myself.  More people should put their thoughts down on paper or paper-substitutes.  For one, the world would be a cozier place with all the added thinking cluttering up the place.  For two, people would come to realize where their true thoughts lie (as opposed to regurgitation from the day's newspapers or, worse, believing those thoughts are your own), what they take for granted and as fact, and just how complex and gray things are.  That said...
  • I believe there are yes and no answers to aesthetic questions.  I don't want to pull from science into the humanities (cultural theory and continental philosophy are the worst and falsest examples of this feeling of inferiority; read Clive James for better ideas on this) but I do think we can agree that Last Tango in Paris is better (certainly more worthwhile) than, say, Sex and the City.
  • Blogs, TV, and much modern media can become a bit thoughtless in their need (audiences? advertisers? traffic?) to remain current and constant.  I can't make any promises on how regularly I'll update this thingy, but I will try to avoid the cynicism and snark (ugh) that has become common because it is easy to write, thoughtless, and occasionally enjoyable to read.  Still, I hate to have to face it every day and would hate writing it any more.  
  • I'm trying to avoid promises here, but it's safe to say that I will rarely stay on topic or a particular tack.  That said, things I'm particularly interested include: movies, language and bogus language, music, meaninglessness, higher education, and design that uses the environment and environmentalism as its governing aesthetic.
  • Space.  It's free here.  I want to give complex ideas their complexity.  I won't try and confuse with insidery jargon (I only know a few terms and try to avoid them for fear of misuse and because they bog things down where the best things should be simple) and I will err on the side of honest indecision rather than a quotable-but-false definite.  
That list might have been more for me than you.  If you do manage to slog through it and anything else on the site, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I do do it for you, you.  And so, with this delay behind us, we're off.