Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oh, Dear God


Monday, January 30, 2006

A Dangerous Theocracy

Imagine a place where less than half the population believes in Evolution and 40%+ believe both creationism and intelligent design should be taught in public schools.

Rural Arkansas?

Nope. The United Kingdom! You remember them, right? The country with an established Church that still has political and legal powers.

Remember that the next time you listen to a Briton tell you that Americans are religious fundamentalist nuts.

(With love to my British friends.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

My Happiness is a Golden Poem

This is fun.

I will reward the best one sent to me with a Booby Prize.

Is Nothing Sacred?

A few years back, I seriously contemplated taking my love of the Waffle House to the next level. I was not content to be simply scattered, smothered, covered, diced, topped and chunked. I needed more. Much more. So I investigated the franchising opportunities for Waffle House in NYC. It didn't work out, but I still dream of a New York Waffle House, preferably within walking distance of my apartment.

As anybody knows, part of the charm of the Haus is the slice of Southern life it provides to us curious Northerners. With this in mind, I read with horror that one of the mainstays of La Vie Waffleuse is in danger - the middle-aged lady with big hair smoking 100s (preferably menthol) at the counter.

Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Beverley Flynn says she's eaten her last meal at her favorite Waffle House in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. No longer can she smoke her Winston Lights 100 after the restaurant banned cigarettes in the hometown of their maker, Reynolds American Inc. `I'm old enough to be stubborn,'' says Flynn, 63, who refuses to step out for a puff under Waffle House's brown-and-yellow striped awning. ``I won't go anywhere I can't smoke.''

Tobacco Road in central North Carolina, where the four biggest U.S. tobacco companies, including Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA, crank out more than 200 billion cigarettes a year, is getting its first smoke-free Waffle House restaurants. Next week, franchisee Gary Fly will make permanent a smoking ban in four of his 37 outlets to give non-smokers an alternative.

My heart grieves for the South.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Turn your head and...

It seems that the American College of Chest Physicians (no, I am not making it up) has declared that cough syrup doesn't really do much.

This story was of particular interest to me because I have been wracked by a dry cough for the last four or five days. The only thing that has helped me to sleep has been a massive dose of dextromethorphan before bed time. One added plus is that I have really trippy dreams. Anyway, it seems to work pretty danged well and stops me from irritating my throat even more through constant coughing.

Then again, what are you to make of a group that offers this advice:

Another option that some doctors recommend: Just tough it out, because colds typically go away on their own.

Stop being such a pussy and cough like a man!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Genghis Blues

Last night, I had to give up my original plan to live-blog the Canadian elections when I remembered that nobody really cares.

Instead, I watched a truly entertaining documentary called "Genghis Blues." The film tells the story of the late Paul Pena, the blues singer who wrote "Jet Airliner," the song made popular by the Steve Miller Band in 1977. In 1984, while listening to Radio Moscow, Pena heard a recording of throat singing from Tuva. Although blind since birth, Pena was able to teach himself to speak Tuvan and, amazingly, to throat sing in a variety of Tuvan styles. Throat singing is a technique where the singer can produce harmonics both above and below the main note so that he is actually singing two notes at once. The effect is both eerie and mesmerizing.

When a legendary Tuvan throat singer, Kongar-ol Ondar came to California for a concert in 1993, Pena stunned him by throat singing in the lobby of the concert hall. Ondar was so impressed that he invited Pena to participate in the triennial Tuvan throat singing concert in 1995. With assistance from the Friends of Tuva (an organization founded by, among others, Richard Feynman, who may have been one of the coolest people ever), Pena and a group of film makers traveled to Tuva for the concert.

The two "stars" of the documentary, Ondar and Pena are polar opposites in personality. Ondar is a blaze of smiles and joy. He seems to be having fun just standing and breathing. He is confident, but never with arrogance. Most of the middle of the film is taken up with an account of Ondar's high-spirited, long-distance sightseeing tour of Tuva. Basically, you'd want him to be around all the time to keep your spirits up. Pena, by contrast, is filled with sorrows. He speaks frankly and without sentiment about his struggles with depression and the difficulty of being blind in a sighted world. In particular, he notes that a trip to a foreign land can be a time of terror for him as he has no way of knowing what is happening or who is around. He is so humble, however, and so sincere in his love of the music and culture of Tuva, that it is hard not to be overwhelmed by him. Moreover, the friendship between the two seems genuine.

The documentary could have been a little bit better made. It would have been helpful, for example, to provide an explanation of how these singers are able to produce such unearthly sounds. The film begins with a tantalizing x-ray view of a singer producing the harmonics, but then fails to address the subject.

Still, I highly recommend checking it out.

Also, Ondar is coming to the USA in March and performing at Wesleyan. I am so fascinated by him and his singing, I am considering a road trip to check it out.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Now THAT'S Terrorism

Zawahiri has released a 17-minute tape of poetry. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this is bad poetry. For starters, the poem is called "Tears in the Eyes of Time," which is about as close to a Jim Croce song title as you get out there in the hinterlands of Pakistan.

Next up, Zawahiri is going to release an awesome mix tape he made to remind him of the summer of 2004.

Whale Song

A whale has been spotted in the Thames.

Facts about whales*:

- Largest mammal
- Lives at the top of the sea
- Cannot breathe underwater
- This is why it has a blow hole

* Source - The Whale Song, (c) 1999 D. Cavalier

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Taking the Plunge

Today, I bought a Mac.

I haven't used a Mac for almost fourteen years. The last time I can recall was at about 5 A.M. one April morning, six months after I had sworn that I would not be pulling an all-nighter to finish my Senior Thesis. This was back when Apples came in the form of those cute little towers with screens.

Since then, I've never owned one or used one. In graduate school, I had a primitive laptop/word processor that probably ran COBOL, but saved me countless man hours when I was typing out notes in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY.

After school, I always got computers through work and nobody uses Macs on Wall Street.

I'm not sure what moved me to get one now. The final barrier fell when I found out that Tiger OS X is fully compatible with our Windows-based server and VPN.

Somebody tell me I made the right choice.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Moving Pictures

I've heard a lot of smack talk over the last year, but I've seen no movement.

Rob? Chrispy? Jackson?

Let's get moving here.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Showing the same leadership that made him so effective during Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Mayor Nagin announced today that he wants the new New Orleans to be a "chocolate" New Orleans.

I think this is foolhardy. First of all, chocolate is no good whatsoever for load-bearing structures. You've pretty much got to go with either candy cane or peanut brittle for that, although that's gonna drive your costs up. And don't forget that peanut brittle-joiners have been unionized for years. Get ready to pay through the nose.

Chocolate is also terrible for the roofing in such a sunny climate. It absorbs heat and drives air conditioning bills through the roof. Still, it's good to know that we have the world's best workers in the Big Easy working on reconstruction.

In related news, the mayor of Greenwich, CT has announced plans for a newer, better Greenwich made entirely of Fluff and Wonder Bread.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Respect for Mother Nature

As I mentioned below, this week was mostly taken up in a lonely battle against some kind of viral infection, possibly influenza. It's been a long time since I battled a virus like this and I am still not fully recovered. After the gastrointestinal phase and the fever/aches/chills phase, I thought I was in the clear. I was wrong. Starting yesterday afternoon, I started losing my voice. Although this may be the result of a bacterial infection taking advantage of my weak body, it's just another example of the power of a virus.

When you have spent so much time in the ring with such a formidable foe, it's hard not to be humbled.

We can all make our way through even the toughest of colds with a combination of will and NyQuil/DayQuil. The flu is something different altogether. By Tuesday morning, I was simply incapable of moving. Touching metal objects was painful. The mere thought of food was enough to nauseate me completely. Due to the violent GI symptoms of the first phase, I was already badly dehydrated. My muscles were cramping up and I could barely move my neck without intense pain. I couldn't sleep properly because of the aches and chills and I couldn't watch tv or read because my eyes hurt so badly. It was a terror of a time.

The most remarkable part of the whole experience is the strange mental state that develops. I had read earlier this year that the flu has neurological effects and, this time, I am inclined to believe it. During the depths of the fever/chills phase, I was drifting in and out of what can only be called delirium. Images and sounds from the television became intertwined with dreams and confused me even more. At times, I was not sure if I was awake or asleep. Everything seemed real, but I also knew that at least some of it was dream. Even today, I don't feel 100% together.

About two weeks ago, I watched "War of the Worlds." I had always thought the end of the story was a little hokey. This week, I was reminded of how serious a threat to survival infection truly is. Unfortunately, Wells gets it exactly wrong when he writes "By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain."

We do not owe our immunity to the deaths of billions of men because the ones who died were not our ancestors. They have no descendants. Their deaths contributed nothing to our survival as a species. (Clarification - Obviously it is possible for somebody to have offspring and then die. My point is that Wells' view is a romanticization of evolution. The humans who did not possess an immune system sufficient to ward off the most common pathogens without death would be thinned out over time, leaving us with the gene pool from which we currently draw. Although it is pleasant to think of these dead as cannon fodder in some great war against disease, their deaths were merely coincidental. Our current immune system comes from genetic variation, not their "sacrifice.")

We're the descendants of the lucky ones.


Journey to the Pacific Northwest (Part Two)

After crossing the border, we reached Brother Tyler's new house in Bellingham, WA. Being a New Yorker, I was immediately jealous. The house is brand new, very nicely decorated and it has tons of room. Then again, I'm having trouble decorating my 800 sq. ft. apartment in Manhattan, so I don't know what I'd do with that much space.

Mrs. Brother Tyler (aka. Sister Katy Starr) was on call at the hospital that night, so we knew that we had to entertain ourselves. After checking the local club listings, we were absolutely crushed to see that Hell's Belles, Seattle's finest all-female AC/DC cover band, was playing at The Fairhaven in Bellingham, but not that weekend. Our depression was deepened yet further when we saw that Maiden Seattle , Seattle's finest Iron Maiden cover band, was playing on January 13th. (They were listed as "all-female Iron Maiden tribute band," which was so bizarre that I would probably have flown back to Bellingham just to see it, but it turns out that the band is a bunch of dudes.)

The biggest mystery of the weekend was the listing for that night for "The Replacements" at the Main Street Bar & Grill in Ferndale. I was pretty sure that Bobby would not be playing, but I was curious enough to call the club and ask who this was. They were listed for Friday and Saturday, right after Rock Karaoke. The woman at the club was even more confused than I was.

"Is this THE Replacements?"

"Some of them."

"Which ones?"

"I don't know their names."

"Is Paul Westerberg playing?"

"I don't know who that is."

After futher discussion between me and Brother Tyler, we determined that it was highly unlikely that THE Replacements would be playing two consecutive weekends in Ferndale, Washington without a little more fanfare. We decided not to drive out. If this turns out to be some kind of stealth comeback tour for them, I will never forgive myself.

We ended up at an all ages show in a coffee house in downtown Bellingham. The band was actually pretty good, driven by the heavily overdriven sound of the hyperkinetic bassist. He kind of looked like he had just been let out of a 48-hour session of Dungeons & Dragons. The singer was a diminutive woman playing a blonde Tele into a Fender Hot Rod DeVille and getting a very nice, warm sound. She never played anything particularly complex, but somehow she and the bassist combined to get a lush, harmonically interesting sound in a lot of the songs. The drummer looked like my cousin Christopher, but with better timing.

Brother Tyler and I were the oldest people in the house by a good decade and a half (if not two decades in some cases). I'm sure they thought we were narcs. I had a great time, though and wished that New York had had more venues like this when I was growing up. All the kids were into the music and the place had good energy.

Oh, who am I kidding? I still would have been at home figuring out the guitar solo to "Firth of Fifth."

The next day we drove down to the Skagit Valley to see the bald eagles. I had never seen a bald eagle in person. They are astonishingly beautiful birds with a grave elegance when at rest. The biggest thrill was shooting one and taking the eggs out of its nest.

Just kidding.

So, thanks to Brother Tyler and Sister Katy Starr for an excellent weekend. If only I had known the doom that awaited me on Monday evening in San Francisco...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Err...Scroll Down

I had started my post about the West Coast trip on Sunday afternoon, so it got published as if it had been completed then. You'll have to scroll down to check it out.

Part Two should appear at the top.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Chapter One - I Am Born

After about 40 hours of sheer misery, I think I have finally beaten this thing. After taking double doses of TheraFlu, my neck relaxed enough for me to fall asleep for real. I broke the fever at about 4:30 this morning and have been able to sleep deeply since.

I look like hell and am weak, but I haven't eaten in over 48 hours and I am very hungry, so I am going downstairs to get some breakfast.

I'll have some posts on the better part of the trip (my time in Vancouver) soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I feel comfortable in saying...

...that having the flu while in a hotel room by yourself in San Francisco is amongst the most miserable experiences one can have.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Journey to the Pacific Northwest (Part One)

The Misanthrope was on the West Coast visiting his friend Brother Tyler (scroll to the bottom). Nothing beats spending time with a friend you never get to see.

I landed in Vancouver, BC on Friday afternoon after a long flight from JFK. The most bizarre moment of the flight came after the in-flight movie had just finised. Air Canada treated us passengers to a short video that reminded us that using children for sex is wrong and we could be prosecuted for sexual tourism, even if the illegal acts had not taken place on Canadian soil. Bienvenue au Canada!

Visiting Canada is always a strange experience for me. I feel a sense of excitement at the prospect of being in a foreign country, but the visual landscape is almost exactly the same asit is in the United States. It is the little things that remind you where you really are. Being a New Yorker, I cross the street anywhere I can as long as the traffic is more than 10 feet away from me. When I did this in downtown Vancouver, I actually drew stares of disapproval. Similarly, Vancouver's subway/light rail system, the SkyTrain, provided a reminder that this wasn't the U.S. There is a C$2.25 fare (for a one-zone journey) that, according to Brother Tyler's Canadian co-workers, everybody pays. Why is this amazing? There are no turnstiles or ticket takers; it's an honor system. Can you imagine this in the United States? Neither can I.

After some awe-inspiring dim sum, I spent the afternoon walking around Vancouver. The city itself is not particularly attractive and seems to be in the process of being overrun by hundreds of undistinguished apartment towers. From the number of apartment towers, you would think that Vancouver had a population of five million. What is amazing about the city, however, is its setting. With mountains to the north and east and Vancouver Island to the west, it's had to imagine a more beautiful location for a city in North America.

My attempts to find an unrecognized 1958 Les Paul Goldtop gathering dust in one of the pawn shops on Granville Street were fruitless, so I headed to Yaletown, the city's Yuppie/Soho sector. I still cannot understand how so many coffee houses can possibly exist in such a small city. On one block, I saw a Starbuck's and two indie coffee houses within 200' of each other. Still, the city is clean and pleasant and close to so much natural beauty. I give it a thumbs up.

Eventually, I ended up at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where I checked out their new Picasso exhibit. The collection on display was decent but not incredible, being drawn almost exclusively from works held in Canadian collections. The intro text to the exhibition hall was so quintessentially Canadian I had to read it about three times to savor it properly. While noting with evident pride that the collection on display was almost entirely Canadian in origin, the curator could not help but point out that Canada's Picasso collection was pretty thin because, well, the Canadians were so damned stuffy until a few years ago that nobody really liked modern art. I wish I had copied down the exact text. Only in Canada can you find such a hilarious mix of deep national pride and heavy self-deprecation.

After the exhibit, I followed a few of Vancouver's many attractive women around for a while (in a non-stalking way, of course) and then rejoined TY for the trip back to Bellingham, Washington.

Coming up next: Part Two - In which eagles soar and The Replacements reunite to win the Battle of the Bands.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Sebastiao Salgado

My good friend introduced me to the photographs of Sebastiao Salgado this past weekend. If you have not seen his work, it is well worth checking out.

Aaron Burr

I can't stop watching this.

Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious