Thursday, May 28, 2009

1/3 of my Gross Monthly Income!

Sometimes I have things to say, but then I find examples of other (more famous) people saying it better than I can:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How To Really Revive the Economy

I'd like to think that my secret degree in Finance is good for something and thus I present the four point plan (or four horsemen) of economic revival:

1. Concert Posters
If there is one thing people who have heard of the Decemberists love it's screen-printed limited edition posts of concerts they might of might not have attended. These posters must also have cute animals and/or imagery that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual band.

2. Obama Swag
As The Gentlemen who went to the Inauguration know, there are really an infinite number of ways to merchandise our Commander in Chief, and every can (and should!) always buy more t-shirts. I admit, I did not see any Obama condoms when I was walking around on January 20th, but this was because I took a shortcut down the street where they were selling Obama ties and panties.

3. eBay
Remember eBay? It co-invented the internet with Al Gore. Alas for a long time it was run by Meg Whitman, who was kind of like the Dan Synder of the internet. She was such a bad CEO it's amazing that she's get the job of Yahoo CEO when she left (yes, Yahoo are fish in a barrel). But it's time for an eBay revival. All that worthless shit you bought years ago? It's time to sell it, and buy new shit. Better shit!

4. iPhone Apps
The gaming market has now irreconcilably split into two camps. The casual gamers, and those who play video games that are longer and more intense than the Napoleonic Wars (coming soon, Grand Theft Auto 5: Steal Every Car On the Planet Edition). Only a fool would ignore which one is the true growth market.

I'm a Big Kid Now!

Ask pretty much anyone who knows me relatively well, and they'll agree that I'm really just a six-year-old at heart. If my life consisted of swings, sugar, cartoons, coloring, and rolling down hills, I'd be perfectly content. As it is, though, at the ripe old age of 23, I've been forced out into that "real world" place that John Mayer so vehemently denies exists. In the midst of working full-time and paying bills, I've begun doing three things that I consider very mature and adult, especially for me. And even more surprisingly, I've discovered that these three things are AWESOME. If you would be so willing, I invite you to take a little peek into the world of adulthood with me.

1. Flossing - I could just never really get into flossing before recently. I'd try for a few days, but the irritation of cutting off the circulation to my fingers while trying to reach my
molars with a spit-covered piece of string always overshadowed the potential benefits of taking care of my gums, and I'd lose interest. Then I stumbled upon floss picks while at CVS with my mother. They're so easy to use! Suddenly plaque is my enemy, and it is my joy to rid my teeth of its menace. I can feel my gums getting stronger with each passing day. I would swear to you that my smile looks brighter. And the best part? Mom bought the pack for me, so I didn't even have to shell out the 4 bucks myself. Nice. Moving on.

2. Wearing Pantyhose - I understand that this doesn't so much apply to the literal Gentlemen in our readership, but it's still relevant. No teenaged girl I've ever met has willingly wanted to wear
 pantyhose. They're bunchy, itchy, saggy, and infuriating. Or so I thought. Until one night I decided to wear a skirt to work (doing laundry on a regular basis is one of those grown-up traits I haven't quite fallen into yet), but was concerned I'd get chilly sitting by the open door all evening. So I dragged out a pair of pantyhose. Not only was I kept nice and toasty warm during my entire shift, but every time I walked by the mirror on my way into the kitchen, I couldn't help but think, "Damn, are those MY legs?" I looked sleek and sophisticated, and I kind of liked it. 

But neither of these things can compare to my greatest achievement:

3. Eating Vegetables - I know, I know. Vegetables are good for me. I'm supposed to eat 5 a day. I get it intellectually. But vegetables taste gross! Right? Turns out, not so much. The chefs at Feast do a pretty awesome job of making tasty veggie dishes, and consider me their own personal pet project. First it was the sweet potato puree. Then the curried cauliflower soup. Oo, and the vegan potato salad. Next thing you know, I'm diving into a plate of asparagus. Asparagus. And then, funny thing - I started waking up earlier in the morning. I have more energy throughout the day. I have less room for dessert after meals. My pants are starting to loosen around the waist. I'm... I'm becoming healthier

And then, one day, sitting at Franklin's in College Park with fellow Gentleman David Pratt, it happened. I was perusing the menu and when I read the description of their spinach salad, I thought, "That sounds DELICIOUS!" Wait, what? I'm craving vegetables now? Well damn. Look who's acting her age. Weird.

(The downside to all this fantastic adult discovery? My mother is now frolicking in the land of I Told You So.)

I can't imagine that I'm alone in this feeling. So please, comment away gentle readers - what magical tidbits of adulthood have you discovered that are surprisingly amazing? Maybe together we can all learn to be a little bit more grown up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In Defense of Working With Your Brain

This Sunday the New York Times had a very interesting article by a former knowledge worker with a number of degrees switching profession to become a motorcycle mechanic. There is a lot to be said about following your passion, and that is clearly what the author Matthew B. Crawford did. He felt restricted in his cubicle jobs and stimulated both mentally and physically by being a motorcycle mechanic.

But I find that his thesis, at least as it pertains to his own example, is highly over-simplified. His general point is that for many people desk jobs are bad and physical labor jobs are a better fit. I don't necessarily disagree with that, but his path is a highly unusual one. First off, he had a number of liberal arts degrees, including a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago. He is quite a bit different from a kid who barely passed through high school and who is taking careers courses.

Also for a time and for a time worked at a terrible job cranking out abstracts for magazines articles, some of which already had abstracts written and many of which in specialized fields that he had no knowledge off. He mentions a co-worker who admitted to sometimes being smacked out on the job. Also, he didn't leap head-first into a mechanic job, he had worked in auto shops as a young man, it's not like he did one Habitat build and then started his own home repair firm.

To step back a bit, let's make a little comparison:

Job Path 1: Meaningless job writing abstracts -> motorcycle mechanic
Job Path 2: Google programmer -> ditch digger

Both of these transitions are from mental to physical labor, but the transitions could not be more different. Motorcycle mechanics and being a Google programmer both require high levels of thinking -- just read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance if you want an alternate to confirming this by getting your hands dirty. The transition from mental to physical worked for him largely because of his background and personal passion for motorcycles.

Crawford spent years and years in high education writing papers, which is an important and valid way of processing information, but it's not problem solving. It's clear from reading the article that Crawford is the kind of person who gets off on problem solving, a lot of folks do including myself, and there are a variety of fields that allow for it.

For better or worse political philosophy is not an area of study where you get the satisfaction of definitively solving a problem that would come from say, Computer Science. And that's the main reason I personally stuck with computer science, it wasn't the ambiance of the promise of untold millions, (the internet economy had already pretty much crashed and burned by the time I took my first CS college course), it was immense satisfaction of knowing that you had solved a problem.

All that said, Crawford is right to defend manual labor. It is something that largely can't be outsourced, each trade craft has it's own skill set, and there is a great satisfaction in seeing the actual product of your labor at the end of the day. I just think he should have save some money and avoided getting that Ph.D.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back to the Roundtable

Ask A President Roundtable

Greetings faithful Roundtable followers, and welcome back. I'm glad you all decided to join us for another edition of a perennial favorite here at These Gentlemen, wherein all of us get the chance to put up our own thoughts and discuss them amongst ourselves and our readers. We look forward to responding to the Roundtable questions, but not as much as we do conversing with you about our answers.

This week's question is perhaps as verbose as it is intriguing. Rather than a direct line of inquiry, I provided the Gentlemen with a scenario. In this realm of the fantastic, certain assumptions were made regarding their activities. For some reason, perhaps in the course of gentlemanly pursuits, our contributors found themselves on an airplane. Booking errors and flight problems abounding, as they are wont to do, the airline has graciously allowed an upgrade to first class.

Sitting down to enjoy the comforts of the next three to four hours, our gentlemen are then surprised to discover that the person who will be sharing this time in the seat beside them is our 43rd President. George W. Bush, on an errand only he is privy to, is another passenger on this flight, and will be seated next to them. So, given this set of circumstances, what do you do? What do you say?

Let's find out!

Adam Winer

This is obviously a rare opportunity, but what to do with it? I imagine some might like to take the time to chastise (or praise) the former Prez. I personally would rather not go down that route. Instead, if I can initiate a conversation, I expect my time to be well spent. There's not a lot of things I don't know about GW Bush's policies and political decisions.... as President they were well-documented and scrutinized, as any US Prez experiences. Instead, this sounds like a chance to talk to Bush person-to-person, citizen-to-citizen. What's it like leaving the Oval Office? What are your plans for the future? Heck, did you enjoy it? What's with this swine flu huh? Is Texas really thinking of seceding?

My first remark though -- what, no Air Force One anymore?

Botanical Graham

If I know myself, and I do, I know for a fact I wouldn't say anything. I would surreptitiously take his picture with my phone and text it to everyone I know. Then I would sit there in silence, awkward awkward silence, while I desperately avoided eye contact. I would do this for two reasons: 1) I am incredibly awkward and it would be a miracle if I recognized him without a television around him, and 2) What do you SAY to that guy??

He left the office in shame (and shambles) and a large portion of the country at this point openly, vocally hates him. I kind of feel bad for the guy. His mistakes far outweigh and overshadow the good things he did, and the press seems to be unable to even mention his name, referring to him as "the PREVIOUS administration."

I would have absolutely no words for him. Everything my intellectual, political self might say has been said countless times and said better, and my emotional, empathetic self would just want to give him a hug. But that would be weird and I don't think he would appreciate it. Also it could cause a scandal, and I'm not tryna do that right now.

Stephen Bragale

I'm thinking it goes something like...

Me- Hi there, I'm Stephen. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.
W- Yea, you too four eyes. Excuse me, tray lady, can I have a Jack and Coke, hold the Jack? Heh heh heh. You see, I don't do that.
Me- Do what, sir?
W- Drinking, son.
Me- Why not?
W- Well, let's just say I've learned from my mistakes and I'm looking forward.
Me- Oh, well that's good.
W- (brief pause, W does a double take) Say what, blinky?
Me- I said that's good, sir.
W- (standing now) You hear that, everyone? This young man says I did somethin' good!
Me- (yelling) By not drinking, word.
W- (sitting back down) Yea son, word.
Me- *sigh* (pulls hat down over eyes)
W- Hey nice hat, man.

Alison Daniels

Honestly, I'm painfully shy, so in reality there's a chance I wouldn't even work up the courage to say hello and ask for a picture and autograph. If I happened to grow a pair during the course of the flight, though, I might thank him for putting up with so much shit from millions of people while doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

John Ozkirbas

I'll be honest, I'm not quite sure if I'd really say anything at all. There's nothing that I could say that hasn't been said or ask that hasn't been answered before. Nothing that I'll hear that hasn't been rehearsed to death. Nothing that'll separate me from the resounding crash of a ocean's worth of displeasure. I don't have the sense of self-importance to believe that I could wreck his day or make him feel guilty, nor do I think that he'd be some untapped wealth of knowledge from which to take a lesson. That isn't to knock his intelligence, per se - I just highly suspect that we have different interests. I don't particularly have strong emotions about him - hate, disgust, and other negatives just aren't things I'd waste the energy to do with him. Disappointment, maybe. And, even if I did, I certain I wouldn't take much pleasure in it. And, I feel that it would be in bad character and taste to do otherwise. The man was president, after all, and that, at least in my eyes, affords a certain level of respect. With that said, that doesn't mean I liked him. I certainly didn't agree with all of his policies. But, that doesn't mean I'd want to berate the guy, either.

So, I'd sit next to George W. Bush, sip on some complementary champagne, enjoy a warm face towel, take a nap. Maybe I'd watch an in-flight movie. Who knows? Maybe I'd ask him to pick out something to watch for me. That's always a good way to start a conversation. Anyway, at the end of the day, I'm gonna have a story to tell either way.

Damien Nichols

In true Damo fashion, I would treat him like any other person. I'd start up a conversation, maybe about nacho's, maybe about weapons of mass destruction. I'd casually enjoy the exchange while noting the differences (and similiarities) between this encounter and every time I've seen him on screen. I just want to hear him speak naturally, look him in the eyes, and see if there is any guilt, pride, regret... or just mild bewilderment. It'd be a fascinating case study.

Max Nova

I would be polite for most of the flight, talk about baseball and whatnot. Then as we were landing I'd tell him to go fuck himself, grab my luggage and go.

Jason Schlafstein

"So... how many times do you think I could poke you before i got shot? "

David Pratt

I actually consulted my father on this question before coming up with my own response. His words were that he would shake the President's hand and thank him for doing his job despite all the pressure and criticism from an ungrateful public, but he sure wishes he hadn't gone into Iraq. That said, he's happy he put forth the effort to get the job done.

While I'm not sure I entirely agree with my father, I do nonetheless fall into the camp of those who would thank President Bush for staying the course. My question to him would be why he didn't more clearly define what that course was. What made it necessary to try and pull the wool over America's eyes? If we were really in there for the right reasons, why not define those reasons right off the bat instead of months and years of explanations that were continually debunked? Do you regret the tatters your administration left the Republican party in?

And while it's entirely possible I would get around to asking all about how he actually governed the country and to explain the choices he made, it would have to be only if my first round of questions were answered. Without fail, I would grill the ex-President over the process of starting up his campaign, how he ran it, who to get in touch with, and what moves to make in order to win the office. He might not be the ideal person to talk to in regards to getting a clean and easy victory, but hey, it's a start.

Thus another edition of the Roundtable concludes, with our Presidential conversations eager for exploration. What do you think of our responses? What would you say to the former Commander-in-Chief? Let us know, and then come back next week when the Roundtable convenes once more.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

5 Things I Learned in Freelance

Ozkirbas wrote some time ago of the five things he learned in his first year of law school and it got me thinking. Because I, like him and every other recent grad, have the PC answer to "so what are you doing now?" rote and memorized, and it gets shorter and shorter every time. Can you describe how your whole life has turned on its head in 10 seconds or less? Ready, GO. No one asks how I've changed, or what I've learned.

And this is fine, even preferable, for idle conversation with my hairdresser. But as the newest class of ex-students hits This Economy, I'd like to impart some of the most important things I've learned in my year of "freelance," or "gainful unemployment," as it were.


1) Everything is tax-deductable.
And I mean EVERYTHING. Mileage, classes, headshots, laundry, ink, paper, programs, lunch out, Netflix. You work for yourself, so
everything you pay for that has to do with your work is tax-deductable. So write it all down as it happens, or you will either be stuck with the (read: MASSIVE) job in March, or you will simply lose all that money. And since you're freelance, money is a tease; sometimes joyously abundant but more often just out of reach.

2) Don't burn bridges.
Just, don't. It's pretty much the worst thing you could ever do for yourself professionally. This is not to say you have to kiss up to everyone you hate, just don't necessarily tell them if you hate them. And don't give them any reason to hate you.
It will happen anyway, but there's no need to go around making people who could help you hate you.

3) Keep in contact with people.
The people you just graduated with are now your network of support. Use them, love them, support them, keep them close to your heart. Reach out to people who graduated before you; they know the ropes and want to help you because they remember all too clearly how it was when they first graduated. Pass their names on, give them jobs, and they will do so in return for you. There's a reason all famous people know each other, and that reason is called networking and patronage.

4) Days off don't exist.
You work from home, remember? You LIVE at work. And because you've gone into entertainment, your job is to be at work when other people are off work. And because you get paid on a contract by contract basis in a largely non-profit field, you're always looking for more work. Be ready to plan vacations months in advance and not see your roommates and friends for days on end, especially if you have a lot of friends and roommates who have "real" jobs... or also if your friends and roommates are in theatre, because they're working on shows too.
But it becomes a norm, and you'll eventually find yourself like me on a day like today, in which I am enjoying my first full day off in months and months with no plans, no work, and nothing I need to be working on for future plans. And by "enjoying" I mean "bored as hell." So here we are.

5) You'll be fine.
Really. You'll probably have to get a day job that you'll probably hate, you'll live with the acute sensation that NPR is ALWAYS talking about you, you might even move in with your parents (if you can, it's actually a great idea). But at the end of the day, you are doing what you spent four years training to do. You are (hopefully) doing good, fulfilling work. You are an Artist. A professional; you're being paid (usually) to do what you love. You're making friends, finding connections, making professional contacts. Every day you are closer to being independent and in control of your life, or maybe you already are. And you're making it in a country that is not particularly kind to the arts. That's pretty cool, and a lot of people don't have that luxury, so revel in it. Please.
Because if being an artist isn't fun for you, then it's time to go back to med school* because The Life is simply not worth it.

Special side note: The sixth thing I learned in freelance is that I am good enough to be paid. I deserve to be paid for my skills, and there are people out there who will pay me. Of course, this does not mean I'll pass up an opportunity at a struggling theater that does great work, it just means I know what my skills and I as a person, as a worker and artist, are worth. And that could be the most important thing, but it somehow doesn't fit on this list.

Like fellow Gentleman ali d told me, there are three reasons you ever take work, and they are the people, the money, and the art. If you don't have two of those three factors at all times, then you will not be happy. And if you're not happy, then med school is looking pretty good from here.

* when I say "med school" I really mean "a stable job that makes good money even if you hate it."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Question of the Moment: Does America need terrorist whistles?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a speech rebutting a speech made my President Obama defending his plan to close down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the releasing of memos regarding the torture/harsh interrogation/ enhanced interrogation of certain detainees.

In one of his central points, Cheney argued that these Bush Administration policies being called into question kept the United States safe.

“Just remember it is a serious step to begin unraveling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11,” Cheney said, shortly after which he took a short break to feast upon a fresh salmon captured from a nearby stream, a bit of which he fed to his pet penguin that stood beside him at the podium.

Following a short expulsion of air to clear his diaphragm, Cheney asserted that for most of the Bush administration officials successfully averted countless terrorist attacks, known and unknown. He seemed to infer that terrorists might return if the former administration’s policies were discontinued, including torture/harsh interrogation/enhanced interrogation.

Experts are calling this tact the “Tiger Whistle Argument.” The argument posits that in order to keep away man-eating tigers, one must indefinitely blow a whistle which keeps the tigers away. Skeptics of the tiger whistle ask: “What tigers?” To which proponents of the argument respond: “Exactly.”

Joseph C. Miller, CEO of US Protectives, a producer of protective whistles and prophylactics that has contracts with the Department of Defense, claims the whistle argument is sound.

“The logic is simple: Enhanced interrogation equals no terrorism attacks. No enhanced interrogation equals question mark,” Miller said. “It’s not a chance we can take. We have to keep blowing our terrorist whistles America. And if that doesn’t work, we’re going to have to consider banging sticks together, too -- metaphorically speaking.”

Faced with criticism from opponents and supporters on his decisions to release the so called “Torture Memos,” President Barack Obama was unequivocal in his speech.

“My single most important responsibility as president is to keep the American people safe. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep at night,” said Obama.

He added, “I reserve lunch time for polite, reasoned debate where each side gets to voice their side of the argument. This is much like the format we utilized at the Harvard Law Review, and I believe we can take advantage this approach in our life-quest to achieve a safer and middler America. ”

Cheney called the reactions to torture/harsh interrogation/enhanced interrogation “over wrought.”

“Did Mr. and Mrs. Cheney compromise when they decided to cast out son number one who was born with a shiny flipper? No! It is human nature to fear the unusual!” Cheney waxed poetically. “[Likewise], there is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance.”

The debate continued into the night.

“Terrorists hate us because we fail to live up to our values,” said Obama.

“No,” countered Cheney. “Terrorists hate us because of our values.

“I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about ‘values,’” he said.

“WMD’s!” screamed somebody from the audience.

“Oh fuck off!” cried Cheney.

“Now, now,” said Obama.

by guest Gentleman Matthew Lindeboom. you can reach Lindeboom by dropping to your knees, looking to the sky, and begging for the great white light to take you. If being struck by lightning isn't really your cup of tea... feel free to just leave comments to this post and he'll happily respond. Smiles.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TNT: It's Dynamite

I noticed recently - while watching the NBA Playoffs (the only time I can really watch NBA basketball) - that the channel TNT has a surprising number of original series that star and feature women. Typically, woman do not get so many opportunities to be the lead role in a television or film production. I hear that complaint frequently and These Gentlemen have written extensively on this sort of subject in regards to race.

TNT appears to be an exception.

In just one promotional block, TNT hyped their show The Closer, Saving Grace, and Hawthorne, all of which feature a woman in the lead role. The Closer is a crime drama starring Golden Globe winner Kyra Sedgwick as a homicide detective. Saving Grace is also a crime drama and it stars Academy Award winner Holly Hunter as a homicide detective. Hawthorne is a new series starring Jada Pinkett Smith as a Chief Nursing Officer.

This apparently isn't very new for TNT (Turner Network Television). They also show reruns of the woman-starring shows Alias, Judging Amy, and Charmed quite frequently.

Now, I don't watch these shows. None of them. In fact, I think I've avoided them with great veracity, and - with perhaps the exception of Charmed when I get distracted by sexy witches - with great success.

It appears though that other people ARE watching these shows, and TNT is doing quite well because of it. So why is TNT able to succeed in making woman-led television series when it appears other networks don't even try? I guess I'm not much of an answer man, just an observationalist.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Best Albums of the '00s. Mk 1

Rohan asked me recently at a concert what my pick was for album of the decade, and to put his heart at ease, it's not Person Pitch. This will be the first but likely not my last attempt to assess what is the best album of the '00s. And, usually when I do lists like this I make it clear that my end of year lists are my favorites, not "the best". I always say that because (a) I only listen to a small portion of albums, and (b) howthe fuck do people really get off telling people what is "the best." Every list is simply an opinion. If you hate the White Stripes and love Coldplay, why would you feel compelled to put the Stripes on your list. In then end you're only lying to yourself.

In spite of that rant, this time around I will try to get a bit closer to the music nerd apex that is the "absolute best." When 2009 actually comes to a close I may try to attempt a top 10 or a top 100, but for now, for the first attempt, I present three releases that could all claim the top spot.

Portishead - Third
I bought this around the time it came out but slept on it a bit. When I finally gave it a serious listen it was one of the most entrancing albums that I had ever heard. The thing is, I always liked Portishead. I had the first two albums and listened to them from time to time, but this album dug deeper than anything they had done previously. Machine Gun is about as simple and intense as music gets, and the rest of the album is just as good. The band loosened up from their earlier more sample-heavy sound and seem to have hit on a different sound that is still unmistakably their own. Much like Spoon, who admittedly use it in a very different way, Portishead are utter masters of space and minimalism in their songcraft.

Liars - They Were Wrong So We Drowned
The most divisive albums of the decade? It got the lowest possible score in Rolling Stone and Spin! (What's more amazing, though, is that both are still in business.) Do I like this album because other people hate it? No I like it because it's utterly hypnotic, the whole album just cuts straight to the core. I can't drive when I listen to this album, as it makes me speed.

Rather than getting caught up in the repetition of other post-punk bands around the early '00s, Liars cut a totally new path, and made this album, which is batshit crazy in the best way possible.

TV on the Radio - Young Liars EP
An EP? Yes. But all five songs on it are utterly perfect - four extremely dense otherworldly original songs and one game-changing cover that is absolutely better than the original. Their albums all get high marks from critics, and I like the albums, but I still feel that there are weak spots on each of them. This though, is absolutely perfect.

Also, apropos of nothing, since I was trolling through youtube, Deerhoof are awesome.

[So now you're asking, which one's actually the best? At this monent, I'd say Portishead.]

Monday, May 18, 2009

Two Installations

I recently visited two excellent installation shows downtown, Maya Lin's Systematic Landscapes at the Corcoran and Jean Shin's Common Thread's At the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Both artists are Asian-American women and both have created works that engage the viewer directly with large pieces and broad ideas, but each has taken a very different strategy. Lin, who we all know from the Vietnam War Memorial, has taken actual landscapes and reconceptualized them as abstracts. There sculptures of real lake beds put on wood sculptures on pedestals and a full room-sized wire topography putting us below an imagined ocean. On a smaller scale, Lin cars new reliefs into atlases, creating new and unique landscapes within landscapes.

While Lin's landscapes are intentionally devoid of human interaction, Shin's work is very much the creation of humanity, specifically those things which we have cast off. Shin takes materials ranging from discarded pill bottles and old keyboard keys to donated sweaters and trophies in creating her work. The pieces engage the viewer to look closer (many of the trophies are from BCC, oddly enough) or to literally continue the conversation in the case of her keyboard contraption, which allows users to continue entering new text on an attached screen. I won't ruin too much of the surprise, but if you want a peak, there are a number of images up on flick.

Both exhibits are on display through July. Smithsonian, is free and the Corcoran ain't but both exhibits are not to be missed.

Video Games and Myth: Suikoden Preview

Gentle readers, it gives me great pleasure to finally present another installment of Video Games and Myth. Sadly, however, my original plan for this issue was to cover the PSP's Jeanne d'Arc - a loose interpretation of the events surrounding my favorite female historical figure. Alas, I found to my dismay that, after purchasing the game from the PlayStation Network, PS3's apparently are not fitted with emulators to run downloadable PSP titles. As I refuse to vomit up an additional $150 simply to play this one game, I have moved on to warm-up for this summer's major project for Video Games and Myth - PlayStation's fantasy-epic/RPG Suikoden.

Suikoden is loosely based on one of the Four Great Chinese Classics, this one titled Water Margin (aka Outlaws of the Marsh) supposedly by Shi Naian (or, depending on who you talk to, Lou Guanzhong). Written in the 14th Century, the great 2,141 page novel covers the fictional events where over one hundred men and women are forced by the Feudal Lords of the Song Dynasty to take to the hills - only to band together and crush every conceivable attempt by their government to oppress them. The relationship between Water Margin and Japan is interesting due to Japan's attempts to seemingly naturalize and integrate this tale as its own. By translating the game title from Japanese, Suikoden literally means "Water Margin," an obvious derivative of the Japanese translation from the 1700's. Over the years since the Japanese translation, references, re-translations, and even attempts to portray the characters from Water Margin as Japanese have popped up in festivals, tattoo art, and present day anime. It will be interesting to see whether the differences between the original tale and the game developed by Konami present further evidence of this possible trend (that and it just sounds like a very cool story).

I am excited to embrace the challenge Suikoden presents, primarily because I am unfamiliar with either the Water Margin novel or Suikoden the game. In fact, I am fairly foreign to most myths/legends with roots not in the Americas or Europe. Part of my motivation for creating Video Games and Myth stemmed from my desire to explore myths and legends from cultures to which I have minimal exposure. Water Margin seems like a great place to jump into some classic Chinese tales and Suikoden itself seems oddly up my alley to not have heard about it before. Either way, I am incredibly stoked to begin this journey and to see where it leads. Between reading the novel and playing the game, I hope to have it all done by mid-June. As always, feel free to comment or make requests below in the mean time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Meeting of Art and Commerce

There was an article in today's NY Times about the head of programming at NBC. The article itself is mildly interesting, although the actual title of the article should have probably been - "Huge asshole, now a slightly smaller asshole, and probably will soon be an unemployed asshole." But the really interesting thing was the attached chart showing all the shows that had come and gone during his tenure. Some of these shows, you just have to wonder. My Dad is Better Than Your Dad? Superstars of Dance? I realize the stations are obliged to fill air time, but isn't there something just slightly better they could have chosen instead of these shows?

The chart demonstrates where we are right now as far as largely commercial forms of art are concerned. Movies and television are in a very strange spot. I don't doubt for a second that execs already know that gimmicky reality shows or endless sequels of sequels will eventually stop paying dividends. For right now, though, these things remain relatively safe bets. And yet you can flip over to HBO and Showtime or go to a Landmark Theater and quality still exists.

Shows like West Wing and Seinfeld were as good as anything HBO has ever shown, even without any nudity or swearing. But with each season that features a Knight Rider remake and a Howie Mandel spinoff, NBC and the others in the big four become further removed from creative, innovative, quality shows.

Now as for how Ben Silverman can be a better exec, he could clearly learn a lot from watching his equivalent on 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy. If he were in this situation, Jack would be smart enough separate his microwave oven division from the the programming division once and for all, and focus his efforts into microwaves instead of fickle TV stars. Okay, he'd probably just order up another season of MILF Island, but I can dream, right?

The One Kiss Rule

Several months ago, during the heyday of the inexplicably popular "15/16/25 Things About Yourself" Facebook meme, fellow gent B. Graham posted her list - and one of the things she wrote has stuck with me ever since. It was her number 6, and while I and several friends were agonizing about how not to post a list of 14 incredibly depressing personal secrets and 1 or 2 harmless quirks, Graham had used to opportunity to (I have to assume without meaning to) in one line lay the groundwork for months of idle thought in my brain that eventually led me here - and to a new code to adopt into the way I live my life.

This happens sometimes - with a song lyric, or a movie quote, but most often a quick offhand aside from a friend - one line that will stay with me, constantly being revisited in a search for why this particular phrase, this concept, these words have resonated so deeply into the core of my psyche. That months after the originator has forgotten all about them, leaving no sign left of their original intent, they still exist in me, turning over and over like clothes in a dryer every time my mind is left unguarded and unattended.

"6) I truly believe the world would be a much, much happier place if everyone got to kiss everyone they wanted to. Just once. I would probably kiss everyone I know."

I'm not sure I would kiss everyone. I think I'd use the gift sparingly, taking advantage of those precious moments. But the sentiment, I think, is beautiful and worthy. And one that I'm adopting as a general principal.

There are a lot of terrible feelings in the world, and it's hard to qualitatively say which is worst. But one that hurts, that burns, that I wish on no one, is that feeling when you go in for a kiss and the look you get is fear. Some mixture of dread and revulsion. Not a gentle no, or a laugh at the exuberant audacity - nothing kind, because there's no time. Just that immediate face of fear.

It's a terrible feeling, and I have to say, I've been there too often. It's a fear that stays.

The opposite, and it's what reminded me of this - a few week's ago I asked a girl out on a date. A new friend, someone I know reasonably well but not too well yet, and I thought that she was cool enough to take that risk (which is pretty much my barometer). She's seeing someone, it turns out, which is totally cool (which is always the best reason, because it has nothing to do with you). But she smiled - she was surprised, and was sorry the timing wasn't better. And she seemed genuinely interested the idea if things were different. She apologized - I said "you definitely don't have to do that." And then jokingly I said 'make me feel better - tell me you would have said yes."

And she said "Of course I would have said yes."
And followed it up with "I always do."

And that's pretty cool. All you have to do is ask, and you get a shot at being seen in a new light, just because. One date, almost as a reward for putting yourself out there. But really, one night to shift the paradigm, one chance at being something different. Whether it seems likely to work or not.

Just like that one kiss.

I have a story I've been writing in my head for years, of this character who is firmly and utterly in love with his best frend - Daniella Grey. He literally goes to hell to try and save her from Lucifer, and there are vampires and road trips and things ensue and if I ever write it down I think it will be pretty damn good. But at it's core, is this realization, this moment where he suddenly knows it's never going to happen. She's fallen in love with his best friend (because he can treat her as an equal, and the main character almost can't help but worship her). So there's this moment, where after living with this love for so long, and being on the run, he finally breaks into a rant that ends with "and all I've ever wanted is to kiss you."

And she smiles and says, 'then why haven't you?'
And she kisses him. And for one moment, lights shine and angels sing.
And then it passes. And he says 'But you still love him." And she nods.
And it's ok. He has his moment. And sometimes that moment, even if it lasts a second and will never be repeated, is enough.

It's not as though the world is knocking down my door for a kiss, but this my new rule- anyone who wants one, gets one. Not if I have a girlfriend, not if I think you're dangerous or violent, but in any other reasonable situation that I would maybe otherwise turn down - why not? One date, one kiss. I can take those risks.

I wish everyone could get a chance to kiss who they wanted, just once. Just to see what happens.
Because you'd be surprised.

I'm not talking about an epic makeout, or a quick peck on the cheek either. Just a quick strike at the flint in the hope of a spark. A simple, solid kiss. A possibility.
Because the likelihood is that nothing is going to happen, that nothing is really going to change. But maybe, in that moment, something magical will happen. You can learn so much about someone in how they kiss, and even more in how they kiss you.
In a way that words and want can't convey.

Perhaps their passion is a dying ember being gently snuffed by soft wet lips ushering it to where desire goes after it fades.

Or maybe it's a single explosion, building to it's crescendo, and in the interlock of lips that energy is released and in the aftermath has been dispersed, waiting to collect itself and build back up again.

But on that rare occasion, it's a fire, small and burning, that's been cared and tended for, stoked by sideways glances and the joy of a single smile - a fire so well tended that if given the opportunity will light itself into you without you're being aware that it was there.

And suddenly you're burning too.

And if not - that kiss is just an answered question, a fond memory, a gentle goodbye to a dream, a souvenier of unrequited love.

All of which is better than that terrible stare.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

History of the Electoral College Part 2: 1804-1816

When we last left the electoral college, Thomas Jefferson had just become the first President to unseat an incumbant. During his first term in office, Jefferson had made a move which was at the time technically not Constitutional, yet still wildly popular with the citizenry. This was the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in which the 3rd President purchased 828,800 square miles of land on the North American continent from Napoleon for $15,000,000. The original proposition had been to purchase the city of New Orleans for $10,000,000, for a scant $5,000,000 more Bonaparte through in a land mass which doubled the size of the United States.

Winner: Thomas Jefferson
Electoral Votes: 162 out of 176

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney - 14

While the Louisiana Purchase increased Jefferson's popularity with the people, Alexander Hamilton's Federalist party was incensed. To them the purchase was unconstitutional, and they attempted to block the purchase in the House of Representatives. Thus the United States grew, and the Federalists lost a good deal of political capital. They would lose even more after Vice President Burr shot Hamilton dead.

The party was in poor shape heading into the election. Thomas Jefferson's opponent would once again be Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. By this time, the 12th Amendment had been ratified. Now, rather than casting two votes for President, each elector would cast one vote for President and one vote for Vice President. Jefferson chose as his running mate George Clinton, and Pinckney chose New York senator Rufus King.

With his overwhelming popularity with the people coupled with disarray in the Federalist party, Jefferson easily defeated Pinckney in the electoral college. Cotesworth obtained only 14 electoral votes; 9 from Connecticut, 3 from Delaware, and 2 of Maryland's 11.

Here is how electors were chosen in 1804:

Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont had their electors chosen by the state legislature.

New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia chose electors via popular vote by the citizens.

Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee were divided into electoral districts. Voters from each district chose one elector.

Massachusetts had two electors chosen by voters statewide. Then every Congressional district in the state voted for one additional elector.

With Jefferson's reputation soaring, Federalists were unable to mount a successful campaign against him. The Democratic Republicans were riding high, and would coast to victory again in 1808.


Winner: James Madison
Electoral Votes: 122 out of 175

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney - 47
George Clinton - 6

With Democratic-Republican goodwill riding high across the nation, James Madison secured the victory over Charles Pinckney. However, Pinckney picked up quite a bit more support than he had in the previous go-round. The reason for this gain can be traced to electoral votes the Federalists picked up in New England. Following the Embargo Act of 1807, the Democratic-Republicans were not at all popular in the Northeast. Pinckney retained all electoral votes he had received in 1804, and picked up many more in New England.

Jefferson's Embargo Act, which forbade trade with foreign nations, devastated the New England economy. Smuggling became widespread, and the public outcry was overwhelming as many saw it as a violation of their rights. As a result, the people spoke out at the ballot box. The Federalists picked up 33 more electoral votes, but still not enough to close the enormous gap between them and the party in power. Jefferson repealed the Embargo Act 3 days before leaving office.

Also in this election, we see an example of Faithless Electors. As referenced before, electors are under no obligation whatsoever to vote alongside the popular vote of the state they represent. 6 electors from New York, where electors were appointed by state legislature, chose to vote for Clinton as President rather than Vice President. Of those 6, 3 voted Madison for Vice President, the other 3 voted James Monroe into the second-in-command slot. George Clinton became the first Vice President to serve under two consecutive Presidents.

In 1808:

Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont all had electors appointed via state legislature.

New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia had electors chosen by popular ballot.

Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee divided themselves into electoral districts, with voters choosing one elector per district.

Winner: James Madison
Electoral Votes: 128 out of 217

Runner-Up: DeWitt Clinton
Electoral Votes: 89 out of 217

A fairly straightforward election, notable for the gains made by the Federalist party. DeWitt Clinton, nephew of the now-late Vice President George Clinton, was head of the Erie Canal Commission in New York, and had also served as its Senator. Unhappy with living in DC, he resigned his position and returned home, where he was elected Mayor of New York City. He simultaneously served as Lieutenant Governor of the State following a special election in 1811. Clinton was very popular, and carried New York for the Federalist Party. This was especially important as 1812 was the first election in which New York overpowered Virginia in electoral votes, making it the biggest prize a candidate could win.

With the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe, the spillover was becoming more and more of an issue in the states. Increasingly, American ships were being attacked and sailors impressed at sea. This led to the United States declaring war on Great Britain, and the War of 1812. DeWitt Clinton took an interesting approach to this contentious issue; in the anti-war parts of the country, he ran a campaign speaking out against the war. In the south and west, where the war was popular, he promised the people he would pursue the war eagerly.

Despite his popularity, Madison still defeated Clinton. The candidate who actually received the most votes, however, was Vice President Elbridge Gerry with 131. Gerry enjoyed all 128 of Madison's electoral votes, and also picked up 3 from Massachusetts. Immensely popular in his home state, the electors from Massachusetts chose him for Clinton's Vice President over the actual Federalist candidate, Jared Ingersoll. One elector from Ohio abstained.

Electors were chosen as follows in 1812:

Connecticut, Delware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Vermont all had electors chosen by state legislature.

New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virigina chose electors via popular election.

Kentucky, Maryland, and Tennessee were divided into electoral districts, with one elector chosen via popular election from each district.

Massachusetts had two electors chosen by statewide voting, and one picked by popular ballot in each congressional district.


Winner: James Monroe
Electoral Votes: 183 out of 217

Runner-Up: Rufus King
Electoral Votes: 34 out of 217

American sentiment towards the Democratic-Republicans was once again riding high following the War of 1812. Very pleased with the resolution to the war, the American people were more than happy to sweep James Monroe into office over the candidate of the collapsing Federalist party, Rufus King. During the war, the Federalists had spearheaded secessionist sentiment in New England at the Hartford Convention. After the war ended, they were disgraced, and even disbanded in several places.

James Monroe had served as Madison's Secretary of State, and was seen as preordained to take the spot as President. Rufus King was not even formally nominated as the Federalist candidate, as the party was in such disarray. Rather, he was simply the person the majority of still-active Federalists ended up supporting. James Monroe and Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins from New York soundly carried the election. Of the 3 states which did cast their votes for King, none voted for the same Vice President. The collapse of the Federalist party would lead to Monroe running unopposed in 1820.

The only real issue of note in this campaign was the inclusion of the electoral votes from Indiana. John W. Taylor of New York challenged the authority of Indiana to cast electoral ballots, as it was still a territory at the time of the election. The argument against him stated that as Indiana had already formed a state constitution and government, and indeed, there were seated representatives from Indiana present, that Indiana was already a state. The dispute stemmed from the fact that the government had set a deadline of admission into the Union as December 11th, 1816, and the election occurred on December 4th. However, Indiana had fulfilled the requirements set before it as early as June 29th.

The question was eventually tabled indefinitely, and all of Indiana's votes were included.

In 1816, the electors were chosen as follows:

Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont all had electors appointed by state legislature.

New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia chose electors via popular ballot.

Kentucy, Maryland, and Tennessee were divided into electoral districts, with one elector chosen from each district via popular ballot.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nancy Pelosi: For Serious?

Our friend and guest Gentleman Matt Lindeboom received some "super under" confidential memo exchange files from a friend of a friend deep inside CIA operations. For our assistance, Matt was able to decipher some of the abbreviations that the CIA uses and put them in (parentheses) for us. Here is some of what he was able to relay:


Washington D.C., May 2009

Headline: Nancy Pelosi accuses CIA of lying to her about torture techniques.

CIA, D.C. Office:


From: CMM (CIA Middle Management)

ATTN: AC-CBHIT (Agent in Charge of Congressional Briefings on Harsh Interrogation/Torture)

Subject: Did we lie?

Well did we? CUMM (CIA Upper Middle Management) is crawling up my ass for answers! I don’t remember telling you to lie! Did you take the FCC (For Congressional Consumption) file or the FPC (For Public Consumption) file with you to the briefing? If we fed her the FPC garbage we’re in for a shit storm.

IRR (Immediate Response Requested)





Subject: Negative Response

We took the FCC file as per your orders in regard to CROFI (Congressional Request Order For Information) 10911. Besides, at that time the FPC file had already been allocated for a strategic leak by AC-DUBS-B (Agent in Charge of Whistle Blowing) Wilson. However, I cannot speak with total certainty as to the accuracy of the FCC file. That file was prepared by OPIS (Office of Patriotic Information Services).

Will relay your memo to OPIS and ascertain the accuracy of the FCC file.





Subject: WTF? (Will Testify for File?)

CMM is questioning the accuracy of the FCC file Harsh Interrogation/Torture. Was information provided fully accurate and up-to-date to the best of your knowledge?




From: OPIS


Subject: FU (File Up-to-Date)

At OPIS, it’s out patriotic mission to give you the best and most accurate intelligence available through the OFVP (Office of the Former Vice President.)

In regards to your request for service, “WTF?”: We do not recollect. But you can trust us.





Subject: I don’t think we can trust them.

OPIS responded with an FU to my WTF request. They may have held back information. How should I proceed?



From: CMM


Subject: :(

You better lie low, amigo. Find a bungalow somewhere in Thailand and sip mimosas until this whole thing blows over. If you stay they will make you into the CIA’s Lynndie England. I have to relay this upstairs, but eight levels of memos lie between me and the top, so you’ll have at least a three day head start.

GWG (Go with God) my friend.


Memo 15

From: Leon Panetta (CIA Director)

ATTN: Nancy Pelosi

Subject: My B. (Self-explanatory)

We all got played on this one. It won’t happen again.


Memo 16

From: Nancy Pelosi

ATTN: Leon Panetta

Subject: For serious?

Of all the Hail Marys...