Thursday, May 31, 2007

The face of the Disney Concert Hall
I was in L.A. last week. One of the things I went out of my way to see (another will get its own blentry soon enough) was the Disney Concert Hall. As with most people, I only know the works of Frank Gehry from the outside; I would often tell people that you really couldn't have much respect for a man whose entire design process apparently involved throwing a crumpled tissue at the client followed by the demand for a large check.

I got a chance to take lots of photos of, yes, the outside, but also the lobby/milling/loungey areas (which you never see featured anywhere because they're "non-primary-functional".. bullshit I say).

But most interesting is the main auditorium itself.... The acoustics, and thus the shape and surface of EVERYTHING seen inside the auditorium were designed by a Japanese man (Yasuhisa Toyota).

See the face? See the kabuki face?

hint: the center element is an organ; as in, pipe organ, moving a lot of air, as in breathing... the two blue areas in the top left & right are skylights (natural sunset light)..... and the sound comes from the.....

I will never accuse Frank Gehry of being a humorless man again.

As for the acoustics...... I will just say that there is a downside to an auditorium designed so perfectly that, even with the orchestra playing, you can hear every fiber of the clothing worn by people within 100 ft of you flexing as they reposition themselves in their seats... like corn popping... I'm all for function over form, and I'm very happy when there can be both, but when both get blown right out of the park with no compromise(*) it is awe-inspiring.

(*) I think the compromise is that it is actually a very small space for an internationally-known performance hall; maybe 300-500 seats, with in-the-round type seating to minimize "dead spots" in the back corners etc. They definitely had to (had to? got to!) choose quality over quantity in terms of seating.

I'm not being sarcastic.. it's just a little speech impediment...

Google hits the streets

5/31/07 update below

Google Maps has launched a new Street View feature that allows you to "walk through and look around" as if you were standing at a given street location.

Real estate agencies used to charge a lot of money for stuff like this. I just want to know when Google is planning to start paying my mortgage.

UPDATE: My friend Ruth is concerned about the incidental immodesty (in particular concerning expectations of female modesty) that may result from people having their photograph taken incognito as data is gathered for this effort. My response:
Back home, middle-aged mothers sitting on their porch, legs up on the veranda, fanning themselves with a dog-eared (day-old) copy of "TeVe Guia" is considered not just not inmodest but downright colorful in a folklorish sort of way.

Of course the one-way-mirrored black van with the satellite transmitter on the roof and the multi-colored "You've been GOOGLED!!!!" text on the side would be a relatively new development in the neighborhoods of mi viejo San Juan.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The score so far....

US of A: 0
Cindy Sheehan: 0
Casey Sheehan: 0
Bill O'Reilly: 0
Me: 0
George Bush: 0
You: 0
Rush Limbaugh: 0
Iraq and its people: 0
The Middle East: 0
The world: 0

So far so good. OK, let's proceed.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I'ma sign for'm anyway - Akin's story

(My friend Akin, also an Obama supporter, took the time to write down this anecdote which I think is great and wonderfully told and he gave me permission to reproduce it here)

I'ma sign for'm anyway

So I’m walking back from the bank wearing my Barack shirt and reading Barack Obama In His Own Words while juggling a bunch of bags. As I’m a pretty clumsy guy, I drop the book and it tumbles…into a sewer.


I gather up some sticks I think may be strong enough and I lean over the curb to fish the book out. Cars are whizzing by and all when this black pick up truck putters around me and puts on the brakes. I’m using a stick to nudge the book into a dry brown paper bag as the faintly southern voice of an older Black American Man chimes in, “You dead?”

I lift my head up and he frowns, “Nah. You’re just stupid.”

I smile as he tells me how dangerous trying to retrieve this book is. In his dirt smeared white T-shirt and black jeans that are a few sizes too big for him, the Man asks me what is so important that I'm willing to reach into the sewer to get it back. I think he was relieved that I was trying to get a book.

After he makes me swear I will in fact read this book if I get it back, he drives off to get some tools. I listen to Rachel Portman’s theme song to Cider House Rules on my iPod while I wait.

The pick up putters to the corner and the Man emerges with three rather large tools. He offers me a gardening hoe.

“Now I’ma stand in the street while you get your book.”

This man stands in the street while I use his gardening hoe to fish my book out of the sewer. We shake hands and I offer to give him one of my Barack shirts for free.“You made that up yourself?”


“Pay for it yourself?”

“Yup. I’ll give you one – if you want it.”

He mulls it over, sighs that retired man sigh, then releases the proudest of proud smirks, “I’ma sign for'm anyway. You give that to someone who ain’t. Cause I’ma sign for'm anyway.”

And with that, he was gone.

[like so much Kaiser Soeze -- ed.]

Thanks, Akin!

Hogzilla as Rorschach test of national zeitgeist

It looks like an 11-year-old shot and killed ("hunted") a freak (wonder) of nature.

It looks like his father set up a web site and , somewhat self-consciously, created two segregated content silos putting into each the positive and negative comments that people had to give in response.

Comment 1:
Comment 2:
[sarcastically] "Where do I get me one of them terrorist pigs so I can teach my son how to kill too?"
[kudos to the father for taking the time to teach the son how to hunt]. "That's alot [sic] of what's wrong with people now...they have no one who shows that they REALLY care."

It looks like the assumption on the left is that only a mindless jingo could ever think of hunting for pleasure or sport or a hobby.

It looks like the assumption on the right is that people who don't see the point of hunting are lacking because of an un-nurtured childhood.

It looks like what everybody in column A has to say about everybody in column B, everybody in column B also has to say about everybody in column A.

It looks a lot like two crowds, separated by a police riot line, yelling at each other and not hearing each other at all.

It looks to me like a wonderful pig, dead or alive.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ted Sørensen endorses Barack Obama

Ted "Ask not who wrote Profiles in Courage" Sørensen has openly, and beautifully, endorsed Barack Obama for president saying he is the New Jack Kennedy. We already knew, but it's nice to get it from somebody who should know.

I'm supporting Obama because I believe he has that same spirit [as Jack Kennedy], that same desire to call to public service, especially the young people, but all the citizens of this country to live up to their obligations of that great title: American Citizens.
-- Ted Sørensen

Video here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Embrace Islam? Too cute."

Michael Kinsley on Hitchens' "God is Not Great"

Michael Kinsley, in a delicious confluence, has reviewed Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great: How Religion Ruins Everything" in The New York Times (blentry link goes to it).

In the true spirit of the reviewed piece, Kinsley makes observations that are as relevant and interesting as the original. Referring to the clear pattern of Hitchens' reliance on (intellectually honest, thus useful and acceptable) anti-liberal (and thus seemingly self-contradictory) contrariness in discourse as a tool for getting people's attention, he imaginatively alludes to an ideological “dance of the seven veils” where Hitchens sheds previously-held ideas (more of a molting, in my opinon) to which long-time readers have been privy:

Long ago he came out against abortion. Interesting! Then he discovered and made quite a kosher meal of the fact that his mother, deceased, was Jewish, which under Jewish law meant he himself was Jewish. Interesting!! (He was notorious at the time for his anti-Zionist sympathies.) In the 1990s, Hitchens was virulently, and somewhat inexplicably, hostile to President Bill Clinton. Interesting!!! You would have thought that Clinton’s decadence — the thing that bothered other liberals and leftists the most — would have positively appealed to Hitchens. Finally and recently, he became the most (possibly the only) intellectually serious non-neocon supporter of George W. Bush’s Iraq war. Interesting!!!!
The rest of the review is just as refshingly illuminating in every sense. And this from a man who has experienced brain surgery (a punch-line not to be missed at the end of this).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"I must admit, I can't image anything more awful than polygamy."

Mitt Romney

"I must admit, I can't image
anything more awful than polygamy."
-- Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney must be a much braver man than he is given credit for. He has just admitted(*) to such a spectacular lack of imagination that he had to reach back to a practice abandoned over a century ago by official church doctrine in order to find something "awful" about the LDS church. Why not the institutionalized practice of sexually scarring children? That's pretty god- damned awful in my opinion, and it is practiced with pious zeal to this day.

Oh, and here's something good to find awful as well... he's against abortion but for the death penalty. Pretty standard cognitive dissonance for a Republican these days. *yawn*.. But, still pretty god-dammed awful as far as hypocrisy goes.

(*) I know this actually happened several days ago. I've been legitimately busy.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Letter to Glenn Britt

(5/24/07 update below)

Time Warner Cable CEO
Glenn Britt

CC: his Technical Service Staff

Dear Glenn,

I have decided that the only way to balance the equation of my getting what I pay Time Warner Cable for and what I actually receive is to reduce the dollar amount paid to $0.

You're fired.

Why? Oh, let's just talk about the last few months (going back 3 years and over 30 on-site service calls would be somewhat tedious.)

Since last fall, I have had a dual-cablecard-and-tivo3 setup. Every time something goes wrong (say, the cablecards suddenly stop receiving premium channels, while the broadcast channels are perfectly OK) I am forced to make an appointment for an on-site service call, usually over a week into the future, during which I have no TV service. During said service call, all the technician does is dial in to the tech service center (the same one I dialed into a week prior to make the appointment), give them the serial number of the cable cards and we hope for the best. I could have done that myself.

My point, and the source of my frustration, is that whatever may or may not be wrong with the technology is moot as far as customers receiving the service they need if you hire uneducated, untrained, unmotivated, unempowered drones to do the job of a voice-response system and call it customer service ("I'm sorry sir, but we can't do that over the phone; you'll have to schedule a service call", etc etc).

Well, I can't hold my full-time job of tending to the animals at Neverland or whatever it is I do for a living and jump through hoops for the amusement of the cost-effectiveness analysts you hired that told you that paying tech support technicians $15/hr and just throw quantity-over-quality brute force at the problem is the way to serve your customers (yes, that's what I was told you pay them, you bastard; meanwhile your compensation for the year leading to April '07 was enough to pay for 304 field technicians for one year).

I'm looking forward to FiOS becoming available in my neighborhood (soon enough; they have it barely a mile away). To quote one of your tech people letting me know about the setup he himself had at his house as we were killing time in my living room on hold with a service center operator: "FiOS is the shit". I'm sure he knows.

In the meantime, maybe I'll get some reading done... (my in-shelf is quite full, and I've got a small stack of New Yorkers to get through...)

(for folks of the same mind as me, especially if you live in Brooklyn, please do drop your comments -- or, if you prefer, my personal address is j u a n m at p a n i x . c 0 m ).

05/27/07 Update: When the technician came to collect the cablecards -- something I was categorically forbidden to do myself because "it requires expertise to remove them and if they become damaged as a result [I] would have to pay for them" he first (1) tried to unscrew the coax from the back of my Tivo thinking that it was a cable box and he was supposed to take it with him, and (2) had to be told which/what the cablecards were, and (3) I had to remove them for him because he didn't know how. This is the fun one has with Time Warner Cable.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A better kind of porn

Today I went to the "Home Entertainment Show 2007", an audio industry expo held in New York. Basically it was a one-stop-shop for high-end audio equipment manufacturers to show off their wares to those who (a) might buy some of it (elsewhere), or (b) would talk (a) into doing so.

One could wander from listening room to listening room... Tchaikovsky on $23k speakers... Verdi on $60k speakers attached to a $8k turntable, and then walk over to Melissa Etheridge on $20k speakers (the latter, say, being used merely to showcase a $27k amp).

My personal highlight, being entirely personal and, like so many
dinosaurs-being-thin-at-one-end,- then-wide-at-the-middle,-
and-finally-thin-at-the-other-end-type theories, not reproducible, was that of listening to a Super-Audio CD of Dire Straits "So Far Away" on a pair of these:

(ugly as sin, and just as tasty)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

It is always a beautiful day
when she is seventeen

It was a beautiful day.

For months a group of a couple dozen Barack Obama supporters had been gearing up to throw a rally in downtown Manhattan, New York, to raise funds and awareness for the campaign. Today was the big day, and we pulled it off without a hitch. The weather was beautiful, the speakers were beautiful, the live music was beautiful, the crowd was beautiful and we were gorgeous. My special thanks to Jeffrey, Howard, Raj, and all who made it possible for me to help out.

The following photos were taken at the rally; yours truly can be seen in the last shot. I'm going to upload some video as soon as I figure out why Google Video doesn't like what my camera spits out (or somebody can tell me how to get around the 100MB/file limit on YouTube).

Lyrics are credited below.

She has no fear of failure,

she's not bent with broken dreams.

For the future's just beginning

when you're always seventeen

It was nineteen sixty-one
when we went to Washington;
she put her arms around me
and said, "Camelot's begun."

We listened to his visions
of how our land should be;
we gave him our hearts and minds
to send across the sea.

Nineteen sixty-three,
white and black upon the land;
she brought me to the monuments
and made us all join hands.

And scarcely six months later
she held me through the night
when we heard what had happened
in that brutal Dallas light.
Oh, she is always seventeen;
she has a dream that she will lend us
and a love that we can borrow.

There is so much joy inside her
she will even share her sorrow;

she's our past, our present,
and our promise of tomorrow.

Oh, truly she's the only hope
I've seen, and she is always seventeen.

It was nineteen sixty-five
and we were marching once more
from the burning cities
against a crazy war.

Memphis, L.A. and Chicago
we bled through sixty-eight
till she took me up to Woodstock
saying with love it's not too late.

We started out the seventies
living off the land;
she was sowing seeds in Denver
trying to make me understand
that mankind is woman
and woman is man,
and until we free each other
we cannot free the land.
Oh, she is always seventeen;
she has a dream that she will lend
us and a love that we can borrow.
There is so much joy inside her
she will even share her sorrow;

she's our past, our present,
and our promise of tomorrow.
Oh, truly she's the only hope I've seen,
and she is always seventeen.

Nineteen seventy-two,
I'm at the end of my rope,
but she was picketing the White House
chanting, "The truth's the only hope."

In nineteen seventy-five
when the crooked king was gone
she was feeding starving children
saying the dream must go on.

She is always seventeen;
she has a dream that she will lend us and a love that we can borrow.
There is so much joy inside her she will even share her sorrow.

Oh, truly she's the only hope I've seen,
and she is always seventeen.

(New York state senator Bill Perkins

was kind enough to come

to speak to our crowd and to

underscore his endorsement

of Barack Obama)

sign up!

Unfortunately Harry Chapin died in 1981
so we don't know how he would continue the song;
I welcome suggestions from those who can rhyme 'n' scan.

You may download an mp3 of the song here.

Mr. Chapin's estate is entirely welcome to sue me;
I'm sure that's what Harry would have wanted.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Air Was Something In There Tonight (the)

I went to see my favorite electronic music perform live at the Madison Square Garden last night. Air is a French duo (sorry, freedom combo) who specialize in repetitive (I mean, hypnotic....) electronic and computer-generated music.

Why bother to go see computer-generated music live? Because their computer likes it when they play along with their guitar and so do I.

Here are three of their songs, recorded in Worble-Sound(tm) with my digital camera.

Kelly Watched the Stars
Sexy Boy
La Femme d'Argent

(will be posted shortly)

searching for no. 5

no 5 with a knife to the heart

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Oliver Stone's Iraq War Ad

Slate's take ( 's actually) on Oliver Stone's anti-Iraq War ad is somewhat interesting (note that the Republican "total approval" curve never actually goes below 0%/neutral !) but all I'm left thinking afterwards is: "It took Oliver Stone to produce this ??"

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Lion Roared

(or: Why is Al Sharpton following me?)

Christopher Hitchens debates the thesis of his new book, “God is Not Great” with Al Sharpton at the New York City Public Library

Last night I went to the New York City Public Library to see one of my favorite geopolitical writers present the arguments behind his brilliant new book, God is Not Great, or as we programmers like to call it: (Allah’u != ackbar). Among many other things for which I admire him there is his having played the role of Devil’s Advocate during the beatification hearings for Mother Theresa (or as he preferred to describe the task, serving “to represent the devil pro bono”).

Some personal back-story: I had actually purchased the entrance ticket back in February before I had even heard of the book, which was published this month. I thought it was just a refreshing change of pace for him to speak about a more ready-made “general-interest” topic than Jefferson, Orwell, or Cyprus and was curious how his laser-focused mind would handle it. Furthermore, at the time it was not billed as a debate, but merely implied a lecture/Q&A format, and certainly not a debate with Al Sharpton specifically (click for a photo truly horrific in every sense imaginable). I had reviewed the event web page a couple of days before the date in order to send it out to friends and encourage them to join me and discovered that the format had changed (or so it seemed to me; I tend to miss the obvious with ease). “Uh oh” was the best reaction I could come up with. (Wasn’t John Shelby Spong available?)

While I can’t be sure through what perverse talent-search process we ended up with Mr. Sharpton, I can certainly say that he came unprepared in the worst of ways and that his main strategy was to dishonestly re-frame Hitchens’ thesis in a way that was convenient to him in order to “win”; so much for unshakeable faith.

The thesis of the book can probably be summed up as follows: The instigation of belief in an all-powerful, all-castigating, all-judging supernatural being is, in itself, prejudicial to the good of mankind. We can say “in itself” because, in addition to what little practical or emotional good might come of it (and which could be gotten through other means) it is, as a result of human nature (which is, to uninvitedly paraphrase Hobbes, cruel, brutish, yet long on the manipulative arts), always guaranteed to be used as a means of controlling people and to justify behavior that they would otherwise find reprehensible. Hitchens gives several examples of this in the book, taken both from current events (e.g., suicide bombers, the cruel existence of Israel, the indulgence of child-molesting priests, the prohibition of simple prophylactics which prevent disease and the conception of unwanted-children and thus, ironically, reduce the need for abortions etc etc) and long-standing “cultural” traditions that are permitted and more often encouraged explicitly by scriptures of all major religions (e.g., both male and female circumcision, slavery, segregation, and everywhere, at all times, war).

Mr. Sharpton takes this clear-headed premise and insisted that “we are not here to debate scriptures; we are here to address the title of your book, ‘God is Not Great’. You are saying that people who misuse religion will do evil things; that is clear to me also, but it does not address the central issue of whether God does or does not exist, or whether he is or is not great.” (I have a bad habit of quoting such things from memory but in the interest of not waiting until the transcripts come out I have done my best to do Mr. Sharpton’s point justice; I will update with explicit corrections once we do have transcripts).

Hitchens, in an argument that either went completely over Mr. Sharpton’s head or was deliberately ignored (not once, but four times) explained that if one is to describe “God” as omniscient and omnipresent then unless one is God one can never know God; that God is outside the realm of what is knowable, thus (given the lack of evidence that is useful in ways other than presumptive in the putting-the-cart-before-the-horse sense) the question of God’s existence is not a tractable one and outside the scope of any intellectually honest conversation. But of course, this is the only argument to be found in Hitchens’ book which, as he admits himself, cannot be proven or disproven, by himself or anybody else, thus Shaprton chose to interpret the nature of the debate circumscribed within that area exclusively and smugly challenged Hitchens, over and over, to prove something that cannot be, and thus does not need to be, prove. *Yawn*.

Still, it was a satisfying evening with more than its share of interesting moments (quite a few actually illuminative regardless of opinion). Probably the one that will stick out in my memory of this was of the first person to the mic during the Q&A session. It was a short, roundish, middle-aged woman (which the Pythons might have described as an updated American version of their “pepperpot” character) whose haltingly, deliberately delivered (and clearly overly-rehearsed) contribution went something very much like this:

“Mr. Hitchens, what makes you think that average, normal Americans like myself are interested in the ramblings of a secular, superficial foreigner who goes out of his way to demonstrate how his knowledge of religion is shorter than his penis?”

... the dumbstruck silence was deafening as she, without waiting for a response, calmly walked back to her chair. Then the next person, without missing a beat, simply stepped up and asked the first actual question of the evening. I’m glad she was not even given the satisfaction of shock.

A few minutes and questions later, a man stood at the mic and said:

“Mr. Hitchens, I want to start by letting you know that I am also an atheist, but that I’m in the process of writing the opposite book you wrote. I am writing a book that, from the atheist’s perspective, seeks to defend and justify religion. Having said that, and with the fair assumption that 95% of people are religious and find value in it, and 5% of people are atheistic and find no such value, can you explain the rationale of engaging a point of view which would satisfy 5% of people and make 95% of people unhappy?”

Hitchens’ initial response was appropriately pithy, directed at no-one in particular: “...what an astonishingly stupid question..!”, for which he later on bothered to apologize (I imagine due to concern at being accused of impolite name-calling; he is, after all, British, even if of the more interestingly hot-headed sort). I myself went further than that in my own mind’s response to the question: “Because it happens to be true, you inexplicably literate pinhead!”

After the Q&A, there was the obligatory book-signing and queue-based kvetching with the author that goes along with it. I took the liberty of writing on the inside cover what is perhaps the most true and undeniable statement made on stage all evening, which happened to be spoken by Mr. Sharpton, and asked Hitchens if he would mind signing my copy of the book alongside that quote. He put on his glasses, saw what I had written, paused, and smiled at himself. “I like irony”, I said. “My pleasure”, was his response as he began to write.

...or, rather, scrawl; it wasn’t until the next day I had the time to look up his addition to Mr. Sharpton’s line and realized that “Ecrasez Ii’njam” [sic; see link ahead] was not the name of some obscure Albanian freethinker but rather a quote from Voltaire, which now happily graces my book. My thanks to him for directing me to it.

In closing, I found it satisfying that the event took place in the lower-level auditorium (the very belly, if you will) of the New York City Public Library, a treasury of knowledge that flies in the face of superstition, harmless or otherwise. Paul Holdengräber (yes, really), the director of public programs of this lecture/debate/etc series (enticingly named “Live From the NYPL”), introduced the evening by declaring that his job description was “to make the lions roar”, referring to the pair of leonine statues, nicknamed “Patience” and “Fortitude”, which flank the grand stairs in front of the building. Indeed, last night one of the two took a much-deserved vacation and allowed the other to roar mightily.

(the water glass out of which he drank
during the debate; it has been known
to cure lumbago in those who touch it)

How Curious...

While there is nothing sadder that somebody trying to sing bubblegum dance pop with a thick, uncooperative Castillian tongue, it is however worthy of note that this is probably the first instance of an unabashedly sexual, 100%-equal-time bisexual music video. I know this because a friend of mine told me the chick has "awesome, perfect tits" and I believe her.

Feel free to provide links in order to correct me on the "firstness" of this all day long if that's what it takes. (Link & image go to full video & screencaps).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


(sorry for the slow news cycle; I'm on vacation but this is the news I've been waiting for months and I had to share)

Obama gains on Clinton in US presidential race

Apr 30 05:33 PM US/Eastern

View larger image

US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's popularity has grown among likely voters, according to a poll released Monday which suggested he was gaining on rival frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

The poll by the Rasmussen Institute predicted Obama would get 32 percent of the vote in February's primary, compared to 30 percent for Clinton, who until now has been the consistent favorite for the Democratic party.

(full story behind the link)

knowing mommy is crazy makes lunchtime fun

"I just wanted my son to have fun
when he goes to day care on Saturdays,"
explains Shimomura as she uses tweezers
to place tiny teeth-shaped bits of cheese
in the dinosaur's mouth.

(link goes to full story)

Something I may or may not recommend depending on which ad is shown: