Sunday, April 30, 2006

Lot's Wife [a poem]

To hear them talk
you’d think there was
a pillar of salt
at every corner

So many preachers
so many voyeurs
leaving pillars
to support the subway


Saturday, April 29, 2006

Previously Pressed: Tulips Are Great Reminders

Walking through Cadman Plaza this morning, admiring the early flowers reminded me of a poem I wrote many years ago. Then I remembered, that the poem was in the chapbook I made, Toggled, for which I coined 917press in the first place.

Why it took so long to realize that this blog is as good a venue for my poems as any, I can't say. Perhaps I'll get back into the swing of things with my poetry. Without further ado, the poem:


it was almost
the seduction
by my neighbor’s

at first
they puckered
for sweet kisses
as they woke
from winter

but soon they
were flashing me
in garishly bright colours
on dreary grey days
full of cold rains

the girls were
brazen enough
to lean towards me
voluptuous as they were
as I passed

petals spread open
rich with the bouquet
of their pollen
and the lingering
smell of rain

I admit it
I went out of my way
to see them

but as April became May
I found new romances
leaving the tulips
to scream at me
in disgust

Friday, April 28, 2006

Underselling our results

Last night's presentation went very well.

The most encouraging part was our advisor's feeling that we under-sold part of our findings. Earlier I reported to you that Brazil's highway density did not show a positive correlation with gross state product in the aggregate.

She felt that we needed to stress how highways behaved differently between the South/Southeast and non-south and between the coastal and interior states.

The pictures were a big hit.

Two Echoes from My Past

I'm being a little nostalgic I suppose. There are two pieces in this week's New Yorker that were particularly resonant.

The first is reading Bill Buford's piece "Carnal Knowledge" in the New Yorker, about his learning traditional Italian butcher techniques and subsequently butchering a pig from the Union Square greenmarket.

Besides its intriguing perspective on the tension between traditional crafts/skills in a modern age, there was this great quip:
"We had many meals, four hundred and fifty of them, or what worked out to less than fifty cents a plate as we ate from the snout (which went into the sausages) to the tail (which I added to the ragu). But the lesson wasn't in the animal's economy. This pig, we knew precisely, had been slaughtered for our table, and we ended up feeling an affection for it that surprised us."
My fellow Larsonites may identify with this passage as well, as it reminds me of Pig Roast, a spring tradition of my college dorm (Larson). Pig Roast was one instance that brought me out from my vegetarianism precisely because of Buford's sentiment.

We got the pig from a local farmer. We kept it on ice the night before in our friends' Tim & Howie's bathtub (he was the dorm manager). Then very early, I helped light the coals, and put the spit in the cooker, and blessed the pig with a poem. Ben Coltvet made an audio diary of the day, which I've listened to occasionally. Really, more than the idea of pulled pork sandwiches (which were delicious), I got swept up in the communal feel of the experience, and the localness of the meat. My vegetarianism at the time was based on the feeling of disconnect with where our meat was coming from.

This ties in nicely too with previous thoughts on consumption, food and morality/theology.


The other thread has to do with the film United 93. I've been dreading its release, admitting to myself that it is one aspect of 9/11 that I am not quite ready to experience. But reading David Denby's review in the New Yorker, I was reminded of similar theatrical experience that was very powerful, Collective Unconscious' Charlie Victor Romeo (CVR), a theatre piece based on the cockpit voice recordings of plane crashes or near crashes. It was gripping to see several scenes begin with the mundane, move to tense, and end in tragedy or relief. The sound in the show was deep and powerful, further pushing the visceral feeling of the piece.

In my most defensive frame of mind with United 93, I'd chalk up my interest in CVR as morbid fascination. But when I actually think of what it was like in the audience, there was much more going on. I can't say that led to some understanding of life, but it was one of the most powerful experiences of theatre or art. So, maybe I'll go.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Presenting our paper: Brazil's highways misbehave

We are presenting our paper today to our research class, and Tuesday as part of Wagner's Capstone End Event.

What did we find?
We found that there was not a consistent, positive relationship between highway density and gross state product. However, when dividing the country by region (South/Southeast) or if a state was coastal, we did see a positive relationship while the non-south and interior states continued to show a negative relationship. There are lots of conditions that lead up this conclusion of which I'll spare you.

The most fun seeming part of the project was putting together our slide presentation and raiding Flickr for fun pictures like the ones above, used to introduce our presentation and discussion sections.

Using Scott McCloud's comics concept of closure (the meaning conveyed by the juxtaposition of frames), these two slides convey our findings, and in some ways our process. Nonetheless, we've arrived at our destination.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rest in Peace Jane Jacobs [Updated]

Jane Jacobs died today. I've never read her seminal work "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," but I certainly appreciate the impact of her work. Not the least involves standing up to Robert Moses so we still have a Chinatown, SoHo and Greenwich Village to walk through.

Like many who become too cool to live in the US (Steve Lindstrom, Ramona Flowers to name two), she relocated to Canada.

[Update] Here are some more profiles and obits from the NYTimes and Toronto Star (with a super cute pic) and The Project for Public Spaces. NYMetro even pulled some quotes from NYU Wagner's Mitchell Moss.

The AP Obit gave a mention that her clash with Moses inspired the 2004 play "Boozy." That play was produced by the plucky Les Freres Corbusier, a Greenwall grantee. Jacobs was portrayed by the lovely and fiery Nina Hellman.

Monday, April 24, 2006

CBA Backlash at 85 Adams Street

For a number of reasons, I read with interest an article in Metro about an ACORN protest at 85 Adams Street in Brooklyn yesterday, not the least being how I've watched it grow all winter as I walk down to DUMBO. But what leads me to this post were a number comments (#s 6, 9, 10, 15, 19) in the related post on (who doesn't seem to believe in citing authors, so I will, Amy Zimmer).

There's quite a bit of skepticism and hostility towards ACORN, who participated in negotiating a community benefits agreement(CBA) with Bruce Ratner for the Atlantic Yards development (AKA Nets Stadium).

Writes "Concerned":

Yes, I think ACORN's ulterior motives are questionable. I think the authorities should investigate ACORN's organization to see if maybe bribes are lining up another set of pockets. Pockets of so-called activists in sheep's clothing. That could very well be a lucrative enterprise since they can use innocent Brooklynites with good intentions as pawns to promote ACORN's agenda to extort the developers.

We've talked a lot about community organizing in my community equity and wealth building class, as well as how CBAs are negotiated, and the seeming conflict of interest that emerge when community organizations get large settlements as part of them. Like negotiations to enforce the Community Reinvestment Act, when not clearly representative of the community in question, can look like "bribes" or extortion.

On one hand, shouldn't developers and businesses give back to the community part of the very lucrative breaks they get from local government? On the other, it does not bode well for business climate and economic incentives in communities suffering from decades of disinvestment to be so demanding, and in many ways hostel to local investment.

In any case, affordable housing is huge issue in the city. It's good that people are aware of what kind of breaks developers capitalize on.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sourcing Stravinsky

Jen joined me for Sourcing Stravinsky at DTW last night. It was a series curated by Annie-B Parson, whose own work, as much as anyone I've seen, suggests that we all can move with grace.

As a whole, the dances illustrated how much the avant-garde has changed since then. Much of the music seem somber, harshly accent with jarring, stabbing phrases. In contrast, none of the dances executed those phrases with somber, serious movement. No, there was irony. There were video snippets of Balanchine and Robbins’ sincere movement. There was video of Stravinsky himself conducting, serious, without irony. It was easy to envision Martha Graham, channeling that rhythmic, intense music in stark seriousness. But every piece last night had a wink. Yes there was reverence, but many winks. And I think that's good for the avant-garde.

You can read more about the evening in two NYTimes articles.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Edible Brooklyn

I spotted a new neighborhood publication yesterday, Edible Brooklyn; celebrating the borough's food culture, season by season. This ties in nicely recent thoughts on consumerism and morality... being more aware of local, seasonal, and slow food culture. It's part of a larger group of "edible" communities. The first issues featured Jacques Torres, my neighborhood chocolatier. If you didn't know, I love those chocolate covered orange slices!

A couple of weeks ago, my community equity class had someone from
NYIRN talk about sectoral development, that is targeted economic development by business sector. One of the most exciting sectors in NYC is food processing. Thus the program "Food from New York." It tends to be small business, somewhat specialized labor that has a growing market among artisinal foods. There are over a thousand firms employing approximately 14,400 in the City.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Catching Up Is the Only Thing New

Ask me what's news, and it's mostly the same refrain: school, comics, and in the past week, being ill. I'm really looking forward to a new verse.

I recently picked up Adrian
Tomine's Sleepwalk, a collection of stories from his comic Optic Nerve, that Jason once passed on to me. The pathos in the story telling is devastating. One piece about a widow who eats lunch in her driveway, in the car her husband courted her in, made me a little weepy.

Another story, of an ex-hippy dad taking his teen twin daughters to a comics convention as a family trip was equally evocative for me. It reminded me of when I got really into comics, my mom would drive me to a shop in Valley Junction, an old part of West Des Moines, so I could pick up new ones. Could we have done this every week? Probably. For how long? I don't know.

Part of what is compelling is how it conveys a shift in parent-child relationships. Like when the child forgets how accommodating the parent has been and continues to be. The parent is left in a lurch just getting used to this new phase in their kid's life. The kid no longer needs the parent for or wants to share this part of their life with the parent. All this stuff happens without words being exchanged. The reader may feel sadness for the parent and frustration at the kid, but it's tough, no one is expected to have that conversation, or be well equipped to say, "I need independence, but I don't know how... yet.

Anyway, thanks mom, for keeping interested, for trying stuff, for being a really great mom. And thanks dad, for keeping interested, for trying stuff, for being a really great dad.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Remembering Skeate Books

Yesterday I mused on remembering old acquaintances... yet there was one tangent that I couldn't remember... what was the name of the bookstore in Decorah when I was at Luther?

I recently started re-reading parts of How to Dream, a gift from David many years ago, before going to sleep. It definately is increasing dream recall, but last night it helped regular recall. The answer to my question above is Skeate Books, run by Jeffrey and Elizabeth Skeate, though many years out of business. The answer popped into a night full of dreams.

They connect with the previous post in that Jeff Skeate encouraged me to go hear Seamus Heaney read in Iowa City by giving me the store copy of Heaney's collected poems to have signed. He said whether or not I bought the book, it'd be a good experience. It was a good experience, I bought the book, and it is the first book I had signed by the author. I often think of that exchange when I have books signed.

I had Charles Simic sign some books when I saw him with Jay, and Seamus Heaney was mentioned in the Writers Alamanac to mark his birthday.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dynamite on a China Plate: a Voice from the Past

I got a nice heads up from an old acquaintance. Poet Jay Leeming is having poems from his book Dynamite on a China Plate read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac on Wednesday April 12 and Friday April 14.

His name brings back a couple memories... I recall meeting him at the Russian Samovar in the west 50s. We were waiting to see Charles Simic read but got the night wrong and met again on the right night. We had the Twin Cities in common and chatted about books and music. I ran into him at another reading in Bryant Park with Charles Simic, Stanley Kunitz, and Derek Walcott. I have a silly picture I took of Stanley Kunitz from very far away, and only of his head. But I when I came across it last weekend, I immediately remembered that he was in it.

Charles Simic reminds me of Jim Francis who gave me that recommendation. It is one of the best literary recommendations. Besides loving his style of poetry, his poems and essays helped me fall in love the City and food so great, they are an event in themselves.

Tune in, read some poetry, think about old acquaintances.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pizzeria Kamikaze and the Gospel According to Judas

The coming of Palm Sunday helped me make a couple connections. The first piece was picking up Pizzeria Kamikaze at Rocketship. It’s an Israeli comic, done gorgeous in silver and black, about several characters who killed themselves and exist in an afterlife (what’s the Hebrew word for purgatory?) much like their former lives, except the characters keep the wounds and disfigurement from their offing. The continuity of the afterlife with their former lives is reminiscent of Will Self’s story The North London Book of the Dead.

There are two particularly poignant episodes. The first, the two main characters (who are Israeli) enter a bar full of Arabs, the bar tender having been a suicide bomber. The exchange offers leveling perspective of the Palestinian conflict.

The second episode features Joshua, who had first offed himself in a sacrificial suicide. Even if you didn’t know that Joshua and Jesus are the same Hebrew name, the connection is clear. The short of it is J kills himself a second time, plunging him to a place with more despair with other second suicides.

I only now thought about Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, and Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, both of which offer intriguing perspectives on the Passion, great “truth” telling from the devil (dare I say devil’s advocate?), and suggest that damnation under an omniscient, omnipotent god is suspect. As one might guess, the real link in all is this is the announcement of the Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of Judas this past week.

In PK’s absence of a Judas, there is no distinction between suicide and self-sacrifice, there is only premeditated death (with the expectation of resurrection in this case). The newly revealed gospel argues that Judas was only disciple who understood that Jesus must die to conquer sin. Still Judas’ cardinal sin lingers not as treachery, but as despair in the act of suicide, and as argued by Guirgis, the despair of mortal incapable of knowing the future.
In contrast, Jesus, as God incarnate, knows all. Saramago imagines, not just of resurrection, but of Christian persecution at the hands of Romans, of slaughters in the name of Christ in crusades, inquisitions, colonization, and the holocaust.

Thus, the cause of Christianity has many sacrifices, but Jesus was the only one who could rise again. One can read it as a blessing or a curse.

In other Messiah related news, if Elijah knows what's good for him, he'll show up Wednesday at J&M's for the most excellent charoset, not to mention company, ever.

The Cause for Scaffolding

420 Lex Brick.jpg
Originally uploaded by 917press.
Several years ago I learned that the scaffolding up around the City's buildings are to check, repair and protect against deteriorating brick, mortar and terra cotta.

But until last month, I had never had a good vantage point of what the repair might entail. This is taken from the 25th floor.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

World Record Sideshow Craziness

Whitney was kind enough to take me to Coney Island USA's Gala Benefit last night. Several years ago I went through a huge interest in circus arts, sideshows and burlesque, so it was great to see several of my favorites perform.

I had two favorites: First I saw the most dazzlingly enjoyable burlesque act ever: Grinder Girl, a lady wearing a metal bodice that, with an electric grinder, shot sparks off her chest. The coup de grace was a very literal golden shower. Then I saw the world record (formerly 81) for eating mini hotdogs in 10 minutes broken by both the Unofficial Mayor of Coney Island and competitive eating rookie Dick Zigun (87!), as well as by winner, Crazy Legs Conti at a staggering 92.5.

For these reasons and many more last night was full of delights and surprises.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Embedded Symbols

I recently became conscious of the arrow in the Fed Ex logo. I think that's what got me thinking about the Washington Mutual logo.... and how it remindes me of the World Trade Center.

It's off a little, but then Vik Muniz in his "Best of Life" series of drawings based on famous photographs demonstrates that exact replication isn't necessary, merely a sense of similarity.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Moral Responsibility Through Food and Shopping

The Journal of Lutheran Ethics published a thoughtful essay by Clint Schneckloth (Luther classmate and fellow frisbee player) on theology of eating.

It's timely for me on two accounts. First, a conversation last night, has me meditating on my food habits, prior vegetarianism, and what I feel I ought to eat. Secondly, in my community equity and wealth building class, I keep thinking about the how economic incentives or thrift, as exercised in consumer choices, so quickly quash market interventions to support small businesses or living wages.

He first considers historic Judeo-Christian perspectives on food... not to eat food sacrificed to false idols, and eating sumptuously while others starve, a perspective on community. Then, in a modern context he considers free market choices (which I'd emphasize is predicated on the sovereignty of consumer choice)

Clint succinctly summarizes "We assume buying is morally neutral." Then he considers why food costs are low and their consequences: we can have oranges year-round, cheap folgers coffee, and plenty of feed grain for livestock. As a result we don't want to eat seasonal local food, we think free trade coffee is unnecessarily expensive, and we think a meal must have meat, but we don't connect it with our knowledge that food workers are underpaid, that growers pollute as they use pesticides or herbicides increase yields, that significant amounts of air pollution come from the transit of food. In short, we're dealing with externalities (costs born outside of the free market exchange), and thus, market failure.

To tie this back to community equity, equitable development deals with rental/real estate markets, retail markets, and labor markets. We create urban crises by limiting the costs of our consumption to our transaction costs. Thus, we fail to see how we contribute to overall trends: loss of jobs, disinvestment, illegal immigration, further separation between rich and poor, if not in distance, certainly in empathy. If the consumer is sovereign in a free market economy, then the consumer has responsibility when the market fails.

Immigration and Big Airplanes

I suppose I should make a week of it....

Mom reminded me that April 3rd marked my 25th anniversary of becoming a US citizen. The ceremony was on Friday, but my folks threw a party for my brother Andrew and me on the following Sunday, the 5th.

She remembers, "it was important to you and Andy that you go to your soccer games AND Dad and I thought you should go too." Our coach and some friends were in charge of shuttling us between our games and the party. In 1981, I was six and change. I don't remember the party so much, but there are several photographs from that day that I remember. My uncle Dan came down from Gaylord, and we had our citizenship certificates on display.

When Mom and Bonnie visited me in 1999, I took them to De La Guarda. One of the troupe captains was the son of the judge who presided over citizenship ceremony.

In addition, April 8, 1977 is my Big Airplane Day... I think you can figure that part out.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Street Crossing Quirks [Updated]

Walk with me through the City and you'll notice that I don't step on anything metal embedded into the street, particularly if it says ConEdison. Usually I see my obstacles early enough to navigate a smooth route, but occasionally I get jammed, and need to maneuver more obviously. Often I'll direct a companion with a tug or nudge.

The reason? I fear stray voltage. In the past five or so years, there have been several news clippings of people or their pets getting zapped by stray voltage. Another dude got lit last night.

article theorizes that the salt laid down in winter contributes to stray voltage. The NYTimes reported in February: "Con Edison received 428 allegations of shocks last year, down from 576 reports in 2004". There are 260,000 ConEd covers and junction boxes in the City, so the risk is low. Some how eliminating that risk helps justify my chronic j-walking.

A side effect of my vigilance is that I'm enamored by the variation of manhole covers. Thankfully there are
many who share the fascination.

[5 April UPDATE] NY Metro notes the "Street Utilities Safety Bill" under consideration in City Hall. The bill "mandate(s) financial penalties on utility companies when their equipment or infrastructure endangers, injures or kills pedestrians or animals."

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Brutal Honesty of 12-Year Olds

Mitchell visited my apartment for the first time yesterday. While looking through a number of pictures, he quickly picked up on two points: 1) that I and my friends have traveled and lived all over the world; 2) that all my friends are couples while I am soley single. The second point, he took special delight in rubbing in (though I do have single friends!). Not that my single status hasn't occurred to me in the past few months. If only he had attended Dave & Alexandra's engagement party to note that I'm also falling behind in child rearing.

Despite Mitchell's digs, I don't need to feel lonely. This past week... well, really the past few months, I've been reminded of the wealth of friends I have built up and whom I've seen much more regularly, despite my studies. Feeling lonely and single then just distracts from enjoying the time I am sharing with them.

Jason mentioned that these posts are often product placement through the lens of my experience. If anything, that observation exposes a failure on my part to convey how my experience is enriched by my friends and family. Sure I've explored on my own, and adopted that as a character trait, but friends have guided me towards interesting experiences, or helped me understand richness, or most often, simply themselves been wonderful, comforting and engaging. So I like my life now... though it would be fun to share.

A final note on the singularity, and how luck favors the prepared. A suggestion for my fellow shy: carry a box of chocolates with you and you'll make friends, even if you don't share the candy.