Friday, December 14, 2007

Dishonorable Degrees

Twice a year, Jude M. Werra, of Jude M. Werra & Associates, a headhunting firm in Brookfield, Wisconsin, reviews the hundreds of résumés he has seen in the previous six months—the elegant, triumphant C.V.s of C.E.O.s and V.P.s—and he condenses them into a single statistic. "It's the number of people who've misrepresented their education divided by the number of people whose education we checked," Werra explained last week: in short, the percentage of people who invented a degree. Werra calls it the Liars Index. The index, which has been published since 1995, was at its highest in the first half of 2000: 23.3 per cent. It now stands at 11.2 per cent.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Asperger's Syndrome - Music Critic Tim Page

"From early childhood, my memory was so acute and my wit so bleak that I was described as a genius—by my parents, by our neighbors, and even, on occasion, by the same teachers who gave me failing marks. I wrapped myself in this mantle, of course, as a poetic justification for behavior that might otherwise have been judged unhinged, and I did my best to believe in it. But the explanation made no sense. A genius at what? Were other “geniuses” so oblivious that they couldn’t easily tell right from left and idly wet their pants into adolescence? What accounted for my rages and frustrations, for the imperious contempt I showed to people who were in a position to do me harm? Although I delighted in younger children, whom I could instruct and gently dominate, and I was thrilled when I ran across an adult willing to discuss my pet subjects, I could establish no connection with most of my classmates. My pervasive childhood memory is an excruciating awareness of my own strangeness."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: Channeling Dick Cheney

"If she were taking advantage of Mr. Cheney’s madness, Secretary Rice would be going to Tehran and saying to the Iranians: “Look, I’m ready to cut a deal with you guys, but I have to tell you, back home, I’ve got Cheney on my back and he is truly craaaaazzzzy. You guys don’t know the half of it."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

I've read two Vonnegut books now, and I'm not really sure what I've gotten from them. Honestly, having the author comment on the characters within the exposition about them is, to me, like waking up from a dream; no matter how hard you try to get back to the feeling you had inside that original context, it's difficult (if not impossible) to believe in it again.

But there was one passage that I can't forget. This is months now since I've read it, and it keeps coming back to me:

"America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, "It ain't no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be." It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters."

"Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue... Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times."

"Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

9/11 Is Over - Thomas L. Friedman

"Times columnists are not allowed to endorse candidates, but there’s no rule against saying who will not get my vote: I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

When I'm 50, Give Me Fireworks

"WHEN I turned 50, my girlfriend took me to dinner at one of those places where all the vegetables are “baby,” if not prenatal, and the waiters aren’t much older. My son and my brother joined us, making it an intimate gathering of all the people I love.

I was miserable. This was it? Where were the balloons, the band, the this-is-your-life surprise guests? What does one have to do for a little extra attention? I mean, I had successfully navigated five decades. If I were a 50-year-old bridge or a decommissioned aircraft carrier, there’d be fireworks. I wasn’t proud of it, but I wanted more."

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Coudal Partners: Verse by Voice

I don't know how to categorize Coudal Partners, a website that I link to from the Sundust Design page, but it showcases a wonderful collection of varied creatives.

They are about to begin another round of something they call "Layer Tennis," wherein "Two artists (or two small teams of artists) will swap a file back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work. Each artist gets fifteen minutes to complete a "volley" and then we post that to the site. A third participant, a writer, provides play-by-play commentary on the action, as it happens. The matches last for ten volleys and when it's complete, everyone visiting the site votes for a winner."

But it's not just web design stuff. And one of my favorite things there is called Verse by Voice, a collection of poems read by Coudal friends and fans on their answering machine. The recordings are pretty rough, but they're good and plain. Take a listen.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

It's Not How Good You Are...

I'm ashamed to admit that I was shopping at Urban Outfitters tonight. I found my favorite t-shirt there, and ever since then I find myself uncomfortably looking through the other clothing there, wondering if I might look good (or, perhaps, younger) in an Atari t-shirt and a pair of Converse All-Stars. The answer is, absolutely not.

But there's something a little too canned about the whole UO thing, isn't there? Like Pottery Barn, or, scarier yet, Hot Topic, it seems like the idea is to walk in and buy a complete life, kitschy accessories and all. But, like the silk calla lilies permanently frozen in clear plastic resin-filled vases at Restoration Hardware, it only appears authentic from a distance. People should own ratty t-shirts, made that way from years of wear. We naturally amass small collections of curios from the places we visit. Pablo Neruda, in his poem entitled "Ode to Things," wrote,
I have a crazy,
crazy love of things.
I like pliers,
and scissors.
I love
and bowls –
not to speak, or course,
of hats.
I love
all things,
not just
the grandest,
small –
and flower vases.

and later:

many things conspired
to tell me the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
or my hand touched them:
they were
so close
that they were a part
of my being,
they were so alive with me
that they lived half my life
and will die half my death.
But it seems wrong to have a supplier (or "outfitter") for these items. I believe many of these stores are, more accurately, suburban outfitters.

But, as I stood there, sifting through brand new items that were designed to look broken-in, I found a book called "It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be," in which the following phrase appears: "You must develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end," and "failures and false starts are a precondition of success."

It's a good book. It's filled with all sorts of different ways of thinking about things. I'm considering adopting a few of its tenets. I'm hoping it will lead me to feel better about the fact that I bought and enjoyed a self-help book from Urban Outfitters.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nerve Essay: The Goatee Period

Since my sophomore year of college, I've liked reading the essays, articles, and advice on Sure, some of it's smut, but it's at least literary smut.

Last week, I happened upon Alexander Maksik's personal essay called, "Dealbreaker: The Goatee; And how it can lead to the end of everything." It's not at all smut. In fact, I'm not clear on why it was published on Nerve. Yeah, there's a girl involved, but that part seems to take a backseat to the author's professional concerns. So it goes.

For the first few paragraphs, I thought I was reading my own story. Like the author at the time, I am in the middle of what I can say are my "salad days." I also have a goatee, though I've never assigned it much importance, as he does. It's only function, really, is to keep me from looking like a baby.

In this essay, I'm not certain the goatee had anything to do with the big change. My guess is that it was the drugs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Art and Craft of the Machine

I've been reading a few books through, a website that sends little chunks of books to your email inbox daily. For me, the concept has gotten me thinking again about copyright and the ways it will need to change.

Today, it's Frank Lloyd Wright's tiny book, "The Art and Craft of the Machine," which seems like an incredibly appropriate subject to be reading about in email:
"In the years which have been devoted in my own life to working out in stubborn materials a feeling for the beautiful, in the vortex of distorted complex conditions, a hope has grown stronger with the experience of each year, amounting now to a gradually deepening conviction that in the Machine lies the only future of art and craft - as I believe, a glorious future; that the Machine is, in fact, the metamorphosis of ancient art and craft; that we are at last face to face with the machine - the modern Sphinx - whose riddle the artist must solve if he would that art live - for his nature holds the key."

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I interviewed Joli about a month ago, and I have been promising myself that I would sit down and do some work with it and get it posted. Here is her response to the prompt "Tell about a time when you gave a heartfelt apology."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Bacteria Whisperer

In April of 2003, I read an article in Wired magazine that absolutely floored me: "The Bacteria Whisperer." While the article's tag line is a bit frightening - "Bonnie Bassler discovered a secret about microbes that the science world has missed for centuries. The bugs are talking to each other. And plotting against us." (EEK!) - the part that got me excited was the information about the bobtail squid, which "lives in the knee-deep coastal shallows in Hawaii, burying itself in the sand during the day and emerging to hunt after dark. On moonlit nights, the squid's shadow on the sand should make it visible to predators, but it possesses a "light organ" that shines with a blue glow, perfectly matching the amount of light shining down through the water."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mr. Ravioli

I recently bought the Complete New Yorker, a set of DVDs that contain the last 80 years of that wonderful magazine. I've had a subscription for the last seven years, and, after finding some favorite articles in those first few issues, I've had a hard time parting with even a single issue. But, having recently moved in with my Fiancé, Joli, I have been encouraged to minimize. The DVD collection not only allowed me to throw out 300-400 issues of the magazine, but I also found quite a few other unnecessary issues of other magazines in my collection. In the end, there are very few issues of Maxim magazine worth buying, let alone keeping.

One of my favorite stories to date was Adam Gopnick's "Bumping into Mr. Ravioli: A theory of busyness, and its hero," a piece about his daughter's imaginary friend, who never seems to have time to play with her.

I never had an imaginary friend as a kid. But my sister had something called "The Fireplace People," whom she could see lounging and crawling about on the guardrails of the winding Colorado mountain roads. I can still remember being envious of that. She had books and imaginary friends in the hills. I had Danger Mouse, Legos, and our strange neighbors' kids.

The original piece appeared in a September, 2002, issue of the New Yorker. It was also included in the 2003 Best American Essays collection. You can find the full text by registering with Access My Library. Or you can listen to the audio recording at Assistive Media.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Questions and The Answers

My plan for this space is to explore the literary areas of interest to me, including writing, interviews, books, and articles. And so I've come up with a list of questions that I'd like to ask people; I think they reveal a lot about the person being interviewed. Appearing first in print and in the future, most likely, in sound recordings, here are the questions as responded to by Hunter Slaton, editor, Southern-Fried Gentleman, and all-around great guy:

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What do you want to be now?

I said, for the longest time, that I wanted to be a brain surgeon. Why? Because that seemed like the most advanced possible job. Not just surgeon, but brain surgeon. What can I say, I was an (annoyingly) precocious kid.

What do I want to be now? Some form of editor/writer. I'm happy that the job I chose directly after college has more or less been perfect for me. That said, I did apply for a job with the CIA awhile back ... and I've always had a fantasy of being a city planner.

As taken from a series of interviews during the taping of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon:
When was the last time you were violent?

Were you in the right?

Physically violent, I can't remember. I'm a lover not a fighter. But there was one time back in college when the girl I was with, or had been with, continued walking away from me when I was trying to talk to her. Things were really bad between us then, and she knew exactly how to push my buttons. I grabbed her arm as she tried to walk away, and she reacted, well, let's just say strongly. I haven't done that again. And no, I wasn't in the right. I should have just let her walk away.

Oh, and the curator of this blog and I started Fight Club on Antarctica. No biggie.

Describe an instance when you placed a good deal of trust in a complete stranger.

In New York this happens far more often than this does in other cities, I think; there are always weird confluences and situations you find yourself in with strangers wherein you are required to place some (not a ton, but still) amount of trust in one another. That, I think, is the process by which the fabric of the city knits itself.

But so: most recently, I was at an AA meeting and me and the guys setting up the meeting had blown a fuse. So I was underneath the area where the outlet was, trying to fix it, and as I came back up, I slashed my back on two wood screws poking down from the shelf above.

In short order after, I found myself shirtless in the bathroom of the St. Luke's School, where the meeting is, having my wound (which was in the middle of my back, and so therefore unreachable by me) cleaned and bandaged by a guy in AA I'd just met that evening. That's just one example of the egalitarian, altruistic nature of the program.

Tell about a time when you gave a heartfelt apology.

Since getting sober, I've given a lot of these, and I expect to give more soon as I move on to the 9th Step in AA. That's all I'll say for now.

Do you own a vanity book - a book you haven't read but keep on the shelf in the hopes that people will think you've read it?

What are the qualities you associate with this book?

I wouldn't say it's a vanity book as such, because I have read some of it and fully intend to read all of it when my plane crashes and I'm washed up on a desert island, but I haven't yet been able to make it through all of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce. To me, Finnegans Wake is a massive, strange monolith in the wilderness of literature. It contains multitudes (an understatement if there ever was one). I think it's got the whole history of human language, endeavor, fear and hope in there. At least I think so.

Describe the last time you lost something of value.

Is/was there a place you repeatedly look/looked for this item?

About a year ago now, my company was having a picnic in Central Park. After the picnic, I went downtown on the bus and got off at Astor Place. As I went to light a cigarette, I realized that my Antarctica Zippo lighter was missing. This was a real talisman for me. When I was still drinking, I kept it at home, such was its value to me and such was my fear that I'd lose it, drunk, out some night. When I got sober, I started trusting myself more and so started carrying it again.

But so that day I stood there on the street and knew that I could go back uptown and probably find it in the grass, where I knew I'd left it. I decided, though, that that chapter of my life was done -- sometimes things don't end right when they end; sometimes there's a long denouement. And so I let it go. I felt distinctly lighter (get it?) afterward.

Annular rings indicate the age of a tree; they form as a result of their environment. Give your age. Describe an event that aged you and when it occurred.

Many things have aged me; none more so than when the ship of myself ran aground on the rocks of Antarctica. This happened, or began happening, a little less than three years ago now. It was my own personal Vietnam. And a line from Thomas Pynchon's V. comes to mind: "The old sea dog chuckled. 'Oh there will be. You wait. Everyone has an Antarctic.'"

What makes the world go 'round?

The strange ability nested within all humans to imagine a world better than the one in which they daily live.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Jewel vs. Kurt Loder

I have been searching for FOREVER for a transcript of the little tussle that occurred between Jewel and Kurt Loder years and years ago.

As you may know, Jewel wrote a book of poetry that was wildly popular--to the dismay of many English teachers, I'm sure.

Kurt Loder found some problems with it:

LODER: There's a line you have,'There are nightmares on the sidewalks/there are jokes on TV/ there are people selling thoughtlessness with such casualty.' Casualty doesn't mean that, does it? Casualty's like a guy gets his arm blown off. I mean isn't that...

JEWEL: That's a type of casualty.

LODER: What?

JEWEL: It's a type of casualty that ...

LODER: No, really. I thought you were trying to say casualness.

JEWEL: No, casualty.

LODER: Oh, OK. All right. Are you a tech person? Do you take computers on the road, do you log on, e-mail?

JEWEL: No, I'm a bit archaic. I mean, I still write everything by hand. It's quite archaic.


JEWEL: It is wow. I'm dyslexic as heck. I mean, I just can't type well.

LODER: Really? That'd be a problem for a writer.

JEWEL: It is a bit of problem. I mean, putting the book together. Everything was done by hand. I had to recopy it legibly to get it...

LODER: That explains casualty probably.

UPDATE: Here's the video!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

When You Were Little...

Years ago, I bought a Minidisc recorder and a stereo microphone, and I went around recording different sounds: rivers, street musicians, and important events. I also began interviewing people I knew and asking them the same couple of questions.

With Minidisc now in its death throes, I bought a cheap Minidisc player online and salvaged some of the old recordings. I also bought an attachment for my iPod that will allow me to record new material.

In this recording, I asked my coworkers what, as children, they wanted to be when they grew up and, as adults, what they wanted to be.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mmmm... Teprikash.

My sister doesn't read my blog. I believe her aversion to it stems from embarrassment (of me, of our childhood) and that generational divide that makes the word "blog" offensive to her 36-year-old ears. But it’s the fact that I know she won’t read it that allows me to talk about her birthday gift.

My family has always listened to NPR. The NPR classical station in Boulder was always playing on our kitchen radio, an ancient thing with fake wood grain panels and paint spatter on it. Every so often, All Things Considered would interrupt the music, and we would all absorb the news osmotically.

I bought my first car – a 1985 Toyota Tercel – to commute in. My drive to work was about an hour each way, and I listened to NPR going both directions. I started to recognize voices and develop opinions of some of the reporters.

First, there was Sylvia Poggioli, who, at the time, was reporting from Yugoslavia. Her accent made foreign places sound more approachable: Belgrade, Serbia; Kosovo; Montenegro. And for awhile I knew the important differences between these places.

Then there was Snigdha Prakash, whom I pictured to be a cute Irish girl named Snick Teprikash. (To this day, I think the name is great, however imaginary it may be. But I also thought that “teprikash” sounded like a good Irish meal consisting of equal parts cabbage, butter, potatoes, and lamb.) I swear I can remember her reporting on Sinn Féin and Northern Ireland, but her profile says that she concentrates on business news. Had I seen her actual name in print, I would have been all the wiser (the d-H-a in her first name seems to suggest that she might be from India), and I would have had fewer late night cravings for teprikash.

But, in the last few years, there has been someone I've loved to hear on NPR: Andrei Codrescu. His voice is thick and miserable like cigar smoke, and his Romanian accent makes me think of Siberian winters. But his message is always upbeat and playful. In a column for Gambit Weekly, he wrote, "I say, like Jesus, bring on the children. Their messes are understandable: peanut butter and snot, ketchup and blood, play dangerously close to traffic, make physical contact with your pals until the world spins, take a ball seriously enough to cry."

My sister loves listening to Andrei Codrescu, too, and we've talked a few times about him. I bought her his book of essays called New Orleans, Mon Amour, a perfect gift for my sister because she spent two weeks volunteering for disaster relief in New Orleans and consequently fell in love with that city. But no one can appreciate it in quite the same way as Andrei Codrescu.

Have a listen for yourself: The Long Route with New Orleans' Oldest Cabbie.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sa-VOOOOR. Sa-VIEWer. SA-vyerrr.

Over the last year, I've gotten into cooking as a hobby, and no food enthusiast's kitchen is complete without a darn good knife, a decent cookbook, and an issue or two of Saveur magazine.

I cooked more when Joli was in town. It was probably the meals I cooked her - breakfasts of schmeared bagels and frittatas loaded with bacon, dinners of tender lamb and pan-seared artichoke hearts - that made her love me.

The Saveur 100 "Saveur magazine's annual list of favorite restaurants, food, drink, people, places and things" came in the mail this morning, and I'm puzzled by some of the selections for this year's list.

The kinds of things I really enjoy finding on the list are the little out-of-the way items, such as #72: chocolate caviar, which contain no actual fish eggs, only little nuggets of chocolate that spoon up in a similar way. Or the appreciation that they have for classics, literally - #69: the White Castle Classic hamburger, pictured, I'm almost certain, exactly as it was served from one of the restaurants.

But list items #31: White Foods, and #73: Ovens threw me off a bit.

I love mashed potatoes and milk just as much as the next guy, and I really don't know where we'd be without ovens (perhaps lost and cakeless?), but I didn't really think these items deserved praise this year more than, say, last year. I also feel like these items are just as deserving of places on this list as, say, crunchy food (who doesn't love crunchiness?) or hands (they're totally awesome), which is to say, perhaps not at all.

Giving recognition to these items is a lot like the commercial where we see a raft floating downstream, one paddler at each end of the vessel. They hit some rapids, and a six-pack is thrown from the craft. We zoom in and see someone reach into the water and grab the cans, held together with plastic rings and generically labeled "cola", and pull them back into the boat. Then the title card appears: Aluminum; keeping America strong.

What is the intent here? Is someone supposed to watch this commercial and say, "I need to get me some of that aluminum. Honey, we're going to the store!" I also do not think that the strength of America rests on the shoulders of aluminum.

I buy aluminum because it is wrapped around the cola. I do not go out in search of this metal. No amount of advertising will make me buy cola in cans rather than plastic; I drink what is available to me. Like ovens in kitchens, it's something I normally don't think about - a powerfully unmentionable non-issue.

Thank you, Saveur, for enriching my kitchen with the knowledge of the other 98 items. They are totally worth mentioning.