Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

video test

November 12, 2008

Change Your RSS Feed

October 6, 2007

Awhile ago I bought a domain name. You can now read my blog at I figured my style was more Banana Karenina than War and Peach.

New Crushes

September 20, 2007

David Pogue and Mark Bittman, both of the New York Times (shocking, I know). Mostly because of their videos. Here are some examples. I think you’ll fall in love with them too.

Bittman on softshell crab
(The intro to the Minimalist video is worth the price of admission):

Pogue’s iPhone tribute in music video:

Also see David Pogue’s video on stop-motion animation, featuring impressive play-doh creations by his children. I will soon write an impassioned defense of Mark Bittman, so stay tuned.

A Good Day for a Dead Parrot Joke

September 12, 2007

This afternoon when I took this screenshot, there were not one, not two, but THREE articles about the smart dead parrot on the New York Times most-emailed list. Either Times readers have a terribly dry, British sense of humor, or they are obsessed with absurd bird stories. Either way, today marked a new low point in the history of the most-emailed list. Parrot Screenshot


July 31, 2007

The last couple of weeks have been pretty busy for me, as I’ve been enjoying summer in the city, starting a new job, and attempting to move, hence the lack of new posts. But while I take a little more time to get a little more settled, here are a couple of recent articles I think are worth reading:

  • First, Simon Rich (remember, Frank Rich’s 22 year-old Harvard grad son who it’s impossible to hate because he’s funnier than 3/4 of the Shouts and Murmurs columnists out there?) is back with another great column in the New Yorker
  • Also in the New Yorker, David Denby tackles the mood shift of recent romantic comedies. If we are to get along, you must read this. Stay tuned for more thoughts soon.
  • Speaking of romantic comedies, No Reservations is the anti-Knocked Up.
  • And finally, Anna Quindlen has a great piece in Newsweek about what should happen to women who have illegal abortions, should all abortions be criminalized. The column riffs on a video in which a cameraman asks protesters at an anti-abortion rally what they think should happen to women who have illegal abortions. The people cannot form coherent sentences or come up with the logical answer: if abortion is a crime, a woman who has one is a criminal and should be put in jail. As Quindlen says, “There are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can’t countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can’t have it both ways.”

Remembering through Reenacting

July 14, 2007

By 2:00 this past Sunday afternoon, the scar on the back of my knee–where my bike’s chain ring had gouged several holes weeks ago–was sizzling a gluttonous shade of purple in the 100 degree heat.

But I had little time to contemplate the lasting sun damage. Scrappy Confederate soldiers gathered on a hill above the concession tents, while disciplined Union battalions aligned in front of the grandstand. General Lee waved from his horse, while Longstreet rode ahead to check on the cannon-firers.

When they disappeared, men loaded the cannons. Minutes later, clouds of smoke rose in a bang. Another ten minutes passed, as the armies fired cannonballs into the air, and I covered my ears to avoid permanent hearing damage. All the while, the narrator informed the audience of this battle’s similarities to the real Pickett’s Charge, Gettysburg’s final decisive moment.

The piccolo notes of Dixie pierced the popping popcorn volleys of the Union soldiers’ guns. Confederates fell as the battalions tried to outflank each other.

Apparently that’s what warfare was all about in the Civil War: who could outflank the other guy. But I hadn’t come to the 144th Gettysburg reenactment for the military tactics. In this shadow sketch of the real battle (more than 23,000 casualties on each side), perhaps 2,000 reenactors had gathered on a field not far from the actual site of the battle of Gettysburg to remember the Civil War and honor the memory of the past.

Growing up in California, I never had the opportunity to steep in the sea Civil War history. The battles were foreign, the terrain incomprehensible, and the people merely silver daguerrotypes in history books. So when I moved to the East Coast, I vowed to visit some battlefields, maybe even absorb a reenactment, to satisfy my curiosity about some of the more defining moments in American history.

If I told you I were interested in military history, I would be lying. In fact, I found the actual battle reenactment segment of the day particularly dry, something akin to watching a football game entirely in slow-motion instant replay. Even though he helped to push along the glacial pace of battle, the narrator was no Ken Burns.

But the people who participated, the culture of the camps, and the implications that it all has for how we relate to our history provided almost four hours of solid entertainment.

The People

It’s not just anyone who can be a reenactor. As the folks who organize Gettysburg wanted interested parties to know, the commanding officer must first approve any wannabe reenactor for their authenticity. Even then, Gettysburg probably shouldn’t be your first reenactment, go “cut your teeth on some smaller battles.”

But once you do get to Gettysburg, boy is it a scene. I imagine that Gettysburg is for reenactors what Burning Man is for aging hippies, except that Gettysburg will never be passe. People set up their canvas tents and cots and quilts and fire pits for three days under the midsummer sun on a private farm several miles from the real battlefield (reenactments are not allowed on public land). They make every attempt to be historically accurate, or at least true to the spirit of the period. Migrant vendors specialize in selling cotton dresses and silk evening gowns for ladies and wool uniforms and muslin undershirts for men. A couple that seems to belong in a condo in Virginia Beach sells dulcimers and banjos. There’s even a gun shop that sells reproductions of Civil War-era firearms. One soldier let me hold his bayonet (picture to come). Those guns weigh about 10 pounds. Nothing light when you’re marching 30 miles a day as the armies did. Perhaps that’s one reason the battles moved so slowly.

These people congregate from all over the country. The chaplain attends 35 reenactments a year, spreading his ministry among the faithful in 19th-century style. At this year’s Gettysburg alone he performed seven marriages. We met several couples who had been married at Gettysburg in the past: they return every year to celebrate their anniversaries among friends, and their children grow up knowing the battlefields as a kind of summer camp (and return to school knowing how to correct their teachers).

I have to admit I’m slightly perplexed by the air of celebration around what, on first notice, seems like it ought to be a somber event. Except for the amusement park concession stands, the bleacher seats, and all the kids playing war in the woods, the reenactors take themselves quite seriously. They are, after all, honoring a memory of the war, of their ancestors, of their heritage.

Several men told me stories of wounded soldiers or unexpected heroism that moved them to the brink of tears. An entire camp of hospital tents demonstrated surgical techniques on blood-stained dummies. One man showed us his set of cast-iron cookware, including a box oven and muffin pans.

But in another sense, like the kids shooting off their cap guns in the woods, the adults are also playing war. They’re dressing the parts, shooting blanks, imitating strategy, and ensuring that no one forgets the old ways of war any time soon. Yet sometimes it seems as though they’re so wrapped up in the military and tactical history that the social context and aftermath of the war are completely lost. This reenactment may be happening in the context of others on the circuit, but it operates in a something of a rosy historical vacuum.

They repeat the details of the past, but leave out the big picture. What was the real significance of Gettysburg? You won’t really find that out at the reenactment. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is a shared experience of channeling the past in a way that makes sense to people in the present. It’s more for the reenactors than for the spectators.

In this subculture, the Civil War lives on as an impassioned battle for states’ rights, a battle to sustain the glory of the Confederacy, and a slightly more real moment in the collective memory for one more student of American history.

Your Health According to Google

July 4, 2007

Having been ensconced in learning about health policy and the pharmaceutical industry for the past several months, I’ve been especially interested in Sicko. One of the more interesting blogosphere ripples over the movie originated on Google’s Health Advertising Blog, when Lauren Turner, an account planner, wrote a post defending the healthcare industry:

While legislators, litigators, and patient groups are growing excited, others among us are growing anxious. And why wouldn’t they? Moore attacks health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies by connecting them to isolated and emotional stories of the system at its worst. Moore’s film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare’s interest in patient well-being and care.

With all the coverage, it’s a shame no one focuses on the industry’s numerous prescription programs, charity services, and philanthropy efforts.

She then goes on to offer Google’s marketing expertise to the poor, hapless pharma companies that need to defend their soiled images:

Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.

Blogs caught hold on this story pretty quickly, and Turner clarified her remarks in another post on Monday. But after she claimed the opinion as her own and not as Google’s official stance, she went on to say this:

, But the more important point, since I doubt that too many people care about my personal opinion, is that advertising is an effective medium for handling challenges that a company or industry might have. You could even argue that it’s especially appropriate for a public policy issue like healthcare. Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore’s movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.

The essential message is the same: it doesn’t matter what we think about Michael Moore and his silly movie. It only matters how much you will pay us to place your ad for the newest blockbuster drug or bogus health service in our adwords system. Very democratic.

The people in Sicko who were denied the care they needed or couldn’t afford the expensive drugs didn’t have a democratic way to get their message out to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Instead, they are bombarded every day with commercials about how great Medicare Part D is, or how much they need that new treatment for restless leg syndrome. Hardly democratic.

Google’s corporate stance is that money talks. Which we all knew in the first place. And they’ll take your money and place your ad no matter who you are. It’s just hard to hear it from a company that claims to “share many of the concerns that Mr. Moore expresses about the cost and availability of health care in America” (Google’s main corporate blog).

They must know better. I wonder how they would have lobbied Rep. Anna Eshoo to vote on the ban on direct-to-consumer marketing that was slashed from last month’s FDA reform bill. This health advertising blog raises a couple of questions for me:

  • If a company is dedicated to lowering cost and increasing availability of health care, is it ethical for said company to accept advertising money from groups that work directly against these goals, such as pharmaceutical companies, quack doctors, or online pharmacies, to name a few?
  • Conversely, even if a company has these goals, is it counter to the ideal of free speech (synonymous with democracy for Google) to deny advertising to other companies or groups that work against these goals?
  • Really, I just want to know, what is Google doing trying to befriend and defend the healthcare industry?
  • Arnold WTF?

    June 28, 2007

    Talk about a photo-op gone wrong. This photo appeared in the SF Chronicle website slideshow about the Angora fire at Tahoe. Just when you think he’s actually not that bad, something like this crops up.

    Arnold Lifting Weights

    Ode to Deprivation

    June 12, 2007

    When I was a kid, Sunday night was a special night. We watched The Wonderful World of Disney during dinner. We never watched tv during dinner except on Sundays. We never had cable. And if you don’t already think I led a deprived childhood, listen to this: we never ate ice cream after dinner either, except on Sundays. When we ate ice cream, we ate the kind that comes in half gallon containers: Dreyers French Silk or Breyer’s Mint Chip. On special occasions hot fudge sauce draped the ice cream in its buttery, creamy, chocolatey curtain of melted sugar. When it was on sale, my mother bought Bud’s, a San Francisco specialty.

    My family’s habit of eating together almost every night was anomalous for my generation, as was our industrial consumption of ice cream. And my memories associated with the specialness of ice cream and television probably contribute to my guilt-free enjoyment of cable and ice cream now.

    But the best part about ice cream, now that I live on my own, is being able to buy whatever I want. I am the adult in the frozen foods aisle who cannot decide between the Haagen Daz Coffee or Ben and Jerry’s Vermonty Python. I can buy Ben and Jerry’s every time I go to the store!

    Seriously, deprivation in childhood is the best way to ensure indulgence later in life.

    oh facebook, how you define a generation

    June 9, 2007

    I just stumbled across the Hot or Not application on Facebook. I know I shouldn’t be surprised; it was probably inevitable. Perhaps I’m just shocked by the blatant admittance that members of my generation actually DO judge each other based on Facebook pictures (or perhaps, for the deeper among us, entire profiles, especially quotes and music preferences).  Perhaps I’m just disappointed that the applications, while a brilliant business move and unending source of entertainment, are contributing to the myspace-ization of Facebook.

    Facebook was supposed to be the classy alternative. The one that had some controls and boundaries. It still is classy. It still does have much more control and safety. But Hot or Not for Facebook? Where’s the comfort of knowing only your network can judge you superficially when everyone can rate your picture?