The moon's laying low in the sky

On Tuesday (yeah, I don't have the werewithal to file timely concert reports like some people) I went to the Bright Eyes/Jim James/M. Ward show at the Loew's in Jersey City. M. Ward went on first, sounding like Nick Cave or P.J. Harvey with the whole Southern blues/gospel tip. He did a way-slowed-down cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance", sounding like Cat Power. Next was Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, with his booming voice, who I though was the highlight of the show. He sounded a little like Ron Sexsmith with songs with the strong, simple format of Neil Young's. Bright Eyes was the headliner, the current lineup being just Conor Oberst and a slide guitar player. Conor looked and sounded like Beth Orton. His songs have an appeal to them, and I can certainly see the Bob Dylan comparisons, but I couldn't get over his vocal affectations (he sings every line sort of like a whining 7-year-old), or the self-obsession of his lyrics, which tend to focus on drug use, alcoholism and depression. I know these have been running themes in music for a while, and I know and appreciate that emo lyrics are more direct and less metaphorical than previous pop music was, but it all just seemed a little too calculated for me.

The real discovery of the show was actually the venue, the recently-refurbished Landmark Loew's Jersey Theater. It's one of those old-time concert halls, with beautiful ornamentation and lots of balconies. This was from what I understand the first live music show there, post-renovation. It's mostly going to be a movie theater, but live shows there will be a treat. It's right in Journal Square, across the street from the PATH station, which is itself only 15 minutes from downtown Manhattan. This could be a harbinger of Jersey City's general revival, which would be a nice development for a city best known up till now for being Anthrax Central. It's close to Manhattan, the rents are cheap, and it's a nice-looking area (the one time I really saw it was about three years ago, and it looked nice then). It's got all the ingredients to be the next Hoboken (or at least the next Red Hook, though I think it already is that).


And there's a thousand reasons

I saw another episode of The Apprentice last night. I've actually seen a few more since the first one, but didn't feel any compulsion to write about those. This episode was a winner. The task of the two teams was probably the closest yet to a real-life business situation: they had to sell as many units as possible of Donald Trump's new bottled water, "Trump Ice", to restaurants and distributors.

"Trump Ice" is evidently a real product, even though they don't seem to have a website and I don't know who the hell would buy celebrity water in the first place. Plus the label makes it look like they're selling one of those "fire-hot" sauces.

Anyway, the show is proving to be a true mini-course on corporate strategy. Troy currently comes off as the star. He's consummately a professional without appearing slick: he doesn't try strategizing against the other players, he doesn't carp about others' weaknesses, and he's true to his word. These may seem obvious, but a lot of the other players break these rules routinely, coming off as catty and defensive, business no-no's they should have learned to avoid given their experience and MBA's.

It's fascinating to watch Troy interact with potential buyers. He understands that a big part of salesmanship isn't about selling the product, and certainly not about selling yourself per se: it's about getting the customer to like you and feel comfortable with you. He comes off like he's enjoying himself in every transaction, which is true of some of the other players but not to the same degree.

Not that he hasn't made mistakes: in the episode when they were trying to drum up business for the Hard Rock Cafe, he had the idea to pose the one black guy on their team as some kind of celebrity athlete, signing autographs; thus bilking a bunch of kids and teenagers who bought merchandise for him to sign. So wrong, and so painful to watch.

UPDATE: Tonight, near Union Square, I walked past David, the guy who was kicked off the very first show! This surely has to be some kind of sign. It seems I must continue to Apprentice-blog.


That punchline would have been funnier about 40 years ago

More John Edwards-related fun, again via a Drudge Report link.

"We have a mountain to climb," said Herb Wesson, former state assembly leader and California chairman of Edwards' campaign. "But we have just elected a governor who is an actor. So nothing's impossible in this state."

UPDATE: Oops, left out the link. Here's the article.


You are all I long for

Mark Steyn has a nice little tribute to the recently-deceased Bart Howard, who wrote "Fly Me to the Moon" (actual title "In Other Words"), one of the great standards of the 50's.


"C'est génial"

The French philosophical movement that produced Voltaire and Sartre now amounts to little more than morally perverse anti-Americanism. Two thoughts: is there anyone more stupid than a French intellectual? And - it's time to stop referring to the French as our allies in any way. Clearly they hate us.

Thanks to Allah.

The Royale

Park Slope really has it all, as the Ramones might have said. I'm continually impressed by the variety and quality of establishments here, from good restaurants to bars to coffeeshops. The one thing that's missing from the growing smorgasbord is a place to dance. Sure, you can kick out the grooves at home, but it's not the same. The ladies always want to look good for the crowd.

Saturday night I discovered The Royale, on 5th Ave. between 12th and 13th Streets. My companion and I were possibly headed for somewhere in the East Village when we discovered the listing in Time Out. How did this thing escape me until now? I don't know. Is it new? I have many questions. A short web search seems to indicate that they were an Irish bar until sometime recently.

Anyway, we showed up at around 9:30, probably a little too early. It's laid out like an East Village lounge, with red leather everywhere and an Arabian theme (there are little half-tents surrounding the couches on the side). You can tell you're in Brooklyn, though, by little touches like their photo mural of an ocean sunset on the back wall, straight-up 1978 style. No self-respecting Manhattan lounge would contain such a thing. Maybe Williamsburg clubs like Black Betty are a better point of comparison.

Dancing? There was actually no dancing while we were there. The DJ kept playing all this Brazilian-style trip-hop and lounge music. It was good but totally unsuitable for the intended activity. I asked the DJ when the dancing would start, and he said soon, when the place started to pick up. We left at 11, just as a lot of people started streaming in. Alas.

I hope to be back. Closer to midnight next time; I should have known Park Slopers don't play games.


Bongo rule

Kashei... I mean Karol has an interesting post on how she doesn't like protests because they're angry and ineffectual. I agree. Protests seem to be about people venting off steam more than actually influencing anyone's opinion; they tend to be much more a left-wing tool than a right-wing one, anyway.

I'm reminded of the "bongo rule" I came up sometime last year to describe my politics. Since my views don't quite fit into any one label, I can just say: if bongos have been used at a demonstration in support of some position, chances are good that I'm against that position.

Except for drug legalization... crap, there goes my rule.

War dividend watch

Lots of interesting developments in the Middle East this week...

The anti-war people who prayed for "stability" in the Middle East are no doubt deeply disappointed.


Give the drummer some

I spent some of the weekend figuring out how to use my new Alesis SR-16 drum machine; I pretty much have the process down at this point, the setting of the drum sounds, the recording of the initial track using the drum pads, and then refining it by stepping individually through the beats.

I got it a few weeks ago because I had a vision of myself playing some solo gigs with it: in the vision I hit play and out comes some pre-recorded beat like "boom boom chicka-chicka boom boom chicka-chicka", and then I start strumming a chord on my electric guitar, and then the singing comes in and I'm all, "the harvest fields rise gently..." Pretty awesome, no?

I may have had a change of heart after seeing Damon & Naomi, though. They get such a nice big texture with just guitar and bass, or guitar and mini-keyboards. They had a crowd of about 70 people captivated with no percussion whatsoever: no high-hats, no fills, no big buildups to a crash cymbal on the chorus. Maybe my drum machine is totally extraneous.

I'm still glad I have it, though; if nothing else, the potential exists to drop some freestyles.


Ask for Heskel

Via Gothamist, an interesting article in the New York Times summarizing the dispute between hipsters and Hasids in Williamsburg: A 'Plague of Artists' Is a Battle Cry for Brooklyn Hasidim.

The Orthodox community of Williamsburg have the usual complaints: the influx of hipsters from Manhattan and from outside, going on for at least 10 years and showing no signs of slowing down, is causing rents to triple in the area; the area's first luxury high-rises have just gone up. It's an old story of gentrification, although it's rare for Jews to be in the position of the "old guard", railing against the unwanted newcomers; almost always it's been the other way around. Actually, the situation is doubly ironic because, as anyone who's looked for an apartment in Williamsburg knows, Orthodox Jews have a near-lock on the brokerage business catering to these very same newcomers.

Hopefully the situation can be resolved amicably. Maybe the two groups can make peace by focusing on their commonalities: the Williamsburg artists have Friendster, the Hasidim have Frumster.


Poor execution

This cover story in the New York Press might have succeeded in swaying me against the proposed development for the potential "Brooklyn Nets". Most of the people I've seen arguing against it are the usual gang of "community activists", whom I tend to disagree with on every single issue, which gave me pause. But the article frames it as a corporate welfare issue, not an anti-growth issue:

Few New York politicians want to see Bruce Ratner fail in his quest to build the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards, which is why the project could cost him very little of his own money. By leveraging hype over the New Jersey Nets, Ratner wants to use millions in public funds in a clever, pay-us-later bid to execute an unprecedented land grab.


This would not be a first for the developer. Ratner is responsible for orchestrating centerpiece projects like the New York Mercantile Exchange, the New York Times building and Brooklyn's MetroTech Center and Atlantic Center Mall. Over the years, he has developed a casual stewardship in his business dealings with New York, most notably as the commissioner of consumer affairs under Mayor Ed Koch. He's also a longtime chum of Gov. Pataki and other political glitterati. His inside relationship with key power brokers should allow Ratner to build the BAY for little more than the administrative costs of applying for state- and city-sponsored loans and managing bond offerings that will attract outside investors. When it's done, Ratner will have gained one colossal equity: a $2.5-billion product, practically all paid for up-front by taxpayer and investor money.


The results don't always meet expectations. MetroTech and the Atlantic Center Mall, for example, still fall short of their promise of dramatic economic stimulation. But Ratner's experience with these projects has sharpened his knack for developing well-subsidized marquee projects that look great on the covers of city maps and phone books. He knows how to build stuff that incumbents can point to and say, "Be proud; we're doing big things."

If it were entirely privately-funded, the Brooklyn Nets project would have my full support. As it is, it seems like just another wasteful government spending program, as with so many sports-related ventures. How unfortunate, and how banal.

I am Spartacus!

Kashei makes a stunning announcement. Or should I say, "the blogress formerly known as Kashei"... now she'll never get that job at the New York Times.


More EU funding news

On the theme of mismanagement of PA aid money, Haaretz has new revelations:

An International Monetary Fund report on Palestinian Authority accounts between 1997 and 2003 found that some $900 million in PA funds, some of them contributed by donor nations, had been diverted by PA officials to accounts overseas.


In a parallel development, investigators from the European Union anti-fraud office (OLAF), who are looking into allegations that the PA diverted money from European donors into terror activity, have concluded that documents the IDF seized during Operation Protective Shield are authentic.

The documents suggested Arafat ordered that funds from European sources be used to support such activity - some of the money reportedly went to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in terror strikes.

Will these revelations change Europe's approach to funding? Highly doubtful, but we'll see.

Link via Mark Steyn, who writes:

It doesn't matter whether EU aid or the UN Oil For Food program is useless or even profoundly harmful: the main point about liberal internationalism is to make its western advocates feel good about themselves. Even if Halliburton were the Satanic beast of the left's fevered imagination, it would be hard put to kill as many people as these do-gooder programs.


Not too many people can see we're all the same

What do you think about seeing a music show?
Yeah sure, what do you want to go see?
Damon & Naomi are playing, they're really good.
What kind of music is it?
Indie pop.
Indie pop... indie rock.
Indie rock? Is that like rock music from India?
No, no, it's short for "independent".
Yeah. Actually a lot of people make that same mistake.
What does that mean?
It's pretty much a meaningless classification... they're good. They're really mellow.
I don't know what kind of music you're into.
I like everything except techno.
That's cool. Usually when people say they have eclectic taste, the exception is for country, like, "I like everything except country music."
Oh, I have no problem with country music. I really like some of it.
Yeah, me too.

This Food Coop may be paying off.

(Image courtesy of Uncle Leron)

Ready to make an entrance, so back on up

I'm doing my first-ever guest blogging, at Noah's site, while he's off in England. I'll be mainly posting from Saturday to Monday, but I already have one post up, an attempt to tide over his readers until he starts blogging again.

Note that Noah put up doctored pictures of the three guest bloggers on the sidebar: our faces, his body. Just goes to show what a creative genius with Photoshop and three minutes or so of free time can do.


Sanity from Europe

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at heart a proxy war between Europe (along with, until recently, most of the Arab world) and the U.S. and Israel. It's obvious to anyone who follows the money trail that the intifada as it currently stands wouldn't last more than a few more months without the constant supply of funding arriving from the EU and the Saudis, with the UN in a supporting role. Still, it seems more persuasive when a member of the European Parliament makes the same point. Here's a speech by MEP Ilka Schroeder, reprinted in Belgian political magazine The Sprout:

Officially, the institutions of the European Union always declare that they are - well balanced - calling upon both sides to hold peace again. But in reading the resolutions, in following the policy of the EU, you know that this is not the case. You have only to see the exhibitions on Israel and Palestine in the European parliament's foyer - where Israel is accused of sociocide and branded as an apartheid state - to know which side the EU is on. While the Israeli side is confronted over and over again with concrete demands and every step of Israel is being commented on and criticised in detail, the PA is only abstractly called upon doing everything possible against an abstract kind of terror. And you can have considerable doubts whether the repeated public demands on the PA are still raised in any informal setting.

The propagandist support is complemented by financial aid. Between for example 2000 and 2001 the total sum of EU aid actually implemented in the Palestinian territories amounts to at least 330 million Euro. Both forms of support are part of european strategy to gain influence and to weaken Israel. The particularly striking example for this strategy is the "direct budgetary assistance" to the PA. Israel decided in 2000 not to continue to transfer certain taxes and customs duties that it had collected on behalf of the PA, but to freeze these funds. The Israeli government gave reasons for this breaking of an agreement, arguing that the PA uses these funds to support terrorist activities against Israel. In this situation, the Europeans did not decide - as you might have expected - to get to the bottom of this and to examine whether such accusations against the recipient of so much European money were justified. Rather, the accusations were flatly dismissed as Israeli propaganda. At the end of the year 2000, a decision was made to grant the PA an additional 90 Mio. € at short notice, but under conditions, among them a proper accounting control mechanism. Even though the PA declared its intention to respect these conditions, rather the opposite happened. This did not prevent the EU foreign ministers from providing the PA with 10 Mio. € monthly in the form of a direct budgetary assistance on a continuous basis beginning in June 2001. These direct payments amount to more than 10% of the entire PA budget.

Once more, to put it more clearly: Israel says: We do not transfer any more money because we fear that this could be used for anti-Semitic terrorist acts - and the EU has nothing better to do than filling exactly this financial gap and providing this money. The direct budgetary assistance was stopped in January 2003, but the other contributions to the PA budget are continuing.

...At this moment, I prefer to remain silent about the rather petit-bourgeois forms of corruption and extortion in which high- and low-ranking officials of the PA engage. To put it cautiously: In view of the amount of aid to the PA it is rather strange that malnutrition and insufficient supply are so widespread in the Palestinian territories. Let me add something: The role of UNRWA, which is the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees, and that is sponsored mainly by the EU, is also very questionable. It is doing everything in order to keep this refugee problem unsolved- together with the Arab states - and it is thus providing the PA with a means to block every serious peace process with the demand for a so-called right to return.

Via Occam's Toothbrush.

So long, and thanks for all the pancakes

I'm glad that Wesley Clark has dropped out of the race. Yes, his frequent misstatements and hyperbole (the most famous probably being that he would have prevented the 9/11 attacks) were entertaining, no doubt, but that he fact that this reptilian, unprincipled oaf had a chance greater than zero of becoming the next leader of the free world was shall we say somewhat unsettling. I guess now I can end my obligation to keep my eye on him as well.

Next to drop out: Dean, followed by Edwards. Kucinich and Sharpton will stay in up until the convention. I play high stakes!


Fumbled Spin

I picked up the February issue of Spin because I needed something to read with my pizza. The cover reads "The Next Big Things" and shows the singers from 3 newly-famous bands, plus the guy from Interpol - I don't know what he's doing there.

The issue features a longish "tribute article" about Elliott Smith which is a real disappointment, because for all the commentary there's no mention of the lingering suspicions that his death was not a suicide, and that police are investigating his girlfriend, the news of which first came to light a month ago. Instead, we get a variety of quotes from musician friends professing "incredible shock" at his death. Yeah, exactly, we know. Granted, I'm sure the publication date has to be well in advance, but maybe they should have pulled the article for a later issue at press time after it became clear there might be more to the story. There's not much new in the article anyway, besides a revelation that DreamWorks funded a drug-abuse intervention for Smith in 2001. Why did they wait so long to do a tribute anyway? He died in October. Maybe they do have an incredibly long lag time.

Elsewhere, the magazine is pretty good. I don't know that I've read an issue in at least a few years. There's a funny Mad Libs-style piece that lets you create your own emo-band interview. One line reads "A spot just opened up in [Waspy last name]'s band, [Season] [Verb] in [Type of cloth]." Which is amazing to me, because before settling on Handwriting, one of the names our band was strongly considering was Slow Down Autumn. We are evidently not only emo, but an emo cliche.

Across the Universe

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me.
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views inviting and inciting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a
million suns, it calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

The Beatles, "Across The Universe"

Everyone's been talking about the Beatles lately. This is probably my favorite one of their songs. I don't listen to them that much, but all in all they were a good band, weren't they?

Pack your bags, Aunt Reba

We must be living in an alternate reality. In the real world, the Pope might call Saddam Hussein genocidal and feel "a sense of compassion" for companies who manufacture life-saving drugs, instead of the other way around. Also, our former vice president Al Gore (who wanted to be "re-elected in '04!") would have learned from Dean's spectacular dropoff that he should tone down his act, instead of kicking it up about ten notches and going Dean-style ballistic at a rally (here's a report):


This is not a rational universe.

Via Kashei and Andrew Sullivan


And but so w/r/t that1

David Foster Wallace parody competition finalists.

When's he coming out with a new book, anyway? It's been at least four years since the last one. It could be he's about to unleash another Infinite Jest-style behemoth.

Courtesy of Kottke.org.

1 My little homage to David Foster Wallace's writing style.a
a As are these footnotes. Ha ha, I'm so funny.

There's a highway there

I am at work right now... it's not so bad, I'll be going home soon. There's a project I recently joined that has a mini-deadline tomorrow, and I'm now responsible for a big chunk of it. As long as this doesn't turn into a regular occurrence, I'm not going to whine about it.

I did miss Peter's show, possibly the Grammys, possibly some other stuff.

I'm checking out some internet radio, which I haven't done in a while (I don't usually listen to music during the day, there are too many other distractions). I checked out Indie 103.1, which I've read about recently. It's ClearChannel's attempt to cater to the indie crowd; it's interesting that they've found room in their programming for something that at least pays lip service to indie rock. Highlights included Public Enemy and Phantom Planet; low points were new releases from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day. I don't know if these bands were ever classifiable as "indie", but currently they're about as indie as a Chicken McNugget. They did have more obscure stuff that I just wasn't into (Moldy Peaches, Electrelane). I give them points for the effort, but I don't think I'll be checking them out again.

I'm listening now to WNYU, New York University's radio station. They're playing French rock from I guess the 60's, plus weird avant-garde instrumentals, Krautrock and other stuff. No DJ announcement of song titles, typical for college radio. It's oh so good, and really easy to work to despite the eclectic nature. Or maybe because of it. Ah, I miss college radio; too bad you can't get any of it from where I live in Brooklyn.


R-O-C-K, let's rock

The Pete's Candy Store gig went well. A bunch of people showed up to support us, which was really nice to see. We had some sound problems, which tend to plague the smaller venues, but people said we sounded fine so that's that. The bar itself is awesome and really friendly, and has a beautifully-designed (though you could say "cozy" - maybe 7 feet by 7 feet) stage area.

Highlights of the show:
  • Both the singer, and me knocking our waters over on stage; him before the show, me while rocking out.
  • Meeting up with people I hadn't seen in a while and catching up. Plus one person I met last week.
  • Peter of Executive Slacks (I'm please to say our band is now one of his FOES) comparing us to Tortoise. That is a true compliment right there.
  • Seeing Argentine perform. I saw them once before, at Southpaw about a year ago, but they've gotten much tighter since then and have added reverbed violin and melodica, for a kind of Low-meets-Radiohead sound. Very listenable.

    Unfortunately I didn't get to see the last band, The Hungry Things.

    There were a bunch of photos taken; I'll put some of them up if they ever become available.

    Actually, while we're on the subject, people have asked if we have any MP3's online. Unfortunately we haven't done any recording yet; I'll post something about it when they're up.

  • Generally insane

    Wesley Clark clarifies his position on abortion, once and for all. That's settled then.

    If having to decide on policies is putting a bit much of a strain on Gen. Clark, maybe he should consider sticking to the things he's really good at, such as bagging groceries and making delicious golden-brown pancakes.


    2004, year of Scotch

    I've been drinking a lot of Scotch lately. I have to say I'm heartened at this turn of events; I find it a sign of a certain maturity as a drinker. If this becomes the year of Scotch for me, last year certainly had to be the year of indie beers (Brooklyn Lager, Rheingold and of course PBR). These are good, cheap beers. Going backwards, mid-2001 through 2002 I usually drank Dark & Stormy's (rum and ginger beer or, if that's not available, ginger ale - still a good choice). And red wine, this one courtesy of the influence of my then-girlfriend. Before that, my drinking tastes were sort of a mess; I really didn't know what I was doing. Mid-2000 to mid-2001 I usually would have a shandy (half beer, half-Sprite or ginger ale) at bars, tasty but only for the weak-willed. Before that all I really knew how to order was a Cape Cod, which came with a frilly straw and maybe a cherry. More often, circa 1999, I just had a cranberry juice straight-up when I went out.

    So, from my perspective it's been a straight-uphill ascent for my drinking skills over the last five years. I've really developed a taste for Scotch: it has a rich, smoky taste, and it can be contemplated slowly. It's a classic drink.

    I don't know much about brands yet, but I know I prefer double-malt, on the rocks. No straw, of course.


    That morning we got up quite early
    Just to see the morning sun burn
    Dawn spread across the skyline
    As we drove straight into the center of the sun

    I remember the smell of rockweed
    Mother wearing a dress of blue and green
    Countryside is passing by us
    As we drive straight into the center of the sun

    That morning we got up quite early
    Just to make some some sea sandwiches
    Skimming stones across the surface
    Skim away straight into the center of the sun

    That morning we got up quite early
    Just to see the morning sun burn
    Dawn spread across the skyline
    As we drove straight into the center of the sun

    Eggstone, "Good Morning"

    Girl you know it's true

    Right Wing News summarizes the conservative case against Bush:

    If only George W. Bush had just popped off a mighty "Yeeeeaaaarrrgggghhhhh" at a campaign rally instead [of] spending money like Mike Tyson at a strip club and offering up an immigration plan that was less popular than a Milli Vanilli reunion tour.

    There it is. Though to be accurate a Milli Vanilli reunion tour would be technically impossible.


    Handwriting @ Pete's Candy Store

    My band Handwriting is playing this Thursday at Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We're playing at 9 PM, opening for Argentine and The Hungry Things. Pete's Candy Store is a cool bar where the artists hang out and the PBR's flow easily; I'm really excited to be playing there. They also have what I consider to be the best trivia night in the city, on Wednesday nights.

    Interestingly, Nell, the singer-songwriter from my high school class, is playing there on Saturday, two days later. I have a feeling we'll run into each other one of these days.


    Stereolab - music review

    A short review of Stereolab's latest album, 'Margerine Eclipse':

    For the past seven albums, Stereolab have rocked my ass, hard. With this year's 'Margerine Eclipse', they do so once again.

    R.I.P. Mary Hansen

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