[the palaverist]

Monday, January 29, 2007

[in the pooper]

From a Newsweek poll:
The president's approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll's history — 30 percent — and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over, a sentiment that is almost unanimous among Democrats (86 percent), and is shared by a clear majority (59 percent) of independents and even one in five (21 percent) Republicans. Half (49 percent) of all registered voters would rather see a Democrat elected president in 2008, compared to just 28 percent who'd prefer the GOP to remain in the White House.
The deep numbers paint a similarly grim picture.

Can't we just be done already? Can't Bush and Cheney acknowledge their failure, step aside and let President Pelosi handle things until 2009?


[still a closed country]

South Korea thinks it wants to welcome the world, but it doesn't. After hundreds of years of keeping the borders closed, followed by a period of foreign occupation and war, Koreans still have a hard time thinking of their country as anything but a bastion of Korean monoculture. One still hears about blood and soil — ironically, since the very concept is probably German by way of the Japanese occupiers — and half-Korean children are still treated terribly in schools, to the extent that apartheid villages have been proposed.

But forget all that. How good is South Korea with long-term visitors? A new report suggests: not very. From buying cellphone service to getting fair prices on clothes to going to the doctor, foreigners find daily life in Korea difficult. Worse yet, they don't know what recourse they have, if any, when things go wrong.

South Korea still has a long way to go if it wants to be the hub of Asia.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

[un to nepal]

After UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour culminated a tour of Nepal by calling for war crimes trials, the New York Times reports that the UN Security Council has decided to send a political mission to Nepal to oversee the ceasefire.

This is the first time since my arrival in UNistan that the organization has begun a serious involvement with a country I actually know something about. I'm certainly not a Nepal expert, but I've been there twice and followed its story over the years. And I'm not at all certain that the fragile new order needs outside interference.

Like Thailand, another tourist favorite, Nepal was never colonized. Certainly it has deep-seated problems, but they are not the problems of post-colonial societies. The thought of Western good intentions going awry in Nepal fills me with dread; I imagine Nepal's warm hospitality — which, let us not forget, is its only really viable product for foreign trade — curdling into the bitterness and resentment of the colonized.

On the other hand, my concept of Nepal's internal sensibilities comes from visits to the Kathmandu Valley, one particularly tourist-favored stretch of the Himalayas, and one small town on the edge of a lowlands national park. The angry part of Nepal is down there, in the area known as the Terai, where the draining of malarial swamps has opened up new land for farming, but where the zamindar system of landlordism keeps most people impoverished and powerless, just as it does in some neighboring Indian states. Or so I have read. Maybe these sections of the country feel just as colonized as anyone else ruled by people who speak another language and see them as less than fully human.

In any case, it's a test for the UN and for Ban Ki-moon, and one in which I feel a personal sense of anxiety over its outcome.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

[not a republic?]

The 423 Smith blog has an exciting post about the Notary District, as it has dubbed the "no man's land between Park Slope, Red Hook, and Carroll Gardens." Of course, the Russo Realty signs are a landmark for those of us who regularly use the Smith & 9th St. subway station.

Of course, the times they are a-changin'. Sometime last year, DKNY attempted to get a hold of the fabled Russo for some notarizing action, but there was no response. More ominously, the Dock War boat has been removed, and there are signs of impending construction. For how much longer will Brooklynites delight in the glorious profusion of ineffective marketing that is Russo Realty? (Via Curbed.)

In other neighborhood news, Curbed notes the construction of new housing down where Court St. runs into the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Some of the apartments appear to be practically on the expressway, which would not make for a happy lifestyle. Sometimes you just have to wonder what the developers are smoking.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

[it depends what your definition of "is" is]

From the BBC:
This is not an instance of bilateral negotiations," White House spokesman Tony Snow told Reuters news agency.

"What you had ...this week in Berlin were talks with Chris Hill and a North Korean representative as preparations for the six-party talks."
Oh. Sure. Not negotiations, talks. Right. That makes all the difference. Thank goodness it was talks and not negotiations!

Either way, the US seems to be showing some flexibility on a number of issues, including economic sanctions, which means that there is now the actual possibility of negotiation at the upcoming resumption of the Six-Party Talks.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

[the beast in my head]

This is a pretty gross post about the final stages of my cold. Read on if you dare.

After a couple of weeks sick, climaxing in a couple of bouts of vomiting and a couple of days of nausea, I finally started a course of azithromycin to kill the beast in my head, which by that point had my sinuses so swollen and impacted that it literally made me dizzy.

On Monday, Jenny was at last feeling more or less herself, which made my ongoing illness all the more frustrating. But at about 4 a.m. that night, I woke up feeling like my sinuses were full of fluid.

Slipping into the bathroom so as not to wake Jenny, I began to blow my nose, and the most spectacular stuff came out. (I warned you this was gross): thick mucus in varying shades of yellow, brown and acid green, some of which must've been putrifying for days. It felt great to get it out, like popping a huge pimple, but I was appalled at the sheer quantity, which probably came to a couple of tablespoonfuls.

That was just the left side. At about 11, while I was at work, the right side decided to open up, and a similar if somewhat less copious drainage took place. The shifts in internal pressure left me dizzy for a couple of hours, and the exposure of wounded sinuses to the air felt raw and painful.

The drainage continued through the day, but for the first time in weeks, I felt like I was essentially not sick. I've still got some lingering symptoms — my head still doesn't resonate quite right, I've still got an occasional wet cough, and my sinuses are still healing up — but I'm definitely in much better condition than I was.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

[the genius of diplomacy]

See, here's the crazy thing about diplomacy: sometimes engaging in it works better than declaring it pointless.

For years, the North Koreans have been trying to get the US to engage in talks. But the Bush administration has insisted that the only way we could ever possibly talk to North Korea is in the format of the Six-Party Talks, with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea in the room. The successes of this approach include North Korea's missile and nuclear tests last year.

Now, in a surprise move, the US seems suddenly to have decided that bilateral talks could be possible. How did this come about? Well, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill made this discovery while in bilateral talks with senior North Korean officials.

Does this strike anyone else as spectacularly tortured? Our high-level officials met their high-level officials, with representatives of no other country present; at this meeting, they discussed the possibility of bilateral talks?

The whole argument against bilateral talks was that they would somehow encourage the North Koreans to more bad behavior by demonstrating that prior bad behavior got them what they wanted. And so we did: nothing. That'll learn 'em! Of course, this is typical Bush admin thinking, which puts talks with us on a pedestal as the ultimate prize to be earned for doing what we want, instead of seeing talks as how we convince other countries to do what we want. Traditionally, talks have been seen as relatively safe, even if they're not expected to produce results, while wars have been seen as relatively dangerous, even if they're expected to go well. The Bush administration has turned that thinking on its head.

But now something seems to have changed. This is good. Talking to North Korea is wise. Talking to all our enemies would be wise. And perhaps one day we will have a government that realizes you flip more bad guys with dialogue than with waterboarding.

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Strange thought: Is the fall of Kabul to a resurgent Taliban America's best hope? I can imagine no stronger Katrina-like event that would wake Americans from their self-deceptions on our foreign policy and completely reshape the debate over what to do next.

Boy, things have gotten ugly.

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[smith street food news]

Frank Bruni of the New York Times today reviews Porchetta, the new Smith Street eatery that replaced Banania, and gives it one star, along with a mix of praise and complaint. We haven't tried it out yet, but I have to say that the decor goes past the funky to the spazzy, which hasn't lured us in. Considering today's review, I feel like I should try it, but also that I should be ready for disappointment. (You can peruse the menu here.)

In other neighborhood food news, Smith & Vine, the excellent boutique wine shop with the unbeatable $10-and-under table, is moving to bigger digs nearby:
As of the first week of February 2007 (the year of the pig!!), Smith & Vine will be relocating to our new home at 268 Smith Street, directly across the street from Chestnut Restaurant between Degraw and Sackett.

Now we know this sounds crazy, but in the end, it’s gonna rock! We will have a private tasting room and much more space for you to browse and take your time while you shop.

If we don’t see you before, then stop by and check out our new digs.
Also be sure to check out their sister store, Stinky Brooklyn, where they can recommend just the cheese to go with your newly purchased wine.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

[banwatch: sweating the small stuff]

New Yorkers love to complain, and the Daily News is already bitching about how new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after advising diplomats to do "as Mayor Bloomberg does" and take public transit to work, decided to be driven the eight blocks from his hotel to a breakfast meeting, then left his driver idling in a no-standing zone.

Gestures are important, but I think the Daily News is jumping the gun on this one. Yeah, Ban's driver should obey the law, and yeah, it'd be nice if Ban followed his own advice and took the subway everywhere. On the other hand, driving really is a lot faster much of the time, and Ban isn't mayor of Subwayland. His work really is important — more important than impressing New Yorkers or fellow diplomats with his individual devotion to combating gridlock. Also, unlike a lot of the diplomats, Ban is actually busy.

Via Gothamist.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

[noodles forever]

DKNY alerted me to the passing of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of ramen noodles and the founder of Nissin.

I learned about ramen from Lorie. She and I survived my sixteenth summer on a diet of ramen, Pop Tarts, Gatorade, Diet Pepsi, sex, cribbage and Mr. Bungle tapes. Lorie's technique was to pound the dry noodles to break them up while still in the package, and I follow it to this day.

In this time of sickness and uncertain stomachs in the Ross-Tavis household, we are grateful for the gorgeous simplicity of Mr. Ando's invention: easy to make, easy to digest, always on hand and always cheap. The New York Times has a lovely appreciation of Mr. Ando, to which I would add that ramen, like Mother Teresa, has given solace to the wretched of the earth.

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So Jenny and I have been just stupidly sick for days now. Jenny has had a cold more or less since Christmas, and I've had one for about a week.

Jenny's had clearly developed into a sinus infection, so we went to the emergency room on Sunday to try to get Jenny some antibiotics. After staying long enough to see the Jets go from up three to disastrously trounced, we realized they were simply never going to see Jenny. So then yesterday we went to the doctor and Jenny got antibiotics, while I got codeine cough syrup as a consolation prize, having merely a viral infection.

We both went to work today. I spent the morning throwing up in my office bathroom, then managed to hide in my office and fall asleep in my chair — always a classy move — only to be awakened by Cheryl, one of the secretaries, coming in to give me my new UN ID. I was obviously startled, confused and unwell, and Cheryl told me several times, in several ways, that I should really go home, while I semi-coherently insisted I was fine.

It took me about five nauseous minutes to realize the Cheryl was right. I checked in with Mr. Yoo, who told me to take a couple of extra days if I needed them, and then headed out the door, taking a woozy cab ride back to Brooklyn and the comfort of my own toilet to vomit in.

Jenny also came home early, feeling wiped and having little to hold her at the office. She took care of me, cooking me some ramen with miso and then going out to get me tomato soup and Nilla Wafers. I took a nap, during which I managed to have two archetypal nightmares at once: I was chased from my bedroom in Marin into the Lower East Side by an oversized bogey-man sexual predator, who managed to follow me to the grad school in the dingy building where I couldn't find my classroom and hadn't done the reading. Eventually I escaped the building, the bogey-man still in pursuit, and ran in search of a police or fire station. But when I saw two firefighters, it turned out they were just gay guys in firefighter jackets. Then I remembered that I should wake up.

I have had weird nightmares before, usually during fevers: menacing triangles, menacing a capella groups. I can't ever remember being chased by the bogey-man, and I'm just completely baffled by the eruption of psychic homophobia, which has really just never been my big problem. As for the creepy grad school — complete with a girl I didn't like from my DoubleClick days, who had done all the reading — this is my first school nightmare since the one back in 2001, in which my boss at DoubleClick made an appearance and told me to stop worrying about school and get back to work.

It's been a lovely few days. I'll be staying home tomorrow, and hopefully no disasters will befall.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

[cradle music]

Pinball Number Count (YouTube)
The Pointer Sisters
Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music

1-20 Raga (YouTube)
Sesame Street

Sing it to anyone who grew up in America who grew up in the 1970s and their eyes light up: "One-two-three-FOUR-five, six-seven-eight-NINE-ten, eleven-twelve!" This gem of a segment is quite possibly the funkiest music ever produced for children — funkier even than Roosevelt Franklin, that now-bizarre Muppetary exemplar of Black Power — and it has stuck with us through all these years, lodged firmly in our imaginations. (Click here and here to see examples of the shorter original segments.)

It wasn't just the music, of course. Those animations are seriously groovy. But the music was key. And those solo sections aren't exactly easy listening, either. Sesame Street was training our ears for the sophisticated sounds of post-Bitches Brew electro-jazz.

Less widely remembered is the "1-20 Raga," a nugget of sitar-driven psychedelia that may well have been my first exposure to South Asian culture. Whether the pungent atmosphere of Marin County in those days contributed to my particular appreciation of this clip is an open question, but certainly it stayed with me. In fact, it's the Indian bits that remained in my memory all these years — the sitar, the morphing Mughal patterns; I had forgotten the insipid vocal and the number-factory setting.

Sesame Street was and remains an extraordinary tool for reaching out to the very young with challenging material. As music classes are cut across America, it may be one of the last places capable of reaching little kids with sophisticated music.

Bonus for Jenny: How Crayons Are Made (YouTube)

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Pure genius.


Monday, January 01, 2007

[happy new year!]

Previous Posts

[things i'd like to write about but haven't]
[drop the red lantern]
[how not to apply for a job]
[pop is the new alternative]
[what does it all mean?]
[national fears]
[lies, damn lies, and sound effects]
[our pakistan moment?]
[how to fail like an olympian]
[cold winters]


July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
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June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
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November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
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July 2008
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November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
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July 2011


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